Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Motorized suitcase saves your back

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- One of the challenges of traveling the world while continuing to work is that laptops, projectors, extra batteries and other gear can be heavy. And pulling a suitcase can be bad for your back. Finally, a well designed -- albeit expensive -- suitcase comes to the rescue.

On my recent two-month trip through Greece, one of the challenges I faced was getting all my stuff from one place to the next. After all, I was carrying all my clothes, all my gear, including two laptops, extra batteries and other heavy stuff and a whole bunch of things acquired along the way: Books, gifts for loved ones back home, you name it. My luggage had roughly doubled in weight from when I had left home.

It's not just the weight. I've found that the twisting motion involved in pulling a wheeled suitcase can be very bad for your back. The potential for injury is compounded by uneven sidewalks. I destroyed the handle on my brand-new suitcase -- and nearly wrecked my back, too -- pulling it through the cobblestone streets of Mykonos in search of a room.

Now, however, a small UK company called Live Luggage plans to start selling Thursday what it calls a power-assisted (PA) case. That's right, a motorized suitcase.

The suitcase uses several innovations that make 65 pounds of stuff handle like it weighs only 6.5 pounds. The first is, of course, its motors -- one in each wheel. It doesn't start rolling by itself, but uses "force sensors" to figure out when you're pulling it, then gives you help with the forward motion.

The second innovation is what the company calls an adjustable anti-gravity handle. This is a simple brace that leans the top of the suitcase back over the wheels, instead of forcing you to hold the top of the case up with your arm. The company says the handle design places 85 percent of the weight onto the wheels. Every suitcase should have this.

Third, the suitcase has relatively large "pan-cake" wheels, placed far forward. The wheels are solid and capable of supporting large loads. A flexible rim enables the suitcase to be pulled without damage over uneven surfaces (like the narrow streets of Mykonos).

The PA suitcase also has security features. First, each suitcase is assigned a unique registration code, with instructions on the handle to visit a special web site for people who find the bag. They simply enter in the code, and you get an automated e-mail from the luggage company about how you can collect your luggage and where. Like many suitcases, the Live Luggage PA suitcase has a three-way combination lock system that's proprietary to Live Luggage, but compatible with the TSA's skeleton lock system.

The suitcase has an interesting battery design. The motors can last for about two hours or about one and three-quarters of a mile on one battery charge. The motors are powered by a rechargeable 12v NiMH battery. The case comes with a charger. An LED light goes out when the battery needs charging. Like a Toyota Prius, the batteries actually recharge themselves using the turning of the wheels (say, when you're going downhill or other circumstances when the motor's power isn't required).

The good news is that the Live Luggage PA suitcase will save your back. The bad news is that it will empty your wallet. At over $1,300, the suitcase is not for everybody.

Original here

Flip-Flops Bad For Feet

Auburn University biomechanics doctoral student Justin Shroyer places reflective markers on the foot of Ph.D. student Joanna Booker. Shroyer led an AU research team in a study of the effects of flip-flops versus those of athletic shoes. Credit: Auburn University

Flip-flops are named for the sound they make when you walk — flip, flop, flip, flop — but they could have been called ouch-umphs, the sound you'll make after wearing them all the time.

Researchers at Auburn University have found that wearing flip-flops alters the way one walks, changing the gait in subtle ways that can lead to serious sole, heel and ankle problems. They presented these findings earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis.

Casual flip-flop use is fine, they said. But driven by a trend that less is better when it comes to healthy footwear, flip-flops have moved beyond the domain of beach bums to take their place among sturdier sandals as proper summer fashion day and night.

Flip-flops might feel good because they keep your feet cool. At issue, though, is their utter lack of foot support.

Walk this way

The Auburn team videotaped 39 flip-flop-wearing volunteers and noticed how they scrunched their toes to keep the flip-flip on the foot while the heel lifted in the air. This motion stretches the plantar fascia, the connective tissue that runs from heel to toe, causing inflammation, pain along the sole, heel spurs and tired feet in general.

These symptoms were actually what flip-flop wearers at Auburn University had reported upon returning to classes in the fall. An entire summer of flip-flop wearing had taken its toll.

The researchers also found that the volunteers altered their gait , taking shorter strides and turning their ankles inward, likely to keep the flip-flop from falling off. This, the researchers worry, can cause long-term ankle and hip problems.

Sandals with heel straps are the healthier choice because your foot doesn't need to clench to keep the footwear secure. These kinds of shoes offer better arch and heel support, too.

Better barefoot?

Barefooters, or those who shall remain shoeless, believe that walking barefoot is healthier than walking in any kind of shoe. They use the "natural" argument to explain how humans were never meant to wear shoes and that they take joy in what they call walking as nature intended.

No one can deny that joy, aside from podiatrists making a fist-load of money on their bruised feet. But as stated before in this column, nature has no intent. Nature is merely a framework in which humans evolved to live about 20 years, mate and die.

There's a reason why humans created shoes tens of thousands of years ago. Nature sucks. Aside from cold snow, blistering hot sand or jagged rocks, there was disease-ridden muck to negotiate. Not wearing clothes is natural, but clothes become a necessity in the 90 percent of the world that gets too cold to stay naked.

Groups such as the Society for Barefoot Living have captivating reasons for going barefoot most of the time, even for tromps through the city. Walking barefoot on clean pavement doesn't seem to hurt your feet, ankles or knees if you ease yourself into this routine. In this respect, walking barefoot is healthier than walking in ill-fitting or flimsy shoes, such as flip-flops or high-heals.

This works, however, only because we live in an industrialized country that has created numerous unnatural things, such as sewage systems and smoothly paved public areas.

A stroll through the doo

Reality is better relayed by groups such as Shoes for Humanity, cognizant of the fact that worms and myriad other parasites can gain access into the body through the foot. In most parts of the world, going barefoot is stubborn sign of impoverishment, not a natural, healthy alternative to footwear.

The risk of contracting hookworm is low for American barefooters because the chance of stepping in human feces containing the hookworm larvae is low. Not so for the estimated one billion humans worldwide infected with hookworm.

Not so for dogs, either, who for the most part don't wear shoes, aside from atrocities committed backstage at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Dogs get canine hookworm from walking in doggie doo. All land animals are susceptible to infections through their feet.

America barefooters still face real risks, such as glass and other sharp objects that can carry the tetanus neurotoxin. Barefooters also run the risk of never being invited to an Asian home, because they can't take off their feet.

Original here

How to Go From Sedentary to Running in Five Steps

As a runner, there is almost nothing in this world that can take me to the places that running does. I find solitude in my running, I find my thoughts and my peace, I find energy and motivation, I come up with my best ideas and solve my toughest problems. Running transforms me.

I try to encourage others to run, but even if they want to do it, they don’t know how.

Today, I’m going to give you my advice (as an intermediate runner, not an expert) on how to go from sitting on the couch to being a true runner. I won’t say that it’ll be easy, especially in the beginning. But I will say that it won’t kill you (assuming you don’t have major health problems) and that it will get easier and even fun in a few short weeks.

I will start with the standard disclaimer: Before starting this program, get checked out by a doctor, especially if you have any health risks, such as heart or lung problems, major diseases, pregnancy, or the like.

If you’re fit enough to walk for 20 or 30 minutes, you should be able to do this program.

