Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How to Pack Everything You Own in One Bag

With more and more airlines charging extra to check a second piece of baggage, packing light has become a necessity.

Next week, AirTran Airways and American Airlines will join Northwest, Delta, US Airways, United and Continental in requiring passengers to pay a fee if they can't cram all their clothes, shoes, books, and hairdryers into one bag to check.

But one packing expert says it is possible to put your belongings in a single piece of luggage.

Doug Dyment, whose Web site is devoted to the art of traveling light, says the key is to make a list in advance of what to pack and stick with it. He has developed a master list over the years that people can use as a starting point for creating their own.

"If it's not on your list, it shouldn't be in your bag," Dyment tells NPR's Michele Norris. "What happens with people is that they pack before their trip, and that packing activity consists mostly of talking to yourself and saying, 'Well I might need this and I might need that and what if the queen invites me to dinner?' And that's death to light packing."

Dyment advises people to think of what their lists look like well before a trip — literally writing it down and then checking off each item.

For an international trip to India and Russia, Dyment drew up a list four columns long with more than 100 items. But he says they were small and didn't take up much space or add much weight — and it included the clothes he was wearing.

Dyment has two big tricks for packing a bag correctly: Don't let any space go unused, and wrap your clothes in bundles.

"If you're packing a pair of running shoes, say, don't forget there's a lot of space inside those shoes that you can use to pack stuff," he says.

When it comes to clothing, Dyment says travelers who fold items individually, put them in a stack and force them in the suitcase are making a huge mistake.

Instead, he suggests using a technique called bundle wrapping, because it keeps clothes from getting wrinkled and takes up less space.

"You think of laying a shirt flat on your bed and placing this bundle where the chest would go and then gently wrap the sleeves around the bundle, and then bring the bottom up and wrap it around the top," he says.

Bundle wrapping works better than rolling up the clothes, says Dyment, noting that the rolling method isn't much better than individually folding and stacking.

Of course, you can't bundle wrap shoes, the bulkiest item.

"Never take more than two pairs of shoes," Dyment says. "In lots of business situations these days, you can buy shoes that are quite dressy looking and yet their internal construction is more like a high-quality running shoe."

For women, Dyment suggests limiting shoes to a pair of low heels and a pair of dressy strappy sandals. In cold-weather climates, he recommends boots with low heels in place of sandals.

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1 dies, 1 ill after receiving kidneys

A 70-year-old woman has died, and a 57-year-old man is critically ill in a Boston hospital after each received a kidney from a donor infected with a hard-to-detect virus, health authorities said yesterday.

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The donor, a 49-year-old homeless man who suffered irreversible brain damage after cardiac arrest, carried a germ called lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, or LCMV, the same infection that killed three transplant patients from Massachusetts and Rhode Island in 2005. The virus, most often transmitted by rodents, is usually unnoticed by healthy people who suffer no more than flulike symptoms.

Knowing that organs perish quickly, doctors test donors for what is easily analyzed, such as the AIDS virus, hepatitis, and a common herpes germ. But the lack of quick tests for less common conditions prevents screening for diseases such as the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus.

Because the demand for organs always far exceeds the supply, recipients will accept organs even from high-risk donors such as the homeless. Waiting too long for a new kidney, liver, or heart can prove riskier.

"People are literally dying for organs," said Dr. Alfred DeMaria, top disease tracker at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. "The list of potential things you can test for is enormous. But balancing that against the risk of not getting the organs, you have to make some decisions about what's feasible and what's not feasible to test for."

The homeless donor died in mid-March. After his family authorized the removal of viable organs, doctors took his kidneys. He had been tested for the AIDS virus, the liver diseases hepatitis B and C, and other diseases regularly checked by the New England Organ Bank, the region's organ procurement agency. There was no evidence of worrisome infections.

Still, his status as a man who had lived on the street, potentially exposed to a host of dangerous germs, led transplant surgeons to brand him as a high-risk donor.

Transplant surgeons at the hospitals with the two potential recipients - the woman was at Boston Medical Center, the man at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center - alerted the patients that the donor was regarded as high risk. The surgeons and patients decided to proceed.

"We all know that as much as we explain to the patients and inform them, they're relying on us and our medical judgment about whether this is a safe transplant," said Dr. Douglas W. Hanto, chief of the Division of Transplantation at Beth Israel Deaconess. "We feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to the patient and their family and feel terrible that this patient has had this infection and a bad outcome.

"But, on the other hand, we see patients who die every day on dialysis" awaiting a kidney transplant, he said.

The 57-year-old man transplanted at Hanto's hospital had lingered four years on the waiting list for a kidney. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, an independent agency that sets organ procurement policies, 80,130 patients in the United States currently need a kidney.

