Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The First-Timer’s Guide to Participating at Burning Man

As my fellow burner Merv Swankerton always says, trying to explain Burning Man to someone who has never been, is like trying to explain color to a blind person.

Burning Man is a gathering of the spicy, creative people who “come home” to Black Rock City, Nevada for one week a year to share wildly artistic creations and to play, dance and live in the moment dressed, or undressed, in whatever style suits them.

Burning Man was originally created on the beaches of San Francisco before moving to the Black Rock Desert, a dried up lake bed known as the playa. This is where some 48,000 people gather to create a bustling city that breaths art and interaction 24 hours a day for seven days each year.

photo by Lucia Stewart

Hardcore burners spend months, if not all year, planning, scheming, building and sewing for the Black Rock City’s art cars, art installations, and elaborate camps.

Daytime Activity

Whatever you desire, the city has to offer. It’s afternoon… Want to go Disco Roller Skating? Or how about learning to pole dance? There’s a 2,000-person meditation session over yonder? Or look, there’s someone serving popsicles out of a cooler on his lizard bike.

I heard there’s a phone booth where you can talk to God, or you might want to enjoy the Sweat Lodge Camp before playing the life-size Operator game that gives you quite a VOLT.

And of course, a stop at the Deep End for a few House DJ grooves with the 1,200 other afternoon revelers is definitely in order.


Fire-dancing circuses and 3,000-person Light Saber wars last for hours.

Evenings and late nights are spent exploring the city that has transformed into a glowing, fiery, seemingly-endless landscape. DJ’s sound systems pulsate in every direction. Fire-dancing circuses and 3,000-person Light Saber wars last for hours.

A fireball-blowing elephant hosting 45 dancers rolls past with a groove that makes you jump on-board, where you find a full bar on the carpeted second-story. The elephant dance bar is one of hundreds of art cars rolling around the playa.


Mornings find you watching the sunrise in the deep playa, and slowly wandering home on your bike, exploring art installations of large hands reaching towards the sky or a series of smoke rings that greet the sun, shooting hundreds of feet in the air, high and wide.

Or how about one last dance at the giant golden dragon that is welcoming the day with smooth electronic grooves next to the intricately carved Temple.

Anytime of day or night, set-off into the city to discover whatever you desire — it will be found, plus more.

Essential things to bring

photo by Lucia Stewart

Bring what you would take to be a self-sufficient camping unit, complete with plenty of water and sunscreen.

In addition, your checklist should include: plenty of lively costumes, warm clothes, goggles, a dust mask, a method to light yourself up or your bike at night (very important!) and of course, a way to contribute to the community (OK, even more important!).

Burning Man is based on a society that thrives because of community contributions. Without this, the city would not function. There are over 2,000 volunteers for the event, along with tens of thousands of others who bring their contributions to the city.

Observers and Participants

See, there are the observers and there are participants at Burning Man. Those who are observers do not invigorate the society, and therefore really don’t experience Burning Man for what it truly is.

As a participant, you bring something to offer others — be it an art installation, an open conversation, or a hundred Bloody Marys. The most crucial and basic contribution is to respect and honor all that is around you.

Everything is free; everyone is welcome; just be a contributor to the community.

Myself, I am a member of Camp Hook-up – making sure you have what you need. As Hookers, we all carry portable brief cases and beauty kits filled with: toothpicks, glowing toys, chap-stick, finger lights, goggles, sunscreen, zip-ties, permission slips, bike repair kits, dinosaur flashcards, and so much more.

You name it, we will have something you need. Even if it’s just a drink. We carry portable bars, too.

photo by Lucia Stewart

We roam the city, meeting new people, exploring the depths of the sexy and spicy artistic energy in Black Rock City, and in every true burner you meet on the street.

Can you see a bit of color now?

Oh yeah, don’t forget to bring a fresh name. I’m Luscious.

Burning Man happens (August 25 – September 1st, 2008) the last week of August every year at Black Rock City, the third largest city in Nevada for one week a year. There is also a yearly theme, so be sure to visit the website before you go. Tickets are not sold at the door, so purchase them in advance.

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Whiney Pilots Complain That Stingy Airlines Are Forcing Them To Fly "Uncomfortably Low On Fuel"

Ugh, those selfish pilots can't be bothered to help their airlines return to profitability. No, instead they're whining to NASA that they're being forced to fly "uncomfortably low on fuel" and that "safety for passengers and crews could be compromised."

These flight simulator jockeys want more fuel, but that isn't likely to happen anytime soon even with oil at $117 a barrel and crashing fast. The FAA finds the situation perfectly acceptable.

"We can't dabble in the business policies or the personnel policies of an airline," said FAA spokesman Les Dorr. He said there was no indication safety regulations were being violated.

