Friday, 30 December 2011

How To Ripen a Banana

Over at Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley documents the banana ripening process at a facility in the Bronx.

During our visit, Paul Rosenblatt told us that he aims to ripen fruit in five days at 62 degrees, but, to schedule fruit readiness in accordance with supply and demand, he can push a room in four days at 64 degrees, or extend the process to seven days at 58 degrees.

"The energy coming off a box of ripening bananas could heat a small apartment," Rosenblatt explains, which means that heavy-duty refrigeration is required to keep each room temperature-controlled to within a half a degree. In the past, Banana Distributors of New York has even experimented with heating parts of the building on captured heat from the ripening process.

To add to the complexity, customers can choose from different degrees of ripeness, ranging from 1 (all green) to 7 (all yellow with brown sugar spots). Banana Distributors of New York proudly promise that they have "Every Color, Every Day," although Rosenblatt gets nervous if he has more than 2000 boxes of any particular shade.

How To Spot a Liar

A little snap judgment goes a long way toward making friends: According to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, all it takes is 20 seconds to decide whether or not a stranger is trustworthy.

Researchers recruited 24 couples and asked each person to talk about a time when he or she had suffered.

Meanwhile, cameras recorded the reactions of the speaker’s partner. A separate group reviewed the videos, and was able to identify fake compassion in the reacting partners within 20 seconds.

After researchers took DNA samples of the study participants, it turned out that 60 percent of the least-trusted participants lacked a gene receptor, GG genotype, that may control your compassion and empathy.

The receptor helps regulate your body’s level of oxytocin, which past studies have linked to feelings of trust, empathy, and generosity, explains Alexsandr Kogan, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and the study’s lead author.

Of those rated most trustworthy, 90 percent carried the gene. But since the gene is only linked to perceptions of sincerity, it doesn’t mean you’re unsympathetic if you don’t have it, the study authors say.

Observers could weed out the sincere from the dishonest because, Kogan says, “there are certain behaviors that are found to be signals of trust and support.

How to Earn Her Trust

Whether you’re dealing with a salesman, a new colleague, or a blind date, you can identify bogus behavior if you know what to look for, says Marc Salem, a behavioral psychologist and the Men’s Health resident expert on non-verbal behavior.

Look out for these signs:

1. Inconsistent Behavior
“If normally someone is very still, and suddenly they become very animated, or vice versa, that change-up is a red flag,” Salem says. The same goes if a person is speaking smoothly and rapidly, but suddenly their speech becomes more deliberate or clipped. “Shifts from the norm are red flags for deceit,” he adds.

2. A Steady Gaze
“When people think or contemplate, it’s natural for them to break eye contact and look around,” Salem explains. If a person’s gaze is too constant, they’re either not listening or consciously trying to earn your trust. Both are signs of insincerity.

Resident Expert on Non-Verbal Behavior

3. Not Enough Mouth
Coughing, clearing the throat frequently, or any other gesture of covering the mouth can indicate that a person is trying to hide something, Salem says. The same goes for a shoulders-down, hunched-body pose. That’s a sign of caution, he adds, and indicates a person is not opening himself up completely.

4. A Quick Smile
A genuine smile changes a person’s whole face, Salem says. Their eyes light up, and their cheeks and eyebrows rise along with the corners of their mouth. That smile also takes a few seconds to fade. A fake smile appears in an instant, and disappears just as quickly.

VIDEO: How to Spot a Liar

Thursday, 29 December 2011

How To Keep The Pounds Off Holiday Eating Season

The festivities surrounding the holiday season tend to have an unwanted lingering consequence: a larger waistline.

The weight gained during the holiday season may be small, but over the years it adds up and can lead to bigger health issues that create a financial hardship.

“People only gain about an average of a pound, but they keep that pound from year to year,” says Rachel Berman, director of nutrition for “People lessen their inhibition and tend to go over board when faced with food they avoid most of the year.”

While avoidance is the best way to keep the pounds off, it’s hard to turn down home-made cookies, fancy cocktails and dinner party invites. Here are five tips to help make smart decisions on what to indulge in this eating season.

Holiday Cocktails

One of the oldest traditions during the holiday season is sharing cups of eggnog. While it may be a classic drink at home with the family and at parties, eggnog can be devastating to your diet. According to Dr. Brunilda Nazario, WebMD’s medical editor, one cup of eggnog has at least 400 calories.

With that said, simply opting for a mixed drink or a cream-based alcoholic beverage may not be better. “Just a couple of cocktails, especially with mixed ones you’re taking in 1,000 calories,” she says.

Nazario recommends sticking with drinks mixed with tonics, low-sugar versions of juices or spritzers with wine. Add glasses of water in between drinks, it will prevent dehydration and fill you up.

Portion Control

Buffets with an assortment of foods tend to be present at larger parties because they are more economical and budget friendly, but they can be unfriendly to your waistline.

Experts say it’s fine to dabble at the buffet, but take a small taste of each item and don’t go back for second or third servings.

Starving yourself throughout the day to “store” calories for the holiday party that night will backfire. “Your metabolism slows down if you are going more than four or five hours without eating,” says Berman. “If you know you have a big party that night, eat a sensible breakfast and lunch and a snack before going.” Not only will that ensure your metabolism is working properly, but it will limit your food intake because you won’t be completely ravenous.


With many holiday festivities, appetizers are served up before the meal, but try to avoid them. These foods often don’t prevent people from chowing down on the second and third courses. To limit the calorie intake, Nazario at WebMD says people should skip the fattening foods like pigs-in-a-blanket and mozzarella sticks and go and consume raw vegetables, salads and deli meats. Avoiding salad dressing, which tend to be loaded with calories, can also be a quick way to keep off unwanted weight.

Berman says to skip the pretzels and instead snack on something that will be more hunger satisfying like nuts. While they tend to be more fattening, nuts are also packed with protein which fills you up faster than carbohydrates. “With low-density foods, you get more bang for your calorie bucks,” says Berman. “Low calorie, high fiber foods will fill you up and won’t break the calorie bank.”


When filling your plate at holiday dinners, aim to fill your plate with a serving of lean protein like chicken or turkey, vegetables (preferably the ones not cooked in butter) and some kind of starch. Berman says to stay away from things like mashed potatoes or cream of anything since those foods are going to have a high calorie and fat counts.

“Once you fill your plate, try to pay attention to your hunger cues,” says Berman, noting that people get distracted and go up more when they really aren’t hungry. If you do make another round at the buffet, she says to stick to lean proteins and veggies.


Desserts are in abundance during the holiday season. You may not think a cookie here or a brownie there won’t make a difference, but those calories add up. You don’t have to avoid desserts altogether, but make sure to have small servings.

Nazario at WebMD says to avoid the crust, skip the whip cream and other toppings that pack on the pounds. “I’m not saying you can’t have it, but be conscious of what you are putting into your system.”

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

How to Check iPhone Data Usage

Wondering just how much data you’re pulling down in a given month on your iPhone? There are a few ways to check your usage.

You can head to AT&T’s wireless website, log into your account, and create a billing report (under “Bills and Payments,” click “Create Billing Report,” and “Data Usage Trend”), which gives you a detailed graph on how much data you’re using. You can also estimate how much you use with your provider’s online data calculator.

Find your usage for AT&T, Verizon, or by signing in to your Sprint account.

However, this third way only requires you and your iPhone to see how much data you’re devouring.

First, head to your iPhone’s settings app. Scroll down to “General,” then click on “usage.” You’ll see your minute breakdown, but at the very bottom you’ll see your data usage (sending and receiving) over the cellular network. If you’ve never reset your stats, you’ll find that this number will be fairly high.

Since existing customers can keep the plans they’re on now, you can reset your statistics today (by hitting the “Reset Statistics” button at the bottom of the screen), and check back next week to estimate just how much bandwidth you’re eating up each month, and determine if you want to switch to a less expensive plan.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, izusek

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

How To Avoid Holiday Pitfalls

With the holiday season already upon us, it is pointless to ponder why or how we have managed to turn the most joyful time of the year into the most stressful. Our energies will be better spent learning how to reduce the angst, whether it be vehicular, spousal, or Evite-related. Here’s the Globe’s highly selective insiders’ guide to overcoming December’s challenges.