The Benefits of Running

Why should you even consider doing this program (or running at all)? Lots of reasons. Just a few to start with:

  1. You’ll get healthier. There are other ways to get healthy, of course, including dozens of other types of exercises. But running is one great way. If you stick to a moderate running program, I can almost guarantee that you’ll get slimmer and your heart will get stronger and your cholesterol will go down. Your diet is a big factor, of course, but more on that in the next benefit.
  2. You’ll eat better. When you start running — and this can take a few weeks or more — you start to realize that what you eat is fuel. And you realize that burgers and fries and soda are not the best fuel. So you start to eat cleaner fuel, and it can start to be a lifetime habit. This doesn’t always happen, but I’ve seen it happen a lot. It may take awhile before you get a really clean diet, but the desire to change starts relatively soon.
  3. You’ll want to quit smoking. It’s hard to keep smoking if you really get into running. Some people keep smoking while running, but I’ve seen tons of runners who quit smoking, because they know that smoking doesn’t jibe with their lifestyle. If you’re looking for a good way to quit, start with running.
  4. You’ll find solitude. In the hectic bustle of everyday life, many people have trouble finding time for themselves, time to think and to find peace. Running will become your oasis of peace, a time you look forward to each day.
  5. Races are super fun. Once you’ve been running for a month or two, you should sign up for a 5K. It’ll be a great time. The camaraderie among runners, slow and fast, young and old, is a wonderful thing. The feeling of accomplishment when you cross the finish line is unbeatable. And after awhile, you might try 10Ks, half marathons, maybe even a marathon. There’s nothing like doing road races.
  6. You’ll lower your stress levels. It beats smoking, drinking, vegging out in front of the television, almost anything else I can think of, for getting rid of the stresses of your life.
  7. You’ll think better. Running is the time when my mind is clearest. It’s hard to really think about things when you have the noise of the modern world around you, but when you’re alone on the road, you can’t help but think in silence.
  8. You’ll find the warrior within you. There is something about running that transforms you. In the beginning, it can be very difficult, and there will be times when you feel like stopping, but if you can beat that little negative voice inside you that wants to stop, you will learn that you can beat anything. Running will teach you to overcome your doubts and negativity, and that’s a gift that will take you to new heights in anything you do.

The Rules

Before we start, I’d like to offer a few rules:

  1. Start small. This is mandatory. Many people make the mistake of starting too hard, and they get burned out or injured or discouraged within a couple of weeks. This program is designed to get you running for life, so if you have lots of enthusiasm when you start, that’s great — but you MUST rein it in and start small. That enthusiasm that you have to hold back will keep you going for much longer if you don’t spend it all the first week.
  2. Increase gradually. Another mandatory rule. If you don’t follow this rule, you shouldn’t follow the program. Trust me, I know how it feels like the rules of increasing gradually don’t apply to you … I made that mistake when I started out and got injured. Your mind (and even your heart and lungs) might be able to handle doing more, but your legs might not. It takes awhile for your muscles and tendons and ligaments and joints to adjust to the stress of running, and if you progress to rapidly, you’ll get injured. Increase but very gradually.
  3. Enjoy yourself. Very mandatory. If you don’t enjoy yourself, you’ll never stick with it. So try to have as much fun as possible. Enjoy getting fit and healthy! Enjoy burning off your fat! Enjoy the sweat! Enjoy the relaxation of burning off stress! Running should be fun, not torture.
  4. If you can, get a partner. This is not really a rule but a suggestion — if you can find a reliable partner, it makes it a bit easier. First, having someone to talk to while you walk (and later run) makes the time go by extremely quickly. Second, if you make an appointment to meet that person for your walk (or run), you’re more likely to stick to the appointment rather than wimp out.

The Five Steps

OK, here are the five steps to becoming a runner. There are some rough timeframes in each step, but the real rule is to increase only when you feel ready, and no sooner. If you need longer for a step, take longer. There’s no rush. But if you think you can do it sooner, I would suggest that you not.

Step 1: Start walking. Start out by walking just 3 times the first week, and four times the second. The first week, you only need to do 20-25 minutes. Increase to 25-30 minutes the second week. After this, you can graduate to the next step, or if you’d like to stay in this step for a week or two longer, that’s OK. If you stay longer, walk 4 times the third week, 30-35 minutes each time. The fourth week, stay at 4 times, but increase to 35-40 minutes.

Step 2: Start run/walking. Do this step very gradually, just a little more each time. For this step, you’ll continue to exercise 4 times a week. You want to warm up by walking for 10 minutes. Then do a very, very easy run/walk routine: jog lightly for 1 minute (or 30 seconds if that seems too hard), then walk for 2 minutes. Repeat these intervals for 10-15 minutes, then do a 10-minute walking cool down. Do this step for two weeks, or longer if you like.

Step 3: Lengthen the running. Once you’re comfortable running for a minute at a time, for several intervals each time you exercise, you’re ready to start running a little longer. Continue to exercise 4 times per week. Increase your running to 1 minute 30 seconds, with an equal walking (1:30 running, 1:30 walking) for 15 minutes. Do this a couple times or more, then increase running to two minutes, with walking for 1 minute. Do this a few times or more, then increase to running 2:30, walking 30 seconds to a minute. If any of these increases feels too hard, feel free to go back a step until you’re comfortable increasing. Don’t rush it. You should stay in this step for 2-3 weeks or more.

Step 4: Follow the Rule of 9. Once you start Step 3 above, you’re basically running with short walk breaks. This can seem difficult, but it’ll get easier. Commit to doing 9 running workouts in Step 3 … after that, it’ll get easier. The first 9 running workouts can be difficult, but after that, it almost always gets better and more enjoyable. Don’t quit before the 9 running workouts! After the 9, try running with only infrequent walk breaks.

Step 5: Take your running to new levels. First of all, celebrate! You’re now a runner. You might be walking a little during your runs, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, feel free to keep doing walk breaks as you work on your running endurance. Some runners have been known to do a marathon with walk breaks, running 10 minutes and walking 1 minute. That’s completely fine. Eventually you probably won’t need the walk breaks, but no need to rush.

In this step, you want to continue taking your running to new levels. There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Gradually increase your running until you can do 30-40 minutes of running at a time, 4 days a week. Do this increase gradually, as you should be mostly running for 15 minutes at a time by the end of Step 4 … just increase by 5 minutes each week.
  • Sign up for a 5K. If you can run for 30-40 minutes, you can complete a 5K. Sign up for one (there are races almost every weekend in many places) and participate with the idea of just finishing. Have fun doing it!
  • Once you have increased your running to 30-40 minutes at a time, designate one run a week as your “long run”. Try to increase this by 5 minutes each week, until you can do an hour or more. This is your endurance run, and it is a key to most running programs.
  • Once you’ve got endurance, you can add some hills to your program. Add hills gradually, by finding a more hilly course, and eventually adding hill repeats — run (kind of) hard up the hill, then easy down the hill, and do 3-5 repeats.
  • After hills, do a little speed workout once a week. Do intervals of a couple of minutes of medium-hard running, with a couple minutes of easy running. Make these speed workouts shorter than your normal runs — if you run for 40 minutes, do 25-30 minutes for your speed workouts. Be sure to warm up and cool down with easy running for 10 minutes.
  • Tempo runs are good workouts when you’re ready. That means a 10 minute warmup, then 20 minutes or so of running somewhere between your 10K and half-marathon pace. That means going the pace you think you can race for an hour, but only doing it for 20-30 minutes.
  • Run with a group, or run alone. Don’t always run alone or with a partner. Mix things up.
  • Find new routes. Don’t always run the same routes. Try running on a track, in a different neighborhood, on a treadmill, on trails.
  • After you’ve done a few 5Ks, sign up for a 10K. Then a half marathon. Then a marathon. But do one step at a time.

Most of all, enjoy your runs!

Original here

Morbid thoughts make you reach for the cookies

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Thinking about your own death can make you reach for the cookie jar, with an international study finding that morbid thoughts tend to whet the appetite.

Researchers Naomi Mandel from Arizona State University and Dirk Smeesters from Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands conducted several experiments in Europe and the United States where participants wrote essays on their feelings about their own deaths.

They then checked off items on a grocery list or ate cookies. Consumers who wrote about their own deaths wanted to buy more and ate more than those who wrote about a painful medical procedure .

"People want to consumer more of all kinds of foods, both healthy and unhealthy, when thinking about the idea that they will die some day," said the researchers in a report published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

They found people with low self-esteem, in particular, tend to over-consume after death-related thoughts.