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It was the woman transplanted at Boston Medical who got sicker sooner after returning home. Like the donor and the other recipient, the woman was not identified by health authorities, who cited patient confidentiality laws.

The woman returned to Boston Medical about two weeks after her surgery, said Dr. Greg Grillone, the hospital's interim chief medical officer. She had a fever, diarrhea, "but oddly, symptoms not specific to the kidney," Grillone said.

Her condition kept deteriorating and, in mid-April, the woman died. Doctors at the hospital were stumped. There was no obvious cause of her precipitous demise.

But it turned out that one of the surgeons involved in the case, Dr. Amitabh Gautam, had been connected to the 2005 Rhode Island and Massachusetts transplant cases.

He became suspicious that the Boston Medical patient had the same virus and alerted the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus has been known to have spread via transplant only two other times, in Wisconsin and Australia.

"Interestingly, what happened was this doctor had seen this before and thought, 'OK, this is a long shot, but I have seen it before and it can happen,' " Grillone said.

"If you take your car to the auto dealer with some very, very rare problem and you're lucky enough to get the mechanic who saw that same problem three years ago in the same make or model of the car, he might think: 'Oh, I saw this same problem three years ago. it might be the same problem," he said.

The man who had received his kidney at Beth Israel Deaconess returned with a fever 2 1/2 weeks after the surgery. On April 18, the doctors there got word that the Boston Medical patient had died. A transplant specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess also speculated that the virus might be at fault.

Samples from the deceased donor and the two patients were rushed to the CDC in Atlanta. All three tested positive for the virus, and investigators said all evidence points to the donor. The 57-year-old recipient remains in intensive care and is receiving the only drug known to possibly treat the virus.

"I don't believe this ever put the general public at risk," said Dr. Anita Barry, who leads the Boston Public Health Commission's investigation of the infections. "You have to be very, very unlucky to get LCMV from a transplant."

The virus is not transmitted casually from person-to-person; in addition to transplants, the only identified human transmissions have been from mother to fetus. Most people who are exposed catch it from the droppings of rodents, including wild animals and pets.

Because the virus causes few health problems in those who contract it, there has been little incentive to develop a rapid test.

The only tests currently available take time and are not widely available, said Dr. Eileen Farnon, a CDC medical epidemiologist.

"If you had a few days or a week for testing you could do that," Farnon said. "But in general that's not how the organ transplantation business works."

Stephen Smith can be reached at
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How Your Dentist Can Save Your Life

What Most People Don't Know

Ken Michener's tooth had been hurting off and on for months, and the pain was intense one Monday night in August. So Michener, 31, of Naperville, Illinois, who worked night shifts at a company that manufactures vitamins and dietary supplements, left at 3 a.m., halfway through his shift. At home, he tossed and turned. By the next afternoon, he'd found an oral surgeon to pull his sore molar, and started taking antibiotics to beat the bacterial infection and reduce the swelling. They did neither. By Friday, Michener was still hurting, and his left cheek bulged. At a local hospital, his oral surgeon removed another tooth, drained some pus, gave him painkillers and more antibiotics, and checked him into intensive care.

By the following Monday, when Michener was rushed by ambulance to Loyola University Medical Center, in suburban Chicago, his cheek was so swollen that he couldn't open his left eye. The infection had invaded the muscles that open the jaw, causing his jaw to clamp shut. It had also spread to Michener's neck and was squeezing his airway. He couldn't open his mouth, couldn't speak and, despite a breathing tube designed to help, struggled to draw each breath.

Few mouth infections grow as menacing as Michener's. But runaway dental infections can be treacherous. They have eaten through the skin in people's necks, choked off airways, migrated to the heart, burrowed into brains and, yes, even killed people.

Have we scared you enough yet? Here's the point: Everyone is vulnerable, because bacteria that routinely lurk in the mouth cause tooth decay and gum disease. The problem: Most people don't know they have these infections. They often cause no pain and few symptoms, but can lead to far worse. Gum disease may also heighten the risk for heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia and premature birth, according to recent clinical trials. But the good news is that with good old regular brushing and flossing, you may prevent all that. And by seeing your dentist often, you can nip most problems in the bud.

Regular dental checkups can pay off in other ways too. For example, dentists can spot signs of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, along with a variety of rare skin and autoimmune diseases. Since people typically visit their dentists more often than they visit other doctors, that can lead to early diagnosis and early treatment. All of which means that your dentist can do much more than save your teeth and gums. Your dentist can save your life.