The September 2005 safety alert was issued by NASA's confidential Aviation Safety Reporting System, which allows air crews to report safety problems without fear their names will be disclosed.

With fuel prices now their biggest cost, airlines are aggressively enforcing new policies designed to reduce consumption.

Just look at the complaints flooding into NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System:

"I know our program manager is ranking captains on landing with less fuel. I don't care to be ranked. I think this is a safety problem and I believe fuel is your friend," the captain said. "Looking back, I would have liked more gas yesterday, and I was already carrying tanker fuel. If I wouldn't have had this extra there would have been real problems."

The captain of a Boeing 747 said he began to run low on fuel after meeting strong headwinds over the Atlantic en route to JFK in New York in February. After contacting his company to discuss a refueling stop, the captain said he was told by his operations manager that the flight actually needed less fuel than had been loaded on board and would have enough to get to JFK without stopping.

But by the time he reached JFK, his fuel was "far below my comfort zone and probably less than the minimum fuel required by the FARs (federal aviation regulations)," the captain said. "Our fuel situation had not become critical yet, but had we had any delay, I would have had to declare a fuel emergency."

"I am not sure if the 'flight plan' as given to me by my company was a real flight plan, or if they were just telling me it was so that I would continue to JFK ... thus saving them time and expense. ... In the future, if such a situation presents itself again, I will divert to my initial destination regardless of what my company says I can do. The safety of my crew far outweighs any financial burden to the company."

The captain of a Boeing 737 en route to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in February said he was forced to divert in bad weather to Palm Beach International Airport to refuel because less than the normal amount of fuel for the flight was loaded before takeoff.

"This was probably the new fuel-saving initiative by the company management to save money," the captain said. "North-South operation is very unpredictable along the East Coast. I don't think this is a place where we should skimp on fuel."

The captain said he had a "lengthy discussion" with his company's dispatcher "relaying my opinion on the reduced fuel load and my suggestion not to compromise fuel loads in and out of Florida." But the captain said he received the same reduced amount on his next flight.

"So much for my professional input!" he said.

The airlines have made it clear that pilots who don't stop whining and start flying will be fired.

American notified dispatchers July 7 that their records on fuel approved for flights would be monitored, and dispatchers not abiding by company guidelines could ultimately be fired.

Union officials responded that "it appears safety has become a second thought" for the company. American and US Airways blame the complaints on labor negotiations - both are in contract talks with the complaining unions.

Look people, it's been 18 years since a plane crashed because it ran out of fuel. That means there isn't a problem anymore. Besides, 85 people survived.

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FOXSexpert: The Health Benefits of Masturbation

Perhaps the joke’s on us. While people love to make wisecracks about it, few will actually admit to doing “it.”

Yet, according to Martha Cornog, of "The Big Book of Masturbation", self-pleasuring is surely the second most common human sex act. And, despite its torrid history, that’s proving to be a good thing. Turns out this once taboo behavior has plenty of health benefits and can do wonders for your sex life.

While the shackles of masturbation have been loosening around our loins, it is only recently that society has started to let go of its guilt around solo sex. This is in part thanks to sex researchers affirming that most of us do it, as well as the embracing of it by television sitcoms. Who can forget the bet made by Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer as to who could remain the “master of their domain” the longest?

Even if you’re not a conformist, there’s something about safety in numbers when it comes to this topic. (And if it makes you feel even better, know that masturbation is common among other animals, like dogs, cats, horses, bulls, rats, hamsters, deer, and whales, too).

This more relaxed attitude is also due to the medical community challenging its own original claims that masturbation was a serious medical-ethical problem with dire results. According to works like Onania, circa 1712, male masturbation was said to lead to disease or disorder with the loss of semen.

Likewise, in losing vaginal fluid, a female who took matters into her own hands was supposedly at risk for hysteria, jaundice, epileptic fits, and other negative health conditions. Of equal concern, self-pleasuring was thought to send her down the road to sodomy as well.

Anybody with “solo sexploration” experience can tell you that, contrary to popular myths, masturbation does not result in any of the aforementioned, nor does it lead to acne, warts, hair on the palm, insanity, blindness...

What many may not know, however, is that stimulating yourself can ultimately boost your health in many ways.

Health Benefits for Men

Research summarized in a 2007 article in Sexual and Relationship Therapy found that masturbation may help men by:

— Improving his immune system’s functioning.

— Building his resistance to prostate gland infection.

— Making for a healthier prostate.

Australian researchers have reported that frequent masturbation may lower a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer. A survey of men found the more frequently a man masturbates between the ages of 20 and 50, the less likely they are to get prostate cancer. In fact, those who masturbated more than five times a week were one-third less likely to develop prostate cancer.