Mandel and Smeesters explained this by using a theory called "escape from self-awareness."

"When people are reminded of their inevitable mortality, they may start to feel uncomfortable about what they have done with their lives and whether they have made a significant mark on the universe. This is a state called "heightened self-awareness,"" they said.

"One way to deal with such an uncomfortable state is to escape from it, by either overeating or overspending."

The study also revealed that placing a mirror in front of the participants reduced the desire to over-consume.

"Consumers, especially those with a lower self-esteem, might be more susceptible to over-consumption when faced with images of death during the news or their favorite crime-scene investigation shows," they said.

Original here

How to give death a good name

With society now obsessed by the desire to prolong life, Elizabeth Grice asks if we have lost the art of dying well and examines practical steps to change our attitudes

Death got a rave review the other day. That doesn't happen often. Just off one of London's traffic thoroughfares, there was a profound little exhibition of photographs taken of people before and immediately after they died.

How to have a good death - graveyard
“Rage, rage against the dying of the light” - but the dying may be more philosophical

Twenty-four of them, old and young, were recorded by a German photographer, Walter Schels, who was terrified of death and wanted to confront it through his art. The words alongside the portraits reflected the anger, fear, courage or resignation his sitters felt at the imminence of their non-being. What set this poignant group apart was the knowledge that death was not far off - very different from knowing that we are mortal.

But their friends and relatives were engaged in a familiar, sad pretence: "You'll soon be feeling better", "You'll be home soon" and so on. So, to their astonishment, Schels and his partner, Beate Lakotta became their confidantes. With no platitudes to offer and no false comfort, they helped to take the isolation out of death for these people they hardly knew. "I know now how important it is to be there and not to be afraid of asking questions and of listening to the answers," said Lakotta.

The elusive concept of a "good" death has become a hot topic, inspired by the leave-takings of two great communicators, the Irish writer Nuala O'Faolain and the American computer science lecturer Randy Pausch.

It is also the subject of a new book, The Art of Dying, a nod to the medieval texts Ars Moriendi that set out protocols for dying. The authors, Dr Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick, argue that, obsessed with prolonging life, we have lost the habit of helping people to die a good death. "Hi-tech around the deathbed is sometimes more concerned with the feelgood factor of the relatives and the medical profession, who need to feel they have done everything they can, than with the peace and comfort of the dying," they say.

We are very good at making sure that when people die they are as comfortable and pain-free as possible, they add, but not so good at catering for, and teaching others to care for, the spiritual needs of the dying. So it is time for those dying and those around them to think about where and how they want to die.

Nuala O'Faolain declined any temporary reprieve chemotherapy might offer and decided upon the best way of spending her last months. Suffering from two brain tumours and lung and liver cancer, she embarked on a journey that wrested meaning and even joy by revisiting some of her favourite places.

At the Berlin Opera, she heard Verdi's Don Carlos. She stayed at the best hotel in Paris (yet, out of habit, economised on breakfast). With friends, she visited Madrid and Sicily. And she moved back to her native Ireland, where she died on May 9 this year, aged 68, surrounded by family and friends - the archetypal good death.

"In our culture, that is a great privilege," said a close friend, Luke Dodd. "We were all singing and talking. I am happy really, because she had the death she wanted in the end."

Professor Randy Pausch, diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer at 46, exploited the knowledge of his coming death in a remarkable way. He chose to do the thing he does best: to lecture.

But The Last Lecture (now a book of the same name) wasn't about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of nurturing the dreams of others and seizing the moment. Four hundred people turned up to the lecture, including a columnist for the Wall St Journal. Within days, the column and video swept across the web. More than six million people have viewed it online. Pausch, the self-styled dying showman, crafted his last appearance and brought down the curtain in his own way. Content to be in the wings now, he is still alive, but very weak.

While Pausch and O'Faolain's experiences may be unusual, their attitude to death is one that should be borne in mind.

"Our fear of death and love of life," say the Fenwicks, "mean that we seldom prepare either for death itself or the process of dying. So although all of us will die, hardly anyone is prepared to 'die right'?."

By "right", they mean pain-free and in an untroubled frame of mind. A "good death", they say, is the death a person wanted - whether surrounded by family at home, in a hospice with professional carers, or even alone. "Dying in one's sleep is the ideal death as far as most people are concerned."

But 67 per cent of people die in hospital among staff untrained and unequipped to answer their emotional, social and spiritual needs.

Peter Fenwick is a neuro-psychiatrist. His research into end-of-life phenomena convinces him that we think in too linear a way about life and death. "With the secularisation and the medicalisation of death. We have lost the idea that death is a clear and natural process, not a switching off," he says. "We realise the value of a 'birth companion' during childbirth. Perhaps we should now consider that the 'death companion' may have an equally important part to play."

Such a companion is someone who is there, not who necessarily does anything. In practical terms, this may mean making sure surroundings are peaceful and cheerful. Even when someone is apparently unconscious they may be able to hear or feel more than we know. "Holding their hands and talking to them may give more comfort than we realise," he says.

The Fenwicks add that one of the most impenetrable barriers to a "good death" is unfinished business. They say that reconciliation is a necessity. It is important that everyone has the opportunity to say "I'm sorry" or "I forgive you" or "I love you". This is not only so that the dying person can let go in peace but also so that those left behind can have a guilt-free parting.

They discovered in interviews with hospice carers that many residents instinctively seemed to know they were nearing the end; people also seemed able to postpone their departure until they had a chance to say goodbye. "Others choose a moment when they are alone… it's worth remembering that this may be their choice."

One of the biggest questions that relatives face is whether one should talk about death to the dying. The Fenwicks advise taking your cue from them - but try to make it easy for the dying if you do so, and do not go to great lengths to avoid the issues.

Don't, they warn, be so careful not to say the wrong thing that you leave the right thing unsaid. Marie de Hennezel, a French psychiatrist, says it is sometimes the relatives who have to make a conscious effort to let go. One ward sister told the couple about a patient who had been ill for a long time. "One day when his mum left his bedside he looked at me and said, 'Is it OK if I go now?' I sat with him while he died."

A particularly fraught issue may be what to tell children. While nothing can make the death of a parent easy, failure to prepare a child for bereavement under the guise of protecting them could well make the situation worse.

The important thing is not to leave those who are dying feeling isolated. As friends or family the temptation is to share Dylan Thomas's view that we should "rage, rage against the dying of the light". But the dying may be more philosophical.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, the Swiss psychiatrist who wrote the ground-breaking book On Death and Dying, defined the five stages that the dying passed through before coming to terms with death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

As one grows older, say the Fenwicks, the need to talk about old times and search out old friends who have played an important part in your life can be thought of as rounding off, preparatory behaviours for a good death.

Finally, the book details several examples of near-death and end-of-life experiences; the Fenwicks say that those who have undergone one of these lose their fear of death. Studies of those who have had a close brush with death, such as an acute cardiac arrest, show the same loss of fear. "Whatever it is they experience seems to lead to tranquillity in the face of death… but perhaps the most important consequence is that it affects the way we live. It makes them value life without clinging to it, appreciate each day as if it were their last."

By accepting and living in the now, the Fenwicks believe our attitude towards life and death can be transformed. And we, the survivors, must not fail to help the dying because of our own fear of death. The individual bravery of a Nuala O'Faolain or a Randy Pausch establishes another kind of healing ritual: that of shared experience. Even the people in the Schels portraits did it. They wanted to pass on to others something only they knew.

"They weren't pretending anything any more," said Schels movingly. "They had lost that need. When you're facing the end, everything that's not real is stripped away. You're the most real you'll ever be."