An Oral Epidemic
Americans have brighter smiles than ever before, thanks to ubiquitous teeth-whitening systems. But behind those gleaming smiles, all is not well. Oral health has improved some in recent decades: More kids are being treated with dental sealants; the incidence of mild gum disease (gingivitis) has decreased about 40 percent since the 1960s; and untreated tooth decay in permanent teeth has decreased slightly since the late 1980s, according to an August report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But here's the bad news: One in three Americans over age 30 still have more advanced gum disease known as periodontitis; more than nine in ten Americans have at least some tooth decay; and nearly three in ten adults over 65 have no teeth at all.

Not getting enough fluoride may be part of the problem. One in three Americans live in communities with insufficient fluoride in their drinking water, and bottled and filtered water often contain little fluoride. Also, 108 million Americans don't have dental insurance. In fact, one in five low-income children and adolescents have untreated tooth decay, a level twice that of their more affluent peers. Oral disease is still widespread in this country because the will and the money to reduce it have not been there. The result, according to a 2000 Surgeon General's report, is a "silent epidemic" of oral disease that threatens the health of Americans.

Runaway Infections
In the operating room at Loyola University Medical Center, oral surgeon Mark Steinberg and two residents made two small incisions inside Michener's cheek and three on his neck; then they installed flat rubber tubes in each to drain pus. They made a slice the width of a nickel through Michener's neck into his windpipe, and inserted a six-inch-long curved plastic tracheostomy tube that allowed him to breathe.

Michener remained in intensive care for two more days and in the hospital for the rest of the week. His massive infection began receding. "It was lonely," Michener remembers. "You couldn't talk. You couldn't move. You couldn't sleep." Nurses suctioned mucus from his windpipe for four days so he could breathe. "You didn't want to fall asleep and gag to death, so you had little catnaps and that was it."

Infections like Michener's are rare, but not exceedingly so. Between 1996 and 2001, physicians at San Francisco General Hospital, a large public hospital, treated 157 patients with runaway tooth infections that had eaten into their jaws, faces and necks. All the patients recovered. Still, "patients who get a big dental abscess -- well, they can die from it," cautions M. Anthony Pogrel, DDS, MD, co-author of the study and chairman of the oral and maxillofacial surgery department at the University of California, San Francisco.

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How T Cell's Machinery Dials Down Autoimmunity

Immune cells adjust their function like a radio dial, not an on/off light switch; a discovery that hints at how autoimmune disease may develop late in life.

A St. Jude Children's Research Hospital study shows that T cells, the body's master immune regulators, do not use simple on/off switches to govern the cellular machinery that regulates their development and function. Rather, they possess sophisticated molecular controls that enable them to adjust their function with exquisite precision. Such subtle adjustment enables T cells to modulate their development and function, including avoiding autoimmunity.

In autoimmune disease, rather than attacking invading microbes, the immune system attacks the body's own organs, tissues or cells. Some 80 autoimmune diseases are known, including type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

"Among the many mysteries surrounding autoimmune diseases is why they can sometimes take decades to manifest themselves," said Dario Vignali, Ph.D., associate member in the St. Jude Department of Immunology. "Our findings hint that this delayed onset could be explained by subtle defects in the molecular controls on T cells." Such T cells are white blood cells whose duties include shutting down the immune system when it has done its job and suppressing T cells that can attack the body.

Vignali is the senior author of a report on this work that appears in the advance online publication of the journal "Nature Immunology."

The researchers explored the function of T cell receptors, proteins that span the cell membrane of T cells. These receptors receive outside signals that instruct T cells to develop, proliferate and transmit those signals into the cell. The St. Jude investigators sought to understand why T cell receptors need many copies of switch-like components called immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motifs (ITAMS). ITAMs are components of the CD3 adaptor proteins that attach to the T cell receptor and help transmit the control signals from the T cell receptor into the cell.

"The ITAMs we studied are little molecular tags inside the cell by which the T cell receptor communicates to the rest of the cell," Vignali said. "The mystery we wanted to address was why the T cell receptor needs 10 ITAMs to do its job. Why not just have a simple on/off switch?"

To explore the role of multiple ITAMs, Jeff Holst, Ph.D., the paper's first author and a St. Jude postdoctoral scientist, used a technique developed in the Vignali lab to produce mice whose T cells have variations in the number and type of functional ITAMs. The technique involved using a virus as a genetic cargo-carrier to transport genes for different combinations of normal and mutant non-functional ITAMs into the mouse cells.

The researchers found that reducing the number of normal ITAMs caused the mice to develop autoimmune disease. However, the investigators also found that some mice with fewer than normal functional ITAMs did not become sick with autoimmune disease. Vignali said this finding suggests that it is not just the number of ITAMs, but also their type that may influence T cell function.