Every shopper knows the basics: Look for the shortest line and take cart load into account. But pros like Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, look at the check-out scene differently: It’s the cashier, stupid. “You want someone who is not hesitating, who doesn’t look annoyed to be there, and who isn’t chatting with another cashier,’’ he said. If the cashier is working with a bagger, you have struck gold. And don’t assume the express lane is the fastest. If the cashier is inexperienced, Flynn said, that might not be your best bet.

Of course, even the best line picker can be sabotaged by a coupon-wielding customer or a bagger who switches lines. In which case, find your Zen place and read about the Kardashians.


Parties are supposed to be fun, but Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, author of “A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage,’’ and a New York marriage therapist, says they can easily trigger fights between partners, whether they are hosting or attending. “The two words that come to mind are ‘expectations’ and ‘disappointment,’ ’’ she said,

“A typical thing that happens is that the couple doesn’t discuss when they want to leave the party, or they don’t leave enough time to get there,’’ and those things trigger arguments. “It sounds simple, but it really helps to discuss things ahead of time.

“If you’re hosting a party, you may have had disappointments in the past and you want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,’’ O’Neill said. “You need to get some things clear ahead of time, ranging from which jobs you’ll do to when you’ll allow yourself to relax and have a drink.’’

And if you have had a fight before the party? “Put it on hold until tomorrow,’’ O’Neill advised. “You’re going to feel really bad if something blows up at the party.’’


It’s the holiday contradiction: You want to be invited to parties, but you do not want to have to go to them. But how to say no politely, especially in the age of the Evite, when your “No’’ response will be so public?

“You offer as little information as possible,’’ says Jodi R.R. Smith, of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead. Otherwise, this can happen: “Let’s say you invite me over for dinner but I don’t really like you. I say, ‘I’m sorry I can’t come on Saturday.’ By giving you that piece of information, that allows you to counter-invite, and say, ‘We can do Sunday.’ Now I’m trapped.’’

Instead, say: “I’m terribly sorry I won’t be able to attend, but thank you so much for the invitation. Please tell everyone season’s greetings.’’ And tempting though it is to offer a specific excuse, don’t. Smith explains: “If I’m getting married and someone says ‘I can’t come because I’m going on a girls’ weekend to Florida,’ you are saying I value this other thing more than your thing.’’


You have had your fill of passed hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and conversation. You have feigned interest in the host’s dog and children. You have hidden out in the bathroom. And the party’s only 45 minutes old. How can you get out without insulting the host?

“People tend to find themselves throwing out the little white lie,’’ said Jennifer Gullins, corporate director of sales and marketing at Saphire Event Group, in Sharon, “but it’s not a good idea. Eventually you might get caught because you don’t remember what you said.’’

Rather than pleading a baby sitter who needs to leave early, or another commitment, be honest(ish). “We’re so pleased you invited us,’’ you can say, “we wanted to stop by and say hello and give a hug and kisses before the holidays, but we’ve got a lot on our plate so we need to scoot out early.’’


It’s a Seinfeldian situation: You and a friend are exchanging gifts. You show up with something nice, but tiny, and she hands you a present from a high-end store - bought at full retail. What now? The big spender needs to be gracious, says Robyn Spizman, author of “The Giftionary.’’ But, she emphasizes, the real aim is preventing the problem.

Agree ahead of time to give each other a book, she advised, or to treat each other to a holiday lunch. “A lot of relationships have suffered because of gifting,’’ she warned. “When someone gives you a bad gift, you feel they have no interest in you.’’ Yikes! But here’s a helpful strategy: “If a gift makes you feel like I know you, I’m paying attention to what matters to you, you do not care if I spend $10 or $30.’’


The best way to avert parking stress, says Donald Shoup, professor of urban planning at UCLA, is to go shopping at off-peak times - or walk. But if your schedule is not flexible, and the sidewalk does not go to the South Shore Plaza, here is advice on reducing parking angst: Head for the least convenient spot in the lot. “Don’t circle the lower deck of the structure, go right to the periphery,’’ Shoup said. “If you can see your destination, the walk can’t be that far.’’

The author of “The High Cost of Free Parking’’ also offered this painful tip: “If the choice is between paying right now for off-street parking, or circling and hunting for a free spot, it’s probably bad for you and bad for everyone else if you drive around. You congest traffic, waste fuel, pollute the air, and interfere with pedestrians and bicyclists. If your time is worth anything, it’s probably a good idea [to pay for a spot] rather than spend 20 minutes circling.’’


“I think one of two things,’’ said Peter Post, a director of the Emily Post Institute. “You can simply try to ignore them - talk to somebody else. They can sit there and be in their own little world. In a lot of ways it’s easier. If they don’t want to pay attention, you don’t have to pay attention to them.’’

But if you are too annoyed to keep quiet, Post said, you can make a remark, along the lines of “Gee, what’s so interesting?’’ However, he cautions, “Those things can end up causing ill feelings.’’

If neither approach feels quite right, perhaps there’s a middle ground: Take out your phone, and text the texter.


We all know that you are not supposed to go grocery shopping when you are hungry, but who knew that hunger - and thirst - can also weaken your control at Macy’s or Nordstrom?

“When you’re hungry, especially if you are lacking in protein, it turns out you are much more susceptible to making impulse purchases,’’ said Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University. “What you feel is a sense of anxiousness. You are looking for something to make you feel better.’’ While in truth that might be water or some nuts, you grab a cashmere sweater.

“Your body is sending you an alarm signal that you need to fix something,’’ Yarrow said. And your brain can misinterpret that to mean you should buy a new handbag.

The bottom line: Fuel up before you shop.


“There is a time and a place for deep cleaning,’’ said Janette Negele, innkeeper at the Beech Tree Inn, in Brookline, “but when people are coming over, that’s not the moment.’’

Instead, focus your efforts on the bathrooms, the guest room if it will be in play, and clutter. When it comes to the latter, just hide it. Make sure sinks and toilets are clean, and put out fresh towels. And don’t waste time thinking you need to vacuum, Negele and Bette Allen, the inn’s general manager, advised. Simply start vacuuming.

And open the windows. A fresh-smelling room will seem cleaner. Baking helps, too, but if the guests are knocking at the door, you can forget the banana bread and simply make toast.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

How To Safetly Heat Your Home

How To Safetly Heat Your Home: Tips From The Fire Marshal

Prevent home fires by properly maintaining heat sources, install fire alarms, and avoid exposure to carbon monoxide.

Although the first day of winter is more than three weeks away, overnight temperatures are dipping into the 30s and 40s, you’ve likely pulled out the winter comforters and turned up the thermostat.

The high cost of home heating and utilities, however, cause economically stressed families to explore alternative heating options such as space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves. While these alternative methods of heating can be safe, they’re also a major contributing factor in residential fires, according to the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

“Working smoke alarms provide early notification to the presence of smoke. They can alert you and your family to danger,” says State Fire Marshal Charles Duffy. “By frequently practicing a home escape plan, household members will be more familiar with exit strategies.”

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is another danger, especially when using fuel-burning heating equipment. CO is known as the “silent killer” because the gas has no odor, color or taste. At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects often mistaken for flu symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, and fatigue.

Preventing Home Heating Fires:

- Fireplaces and Wood Stoves -

* Be sure the fireplace or stove is installed properly. Wood stoves should have adequate clearance (3 feet) from combustible surfaces as well as proper floor support and protection. Have your chimney inspected annually and cleaned, if necessary.
* Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out and unwanted material from going in. Keep flammable or combustible materials away from your fireplace mantel.
* Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. Allow ashes to cool and dispose of them in a metal container.

- Space Heaters -

* Be sure your heater is in good working condition. Inspect for cracked, frayed or broken plugs or loose connections and exhaust parts for carbon buildup. Be sure the heater has an emergency shut off in case it is tipped over.
* Space heaters need space. Keep all things that can burn, such as paper, bedding or furniture, at least 3 feet away from heating equipment.
* Never use fuel burning appliances without proper room venting, burning fuel can produce deadly fumes. Use ONLY the fuel recommended by the heater manufacturer.
* Plug power cords only into outlets with sufficient capacity and never into an extension cord.

Carbon Monoxide Safety:

* Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up your home’s central heating system and repair leaks or other problems. Fireplaces and woodstoves should also be inspected each year and cleaned or repaired as needed.
* Never use an oven or range to heat your home and never use a gas or charcoal grill inside your home or in a closed garage.
* Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.