  • 'The Art of Dying' by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick (Continuum) is available from Telegraph Books for £9.99 + 99p p&p and 'The Last Lecture' by Randy Pausch (Hodder & Stoughton) is available from Telegraph Books for £11.99 + 99p p&p. To order, call 0870 428 4112 or go to

  • For those dying

    1 Forgive others and seek their forgiveness; heal broken relationships, however late in the day

    2 Search out old friends with whom you have lost touch

    3 Value life without clinging to it, and live each day as if it were your last

    4 Die where you would most like to - whether at home or in a hospice; alone or surrounded by family

    5 Trust your instincts; many carers say that patients know when their end is near

    For relatives and friends

    1 Talk to the dying about death if they wish; don't go to great lengths to avoid the issue

    2 Make an effort to let go, giving the dying permission to leave in peace

    3 Holding hands and talking can give more comfort than you think

    4 Don't be so careful not to say the wrong thing that you leave the right thing unsaid

    5 Don't shield children: prepare them for a death, and allow them to say a final goodbye

    Original here

    New clue to Alzheimer's found

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- Researchers have uncovered a new clue to the cause of Alzheimer's disease.

    The brains of people with the memory-robbing form of dementia are cluttered with a plaque made up of beta-amyloid, a sticky protein. But there long has been a question whether this is a cause of the disease or a side effect. Also involved are tangles of a protein called tau; some scientists suspect this is the cause.

    Now, researchers have caused Alzheimer's symptoms in rats by injecting them with one particular form of beta-amyloid. Injections with other forms of beta-amyloid did not cause illness, which may explain why some people have beta-amyloid plaque in their brains but do not show disease symptoms.

    The findings by a team led by Dr. Ganesh M. Shankar and Dr. Dennis J. Selkoe of Harvard Medical School were reported in Sunday's online edition of the journal Nature Medicine.

    The researchers used extracts from the brains of people who donated their bodies to medicine.

    Forms of soluble beta-amyloid containing different numbers of molecules, as well as insoluble cores of the brain plaque, were injected into the brains of rats. There was no detectable effect from the insoluble plaque or the soluble one-molecule or three-molecule forms, the researchers found.

    But the two-molecule form of soluble beta-amyloid produced characteristics of Alzheimer's in the rats, they reported.

    Those rats had impaired memory function, especially for newly learned behaviors. Studies were also done on mice and when their brains were inspected, the density brain cells were reduced by 47 percent. The beta-amyloid seemed to affect synapses, the connections between cells that are essential for communication between them.

    The research, for the first time, showed the effect of a particular type of beta-amyloid in the brain, said Dr. Marcelle Morrison-Bogorad, director of the division of neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging, which helped fund the research.

    It was surprising that only one of the three types had an effect, she said in a telephone interview.

    Morrison-Bogorad said the findings may help explain the discovery of plaque in the brains of people who do not develop dementia. For some time, doctors have wondered why they find some brains in autopsy that are heavily coated with beta-amyloid, but the person did not have Alzheimer's.

    The answer may lie in the two types of beta-amyloid that did not cause symptoms.

    Now, the question is why one has the damaging effect and not others.

    "A lot of work needs to be done," Morrison-Bogorad said. "Nature keeps sending us down paths that look straight at the beginning, but there are a lot of curves before we get to the end."

    Dr. Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, said that "while more research is needed to replicate and extend these findings, this study has put yet one more piece into place in the puzzle that is Alzheimer's."

    In addition to the Institute on Aging, the research was funded by Science Foundation Ireland, Wellcome Trust, the McKnight and Ellison foundations and the Lefler Small Grant Fund.

    Original here



    Hundreds of people were incorrectly told they had tested positive for HIV at New York City STD clinics this winter.

    Almost half the results given by the clinics were false positives, the Department of Health confirmed.

    From November to April, 213 people tested positive after taking a rapid mouth-swab HIV test. A second test revealed they did not have the virus.

    The city would not explain why, as false positives mounted, it continued to administer the tests.

    The reason for the spike is under investigation by the DOH, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and test manufacturer OraSure Technologies. The DOH said it had stopped using OraSure's rapid swab tests.

    DOH said anyone who received a positive result from the oral test was immediately given another test, this time using a finger stick to take blood.

    "Nobody was misled or harmed," said Dr. Susan Blank, assistant DOH commissioner and director of the bureau of STD control.

    The swab tests proved popular after they were introduced at city STD clinics in 2005. The number of people tested for HIV grew 24 percent that year.

    Original here

    Battle Of The Bulge: Low Leptin Levels Undermine Successful Weight Loss

    Individuals who are obese are at increased risk of many diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. As 75%-95% of previously obese individuals regain their lost weight, many researchers are interested in developing treatments to help individuals maintain their weight loss.

    A new study, by Michael Rosenbaum and colleagues, at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, has provided new insight into the critical interaction between the hormone leptin and the brain's response to weight loss.

    Leptin levels fall as obese individuals lose weight. So, the authors set out to see whether changes in leptin levels altered activity in the regions of the brain known to have a role in regulating food intake.

    They observed that activity in these regions of the brain in response to visual food-related cues changed after an obese individual successfully lost weight. However, these changes in brain activity were not observed if the obese individual who had successfully lost weight was treated with leptin. These data are consistent with the idea that the decrease in leptin levels that occurs when an individual loses weight serves to protect the body against the loss of body fat.

    Further, both the authors and, in an accompanying commentary, Rexford Ahima, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, suggest that leptin therapy after weight loss might improve weight maintenance by overriding this fat-loss defense.

    Original here

    Does music have the power to send us to sleep?

    A recent experiment in Japan tested the power of music to send us into a deep slumber. Leo Lewis stayed awake to test the results.

    ear with a music stave with letter Z

    To the casual eye, many features of everyday life seem destined to lull the Japanese to sleep: the steady rattle of a stuffy commuter train, the drone of a monotonous lecturer, the thrum of an office air-conditioner.

    But the job of artificially persuading them to drift off into slumber turns out to be much more complicated. Give them pillows, blankets and bombard them with nearly three hours of drowse-inducing music and most will still be wide awake at the end of the show.

    The audience at an extraordinary mass experiment in sleep-induction in Central Tokyo ten days ago is still not sure whether Dreams Kaimin - Kaimin is best translated as “good sleep” or “sound sleep” - was a success or not. It set out, under the supervision of one of Japan's most celebrated “sleep doctors”, to use the power of music to push 1,500 people into sweet oblivion. More than half simply enjoyed an entertaining night out at the theatre.

    Certainly, there were plenty of people whose heads slumped on to their chins during the carefully arranged playlist of gentle classical and modern music, but then it is not uncommon to see Japanese concert-goers nodding off during Franz Ferdinand and Guns n' Roses concerts.

    What has still not been established is whether the concert produced more than the natural quotient of snoozers, and whether those who did grab forty winks did so in record time. If there was one firm conclusion, said those whose shoulders became ad hoc pillows for their male neighbours, it was that a lot of men fell asleep as soon as the female vocalist began.

    Two elderly men did not stir for two hours

    Opening arrangements of Chopin and Tchaikovsky did not leave the audience any noticeably more heavy-headed after the first quarter of an hour. Better results were achieved a few minutes later when Aoi Teshima, the young female singer, ran through a quartet of popular Japanese numbers, Teru, Wishes, Rainbow and Rose, that sent the two elderly men on either side of me into a sleep from which they did not stir for another two hours.

    Several audience members later queried the music choices. Most felt that Mary Hopkins's folk hit from the Sixties, Those Were The Days My Friend, was too interesting and popular to send them to sleep. A rendition of a well-known Japanese song by Masafumi Akikawa, the tenor soloist, was equally exhilarating. Many said they were too thrilled to hear a performance by the great Akikawa to waste the moment on slumber.

    Yasuo and Yoshiko Abe, husband and wife participants in the experiment, went out of curiosity, they said, because they had never heard of a concert in which the audience was supposed to sleep. “Knowing that we were actually allowed to sleep made me relax and listen to the music without much feeling of trying to judge the quality of the performance,” Yasuo said. “In that sense, it's good. But being told that you can sleep also got me a little twisted mentally, and so I tried not to sleep.”

