Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Forbes ranks Boulder smartest city

For the second straight year, has ranked Boulder as the smartest city in the USA.

Other Colorado cities may deride Boulder as the place that banned couches from porches and required landowners to get a permit to kill a prairie dog. Not Forbes.

"Boulder is one of the greenest cities in the United States, and the residents take advantage of the many outdoor recreational activities available to the students, professors and overwhelmingly young adult population," the magazine raved.

The rankings were based on the percentage of adults 25 and older with at least a bachelor's degree. In Boulder, 53 percent of adults do. Ninety-three percent graduated from high school and 4 percent have a PhD.

Most of the "smartest" cities happen to be college towns: Ames and Iowa City, Iowa; Lawrence, Kan., Corvallis, Ore.; Ithaca, N.Y.; Ann Arbor, Mich., and Cambridge, Mass. also made the top 10. Fort Collins, home to Colorado State University, was ranked 12th.

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Beautiful Panorama of Aurora and Meteor over Alaskan Lake

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The Mountain You See in This Picture Is a Mirage

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Briton jailed for four years in Dubai after customs find cannabis weighing less than a grain of sugar under his shoe

A father-of-three who was found with a microscopic speck of cannabis stuck to the bottom of one of his shoes has been sentenced to four years in a Dubai prison.

Keith Brown, a council youth development officer, was travelling through the United Arab Emirates on his way back to England when he was stopped as he walked through Dubai's main airport.

A search by customs officials uncovered a speck of cannabis weighing just 0.003g - so small it would be invisible to the naked eye and weighing less than a grain of sugar - on the tread of one of his shoes.

Dubai International Airport is a major hub for the Middle East and thousands of Britons pass through it every year to holiday in the glamorous beach and shopping haven.

But many of those tourists and business travellers are likely to be unaware of the strict zero-tolerance drugs policy in the UAE.

One man has even been jailed for possession of three poppy seeds left over from a bread roll he ate at Heathrow Airport. Painkiller codeine is also banned.

If suspicious of a traveller, customs officials can use high-tech equipment to uncover even the slightest trace of drugs.

Mr Brown was detained and arrested in September last year and has been held in a cell with three other men in the city prison ever since.

This week the youth worker, who has two young children and a partner at home in Smethwick, West Midlands, was sentenced to four years in prison.

A 25-year-old Briton who was found with a similar speck in one pocket as he arrived on holiday has been awaiting sentence since November.

Meanwhile a Big Brother TV executive has so far been held without charge for five days after being arrested for possessing the health supplement melatonin.

The authorities claim to have discovered 0.01g of hashish in his luggage.

Last night Mr Brown's brother Lee said his case "defied belief".

"For that sort of amount common sense should prevail, from where it was found it was obviously something that had been crushed on the floor - it could have come from anywhere."

Rastafarian Mr Brown had been returning from a short trip to Ethiopia, where one of his children lives and where he owns property.

He was travelling with his partner Imani, who was also stopped and detained for more than a week.

Normally he flew direct to and from the UK, but decided to stop off in Dubai.

"He was incensed when he called me," said driving instructor Lee, 57. "It would be funny if the circumstances weren't so unpleasant.

"Bugs are crawling out of his mattress when he's sleeping. His family are frantic with worry and can't call him."

Last night campaign group Fair Trials International advised visitors to Dubai and Abu Dhabi to "take extreme caution".

Chief Executive Catherine Wolthuizen said: "We have seen a steep increase in such cases over the last 18 months.

"Customs authorities are using highly sensitive new equipment to conduct extremely thorough searches on travellers and if they find any amount - no matter how minute - it will be enough to attract a mandatory four-year prison sentence."

Mrs Wolthuizen added: "We even have reports of the imprisonment of a Swiss man for 'possession' of three poppy seeds on his clothing after he ate a bread roll at Heathrow.

Cat Le-Huy

Held: A campaign is underway to secure the release of Cat Le-Huy from a Dubai jail

"What many travellers may not realise is that they can be deemed to be in possession of such banned substances if they can be detected in their urine or bloodstream, or even in tiny, trace amounts on their person."

Only two months after Mr Brown was stopped economics graduate Robert Dalton was detained in almost identical circumstances.

Mr Dalton, from Gravesend, on Kent was with two friends when he was stopped and asked to empty his pockets.

Officials found 0.03g of cannabis in a small amount of fluff. He is currently on trial and if convicted, is likely receive a four-year prison sentence.

Last night his brother Peter, 26, told how it took 24 hours to find out why he had been stopped.

"As we understand, the amount of cannabis was barely visible to the human eye and was at the bottom of the pocket of an old pair of jeans.

"He's not a drug user, but he goes clubbing and the speck was so small."

Last week Cat Le-Huy, a London-based German national, was arrested on arrival at the airport.

Mr Le-Huy, 31, head of technology with Big Brother production company Endemol, was arrested on suspicion of possessing illegal drugs after customs officers found melatonin, a health supplement used for jet lag available over the counter both in Dubai and in the US.

Authorities also claim they discovered fragments in one of his bags which they believe to be hashish. Fair Trials International said the amount was 0.01g.

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The most stolen sign in Austria: A sign from Fucking saying "Please, not so fast".

The most stolen sign in Austria: A sign from Fucking saying "Please, not so fast".

Location: Fucking, Austria (more photos)
Original webpage:

4 days ago Gil Ruda wrote: Sasha was right, Austrians do have a sense of humour.

6 days ago Ron Mertens wrote: Funny - this sign is "Frequently-stolen" according to Wikipedia...

Register to Triptouch to comment on this photo!

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Caffeine: A User's Guide to Getting Optimally Wired

Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world, but few use it to maximal advantage. Get optimally wired with these tips.

1) Consume in small, frequent amounts.

Between 20-200mg per hour may be an optimal dose for cognitive function.

Caffeine crosses the blood-brain barrier quickly (owing to its lipid solubility) although it can take up to 45 minutes for full ingestion through the gastro-intestinal tract. Under normal conditions, this remains stable for around 1 hour before gradually clearing in the following 3-4 hours (depending on a variety of factors).

A landmark 2004 study showed that small hourly doses of caffeine (.3mg per kg of body weight [approx 20 mg per hour; thanks digg!]) can support extended wakefulness, potentially by counteracting the homeostatic sleep pressure, which builds slowly across the day and acts preferentially on the prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain thought responsible for executive and "higher" cognitive functions).

At doses of 600mg, caffeine's effects on cognitive performance are often comparable to those of modafinil, a best-of-class nootropic.

2) Play to your cognitive strengths while wired.

Caffeine may increase the speed with which you work, may decrease attentional lapses, and may even benefit recall - but is less likely to benefit more complex cognitive functions, and may even hurt others. Plan accordingly (and preferably prior to consuming caffeine!)

Caffeine has long been known to improve vigilance, but work focusing on its more more cognitive effects - through interactions with the "frontal task network" - show less clear effects.

In tests of lateral prefrontal function, caffeine only remediates some fatigue-related symptoms. For example, in a random number generation task (a commonly-used measure of prefrontal function), caffeine increased the quantity of numbers generated to pre-fatigue levels, but did not significantly affect more demanding aspects of performance: caffeine didn't affect the likelihood of subjects generating numbers outside the acceptable range, or their tendency to perseverate on particular numbers.

Another study indicates the same is true of caffeine's effect on the medial prefrontal cortex. In that study, sleep deprivation-related decrements on the Iowa Gambling Task were not mitigated by caffeine.

The Stroop task, which a wealth of neuroimaging shows is related to functioning of the anterior cingulate, may also benefit from caffeine, but this effect may also be due to general speed improvements rather than those of cognitive control specifically.

(Interestingly, it appears that none of these studies follow guideline #1 - and there are hints in the second one that subject's performance might have shown significant improvements if another dose of caffeine had been provided about half-way through the task).