Protect Your Home:

* Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home - when one sounds, they all sound. Test smoke alarms at least once a month.
* Install a carbon monoxide alarm in a central location outside each sleeping area. CO alarms measure levels of the gas over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms.

For more information on home heating safety, visit the Office of State Fire Marshal web site, or the United States Fire Administration web site.

Friday, 23 December 2011

How to Picture the Size of the Universe

It's Full of Galaxies

It's Full of Galaxies

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has produced the deepest image of the universe ever taken. Astronomers generated this picture by pointing Hubble at one small patch of the sky for several months and recording every tiny photon of light they could get. The entire image (below) contains nearly 10,000 galaxies, but here you can see a small sample of what’s out there.

Because looking back in space means we’re also looking back in time, these galaxies are seen as they would have appeared nearly 13 billion years ago, just short of the beginning of time. If you're more spatially inclined, this means that the objects are 30 billion light years away.

But because the universe is ever expanding, and our estimates of its size get more refined over time, astronomers have actually come up with a better way of stating distances. As the universe grows larger, the light waves within it get longer, like a slinky being pulled apart. The wavelength of the light moves toward the redder part of the electromagnetic spectrum, so astronomers talk about the “redshift” of an object, meaning the amount that light waves from that object have expanded since they were emitted.

The galaxies in this image would be more accurately described as being at a redshift of 7.9.

Images: 1) NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team 2) NASA and the European Space Agency

Thursday, 22 December 2011

How to Delete Carrier IQ From Your iPhone or Android Phone


Carrier IQ has been dominating the headlines ever since 25-year-old security researcher Trevor Eckhart posted a paper online saying Carrier IQ was secretly gathering data about users' cell phone activity on the behalf of cell phone companies Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile. The company insists it's not malicious, but that hasn't stopped several parties from suing it for allegedly violating federal wiretap laws.

Carrier IQ isn't on every phone - and you can check if it's on yours with a free app from Lookout or BitDefender - but if you have detected it and want to remove it there are a couple options:

1. The easiest is to purchase Eckhart’s own removal app from the Android Market ($0.99), called Logging TestApp Pro Key. You need to root your phone first. And beware: several reviewers have warned that even after you buy the app, you need to donate money before it works.

2. The other way is to flash your Android smartphone with a custom ROM that doesn't contain Carrier IQ. The most popular is CyanogenMod, which gives you an option to opt out of data logging.

"We at CyanogenMod would like everyone to know that if you are running our software, you are not running theirs," CM wrote in a blog post.

Check out a video demo below from 'AbrahamsTech' of how to do this.

As for iOS devices, you can really only block Carrier IQ. For those running iOS 5 and above, simply click into Settings/General/About/Diagnostics & Usage, and hit “Don’t Send.” If you're stuck on iOS 3 or 4, or have a jailbroken device, Chpwn’s instructions should do the trick.

Apple told my colleague Chloe Albanesius that it stopped supporting Carrier IQ on most of its devices with iOS 5 and will remove it from all products in a future software update—most likely an incremental one rather than a full update like iOS 6.

Although Carrier IQ says its software is intended to help its clients monitor network performance and it denies gathering any personal information from users like screen shots or the content of their text messages and emails, many people still loathe the idea of a company recording how they use their phones.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

How To Stay Mercury Free

1. Know your seafood.
Most mercury poisoning happens by eating contaminated sea animals, whose flesh absorbs the air pollution brought down by rain. How does all that muck get into the air? Coal-fired power plants are America's biggest source of mercury pollution, spewing dozens of tons of the illness-causing element every year. To keep it off your plate, consult this chart (PDF) to learn which kinds of fish are safe -- and which aren't. A good rule of thumb: The bigger and older the animal, the more likely it is to be contaminated. So turn away tuna and swordfish in favor of sardines or clams. Sushi aficionados: Check the Sierra Club's site on Thursday, December 8, when we'll be launching a smart-phone app to help you gauge which types of sushi will help keep your body mercury-free.

2. Tap into your inner activist.
As President Obama prepares to approve the first nationwide protections against mercury emissions from coal plants, big-business lobbyists are working to block these safeguards. If you'd like to show your support for the regulations -- which would cut 90% of mercury from coal-fired power plants -- consider coordinating or attending a rally, demonstration, or teach-in to urge the president to stand up to polluters and protect all Americans, especially children and pregnant women, from the ills of mercury. If you've only got time to quickly sign a petition, you can do so here.

3. Conserve electricity.

Sure, it's Big Coal's fault there's tons of mercury in our air and water. But who's really to blame? The consumer. That's right: you and me. As long as the demand for electricity stays as unsustainably massive as it is right now, corporations will be glad to provide and supply. While it's not realistic to boycott electricity completely, there are things that, if each of us did, would deliver a collective blow to the polluting powers that be. Solutions include pursuing energy-efficiency at home and at the office, installing a power meter to identify waste, and asking your utility company to rely more on renewable energy sources, like the sun and wind.

4. Get tested.
Mercury, a potent neurotoxin, can affect anyone. But it's a particular threat to babies and pregnant women, since it can cause birth defects, developmental problems, learning disabilities, even premature death. In the U.S., at least one woman in 12 has enough of this heavy metal in her body to harm a fetus -- which means that more than 300,000 babies born each year are at risk of mercury poisoning. The good news for women: You can lower your body's mercury level before you get pregnant. If you're of childbearing age, take a hair test, a urine test, or ask your doctor for a blood test (though some dispute blood tests' accuracy for mercury). If your levels are high, reevaluate the kinds of seafood you're eating.

How to Schedule Your Workout During Holidays

Every serious athlete, whether recreational or elite, knows that the key to conditioning is consistency. Skip just a few training sessions, and you first have to make up for any deterioration before you can once again start to make progress.

It's especially important to remember that during this time of year, when frenzied shopping and social occasions are a time-consuming distraction. Though you may love the parties and celebrations, how can you stick to your regular routine when often, you have to spend that exact same time getting ready for a big dinner or office party?

The simple answer? Rearrange your schedule.

The first thing to do, and this will have actual athletic benefits long after the holidays, is to assess your training program. Do you waste time in the gym? Do you sit at a machine or on a bench with a loaded bar, and do all your sets with a long rest period in between? That's a time waster. Instead, use the circuit method to exercise opposing muscles. Do a quad exercise, then immediately do a hamstring exercise. Or, do exercises that go well together — such as a set of squats, then a set of dead lifts.

A good upper body circuit would be biceps curls, lat pulls, triceps pull downs and shrugs. Go from one to the other with one minute rest between sets. Figure out how to cut time from your program without skipping the training of any body part. Practice this system a few times until you know exactly how long a workout will now take.

Next, write down a full schedule of all your plans and obligations, including the time you'll need to start getting ready for the occasion, shopping, decorating and gift wrapping. Put these statistics on one side of a piece of paper. Use the other side of the paper to write down the time you can handle these busy requirements, yet still fit in a workout without conflict. If you get home from work at 6 p.m., and have to be at a party that starts at 8, can you manage a half-hour at the gym or on your bike and still have time to shower and get ready for the party?

The time it takes to shop may not be within your control. There may be heavy crowds, you may have to search several shops to find what you're looking for and traffic may add time to the entire thing. If possible, wake up earlier and try to do your workout in the early morning. This may provide an unexpected benefit, especially if you're accustomed to doing your conditioning in the evening. The body benefits from training 'shock,' an unexpected change in routine that forces it to adapt to change. Working out before you begin your job may actually be beneficial, even if you'd rather stay snugly warm in bed.

The most important point is to concentrate on the necessity to do your conditioning program. It should take precedence over everything. The holidays will pass, the need to do your regular workouts won't. Yes, it may be unavoidable that you have to skip one or two sessions, but that should be on an emergency basis only. Put your workouts right up there with taking a shower or brushing your teeth — something you just don't skip.

