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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Boo on the U.S. Navy leadership!

Hospital Corpsman Third Class
     Or should I say lack of leadership? After more than 200 years, the Navy has made a fundamental change in how it will address its enlisted sailors. The Navy is eliminating the rating system it adopted from the U.K. Royal Navy and stop referring to sailors by their job titles and adopt a job classification in line with the Army, Marine Corps and the Air Force.
     On September 29, 2016 the historic rating system will be scuttled. No longer will a sailor be addressed as Boatswain Mate or Electrician. Personnel will be addressed only by pay grade. All entry level personnel (E-1 to E-3) will be referred to as Seaman regardless of their work assignment. Petty Officers (E-4 to E-6) will be addressed as Petty Officer Third Class, Second Class or First Class. Chief Petty Officers (E-7 thru E-9) will be addressed as Chief Petty Officer, Senior Chief Petty Officer and Master Chief Petty Officer.  Specialty ratings will be replaced by a Navy Occupational Specialty Code. 
     When I enlisted in the Navy out of high school, after boot camp I attended Hospital Corps school and was then sent to the Marine Corps.  We were designated FMF Corpsmen.  FMF being Fleet Marine Force.  We wore Marine uniforms, but instead of Marine stripes, we wore Navy insignias. In the Marine Corps it didn't matter much because all Corpsmen were simply called "Doc." Technically though I was a Hospital Corpsman Third Class, the equivalent of a Marine Corporal. Today it's simply Petty Officer Third Class. 
     The change was made because the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, has pushed the Department of the Navy to create gender-neutral titles for rankings. Mabus doesn't want people being called Corpsman, Yeoman or Damage Controlman, etc. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said the question is, “do [the ratings] capture that inclusivity with the respect to diversity.” Whatever that means. 
     The belief is that as a result of the change, a sailor’s skills and primary job will be cataloged in their personnel record via a Navy Occupational Specialty code similar to the Military Occupational Specialty, used by the Army and Marines, and the Air Force Specialty Codes system. 
     The Navy tried to justify the change by saying it would allow more flexibility in the enlisted promotion and job assignments and it would allow sailors to hold more than one job designation, which will give them a broader range of professional experience and expertise opportunities. Sailors would be able to move between occupational specialties within the fields. 
     The Navy’s enlisted classification system was difficult to understand, but knowing what job a sailor performed was important. The ratings system became more complicated because of technology and some became obsolete, sometimes in the span of only a few years. In addition to clarifying jobs for the public, the change is supposed to ease the transition to into civilian life. It seems to me the Navy should be more interested in retaining personnel than trying to make it easier for civilians to understand exactly what a person's job was in the Navy. 
     Most sailors are proud of their rates, whether it was Airman, Fireman, Boatswains Mate, Torpedoman, Gunners Mate, etc. The Navy has made this change against the wishes of the vast majority of enlisted personnel. I understand the military is not run by majority rules, but most enlisted personnel are opposed to the break in the more than 200 year old tradition and think Mabus and Richardson are are dead wrong and stupid for trying to be politically correct and making the Navy rating system easy for civilians to understand. 
     As mentioned, pride in one's rating, which the new system has eliminated, has, from what I have been reading, created a huge morale problem among Navy enlisted personnel.  But, some things never change...you can't argue with an Admiral. 

