Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cash for Killing Your Lawn: Cities Get Creative on Water Savings

By Matthew Wheeland

In Las Vegas, the biggest desert city in the U.S., and still one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation, the local water utility is offering cash incentives to replace water-sucking lawns with drought-resistant landscapes.
If you've currently got a grass lawn in the Las Vegas area, the Southern Nevada Water Authority will pay homeowners and business owners alike $1.50 per square foot of lawn replaced with desert-friendly plants. That rate is good for the first 5,000 square feet, up to $7,500 in rebates; beyond that, the SNWA will pay $1 per square foot for the next 195,000 square feet of lawn ripped out, for a maximum of $300,000 per year in rebates.

It's part of a 10-year-old program called the Water Smart Landscapes Rebate program, and in that time more than 130 million square feet of lawns have been replaced with more native, less water-intensive plants. As a result, the city of Las Vegas has seen its water use drop by 18 percent, or 15 billion gallons per year, even as its population skyrocketed.

Image courtesy of the SWNA. Click for a full-sized image.

In an article on, Melissa Segrest explores how Las Vegas's pioneering effort is part of a growing trend from cities to encourage water conservation from the ground up.

Segrest writes:
Other cities in the dry southwest have implemented similar programs. Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power started a program last month to pay single-family homeowners $1 for every square foot of grass they pull up and replace with drought-tolerant plants and permeable ground cover. The department will pay up to $2,000. Twenty-nine cities within California’s East Bay Municipal Utility District (including Alameda, Berkeley and Oakland) can get 50 cents for every square foot of grass they replace, up to $1,000 to single-family residences.

Cities in Arizona, Mesa and Chandler, for example, also give cash back to those who replace grass with low-water plants. Even though cash for grass programs are popping up in drought-ridden states across the country, they have a long way to go to match Las Vegas.
Image courtesy of the SWNA. Click for a full-sized image.

In addition to the grass payback, Southern Nevada’s water authority instituted a water-saving car wash program, providing coupons to car washes that either recycle their own water or send it to a treatment facility for recycling. Residents can get money back for buying a swimming pool cover (without it, the authority says, 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water can evaporate from a pool).
Water use is becoming a huge concern for businesses and municipalities alike, although there are innovations aplenty in the works: A report released in May explored ways that companies in California -- currently in the midst of a long-term drought -- can use existing technologies to cut water use in half, and earlier this year we ran an in-depth report on how companies nationwide are saving significant amounts of water, and how you can start up a water management program at your company.

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Inflight WiFi "Rules" Keeps Sky Surfers In Check

We've heard of crazy recommendations and pointless surveys, but man, this is just world-class comedy here. Though, to be fair, most everything recommended is legitimate, but it's mostly common knowledge. Inflight Wi-Fi is expected to soar in popularity of the next few years--that's a well known fact at this point--but debates are still raging over whether or not that's a good thing.

Most airlines, if not all, have disabled VoIP calling while on their planes. This keeps patrons from dialing up friends via Skype while onboard, and in turn making every other passenger around them furious and agitated. A recent survey commissioned by 3M found that four in five business travelers admitted that they wanted inflight Wi-Fi, so they sought travel expert Chris McGinnis to type out the following "manners list" to follow while surfing at 30,000 feet:

  • Enjoy the view without the glare. While you may enjoy the view from your window seat, be aware that your seatmate may be using the time to catch up on some work or watch a movie on his or her laptop. Since the glare from the window makes it difficult to view computer screens, ask if the glare is a problem and then agree to a happy medium.
  • Beware of prying eyes. While you may not be interested in what your seatmate is watching or working on, 49 percent of passengers admit to sneaking peeks at their neighbor's laptop(1). To help protect confidential information, consider using a 3M Privacy Filter, which prevents others from seeing what is on your laptop by darkening side views.
  • Dim that screen on night flights. Flying is the perfect time to catch up on all the TV shows or movies you've missed. But don't forget that the constant glow and flicker of the screen can irritate your seatmate, especially on overnight flights.
  • Lower the volume. You know the volume of your headphones is too loud when your neighbor can follow along with the movie you are watching on your laptop. Keep the volume at a reasonable level to avoid disturbing your seatmates.
  • Share the "juice." The Wi-Fi antenna on your laptop is a power hog and can drain your battery faster than you think. While some planes offer power plugs, every seat in a row may not have an electrical outlet available, so share the power supply with your neighbor.
  • Set your boundaries, but know your limits. It is never OK to comment on what someone else may be working on or watching, unless of course it is overly offensive or noisy. If a seatmate is watching something you find overly offensive, consider moving to another seat. If that's not possible, politely tell your seatmate that you find what they are watching offensive. If all else fails, ask your flight attendant to intervene.