Health Benefits for Females

When it comes to a woman’s health, self-pleasuring serves her well by:

— Building her resistance to yeast infections.

— Combating pre-menstrual tension and other physical conditions associated with their menstrual cycles, like cramps.

— Relieving painful menstruation by increasing blood flow to the pelvic region. This will also reduce pelvic cramping and related backaches.

— Relieving chronic back pain and increasing her threshold for pain.

Health Benefits for Both Sexes

Masturbation rewards both men and women because it’s:

— The safest kind of sex, keeping you free of sexually transmitted infections.

— A great form of stress relief.

— A mood booster in releasing endorphins.

— A natural sleep sedative.

— A mechanism for building stronger pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to better sex.

— A natural energetic pick-me-up.

As Sigmund Freud once remarked at the Vienna Psycho-Analytical Society, “the subject of masturbation is quite inexhaustible.” While he wasn’t getting at the benefits (Freud saw self-pleasuring as harmful to the genitals and one’s psychosexual and moral development), the same can be said in how it can improve one’s sexual relationship.

For couples who masturbate on occasion or regularly, sex with yourself can:

— Be empowering, especially by helping you to feel better about your body, genitals and sexual response.

— Deliver some of your most intense orgasms ever, which you’ll now know how to recreate with that special someone!

— Increase your sexual awareness, giving you the opportunity to discover what turns you on – the sensations and movements that work best to give you the greatest of sexual gratification.

— Have the potential to enhance your sex life in general, boosting your sexual confidence and turning you into a better lover.

— Get you or your partner off the hook if neither is available or not in the mood.

In the Know Sex News …

Docs Missing Early Signs of HIV. According to Britain's National AIDS Trust, up to half of early-stage HIV cases are being missed by British physicians. With many symptoms flu-like in nature, such as sore throat and fever, patients are often told that they have a minor viral infection and that they should return if their condition does not improve.

Sexual Risk of Young Internet-Using Men Who Have Sex With Men Assessed. A University of Minnesota study, assessing the characteristics and risks associated with sex pursuits of men who have sex with men found that those who met sexual partners both online and offline reported unprotected intercourse more often than those who met their partners either online or offline, but not both. Those who met partners exclusively offline reported the fewest sexual partners. Being drunk or high were significant risks for unprotected sex regardless of how one met their partner.

Sex Taboos Thwarting HIV/AIDS Efforts in Pakistan. According to a study in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, the fight against HIV/AIDS is being hampered in Pakistan. The culprit: many believe that the infection is a non-issue for Muslim countries since Islamic law bans sex outside of marriage. UNAIDS, however, holds that at least 85,000 people in Pakistan are infected with HIV.

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Invention: Morphine-cannabis super-painkiller

Morphine-cannabis super-painkiller

Pain can often be better managed when two types of painkiller are used together. For example, it has recently become known that cannabinoids such as THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, enhance the painkilling effects of opioids such as morphine.

Teaming them up could allow doses to become smaller, reducing the possibility of addiction. But a simple mixture of the drugs produces unpredictable results because the body absorbs them at different rates.

A possible solution is to join together THC and morphine to create a hybrid molecule that is snipped apart by the body, say Joseph Holtman and Peter Crooks at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in Lexington, Kentucky.

Their idea is to bind the two drugs together using a linking molecule such as an ester. When the body snips this linking group, both drugs are released at the site where they are needed. That should ensure both drugs will be absorbed at the same rate, making it easier to work out doses for patients.

Read the full morphine-cannabis supermolecule painkiller patent application.

Botox face cream

Botulinum toxin or botox is injected by cosmetic surgeons to paralyse muscles and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. But the procedure can be painful and even cause tissue damage leading to problems such as drooping eyelids.

Now Robert Nicolosi and Jonathon Edelson at the University of Massachussetts Lowell Nanomanufacturing Center have developed a skin cream that can do the same trick.

It had been thought that botox could not pass through the skin. But the researchers have discovered that the toxin passes through with ease if it is attached to a nanoparticle in an emulsion.

The nanoemulsion also keeps the toxin stable, they claim, giving the cream a possible shelf life of up to two years.

Read the full botox face cream patent application.

CPR coach

A person suffering cardiac arrest is at risk of death as their blood is no longer circulating. Some studies have shown that patients' survival rates can increase by a factor of 3 when high-quality CPR is administered. But the quality of CPR is important.

Getting the depth of chest compressions right is one measure of quality. And a new gadget from Philips helps first aiders get it right, by giving physical feedback to let them know when the right depth has been reached. For an adult, that is around 4 centimetres, and for a child around 2.5cm.