Game Shows

     The most popular games shows in the U.S. are Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, The Price is Right and Family Feud. Who hasn't watched one of these shows and fantasized about winning a lot of money, a car and a trip to Disney World? But, like reality TV, things aren't always what they seem. 
     Home audiences see each episode on a different day, but they are shot in the same day. To give the illusion that it's a different day, the host changes his suit and tie and returning contestants change their clothes. 
     Even winning a million dollars, which most contestants will never do, is not the financial windfall it may appear.  Even that much is not enough to allow you to quit your job...there's taxes and you will still need health insurance and all that. Also, the show may substitute cash for some of the prizes people win and they don't immediately pay you any money you won; it usually takes between 90 and 150 days to receive prizes because the prize department needs to verify that you are who you say you are when you go on the show...you'd think they would do that first.
     They also make sure contestants have paid taxes on their prizes. For example, out of state contestants have to pay state taxes before accepting any prize. They aren't going to send anybody prize money and hope they pay taxes to the state in which the money was won! 
     The game show isn't the only one paying out prize money. Often the sponsor will actually cut the runners-up a check for the standard second- and third-place prize. For those that win non-cash prizes, the prize supplier has to be informed that a contestant has won the prize and informed that they have a specified amount of time to send the prize. 
     Trips aren't always worth as much as the show says they're worth. Winners are taxed on whatever they win and the amount of taxes partly depends on the value of the prizes they win. In the case of trip prizes the value announced may be different from what the player is actually taxed on, because the value announced on the show reflects the price of the trip during the sponsoring hotel's peak season. Also, trip winners can't always go when they want to because the show must honor blackout dates. A contestant's contract states that winners of trips have up to 365 days following their air date to redeem their prize, so the value of the trip can fluctuate depending on when the trip is taken and if the person actually goes on the trip, the contestant is only taxed on what they would have paid during the offseason. 
     Non-cash prizes are considered income, but the official retail value, as stated by the game show, might be significantly higher than the actual going rate. The gap between retail and real value can be especially harmful for winners who accept a prize with the intent to resell it.
     For winners, taxes are a big issue because they will owe federal and state income taxes on their total winnings and maybe more. If the prize is big enough a contestant could be bumped up into a higher tax bracket. As for state taxes, contestants will be taxed in both the state where the prize was won and then claim the taxes paid as a credit in their home state. If your home state has a lower tax rate, you won't get back the difference. For example, in my home state a $5,000 prize might pay 10.55 percent to California, but I would only get credit for 3 percent in my home state. Winners can decline to accept a prize they don't want so there's no income to report, and no tax bill owed.
     Prize winners are often fooled, thinking the money they won is the money that's going in their pocket. Also, even if a winner has enough left to purchase a big ticket item, they often fail to consider whether or not they can afford to own it. There's always taxes, insurance and upkeep. 
     Of course, game shows don't want just anybody. They want people who fit a certain type or have a unique background.  If you're boring, don't speak well or are really ugly, you won't get on.
     If one actually gets on the show, it will be an exhausting nightmare. Long waits because they can cram up to six 40-minute show tapings per day plus time for breaks and a few hours for makeup, practice games and a briefing of the rules. Contestants can spend up to 10 hours sequestered with other contestants while waiting for their taping. There will be escorts for bathroom trips and network compliance officers to make sure contestants don't talk to audience members or anyone else. The tough restrictions hew to Federal Communications Commission regulations designed to prevent cheating, plus they don't want people wandering around the studio.
     The notoriety can lead to bad things, too. Being in a spotlight gives crazy people a chance to go online and find you. That can mean hate mail, being a fraud target for scammers and being a target for identity theft. Big winners are also targeted for investment pitchmen and family members who expect them to share winnings. 
     Then there is the possibility you will be going up against professional game show contestants. Some people actually have appeared on several different game shows. Their experience gives them an edge because they're comfortable with the audition process and confidant in their performance and many regulars even meet up to test their skills. Sometimes producers recognize contestants from a memorable appearance on another show, but that does not always disqualify them. 
     Mental and physical nimbleness can be a factor, too. For example, on Jeopardy contestants have to be able to nail the timing of the buzzer which lets them ring in as the last syllable of the last word in the question is read. It's a challenge to listen to the question, think of the answer and press the buzzer all at the same time. 
     It's also important for prospective contestants to follow the rules. For example, on Wheel of Fortune they are instructed "just say, 'M,' not 'I'd like an 'M,' please." Don't do it and you won't get on the show. 
     Game shows start out with a paper test, but a lot of people who pass it aren't so hot on camera! Some people get terrified, others get distracted by all the action around them like lights, cameras and staff running around. They also want people that look really happy, have a lot of energy and being dressed in the right clothing is important, too. 
     Jeopardy contestants are told ahead of time that runners-up will get prizes instead of whatever cash they win. The reason, most people want money, not a crappy prize, so knowing that instead of getting cash, you'll get a year's supply of hotdogs encourages people to go for broke on final jeopardy and bet it all. 
     One contestant who placed second on Jeopardy turned down a vacation because taxes amounted to 40 percent of the trip's value. For example, if a $5,000 free trip to the Caribbean is going to cost you $2,000, you may not want it.   She ended up with a photo of her and Alex Trebek...at least the picture came with a frame. Another runner up didn't get cash...he got a trip to New York, a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni and a carpet cleaner.  How much Rice-A-Roni can you eat in a year?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sgt. Presley...Elvis in the Army