To us, this all brings up a much larger point. Many airplanes used today are just not qualified to be used as Wi-Fi planes. What good is unlimited surfing for 6.5 hours when your battery dies after two? We'd love to see AC outlets in all coach seats as well as personal lights that can be angled down to better reflect on the screen. Do we really expect this to happen anytime soon? No, not with airlines charging fees for every last thing, but we do expect inflight Wi-Fi to become entirely more usable over time as fleets get upgraded.

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I'll Take a Venti Beer, Please


Taking a page from Europe's coffeehouse playbook, Starbucks is hoping alcohol may be the silver bullet to boost its stagnant stock price.

The grand experiment begins next week in Seattle with a new store called "15th Ave. Coffee and Tea inspired by Starbucks," USA Today reported:

Starbucks plans to create two more similar stores in the Seattle area at locations that aren't currently Starbucks stores. And if the concept works, it could be tested in other cities, says Major Cohen, senior project manager at Starbucks.

For Starbucks, which has suffered a humbling mix of closed stores, employee layoffs and same-store sales declines during the recession, the move is an attempt to extend the brand into the evening, when business is typically at its slowest.

CEO of consulting firm Brandstream and former marketing chief at Starbucks, Scott Bedbury, said alcohol is common at European coffeehouses.

But Americans may not be ready for European-style coffeehouses, and if not, we may never see booze at our local Starbucks. This experiment could go down in the beverage history books as just another New Coke.

So for now, the lone test store will serve a half-dozen kinds of beer and wine, ranging in price from $4 to $7.

If all goes according to Starbucks' plan, this could be a much-needed edge in the so-called coffee wars. The caffeine giant has been in the crosshairs of McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts for some time now. Perhaps it won't be long before we see the McWine Cooler.

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15 Rites of Passage From Around the World

By Ned Hepburn

While a rite of passage can be just about anything, some have stood the test of time long enough to be known, expected, and respected. Some mark the day when a boy ends his childhood and becomes a man, others may mark occasions of career milestones, religious standings, or social class hierarchies. While these rites will vary throughout the world, one thing is certain – rites of passage are something we all inevitably go through. These are 15 of such rites that carry on traditions today.

Maasai Lion Hunt



The Maasai are a peaceful people in Kenya and Tanzania, but they still need a way to keep their men on their toes. Instead of using humans as targets for their warriors to hone their skills, they prefer to target lions- and not the sickly, young or female ones. The Maasai Warriors only hunt capable, large, male lions that have a pretty decent chance of winning, and they do it with a spear. Considering the fact that guys on safari with huge rifles still manage to get killed by lions every year, those Maasai Warriors have some guts.

Bar Mitzvah



Jewish law says that a boy should be capable of handling his life as a man at the age of 13. We overlook the importance of this nowadays, but the implications are huge. Once a boy has his Bar Mitzvah, he’s responsible for his own actions, and able to do adult things like get married. We may still largely view teenagers as kids here, but in the parts of Israel where the old laws still have clout, people pay much more attention to this sort of thing.

High School Graduation



High schoolers across America both dread and covet this day. All at once, they’re free from the horrors of high school, and suddenly expected to actually do something. While every study yields a slightly different result, less than half of all Americans both go to college and actually finish a four-year degree. On top of that, “college student” has all but become a career, with the average time it takes for that four-year degree being something like six to eight years. That means high school diplomas are still the mainstay of our educational milestones. Since graduation happens so close to legal age of 18, most of America views it as the crossing point into adulthood.