The CPR coach is a pad placed over the patient's chest that contains accelerometers to monitor compression depth. When the correct depth has been reached, the device vibrates to warn the rescuer to stop. This can be combined with audio coaching, in the form of rhythmic beeps for a rescuer to follow.

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Green Tea Ingredient, EGCG, Significantly Inhibits Breast Cancer Growth In Female Mice

Green tea is high in the antioxidant EGCG (epigallocatechin-3- gallate) which helps prevent the body’s cells from becoming damaged and prematurely aged. Studies have suggested that the combination of green tea and EGCG may also be beneficial by providing protection against certain types of cancers, including breast cancer. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Mississippi researchers now finds that consuming EGCG significantly inhibits breast tumor growth in female mice.

These results bring us one step closer to better understanding the disease and potentially new and naturally occurring therapies.

The Study

Epidemiological studies suggest that green tea and its major constituent, EGCG, can provide some protection against cancer. Because these studies were very limited, the anti-cancer mechanism of green tea and EGCG was not clear. As a result, the researchers examined whether drinking EGCG (just the antioxidant infused in water) inhibited the following: expression of VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor, which is found in a variety of breast cancer types); tumor angiogenesis (thought to help tumors expand by supplying them with nutrients); and the growth of breast cancer in female mice.

Seven week old female mice were given EGCG (25 mg/50 ml) in drinking water for five weeks (approximately 50-100 mg/kg/day.) The control mice received regular drinking water. In the second week of the study mouse breast cancer cells were injected in the left fourth mammary glands of the mice. Tumor size was monitored by measuring the tumor cross section area (TCSA). Tumors were eventually isolated and measured for tumor weight, intratumoral microvessel (IM) density (using staining), and VEGF protein levels (using ELISA).

At the end of the five week period the researchers found that oral consumption of EGCG caused significant decreases in TCSA (66%), tumor weight (68%), IM density 155±6 vs.111±20 IM#mm^2) and VEGF protein levels (59.0±3.7 vs. 45.7±1.4 pg/mg) in the breast tumors vs. the control mice, respectively (N=8; P<0.01).>

The study was conducted by Jian-Wei Gu, Emily Young, Jordan Covington, James Wes Johnson, and Wei Tan, all of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, MS. Dr. Gu will present his team’s findings, entitled, Oral Administration of EGCG, an Antioxidant Found in Green Tea, Inhibits Tumor Angiogenesis and Growth of Breast Cancer in Female Mice, at the 121st Annual Meeting of the American Physiological Society, part of the Experimental Biology 2008 scientific conference.

Dr. Gu, the senior researcher for the study, hypothesized that the reason for the link between EGCG and the reductions in the cancer data was because EGCG directly targets both tumor blood vessels and tumor cells of breast cancer for suppressing the new blood vessels formation in breast tumor, the proliferation and migration of breast cancer cells.

Gu concluded by saying, “In this study we have demonstrated that the frequent ingestion of EGCG significantly inhibits breast tumor growth, VEGF expression and tumor angiogenesis in mice. We believe our findings will help lead to new therapies for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer in women.”

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Fun Way to Lose Weight: Turn Dieting Into an RPG

By Clive Thompson

A friend of mine recently slimmed down on Weight Watchers. She joined two months ago, and in just a couple of weeks, she'd shed 10 pounds. She'd been trying for a year to lose weight, but nothing worked -- until now.

Why did Weight Watchers work so well? For a really fascinating reason: because it isn't a normal diet. It's something more. Something fun.

It's an RPG.

The Weight Watchers program is designed precisely like a role-playing dungeon crawler. That's why people love it, stick to it and have success with it. And it points to the way that we could use game design to make life's drudgery more bearable.

Let me unpack this a bit. When I asked my friend to see how Weight Watchers works, she showed me the ingenious system. "The best part is the web tool," she said, pulling it up on her laptop.

When you first log in to Weight Watchers, it determines how much food you'll be allowed to eat that day, expressed as a number of "points." My friend gets 23 points per day. Each time she eats a piece of food, she enters it into the online database, and it calculates how many points she's used. A small apple is one point; a piece of fried chicken is seven points.

When she first started the program, she was stunned at how quickly she burned through her daily points. A single bagel was six points -- more than 25 percent of her daily quota. "How the hell am I going to do this without starving?" she wondered.

But pretty soon she learned to hack her daily eating to suit the system. She snacked on vegetables that took zero points -- like bell peppers -- or only one or two points, like a tasty brand of microwave popcorn. Then she'd save up the big points for a really decent dinner. Better yet, Weight Watchers assigns her an extra 35 bonus points per week that she can use if she goes over her daily limit. Or she can bank them for a big blowout restaurant meal on the weekend.