     Elvis Presley entered the United States Army at Memphis, Tennessee, on March 24, 1958, and then spent three days at the Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, Reception Station. He left active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 5, 1960, and received his discharge from the Army Reserve on March 23, 1964. 
     During his active military career Elvis served as a member of two different armor battalions. Between March 28 and September 17, 1958, he belonged to Company A, 2d Medium Tank Battalion, 37th Armor, stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. During this assignment he completed basic and advanced military training. 
     His overseas service took place in Germany from October 1, 1958, until March 2, 1960, as a member of the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32d Armor. For the first five days of that period he belonged to Company D of the battalion, and thereafter to the battalion's Headquarters Company at Friedberg. 
     Before entering the U.S. Army, Presley had caused national outrage with his sexually charged performances and rock and roll music. Many parents, religious leaders, and teachers groups saw his draft, removing him from public view, as a positive thing. Despite being offered the chance to enlist in Special Services to entertain the troops and live in priority housing, Presley decided to serve as a regular soldier which earned him the respect of many of his fellow soldiers and people back home who had previously viewed him in a negative light. 
     During his service not long before he was to be stationed in Germany, his mother died of a heart attack brought on by acute hepatitis and cirrhosis. At age 24, when he was stationed in West Germany, he met his future wife Priscilla Beaulieu and became dependent on stimulants and barbiturates. His addiction eventually led to his divorce, and ultimately his death at age 42 in 1977. 
     In January 1956, Presley turned twenty-one and was eligible to be drafted. Colonel Tom Parker, Presley's manager, led Elvis to believe that it was possible to avoid the draft completely. But, unknown to Presley, Parker had no intentions of allowing him to avoid the draft. The wily Colonel Parker believed the negative publicity about Presley could be negated by his serving in the Army. 
     Parker explained to Presley that getting drafted was a great opportunity. When Presley was told that he would have to serve as a regular soldier he was furious; how could his manager, the man who had claimed to be able to do anything, not be able to find a way out of the draft? Parker promised Presley that if he worked hard, kept his nose clean, and served as a regular GI for two years, he would return "a bigger star" than when he left. So, on January 4, 1957, Presley attended Kennedy Veterans Hospital in Memphis for a pre-induction Army physical. 
     On January 8, Presley's twenty-second birthday, he was declared 1-A by the Memphis Draft Board; physically fit and likely to be drafted some time in the next eight months. It was on December 16 that it was officially announced that Presley would be receiving his draft notice. While fans around the country were upset about the news, parents and teachers groups were ecstatic. Presley had been, in their opinion, a menace to society. 
     The Navy offered to create a special Elvis Presley Company made up of men from Memphis and Presley's closest friends. They also offered him the chance to perform in Las Vegas, and have his own private quarters. The Army offered Presley the chance to tour the world and visit Army bases to boost morale among soldiers and encourage other young men to enlist. Presley politely told both parties that he would consider their offers. The Pentagon had also been in touch to offer Presley the opportunity to join Special Services, entertaining the troops without having to actually train as a regular soldier; among many soldiers and veterans it is known as "the celebrity wimp-out". After discussing each possibility with Colonel Parker, Elvis decided to serve as a regular soldier. In Parker's words, "Taking any of these deals will make millions of Americans angry". 
     Elvis was originally scheduled to be inducted on January 20, 1958. However, due to commitments at Paramount and the filming schedule of his latest film, King Creole, he personally wrote to the Memphis Draft Board to request a deferment, explaining that Paramount had already spent up to $350,000 on pre-production of the film, and that many jobs were dependent on him being able to complete filming, which was due to begin on January 13. They granted him an extension until the middle of March. When news of the extension broke, angry letters were sent to the Memphis Draft Board complaining about the "special treatment" that Presley was receiving. According to the head of the draft board Elvis would have gotten the extension anyway. 
     Elvis reported for induction on March 24, 1958, was given a physical and assigned Army serial number 53310761, before being sworn in and made leader of his group. Parker, with the permission of the Army, had arranged for news crews from around the world to be on hand to report his induction. After all the hoopla Elvis and his fellow recruits were bussed to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. After four days at Fort Chaffee he was transferred Fort Hood in Texas where he was assigned to Company A of the Third Armored Division's 1st Medium Tank Battalion and completed basic training by June. 
     Elvis claimed he enjoyed the being a tanker, but in letters to a friend described his homesickness and insisted that he hated the training. His real fear was that his career was over and one of his instructors recalled Elvis breaking down in tears during many of his phone calls home. 
     He was given a short break to record new material for RCA Victor in June then returned to Fort Hood to finish his tank training. He was living off post, in his own house, with his mother, father, grandmother, and friend Lamar Fike. Having his family close by cheered him up although he still spoke to friends about his fears for his career. Parker, who was often a visitor to Presley's home, would attempt to reassure him and informed him that he had arranged for enough material and merchandise to be available to keep Elvis's name before the public during his two years in the Army, but Elvis remained unconvinced. 
     In early August, while in Texas with Elvis, his mother, Gladys had recently increased her alcohol intake to cope with her son's fame and Army commitments; she had also begun using diet pills to attempt to lose weight and this, coupled with a bad diet, had led to the deterioration of her liver. One afternoon, after a heated argument with her husband Vernon, she collapsed from exhaustion. Elvis arranged for her and Vernon to return to Memphis on August 8, but the next day her condition worsened so rapidly that she was rushed to a hospital. On August 11, Elvis requested emergency leave to visit his mother. His request was initially turned down so Elvis threatened to go AWOL, As a result he was granted leave on August 12. The officer who initially denied his emergency leave was later disciplined for his actions. On August 14, Gladys died from cirrhosis. The official cause of death was listed as heart attack, but the Presleys refused an autopsy to verify it. Presley and Vernon were both devastated by her death. Her funeral was held on August 15, and Presley collapsed several times before, during, and after the service. His mother had always been the most important person in his life, and now he felt as though everything he had worked for had been for nothing. Presley's leave was extended by five days on August 18, and when he finally left to return to Fort Hood he left instructions that nothing in his mother's room was to be altered.
     After training at Fort Hood, Presley was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, West Germany. He left Fort Hood on September 19, for Brooklyn Army Terminal in New York where he and his division would ship out to West Germany on September 22. After a short press conference arranged by Parker, which also involved Presley walking up and down the plank of the USS General George M. Randall eight times for cameras, the ship set sail and Presley would spend the rest of his service overseas. 
     During the crossing Presley became a friend of a fellow soldier named Charlie Hodge who had enjoyed some success as an entertainer himself before being drafted and they, at Hodge's urging, put together a show for the troops. Elvis only agreed to play piano in the background because Colonel Parker had drilled into him that there would be no public performances of any kind during his service. and Elvis became such close friends that after they were discharged, Hodge went to work for Elvis. 
     On October 1 the General George M. Randall arrived in West Germany and Elvis was offered the chance to join Special Services, but he politely refused and was assigned to drive the commanding officer of Company D, Captain Russell. Russell didn't like the attention surrounding Elvis and he was transferred to driving duties for Reconnaissance Platoon Sergeant Ira Jones of Company C. 
     After he arrived in West Germany, Elvis was allowed to live off post and his family moved into Hilberts Park Hotel in Bad Nauheim, but within three weeks they moved to the more elegant Hotel Grunewald. 
     In the meantime Colonel Parker had acquired deals with RCA and 20th Century-Fox to make sure Elvis's return to public life would go as smoothly as possible. RCA agreed to release an album of his press conference the day he left for West Germany titled Elvis Sails, the album would pay Presley $0.22 per sale in royalties, guaranteed up to at least 100,000 copies. 20th Century-Fox had agreed upon a $200,000 fee for one Presley film, with options on a second for $250,000 and a 50/50 split on profits. Paramount had also signed deals to produce a number of new Presley films after his discharge. News outlets regularly reported stories, mostly released by Parker, about plans for Elvis's return to entertainment. Stories of wild parties in Presley's hotel room were also making it into the papers regularly, and Parker was forced to hold a press conference to dispel these rumors. 
     For Elvis, being in West Germany was not a happy time. He would often write home to friends and family about how homesick he was, how desperately he missed his mother, and of how his fears about his career after he was discharged. 
     Elvis was introduced to amphetamines by a sergeant while on maneuvers and he became a firm believer in them because they gave him energy, strength and weight loss. Elvis was such a strong believer in their benefits that he helped introduce many of his friends in the outfit to join him in indulging. It was also in the Army that Elvis was introduced to karate, which he studied seriously. 
     His fellow soldiers attested to Elvis's wish to be seen as an able, ordinary soldier, despite his fame, and to his generosity while in the service. He donated his Army pay to charity, purchased TV sets for the post, and bought an extra set of fatigues for everyone in his outfit.
     In early 1959, after complaints from other guests about the behavior of Elvis and his friends, the group left the Grunewald Hotel and moved to a five bedroom house nearby and fans would congregate outside the house to see Elvis as he came and went to work and a sign was put up stating that autographs would be signed between 7.30 and 8.00pm. 
     Although Colonel Parker had forbidden him from performing while in the Army, pressure from RCA for him to record led to Parker sending a microphone and a tape recorder to West Germany with a letter stating that recording of gospel songs with just a piano for accompaniment would be good enough. Elvis used the recorder to mess around with friends and family, singing mainly gospel and current hits, but none of the recordings were sent back for release by RCA. Decades later these recordings would be released officially on titles such as Private Presley and Home Recordings. 
     In June, with 15 days leave , Elvis and his friends traveled to Munich followed by over a week of partying in Paris where, on several occasions, Elvis would invite the whole chorus line of girls from The 4 O'Clock club back to his hotel. 
     In the meantime Elvis's father was getting close to a woman named Dee Stanley, the wife of an Army sergeant.  She was an Elvis fan and had invited him to dinner, but he was not interested in dinner with what he considered an old woman, so sent his father instead. Most biographers state that Dee was already in the process of divorcing her husband when she met Vernon, but some others claim that Vernon had gotten to know both of them together, and was even asked by Bill to help him save his marriage. In any case, when Elvis heard of the relationship he flew into a rage, believing his father had no business in a relationship with another woman so soon after his mother's death. Close friends of Elvis claim that Dee's husband received a payoff for his signature on the divorce papers. Dee and Vernon would eventually marry in 1960, with her children becoming stepbrothers to Presley. Elvis never liked Dee, but he became very close to her young children and welcomed them to his home. In later years they would be employed as bodyguards and drivers. Dee died on September 28, 2013. 
     On September 13 an airman who had met Elvis a couple of months earlier introduced him to 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu during a party and Elvis took an instant liking to her. They were practically inseparable during the rest of his time in West Germany and would eventually marry after a seven-and-a-half-years. 
     On January 20, 1960, Elvis was promoted to sergeant. On March 2, with Priscilla in attendance, Elvis left Germany and flew home. On March 3 his plane arrived at McGuire Air Force Base near Fort Dix, New Jersey at 7:42 am. Nancy Sinatra, RCA representatives, and Parker were there to welcome him home, as well as a huge crowd of fans. Two days later, on March 5, Presley was officially discharged from active duty. He was awarded the Army Good Conduct Medal. He also qualified as an expert marksman with several weapons.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Confirmation Bias