Once the training of your body takes on that kind of sacred importance in your mind, you'll find ways to fit it in. It will soon become easy and natural. And keeping that attitude even after the holidays are long gone will stay with you; making you athletically better than ever.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

How to Prevent Holiday Weight Gain

Worried about gaining weight over the holidays? Here are some simple tips for healthy holiday eating :

#Get “Off” the Diets

How many of you said the day after Thanksgiving that you had to go back on your “diet.” If you think of yourself as being “on” or “off” a diet, chances are you are going to get in trouble. Most of the time going off a diet can mean “going off the deep end.” A taste of Aunt Matilda’s famous holiday pie doesn’t mean you have “sinned” and definitely doesn’t mean ”What the heck, I might as well eat the whole pie.” Don’t set yourself up for disaster.

#It’s All About Portion Control

Many people lose weight and keep it off with the simple strategy of portion control. Eat reasonably small portions, limit the foods you know you should limit, and don’t stuff yourself. We all know eliminating or even limiting certain foods is extremely hard during a holiday. Don’t listen to those that say “The holidays only come once a year so you might as well eat.”


Ben and Jerry may be my best friends at times and also my “trigger” food. Most of us know what our “trigger” foods are and the effects certain foods have on our mood, appetite and energy. If you can’t abstain from problem foods all of the time during the holidays, abstain from them most of the time. The next best thing to behaving perfectly is behaving well.

#Never Arrive Hungry

The foods you need to avoid are harder to resist when you are starving and your blood sugar is low. An ounce of prevention goes a long way. A glass of low sodium tomato juice, some whole-grain crackers, a slice or two of cheese will keep your appetite at bay. Try any of these snacks an hour or so before a holiday celebration and watch your willpower soar while your waistline stays in place.

#Don’t Skip Meals

A common strategy during the holidays is to skip breakfast and/or lunch because you know a big meal is coming and you want to “save up” the calories. This strategy backfires because you come to the meal starving and wind up eating more than you ever intended.

#Eat Slowly

Hormones signal the brain when you are full. It takes about 20 minutes from start time before you feel it. Slow eating not only aids digestion but also gives your brain a chance to know what your stomach is doing. You can make the meal last by talking, putting down your fork between bites, or just plain waiting, you are less likely to eat on “automatic pilot” and more likely to realize you are full.

#Use Smaller Plates

A full salad plate looks like a lot of food and psychologically “feels” the same way. You can always go back for seconds or even thirds. If you do this simple act it will slow down the eating process which gives you more time to feel full.

#Finish the Meal Within an Hour

The body produces a second insulin hit if it senses a lot of food coming in continuously. You can avoid that second hit by finishing you meal within an hour of starting. If you see something you like that you forgot to eat within the hour you can save it for tomorrow.

#Divide Your Plate

Think protein, vegetables and the carbohydrates you probably crave. Imagine that your plate is divided into thirds, one section for each food group. The carb section has to include not only the carbs that are staples of holiday dinners, but the desserts too. If you are going to eat dessert, adjust your portion of the other carbs accordingly.

#Stay Hydrated

Many times when we crave food, it is not really hunger that is driving the urge, it’s mild dehydration. Solution: drink lots of water. A slice of orange, lemon or lime will flavor the water and cut your cravings.

Monday, 19 December 2011

How to Download YouTube Videos

One question I’m frequently asked is if I know of a way to download YouTube videos, to which my answer is, “Why, yes! Yes, I do.” As such, I’ve decided to write a quick post addressing this popular question, as well as chime in with a couple of additional mentions that are relevant to the subject.

Now, while I know that many of you reading this already have the know-how to download YouTube videos, this post is for those who comprise the 6,000,000+ (according to my Google keyword research) monthly searches on this topic! What follows are the 3 solutions I personally use that 100% fill my needs for downloading not only YouTube videos, but just about everything else as well. With that said, these certainly aren’t the *only* solutions out there, so I encourage others of you to chime in with any differing solutions you use!

1 - : When it comes to saving YouTube videos, KeepVid is my first choice, without question. While there are tons of sites out there that perform the same function, KeepVid is consistently on top of YouTube when changes are made that temporarily “break” services like this. It’s quite simple to use: just copy the link of the YouTube video you would like to save, paste it into the URL box at the top of KeepVid’s site, click the “Download” button, then select which quality and format you would like to download the video in from the links that show up afterward. From copying the link to visiting the site and running through the process, you can have a video downloading in under 7 seconds! To note, KeepVid also supports downloading videos from Vimeo, Google Video, DailyMotion, Metacafe, and Megavideo.
Visit site: KeepVid

2 - JDownloader : This program is one of my favorite programs, period! For Windows, Mac, and Linux, JDownloader is a download manager for just about every site imaginable that streams and hosts files. You can have it monitor your clipboard so that it automatically grabs links you copy, so if you find that you want to download something like a whole series of videos from YouTube, you can just copy the link for each of them and they’ll automatically paste into JDownloader. Removing the step of having to paste all of those links really helps to save some time. And like KeepVid, JDownloader allows you to choose the quality and format you’d like to download YouTube videos. But really, this functionality is but a minor piece of a greater sum, for JDownloader is SO much more.

If you have any premium accounts with sites like RapidShare, HotFile, FileServe, etc., you can enter your log-in credentials for those sites and furiously download files from them with only the limitation of your bandwidth. Not only that, but because it’s a download manager at its core, you can queue up download links from just about anywhere. And for sites that require you to enter CAPTCHA information (the pictures with weird, almost unreadable word combinations/numbers, like “Bicycle PancaKeS”), JDownloader will auto-enter that information from CAPTCHAs it recognizes (offhand, MegaUpload is one site I know it recognizes them from)! Definitely check out JDownloader if you’re looking to download YouTube videos en masse.
Visit site: JDownloader

3 - DownloadThemAll : For my Internet browsing needs, I primarily use Firefox. As such, I have a multitude of add-ons that I use, including download manager add-ons like “DownloadThemAll!”. Unlike the two suggestions above which have YouTube download capabilities, this add-on is solely for “other curious things.” If you’ve ever been on a page with a ton of pictures, MP3s, documents, or other file types, “DownloadThemAll!” gives you the ability to download all of those files with just a few clicks. So, instead of having to save 100 pictures, songs, PDFs, or whatever else file-by-file, you can quickly save them all to a folder of your choosing. Once installed, it’s as simple as right-clicking on a page, selecting “DownloadThemAll!…”, then choosing the folder you would like to save the files to and clicking “Start!”. It also has plenty of functionality for you advanced users who would like to specify/negate certain file types to download (like if you work with files that have uncommon file extensions that “DownloadThemAll!” doesn’t recognize), etc. Overall, an invaluable add-on if you frequently download groups of files.
Visit site: DownloadThemAll!

That’s it! Those are the three solutions (outside of the old standby, that is; “right-click, save target as…”) I use to download YouTube videos and other curious things. Again, these are far from the only solutions out there, and while my chosen three may not be “the best” or the most efficient, they’re certainly good enough for me; an individual who has yet to harness the virtue of patience.

Do you have any personal recommendations for download managers/sites/programs/add-ons you’d like to contribute? Please do so in the comments below!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

How To Get The Most Out of Your Kindle Fire

Amazon's Kindle Fire is the newest addition to the world of tablets. While the Kindle Fire is sleek, inexpensive and lightweight, you may have some questions about how to streamline your tablet and make it even easier to use.

We bring you top ten tricks and tips for making your new Kindle Fire an powerful and streamlined tool, including how-to save battery power, how-to download books for free, how-to download Android apps on the Kindle Fire, how-to check your memory, how-to search for specific words in an eBook and more.

10. When you first buy your Kindle Fire, it comes preloaded with some applications and documents that you might not want using up your memory. To delete unwanted applications or documents on your Fire, press on the item, hold down your finger, and options should pop up to "favorite" or "delete" an item. Select delete to rid your Kindle of the unwanted app.

9. While the Kindle Fire comes preprogrammed with a number of apps, there are a number of applications you will need to download to make your tablet even better. Our must-have free applications include: Netflix, Hulu+, Angry Birds, Alarm Clock Xtreme Free, TweetCastle, Wikidroid for Android, Evernote and Wifi Analyzer.

