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Friday, January 30, 2009

Did You Know? #8: Human Cell Replacement.

Every hour one billion cells in the body must be replaced.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Did You Know? #7: Female Sense of Hearing

A female's sense of hearing is usually increased slightly during fertility. This is attributed to the evolutionary necessity to be on the defense while carrying life.

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Did You Know? #6: The Human Head

The average human head weighs about 8 pounds.

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Keep Tabs on President Obama with the Weekly Video Address

With all this "change" in the air, and our new celebrity president, politics seems to be becoming more and more popular amongst the youth including popular internet media channels such as Facebook, MySpace and even Twitter.

These tools have evolved far enough to become a great platform to publicize to a younger audience. They're also at a point where they are actually very useful for finding out information about what our administration is doing. Instead of watching the news from the same channel every night and listening to the same editorials and opinions on the radio, it's now easier to get straight to the facts and follow all of this activity via direct internet channels.

The Whitehouse has a blog that is updated a few times a day documenting highlighted events. President Obama has even said that he plans to publish a weekly address online (every Saturday morning) for a brief update on the pressing issues.

If you haven't already checked out these tools, I would highly recommend taking a look around the new and improved White house site which includes a blog, executive orders called, weekly address videos and other fun stuff:

This is a good site that consolidates internet coverage of the administration into one convenient place:

Follow Barack Obama on Twitter:

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Understanding Basic Principles of Physics for a more Efficient Life

Diagram showing a Second Class LeverImage via Wikipedia

In order to fully understand what's going on around us and optimize our lives, I believe that it is essential to have a basic understanding of some principles of physics. Get to know how things really work. Instead of learning by trial and error, if you have some knowledge or understanding of how events might actually turn out, you can probably make better decisions.

I think I see the point.. but what exactly are you talking about? Let's say, for example, you bump into a lamp and it begins to topple over. Your tendency would be to grab it any way you can and save it from crashing to the floor. So you grab the lower portion of the lamp because that is the part that is moving the slowest. (assuming that it is simply falling over by pivoting about a point at the base of the lamp) But the lamp is too heavy and you don't can't generate enough torque in your wrist in time and you only end up lifting the base of the lamp from the table and hurting your wrist in the process.

Had you been able to apply the simple principle of leverage at the moment you took action, you may have realized that a much smaller amount of force would be required to stop the lamp if you tried to catch it by a point further away from the pivot. The image above depicts a "second class lever" which means that essentially the closer you apply force to the pivot point, the more force is required; and the further away you are, the less is required.

There are limitless of scenarios where you can observe the principles of leverage. IE: golf, faucet knobs, eating utensils, your forearm, pushups... etc.

There is enough information on Levers and Leverage out there, that I don't need to get into an entire lesson, I just want to make you aware of how knowing and applying these principles can benefit your life. Do some research on your own at the links below.

This one is a white paper on leverage as it applies to biomechanics:

Let me know if this makes sense; was it helpful? Is there a situation you can think of where you may have used physical leverage to your benefit in everyday life and not realized it? Is there a situation where, looking back, you could have used leverage to your advantage, and didn't?

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

For the Evolution of Communication Between Motorists

The evolution and eventual civilization of human-kind is greatly attributed to the presence of communication between beings. As our communication techniques improve, we become more civilized and able to appropriately deal with various situations and hardships through many forms of communication. Besides the number of words in any given language, there are multitudes of gestures, sounds and expressions that help us to communicate without speaking. In order to have a successful society, and for people to work together, there must be good communication.