     In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors. Confirmation bias is a phenomenon where decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or under-weigh evidence that could disprove their hypothesis. 
     Bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views or prejudices one would like to be true. 
     According to a University of Iowa study last year once people reach a conclusion, they aren’t likely to change their minds, even when new information shows their initial belief is likely wrong and clinging to that belief costs real money. The study was to help in the understanding financial markets. In the study student traders bought and sold real-money contracts to predict the four-week opening box office receipts for a new movie. The research showed that even as the key first weekend box office receipts were reported, prices stayed remarkably stable as traders ignored new value-relevant information and continued to rely on their initial estimates. 
     Once we have formed a view, we believe information that confirms our view and ignore, or reject, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. 
     Confirmation bias can also be found in anxious individuals, who view the world as dangerous. For example, a person with low self-esteem is highly sensitive to being ignored by other people, and they constantly monitor for signs that people might not like them.
     Wishful thinking is a form of self-deception where confirmation bias is at play. It is the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing instead of by examining evidence, thinking rationally, or what is shown by reality. Wishful thinking is used to resolve conflicts between belief and desire. 
     Studies have shown that subjects will predict positive outcomes to be more likely than negative outcomes. However, research suggests that under certain circumstances, such as when threat increases, a reverse phenomenon occurs. Some psychologists believe that positive thinking is able to positively influence behavior and so bring about better results. This is called "Pygmalion effect". 
     Self-deception can be like a drug that numbs people from the harsh reality, but in some cases self-deception is good for us. For example, for dealing with certain illnesses having positive thinking may actually be beneficial because there is some evidence that believing that you will recover help reduce the level of stress hormones, giving the immune system and modern medicine a better chance to do their work. 
     In sum, people are prone to believe what they want to believe. Seeking to confirm our beliefs comes naturally, while it feels strong and counter-intuitive to look for evidence that contradicts our beliefs. This explains why some opinions survive and spread. 
     It's conformation bias that explains a lot that we saw during the recent U.S. presidential elections. People tend to seek positive information that paints their candidate in a good light while looking for information that casts the opposing candidate in a negative light. By not seeking out objective facts and by interpreting information in a way that only supports their beliefs and remembering details that uphold these beliefs, people often miss important information that might have otherwise influenced their decision on which candidate to support. 
     It also explains a lot of "-ist" comments we see, especially these days on social media...racist, sexist, etc. and why some people are so willing to believe and post "news stories" that are unsubstantiated or outright fake.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Killed By Their Own Inventions