8. Most people will use their Kindle Fire to enjoy a book or two, but after spending $199 on your Fire, you might not be in the mood to buy more books. The Amazon Store offers a number of free classics that you can find by searching for "Kindle Free Classics." You can also download free books from,,, and

7. There are a number of tricks you can use to maximize your Kindle Fire's battery life. First, each time you are finished using your Kindle, be sure to put it to sleep by tapping the power button on the bottom of the Kindle. Another trick to maximize your Kindle Fire's battery life is to turn off WiFi when you do not need to be connected to the Internet. You can also lower the brightness of the Kindle Fire screen to preserve power. Lastly, you can set your Kindle screen to lock automatically (thereby setting it in sleep mode), which will also save power energy.

6. After downloading, apps, books, music, video and magazines, you might be uncertain of how much memory you have available. To check the available memory on your Kindle Fire, touch the settings icon in the top right hand corner of your Fire. Select "more" and then select "device." Once you're in the device viewing area you can see the available memory left as well as how much battery power is left on your Kindle Fire.

5. Applications that are running in the background will hurt your battery life and also might cause your Kindle Fire to slow down. To check what applications are running in the background of your Kindle Fire, return to the settings menu. Select "more" and then "applications." Once you are in the "applications" section of the settings, you will be able to see all the applications that are running in the background of your Kindle Fire. Select an application that you wish to close and select "force stop." The application will now be closed and you may notice your Kindle Fire is running faster than before.

4. Another easy trick is to search for a specific word in an eBook. While reading a book, select the magnifying glass at the bottom of the screen and then type in a word that you would like to find. You can also click directly on a word and hold down. Select more and you will see a number of options related to that word.

3. If you have subscriptions to daily newspapers or weekly magazines, you might notice that the issue that appears in your newstand is the most recent one - all the others seem to disappear. Don't worry! The Kindle Fire keeps all your issues hidden behind each other. If you need to find an older issues, press down on the magazine or newspaper and an option will appear for you to see all the back issues of that periodical.

2. Sometimes you might get bogged down with too many tabs in your Amazon Silk Browser. To clear out all the tabs at once, you can touch one tab, hold down on it and then select the option to close all tabs. You will then have a fresh browser with no open tabs.

1. If you're disappointed by the size of the Amazon App Store, you can access the Google Android Market on you Kindle Fire to download other applications as well. To download Android Apps on your Kindle Fire, you can use the web site


Saturday, 17 December 2011

How To Create a Holiday Video Card

While holiday photo cards are a nice way to celebrate the season, they are not without their drawbacks. First of all, you have to decide what photo to use. The whole turtlenecked family gathered around the fireplace? Just the kids wearing festive hats? Some kind of Wes Anderson parody, perhaps? Families have been ripped apart by less important decisions. Next, printing holiday photo cards can cost a bundle, and you still need money to blow on rad gifts for your nearest and dearest. Finally, everyone is doing holiday photo cards these days, and this is your chance to stand out from the cliched masses. So why not create a holiday video card? It's a free, totally DIY way to celebrate the season - and it might just bring your family closer together.

Sound good? Read on for a few tips on how to make a holiday video card that will knock your loved ones' snowflake sweaters right off.

Plan your shoot

Before you start rolling, get the family together to brainstorm. This is the part where you decide what the video card will be about. You might act out a scene from a holiday movie, throw a winter dance party, or capture the family decorating the house (or each other). Remember, the more involved everyone is from the beginning, the more they'll contribute throughout the shoot.

Get the basics right

Make sure you have enough light and think of how you'll frame your shots. Your video will be less mirthful and joyous if it's too dark to see what's happening, or if you cut off grandma's head.

Three legs are better than two

It's not a family video if the whole family isn't in it, so if you have a tripod, break it out. Not only will it allow whoever is behind the camera to join the fun in front, it will result in steady shots and make you look like a complete pro.

Tis the season to be tuneful

What's a holiday video card without holiday music? Boring, that's what.

The gift that keeps on giving

When you're done putting the final edits on your holiday video card, simply upload it to a video-sharing site and let other people know about it via email, Facebook, Twitter, passenger pigeon or semaphore. You can protect your video with a password so only special people can see it, or create a private group so others in your family can share their holiday video cards.

The days of stuffing envelopes and running to the post office for another book of stamps are over! Now all you have to do is fire up the computer and watch the emoticons of appreciation roll in!

Family holiday video cards are easy to put together, and for additional tips and lessons, head over to the Video Vimeo School at

Friday, 16 December 2011

How To Stop Taking Things So Personally

Consider this scenario: you are walking outside and you notice dark clouds forming above you. Unfortunately, you have no umbrella. This is a shame because you're wearing a brand new outfit and you'd hate to get it wet.

You try to run for shelter but it's too late - a downpour has made you soaking wet. Now you'll be drenched all day until you can get home and change your clothes. How unlucky you are! You were just minding your own business and suddenly you got caught in the rain. If only you had the protection of your umbrella!

As we live our daily lives, it may seem like we have no control over how we feel. Indeed, we are just as vulnerable to the words and actions of others as we are to a rainstorm. Even if we are in a great mood, all it takes is one comment about our weight or a careless driver cutting us off and suddenly, we are soaking wet.

But what if we had our umbrella? What can protect us from the discourteous, thoughtless remarks and actions of others? According to bestselling author Don Miguel Ruiz, the answer is simple: don't take anything personally.

In "The Four Agreements," Ruiz offers simple, yet profound words of wisdom. The actions of other people do not need to have any negative effect on you.

If you take things personally, you make yourself a victim of anything that others say or do. This is like riding bumper cars and feeling outraged that others are colliding into you! Some may hit you because they are being careless or they have no control over their car. Others may crash into you deliberately. It would be quite silly to feel upset about this because we know that when we ride bumper cars, we are going to get hit.

Likewise, in our lives, we will inevitably be struck by the criticisms and oversights of others. Will you be disturbed and flustered by what other people do? Realize that it makes no sense to give people such power over you.

If you decide to no longer take things personally, you will avoid a tremendous amount of suffering. Even if someone directly antagonizes you, there is no need to be bothered because that person is certainly struggling with his or her own problems. Moreover, these problems have nothing to do with you. You can choose to become involved with the trouble of someone else or you can rise above it, confidently and peacefully walking away.

Why is it so easy to take offense to the behavior of others? Do we actually believe that everything is always about us? In fact, research does suggest that we overestimate how much we may be singled out and judged by others.

Frankly, it's irrational and self-absorbed to live this way. Moreover, it causes so much needless suffering. An inconsiderate date or the spiteful remarks of your co-worker reflect a fault in him or her, not in you. This fault does not need to suddenly become your problem, too.

It takes practice and patience to stop taking things personally. After all, it's natural to feel upset if a family member belittles your career choice or if a stranger bumps into you without an apology. Indeed, we've spent a lifetime reacting to the actions of others, and old habits die hard. However, if we make the courageous decision to no longer emotionally react to the whims of others, our lives will be completely transformed.

To start, focus on one person that normally flusters you. Try to see the world from her or his perspective. Does this perspective focus mostly on you? In truth, it doesn't. Human beings are primarily concerned with themselves, not with other people. Ideally, people would be more considerate of your feelings, but this will not always happen. Therefore, when this person says or does something that normally upsets you, remember that they are living through their own point of view, just like you are.

If this point of view results in a hurtful comment, it's nothing personal, because this person wasn't thinking about you in the first place!

There is tremendous emotional freedom when you don't take things personally. You'll find that there is hardly anything that can make you really upset. You can still maintain high standards for how people treat you and how you treat others, but how you feel will be under your control. Indeed, when the rain falls, you don't have to get drenched - your umbrella will be ready whenever you need it.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

How To Build Your Own App For Free

Conduit offers a simple tool to build your own app. (Credit: Conduit)

Ever want to build an app for yourself?

It's actually not hard. There are a number of companies that offer the ability to create your own app for a minimal fee, which is great for small businesses looking to stay relevant in this increasingly mobile world. Or if you just have a lot of time on your hands.

Take Conduit. The company made its money creating branded toolbars found on your browser. But over the past few months, it has been expanding into the mobile world with a free service that allows you to build an app and mobile Web site in minutes. It's part of a planned shift by the company to build its consumer awareness after spending years serving other businesses in a white label capacity.

"We're trying to give companies a tool to really go mobile," said Ori Lavie, vice president of product strategy at Conduit Mobile. "It's sometimes a difficult struggle."