    Selecting the right music

    The brains behind Dreams Kaimin is Dr Takuro Endo, a neurologist who has made a science, and a lucrative CD business, out of selecting the right music to induce sleep. He divides it into three categories: melodies that fire the imagination; those that are calming and relaxing; and music that should, within ten minutes, slow the brain down to the point of unconsciousness. Do not, he cautions, listen to the third category when you're driving. In his limited laboratory experiments, Dr Endo honed a playlist from that third category down to a smaller collection, most of which was played to the Tokyo audience.

    Japan's relationship with sleep has always been a complicated one. For instance, the Japanese appear able to sleep anywhere, at any time: low crime rates make people feel especially secure about drifting off on public transport.

    But a good night's sleep has been the victim of the country's so-called economic miracle, the long phase of growth in which Japan was propelled from a post-war mess to Asia's most sparkling modern economy. Long hours and the demands of the all-consuming corporate lifestyle have come at the expense of sleep.

    Now, as the economy struggles to come to terms with what it has matured into, the Japanese are decreasingly happy at the imposition of the office. Several “napping rooms” have sprung up in Tokyo's main business districts so workers can sleep in their lunch break without the shame of being seen by their colleagues.

    Leo Lewis is the Times Asia Business correspondent

    The Science of Sleep and Music

    Simon Crompton

    Tastes vary According to Professor Jim Horne, the director of the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University, music helps people to sleep because it helps them to relax. Generally, children find gentle music lulling, but in adults different music will prove relaxing for different people. CDs of music marketed on the grounds of curing insomnia will work for some, but not others, Horne says. “The secret is to find anything that gives your brain peace of mind.”

    Brain music Research from the University of Toronto has suggested that a CD of your brain waves converted into music can help you to sleep. Researchers recorded people's brain waves as they fell asleep, and then converted them into sound. The research subjects listened to the recordings each night for 30 days and fell asleep three times faster than people listening to other people's brain waves.

    Didgeridoos Creating music before you go to bed may also induce sleep. A 2006 study in the British Medical Journal concluded that playing a didgeridoo before bed helped people with sleep apnoea to nod off. “Blasting away on an instrument might help you to get rid of troubling emotions before you go to sleep,” Horne says.

    The top ten tunes to help you drift of

    Saku, Susumu Yakota

    Nocturne, Chopin

    Piano Concerto no 1, Tchaikovsky

    Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Mozart

    Pachelbel, Canon in D

    Rose, Aoi Teshima

    By This River, Brian Eno

    Pie Jesu, John Rutter

    Albatross, Fleetwood Mac

    Divertimento No. 2 in D Major, Mozart

    Original here

    Amid Food Scares, Nanotech Offers Healthier Option for Livestock

    Could nano-enriched feed help chickens poop out pathogens and keep your dinner table clean? Scientists may have found a safer—and greener—alternative to antibiotic-laden food sources just five years away from America’s farms ... and your body might be the next proving ground.

    "Poultry is just the platform we chose to test out," says Jeremy Tzeng, a Clemson University professor who next plans to build sensors to track pathogens and their attachment to nanoparticles as they exit the chicken body. "Humans are the final goal." (Photograph Courtesy of Clemson University)

    20 Must-Read Blogs For Freelance Writers

    Posted by Abhijeet Mukherjee

    The idea of this post comes from Steven’s recent post on freelance blogging. Freelance writing certainly has many advantages and can be rewarding too.

    It goes without saying that in order to become a freelance writer, you gotta love writing. But you should also consistently work on sharpening your skills. And how do you do that? Reading well-written articles and blogs is a very good start! This can help you write innovative and appealing content.

    Reading blogs with good writing is a must if you want to improve your skills as a writer/blogger. Keeping this in mind, I decided to list 20 blogs which should be on every freelance blogger’s RSS feed reading list. This is not a definitive list as there are many more good blogs and I can’t possibly name all of them. But still it’s a useful list which I hope you will enjoy.

    Note: these blogs are not all about freelance writing or writing for the web. What they have in common is they’re all really well-written.

    Here’s the list in no specific order (It’s not a top 20 list!)

    • 1. Zen Habits & Write To Done Zen Habits and Write To Done are written by Leo Babauta, an experienced writer and a prolific blogger. Not only does he write great content he has an amazing writing style which is simple yet captivating.
    • 2. Problogger I’d be very surprised if you haven’t heard of this blog. Problogger is written by Darren Rowse and teaches the art of blogging and making money through it. In spite of being one of the most famous blogs on the planet, Darren still maintains the same old way of writing articles which are useful, impressive and easily understandable.
    • 3. Dumb Little Man One of the best productivity blogs around, Dumb Little Man is edited by Jay White and written by an impressive group of writers who produce useful articles on how to increase your everyday productivity and manage time in a better manner.
    • 4. Copyblogger Brian Clark is an authority when it comes to blog writing and you cannot afford to miss any of his articles if you want to become a good writer. Seriously.
    • 5. Freelance Switch Written by the best freelance writers and edited by Skellie, this blog presents insightful articles which include tips and tricks for freelancers and web workers. Thanks to it’s great content, the blog has achieved huge growth in the past one year and should be on your reading list too.
    • 6. Dosh Dosh Maki’s writing style and his in-depth analysis of topics has gained him admiration and respect in the blogosphere, not to mention a huge reader base. One of the most well-written blogs around and certainly a writer’s paradise.
    • 7. Seth Godin Seth’s unique and candid style of writing makes his blog a must read for all writers and bloggers.
    • 8. 43 Folders Although Merlin doesn’t write much these days, his blog still remains one of the most useful productivity blogs with some very nicely written articles.
    • 9. Skelliewag Skellie’s proficiency as a writer and blogger is well known and she has been producing great web content for years. Skelliewag is her flagship blog which boasts of some brilliant articles which are quite useful for bloggers.
    • 10. Men With Pens This blog is written by James and Harry, both of them being professional and without a doubt, amazing writers. A must read blog if you aim to improve your writing skills and write impressive content.
    • 11. Chris Pearson For those who don’t know, Chris is probably the best and the most sought after freelance WordPress designer (am not sure if he is doing freelance work any more). He doesn’t write much but when he does, the articles are too good to miss. He also created an immensely popular WordPress called Cutline.
    • 12. Daily Blog Tips One of the top blogs in the blogging niche, Daily Blog Tips is written by Daniel and has some great advice for bloggers and writers who aim to make it big in the blogosphere.
    • 13. Life Hacker Unmissable and a must-read everyday, no matter who you are and what you do.
    • 14. Entrepreneurs Journey Yaro Starak aims to help bloggers and online entrepreneurs through his candid and thought provoking articles, which make his blog one of the most important in it’s niche.
    • 15. Chris Garrett Chris is an internet marketing consultant and an experienced writer. He has also co-authored the Problogger book with Darren. Hence, it goes without saying that his blog is an important one, especially from a writer or freelance blogger’s perspective.
    • 16. The Simple Dollar One of the best finance blogs around, Trent writes top quality articles which have made his site a huge success.
    • 17. Steve Pavlina Steve’s 4000 word essays are quite well known and apart from including impressive content, they also feature an impeccable writing style.
    • 18. Life Hack Like Dumb Little Man, this blog focuses on personal development and productivity and employs guest writers who consistently produce excellent content.
    • 19. Chris Brogan Chris is a social media marketing consultant who writes some direct-from-heart articles on his blog which are nicely written and well presented.
    • 20. Freelance Folder It’s not that I am biased towards this blog because I write for it but I believe it’s certainly a must-read blog for all the freelance bloggers out there and I have been enjoying the well written articles on this blog by influential writers, long before I started writing for it. :)
    Original here

    Left Behind in a Layoff: Getting Ready for What’s Next

    By: Rebecca Brown (Little_personView Profile)

    The pink slips have been handed out, the severance checks cashed, and the farewell drinks consumed. Everyone has offered their condolences to those who were let go, yet you’re still here, reeling in your cubicle, wondering if maybe you’re the one who really deserves the well wishes, sympathetic words, and free rounds of strong drinks.