Recall from memory may be improved by caffeine (here and here), possibly due to enhancements in memory encoding rather than retrieval per se. Another study shows caffeine can actually impair estimates of "memory scanning" speed (in the Sternberg paradigm), so the failure of many studies to find recall-related effects of caffeine may reflect a speed-accuracy tradeoff at the time of retrieval.

3) Play to caffeine's strengths.

Caffeine's effects can be maximized or minimized depending on what else is in your system at the time.

The beneficial effects of caffeine may be most pronounced in conjunction with sugar. For example, one factor analytic study has shown caffeine-glucose cocktails provide benefits to cognition not seen with either alone.

Some flavonoids (such as soy) may act in the same way as caffeine - i.e., through adenosine receptor antagonism - in particular galangin, genistein, and hispidol. Evidence showing that markers of caffeine metabolism are slowed by flavonoids might suggest that ingestion of flavonoids would enhance the effects of caffeine - some studies show grapefruit juice might keep caffeine levels in the bloodstream high for longer, though others have found no such effect (thanks to commenter Matt McIntosh for this latter reference).

Caffeine's effects might be masked by green tea extract, Kava Kava or St. John's Wort - all of which contain theanine and are associated with subjective feelings of relaxation - but other preliminary evidence indicates the opposite effect: theanine might actually potentiate the benefits of caffeine on some tasks (reported in longer format here).

Similarly, nicotine may speed the metabolism of caffeine.

Because caffeine is a competitive antagonist for adenosine 1 & 2a primarily at striatal sites, it may also selectively increase the efficacy of D2 receptors, given evidence that D2 depleted mice show reduced effects of caffeination. According to theoretical computational models of D2 receptor activity in the striatum, this should increase cortico-thalamic excitability. It will be important for future work to examine caffeine's effect on tasks thought to require NoGo pathway activity.

A variety of other chemicals may work on the A2 receptor in similar (SCH 58261, ZM 241385, CSC, KF17837) or opposing ways (CGS 21680, APEC, 2HE-NECA).

4) Know when to stop - and when to start again.

Although you may not grow strongly tolerant to caffeine, you can become dependent on it and suffer withdrawal symptoms. Balance these concerns with the cognitive and health benefits associated with caffeine consumption - and appropriately timed resumption.

Long-term ingestion of large quantities of caffeine (by way of coffee) is associated with a variety of health benefits - not only cognitive enhancements but also reduction in risk for type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's . These beneficial effects may be related to the neuroprotective role of adenosine.

However, there are some suggestions that caffeine also has adverse effects (mostly cardiovascular, which might be balanced by flavonoids - see guideline #3). And some people just don't like the thought of cultivating an addiction - or the spectre of withdrawal symptoms.

Some evidence indicates high heritability for caffeine addition (note: this is based on interviews of twins) and others are advocating the recognition of caffeine addiction as a bona fide mental disorder. Withdrawal symptoms can onset within 12 to 24 hours of caffeine consumption and last between 2 and 9 days.

There are more cognitive concerns here as well. For one, caffeine probably follows the Yerkes-Dodson law, in which a moderate dose is superior to too little or too much. In addition, there are well-established cognitive effects where recall is best when it matches the context of encoding - so if you're caffeinated when you study for the test, you better be caffeinated when you take it.

5) Finding good sources of caffeine

Despite the huge variety of sources of caffeine - including caffeinated soap, candy, and of course chocolate - the optimal use of caffeine is likely to involve small, hourly doses along with some cardioprotective agent. Given the high solubility of caffeine, absorption time should not be an issue (but if for some reason it is, try gum).

Otherwise, why not enjoy a cup of green tea (coffee-flavored, if you must), as the Chinese have for nearly 5000 years? It's hard to come by a better longitudinal study than that.

Just one of many citations (for BPR3)...

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The Plus Side of Going Without Sex

by Linda De Villers

Also, straight talk on circumcision, pain during lovemaking, and the problem with separate bedrooms.

Question: My partner and I are both on the road a lot for work. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the old adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” If we have less sex, will we want it more?

Your instinct for keeping the spark alive is right on, I’m happy to report.

Resisting the urge to have sex can pay off in hotter action the next time you succumb to desire, even if it’s just your maddening travel schedules causing the resistance. And absence may even have benefits over expensive mate-wooing extras like beauty treatments or lingerie. One study shows that men who’ve spent time apart from their partners not only are more eager to get them in the sack, but find them more attractive, too. There’s also good news if you’re hoping to get pregnant after an extended run of sex-free days and nights: Your partner’s sperm count will be higher.

To tip the quality-versus-quantity ratio further in your favor, send your honey occasional lusty e-mails or text messages to get him thinking about that next encounter, however far off it may be. And when you finally do hook up, special touches like champagne and strawberries make it even more worth the wait.

Question: Is there any difference in having sex with men who are circumcised and those who aren’t?

First, let’s talk visual effects. If you get amorous with an uncut guy, his erection will cause the foreskin to retract, leaving his penis bareheaded in all its glory, just like circumcised ones. Once he’s inside you, you shouldn’t feel any difference.

Your partner, though, just might count himself lucky that he never got nipped. Some (but not all) studies suggest that the tip of an uncircumcised penis is more sensitive to stimulation because keeping it covered up preserves its fine texture. Regardless, that uncut foreskin can function as a sort of free sex toy during foreplay if you’re in the mood to experiment with it by pulling it up and down.

Worried about a greater risk of infection? Some research suggests that circumcision decreases a man’s chances of contracting sexually transmitted infections (and passing these along to his partners). If you’re concerned about STIs, use condoms and have a frank chat with any new partner, cut or otherwise, about your sexual histories.

Question: I feel pain around my navel after making love, and I’m getting worried. What’s wrong?

I suspect you’re experiencing “referred pain”—you feel pain in one spot while its source lies elsewhere. Referred pain around your belly button could be caused by a problem originating elsewhere in your pelvic region, such as a muscle strain (which could be exacerbated during orgasm) or irritable bowel syndrome (which has other symptoms like diarrhea, cramps, and gas).

If the pain’s steadily getting worse when you have sex, or you’ve experienced changes in your menstrual cycle, dial up your gynecologist right away. Otherwise, try logging the details in a pain journal for a few weeks before seeing your doctor. That way, she’ll have more evidence to help her get to the root of your problem. Keep track of how often you feel this pain, whether it’s dull or piercing, steady or brief, and what effect, if any, sex positions or orgasms have. You might also keep track of connections between the pain and how fatigued you are, or what you’ve eaten.

If you do see a doctor, she may recommend tests such as colonoscopy or ultrasound.

Question: I’ve been sleeping on the sofa with my 1-year-old, while my husband and our two sons (both under 5) sleep in our bedroom. We never have sex anymore. What can I do?

When you have three kids under 5, tending to their nonstop needs is bound to lead to some neglect of your own. A sex drought isn’t fun, but it’s typical. What’s far from typical, however, is your bedtime arrangement—it’s estranging you and your husband, emotionally and physically. The first rule of order is to work on changing who sleeps where. If your youngest can’t sleep without you, and you really would like her to sleep in a crib in her own room, get help with that. Same with the boys in your bed. A chat with the pediatrician or a sleep expert might help you problem-solve ways to get the kids all in their own beds, if that’s your goal. It might take some time and effort, but getting back in bed with your spouse is worth it.

Of course, other problems could be keeping you and your husband apart—you’re worried you’ll get pregnant again, you’re exhausted, or you’ve gained a lot of weight. Whatever’s going on, try to bring it up in a candid talk with your husband. If that’s hard, you might want to seek help from a sex therapist. Suffering isn’t worth it.

Our resident sexpert, Linda De Villers, PhD. Linda is a certified sex therapist based in California and author of Love Skills.

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7 Reasons You’re Fat and Why You’ll Probably Stay Fat

We fat people are a minority. We are looked upon as different. Kids look at us differently. Adults look at us differently. Its a sad fact that people are judged on their appearance in today’s modern society, even after all the talks of “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Today I’m going to give you seven good reasons why you’re fat and why you’ll probably stay fat.