Poy Sang Long



The look on this kid’s face is priceless. Young Burmese boys, usually around ten years old, go through this three-day long Buddhist ceremony. They spend most of those three days riding around on the shoulders of grown men, dressed up in full swagger to imitate Buddha, the idea being that he himself was a prince before giving it all up to walk the path of enlightenment. On the third day it all comes to a head when the young boys are ordained and entered into the priesthood, and spend at least one week with the monks. Afterwards, some go home to their families and some stay to become monks themselves. Bet you thought you had it bad when your family dressed you up as a kid.




The Aborigines of Australia take becoming a man pretty seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they send their adolescent boys out into the wild to see if they can survive in the Austrailan Outback, unassisted for six months. During this time they are forced to survive on their own, and spend a great deal of time thinking about all the great big stuff men think about when they’re wandering around a desert. When they come back to their people, they don’t get a merit badge, they get respect. Boy scouts have nothing on these guys.

Seijin Shiki



The Japanese celebrate their Coming of Age day as a national event on the second Monday of January. Once the ceremony itself is over, the event turns into one big annual party for all 19-20 year-olds (whose birthday fell before April 1st of that year). When the boys-turned-men aren’t too busy ogling all the girls in their dress-kimonos and party outfits, they’re getting ridiculous on their own since afterward they’ll be considered adults (and finally have to act like them).

Vision Quest



Native Americans may be shrinking in numbers, but there are many who do their best to pass on the old traditions. Vision Quests, much like the Aboriginal Walkabout, involve a period of solitude and introspection out in the wilderness. Unlike most rites of passage though, a young boy who leaves on a Vision Quest won’t come back a full-fledged man, but instead with a sense of purpose for his continuing journey toward becoming a man. The quest lasts only a few days, and usually involves an Animal Spirit, subject to much pop-culture ridicule and called a purely hallucinogenic experience.




While American high school graduations tend to be over in a single afternoon, Norway does things a bit differently. A ridiculous (and awesome) mash-up of universally color-coded outfits (Star Trek anyone?) and Spring Break-meets -Mardi Gras, Russefeiring has all of Norway knee-deep in shenanigans for 17 straight days. Along with the constant partying, challenges earn the “Russ” merit tokens. These aren’t boring either, since they consist of tasks like crawling through grocery stores and barking like a dog while biting ankles, and having sex with a different chick on each of the 17 days of the celebration. Since there is always proof required, well, you get the idea.

Hunter’s First Kill



Men have taught their sons how to hunt since prehistoric times, and pieces of that legacy still live today. A hunter’s first kill is a pretty big occasion, usually marked by ritual. While some families have their own rituals, passed down a few generations, most follow the universal theme of “first blood.” The new hunter will mark himself with the blood of his prey, usually painting his face with it, and some even go as far as to drink the blood. Once this happens, the young man can call himself a hunter.

‘Redneck’ Coming of Age



While wholly unofficial, the Redneck Coming of Age is a widely known and much joked-about tradition. Fathers are often eager for their sons to “grow up” and be men. In this “ritual” a dad will go out and buy his son a hooker for his 18th birthday. The idea behind it may be trashy, but looking back throughout history, it’s really not all that weird, and can you really say that your dad gave you a present you enjoyed so much when you were a kid?




No, this is not just a fun word to name your bad college Ska band. Rumspringa is the Pennsylvania German word for “running around,” and that’s exactly what the Amish who go through it do. Basically, young Amish men aren’t forced to stay Amish, at around 16 they can leave the community and sew their wild oats. If, in the end, they decide to go back and be baptized in the Amish way, then they’re welcomed back with open arms and a clean record. The obvious catch being that it’s the only time they’ll be able to abandon their strict rules for living and still keep their status.