     Franz Reichelt (1879 – February 4, 1912) was an Austrian-born, French tailor, inventor and parachuting pioneer, now referred to as the Flying Tailor. Reichelt had become fixated on developing a suit for aviators that would convert into a parachute and allow them to survive a fall should they be forced to bail out. Initial experiments conducted with dummies dropped from the fifth floor of his apartment building had been successful, but he was unable to replicate those early successes with any of his subsequent designs. He believed the tests weren't being conducted from a high enough platform so petitioned the Parisian Prefecture of Police for permission to conduct a test from the Eiffel Tower. He was finally granted permission in early 1912, but when he arrived at the tower on February 4, despite attempts by friends and spectators to dissuade him, he was determined to make the jump himself rather than use dummies. When he jumped his parachute failed to deploy and he was killed.  
     Horace Lawson Hunley (June 20, 1823 in Sumner County, Tennessee – October 15, 1863 off Charleston, South Carolina) was a Confederate marine engineer during the American Civil War. He developed early hand-powered submarines, the most famous of which was posthumously named for him, H. L. Hunley. Hunley served in the Louisiana State Legislature and practiced law in New Orleans. In 1861, after the start of the Civil War, Hunley joined James R. McClintock and Baxter Watson in building the submarine Pioneer. In order to prevent her capture, the boat was scuttled when New Orleans fell to Union forces in early 1862. After an unsuccessful attempt at building another submarine with McClintock and Watson, which ended in the vessel's sinking in Mobile Bay, Alabama, Hunley funded a third submarine on his own. Five men from the first crew of H. L. Hunley died during early tests when the boat was accidentally swamped by the wake of a passing ship through its open hatches; four managed to escape. A second crew was recruited in Charleston. On October 15, 1863, though he was not part of the crew, Hunley decided to take command during a routine exercise. The vessel again sank, and this time all eight crew members were killed, including Hunley. The vessel was later raised and used again in the first successful sinking of an enemy vessel (the USS Housatonic in 1864) by a submarine in naval history, but the submarine soon sank too. Hunley was buried with full military honors at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 8, 1863.
     Thomas Andrews was an Irish shipbuilder who designed the Titanic. Andrews was a passenger on the ship’s maiden voyage and was one of the passengers who perished. 
     Karel Soucek (April 19, 1947 – January 20, 1985) was a professional stuntman from Hamilton, Ontario Canada who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel in 1984. He prepared for his stunt by researching previous attempts, by sending unmanned barrels over the falls to test the currents, and by dropping his barrel off the Niagara Escarpment in Hamilton to test its shock absorbing ability. Soucek's custom-made barrel was nine feet long and five feet in diameter and on July 2, 1984, the barrel was rolled into the Niagara River 1000 feet above the cataract of Niagara Falls with Soucek inside. In seconds, the barrel was swept over the falls a Soucek emerged bleeding but safe. He was fined $500 for performing the stunt without a license. He had also spent $15,000 on materials and labor and $30,000 to film the stunt, but quickly earned back all his costs from sales and interviews. Soucek decided to build a museum at Niagara Falls, Ontario in which to display his stunting paraphernalia. He convinced a corporation to finance a barrel drop of 180 feet from the top of the Houston Astrodome into a tank of water to pay for his project. On January 19, 1985, as Soucek was enclosed in his barrel which was released prematurely and began spinning as it fell. Instead of landing in the center of the tank of water, the barrel hit the rim. Soucek was severely injured but still alive when he was cut from the barrel. But, he died while the Astrodome stunt show was still going on. Famed stuntman Evel Knievel had tried to persuade Soucek not to go through with the stunt, calling it "the most dangerous I've ever seen"
     Max Valier (February 9, 1895 – May 17, 1930) was an Austrian rocket pioneer who helped found the German Spaceflight Society that would bring together many people that would later make spaceflight a reality. His rockets used liquid fuel which he believed could be used for both space and land vehicles. Less than a month after testing the first rocket car, one of the engines exploded, killing him on the spot. 
     Marie Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) made extensive contributions and discoveries in the fields of radioactivity and radiation. But she exposed herself to lethal amounts of radiation. She was believed to carry radioactive materials in her pocket resulting in her death of aplastic anemia, a degradation of the bone marrow. 
     William Bullock (1813 – April 12, 1867) was an American inventor whose 1863 improvements to the rotary printing press helped revolutionize the printing industry due to its great speed and efficiency. In a bizarre accident on April 3, 1867 he was making adjustments to one of his new presses that was being installed for the Philadelphia Public Ledger newspaper. Bullock tried to kick a driving belt onto a pulley. His leg was crushed when it became caught in the machine. After a few days, he developed gangrene and on April 12, 1867, he died during an operation to amputate the leg. 
     Otto Lilienthal (23 May 1848 – 10 August 1896) was a German pioneer of aviation who became known as the Glider King because he was the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful gliding flights. Newspapers and magazines published photographs of Lilienthal gliding, favorably influencing public and scientific opinion about the possibility of flying machines becoming practical. On August 9, 1896, his glider stalled and he was unable to regain control. Falling from about 50 ft, he broke his neck and died the next day. 
     Aurel Vlaicu (November 19, 1882 – September 13, 1913) was a Romanian engineer, inventor, airplane builder and pilot. While attempting to be the first to fly across the Carpathian Mountains in his old Vlaicu II the plane crashed and Vlaicu was killed. To this day the cause of the crash is unknown. Claims of sabotage were dismissed by the two men following him in an automobile who were also mong the first to inspect the wreckage. The most plausible cause was that the airplane stalled while landing with the engine off which was a common practice at the time.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sweating Like a Pig and Other Facts