  1. You’re Lazy. Plain and simple. The thought of exercising just makes you want another 200 calorie soda.
  2. Your job rules your life. Whether you’re a full-time mom or a business executive, you probably don’t have time to eat healthy.
  3. You have too much free time to spend eating. If you did more things rather than watch TV or sit at the computer chatting on facebook, maybe you could lose weight
  4. You work from home and have a house full of goodies. The temptation is all around you. Doritos in the cabinet, cookies in the jar, ice cream in the freezer. Forget salad!
  5. You eat anger/depression away. You can’t help but hate the world, your job, your car, your kids, your friends, your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Why not have another Oreo?
  6. Your friends are fat and they drag you down. They eat out a lot, they snack, they order pizza/chinese and invite you over. It’s inevitable to happen.
  7. You just don’t care about calories, fat content, carbs, you eat what you want because you only get one life to live.

How do we correct these issues?

There’s no simple way to stop a horrible habit. Fact is, you make goals and never follow through. It’s a bad character flaw and we have it and hate ourselves for it. I don’t expect you to change your life style in order to be thin and conform. If you’re happy with who you are, stay that way and don’t let anyone pull you down.

Take your problem one step at a time, attempt to eliminate the things that are causing you to be overweight and unhappy. Like I said, don’t become a vegetarian or vow to never eat chocolate again, just think little. Moderate how you intake these fatty (yet delicious) foods, slowly adjust your body to different and better eating habits. Change your thinking, control your mind, and it’ll change your body.

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Domestic Violence Harms Long-Term Health of Victims

(HealthDay News) -- Women and men who are victims of intimate partner violence are also more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions and participate in risky behaviors, U.S. health officials report.

Every year in the United States, such violence accounts for some 1,200 deaths and 2 million injuries among women, and almost 600,000 injuries among men, according to new statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday.

"One in four women and one of seven men experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime," said CDC epidemiologist Michele Black. "Those who experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime were also more likely to report a range of adverse health conditions and health risk behaviors."

In the study, Black's team gathered data on 70,156 men and women who participated in the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. These individuals completed the section of the survey on intimate partner violence. Responses came from people in 16 states and two territories.

The results of the survey are published in the Feb. 8 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC publication.

The researchers found that the prevalence of intimate partner violence was significantly higher among women than men. In addition, it was more common among multiracial, non-Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska native women, and among women with low incomes.

However, intimate partner violence does appear to be on the decline overall, according to U.S. Department of Justice figures. In 1993, the rate of intimate partner violence was 9.8 per 1,000 women and 1.6 per 1,000 men. In 2005, both rates dropped, to 3.6 per 1,000 women and 0.9 per 1, 000 men.

The CDC report found that women who suffered from intimate partner violence were significantly more likely to have chronic health conditions and engage in risky behaviors. These chronic conditions did not, however, include diabetes, high blood pressure or being overweight.

But chronic illness associated with intimate partner violence among women did include high cholesterol and increased risk for HIV infection, according to the report.

Men who experienced intimate partner violence were more likely to use canes, crutches and wheelchairs and suffer from arthritis, asthma and stroke. In addition, these men have risk factors for HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases. They were also likely to smoke and drink heavily, the researchers found.

"This underscores the importance of intimate partner violence as a public health issue," Black said. "Health-care providers have the opportunity to assist survivors of intimate partner violence and address the health-related needs of these individuals and reduce their subsequent risks for negative affects."

One expert agreed with the findings but was concerned that lumping violence against men in with violence against women clouds the true picture of domestic violence.

"Beyond concerns for these data representing the true state of [intimate partner violence] and associated health concerns, this is certainly an important study," said Jay G. Silverman, director of Violence Against Women Prevention at Harvard University School of Public Health.

What is a critical in examining these data is the notion of intimate partner violence as a public health issue, Silverman said. "Although women and girls suffer far higher rates of abuse, are far more likely to be injured, and far more likely to be killed by male partners than are men reporting abuse from women, there is a push from some professional quarters to equate these experiences and remove considerations of gender," he noted.

In many countries, data indicate that violence from husbands and other male partners exacts a terrible toll on the health of women and children, and is a major factor in the increasing "feminization" of the HIV epidemic across the United States, Africa and Asia, Silverman said.

"Hopefully, we as a country can overcome this desire to remove gender from our public health approach and join the rest of the world in focusing on the major threats posed by violence against women and girls from their male partners," Silverman said.

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How to Nap at Work - or Anyplace You Need a Rest

Would You Visit a “Nap Cafe?”

When I was working in the city for a big corporation, there were many days when I was wishing there was a “Nap Cafe” I could go to instead of having lunch. I was working A LOT and never getting enough rest so I was always tired….just like everybody else! So this idea sprung in my head, a “Nap Cafe,” where you could go to take a nap, in a small quiet room. All my friends laughed at the idea saying it would be too difficult to keep people from doubling up in those small quiet rooms, wink, wink. I don’t think so. But my idea never got implemented. I was busy with other projects.
The Next Best Thing- Meditation Naps

Fast forward a few years later, rocking my baby to sleep. Still tired, maybe more so, from all the night-time feedings. That’s when I “accidentally” discovered an amazing thing: Meditation Naps. Every time I would either be rocking or feeding my new born baby, I would close my eyes for the 10-20 minutes that it would take to feed or get the baby to sleep. I started to notice something very powerful. Simply by closing my eyes, I instantly felt better. OK, so maybe you say “no kidding Sully, of course you feel better when you close your eyes when you’re tired.” Well, I’m with you, but read on, because there’s more.

Do You Ever Rest Your Eyes At Work?

Try this for one minute. Sit back in your chair, relax your arms away from your desk, and close your eyes, taking a few nice slow deep breathes. After a minute, open your eyes. How do you feel? Better, right? You probably want a little more of that. And you should get more of that!

See, when most people when they are tired at work, what do they do? They Power Through. And, of course, this works to a certain extent, but not as good as if you take a “Meditation Nap.” So what is this Meditation Nap?

How to Take a “Meditation Nap”

You can benefit from this in as little as 5 minutes, but optimal time would be 10-20 minutes.

  1. STRETCH your legs for 30 seconds.
  2. SIT on a chair or couch. If you’re at work back away from your desk a bit.
  4. STRETCH your arms above your head, slowly roll your head to stretch your neck.
  5. DEEP BREATHING - take at least 3 deep breaths in and out. Do this slowly and hold in between the in and out breath.
  6. REST and RELAX your face, jaw, eyes and whole body.
  7. BE AWARE HOW YOU FEEL as you relax.
  8. CALM THE MIND. Let go of all thoughts. As thoughts come into your mind, just repeat this gentle reminder to yourself “Empty The Mind.” You may want to switch over to a word of your choosing to focus on (mantra) that will help push out other thoughts. Examples of words are Peace, Calm, Rest, Empty, Power, Strength, Love. Any word is fine. In fact the word “OM” can be helpful because it is not attached to other meanings. Whatever works for you is what is best at that moment!
  9. IGNORE NOISES in the same way that you ignore thoughts. Repeat your mantra or “Empty the Mind.” Don’t get mad at noises, just flow with them as if they are waves under your boat of meditation.
  10. OPEN YOUR EYES slowly after about 10-20 minutes. Take a few more deep breaths and stretch again: arms, neck, legs.
  11. AHHHH. Feel the rejuvenation!

Benefits of a “Meditation Nap”

You will feel amazingly refreshed from this exercise. It will give you an increased ability to handle the rest of your day. And you can do this right at your desk, on a park bench, in your car, or anywhere you can find a small bit of peace. I recommend doing this mid afternoon as a “pick-me-up.” It’s a great coffee alternative. It’s also helpful if you are trying to quit smoking. The other time this is especially helpful is the transition time between work and evening when you may be going home to your “second job” of family, fixing dinner, housework, and helping kids with homework. Please try it if you regularly struggle with stressful dinner time. This will CURE that problem. I promise!