    As a four-time layoff survivor (and two-time victim), I’ve experienced all the panic, depression, fear, and anxiety that comes with staying on the job when others have been let go. There are some things you can do to ease the stress; they’re fairly common sense courses of action, but when you’re in the grips of anxiety and worried that your next paycheck may be your last, sometimes it’s hard to think clearly. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned after surviving a few layoffs, it’s that more are usually not far behind, and being ready when the next ax falls is crucial—just in case.

    1. Get Up-to-Date on Your Doctor Appointments
    You can elect to continue your healthcare coverage through COBRA, but the sticker shock of COBRA prices alone may kill you long before any health-related issue. Thanks to COBRA’s high cost, many people opt to go with an emergency-only plan when they’re unemployed, which depending on the plan, means that procedures like teeth cleaning and mole removal may be out. Scheduling your annual doctor visits, updating prescriptions, and getting lab work done while you’re still covered gives you roughly a year before you have to make all the rounds again—hopefully plenty of time to find a new job and new healthcare coverage.

    If you’re certain that unemployment is looming around the corner, it may be a smart time to drain your flexible spending account. Most plans allow you to use the money for things like contact lenses, braces, and over-the-counter medicines, which includes cold and allergy medicines and aspirin (which you’ll undoubtedly need after a layoff for either stress-related headaches or layoff party hangovers). Take advantage while you can—if you don’t use it, you lose it, and that might cause a queasiness that no flex plan medicine can cure.

    2. Retrieve Personal Files and Contacts from Your Work Computer
    Layoffs or no layoffs, it never hurts to do a periodic backup of all the unfinished screenplays, random party pics, Shins downloads, tax papers, and other documents that have found their way onto your work hard drive. If you’re fortunate enough to work for a company who will give you limited access to your computer and some time to collect your things after the unsavory notice of your forced termination, good for you. But the time allotted to you may be rushed, or simply not enough to get everything you need. Many employers don’t give employees the luxury of access back onto your computer, and relying on someone else to retrieve your documents once you’re gone can prove challenging. Email yourself important files, burn them onto CD, and make sure to get all your professional and personal contacts out of your work email. It’s also smart to periodically clear your cache—just to avoid the embarrassment of having managers and colleagues learn about your or Perez Hilton addiction.

    3. Create a Layoff-Ready Budget
    There’s nothing like the pending doom of potential unemployment to help you reevaluate your savings plan. Now’s the time to batten down the hatches on your spending to ready yourself for any cutbacks you’ll need to make in the event of another round of company cuts. Take some time to write down every single expense you incur in a given month, being completely honest with yourself about how much you spend. Once it’s all on paper, you’ll probably find some easy places you could spend less money, like bringing your lunch to work a few days a week instead of eating out, or opting for a movie on Friday nights instead of the happy hour that turns into five delirious hours of overpriced drinks and appetizers.

    This is also an ideal time to pay a visit to your financial advisor if you have one, and to potentially get an advisor (if you can afford it) if you don’t have one. He or she can help you assess your current financial strategy and whether or not you should make any changes, and can also help put together a plan for accessing more money should a layoff occur.

    4. Update Your Resume and Start Networking
    A previous manager once told me that she always updated her resume within the first week of starting a new job. Her rule—always be ready for anything. Most of us aren’t that industrious, though, so if you haven’t updated your resume with your latest position—or if you haven’t revisited your resume in a while—now is clearly the time to do it. Once you’re done, give it a test run and send it to friends, family, and perhaps a few trusted business contacts to see if they get a good sense of what you do, what you’re looking for, and what you’ve achieved after reading it.

    Now is also a good time to start networking like crazy. Beef up your LinkedIn profile; change your contact settings to include “career opportunities” and “getting back in touch” as things you’re interested in, and perhaps ask a manager or colleague to write a recommendation for you. Make it a goal to reach out to a certain number of friends, old coworkers, managers, clients, or other business associates each day. Perhaps contact some recruiters and begin perusing job postings online. You ultimately may not want or need to find another job, but it never hurts to get the momentum swinging in your favor sooner rather than later in the event that you do.

    5. Be Good to Yourself
    The phrase “survival guilt” is often associated with traumatic events like airplane crashes, earthquakes, and twenty-car pileups. But believe it or not, survival guilt is a very real phenomenon for those who remain after a layoff, and the range of emotions people experience isn’t that different from other traumatic events. Remaining employees often feel guilty for not being laid off, sadness for the coworkers and friends they’ll miss, and sometimes even anger for the increased workload they may experience now that their team has been reduced.

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is one of the best ways to cope with survivor guilt, which sounds counterintuitive to logic given that most people feel compelled to increase their work hours in an effort to secure their jobs in the event of another cut. But arriving and leaving at a decent hour each day allows more time to enjoy the things that really nourish our souls and ultimately help us perform at a higher level and make us better, more productive employees—dinner with family or friends, an invigorating workout, going to a concert, pursuing a hobby or taking a class, or just relaxing with a book and a glass of wine.

    Besides, working until midnight every night will eventually cause burnout, and ultimately doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be part of a layoff anyway since most cutbacks are about decreasing expenditure, not about performance. As the Donald says, “It’s not personal, it’s business.” You can bet your last dollar from your last paycheck that your employer will exercise that logic when adding names to the layoff list, so you should keep it in mind too.

    Original here

    How I Paid Off $35,000 in Debt, and How You Can Too

    Last December, after twenty years of owing money, I finally paid off all of my debt (except the mortgage — and I’m working on that). Co-incidentally, Leo paid off his debt at the exact same time. I didn’t pay off my debt overnight. It took many years, and I made plenty of mistakes. But with patience and perseverance, I met my goal.

    Along the way, I learned that for many people (including me), debt elimination involves three main steps:

    1. Stop acquiring new debt.
    2. Establish an emergency fund.
    3. Attack existing debt.

    Based on my experience and the experience of many of my readers, I’ve compiled a brief guide to getting out of debt. The hints and tips below worked for me. They should work for most others in similar situations.

    Stop acquiring new debt
    This may seem obvious, but if your debt is out of control, it’s because you keep adding to it. The first step on the path to debt freedom is to stop using credit. Don’t finance anything. Cut up your credit cards.

    That last tip can be tough. But don’t make excuses — destroy your credit cards. Stop rationalizing that you need them.

    • You don’t need credit cards for a safety net.
    • You don’t need credit cards for convenience.
    • You don’t need credit cards for cash-back bonuses.

    You don’t need credit cards at all. If you’re in debt, credit cards are a trap. They only put you deeper in debt. Later, when your debts are gone and your finances are under control, then you can get a credit card. (I lived without a personal credit card for ten years — it was easy.)

    After you destroy your cards, halt any recurring payments. If you have a gym membership, cancel it. If you automatically renew your World of Warcraft account, cancel it. Cancel anything that automatically charges your credit card. Stop using credit.

    Once you’ve done this, call each credit card company in turn. Do not cancel your credit cards (except for those with a zero balance). Instead, ask for a better deal. Find an offer online and use it as a bargaining wedge. (Check Credit Addict for competitive offers.) Your bank may not agree to match the terms, but it probably will. It never hurts to ask.

    If your debt is a result of student loans and you don’t have a spending problem, you may not need to take some of these drastic steps. But if your debt is growing, then take this advice to heart.

    Establish an emergency fund
    Next, take the time to sock away some savings. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you don’t save before you begin paying down debt, you’ll struggle to cope with unexpected expenses. Do not tell yourself that you can keep a credit card for emergencies. Destroy your credit cards; save cash for emergencies.