"We theorized that there were two possibilities why the immune system needs so many ITAMs," he said. "One is that the requirement was purely quantitative, and that the ITAMs were there for signal amplification. The second possibility is that different ITAMs do slightly different things--they do have slightly different structures, so maybe they bind to some signaling molecules better than others; and their positions in the T cell receptor are different. So, while our primary observation is that quantity is more important than ITAM type, we also found that type has some influence."

The researchers' analyses of the immune systems of the altered mice indicated that reducing the number of normal ITAMs crippled a process called "negative selection." In this process, the immune system rids itself of immature T cells that might attack the body's own cells, causing autoimmune disease. Vignali said that these findings might provide insight into how autoimmune diseases start.

"One implication of our findings is that a relatively small defect in the efficiency of signal transduction through the T cell receptor could give rise to a subtle failing in negative selection, which gives rise over a long period of time to a few overly active T cells that might initiate autoimmunity," Vignali said. "Clearly from our studies there is the possibility that you don't really need a very big reduction in T cell receptor signal strength to have a defect in negative selection."

The study also showed that different T cell functions required different numbers of functional ITAMs. "We were surprised to find that many ITAMs were required to make T cells divide and expand, but only one or two was required to make T cells secrete cytokines," Vignali said. Cytokines are soluble proteins used by cells of the immune system to communicate and send messages to one another. Vignali said these basic findings represent only the beginning of more detailed studies of the role of ITAMs in T cell function.

"We believe this idea that T cell signaling acts more like a rheostat than an on/off switch offers significant new insights into how T cell development and function is controlled," Vignali said.

Other authors include Haopeng Wang, Kelly Durick Eder, Creg Workman, Kelli Boyd, Zachary Baquet, Karen Forbes and Richard Smeyne (St. Jude); Harvir Singh, Andrzej Chruscinski and Paul Utz (Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, Calif.); and Nicolai van Oers (The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas).

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Portion Size, Then and Now

Over the past few decades, portion sizes of everything from muffins to sandwiches have grown considerably. Unfortunately, America’s waistbands have reacted accordingly. In the 1970s, around 47 percent of Americans were overweight or obese; now 66 percent of us are. In addition, the number of just obese people has doubled, from 15 percent of our population to 30 percent.

While increased sizes haven’t been the sole contributor to our obesity epidemic, large quantities of cheap food have distorted our perceptions of what a typical meal is supposed to look like. These portion comparisons, adapted from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Portion Distortion Quiz, give a visual representation of what sizes used to be compared to what they are today.

Two Slices of Pizza

Twenty years ago Today
500 calories 850 calories

Those extra 350 calories, if eaten a two times a month, would put on two extra pounds a year, or forty pounds in the next two decades.

Cup of Coffee

Twenty years ago Today
Coffee with milk and sugar Grande café mocha with whip, 2% milk
8 ounces 16 ounces
45 calories 330 calories

When our parents ordered a coffee two decades ago, they weren’t given as many size options—a standard cup of joe was eight ounces, the size of a small coffee cup. Nowadays, most of us feel like we don’t get our money’s worth unless the cup is at least twelve ounces; it’s not unusual to see thirty-two ounce coffee cups, four times the size they used to be. When made into a mocha, the morning coffee has as many calories as a full meal.

Movie Popcorn

Twenty Years Ago Today
5 cups Tub
270 calories 630 calories

We don’t have to eat those extra 360 calories in the tub of popcorn, but that’s easier said than (not) done. Studies indicate that when given food in larger containers, people will consume more. In a 1996 Cornell University study, people in a movie theater ate from either medium (120g) or large (240g) buckets of popcorn, then divided into two groups based on whether they liked the taste of the popcorn. The results: people with the large size ate more than those with the medium size, regardless of how participants rated the taste of the popcorn.


Twenty Years Ago Today—Noah’s Plain Bagel
3-inch diameter 5-6-inch diameter
140 calories 350 calories

Because portions are now so large, it’s hard to understand what a “serving size” is supposed to be. Today’s bagel counts for three servings of bread, but many of us would consider it one serving. Larger sizes at restaurants have also contributed to larger sizes when eating at home. A study comparing eating habits today with twenty years ago found that participants poured themselves about 20 percent more cornflakes and 30 percent more milk than twenty years ago.


Twenty years ago Today’s Burger
333 calories 590 calories

According to a 2007 paper published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, portion sizes offered by fast food chains are two to five times larger than when first introduced. When McDonald’s first started in 1955, its only hamburger weighed around 1.6 ounces; now, the largest hamburger patty weighs 8 ounces, an increase of 500 percent. And while a Big Mac used to be considered big, it’s on the smaller side of many burger options. At Burger King, you can get the Triple Whopper; at Ruby Tuesday’s there’s the Colossal Burger; and Carl’s Junior has the Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger.