Please Share

If you found this beneficial, please SHARE THIS below via Email, Digg, Delicious, or StumbleUpon. All sharing is recognized and appreciated!

And Please Share your comments below! All comments big and small are very welcomed!

If you want to Support Life Learning Today, you can visit one of my sponsors, make a donation, or visit Amazon through my “Books” page at the top of this page. Thank you!

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20 Simple Ways to Get Happy

State of Mind

Happiness is ephemeral, subject to the vagaries of everything from the weather to the size of your bank account.

We're not suggesting that you can reach a permanent state called "happiness" and remain there. But there are many ways to swerve off the path of anxiety, anger, frustration, and sadness into a state of happiness once or even several times throughout the day. Here are 20 ideas to get you started. Choose the ones that work for you. If tuning out the news or making lists will serve only to stress you further, try another approach.

1. Practice mindfulness. Be in the moment. Instead of worrying about your checkup tomorrow while you have dinner with your family, focus on the here and now -- the food, the company, the conversation.

2. Laugh out loud. Just anticipating a happy, funny event can raise levels of endorphins and other pleasure-inducing hormones and lower production of stress hormones. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, tested 16 men who all agreed they thought a certain videotape was funny. Half were told three days in advance they would watch it. They started experiencing biological changes right away. When they actually watched the video, their levels of stress hormones dropped significantly, while their endorphin levels rose 27 percent and their growth hormone levels (indicating benefit to the immune system) rose 87 percent.

3. Go to sleep. We have become a nation of sleep-deprived citizens. Taking a daily nap or getting into bed at 8 p.m. one night with a good book -- and turning the light out an hour later -- can do more for your mood and outlook on life than any number of bubble baths or massages.

4. Hum along. Music soothes more than the savage beast. Studies find music activates parts of the brain that produce happiness -- the same parts activated by food or sex. It's also relaxing. In one study older adults who listened to their choice of music during outpatient eye surgery had significantly lower heart rates, blood pressure, and cardiac workload (that is, their heart didn't have to work as hard) as those who had silent surgery.

5. Declutter. It's nearly impossible to meditate, breathe deeply, or simply relax when every surface is covered with papers and bills and magazines, your cabinets bulge, and you haven't balanced your checkbook in six months. Plus, the repetitive nature of certain cleaning tasks -- such as sweeping, wiping, and scrubbing -- can be meditative in and of itself if you focus on what you're doing.

6. Just say no. Eliminate activities that aren't necessary and that you don't enjoy. If there are enough people already to handle the church bazaar and you're feeling stressed by the thought of running the committee for yet another year, step down and let someone else handle things.

7. Make a list. There's nothing like writing down your tasks to help you organize your thoughts and calm your anxiety. Checking off each item provides a great sense of fulfillment.

8. Do one thing at a time. Edward Suarez, Ph.D., associate professor of medical psychology at Duke, found that people who multitask are more likely to have high blood pressure. Take that finding to heart. Instead of talking on the phone while you fold laundry or clean the kitchen, sit down in a comfortable chair and turn your entire attention over to the conversation. Instead of checking e-mail as you work on other projects, turn off your e-mail function until you finish the report you're writing. This is similar to the concept of mindfulness.

9. Garden. Not only will the fresh air and exercise provide their own stress reduction and feeling of well-being, but the sense of accomplishment that comes from clearing a weedy patch, watching seeds turn into flowers, or pruning out dead wood will last for hours, if not days.

10. Tune out the news. For one week go without reading the newspaper, watching the news, or scanning the headlines online. Instead, take a vacation from the misery we're exposed to every day via the media and use that time for a walk, a meditation session, or to write in your journal.

Block and Focus

11. Take a dog for a walk. There are numerous studies that attest to the stress-relieving benefits of pets. In one analysis researchers evaluated the heart health of 240 couples, half of whom owned a pet. Those couples with pets had significantly lower heart rates and blood pressure levels when exposed to stressors than the couples who did not have pets. In fact, the pets worked even better at buffering stress than the spouses did.

12. Scent the air. Research finds that the benefits of aromatherapy in relieving stress are real. In one study people exposed to rosemary had lower anxiety levels, increased alertness, and performed math computations faster. Adults exposed to lavender showed an increase in the type of brain waves that suggest increased relaxation. Today you have a variety of room-scenting methods, from plug-in air fresheners to essential oil diffusers, potpourri, and scented candles.

13. Ignore the stock market. Simply getting your quarterly 401(k) statement can be enough to send your blood pressure skyrocketing. In fact, Chinese researchers found a direct link between the daily performance of the stock market and the mental health of those who closely followed it. Astute investors know that time heals most financial wounds, so give your investments time -- and give yourself a break.

14. Visit a quiet place. Libraries, museums, gardens, and places of worship provide islands of peace and calm in today's frantic world. Find a quiet place near your house and make it your secret getaway.

15. Volunteer. Helping others enables you to put your own problems into perspective and also provides social interaction. While happy people are more likely to help others, helping others increases your happiness. One study found that volunteer work enhanced all six aspects of well-being: happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and depression.

16. Spend time alone. Although relationships are one of the best antidotes to stress, sometimes you need time alone to recharge and reflect. Take yourself out to lunch or to a movie, or simply spend an afternoon reading, browsing in a bookstore, or antiquing.

17. Walk mindfully. You probably already know that exercise is better than tranquilizers for relieving anxiety and stress. But what you do with your mind while you're walking can make your walk even more beneficial. In a study called the Ruth Stricker Mind/Body Study, researchers divided 135 people into five groups of walkers for 16 weeks. Group one walked briskly, group two at a slow pace, and group three at a slow pace while practicing "mindfulness," a mental technique to bring about the relaxation response, a physiological response in which the heart rate slows and blood pressure drops. This group was asked to pay attention to their footsteps, counting one, two, one, two, and to visualize the numbers in their mind. Group four practiced a form of tai chi, and group five served as the control, changing nothing about their lives. The group practicing mindfulness showed significant declines in anxiety and had fewer negative and more positive feelings about themselves. Overall they experienced the same stress-reducing effects of the brisk walkers. Better yet, the effects were evident immediately.

18. Give priority to close relationships. One study of more than 1,300 men and women of various ages found that those who had a lot of supportive friends were much more likely to have healthier blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar metabolism, and stress hormone levels than those with two or fewer close friends. Women, and to a lesser extent men, also seemed to benefit from good relationships with their parents and spouses. Studies also find that people who feel lonely, depressed, and isolated are three to five times more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have feelings of love, connection, and community.

19. Take care of the soul. In study after study, actively religious people are happier and cope better with crises, according to David Myers, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. For many people faith provides a support community, a sense of life's meaning, feelings of ultimate acceptance, a reason to focus beyond yourself, and a timeless perspective on life's woes. Even if you're not religious, a strong spirituality may offer similar benefits.

20. Count your blessings. People who pause each day to reflect on some positive aspect of their lives (their health, friends, family, freedom, education, etc.) experience a heightened sense of well-being.

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The Wages of HillaryCare

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama agree on most policy issues, but that makes their rare differences all the more revealing. To wit, their running scrap over Mrs. Clinton's "individual mandate" for health care, which Mr. Obama has now had the nerve to expose for its inevitable government coercion.

Mrs. Clinton's proposal requires everyone to buy health insurance, along with more insurance regulation, a government insurance option for everyone and tax hikes. Mr. Obama likes all that but his mandate would only apply to children. He argues that the reason many people aren't insured is because it's too expensive, not because they don't want it. Mrs. Clinton counters that coverage can't be "universal" without a mandate.