     Sweating like a pig is a derogatory comment, meaning one is sweating profusely and disgustingly. But, pigs don't sweat much; they wallow in the mud to cool off. So where did the expression "sweating like a pig" come from? 
     It's actually a reference to pig iron. Pig iron is the intermediate product of smelting iron ore. It is the molten iron from the blast furnace and it has a very high carbon content which makes it very brittle and not useful except for limited applications. Pig iron is intended for remelting. When pig iron is poured into molds it has to remain in them until it cools. They know the ingots (called pigs) are cool enough to transport when they begin to sweat...the air around it reaches the dew point, causing droplets to form on the metal's surface. 
     Like all warm-blooded mammals, pigs (not really a precise term...we mean swine. A pig refers to a young swine) need to maintain a correct body temperature. A pig's sweat glands are ineffective at cooling their body temperatures, and therefore, they wallow in water or mud. 
     Humans and some other mammals sweat. Humans have two types of sweat glands which produce different types of sweat. We have sweat glands all over the body and produce watery droplets which evaporate and cool the skin. This sort of sweating is uncommon in animals. Very few animals sweat to keep their bodies cool. A second type of gland forms sweat by breaking off bits of cells rather than secreting a droplet and is granular and fatty. In humans, this is the smelly sort of sweat associated with our armpits. Most animals have this sort of sweat gland, but they are mostly concentrated around the face and mouth, and around the anus. They seem to serve to keep the skin soft and flexible. Dogs and cats have a large number of these sweat glands on their footpads. Horses sweat. Their sweat contains a type of protein which often causes it to froth. Hippos have red sweat that has some antibacterial properties.
     Researchers from the National Institutes of Health have successfully transplanted hearts from genetically engineered pigs into baboons, potentially paving the way for pig-to-human organ transplants in the future. 
     Many of the pig’s biological systems are very similar to that of humans and if something works in a pig, then it has a high possibility of working in the human. A lot of the pig’s organs are 80 to 90 percent similar to that of humans. The cardiovascular system is a good match...a pig’s heart is about the same size and shape as a human heart. Pigs develop atherosclerosis the same way that humans do and they react similarly to myocardial infarction...or heart attack. We’ve been able to transplant pig heart valves into humans. 
     A pig's physiology of digestion and the metabolic processes in the liver are similar to humans so they are good for dietary studies and absorption studies of drugs. Pig kidneys are comparable in size and function to human kidneys and pig skin has been used in plastic surgery for decades because pig skin wounds heal similarly to humans. The insulin-producing cells in a pig’s pancreas are similar to humans’, so a significant amount of research on diabetes has been accomplished from studying pigs. 
     Tattoos are difficult to practice, but pig skin makes an ideal material for practice because it's very similar to human skin and relatively cheap. 
     By the 1950’s developments in technology made pigskin commercially viable product. Ever buy garments or shoes with a label proclaiming the product is "Genuine leather" or "Berkshire leather"? If so, it's probably pig skin. 
     Pigskin began to be used in 1852 as a more affordable substitute to goat leather because the qualities and appearance are similar. In the US it was used to make footballs until these were replaced with synthetic materials. It was also used a lot in bookbinding. 
     Pigs are rarely butchered just for their skin; it is usually a by-product of the food industry. Pigskin leather is usually artificially grained to give it a better surface texture and make it more aesthetically pleasing. 
     Pigskin is a desirable product because it's softer than most other leathers, tough pliable, flexible, withstands moisture without stiffening, resists abrasion, is strong, thin and durable. Plus it's breathable, water, oil and stain repellent. All those properties make it ideal for work gloves, wallets, shoes and even Louis Vuitton uses pigskin leather for their handbags. 
     Pigs are intelligent and they can, and do, eat almost anything. They won’t hesitate to cannibalize another pig nor eat humans. Domestic hogs are not typically aggressive but there is some degree of danger associated with them. I used to work with a guy who had an uncle that was killed when he was attacked by a hog.
     While they don't specifically go after humans, their teeth can chomp up bones like a piece of hard candy. In 2012, on a pig farm near Riverton, Oregon a 70-year-old pig farmer named Terry Garner was eaten by his hogs. Nobody knows exactly what happened. Was he attacked or have a medical emergency? 
     By the time a concerned relative arrived to check on him, apart from his dentures and some bloody scraps around the pen, there was nothing left...not even bones. Several of the hogs weighed in excess of 700. His brother, 75-year old Michael Garner, told officials that one of the large sows had bitten Terry the previous year when he accidentally stepped on a piglet.
     Cattle kill approximately 22 Americans per year nationwide and according to a 2009 study the animals deliberately attacked their victims in 75 percent of the cases. About one-third of killer cattle had a history of aggressive behavior. It is believed that pigs kill fewer people than cattle.
     Livestock display an alarming ability to coordinate their attacks. A herd of cattle will form a circle with their butts facing the center of the circle, lower their heads and paw the ground. Of the cattle-related fatalities in the US between 2003 and 2008, about a quarter of them involved the animals ganging up on their victim. Pigs are also known to attack in a group.
     If confronted by an angry pig or cow you should back away and get behind something. Carrying a big club would help, too...just in case. Personally, if I worked around pigs or cattle, I'd have a six-shooter handy.

Mattress Facts

     A mattress is a large pad for supporting the reclining body, used as a bed or as part of a bed. Mattresses may consist of a quilted or similarly fastened case, usually of heavy cloth, that contains hair, straw, cotton, foam rubber, etc., or a framework of metal springs, air or water. 
     Early mattresses contained a variety of materials including straw, feathers or horse hair. In the first half of the 20th century, a typical mattress sold in North America had an innerspring core and cotton batting or fiberfill. Modern mattresses usually contain either an inner spring core or materials such as latex or other flexible polyurethane foams. Other fill components include insulator pads over the coils that prevent the bed's upholstery layers from cupping down into the innerspring, as well as polyester fiberfill in the bed's top upholstery layers. In 1899 James Marshall introduced the first individually wrapped pocketed spring coil mattress. 
     In North America the typical mattress sold today is an innerspring; however there is increasing interest in all-foam beds and so-called hybrid beds, which include both an innerspring and high-end foams such as visco-elastic or latex in the comfort layers. In Europe, polyurethane foam cores and latex cores have long been popular and make up a much larger proportion of the mattresses sold. 
     A conventional mattress consists of two primary sections, a core or "support layer" and the upholstery or "comfort layer," wrapped in a thick fabric called the ticking. The upholstery layer consists of three parts: the insulator, the middle upholstery, and the quilt.
     Innerspring mattresses commonly consist of just the spring core, and the top and bottom upholstery layers. The gauge of the coils is another factor which determines firmness and support. Coils are measured in quarter increments. The lower the number, the thicker the spring. In general, higher-quality mattress coils have a 14-gauge (1.63 mm) diameter. Coils of 14 to 15.5-gauge (1.63 to 1.37 mm) give more easily under pressure, while a 12.5-gauge (1.94 mm) coil, the thickest typically available, feels quite firm. Most coils are connected by interconnecting wires; encased coils are not connected, but the fabric encasement helps preserve the mattress shape.
     There are four types of mattress coils: 

     Bonnell coils are the oldest and most common. First adapted from buggy seat springs of the 19th century, they are still prevalent in mid-priced mattresses. Bonnell springs are a knotted, round-top, hourglass-shaped steel wire coil. When laced together with cross wires, these coils form the simplest innerspring unit. 
     Offset coils are an hourglass type coil on which portions of the top and bottom convolutions have been flattened. These flat segments of wire are hinged together with wires. The hinging effect is designed to conform to body shape. 
     Continuous coils are an innerspring configuration in which the rows of coils are formed from a single piece of wire. They work in a hinging effect similar to that of offset coils.
     Marshall coils, also known as wrapped or encased coils or pocket springs, are thin-gauge, barrel-shaped, knotless coils individually encased in fabric pockets—normally a fabric from man-made, non-woven fiber. As the springs are not wired together, they work more or less independently: the weight on one spring does not affect its neighbors. More than half the consumers who participated in a survey had chosen to buy pocket spring mattresses.