What makes this point-counting possible is Weight Watchers' elegant online tool. Type in any food you can think of -- including brand-name snacks or boxed meals -- and Weight Watchers has already calculated the points for you. If she makes a special sandwich at home, she can calculate the ingredients, save it with a custom name, and then drag and drop it into her day every time she eats one.

As I watched her poke around on the screen, managing inventory, calculating points, staying within her range, it hit me:

Weight Watchers is an RPG.

Think about it. As with an RPG, you roll a virtual character, manage your inventory and resources, and try to achieve a goal. Weight Watchers' points function precisely like hit points; each bite of food does damage until you've used up your daily amount, so you sleep and start all over again. Play well and you level up -- by losing weight! And the more you play it, the more you discover interesting combinations of the rules that aren't apparent at first. Hey, if I eat a fruit-granola breakfast and an egg-and-romaine lunch, I'll have enough points to survive a greasy hamburger dinner for a treat!

Even the Weight Watchers web tool is amazingly gamelike. It has the poke-around-and-see-what-happens elegance you see in really good RPG game screens. Accidentally snack on a candy bar and ruin your meal plan for the day? No worries: Just go into the database and see what spells -- whoops, I mean foods -- you can still use with your remaining points.

And those 35 extra points you get every week? They're like a special buff or potion -- a last-ditch save when you're on the ropes.

Indeed, I'm in awe of the sheer brilliance of Weight Watchers in adopting the word points as its metric for measuring food. The word immediately shoves the user into the semantics -- and fun -- of gameplay. You regard losing weight as an intriguing challenge, as opposed to a mere grind.

This puts me in mind of the talk that Jane McGonigal -- a brilliant and pioneering alternative-reality game designer -- gave at this year's South by Southwest conference. She argued that game designers ought to put their skills to use in the real world by reshaping dull, everyday activities into fun challenges. Why not a game that gives you points for walking your dog or jogging?

"Games are an incredible language and system. They should be everywhere," she said. "Why are we making games only for the bound pages for a computer screen or console? Why aren't we doing that to help people navigate and understand the world around us?"

She couldn't be more right. As McGonigal points out, there are already some witty attempts -- like Chore Wars, Wii Fit or Seriosity's system that tries to limit corporate e-mail overload by forcing people to "spend" virtual totems to send a message. I can think of tons of things I'd love to see turned into a game: doing my taxes, dealing with my inbox backlog, being stuck in traffic.

And this stuff is clearly possible, because if Weight Watchers can turn something as unpleasant as dieting into a playful activity, the sky's the limit.

Just ask my friend.

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Choosing the Right Sleep Medicines, or None at All


In Brief:

The safety of insomnia drugs has improved steadily over the past 30 years.

Choosing the right sleep medication is important; some are best at helping people fall asleep, while others help people stay asleep through the night.

Although medications are often recommended for acute insomnia, the first line of treatment for chronic insomnia is behavioral therapy.

Insomniacs know all too well what it’s like to lie awake in a tangle of sheets, the day’s worries parading through the brain as the minutes tick past with agonizing slowness. With studies linking troubled sleep to a variety of health problems including heart attacks and obesity, it’s enough to keep anyone awake at night.

An estimated 30 million Americans wrestle with chronic insomnia. Many suffer in silence. A 2005 National Sleep Foundation survey found that only one-third of patients with insomnia were asked by their primary care physicians about the quality of their sleep. Insomnia sufferers are equally unlikely to raise the issue with their doctors, studies show. And that’s too bad, experts say.

More and safer medications for sleep problems are available. And with a growing list to choose from, doctors can target prescriptions more precisely to specific complaints: trouble falling asleep, for instance, versus trouble staying asleep.

Remedies to help people fall asleep have been around for centuries, from laudanum in the 1800s to barbiturates more recently. “Unfortunately, most of them were addictive and potentially deadly,” said Dr. David Neubauer, associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. “The history of sleep medications is really a tale of improving safety.”

A big advance came in the 1970s with the introduction of benzodiazepine drugs like Halcion, Xanax and Restoril. Although far safer than barbiturates, these sleep medications can still cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms like rebound insomnia. That prompted the Food and Drug Administration to approve them only for short-term use, usually no more than two weeks.

The same restrictions remained in place when a new generation of hypnotic drugs, known as nonbenzodiazepines or “Z” drugs, hit the market, starting with Ambien in the early 1990s.

“But it soon became evident that Ambien was really quite different, that it didn’t have the same withdrawal effects or dependency,” said Dr. Michael Thorpy, director of the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

In one recent study, researchers at Duke University Medical Center pitted Ambien-CR, a controlled-release formulation, against a placebo. After taking the drug for six months, volunteers reported no rebound insomnia when they stopped. Almost 90 percent said the drug helped them sleep, compared with just under 60 percent of the placebo group. Those on the active drug also reported less morning sleepiness and greater ability to concentrate during the day.