    How much should you save? Ideally, you’d have $1,000 to start. If your expenses are low, you may be able to get by with $500. This money is for emergencies only. It is not for beer. It is not for clothes. It is not for a Nintendo Wii. It’s to be used when the dishwasher dies or you break your arm or you lose your job.

    Keep this money liquid, but not immediately accessible. Don’t tie your emergency fund to a debit card. Don’t sabotage your efforts by making it easy to spend the money on non-essentials. Consider opening a high-interest savings account at an online bank like ING Direct or HSBC Direct. When an emergency arises, you can easily transfer the money to your regular checking account. It’ll be there when you need it, but you won’t be able to spend it spontaneously.

    Attack existing debt
    After you’ve stopped using credit, and after you’ve saved an emergency fund, then go after your existing debt. Attack it with vigor. Throw whatever you can at it.

    Many experts advise paying your high interest debts first. Obviously, this makes the most sense mathematically. But if money were all about math, you wouldn’t have debt in the first place. Debt is as much about emotion and psychology as it is about math.

    There are at least three approaches to debt elimination. Psychologically, using a debt snowball offers big payoffs, payoffs that can spur you to further debt reduction. Here’s the short version of how this works:

    1. List your debts from lowest balance to highest.
    2. Designate a certain amount of money to pay toward debts each month.
    3. Pay the minimum payment on all debts except for the one with the lowest balance.
    4. Throw every other penny you possibly can at the debt with the lowest balance.
    5. When that debt is gone, do not alter the monthly amount used to pay debts, but throw all you can at the debt with the next-lowest balance.

    I love the debt snowball. Until I discovered it, I thought I’d never get out of debt. Though it still takes time to pay off your debts, you begin to see results almost immediately.

    A third method to approach debt elimination is to first target the debts that cause you the greatest headache. Do you have a loan from your sister and her husband? Do you hate the fact that you borrowed money for a new computer? Whichever loan bugs you most, pay it off first.

    Regardless which method you choose for attacking your debt, put as much money as possible toward this goal. Apply raises and windfalls (like tax refunds) directly to your bills. Sure, you’d rather spend that birthday check from grandma for a night out with your friends, but it’ll do you more good if you use it to pay off that last night on the town. You’ll have plenty of time to spend future windfalls. For now, use the money to get that debt off your back.

    Other tips and tricks
    You can do other things to improve your money situation while you’re working on these three steps. A year ago, Leo shared 73 debt elimination tips from Zen Habits readers. All of these are based around one simple fact: to pay off debt, or to save money, or to accumulate wealth, you must spend less than you earn.

    To begin, curb your spending. Develop frugal habits. Leo has shared some excellent tips for frugal living in the past, and you can discover more at sites like Frugal for Life. Some people think that frugal living is equivalent to being “cheap”. That’s not the case. Frugality and thrift used to be core values in our society, but we lost touch with these ideals during the age of easy credit. Thrift can be a fun way to stretch your hard-earned dollars.

    While you learn to spend less, do what you can to increase your income. If possible, sell some of the stuff you bought when you got into debt. This can be painful, but ask yourself: Do you really use that weight bench? Is your DVD collection really doing you any good? Use eBay or Craigslist or the Amazon marketplace to get some cash from the things you own. Consider taking an extra job or working longer hours.

    Finally, go to your local public library and borrow Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. This is a fantastic guide to getting out of debt and developing good money habits. I rave about this book because it did a lot to help me take control of my own personal finances. After you’ve finished, return it and borrow another book about money.

    The most important thing is to start now. Don’t start tomorrow. Don’t start next week. Start tackling your debt now. Have patience at the beginning. Don’t get discouraged. Your efforts may seem small and insignificant. Trust me: most of us started paying off our debts that way. In time, your efforts will bear fruit. If you’re willing to persevere, you’ll have your debt paid off sooner than you believe is possible.

    The longer you wait to begin, though, the longer the process will take. I wish I’d started sooner. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have been in debt for twenty years!

    Original here

    10 Easy Hypermile Tricks That Save You Gas

    Well… Maybe not exactly that good but lets see what we can do…

    Can you afford not to drive? Most of us depend on cars for some part of our daily lives. By using some easy Hypermile (or fuel efficient driving) tricks you can beat your car’s EPA rating and save some dollars. Here are ten easy things you can do to boost your MPG…

    10 Hypermile Tricks:

    1. Use Lighter Grade Engine Oil

    imageUsing more viscous engine oil (10W- 30, 10W-40) may not mean better lubrication. The thick oil may not penetrate all the small spaces in you engine and requires more energy to push it around (think Syrup vs KY). Go for the 5W-30 or less.

    2. Lose the Extra Pounds

    All the junk in the trunk means your car (like your girlfriend) has more to pull around. For every 100lbs of stuff in your car you lose 1-2% fuel efficiency. This one’s easy; you don’t need the ski boots, wetsuit, and mountain bike for visiting grandma at the nursing home.

    3. Idling is Negative MPG

    I often thought it took more gas to start the engine than to let it idle. Baloney. Turn the car off if you will be stopped for a few minutes.

    4. Make Your Ride Sleek

    image Take off the roof rack or bike rack; it’s costing you 5% from your MPG. If you use it on the weekend, put it on during the weekend. Check out for some more aerodynamic tricks to make your ride less of a drag.

    5. Brake Less

    Every time you put on the breaks you have to eventually gas it again. Look ahead, plan, and pace so you get the most out of your accelerations. Don’t race 200yds to the next stoplight.

    6. Skip the Premium Octane

    Most cars can run on the minimum rated octane gas. Using higher ratings will cost you more and will pollute more.

    7. Slow Down, but Not Too Slow

    imageMost highway MPG rating are based on 48-60mph speeds. We all go faster than that (except for that guy in the passing lane going 45mph with his blinker on for 50 miles). Driving 70mph instead of 55mph can cost 17% loss in fuel economy.

    8. Get it in High Gear

    If you have a manual car, get it to your cruising gear without tachin’ up the engine. Try to shoot for the low end of your RPM range, shift sooner, and cruise in a high gear to keep your car from the gas sucking RPMs.

    9. Use the Cruise

    Using cruise control whenever possible will mean your acceleration and speed maintenance will be more efficient. Also, using the built in acceleration button will allow you to gradually speed up, which is more efficient than crushing that pedal down.

    10. Beat the Congestion Waves!

    imageStop and go traffic is killer on gas. By anticipating rush hour stop and go waves you save for yourself and maybe even those around you gas (not to mention your sanity).

    Check out Traffic Wave Experiments!

    Want to save more money, gas, and reduce emissions at the same time? Don’t drive at all! Bike it, walk it, run it…even rollerblade it around town! Also, check out public transportation options.

    Original here

    TRANSPORTATION TUESDAY: Antro Solo gets 150mpg

    Hungary is not the first place that comes to mind when thinking about cutting edge green vehicles, yet. If the creators of the Antro Solo have their way, the country will be synonymous with green machines by 2012. The Antro Solo is a solar, human and gas-electric hybrid vehicle. It looks like nothing else out there, and has a fuel efficiency of more than 150 miles per gallon!

    The Antro Solo is a three seat gas-electric hybrid prototype made entirely out of carbon fiber. This material choice allowed the graphic designers to lower the weight of the vehicle to a measly 270kg. This also allowed them to achieve phenomenal fuel efficiency and a pretty decent top speed of 87mph. All of this is impressive enough, but the Solo’s designers were not content to stop there.

    In order to maximize the efficiency of the vehicle, the designers installed solar panels on the roof. These solar panels store energy in the car’s batteries which can be used for short 15-25km trips. If there hasn’t been enough sun to power the batteries, each passenger’s seat comes equipped with pedals that can power the vehicles generator. If you are by yourself, or everyone gets tired, the car can switch to its small combustion engine that is capable of running on petrol or ethanol.