     Upholstery layers cover the mattress and provide cushioning and comfort. The upholstery layer consists of three parts: the insulator, the middle upholstery, and the quilt. 
     The insulator separates the mattress core from the middle upholstery. It is usually made of fiber or mesh and is intended to keep the middle upholstery in place. 
     The middle upholstery comprises all the material between the insulator and the quilt. It is usually made from materials which are intended to provide comfort to the sleeper, including flexible polyurethane foam, latex foam, felt, polyester fiber, cotton fiber, wool fiber and nonwoven fiber pads. In Europe and North America, mattress makers have begun incorporating gel-infused foams, soft-solid gels layered over foam, and poured gels in the top comfort layer of the bed. 
     The quilt is the top layer of the mattress. Made of light foam or fibrers stitched to the underside of the ticking, it provides a soft surface texture to the mattress and can be found in varying degrees of firmness. 
     There are three main types of foundation: 

     A traditional box spring consists of a rigid frame containing extra heavy duty springs. This foundation is often paired with an innerspring mattress. 
     An all-wood foundation usually has seven or eight support slats disposed below paperboard or beaverboard. All-wood foundations have become increasingly prevalent as U.S. mattress makers shifted to super-thick, one-sided mattresses. 
     A grid-top foundation is a combination of steel and wood. 

     Ticking is the protective fabric cover used to encase mattresses and foundations. Mattress fabrics can be knits, damask or printed wovens, or inexpensive non-wovens. Most ticking is made with polyester yarns. More expensive mattress fabrics may contain a combination of polyester with rayon, cotton, silk, wool or other natural yarns. 
     Foam mattress use different weights and densities of petrochemical-based flexible polyurethane foams or memory foam, and latex rubber foams. Memory foam mattresses offer different feels and comfort levels by varying the thickness, weight and formulation of the foams. 
     Memory foam is affected by temperature. In a cool bedroom, a memory foam mattress will feel firmer than it does in a warm bedroom. Memory softens and conforms to the sleeper in response to body temperature and body weight. Traditional memory foam molds to the body creating a depression the sleeper must roll out of when changing sleep positions. Mattress manufacturers have responded to this issue by using "faster response" memory foams. They spring back more quickly when the sleeper moves. Foam mattresses are also known to generally "sleep warmer" than innerspring mattresses. Mattress makers have addressed the issue with "open-cell" memory foams, pinhole cored memory foam, gel-infused memory foams, channel-cut foam cores, reticulated foam support layers and other technologies to improve air circulation through all-foam beds. 
     Similar to memory foam mattresses, a high density foam mattress uses a more compact foam typically made from polyurethane. High density foam mattresses offer comfort and longevity because they are more dense than a traditional foam mattress. 
     The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission advises consumers not to let infants sleep on air mattresses. This is motivated by reports of deaths, mostly infants younger than 8 months of age, who were placed to sleep on air mattresses, and either suffocated in a face down position on an air mattress or died due to suffocation after falling into gaps between the mattress and bed frame, or the mattress and adjacent furniture or wall. 
     Mattresses deteriorate over time, and the lifespan of a mattress depends on a variety of factors, notably materials, manufacturing quality, care, and how vigorously it is used. 
     A poor quality foam comfort layer can deteriorate in one year, while a quality latex core can last 20 years or more. Innerspring cores typically last around 10 years. 
     The comfort layer is almost invariably the first area to fail, which is why mattresses are often double-sided, to extend the lifespan. In the United States, mattress warranties are typically for 10 years or 20 years, sometimes 25 years, though this specifically addresses manufacturing defects and faster-than-normal deterioration, not expected deterioration with time. In the United States, as of 2008 there is a general expectation that mattresses should last about 10 years, and this is the average number of years Americans keep mattresses, though this varies by age group. This expectation is based on a number of factors, including: sales pitches; the expectation that mattresses will last the length of their warranty, hence 10 years or 20 years, accordingly; and comparison with other household items. The mattress industry has a financial incentive to shorten the replacement cycle which on current television ads is eight years. International Sleep Products Association (ISPA) established the Better Sleep Council (BSC) in 1979 with the stated goal to shorten the mattress replacement cycle and to encourage people to invest in better bedding.
     The main wear problems that can occur with a mattress are sagging, mildew, and staining. These are prevented by proper support, rotation and flipping, keeping it dry, and using a mattress pad or protector. 
     Mattresses require a solid foundation which does not itself sag. Consistently sleeping in the same place and body position causes excessive wear, and thus rotating or flipping mattresses is used to reduce this. Flipping or rotation schedules are typically recommended monthly for the first six months and every two or three months thereafter. Foundations should also be rotated, if possible, though less frequently – rotating box springs twice a year is recommended. 
     Mattresses require ventilation to remain dry and prevent mildew and should not be placed directly on the floor or on a solid surface. Additional ventilation is recommended for natural materials, in which case leaving the mattress naked after stripping sheets is recommended. If a mattress gets damp is mildew may develop inside the upholstery; cleaning with a vacuum cleaner or mild surface cleanser and a slightly damp cloth is recommended. 
     Mattresses absorb fluids and stains readily, notably from sweating (result...a yellow stain) and other bodily fluids. These visibly stain the ticking, and seep through into lower layers. You shed millions of skin cells per day, and since you spend about one third of each day sleeping a significant portion of them end up in the bed. You also sweat while sleeping, anywhere from a several milliliters to one liter nightly. In addition to being unhygienic, hard to launder, and unsightly, such stains typically void a warranty. Thus a mattress protector is recommended. 
     In the U.S. mattresses are mostly the same and are often sold under different brand names. Serta and Simmons, for example, are owned by the same company. In 2012, Sealy Corporation was purchased by Tempur-Pedic. 
     Innerspring mattresses are sold the most, accounting for an estimated 80% of mattress sales. But, they also have the lowest overall satisfaction ratings. Only 63 percent of innerspring mattress owners report being satisfied, compared to around 80 percent of memory foam and latex owners. 
    Mattresses can conceal thousands of microscopic dust mites and their excrement. Dust mites exist just about anywhere there are fabrics and carpet plus animals or people, especially in more humid environments. They feed on shed skin cells, and while they don’t bite or pose disease risks, they can exacerbate allergies and asthma. Pillows are another favorite hangout for dust mites (and skin oils and saliva) so replace your pillow at least every year and a half. 
     The best way to minimize dust mites is to use allergen-resistant mattress and pillow covers and wash all bedding in hot water once a week. 
     Recycling mattresses is growing industry and many states and organizations are pushing the development of mattress recycling to reduce waste. California, Rhode Island and Connecticut have all passed laws that will now require mattress recycling. Springs and metal, wood, fibers and foams can be recycled. 
     One of the number one places that home robbers look for hidden money and other possessions is under the mattress. 
     A Kingston University study found that an unmade bed might be a little healthier. The idea is that when you make your bed and cover the mattress with the comforter, sweat and moisture is trapped within creating the ideal environment for dust mites. Leaving sheets exposed to the air and sunlight dries out the environment which can help kill of mites.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Constipation and Blurred Vision. Bonus...when is a Banana Ripe?