Newer nonbenzodiazepines like Lunesta and Sonata have no restrictions on how long they can be used. Even so, they remain on the federal list of controlled substances because of their potential for abuse.

The latest sleeping pill to win F.D.A. approval, called Rozerem, is the first sleeping pill not on that list, because there appears to be little chance it will be abused. The drug, which targets receptors in the brain for the sleep hormone melatonin, represents the first new class of sleep medication in several decades.

Safer sleep medicines are particularly welcome for people whose insomnia is caused by chronic pain or other persistent medical conditions, Dr. Thorpy said. “These are people who are never going to get a good night’s sleep without medication, and who may need hypnotics for the rest of their lives,” he said.

But those people are the exceptions — most insomniacs will not require pills indefinitely. Indeed, medications are generally considered the first-line treatment not for chronic sleep problems but for acute, short-term insomnia brought on by, say, unusual stress at work or the aftermath of surgery.

“Medications can help nip insomnia in the bud, and may prevent it from becoming a chronic problem,” said Wilfred Pigeon, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Sleep and Neurophysiology Research Laboratory at the University of Rochester.

Doctors are increasingly exploiting the differences among nonbenzodiazepines to tailor their prescription to particular sleep complaints.

Chief among these differences is a drug’s half-life, a measure of how long the active ingredients remain in the body, which can range from one to seven hours for the top sleep aids. If the problem is falling asleep, a drug with a short half-life, like Sonata or Rozerem, may be the best choice. If a patient complains about waking in the middle of the night, a medicine with a longer half-life, like Ambien-CR or Lunesta, may work best.

Although the F.D.A. has not yet approved sleeping pills specifically to be taken when people find themselves wide awake in the middle of the night, “many people take Sonata that way, because it has a very short half-life,” Dr. Thorpy said.

A 2006 study by researchers at the Clinilabs Sleep Disorders Institute at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York found that Sonata taken in the middle of the night caused less next-day sleepiness than Ambien, a drug with a longer half-life.

But even the newer sleep medicines have side effects, including reports of people having no memory of raiding the refrigerator or getting behind the wheel the night before. And because sleep medications address only the symptoms of insomnia and not the causes, many experts agree that the best approach when sleep problems persist is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches strategies like better sleep habits and restricting the amount of time spent awake in bed.

“Drugs can help relieve people’s acute anxiety about being able to fall asleep or stay asleep,” Dr. Pigeon said. Behavioral approaches, which in practice are often combined with sleep drugs, “help make lasting changes in the quality of people’s sleep,” he said.

But changing sleep habits takes time, and a shortage of therapists trained in behavioral sleep medicine means that option is not available to everyone who might benefit. Harried physicians often find it easier to write out a prescription than to discuss sleep hygiene with patients, who likewise often seek the quick relief offered by pills.

Small wonder that pharmaceutical researchers are continually in search of novel insomnia drugs. One drug under development, for example, works in a new way to enhance slow-wave sleep, the deepest stage of slumber, with a goal of making people feel more refreshed in the morning.

“People come in complaining about their sleep,” Dr. Neubauer said. “But of course what we’re really looking for is better wakefulness.”

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25 Simple Tips to Improve Your Health and Fitness

The quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our health. You can have all the money in the world but if you go through your day feeling tired, fatigued or weak, you can’t be living your life to the fullest. Here are 25 quick tips to increase your health and fitness:

1. Diets are evil

Because of their temporary nature, diets don’t work. The people who do lose weight end up gaining it back again once they come off the diet. Instead of dieting, try to change your lifestyle. The changes you make to the way you eat should be sustainable for the rest of your life.

2. Get rid of the junk food

The easiest way to ensure that you don’t eat the food you shouldn’t is to make sure it isn’t available. Go through your fridge and toss out all the junk food. Next time you go grocery shopping, make sure that you don’t buy more.

3. Make use of healthy snacks

Having a snack between your meals is a good idea – as long as they’re healthy. Stock up on fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. Have them readily available for whenever you might feel hungry. This means both at home and at the office.

4. All carbs are not created equal

While carbohydrates are a necessary part of your diet, there are some that do more damage than good. Avoid white carbs wherever possible and switch to the whole-grain alternatives.

5. Kill the caffeine addiction

Whether it’s coffee or soft drinks, caffeine is a drug. It’s a legal drug but a drug nonetheless. If you feel the need for a warm drink, choose an herbal tea instead.