Original 8-ounce bottle 12 ounce can 20-ounce bottle
97 calories 145 calories 242 calories

While the 12-ounce can used to be the most common soda option, many stores now carry only the 20-ounce plastic bottle, which contains 2.5 servings of soda. When presented with these larger sizes, humans have a hard time regulating our intake or figuring out what a serving size is supposed to be. A 2004 study, published in Appetite, gave people potato chips packaged in bags that looked the same, but increased in size. As package size increased, so did consumption; subjects ate up to 37 percent more with the bigger bags. Furthermore, when they ate dinner later that day, they did not reduce their food consumption to compensate for increased snack calories—a recipe for weight gain.


It’s not just food portions that have increased; plate, bowl, and cup sizes have as well. In the early 1990s, the standard size of a dinner plate increased from 10 to 12 inches; cup and bowl sizes also increased. Larger eating containers can influence how much people eat. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that when people were given larger bowls and spoons they served themselves larger portions of ice cream and tended to eat the whole portion.


32 ounces 44 ounces 64 ounces
388 calories 533 calories 776 calories
$0.99 $1.09 $1.19

We Americans love to get the most bang for our buck. When confronted with a 32-ounce drink for 99 cents versus a 44-ounce drink for ten cents more, the decision is easy. You’d have to be a sucker not to go big. But our ability to get the most out of our dollar doesn’t always serve us well. Value pricing, which gets us a lot more food or drink for just a little increase in price, makes sense from an economic standpoint, but is sabotage from a health standpoint. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Americans consume around 10 percent more calories than they did in the 1970s. Given no change in physical activity, this equates to around 200 extra calories per day, or 20 pounds a year.

What is normal?

Increased portion sizes give us more calories, encourage us to eat more, distort perceptions of appropriate food quantities, and along with sedentary lifestyles, have contributed to our national bulge. Unless you’re trying to gain weight, it might help to reacquaint yourself with serving sizes. The NHLBI tells us that a serving of meat should be the size of a deck of cards while one pancake should be the size of a CD. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a scaling down of food to these sizes anytime soon, so perhaps we should all become familiar with another image: the doggy bag.

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New Sites Make It Easier

If you are still relying on Google to snoop on your friends, you are behind the curve.

Armed with new and established Web sites, people are uncovering surprising details about colleagues, lovers and strangers that often don't turn up in a simple Internet search. Though none of these sites can reveal anything that isn't already available publicly, they can make it much easier to find. And most of them are free.

Zaba Inc.'s turns up public records such as criminal history and birthdates. Spock Networks Inc.'s and Wink Technologies Inc.'s are "people-search engines" that specialize in digging up personal pages, such as social-networking profiles, buried deep in the Web. is a search site operated by Spokeo Inc., a startup that lets users see what their friends are doing on other Web sites. Zillow Inc.'s estimates the value of people's homes, while the Huffington Post's Fundrace feature tracks their campaign donations. Jigsaw Data Corp.'s, meanwhile, lets people share details with each other from business cards they've collected -- a sort of gray market for Rolodex data.

Some people have come across dirt on their loved ones without even looking for it. Doug Orlyk, a 42-year-old librarian in Bensenville, Ill., recently turned to ZabaSearch to find his new boyfriend's address so that he could send him a card. Instead, he found out that the boyfriend had been lying about his age -- he was 43 years old, not 35 as he had claimed to be on the dating site where Mr. Orlyk had met him. "I thought, 'You're a liar! You're older than I am!,'" Mr. Orlyk recalls. His new relationship ended soon thereafter.

Others rely on the Web to gather information on the job. Art Feagles, a technology specialist at the Cate School, a private high school in Carpinteria, Calif., runs the computer system for the alumni and development office. But his colleagues, who fund-raise for the school, keep tapping him for another tech skill: researching potential donors online.

Last year, for example, Mr. Feagles wanted to learn more about a potential donor by using the person's address. So he searched for it in Google Inc.'s Google Earth aerial-mapping program, and saw that the address was for a golf-course condominium. From that, he gathered that this was probably a second home, and therefore the person must be rich -- and a good prospect for a donation.

The Web sites, for their part, say they're merely trying to provide services that people will find useful and entertaining. Ray Chen, a cofounder of Spokeo, says he and his partners "don't want to stalk people." Instead, he says, "we're just trying to make something that's fun to use." Zaba CEO Nick Matzorkis says the dissemination of public information online is "a 21st century reality with or without ZabaSearch."