Men who undergo circumcision as babies usually don’t ever stop to consider just how lucky they were to have it done then as opposed to later on in life. While many cultures go through circumcision, not all of them do it to newborns. In many African countries, males go through the dangerous procedure as young adults, as a final step to becoming a man and becoming eligible for marriage. Entire villages get involved annually as all the males of the right age get circumcised, and then are isolated outside town to heal. The “surgery” is rarely done by a surgeon, and infection rates are staggering. In this quest to become men, many boys end up dying, alone in a tent.

Crossing the Equator



Navies from around the world hold a special ship-wide “ceremony” for all the sailors on-board who cross the Equator the first time. The “Crossing the Line” ceremony, as it’s called, crosses every line it can. These floating debaucheries can get so out of hand, that the legality is sketchy at best, and just about every rule goes out the window. It’s tradition for these guys to dress up in drag and eat things that should not be seen, much less eaten. While it may have been tamed some in the last few years as more and more women are aboard naval vessels these days, the party still goes on, turning “pollywogs” into “shellbacks” one shipload at a time.

Fraternity Pledging



Becoming a much-loathed Fratboy isn’t something just anybody off the street can do, it takes hard work and dedication. For generations, young men have gone away to college, but could not fully realize their potential without going through some of the most humiliating punishments that a young man can imaginatively inflict upon other young men. Once they make it through these (now largely illegal) trials of brotherhood, the worthless pledge becomes a valued member of the fraternal order. A former pledge won’t likely forget what he’s gone through, but not for lack of trying.




In all the world, there may not be nearly as terrifying a rite of passage into manhood as that of Marriage. No other moment in life is held so universally as a doorway to manhood, regardless of any previous life experience or even age. Once a guy takes this plunge into the ‘Happiest Moment of His Life’, he’s done for. Family members will often try to ply the young man with alcohol and gifts, but nothing can really soothe the pain, that’s what bachelor parties are for.

Original here

High Stakes: A Call to Legalize Marijuana

  • Photo


  • (CBS) A high-stakes political battle is underway in the cash-strapped state of California. At issue is the narrowly-defined liberty people have there to grow and sell a certain plant . . . and the desire of some folks to have the state government TAX it. John Blackstone reports our Cover Story:

    In Oakland, Calif., Richard Lee runs a string of businesses, from coffee shops to glass blowing that are helping revitalize the once-decaying downtown.

    But Lee's business empire is built on an unusual foundation: Selling marijuana

    In the back of his Blue Sky Coffee Shop there's a steady stream of cash buyers, and not just for coffee.

    "In the front you get the coffee and pastries, and in the back you get the cannabis," Lee said.

    A salesman told customers, "You're welcome to pull the bags out and smell the herb as you like."

    What's going on here is illegal under federal law, but permitted under California law that since 1996 has allowed marijuana for medical use.

    A dozen other states have similar laws. One customer named Charles said pot is exactly what his doctor ordered.

    "So that's what relieves my anxiety and allows me to cope and feel good," he said.

    Lee has dubbed his Oakland neighborhood "Oaksterdam" . . . with a nod to Amsterdam and its liberal drug laws. His goal is to make this a tourist destination, with marijuana its main attraction.

    "Does that worry people around here?" asked Blackstone.

    "No, people around here love it 'cause they see how much we've improved the neighborhood," Lee said.

    Next door to where Lee sells marijuana, Gertha Hays sells clothes. She says the dispensary brings people from all walks of life. "There's no particular pothead," she said, "so everyone comes over there."

    "So these aren't just druggies in there?" Blackstone asked.

    "No, not at all. If you look and see who comes up and down thethe block you'll see it's so diverse," Hays said.

    Part of the Oaksterdam neighborhood is a nursery growing a cash crop: Medical marijuana is now estimated to be a $2 to 3 billion business in California.

    "Yeah, there's a lot of people making a lot of money," lee said.

    There are now several hundred medical marijuana dispensaries in California . . . and much more marijuana being sold on the street.

    "We estimate, overall, [the] California cannabis industry is in the neighborhood of around $15 billion," lee said.

    While there is disagreement over the real size of the marijuana market it's big enough to have captured the attention of lawmakers trying to fill a huge hole in the state budget.

    Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is pushing legislation to legalize pot so the state can inhale new taxes.

    "I thought it was high time, no pun intended, for this to be on the table," Ammiano said. "I'm trying to beat everybody to the punch with the jokes, because I get a lot of 'em," he laughed.

    There are many who ridicule the idea, but the state tax board estimates Ammiano's proposed tax of $50 an ounce could bring in $1.5 to 2 billion a year.

    "We find that highly unlikely," said Rosalie Pacula, of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center. She says California is likely to be disappointed by the revenue raised on marijuana that now sells for about $150 an ounce.

    "If you try to impose a tax that is that high, you have absolutely no incentive for the black market to disappear," she said. "There is complete profit motive for them to actually stay."

    The tax proposal, though, has started an unusual political discussion. According to one poll, 56 percent of California voters say marijuana should be legalized and taxed. Even California's Republican governor has not snuffed out talk of legalization.

    "No, I think it's not time for that, but I think it's time for debate," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said. "All of those ideas for creating extra revenues, I'm always for an open debate on it."

    Check out reports on the debate over legalization in's special section "Marijuana Nation."

    Of course, Governor Schwarzenegger, from his earlier life, does have some experience . . .

    . . . as does the president himself.

    "I inhaled, frequently," Mr. Obama admitted on the campaign trail, in a nod to President Bill Clinton's earlier quasi-admission. "That was the point."

    And while the president says he is opposed to legalizing pot ("No, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy"), his administration has ordered the DEA to stop raiding state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries.

    It's a big change from decades of viewing the plant as the indisputable evil portrayed in the 1936 film "Reefer Madness."

    But that old image has been going up in smoke for decades.

    It was along for the trip in 1969 in the movie "Easy Rider," and on the cover of Life Magazine. On TV today it's just a part of suburban life in the series "Weeds."

    And then there's the growing recognition of marijuana as medicine.
"Marijuana has been a medicine for 5,000 years," said Dr. Donald Abrams of San Francisco General Hospital. "It's only for the last 70 years that it hasn't been a medicine in this country."

Dr. Abrams has been studying marijuana for twelve years and is convinced it is both effective and safe.

"I think marijuana is a very good medicine," he said. "I'm a cancer doctor. I take care every day of patients who have loss of appetite, nausea, pain, difficulty sleeping and depression. I have one medicine that can treat all of those symptoms, instead of five different medicines to which they may become addicted.

"And that one is marijuana, and they're not gonna become addicted to it?" Blackstone said.

"That's correct," said Dr. Abrams.

But those who have been fighting the war on drugs say that, just because marijuana may be medicine, that doesn't mean it should be legal.

"There's just no doubt about it that the drug cartels and the drug organizations are very much involved in the production and sale of marijuana, said Roy Wasden, police chief in Modesto, Calif., where a lot of marijuana is grown.

"You can be out walking through the national forest, and if you hike into one of these marijuana grows, you'll be at great risk," he said.

And drug fighters warn aging boomers that marijuana isn't the gentle weed they remember. Today's pot is a whole different kettle of fish

"The marijuana of the 1960s and Woodstock is not what's being sold on the streets in the United States today, said Chief Bernard Melekian, head of the California Police Chiefs Association. "The narcotic portion, the THC of marijuana in the '60s, hovered around one or two percent. THC today is around 27 to 30 percent.

"You have a very significantly different plant."

Teaching people to grow that plant is another one of Richard Lee's businesses.

Lee runs Oaksterdam University, where students also learn how to stay within the state's medical marijuana laws.

"So you can't plant those seeds until you know what the law is?" Blackstone asked.

"Right," said Lee. "Vote today and get high tonight."

Students like Darnell Blackman and Barbara Kramer see an opportunity to do good . . . and to do well . . . by growing marijuana.

"Just like aspirin or ibuprofen or any of those other medications, cannabis is just another way of helping people," said Blackman.

"I thought maybe there was some way that I could get in the ground floor, get ahead of the curve on where this industry might be going," said Kramer.

There are still plenty of obstacles before it's a legal industry. Chief Wasden says this is no time for a surrender in the war on drugs.