6. Don’t forget the fat

Although trans-fats and the like should be avoided, you need to consume sufficient essential fatty acids. Make sure you are getting your omega-3 and omega-6 fats. These can be found in flax oil, nuts, and seeds.

7. Water is your friend

Your body is made up mostly of water. The problem is most people walk around dehydrated. If you are feeling thirsty, it’s too late: you are already dehydrated.

8. Breathe deeply

Oxygen is more important than water for your health. You can survive days without water but only minutes without oxygen. Most people today have very shallow breathing and are not getting enough air. Breathe deeply from your diaphragm to ensure your cells are well oxygenated.

9. Eat your veggies

Vegetables are rich in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that are essential to your health. Plus they have a cleansing effect on your body because of their alkaline pH.

10. Buy organic

Much of the commercial produce available today is devoid of nutritional value due to the depleted soil used in the industrial farming process. Organic produce also has the benefit of tasting a lot better. It might be more expensive but the benefit is well worth it.

11. Get friends that live healthy

The ongoing interaction with people who have the health you desire will be a positive influence on you. It is far easier to make the transition to healthy living when you have the social support.

12. Find healthy foods you enjoy

Just because you are eating healthy does not mean you need to suffer eating foods you hate. Look for healthy foods you enjoy and eat them more often. Find recipes online that are both healthy and enjoyable.

13. Take your lunch to work

Not only will brown bagging your lunch save you some money, it will help you avoid eating unhealthy foods for lunch. Take the extra time to make your lunch in the morning or make extra for dinner and eat the leftovers.

14. Eat out intelligently

For the restaurants that you visit frequently, find out the menu choices that are healthy options. This way, you can enjoy going out without jeopardizing your health.

15. Give yourself a cheat meal

Every now and then, it’s okay to indulge in something you know that it is not good for you but you enjoy. You shouldn’t deprive yourself. Just make sure that this only happens from time to time.

16. Sleep deeply

Get a good night’s rest every evening. Sleep in a quiet room that is dark for the appropriate amount of time for you. Most people have heard that you need 8 hours of sleep for proper health. In my experience, the amount of sleep I need varies with my eating habits and exercise. When I am living in a healthy manner, I find I feel fully energized with about 6 hours of sleep. Find the amount of sleep that is right for you.

17. Schedule exercise

Make your workout an important appointment for yourself. Schedule it at a specific time and place. Make it as important to you as a business meeting or doctor’s appointment.

18. Get a workout buddy

Sometimes your motivation to exercise wanes. When you have a partner that pushes you, it is far easier to take action. Working out with a friend also tends to make it a lot more fun.

19. Exercise aerobically

Cardiovascular exercise helps to burn fat and raises your metabolism. It also strengthens your heart and lungs. Do at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least 3 times a week.

20. Don’t forget to stretch

Stretching is important for your flexibility and the recovery of your muscles. Don’t stretch a cold muscle – it’s a good way to injure yourself. If you stretch before your workout, only do so after warming up. It’s always a good idea to stretch after a workout where your muscles are already warm.

21. Train for strength

Building muscle not only increasing your strength but also increases your metabolism. Strength training also stimulates the release human growth hormone in your body which slows the aging process. It’s important to engage in strength training 2-4 times a week.

22. Make exercise a habit

The easiest way to follow through and make sure that you exercise is to make it automatic. Exercise at the same time every day if possible.

23. Get a trainer

Although a personal trainer is not necessary, having one while you start out exercising can be very helpful. They can show the proper form for exercises and help motivate you to really push yourself.

24. Make changes gradually

If you’ve been living an unhealthy lifestyle for a long time, the challenge of healthy living can seem daunting. Instead of trying to change everything at once and getting overwhelmed, make sustainable changes gradually.

25. Don’t give up

If you fall back into unhealthy patterns, there is no reason to beat yourself up about it. Identify why the lapse occurred and learn from your mistakes. Move forward with this knowledge and continue to move towards health.

This article was written by Anand Dhillon. Anand writes about personal development at For more from Anand, read his series, How to Master Money & Wealth.

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Now In Applebee's Salads: Lizards!

Applebee's served a four-inch dead lizard as part of a salad last week. The McLean County Health Department investigated the surprise garnish and found that while "management confirmed it did happen," "it’s just one of those extraordinary circumstances," and that the restaurant was not at fault.

Asked whether the health department thought the lizard came with the lettuce, or whether it was placed with the lettuce later, Davis said, “I don’t want to speculate or place blame.”

The health department has not fined or sanctioned the restaurant, Davis said. The sanitarian’s investigation revealed that nothing appeared out of the ordinary and that Applebee’s staff did nothing wrong, she said.