You can select how many categories, or tabs, you want on your app. (Credit: Conduit)

I've tried the service, and it's pretty simple to use. The best part: it's completely free. Conduit has a team set up that will take you through the submission process and it will even pay your fee to get the app up in the various mobile app stores. As with everything in life, there are some catches, and Conduit's offer is a limited-time promotion.

For the purposes of testing, I decided to build a mobile application out of my personal Tumblr blog, Annoying PR. Conduit's browser-based tool allowed me to select from a set template for how the app would look--including different appearances for each platform.

To add content to the app, I typed in the address for my blog, which drew in the feed. I also added my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

In terms of the look, I was able to change up the color scheme. I also chose a background, splash page, screenshots, and a logo for the app. You can pick images from a provided library of upload your own images.

There's also an option to run mobile ads on the app, in which Conduit and the customer would split any potential revenue. I opted not to run ads on my app.

Potentially get your app on multiple devices. (Credit: Conduit)

The tool worked very much like Wordpress, Tumblr, or any other Web site or blog creation service, and is fairly intuitive.

Within minutes I had an HTML5 mobile Web site built. The site worked a lot like an app, especially after I chose to put it on my iPhone's home screen. The address, which uses a Conduit-hosted URL, isn't exactly the catchiest.

(Point your mobile browser here to check out the HTML5 site.)

Of course, I care more about getting it into app form, which is where there are complications. Yes, Conduit will offer to take your app through the submission process--all while covering your fees--but only after its compliance team deems the app ready. It can kick back the app if it lacks content or uses copyrighted or offensive material.

Once the app is ready, an option comes up that allows you to take advantage of this promotion.

In my case, the app wasn't ready for primetime. I got a message from a Conduit team member saying my app had insufficient content and suggested I add more categories and images. I added more content from CNET's YouTube page and a contact tab and resubmitted it. I'm hoping for more luck the next time around.

Lavie said the review process by Conduit may take a few days and getting approval from iTunes and Samsung's Bada may take a few weeks. Beyond iOS, Android, and Bada, a separate Nokia app is created as well. It also creates a Web app for Microsoft's Windows Phone and BlackBerry, although the site says native apps were coming soon.

Its simple format means this is a better option for businesses without a lot of technical resources to pursue their own app. Large companies and major brands with money behind them are better off building an app from scratch, since it'll likely be able to take more advantage of the device. There's a reason why major companies are pouring money into building apps--they want to be a permanent fixture on a device you stare at dozens of times a day.

It's not just businesses; ambitious individuals are also getting into the app game. Lavie said opera singer Andrea Bocelli will have a personal app up through Conduit, as well as two NFL players who haven't launched their programs yet. He added he expects bands and DJs to be interested in the capability.

It doesn't have to be small business or celebrities. Conduit's offer removes any barriers and complications, meaning anyone with something meaningful to share could conceivably build an app. So this is my challenge to readers: use Conduit to build your own app. If I get enough responses, I'll highlight them in an upcoming Inside Apps column.

How To Manage Your Stress During The Christmas Rush

I’m trying to beat my column deadline. Unbelievable schedule of rushing from work, and playing reindeer delivering gifts, down to the traditional get-togethers — all in the spirit of Christmas. At the rate I’m going, I must say, I’ve done a decent job this year with my Christmas list compared to last year.

And yet, there is no way that I can attend all the Christmas parties with the Christmas rush. MMDA’s Christmas lanes have done little to augment the traffic situation in Edsa. But, that’s Christmas. A stressful Christmas for all of us.

Dr. Marcellus Ramirez, former chair of the Philippine Heart Association Council on Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, warns against the increase incidence of heart attack and stroke during the Christmas Season, brought about by stress, and the food that we eat and the cold weather. And aside from this, we should be wary of what is called Holiday Heart Syndrome, or the irregular heartbeat after a drinking binge. The heart reacts to the toxic effects of alcohol. The symptoms include dizziness, difficulty in breathing, palpitations. In worse cases, though rarely, it may also lead to sudden death.

I’ve had my fill of buffalo wings, ribs, paella, salmon with cheese and garlic. I was the first to finish our meal, but dessert, who can really resist it? It was more like a buffet dessert: Chocolate cake, sans rival and Mango cake, combined with delectable coffee. Had two cups of brewed coffee, and another cup of cappuccino — a total of three. Had a sip of wine. Good thing I don’t like alcohol.

“Stay away from the buffet table during parties, the farther you are from the table, the better,” says Cardiologist Dr. Willie Ong.

You lose track of how full you are amidst all the conversation. To avoid binging, it’s best that you go to a party with a semi-full stomach, and use smaller plates. Also prepare healthier options on your menu like greens.

It’s best to be healthy now than regret it later.

How to deal with stress. Given that I’ve done a better job this year in managing my Christmas stress. We feel the surge of adrenalin during this season, but there are ways to manage our stress. Here are my few tips:

1. Prepare early. I started my list of To-Dos last October, bought gifts by November, and I should be done by delivering presents next week.

2. If you didn’t do No.1, quit cramming. Let go. You can’t accomplish everything anyway.

3. Delegate or ask for help. Just when I thought I have so many presents to wrap all by myself, came reinforcement: My Grandma, my ninang and sis-in-law. I also plan to hire a driver for a day to help me deliver our gifts if I don’t finish doing it myself. Tip: It’s good to deliver gifts on an early weekend morning, say 7 a.m.? It works for me.

3. Say no. It is very hard not to go to all the invitations, but with the traffic that we have, you really have to choose which ones to go and accept. Quality vs. quantity. I’d rather go to a few parties and be present, than to be in most and fleeting.

4. Stop. Nothing spoils Christmas than rushing all the way. Christmas is in the air, savor the cool wind (ehem, the smog), enjoy the Christmas cheer!

5. Get enough rest. If you have a late-night party to attend, make time to rest during the day. Pace yourself.

I love Christmas... the noche buena, the get-togethers, the reunions... it’s fun, fun, fun. But let this not consume us in what the season truly is about — the birthday of Jesus.

I planned early for Christmas, because I don’t want to miss Him. And if all the stress is consuming you, it’s not worth it. Let go and celebrate Christmas.

How To Answer Your kids Questions About Santa Claus

Watching children enjoy the magic of Christmas is fun, but the little ones sure ask a lot of questions.

“How can Santa Claus fly in a sleigh?” “How does he get in our house if we don’t have a chimney?” “How can he see me when I’m sleeping and when I’m awake?”

The legend of Santa Claus had delighted kids for generations, but let’s face it: The idea of a benevolent toy maker who lives at the frigid North Pole, who keeps himself a secret and enters your home only in the dark of night, and who keeps a semi-permanent record of each child’s goodness and badness raises more questions than it answers.

Tony Rimkus of Springfield, Ill., has heard a lot of those questions. He’s been portraying the jolly old elf for six years at stores.

Rimkus, and several experienced parents in central Illinois, addressed how they answer tough questions from the little ones about jolly old St. Nick. You can use some of these answers to simplify your life during this busy Christmas season.


Rimkus: “I bring a training sleigh with reindeer in training. I go to a friend that has a farm out of town where he puts them up in a barn and feeds them for me. He then lets me borrow his car to get to the store for the visit.”


Rimkus: “I have a special key that lets me in any door.”

Laura Easterley, Springfield: “Santa is always full of magical surprises, and he always finds a way to get the toys where they need to be, and he always goes to all the stores he can and visits with all the children.”


Rimkus: “I only carry the presents for the home I am visiting at that time. When I get back to the sleigh, the presents for the next stop are put in the bag by an elf assistant.”


Rimkus: “Santa is able to be in multiple places at one time. He trains special elves to represent him and can see and hear what the assistant is doing and directs him with the answer to the question. He also hears the list of what you want through the assistant. So, yes, I am the eyes and ears for Santa.”

Easterley: “He has reindeer, helpers, elves and a wonderful wife that always makes sure Santa is taken care of, just the way he takes care of you on Christmas.”


Diane Green, Springfield: “Our answer was that Mom and Dad give Santa money to buy the gifts. We also told the kids when you are born, before you leave the hospital, every mom is given Santa’s email and cell phone number. That way, Santa knows if you are being good or not. Plus, we keep in contact with Santa on the presents we think you should get.”


Tammy Stone, Springfield: “Last year, my daughter asked for a pair of mittens, because her ‘friends have them.’ Santa did not bring mittens.