Communication major dimensions scheme

Image via Wikipedia

Currently, and for the past 80-90 years we have been building an alternate society within our society, where people dress up like machines with wheels (yes, I'm talking about cars) and eliminate all familiar forms of communication. We had originally included, and since implemented a few methods of simple communication between these vehicles. This was necessary so that people could exist together on the same streets while wielding these 3.000 lb. machines at high velocities and still retain some semblance of order in this highly volatile environment. As far as I can count the very primitive forms of communication we regularly use now are as follows:

Action Translation
Blinker "I'm changing direction"
Hazard lights "Something's wrong" or "Something's important" or "Watch out"
Horn "Watch out" or "Aahh" or "Hello" or "MOVE!"
Break lights "I'm stopping" or "back off"
Flashing headlights "Something's wrong" or "MOVE!" or "turn on your lights" or "dim your lights" or "Go ahead"
Revving engine "I'm ready to go" or "Hey there" or "I will go fast" or "I rock" or "I'm angry"
Spinning tires "I rock" or "I'm angry"
Yelling out the window Generally "I'm angry for some reason, but I can't tell you exactly why because I'm driving."

All of the above mentioned items are EXTREMELY primitive forms of communication and do not allow for any sort of coherent conveyance of thoughts. All of these things are extremely ambiguous and require contextual evaluation of them before translating them. In other words they could each mean many different things depending on a lot of other factors including driver mood or demeanor which is generally undetectable unless the drivers are in close proximity. There are a couple more forms of communication like swerving or speeding, but those are even more ambiguous than those shown above.

Common Chimpanzee  in Cameroon's South Province

Image via Wikipedia

Chimpanzees have many more methods of communication than the above list. Many audible forms include hoots and barks that convey and are understood by others as feelings of "fear", "puzzlement", "enjoyment", "annoyance", "rage", "distress" and "excitment". Already leaps and bounds ahead of todays motorists. Additionally, body language is extensively used among chimps, which is inherently impossible when driving an automobile, but can be related to speeding and swerving amogst other things that I mentioned are very hard to decipher concrete meaning from.

The more cars we add to the streets the more essential it is that we improve this system of communication. It seems that the majority of people, at least in the Northeast US have surprisingly stopped using blinkers, which contribute to a large percentage of the communication between vehicles. Besides being one of the originally designed communication features, it is also one of the clearest concepts for other drivers to interpret.

The automotive industry has obviously made enourmous progress since it's conception. Competition is stiff, improvements are made, and conveniences are added to every model, every year. And recently the stress has been on fuel consumption (which has a great deal of merit these days) but I feel that there is no urgency to address the language barrier between motorists.

How do you feel we can improve communication on the streets to avoid road rage?

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The Best Invention Since Sliced Bread

Last year my wife and I were given a bread maker. I thought to myself, "Cool, a bread maker". Little did I know...

Generally, the thing I hate about kitchen gadgetry is the uselessness per unit time spent cleaning all of the bits and pieces. This is NOT the case with the bread maker - at least the one we have (The Sunbeam, below). There is ONE bucket thing and one stirring blade (not sharp) to wash when you're done. It's non-stick so it literally takes about 15 seconds to wash both of these things.

The bread it makes is great, (did I mention it makes pizza dough as well?) and it takes ME about 10 minutes to put together a loaf of bread. My wife can do it in about 3 minutes... Then you just set the time you want it to be done for, usually we let it bake overnight so that we can wake up to the smell of fresh bread and have a warm slice in the morning.

No kidding people, this is one of those things (like the Viva Paper Towels) that has changed my life forever.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

A Good Way to Get Motivated - Just Do It

In addition to being an engineer, I'm also a musician. I've been writing songs for a few years now, but I've never played for anyone except immediate family and friends. I've been posturing myself and refining my tunes for a while to get them to a point where I'd be comfortable doing a show. I can't say that I'm quite to the "comfortable spot" yet, and playing the guitar doesn't really get top priority, always competing with work, martial arts, other side projects, blogging... etc.

A friend of mine is a professional theatrical performer and he recently offered for me to open up for his new show in 6 weeks! Despite my apprehension and unpreparedness, I finally decided that I had to heed my father's advice, "Grab for all the Gusto" and just commit to the show.

Grab for all the Gusto in life.
By committing myself to doing this and basically backing myself into a corner, I'll be forcing my priorities. Playing a show is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and despite my uncertainty, now that I have a deadline to meet I will be focusing on this new task.