[Barack Obama]

But then Mr. Obama had the impudence to defend his views. His campaign distributed a mailer in key primary states that claimed the Clinton plan "forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it." It also featured an image of an anxious couple at a kitchen table. The Clinton apparat went apoplectic, claiming the flyer evokes the famous "Harry and Louise" commercials. A common article of liberal faith is that this "smear campaign" doomed HillaryCare in 1994 -- as opposed to, say, its huge cost and complexities. But never mind.

Yet if Mrs. Clinton's plan is better because it has a mandate, how does it work in the real world, where some people still won't be able to afford insurance, or would decline to acquire it? At a recent debate, the Illinois Senator drove the point home, asking Mrs. Clinton, "You can mandate it but there will still be people who can't afford it. And if they can't afford it, what are you going to fine them? Are you going to garnish their wages?" And in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, Mrs. Clinton conceded that "we will have an enforcement mechanism" that might include "you know, going after people's wages."

[Hillary Clinton]

Well, well. In other words, HillaryCare II isn't all about "choice," but would require financial penalties for people to pay attention, including garnishing wages. To put it more accurately, the individual mandate is really a government mandate that requires brute force plus huge subsidies to get anywhere near its goal of universal coverage.

Mitt Romney's mandate program in Massachusetts is already expected to reach $1.35 billion in annual costs by 2011, up from $158 million today. And that's with only half of the previously uninsured currently enrolled; no less than 20% didn't qualify for subsidies and were granted exemptions because the costs were too much of a hardship.

Most experts calculate that a national mandate with subsidies like Mrs. Clinton's would enroll about half to two-thirds of the uninsured, less for a voluntary plan and subsidies alone. But such guesswork is pointless without the basic enforcement assumptions, which Mrs. Clinton refuses to provide. She's more interested in wielding what she calls "a core Democratic principle" against Mr. Obama. "My opponent will not commit to universal health care," she said Saturday.

The logic of Mr. Obama's approach is that policy makers should target those who are priced out of coverage. The Census Bureau says 38% of the uninsured earned more than $50,000 in 2006, 19% above $75,000. They aren't a major public policy problem -- except that a big reason they lack coverage is because it is more expensive than it needs to be thanks to government market interference. And 29% earn under $25,000, which means they probably qualify for existing subsidy programs like Medicaid or Schip but haven't enrolled.

The news here is that all of this is being exposed now, and by a fellow Democrat. Many Americans are uncomfortable with the coercion of the mandate -- and not all of them are Republicans. The California health-care overhaul was recently done in by liberals concerned about its consequences for the working poor.

The political lesson that Mrs. Clinton learned in 1994 wasn't about compromise or market forces. It was that a government health-care takeover can only be achieved gradually and by stealth. Her individual mandate is an attempt to force everyone to buy into a highly regulated and price-controlled system where government redistributes income and dictates coverage. We assume the McCain campaign is paying attention.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on The Editorial Page.

And add your comments to the forum.

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17 Fitness Truths To Get You In Great Shape

“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.” - Aaron Douglas Trimble

While getting in shape has been a start-and-stop-and-start-again affair for me over the last couple years, over the long run, I’ve become fitter than ever.

I’ve dropped more than 30 pounds altogether (or about 2 stone 6, for the British-inclined among you), I run regularly, I’ve become more consistent with strength training, and I’ve dropped several sizes in clothes.

I’m not saying all that to brag. If you saw the details of how I got here, it’s nothing to be proud of — I ran a marathon at the end of 2006 and then did a short triathlon but then stopped exercising altogether for awhile. I became a vegetarian and was eating very healthily (is that a word?) … but then I slowly started eating more junk food and gaining weight.

Recently, I dropped sweets from my diet (cakes, pies, donuts, candy, CHOCOLATE!, sodas, etc.), and surprisingly I don’t really miss them. I’ve been exercising with my sister and my wife on alternate days and it’s been great. I still have more pounds to drop, but I can’t complain. I’m healthy.

The ups-and-downs of my fitness efforts have highlighted some important points for me. Key among those points: don’t quit. If you mess up, and stop for awhile, that doesn’t mean you should quit altogether. Just keep going. You’ll get there eventually.

And during this journey, which hasn’t stopped and probably won’t ever stop, and I’ve learned a lot over these last couple of years, about what works and what doesn’t.

What follows are some of the more important truths I’ve learned, in the trenches, that I’d like to share with you. Take from them what you will — everyone will find different things that work for them, but I think just about all of them are important to share.

“Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” - Buddha

  1. Small steps. That you get fitter in stages, as you exercise more, is pretty obvious I think. You might start out just walking, but as you get fitter, you might add some slow jogging to your routine. And then eventually you’re running three miles, several stages later. However, this really applies to everything, including diet, and many people don’t realize that. You shouldn’t try to change your entire diet overnight — do it in stages. Small steps, one thing at a time, and you’ll get there. Just start eating more fruits at first, for example. Then cut out sodas. Then eat more veggies for dinner. Then change your white bread for whole wheat bread. Then cut out candy at work. And so on. The thing is, you get used to each thing after awhile, and so the changes don’t seem drastic. A year later, and you’re eating extremely healthily (that word again), and you can’t imagine going back to your old diet. Small steps — this is extremely key, to both diet and exercise.
  2. Find short-term rewards. Most people quit their diet or exercise program because they’re looking for immediate results. And they’re discouraged when they don’t get them. But you won’t get immediate results. One fitness trainer said something like, “After a month, you’ll start feeling some results. After two months, you’ll start noticing results. After three months, others will start noticing.” And that’s pretty true — it takes months before you start to see the results you want … but in the meantime, you have to look for other things to keep you going. Those shorter-term rewards could be simple things like the great feeling you get after a workout — that helps me stay motivated. Or you could give yourself a treat (something healthy, preferably) or buy a book or something like that.
  3. Track your progress. The scale is probably the most popular way to see your progress, but other ways include measuring your waist, or taking photos of yourself each month. You could also track your performance — for example, do a 5K every month to see if you’re getting faster, or log your miles to see them increase. However you do it, you should have some kind of objective way to see your progress over the weeks and months. Otherwise, you might not really notice the difference — but the numbers or pictures will.
  4. Enjoy yourself. Very very important. If you see your exercise as extremely difficult, or painful, you won’t be able to sustain it for long. You’ll quit. If you see your diet as very restrictive, or torture, you’ll go back to junk food in a short while. You must find exercise that you enjoy, and find healthy foods that taste good to you. Maybe not chocolate cake good, but good nonetheless. Experiment with new recipes until you find ones you absolutely love. (Try my soup and chili recipes for example.) Above all, enjoy the whole process. It’s what’s kept me doing it — I love my new life.
  5. Never ever give up. Maybe the most important truth on this list. If you give up, you won’t get to your goal. Very obvious, I know, but the problem is that people don’t put this into action. Messing up by falling back into junk food or stopping exercise — that happens. Life gets in the way. No one is perfect. Just forget about that stuff, and move on. Learn from your failures, adjust your plan to prevent the same thing from happening again, and start again. If you stop, that’s OK — just start again. Always start again. If you do that, there’s no way you won’t eventually get to your goal.
  6. Get a workout partner. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s been the key to my most recent exercise success. I began running with my sister, Katrina (who btw is an incredible inspiration — she’s come a very long way in the last year), and even though we’re at different levels, we really enjoy our runs. When we agree to meet at 5 a.m. for a run, I have to be there, or I disappoint her. And sure, once in awhile we cancel appointments, but most of the time we’re there, and we run, and that’s the important thing. These months of running with her have really gotten me in much better shape. Now I’m also running with my wife, so having two workout partners is taking me to another level. Get a workout partner. Best move I’ve ever made.
  7. Brush your teeth after dinner. This is such a simple thing, but it really helps. It makes you have that fresh, clean feeling in your mouth, and makes you not want to eat an after-dinner snack. For me, after-dinner snacks or desserts are what ruin my diet a lot of the time.
  8. Vary your workouts. This helps keep things fresh and fun. For runners, for example, don’t just do 3 miles every day at the same pace. Vary the distance, the route, the speed. Do intervals. And do stuff other than running — go hiking, go biking, play basketball, do strength training, swim, paddle. Mixing it up will get you in even better shape, challenging your body in new ways, and making it an enjoyable process.
  9. Focus. There are always a lot of things we want to accomplish, goals we want to focus on … but by spreading ourselves thin, we lose focus and energy. Focus on one thing at a time in order to really get it ingrained as a habit. For example, for one month, focus on adding healthier foods to your diet (and dropping some of the less healthy ones). After that month, it’ll be ingrained. The next month, add walking or jogging or something like that, and only focus on that. One goal at a time, one month at a time, and you’ll get healthy.
  10. Rest is important. People who really get into exercise often forget this. Without rest, exercise just keeps breaking down our muscles, and they don’t have time to recover and grow. The exercise puts stress on our bodies, and the rest allows them to adapt and improve. Without the rest, they can’t really improve. You should always follow a day of hard workouts with a day of rest. If you’ve been exercising a long time (and then you probably don’t need this article), you can do hard-easy days, or rotate different types of exercises so that parts of your body are getting rest on different days, but even then always have at least one day of complete rest, or you’ll get burned out.
  11. Shoot for a year or two, not a few weeks. There are no instant fitness fixes, no matter what that website or magazine promises. Don’t believe them. Getting fit and healthy takes time, and should be gradual. If you’ve got a long way to go, aim to be healthy after a year. Those with a very long way might shoot for two years. Those closer to the goal could try for 6 months. Main thing: gradual improvement.
  12. Focus on your diet first. I’m a huge proponent of exercise for health and other benefits, but if you’re looking to lose weight and/or fat, the biggest factor is diet. You can cut out more calories from what you eat than you can burn with exercise. Of course, both should be vital components of your fitness regiment, but start on diet first, then add exercise. Don’t think that because you are exercising you can eat whatever you want (unless you’re a marathoner or triathlete or something like that) — you won’t reach your fitness goals that way, most likely.
  13. Don’t compare yourself to magazine models. Seriously. I’m sure we’ve all done this, wishing we looked like that slim or cut or buff model on the cover of a magazine. It’s natural. However, it’s not healthy. First of all, genetics plays a key factor in how these models look — most of us don’t have body types like that. Second, these models don’t usually look like that — they go on special diets a couple weeks before a photo shoot, so they look perfect for that day. Third, most of these magazines do some pretty heavy photoshopping. And fourth, what’s important is getting a healthy body image, not trying to look like a perfect model. Focus on health, not appearance.
  14. Find the exercise that works for you. I love running, but not everybody is born to be a runner. Many people enjoy swimming or water aerobics. Many like lifting weights. Many like cycling, or tae bo, or Pilates. Others like sports like basketball or soccer or rugby. It doesn’t really matter what you choose, as long as you’re moving and you enjoy what you’re doing. Also find the solution that works best: working at the gym, going on the road (running and cycling, for example), working out at home (which I do), etc. Choose the one that you’re most likely to stick to.
  15. Learn to be present. Going back to one of the key principles above, “enjoy yourself”, one of the best ways to do that is to learn to really be present when you exercise and eat. For example, when you run, try to keep your mind in the moment, and feel your body and your breathing, and experience your surroundings as your run past them. As you eat, really taste the food and feel the textures, instead of gobbling it down mindlessly. It makes the entire experience much more enjoyable.
  16. Don’t let your body adapt too much. Sometimes we hit plateaus, where we’re still doing the same exercise but not really improving. The reason is that you have to keep changing things, either taking your exercise to a slightly higher level (gradually), or giving it new angles or routines. Otherwise, your body adapts to doing the same exercise over and over, and it stops improving. Once you start hitting a plateau, take it to a new level by increasing intensity or length of time in some way.
  17. Get inspired. Another key concept for me. I like to read blogs or websites that show me how others have been successful. One Zen Habits reader, for example, recently gave me some inspiration with his blog, Fat Man Unleashed. He’s doing a great job, making amazing progress, and it’s inspirational. Fitness magazines, for me, began to seem useless, because they just rehash the same articles over and over. But then I realized that I like to read these magazines for the inspiration, not the information. Find something to inspire you and it’ll keep you going.

“I am pushing sixty. That is enough exercise for me.” - Mark Twain

On another note: You might be interested in a recent interview with me at the Dad Balance blog about fatherhood and work-life balance.

If you liked this article, please share it on or on Digg. I’d appreciate it. :)

Original here

Can Sugar Substitutes Make You Fat?

A woman pours Sweet'N Low into a coffee mug.
Michael A. Keller / Corbis

When it comes to dieting, most of us are willing to resort to a trick or two to help us curb our appetite and eat less — drinking water to fill up when we're hungry, for example, or opting for artificial sweeteners instead of sugar to get the same satisfying sweetness without the offending calories. But new research suggests that the body is not so easily fooled, and that sugar substitutes are no key to weight loss — perhaps helping to explain why, despite a plethora of low-calorie food and drink, Americans are heavier than ever.

In a series of experiments, scientists at Purdue University compared weight gain and eating habits in rats whose diets were supplemented with sweetened food containing either zero-calorie saccharin or sugar. The report, published in Behavioral Neuroscience, presents some counterintuitive findings: Animals fed with artificially sweetened yogurt over a two-week period consumed more calories and gained more weight — mostly in the form of fat — than animals eating yogurt flavored with glucose, a natural, high-calorie sweetener. It's a continuation of work the Purdue group began in 2004, when they reported that animals consuming saccharin-sweetened liquids and snacks tended to eat more than animals fed high-calorie, sweetened foods. The new study, say the scientists, offers stronger evidence that how we eat may depend on automatic, conditioned responses to food that are beyond our control.

What they mean is that like Pavlov's dog, trained to salivate at the sound of a bell, animals are similarly trained to anticipate lots of calories when they taste something sweet — in nature, sweet foods are usually loaded with calories. When an animal eats a saccharin-flavored food with no calories, however — disrupting the sweetness and calorie link — the animal tends to eat more and gain more weight, the new study shows. The study was even able to document at the physiological level that animals given artificial sweeteners responded differently to their food than those eating high-calorie sweetened foods. The sugar-fed rats, for example, showed the expected uptick in core body temperature at mealtime, corresponding to their anticipation of a bolus of calories that they would need to start burning off — a sort of metabolic revving of the energy engines. The saccharin-fed animals, on the other hand, showed no such rise in temperature. "The animals that had the artificial sweetener appear to have a different anticipatory response," says Susan Swithers, a professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University and a co-author of the study. "They don't anticipate as many calories arriving." The net result is a more sluggish metabolism that stores, rather than burns, incoming excess calories.

Swithers stops short of saying that the animals in her study were compelled to overeat to compensate for phantom calories. But she says that the study does suggest artificial sweeteners somehow disrupt the body's ability to regulate incoming calories. "It's still a bit of a mystery why they are overeating, but we definitely have evidence that the animals getting artificially sweetened yogurt end up eating more calories than the ones getting calorically sweetened yogurt."

Though it's premature to generalize based on animal results that the same phenomena would hold true in people, Swithers says, she notes that other human studies have already shown a similar effect. A University of Texas Health Science Center survey in 2005 found that people who drink diet soft drinks may actually gain weight; in that study, for every can of diet soda people consumed each day, there was a 41% increased risk of being overweight. So even though her findings were in animals, says Swithers, they could lead to a better understanding of how the human body responds to food, and explain why eating low-calorie foods doesn't always lead to weight loss. "There is lots of evidence that we learn about the consequences about eating food," she says. "And we have physiological responses to food that are conditioned."