“I explained to her that because she already has a few pairs of gloves, Santa gave her mittens to a little girl that didn’t have gloves or mittens. While disappointed that she didn’t get hers, she seemed very understanding that some little girl somewhere might not have any.”


Image from

Jeanne Gill, Springfield: “When the children asked about the Santas they saw everywhere, we explained they’re Santa’s special helpers. This way, there’s no disappointment to deal with as they (the children) get to share in this wonderful legend and get their spirit of Christmas each year. And hopefully, it doesn’t stop after Christmas, but develop the spirit of loving thy neighbor all year long and helping them whenever we can.”


Parents, if all else fails and you can’t come up with a good answer, take the advice of Marie Havens of Springfield.

“(The) best response is, ‘What do you think?’ Wish I’d known that when my then 3-year old asked me if Santa was real.”

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

How To Cure Bad Breath

Bad breath is no laughing matter to Americans. The proof is in the estimated two billion dollars a year spent on products to mask that stank.

But the often ignored social repercussions of halitosis -- the fancy term for bad breath -- can be crippling. In one survey, 34 percent of respondents said that bad breath made them hesitant to even speak to other people (another 12.6 percent said they avoided others altogether). Try dating with that kind of pressure.

Even if you don't have severe halitosis (the kind that you smell on someone sometimes before you even see them), what people may not realize is that half of the adult population suffers from persistent bad breath.

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Why do we get bad breath? And most importantly, what can we do to rid ourselves of it? You may be surprised to find that some of the usual go-to solutions may actually be making your breath worse.

What Causes Bad Breath
Germs: We may think smelly foods are often the culprit for bad breath, but in reality, germs that naturally exist in our mouth cause 90 to 95 percent of bad breath. When the germs mix with protein particles, it's bad news.

"Germs plus protein equal bad breath," says Susanne Cohen, D.D.S. "When those germs metabolize, they produce a foul smelling sulfur gas that smells kind of like rotten eggs."

And ever wonder why we get morning breath? One reason is, "When we sleep, we produce less saliva than when we're awake," explains NYC-based dentist, Jennifer Jablow. "Saliva acts as a buffer to neutralize and wash away bacteria. With less of it, our mouth is dry and the acid level rises, leaving bacteria to produce foul smelling gases."

You can even blame those gases for your coffee breath, which doesn't come from the coffee itself. "If you think about it, coffee smells delicious," Dr. Cohen explains. "Think about those commercials where people wake up with a smile just from the smell of coffee brewing! It's actually the sulfur gases [in your mouth] combined with coffee that produces that disgusting odor."

Foods: That said, certain foods do produce a bad odor -- think garlic and onions and other pungent foods. In fact, when garlic's potent-smelling sulfur compounds are metabolized, they form something called methyl sulfide, which can't be digested. Instead, it's passed through the blood stream to your lungs and skin where it's excreted. Yup, your skin will smell like garlic. No one knows why but for some people, this smell can last for days.

Dry mouth: It may not be the most opportune time to talk to the cutie at the gym after your workout. All that huffing and puffing while you exercise dries out your mouth and can actually cause foul breath.

"When your mouth is not moisturized, you can have bad breath," says Dr. Jablow. When you consistently have a dry mouth, it's called xerostomia. The side effects of many drugs such as anti-anxiety drugs, anti-depressants, and even allergy medicines like antihistamines can also produce dry mouth, and hence, bad breath.

Your Health: People with certain conditions like liver or kidney disease and diabetes tend to have bad breath as well. The build up of wastes in the blood leads to a metallic taste in the mouth that produces the odor. Conditions like acid-reflux (which may be asymptomatic in some people) causes food to regurgitate to the esophagus which mix with bacteria and other enzymes to cause bad breath.

On that point, Dr. Cohen notes that a common myth is that the stomach causes most bad breath. Unless you have a health condition, there actually isn't constant air-flow between your stomach and mouth.

How To Prevent Bad Breath
Contrary to popular belief, your alcohol-laden mouthwash may actually be making your bad breath worse.

"Mouthwashes containing alcohol mask breath for a very short time but [the alcohol] dries out your mouth terribly," says Dr. Jablow.

What's more, The Australian Dental Journal concluded that there is sufficient evidence that mouthwashes with alcohol increase your risk of developing oral cancer, a disease that kills roughly 8,000 Americans every year.

Dr. Cohen adds that those mouthwashes, which claim to kill almost 100 percent of germs, don't tell you that those germs also rapidly repopulate -- within 30 to 60 minutes by most estimates -- causing just as bad "rebound" bad breath. In fact, in 2008, the Better Business Bureau concluded that no mouthwash is allowed to claim fresh breath for more than an hour.

The one exception is SmartMouth, an alcohol-free mouthwash that breaks up the sulfur-producing process and kills germs to prevent bad breath for up to 12 hours, according to their claims.

Dr. Cohen, who is also the CEO and co-founder of Triumph Pharmaceuticals, which makes SmartMouth, says that if you use the rinse in the morning and before bed, "you'll literally wake up with fresh breath."

Mouthwashes like SmartMouth and another dentist favorite, CloSYS, actually get to the root of the problem by eliminating those gases from the get-go and killing germs simultaneously.

Dr. Jablow also recommends clear rinses like Crest Pro-Health Multi-Protection Rinse in Clear Mint over the blue-tinged ones ("I don't like coloration because they can stain the teeth a little bit").

Chewing fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, and rosemary also helps prevent bad odors after a smelly meal. Besides having a more favorable scent, the chlorophyll in the leaves helps neutralize pungent smells. You can also drink more water to keep your breath moisturized.

Surprisingly, eating cheeses like mozzarella can even prevent bad breath since dairy products help neutralize acidity.

Another bad-breath killer: "One of my favorite ingredients to prevent dry mouth is xylitol," says Dr. Jablow. "It's a sugar substitute found in many gums and dental products that keeps bacteria at bay and helps with saliva flow." Try IntelliWhiTe ProWHiTe toothpaste, or gums from Spry or Vitacare.

And of course, remember basic oral hygiene: Brushing twice a day, flossing and visiting your dentist twice a year to remove plaque build up, all of which helps to remove bacteria from accumulating under your gum line, which causes bad breath.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

How To Associate 'Easy' and 'Effective' and Employee Performance Appraisals

Performance appraisal systems are often ineffective in the original intention. No matter how amazing an employee is, he or she wants to know what a supervisor thinks about the performance.

Two reasons performance appraisals are left undone are because the process is time consuming and conflict is uncomfortable.

Here are some strategies to prepare the employee, write the appraisal and communicate the employee’s performance. All three areas will save time stressing over the appraisal process. Always know your human resources process before doing any performance related discussions. Whatever you do don’t be the supervisor who hasn’t given employee’s reviews for over a year.

Performance Appraisal Preparation

“Everything depends upon execution; having just a vision is no solution.”

— Stephen Sondheim

Appraisal writing

• Notify the employee and request achievements: Let them know you are preparing their performance review and would love to set up a time that works best for them. Ask them to prepare and email a list of accomplishments they would like included in the review.

• First draft: Close the door and reflect on each section and write notes throughout. Wait to write a numerical score until third draft.

• Second draft: Set it aside for a day and then edit/revise. Do you include specific examples of their performance reflected in the number score? Do you include specific examples of improvement you would like to see (if appropriate)?

• Third draft: Set it aside for another day and then edit/revise for the final time for your discussion with the employee. Now is the time to copy and paste the list of achievements the employee emailed.

• Send a meeting reminder: Notify the employee or remind them about the date of the performance review. It can be a great idea to also schedule a third party to attend the review if you have experienced previous miscommunications with the employee.

• Prepare talking points: Review the final appraisal looking for key areas to emphasize (positive and constructive). Where are the good examples? Be prepared to distinguish between the deal breakers or things that must be changed and can result in disciplinary action as opposed to things they can polish for star performance.

Appraisals Include more than Job Functions

• Job functions section: This section allows you to identify three or four major activities they are responsible for in their position. What specific results should they achieve in each of these areas if they are consistently meeting or exceeding expectations? Give examples of indicators or outcomes and examples of the employees consistent performance in each. Be specific.