Larry Yu, a Google spokesman, says the use of Google Earth and Maps to glean personal information about others "is not the intent of the products." He touts their other uses, such as helping users visualize driving directions.

Many online sleuths start by signing up for an account on social-networking sites like Facebook Inc. and News Corp.'s MySpace, where they can search for individuals by name. (News Corp. is the publisher of The Wall Street Journal.) An acquaintance's home address can be dug up using ZabaSearch or another public-records search engine; that can then be plugged into Google Maps, where the Street View feature might show an image of the address from the street, or Zillow, which can estimate the value of the home. Those trying to make a business contact might try Jigsaw, which invites users to provide phone numbers, email addresses, job titles and other information from business cards they've collected.

Some popular Web sites make certain content visible to the public by default -- for instance, photos stored on Yahoo Inc.'s photo-sharing service Flickr, favorite online bookmarks on Yahoo's service and wish lists on If you enter your email address and password into, the site will build a list of the people on your email-contact lists. Then it tracks those contacts' activities on Web sites such as Flickr,, Amazon, MySpace and online-radio service Pandora Media Inc., sometimes turning up surprising material, from family albums to embarrassing shopping lists.

The bad news, for those who find themselves targeted by snoops: There is no foolproof way to protect yourself from embarrassing personal-data leaks. But you can avoid many mishaps by going to the root of the leak -- that is, by keeping individual pieces of personal data from being made public in the first place. If you don't want people to find your address online, for example, don't list it in local phone books, which often provide data to online address-search services. If you don't want others to see your Amazon wish list or the photos you've stored on Flickr, visit those sites' privacy pages and adjust your settings accordingly.

Some sites use the ability to snoop as a selling point. The Huffington Post's Fundrace feature, which allows users to enter their addresses and see a map showing their neighbors' political donations, uses this come-on: "Want to know ... whether that new guy you're seeing is actually a Republican or just dresses like one?"

Other sites make it easy to accidentally expose embarrassing details about yourself. Amazon's wish-list feature, for example, lets people create public lists of items they want to buy. Says Amazon spokesman Craig Berman, "We make it really clear that these lists are public and searchable." But some people use the feature as a quasi-private things-to-buy-myself list.

Ruth Funabiki, a 57-year-old law librarian in Moscow, Idaho, recently discovered through Spokeo that a friend added something unusual to her wish list on one of those disposable pads that protects mattresses from bedwetters. "There's a voyeuristic aspect to it," she says. "I'm embarrassed. I shouldn't be looking."

Write to Vauhini Vara at

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Beyond the Carnage: 7 Life Lessons from GTA IV

Buried deep within GTA IV's high-speed police chases, vehicular homicides, cold-blooded killings and large-scale armed robberies, there lie hidden gems of wisdom that you can apply to improve your own life in the real world.

1) If you wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs. GTA IV teaches you that when you want to accomplish something, you should go for it without worrying too much about stepping on other people's toes. When you carjack an old lady and only have 30 seconds to make it from the gun store to the respray shop, some people are gonna get run over in the process. If you want your boss's job, you might have to get him fired before you get the position. When you get what you want, people may get hurt. It comes with the territory.

2) Trust no one. Everyone you meet has an agenda. Let me repeat that. Everyone you meet has an agenda. Of course, some may have a more malicious agenda than others. Regardless, everyone around you is almost always looking out for #1: themselves. Look at Ghandi -- that guy was practically begging to get 15 minutes of fame with some sort of "MTV True Life: I'm a Revolutionary Peacemaker" documentary. Think about it. GTA IV lets you experience "friends" lying, cheating, stealing and stabbing you in the back to get what they want. Only trust yourself.

3) Plan for the best, but prepare for the worst. Pretend you're in GTA, you just got assigned a new mission, and you envision yourself kicking ass: running, ducking, diving, all while taking out gangbangers with expertly timed shotgun blasts and never getting a scratch on you. So do you walk in to the gun fight with one-third of your health, no body armor and low ammo? Hell no. You stock up. You prepare for the worst. Shit, buy some rocket launchers while you're at it. Why not. In life, you never know what could go wrong. It always pays to be prepared.

4) The more nice shit you have, the more people respect you. We live in a shallow society folks, and GTA IV understands this by letting your character get all types of shit that doesn't have anything to do with the actual game. You can buy nice suits & expensive shoes, move into penthouse bachelor pads, and of course, drive baller whips. If you pick up a chick on a date (yes, the game lets you do this), she'll verbally tell you how impressed she is when you pull up in a luxury car similar to the one 2Pac got shot in. Art is modeled after real life guys. People notice these things. Respect yourself by getting some nice digs.