"Fewer kids are using drugs today," he said. "We're not losing the war on drugs. Kids are starting to understand the negative, negative consequences of drug abuse. Do we need to introduce another dependency-driven substance into our community when in fact we're making progress?"

But in the community now known as Oaksterdam, the drug warriors are nowhere to be seen . . . as a whole neighborhood goes to pot.

Original here

Monday, July 20, 2009

The 10 Most Dangerous Foods to Eat While Driving

By Tony Borroz

dont_eat_and_drive has come up with a list of the 10 most dangerous things eat behind the wheel. Seriously. Topping the list is the one thing we’ve all shoved into our faces during the morning commute.

Before we get to that, though, we should explain why thought this was important enough to investigate. Hagerty Classic Insurance, the folks who let you cover that ‘57 Chevrolet Bel Air or 1935 Dusenberg SJ in your garage, ran an applicant through the DMV. It discovered the guy had a restraining order barring him from having food within his reach while driving. Apparently the guy had been in several accidents while stuffing his maw.

Wait, it gets better (and by that we mean infuriatingly worse). decided to draw up a list of things you absolutely, positively should not sip, slurp, chomp or chew behind the wheel. Here from the home office in Cleveland are the ” The 10 Most Dangerous Foods to Eat While Driving”.

It should be said this is by no means scientific; it’s a rundown of things actuaries don’t think you ought to have in your hand (or mouth) when driving. That said, the list is more frightening than the repair bill we got when our Jag needed a transmission rebuild.

1. Coffee. It’s hot. It can spill. That’s bad. That said, we’re guilty of this. So are you. Admit it.
2. Hot soup. It’s hot. It can spill. That’s bad.
3. Tacos. Very messy.
4. Chili. It’s hot. It can spill. That’s bad. And it’s very messy.
5. Hamburgers. Greasy hands and a steering wheel do not mix.
6. Barbecued food. Um, that should go without saying.
7. Fried chicken. You think burgers are greasy?
8. Jelly or cream-filled donuts. Ever bitten into one and not had it squirt all over the place?
9. Soft drinks. Big threat of spillage, says, and unacceptable risk of “fizz up your nose.” Huh?
10. Chocolate. It melts on your fingers, which makes a mess on the steering wheel.

Allow us to make a special shout out here to item number two: Soup. Soup? Are you kidding? Who in their right mind thinks it’s OK to eat soup while driving a two-ton projectile? And who the hell is trying to spoon chili down their gullet in traffic? Good lord, people. It’s a CAR. Do not take that call from Joe in accounting, do not try to read that Brad Pitt cover story in Wired and do not try to munch a freakin’ taco. Just DRIVE.

Soup? To quote the great Tom Wolfe, “It’s enough to make the Fool Killer hang his head in shame at the missed opportunities.”

Original here

10 Ways to Look Good in Photos

By Karen Lee, former model handler at the Elite modeling agency and head of the Karen Lee Group.

1. Focus your eyes just slightly above the camera lens, move your face forward a bit, and tip down your chin.

2. Put your tongue behind your teeth and smile, which will relax your face.

3. Keep your arms by your side—but not glued there. To look natural, they should be a little away from your body.

4. Test-drive clothing against a white wall, with an indirect, natural light source (under a tree, indoors near a window)—it will show whether blue really is your best color.

5. As a rule, avoid patterns.

6. Photos exaggerate everything, so go easy on the makeup. For women under 30, a little mascara and lip gloss; over 30, add a touch of concealer.

7. Practice the classic model pose: Turn your body three quarters of the way toward the camera, with one foot in front of the other and one shoulder closer to the photographer. When you face forward, your body tends to look wider.

8. For standing photos, belly in, buttocks tight, shoulders back, spine straight.

9. Study photogenic people as well as photos in which you think you looked best. Look at your best angle. You’ll probably see that you were laughing or having a good time. Capturing someone when they’re relaxed or most animated usually makes for the best results.

10. To feel at ease, try closing your eyes, then opening them slowly just before the photo is taken.

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