So does that mean you should ditch the artificial sweeteners and welcome sugar back into your life? Not exactly. Excess sugar in the diet can lead to diabetes and heart disease, even independent of its effect on weight. But it's worth remembering that when it comes to counting calories, it's not just the ones you eat that you have to worry about. The calories you give up matter too, and they may very well reappear in that extra helping of pasta or dessert that your body demands. Your body may actually be keeping better count than you are.

Original here

5 Drinking Games to Break the Ice

We all know that to throw a fantastic party you need more than just a few kegs of beer and some attractive ladies. (Well, not really. Still, drinking games are a must, as they are a sure-fire way to loosen up the vibe. Who doesn’t like an old-fashioned round of quarters?)

Now, with a few choice drinking games you can transform what started out as a social gathering into a wild (and crazy) night of debauchery and shenanigans. Girls skinny dipping, Frank the Tank downing a yard of ale in less than a minute and frivolous copulation with inebriated freshmen!

(Ok, none of those will happen, but just imagine…)

So, without further ado, I present to you: 5 Drinking Games to Break the Ice!

Beer Pong

* At least 12 pints (or just glasses) of beer
* A ping-pong ball
* A table

The Rules:

There should be two teams – each with at least 6 pints of beer. Each team arranges the pints in a triangle similar to a set of balls on a pool table at either end of the table. Players from each team must then take it in turns to throw the ping-pong ball into the other team’s pints. If they succeed, a member of the other team must down the pint. The empty glass is then removed and the remaining pints are arranged to be as close together as possible and the game continues with each team alternating.

A winner is decided when all the pints on the opposition’s team have been cleared. The losing team must then down any remaining beers left from the winners.


Materials needed:

* An empty glass
* A quarter
* A solid table

The Rules:

Competitors sit around a table (a solid wooden table is best) with an empty glass in the middle of the table. Before the game starts players choose the universal poison for the game, as well as the amount of booze they must drink. Each player must take the quarter and try to bounce it off the table and into the glass. If they succeed they must choose another player at the table to consume the alcohol of choice previously suggested. A turn will end only when the player misses the glass with the quarter.

The game can be made more interesting by allowing shooters who bounce the quarter into the glass 3 times consecutively to develop new rules as the game progresses! If any rules are broken, the guilty party must consume the agreed beverage.

The Jerry Springer

Materials needed:

* Cable TV
* Lots of booze

The Rules:

The rules to the game made famous by the movie BaseketBall are quite simple, but very potent. You first pick your poison. Be it tequila, vodka, ouzo, whisky or absinthe. (Actually, in the interests of your health DON’T use absinthe!). All participants sit watching an episode of Jerry Springer. Every time a fight breaks out you must take a shot of the agreed alcoholic beverage. That’s it. Depending on the show – you could find yourself hammered within about 30 minutes!

Shot Boxing

Materials needed:

* Stopwatch
* 2 shot glasses
* 2 dice
* 4 people
* Lots of beer

The Rules:

This is a head-to-head drinking game with two people helping out each participant as their ‘corner man’. Sitting opposite each other, the contestants roll the die and the person with the lowest amount takes the punch (i.e. a shot). Once they have downed the shot, the corner man quickly fills the glass and the dice are rolled again.

This is a fast paced game played in 3 minute rounds with 30 seconds of rest between each round. You can play till someone quits or pukes but you can also set a limited number of rounds to avoid the cleanup of bodily fluids later!

The Centurion

Materials needed:

* Shot glasses for all contestants
* An unlimited supply of beer
* An extremely strong stomach!

The Rules:

I’ve saved my favorite game for last: The Centurion. The premise of the game is simple. Drink one shot of beer every minute for 100 minutes. In practise however, you’re consuming over 8 pints of beer in just over an hour and a half which will have even the hardest drinker begging for mercy by the end! If a player vomits in the minute between shots they can continue as normal. If a player misses a shot, they can still carry on if they neck the number of shots missed plus an additional forfeit shot! The winner is the last man – or woman – standing!

The crazy Russians make this game even tougher by substituting beer for a spirit, usually vodka, on a certain ‘nth’ shot. E.g. every tenth shot will be vodka!

So there you have it. Although skinny dipping and other scandalous happenings didn’t go down, you got trashed and slept off the sadness. Congrats?

Original here

Snack to the Future: The Col-Pop, an All-in-One Chicken Nugget and Soda Cup

The Col-Pop: emerging technology from South Korean fried chicken chain BBQ Chicken. Popcorn chicken rides up top; cola chills out below.

Proving yet again that South Korea is light years ahead of everyone else in fast-food technology is The Col-Pop. The nation that brought the world the spiral-cut potato on a stick and hot-dog-stuffed pizza ushers in a new era of snack portability with this mashup of drink cup and food container that holds popcorn chicken up top and a cold drink in the bottom.

Col-Pop variationsThe Col-Pop is the brainchild of BBQ Chicken, a South Korea–based fried chicken chain that has recently set its sights on worldwide chicken domination (though at this time, it only has locations in New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina). From the looks of this container, on-the-go America will certainly eat it up. It's perfect for handy snacking while walking, driving, talking on the phone, or—as we discovered the other day—blogging.

And the genius doesn't stop at popcorn chicken. In South Korea, sister company BHC Chicken also offers spaghetti, french fries, and fried mozzarella balls in Col-Pop containers. The Col-Pops we inspected come in two sizes: small (20 ounce cup) and large (32 ounce).

Gratuitous Chart


Col-Pop Video

Col-Pop: The Future of Fast-Food Technology

Version en español aquí »


This post got linked on Gizmodo, where Matt Buchanan says: "[Adam] doesn't comment on the effectiveness of keeping the two separate. I mean, the obvious problem with this triumph of science over nature is that piping hot chicken nuggets will water your Dr. Pepper down to Diet Coke-like consistency, while cold soda will turn your steaming nuggets into tough, lukewarm chunks of breaded styrofoam."

I also realize I didn't really mention what the chicken actually tastes like. So let's answer these questions ...

Separation Effectiveness

Col-Pop Condensation

Eat fast: Condensation poses a threat to your nuggets' hot, crisp breading!

I have to admit that hot side hot, cool side cool was not foremost in our minds as we played with the Col-Pop—though the McDonald's McDLT [video] did come to mind among the older members of the staff (myself included).

It wasn't until we were down to the last couple of nuggets that I noticed the condensation factor (as seen above). This was after about 20 minutes of goofing around with the cup, taking photos, and shooting video. Honestly, are most people going to take 20 minutes to finish a small tray of popcorn chicken? I doubt it.

Sure, we tested in winter, indoors, at a temperature of around 72 degrees. I'd expect heavier and faster cup sweat in sweltering summertime conditions. But, again, a caveat: You'll be eating this in your air-conditioned car, so not (much of) an issue.

Taste Factor

oo fried chicken (by roboppy)Have you had popcorn chicken from a fast-food joint? Then you've basically had BBQ Chicken's Col-Pop nuglets, which are made from all-white-meat chicken and check in at roughly the size of a Gobstopper. Sure, they were plenty tasty in that fast-food fried-chicken way, but they were nowhere near as good as the regular fried chicken (right) that BBQ Chicken turns out. Now that stuff is truly remarkable from a flavor, texture, and crispness perspective. Serious Eats overlord Ed Levine remarks on regular BBQ Chicken here.

Liquid Capacity

Of course, placing a 2-inch-deep insert in the top of a 32-ounce cup will diminish its liquid load considerably. I took the time to measure the true holding capacity of the large Col-Pop. It holds about 18 fluid ounces. The only thing I wonder about is how Col-Pop employees know when to stop filling, as there's no internal line to mark the failsafe point. I'm guessing their fountains are calibrated with a special Col-Pop setting

Original here

9 Underrated Sandwiches

With the Super Bowl offering opportunities to indulge in mass quantities of meat, cheese, and bread, we believe that some attention should be paid to some of the lesser-known sandwiches. They may not be on the menu at Subway or Quiznos, but these sandwiches should still be considered for consumption.