• Other critical areas: Another section can review the entire picture of high performing employees. Determine if they are consistently performing quality and quantity of work, good interpersonal skills, communication, and promoting a positive work environment.

Develop one or two sentences that demonstrates their abilities. If they are inconsistent, then provide an example when they did well and an example of when they did not meet minimum expectations. Communicate to the employee that the goal is to have consistent performance over the long-term.

• Professional development plan: One of the most common mistakes here is the differing views of this goal. Some supervisors are communicating an area that would be nice if they improved, but not critical. Other supervisors view this as a goal that must be achieved or the employee could be held accountable.

First, be very clear what the positive or negative consequence will be for failure to achieve or accomplish this goal.

Second, this goal should link with initiatives and needs of the organization and/or department.

Third, this is an opportunity to brainstorm the employee’s desire for development and alignment to the department. Employees want to feel they are adding value to the organization.

• Additional comments by reviewer: This is where I copy and paste the achievements submitted by the employee. I add or comment on any as it applies.

Communicating with Employees and Follow up

Effective accountability is so little about reprimands. It is a focus on successful communication. Accountability is not telling people how to do the job. It is defining the successful outcome.

It describes what will and will not have happened, allowing the person to use their strengths and creativity to meet the performance.

• Communication during the review

Open with an overview of the meeting. Involve the employee at the start by asking them what they hope to achieve in the meeting.

Communicate the business need for their performance and their alignment to the team, department and organization. Stop and listen each step of the way. Add their comments along the way to demonstrate great listening. At the end of the meeting, ask them what decisions were made from our discussion. Take notes so you can include them in the follow-up reminder.

• Communication after the review

• Thank you/follow-up: Review your notes about decisions and employee comments.

Compose an email thanking them for a great meeting and a review of the decisions made at the meeting.

If you requested additional information then remind them when it is due in order to include it in the final appraisal.

• Tracking future feedback: Set up a location for tracking positive and constructive feedback to employees

Remember, you should have more positive reinforcement conversations then constructive feedback.

The goal is to set them up for success and the most effective way to do that for adults is positive reinforcement using the feedback method below.

• 5:1 Ratio — 5 positives for 1 corrective

Positive: Tell them when, what and why their actions were effective.

Corrective: Tell them when, what and why their actions were not effective.

Then brainstorm a more effective action and why it is more effective.

Stay connected

• Do coffee rounds every morning.

• Set team productivity indicators.

How do they know they are getting good results?

• Acknowledge milestones and achievements.

• Match rewards with the individual.

Monday, 12 December 2011

How To Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Losing weight is hard, but keeping it off is even harder, especially during the holidays. Fitness expert Lisa Lynn tells us tips on how to avoid holiday weight gain.

How To Get a Christmas Tree For Less

Consumers are often most focused on saving on gifts during the holidays, but there's another big purchase they should be interested in scoring a lower price on: their Christmas tree.

Depending on size, these evergreens -- real or artificial -- can set families back a few hundred dollars. To help you spare some of the expense, we asked savings experts for a few tips on finding a cheaper holiday tree.

One big purchase worth saving on: the Christmas tree, which can set families back a few hundred dollars.

Cut down your own.
There are several areas in the country where you can chop down your own evergreen after buying a $4 to $15 permit from the National Forest Service or your local Bureau of Land Management office. Additional charges for the tree will vary, depending on where you ultimately get the tree.

"This is by far the most affordable way to get a high quality, live Christmas tree," says Andrew Schrage, a founder of and a Deal Pro.

Comparison shop.
There's probably more than one local tree provider within driving distance of your home, so Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert with, suggests plugging your ZIP code into the National Christmas Tree Association Web site to scout out all of your options. Once you have a list in hand, you can call around to find out who is offering the trees for the most reasonable price.

Schrage says real Christmas trees sold at major retailers, such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot, are already some of the cheapest around, but local farms are often your best bet for a "quality live tree that is sure to last through the holidays."

You can also buy a Christmas tree online, so Woroch suggests looking for coupon codes for artificial trees on,, and Schrage says folks in the market for an artificial tree should expect to spend at least $100.

Once you've identified the most affordable provider in your area, don't be afraid to see if you can get an even deeper discount. "Look for any imperfections and ask for a price reduction," Woroch says.

You can check out this article if you need to learn more about haggling.

Hold out.
The truth is, the closer you get to Dec. 25, the cheaper trees - especially fresh-cut ones - are going to get, since retailers look to unload excess inventory as Christmas nears. Woroch suggests holding out until the week before Christmas, then calling around to local providers to ask if they have any extras they want to get rid of or any trees available at a discount.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

How To Make a Deadly Pandemic Virus

In science, the unwritten rule has always been to publish your results first and worry about the fallout later. More knowledge is always good, right? Information wants to be free.

But what if the thing you want to publish is truly frightening?

Millions-dead kind of frightening.

This isn't a rhetorical question, in light of some experiments now in the pipeline for publication. H5N1 influenza viruses—a.k.a Avian flu—are efficient killers that have wiped out poultry flocks and some 600 or so hapless people who came into close contact with the birds. But at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, virologist Ron Fouchier has created an Avian flu that, unlike other H5N1 strains, easily spreads between ferrets—which have so far proven a reliable model for determining transmissibility in humans. What's more, his breakthrough, funded by the National Institutes of Health, involved relatively low-tech methods.

Are you scared yet? You have reason to be. In the December 2 issue of Science magazine, Fouchier admits that his creation "is probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make," while Paul Keim, a scientist who works on anthrax, adds, "I can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one." (Here's a summary; you'll need a subscription to read the full text.)

Now Fouchier hopes to publish the results of experiments that many scientists believe should never have been done in the first place. He and Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a virologist at the University of Wisconsin who is reportedly seeking to publish a similar study, have long pursued this line of research, hoping to determine whether H5N1 has the potential to become infectious in people, a jump that could trigger a worldwide pandemic. Knowing the specific genetic mutations that make the virus transmissible, Fouchier told Science, will help researchers respond quickly if this sort of killer virus were to emerge in nature.

This type of research is euphemistically known as "dual-use," which means it could be used for good or evil. Publishing such work is a "risk-benefit calculation," Donald Kennedy, then editor-in-chief of Science, told me for a story published on the first anniversary of 9/11. Science, Kennedy said, had never rejected an article out of concern that the information could be misused, although, he added, "I suppose one could conceive of a scenario in which one would decline to publish."

"If I were a journal editor and I received an article that said how to make a bioweapon, I'd never publish it, but that would be based on self-regulation, not any government restriction," added bioterror expert and retired Harvard professor Matt Meselson. "I've never heard of a case where the government has restricted publication. I don't think it would work."

Kawaoka, whose lab has also published methods for reconstituting a pathogenic virus from its DNA sequence, didn't respond to Science, but when I talked to him back in 2002, he was adamant that dual-use data should be published. He argued that even recipes for nuclear weapons exist online, and that once you start censoring potentially dangerous results, you may as well ban knives and guns and even airplanes—the terrorists' weapon of choice the previous September.

What most troubles critics now was the lack of any meaningful review of Fouchier's experiments before they were conducted. Some scientists think any work this dangerous should be vetted by an international panel; others reject the notion, fearing that such a move would create an unacceptable bottleneck in the flow of scientific information.

Back in 2002, I also spoke with Brian Mahy, a virologist with the Centers for Disease Control, and part of the team that had sequenced smallpox and several other highly dangerous pathogens in the early 1990s. Toward the end of the smallpox project, Mahy told me, the team had internal debates about whether to go public. "My view is it was scientific evidence that needed to be in the public domain, and we're a public institution, so we published it," he said. "There were suggestions it be burned onto a CD-ROM and chained to [then-CDC chief] Bernadine Healy's desk."

But such decisions, then and now, have been left largely in the hands of the researchers. The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, an NIH advisory panel, is currently reviewing the Fouchier and Kawaoka papers, according to Science. But in 2007, the board recommended against mandating prior reviews of dual-use research. Instead, it suggested that scientists alert their institutional review boards to any experiments of concern—something they were supposed to be doing already. Keim, who sits on the NSABB, told Science that any potential risks should be flagged at "the very first glimmer of an experiment…You shouldn't wait until you have submitted a paper before you decide it's dangerous."

These particular experiments, it's safe to say, were exceedingly strong candidates for scrutiny.

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