5) Get revenge when it counts. Don't let people walk all over you. Donald Trump has touted this for years, and its actually good advice. If people know they can screw you and you won't do anything about it, prepare for it to happen with greater and greater frequency. If someone wrongs you, get them back, and make absolute sure everyone sees it so they know you're not one to be messed with. In GTA IV when someone disrespects your crew, you don't sneak around and poison their morning tea -- you roll up right on the basketball court and blow his brains out in front of all of his homies plus a few random bystanders. See how everyone else runs away? This is called leading by example.

6) If you want something, you have to work for it. America is the land of opportunity, not the land of uh-here-take-this. Don't expect things to be given to you on a silver platter, or for the world to be fair. Sometimes when you want something, you have to be prepared to take it. When Niko arrives in Liberty City, he has nothing. By the middle of the game he's got a highrise apartment and a pile of money, not to mention tons of guns and bitches. Get out there and fight.

7) Go off the beaten path. Don't blindly follow the guidelines that society lays out for you. If you followed every traffic law in GTA IV you would get so bored playing that you'd eventually turn off the game, which in real life would be the equivalent of killing yourself. Make life interesting. Think outside the box. There's no one right way to do something. Steve Jobs took the mobile phone market and turned it upside down with the iPhone, a device no one had ever seen before. In one GTA IV mission, Niko dresses up as a gay guy to take another gay man out on a date for the sole purpose of killing him. This type of unorthodox thinking is what you need to succeed in the work place as well as in life. Make it happen.

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Gandhi’s Top 10 Fundamentals for Changing the World

Gandhi’s Top 10 Fundamentals for Changing the World“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem.”

“If I had no sense of humor, I would long ago have committed suicide.”

Mahatma Gandhi needs no long introduction. Everyone knows about the man who lead the Indian people to independence from British rule in 1947.

So let’s just move on to some of my favourite tips from Mahatma Gandhi.

1. Change yourself.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world - that is the myth of the atomic age - as in being able to remake ourselves.”

If you change yourself you will change your world. If you change how you think then you will change how you feel and what actions you take. And so the world around you will change. Not only because you are now viewing your environment through new lenses of thoughts and emotions but also because the change within can allow you to take action in ways you wouldn’t have – or maybe even have thought about – while stuck in your old thought patterns.

And the problem with changing your outer world without changing yourself is that you will still be you when you reach that change you have strived for. You will still have your flaws, anger, negativity, self-sabotaging tendencies etc. intact.

And so in this new situation you will still not find what you hoped for since your mind is still seeping with that negative stuff. And if you get more without having some insight into and distance from your ego it may grow more powerful. Since your ego loves to divide things, to find enemies and to create separation it may start to try to create even more problems and conflicts in your life and world.

2. You are in control.

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”

What you feel and how you react to something is always up to you. There may be a “normal” or a common way to react to different things. But that’s mostly just all it is.

You can choose your own thoughts, reactions and emotions to pretty much everything. You don’t have to freak out, overreact of even react in a negative way. Perhaps not every time or instantly. Sometimes a knee-jerk reaction just goes off. Or an old thought habit kicks in.

And as you realize that no-one outside of yourself can actually control how you feel you can start to incorporate this thinking into your daily life and develop it as a thought habit. A habit that you can grow stronger and stronger over time. Doing this makes life a whole lot easier and more pleasurable.

3. Forgive and let it go.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

“An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

Fighting evil with evil won’t help anyone. And as said in the previous tip, you always choose how to react to something. When you can incorporate such a thought habit more and more into your life then you can react in a way that is more useful to you and others.

You realize that forgiving and letting go of the past will do you and the people in your world a great service. And spending your time in some negative memory won’t help you after you have learned the lessons you can learn from that experience. You’ll probably just cause yourself more suffering and paralyze yourself from taking action in this present moment.

If you don’t forgive then you let the past and another person to control how you feel. By forgiving you release yourself from those bonds. And then you can focus totally on, for instance, the next point.

4. Without action you aren’t going anywhere.

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

Without taking action very little will be done. However, taking action can be hard and difficult. There can be much inner resistance.

And so you may resort to preaching, as Gandhi says. Or reading and studying endlessly. And feeling like you are moving forward. But getting little or no practical results in real life.

So, to really get where you want to go and to really understand yourself and your world you need to practice. Books can mostly just bring you knowledge. You have to take action and translate that knowledge into results and understanding.

You can check out a few effective tips to overcome this problem in How to Take More Action: 9 Powerful Tips. Or you can move on to the next point for more on the best tip for taking more action that I have found so far.