    The prototype was shown at the Budapest Museum of Transport. It is set to go into production in 2012, and expected to cost around $20,000 dollars.

    + Antro Solo


    Original here

    2009 F150 Gets the Cold Shoulder from Ford

    If you haven’t noticed, people aren’t exactly keen on driving trucks and SUVs these days. This isn’t just affecting commuters, but also city governments, businesses, and truckers. Just last month the F150 finally fell from it’s position as the best-selling vehicle in the US, and now it’s come out the Ford is delaying the release of the iconic truck.

    Originally, production of the 2009 F150, a highly anticipated redesign, was supposed to begin production this month. According to Edmunds, however, that production schedule has now been pushed back two months until August and September. This is amid news from Ford that the company will be scaling back its production of trucks and SUVs while working on a more fuel efficient vehicle lineup.

    Ford will be rereleasing it’s Fiesta subcompact, to be built in Mexico, in 2010. Ford also plans to update its popular compact car, the Focus, so that it is common with the European model. The 2011 Focus will not only be redesigned, but should get much better mileage as the company looks to compete with the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

    Original here

    Mercedes' Amazing CL63 AMG

    Want the speed of a Porsche but the luxury of a sedan? If you can afford the CL63 AMG, this is the car for you

    by Thane Peterson

    The Good: High performance combined with every possible luxury

    The Bad: More expensive than many vacation homes (yet an integrated iPod hookup still costs an extra $425); lousy gas mileage

    The Bottom Line: A gloriously luxurious gas-guzzler that's as speedy as a Porsche

    Reader Reviews

    Up Front

    Many of my favorite moments in the movie Michael Clayton occur when the main character, played by George Clooney, is tooling around in his darkly beautiful Mercedes S550. The S-Class is the perfect car for a striver like Clayton, a gambling–addicted "fixer" for a New York law firm who's trying to pass as a solid citizen. But as much as I loved the car, I kept thinking a single guy like Clayton really should be driving a Mercedes CL-Class, the sportier, two-door coupe version of the S-Class.

    Among vehicles that combine high performance with every conceivable luxury, there's nothing quite like the CL-Class. I absolutely love the two I've test-driven, the CL550 and, more recently, the '08 CL63 AMG. For those who can afford them, the main question is whether you want a sport luxury car that's very fast, or one that's insanely fast.

    There are two subclasses within the CL-Class. The CL550 and its more powerful sibling, the CL600, are tilted more toward the luxury side of the equation than the AMG versions. The CL550, which starts at $104,475, is powered by a 5.5-liter, 382-hp V-8 engine, while the CL600, which is powered by a monster of a 510-hp, twin-turbocharged V-12, starts at $148,275.

    The AMG versions, the CL63 and CL65, have sport-tuned suspensions, extra-big brakes, 20-in. wheels, and special badges and interior appointments that emphasize their ultra-high performance. The CL63 starts at $138,375 and is powered by a 6.3-liter, 518-hp V-8. The CL65 starts at a mind-boggling $198,375 and has a 604-hp V-12 under its hood.

    The transmission in the CL AMG is a performance-tuned, seven-speed automatic with a manual shifting function and aluminum paddle-shifters mounted on the steering wheel.

    The good news is that loading up the CL63 AMG with options only increases the price by 10 or 12 grand, which is practically just rounding up in this price class. For $7,000 extra, you can add the AMG performance package, which includes 20-in. double-spoked alloy wheels, carbon-fiber interior trim, and an increase in the top speed governor to 186 mph. The intelligent cruise-control system plus backup assistance and a blind-spot warning system go for an extra $2,850. A premium package that includes a backup camera and night-vision system adds $2,090.

    The least expensive option is the one that irks me most—the $425 iPod integration kit. You would think Mercedes would throw that one in for free.

    The obvious downside of going with one of the bigger engines is poor fuel economy. The CL550, which is rated at 14 city/21 highway, does considerably better than any of its more powerful siblings. In 230 miles of mixed driving, I got only 15.6 mpg in a CL63 AMG, which is rated to get 12 in the city and 19 on the highway. That rating is only a tiny bit better than the CL65 AMG (11/17) and the CL600 (11/19).

    Like other big, high-end Mercedeses, the CL-Class is being hurt by high gas prices. CL-Class sales fell 7.7%, to 1,323, in the first five months of this year, while Mercedes' overall U.S. sale rose 1.1%, to 99,703.

    Behind the Wheel

    My epiphany in the CL63 occurred one afternoon when I decided to make a quick, spur-of-the-moment left turn in front of oncoming traffic. I was astonished by the car's agility. There was absolutely no sway or body roll, even though I was going much faster than I had intended. I assume this was due to the CL63's sport suspension coupled with the Active Body Control system kicking in. Whatever the reason, this extra-sharp handling is what gives the CL63 an edge over the less expensive CL550.

    The CL63's other main advantage is raw power. Punch the gas at any speed in this car, and it leaps forward. I clocked the CL63 AMG at 4.8 seconds in accelerating from 0 to 60, slightly slower than the 4.5 seconds at which Mercedes rates it. That makes the CL63 just as quick as the more expensive V-12-powered CL600, and nearly a second quicker than the CL550. Only the top-of-the-line C65 AMG, which does 0 to 60 in just 4.2 seconds, is faster.

    The CL63's top speed is 155 mph, and there's a helpful little sticker on the inside of the fuel door reminding you to raise tire pressure to 46 pounds per square inch from 36 pounds if you plan to be cruising at over 100 mph. Even without altering the tire pressure, though, the car remains quiet and composed at over 100 mph.

    Despite its performance orientation, the CL63 AMG is no less luxurious than the CL550.

    The interior of my test CL63 was extremely elegant, with stitched leather upholstery and hand-polished burled walnut trim on the doors and dash. As a coupe, it's only a two-door, but the doors are very wide, making getting into the back seats relatively easy. The front seats also slide forward electronically at the push of a lever, and back into place once the passenger is seated in the back seat.

    There are numerous helpful amenities built into the car. Backing up in a tight parking situation? The rearview monitor pops on automatically, and it has little graphic indicators that show you when you're getting close to an obstacle behind you (yellow lines) and a red zone when you're very close. Driving at night? The Xenon headlamps illuminate more of the road than with most cars, and swivel to point the way around curves. Plus, you can always flick a switch and turn on the optional night vision system, lighting up a screen that shows you the road ahead.

    The night-vision system still seems a bit gimmicky, but it's growing on me as I use it more. True, its infrared sensors don't "see" much farther down the road than the naked eye. Also, even a light fog shows up on the screen as a white cloud, headlights from oncoming traffic often obscure the left half of the screen, and road glare from wet pavement is substantial. But I tested the system late one night after a huge rainstorm, and then test-drove another car without night vision immediately afterward. To my surprise, I felt much less safe without the night-vision system. Despite its flaws, it seems to focus your attention during difficult night-driving conditions. It's like Tai Chi. I'm not sure how it helps, but it does.

    Buy it or Bag It?

    The big question is whether the performance advantages of the CL63 AMG justify its premium price. The CL63 sells for an average of $142,007, according to the Power Information Network (PIN). Personally, I would save the 30 grand and go with the CL550, which is plenty fast, handles well enough for me, and gets better mileage. (PIN, like BusinessWeek, is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP).)

    Other performance-oriented models to consider in this price range include the Porsche 911 (which sells for an average of $106,120, PIN says), and the Audi R8 ($133,499). More luxury-oriented alternatives include the Audi A8 Sedan Coupe ($81,158) and BMW's (BMWG) 750i Sedan ($80,722).

    Another possibility is Toyota's (TM) Lexus LS460, which starts at $63,665 but costs around $100,000 well-loaded in the long-wheel-base version.

    Don't expect to get a discount. According to PIN, buyers aren't getting any price breaks on the Mercedes CL63 AMG or its main rivals. Obviously, if you have to count pennies, this isn't the segment for you.

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