     Don't asked how, but the other day the question came up, can constipation cause blurred vision? It reminded me of a sitcom episode from years ago where a weird character kept asking dumb questions like, "What kind of shots would you have to take if a monkey bit you?" It's a silly question, but if you are the one the monkey bit, then it's not silly at all.
     Constipation is defined as having less than three bowel movements a week and usually accompanied by hard stools. Bowel movements become difficult and the side effects can include pain, vomiting, swollen abdomen. And, yes, it's also been found that constipation also can cause blurred vision. I could not discover the reason for this symptom. 
     Generally, constipation is considered nothing more than a nuisance, but it can be a serious medical condition and sometimes the dietary advice and medical treatment like dietary fiber, over hydration and laxatives can actually make it worse. Constipation can lead to all kinds of major colorectal disorders from enlarged hemorrhoids to colorectal cancer. 

Here are some fun facts about the colon: 
1) it is designed to hold a few pounds of feces in transit. 
2) When a person gets constipated, the colon may be holding 10, 20 or more pounds! 
3) In that case it's the volume that is the problem. Large, heavy stools stretch the colon, irritate the colon mucosa, harm the anal canal, and may produce toxins related to fermentation and rotting. Constipation is one of the symptoms of dysbacteriosis which is a condition where the normal, intestinal bacteria is dead and missing. When alive, this flora protects the colon from inflammation-causing pathogens, produces essential B-vitamins and vitamin K, responsible for blood clotting, help govern immunity and helps to keep stools soft and moist. 

     Constipation can be more serious for women because it can affect their health. The large intestine and the female reproductive organs are close together and constipation can put undue pressure on the uterus, cause rectal prolapse inside the vagina, incontinence and even a miscarriage caused by straining. 
    Chronic constipation can also affect the cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems. In older adults chronic constipation strips the large intestine from its thinning, mucosal membrane, and causes flat lesions and polyps that eventually transform into colon cancer.
     Here is some bad news! Some common causes to constipation are favorite foods: 

1) Coffee and other caffeinated drinks If consumed in too large a quantity or too regularly, it can lead to dehydration and then constipation as a result. 
2) Bananas. Ripe bananas contain soluble fibers and helps bowel movement, but unripe bananas are hard to digest and result in constipation. How do you know when a banana is ripe? Interestingly, all these years I have been eating unripened ones because once they get spots, as far as I'm concerned, they're done for! Check out THIS site for more information.
3) Rice. Rice contains several indigestible fibers that obstruct the bowel movement. Also, due to the polishing process that makes white rice, the best parts or rice are partly removed. Use brown rice! 
4) Cookies. Unfortunately, it's true. Cookies (or just about any cake or pastry) have refined carbohydrates which are low in fiber and fluid and high in fat. 
5) Red meat. It's low in fiber and high in fat, which will affect you digestion process. Fortunately, adding fiber-rich foods like salads or potatoes offset the effects. 
6) Milk. It contains lactose and a high level of fat which can cause gas, stomach upsets and even make constipation worse. 
7) Chocolate. Thankfully, it has been proven to be good for your health. But if you take in a considerable amount of chocolate then your digestion process, muscle contractions and bowel movements will be affected. 
8) Cheese. It can have the same effect as milk. 
9) Potato Chips. The reason for that is the low level of fiber and their high fat content. 
10) Processed and fast foods. They lack nutritional merits and are high in sodium, both of which contribute to constipation. 

     Back to blurred vision...it can be a symptom of constipation especially for females over sixty years old, those who take the medication Miralax and those with high blood pressure.  One study showed blurred vision as a symptom of constipation in 68 percent of women and 32 percent of men. Generally it happens the older you get, starting around the age of fifty. For most people their blurred vision was described as moderate. 
     Among the medical problems that people had, about 10-20 percent were being treated for hypertension, pain, depression, acid reflux and insomnia. The most common drugs they were taking were Miralax (20 percent of them), Colace, Percocet, Zantac and Amlodipine.