9- Po' Boy

Some people would look at a Po' boy sandwich and say that it's just a submarine sandwich, but it's so much more than that. This staple of the Louisiana diet consists meat or seafood (even alligator), lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, and onions on a baguette. The seafood is usually battered and fried so take note before you order.

8- Gyro

My big, fat, expanded waistline is demanding some answers. If you've ever had a good Gyro, you would understand. This Greek fast food is exotic, yet truly appealing to American taste buds. It consists of meat-usually chicken or lamb-roasted on a vertical rotisserie that is stuffed into a wrapped pita. If you go for the works, the toppings are usually tomatoes, onions, lettuce, French fries, and tzatziki sauce. (If you must know, tzatziki sauce is usually made of strained yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, olive oil, and garlic.)

7- Dagwood

There are no hard rules about what goes into a Dagwood sandwich (shown above, sideways.). The only requirements are that it must be thick and multi-layered with meats, cheeses, and condiments. Named after Dagwood Bumstead of the comic strip Blondie, this tall wonder never caught on with real people--even in the 1990s when super-sizing was the norm. Now that eating is out of style, this sandwich will undoubtedly die a slow death. What a delicious shame.

6- Banh Mi

There is a saying in that when the English colonized India, they left behind a great infrastructure; and that when the French colonized South East Asia, they left behind great bread. That ain't no lie! The Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich that usually consists of a variety of meats like grilled pork, grilled chicken and pate; then topped with pickled carrots, daikon, onions and cilantro. This is not your average All-American sandwich. Proceed if you consider yourself an adventurous gourmand.

5- Sloppy Joe

The Sloppy Joe is as delicious as it is simple: ground meat, tomato sauce or ketchup, and hamburger buns. One of America's most proudest inventions, it is a testament to the resourcefulness of Depression-era cooks, who had to stretch plenty of value out of low-grade beef. While the quality of meat has increased in recent years, the proliferation of Sloppy Joes haven't. Good luck finding it at a restaurant, as even the cleanest eater is going to end up with plenty of bits of beef and sauce on their face.

4- Fluffernutter

Most folks consider sandwiches strictly grounds for savory ingredients, but if the Fluffernutter is any indication, there's more to sweet sandwiches than just PB&J. The mixture of peanut butter and marshmallow creme is popular in the Northeast, but a unknown entity elsewhere. If you actually find a supermarket with Marshmallow Fluff on the shelves, we highly recommend whipping up a Fluffernutter for yourself.

3- Falafel

You wouldn't expect a high-quality sandwich to come out of the birthplace of Christ (Have you ever eaten a communion wafer? Yuck!), but the Falafel is an amazing example of the culinary quality of the area. Served in a pita (pocket bread) and filled with savory delights like vegetables, salad, spicy condiments and tahini, it can be found on every street corner in the mideast. That is, the non-war torn areas.

2- Torta

This Mexican delight is quite unique. It's served on an oblong roll called a telera and stuffed in almost any variety your stomach could lust after, depending on where you order it. Most places will offer beef, ham, turkey, and sausage with a chipolte mayonnaise sauce; then you can get it topped with avocado, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onions. It's a hot sandwich and they usually warm the bread and sauce up on the grill before serving it up.

1- Croque Monsieur & Croque Madame

Bonjour Coronary heart disease! There are no veggies in this French import. The Croque Monsieur is a straightforward ham and cheese sandwich, grilled and topped with more cheese. (Not for the lactose intolerant!) If you want to live on the edge-the edge of a heart attack-then go for a Croque Madame, which is basically a Croque Monsieur topped with an egg. Au revoir, appetite!

Original here

Recipe: Homemade Girl Scout Cookies

Homemade Samoa, up close

Samoas, also known as Caramel de-Lites, have always been my favorite girl scout cookie (although I do enjoy Do-Si-Dos, Tagalongs and Thin Mints). I’m not sure how they rank in the overall scheme of GS cookie popularity, but I will go so far as to say that I have never met someone who didn’t care for them at all - even people who say that they usually don’t like coconut. I think that the cookie is just a good and rather unique combination of flavors.

The Girl Scout bakeries describe Samoas as vanilla cookies dipped in caramel, topped with coconut and drizzled with chocolate. All good flavors, though I have to admit that I never tasted much vanilla in the cookies themselves, and so I used this description as a jumping off point for my version. I remember the cookies as being crisp and tender in the original, and selected a plain shortbread-like base for these. The cookie dough is very rich - by which I mean that it has a lot of butter - and is very easy to work with. The butter keeps it tender, so it won’t toughen up even after repeated rollings of the dough.

For the topping, I debated between using a from-scratch recipe like Chockylit’s or a semi-homemade recipe like Debbie’s. The from-scratch recipe sounded appealing, but I opted for the semi-homemade version because I had a ton of Werther’s Chewy Caramels around already. These particular caramels are nice because they’re made with real butter, sugar and cream (rather than using partially hydrogenated oils, as a number of other caramels do). Of course, you can use any similar chewy caramel that’s handy, I just recommend picking out one with the best ingredient list you can find. I did take Chockylit’s suggestion of toasting the coconut for bit of extra texture. I used dark chocolate for the dip and drizzle, and set each of the cookies on a piece of parchment paper after dunking them in the chocolate to let it set up in an even layer.

There are two ways to get the shape for these cookies. The first is to roll the dough out between pieces of wax paper and use a cookie cutter to make rounds, cutting the smaller center hole later. This technique works great and doesn’t take too long, especially as the dough can be rerolled a couple of times. The second technique calls for a special pan: a mini donut pan. If you have a pan like this, simply press some cookie dough into the tube and bake. The dough doesn’t rise much, giving you a nice flat side and a perfectly rounded one. Take your pick and go with what is convenient for you.

And since you’re all probably wondering, these cookies were absolutely fabulous. The cookies were tender and buttery, the topping was sweet with a delicious coconut flavor, and the dip of chocolate on the bottom of each cookie balanced all the flavors perfectly. Better than I even remember the Girl Scout cookies being. I could - but I won’t - probably eat an entire batch of these on my own.

Homemade Samoas

Homemade Samoas (a.k.a. Caramel de-Lites)
1 cup butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
up to 2 tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt at a low speed, followed by the vanilla and milk, adding in the milk as needed to make the dough come together without being sticky (it’s possible you might not need to add milk at all). The dough should come together into a soft, not-too-sticky ball. Add in a bit of extra flour if your dough is very sticky.
Roll the dough (working in two or three batches) out between pieces of wax paper to about 1/4-inch thickness (or slightly less) and use a 1 1/2-inch cookie cutter to make rounds. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and use a knife, or the end of a wide straw, to cut a smaller center hole. Repeat with remaining dough. Alternatively, use scant tablespoons of dough and press into an even layer in a mini donut pan to form the rounds.
Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned and cookies are set. If using a mini donut pan, bake for only about 10 minutes, until edges are light gold.
Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz good-quality chewy caramels
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
8 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are ok)

Preheat oven to 300. Spread coconut evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet (preferably one with sides) and toast 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until coconut is golden. Cool on baking sheet, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Unwrap the caramels and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with milk and salt. Cook on high for 3-4 minutes, stopping to stir a few times to help the caramel melt. When smooth, fold in toasted coconut with a spatula.
Using the spatula or a small offset spatula, spread topping on cooled cookies, using about 2-3 tsp per cookie. Reheat caramel for a few seconds in the microwave if it gets too firm to work with.

While topping sets up, melt chocolate in a small bowl. Heat on high in the microwave in 45 second intervals, stirring thoroughly to prevent scorching. Dip the base of each cookie into the chocolate and place on a clean piece of parchment paper. Transfer all remaining chocolate (or melt a bit of additional chocolate, if necessary) into a piping bag or a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off and drizzle finished cookies with chocolate.
Let chocolate set completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes about 3 1/2-4 dozen cookies.

Original here