5. Take care of this moment.

“I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present. God has given me no control over the moment following.”

The best way that I have found to overcome the inner resistance that often stops us from taking action is to stay in the present as much as possible and to be accepting.

Why? Well, when you are in the present moment you don’t worry about the next moment that you can’t control anyway. And the resistance to action that comes from you imagining negative future consequences - or reflecting on past failures - of your actions loses its power. And so it becomes easier to both take action and to keep your focus on this moment and perform better.

Have a look at 8 Ways to Return to the Present Moment for tips on how quickly step into the now. And remember that reconnecting with and staying in the now is a mental habit - a sort of muscle - that you grow. Over time it becomes more powerful and makes it easier to slip into the present moment.

6. Everyone is human.

“I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps.”

“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”

When you start to make myths out of people – even though they may have produced extraordinary results – you run the risk of becoming disconnected from them. You can start to feel like you could never achieve similar things that they did because they are so very different. So it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is just a human being no matter who they are.

And I think it’s important to remember that we are all human and prone to make mistakes. Holding people to unreasonable standards will only create more unnecessary conflicts in your world and negativity within you.

It’s also important to remember this to avoid falling into the pretty useless habit of beating yourself up over mistakes that you have made. And instead be able to see with clarity where you went wrong and what you can learn from your mistake. And then try again.

7. Persist.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Be persistent. In time the opposition around you will fade and fall away. And your inner resistance and self-sabotaging tendencies that want to hold you back and keep you like you have always been will grow weaker.

Find what you really like to do. Then you’ll find the inner motivation to keep going, going and going. You can also find a lot of useful tips on how keep your motivation up in How to Get Out of a Motivational Slump and 25 Simple Ways to Motivate Yourself.

One reason Gandhi was so successful with his method of non-violence was because he and his followers were so persistent. They just didn’t give up.

Success or victory will seldom come as quickly as you would have liked it to. I think one of the reasons people don’t get what they want is simply because they give up too soon. The time they think an achievement will require isn’t the same amount of time it usually takes to achieve that goal. This faulty belief partly comes from the world we live in. A world full of magic pill solutions where advertising continually promises us that we can lose a lot of weight or earn a ton of money in just 30 days. You can read more about this in One Big Mistake a Whole Lot of People Make.

Finally, one useful tip to keep your persistence going is to listen to Gandhi’s third quote in this article and keep a sense of humor. It can lighten things up at the toughest of times.

8. See the good in people and help them.

I look only to the good qualities of men. Not being faultless myself, I won’t presume to probe into the faults of others.”

“Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men.”

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”

There is pretty much always something good in people. And things that may not be so good. But you can choose what things to focus on. And if you want improvement then focusing on the good in people is a useful choice. It also makes life easier for you as your world and relationships become more pleasant and positive.

And when you see the good in people it becomes easier to motivate yourself to be of service to them. By being of service to other people, by giving them value you not only make their lives better. Over time you tend to get what you give. And the people you help may feel more inclined to help other people. And so you, together, create an upward spiral of positive change that grows and becomes stronger.

By strengthening your social skills you can become a more influential person and make this upward spiral even stronger. A few articles that may provide you with useful advice in that department are Do You Make These 10 Mistakes in a Conversation? and Dale Carnegie’s Top 10 Tips for Improving Your Social Skills. Or you can just move on to the next tip.

9. Be congruent, be authentic, be your true self.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

“Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.”

I think that one of the best tips for improving your social skills is to behave in a congruent manner and communicate in an authentic way. People seem to really like authentic communication. And there is much inner enjoyment to be found when your thoughts, words and actions are aligned. You feel powerful and good about yourself.

When words and thoughts are aligned then that shows through in your communication. Because now you have your voice tonality and body language – some say they are over 90 percent of communication – in alignment with your words.

With these channels in alignment people tend to really listen to what you’re saying. You are communicating without incongruency, mixed messages or perhaps a sort of phoniness.

Also, if your actions aren’t in alignment with what you’re communicating then you start to hurt your own belief in what you can do. And other people’s belief in you too.

10. Continue to grow and evolve.

”Constant development is the law of life, and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself into a false position.”

You can pretty much always improve your skills, habits or re-evaluate your evaluations. You can gain deeper understanding of yourself and the world.

Sure, you may look inconsistent or like you don’t know what you are doing from time to time. You may have trouble to act congruently or to communicate authentically. But if you don’t then you will, as Gandhi says, drive yourself into a false position. A place where you try to uphold or cling to your old views to appear consistent while you realise within that something is wrong. It’s not a fun place to be. To choose to grow and evolve is a happier and more useful path to take.

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