Employees showed how they wash the lettuce, cut it, then wash it again. “They couldn’t fathom how it (a lizard) got through the process…and they profusely apologized,” Davis said.

Applebee's officials promised that "the report was being taken very seriously."

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Use turn signal? Why?

$75 TICKET | It's an all-too-common attitude, and it can cost you, cops say

So you're driving along, eyes on the road, when suddenly the car in front of you starts acting weird.

The driver pauses. He weaves a little. He stops. He keeps going. He stops again. Then, suddenly, he turns -- without a turn signal.

These cars were turning from Wacker Drive onto Orleans Street — none of them using a turn signal. An observation of this intersection found that most of the cars that failed to signal were taxis. State Police report a rise in tickets for failure to signal.
(Scott Stewart/Sun-Times)

Failure of other drivers to use a turn signal is one of the most annoying things on the road, and it may be on the rise, according to the State Police. The officers who patrol the state's highways have been giving out more warnings for improper signal use in the last 2½ years.

Whether or not improper signal use is going up, it's something good drivers have to learn how to deal with, according to Andrew Danek, owner of the 30-year-old Illinois Institute of Driver Education in Chicago.

"If someone's doing something stupid in front of you, they're either turning or they're looking for a place to park," said Danek, who said he figures only about half of local drivers use their signals when they change lanes or turn.

State Police Master Sgt. Brian Ley said officers have been issuing more warnings in the last three years for "improper signal use," which usually means failure to signal. This could mean signaling is on the decline in Illinois, since Ley said police haven't been given any special directive to crack down on violators.

For all of 2006, State Police handed out 16,782 warnings and 2,069 $75 tickets -- a total of 18,851. In 2007, it was 18,089 warnings and 2,075 tickets, for a total of 20,164. The upward trend has continued this year. Between Jan. 1 and June 30, State Police issued 9,553 warnings and 981 tickets -- more than half last year's total.

Failure to use a signal can be a "very serious and deadly mistake," said Ley. "Officers know this can lead to a serious accident."

So why don't people signal? To paraphrase Tom Vanderbilt, author of the book Traffic, why are drivers willing to tell you their kid is an honor student at Knucklehead Academy, but they don't want to tell you they're changing lanes?

Danek says some people are afraid that if they signal to change lanes, the car in the next lane will speed up to block their car.

He said it's also a matter of habit -- like buckling your seat belt. Some people aren't taught properly and don't get into the habit of doing it.

He noted that turn signals didn't even become standard in cars until the 1960s -- people who wanted to signal used to have to stick their left arm out the window.

A 2006 survey by Response Insurance, a national car insurer, found that 57 percent of American drivers don't signal when changing lanes. Men are less likely to signal than women, and drivers under 25 are less likely to signal than older drivers. Their reasons were a bit scary:

• • 42 percent said they didn't have time,

• • 23 percent said they were lazy,

• • 17 percent said they don't because they forget to turn it off,

• • 12 percent said they changed lanes too frequently to bother,

• • 11 percent said it was not important,

• • 8 percent said they don't because other drivers don't. And, most disturbing of all,

• • 7 percent skipped the signal to "add excitement" to their trip.

Danek says he teaches his students to signal because it's safer to warn people what you're doing, and anything that makes driving safer is worthwhile.

But Danek also teaches them to be prepared if someone doesn't signal.

"Paying attention is the most important thing about driving," Danek said. "If the car in front of you doesn't have brake lights, does that give you the right to run into them? No!"

Danek said if a driver is paying attention and keeping at least one car's length between her car and the next car, failure of another driver to signal shouldn't be a problem.

"If you drive correctly, what the other person does makes no difference," Danek said. "You are responsible for keeping your car in one piece."

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Ancient city uncovered in Afghanistan

Afghan workers are seen digging the baked earth on the heights of Cheshm-e-Shafa in the Balkh province. Centuries-old shards of pottery mingle with spent ammunition rounds on a wind-swept mountainside in northern Afghanistan where French archaeologists believe they have found a vast ancient city lost to historical record.

CHESHM-E-SHAFA, Afghanistan - Centuries-old shards of pottery mingle with spent ammunition rounds on a wind-swept mountainside in northern Afghanistan where French archaeologists believe they have found a vast ancient city.

For years, villagers have dug the baked earth on the heights of Cheshm-e-Shafa for pottery and coins to sell to antique smugglers. Tracts of the site that locals call the "City of Infidels" look like a battleground, scarred by craters.

But now tribesmen dig angular trenches and preserve fragile walls, working as laborers on an excavation atop a promontory. To the north and east lies an undulating landscape of barren red-tinted rock that was once the ancient kingdom of Bactria; to the south a still-verdant valley that leads to the famed Buddhist ruins at Bamiyan.

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