I've used this technique before, I'll call it "over-commitment", with good success. When I was first getting into website development, in speaking with new clients I would commit myself to preparing things that were not part of my skill set. By committing this to clients, I was in fact committing to myself to learn whatever necessary skills were required.

What is your experience with forcing yourself to learn something? Have you intentionally over-committed in order to expedite the natural learning curve?

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Which came first: the Confidence or the Focus?

I am a big advocate of "effective focus", as it has been referred to at I believe the difference between CAN and CAN'T is largely a factor of how much focus is effectively given to a certain task.

In high school some friends of mine had a band and were looking for a trombonist. A trombone conveniently came available through a friend and I was pretty excited about a potential opportunity for me to join the band, but I’d never touched a trombone before. “Have no fear!” I told myself. I took the trombone home and spent every spare minute learning about the instrument. Not just how to play it, but more.. I learned the construction of it, the adjustments available, how many different ways it could be held, where its center of gravity was.. etc. When learning to play it, I was in a private place (my back yard) with zero distractions, where I could listen to the sound of the instrument and feel it’s reactions to my breath and that was it.

Three weeks later I attended my first band practice, and after one more week I played my first show. I stayed with the band for another 6 years and had a lot of fun. I dedicate that to two things in particular: Confidence in myself, and the ability to focus.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Tips for Safe Winter Driving - Build Confidence, Know Your Car

Winter is now in full swing and, at least where I live, the ice torments the roads with its icy chaos. Drivers begin to slow down as they become less and less confident with their driving in these hazardous conditions and lack of confidence is not something that you should allow yourself to have; not ever.

Confidence is the knowledge that you are fully able to do that which you attempt. The way I see it, lack of confidence can be overcome by knowing yourself. Know your limits and abilities and you will never see your confidence wane. If indeed you do notice yourself with a lack of confidence (driving a car in the snow or otherwise) learn from this and tell yourself, "I need to take this opportunity to learn my limits and abilities to increase my confidence during this task." This article is particularly about driving in the winter weather but can be applied across all disciplines.

When I was learning to drive a car, growing up in Maine, my father would take me to an empty parking lot during a big snow storm and allow me to drive around and get a feel for the car. Understand that when driving in the winter, you WILL hit ice, and your tires WILL spin. Trying to avoid slipping the car or spinning the tires is pointless. You will slip and slide so in order to be confident while doing so, you must know how to do it.

Allow yourself to discover how your car reacts in different situations. Learn how fast you can accelerate. Observe how much traction you get while braking. Spin the car out of control in an open parking lot, or any other controlled environment and then attempt to regain control. Use trial and error to figure out which way and how much to turn the wheel in order to regain control during any given amount of drift you may be experiencing.

Other important bits of information are the physical extents of the body of your car. Know exactly how big your car is and test your limits until you are able to easily judge where your bumpers are from the driver's seat. This will help to avoid ambiguities like "I'm not sure if I'm going to brake in time to avoid that other car so I will tense up and close my eyes and hope for the best."

If you'd like, feel free to share your winter driving story.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Did You Know? #5: Eye Cones

If you look slightly to one side or the other of a dim star, you will be able to see it better. It will appear brighter. This goes for any object that requires more brightness to be seen. Look slightly to one side or the other.

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Did You Know? #4: Nerve Density

Nerves are closer (and therefore more sensitive) on some parts of the body, than they are on others. It is hard to distinguish the difference between one pencil touching the back of your neck, and two pencils touching the same area. But it is far easier to distinguish this difference on the fingertips or lips.

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Did You Know? #3: Magnetite Crystals

Migratory birds, mammals, Salmon and other animals are known to have “Magnetite Crystals” incorporated into geometric patterns in their brains that may effectively give them another sense – the sense of direction. Humans also carry Magnetite Crystals, however they are scattered about the brain in no particular pattern. This may mean that through the use of visual landmarks and other tools humans have evolved out of having this sense of direction.

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Did You Know? #2: Sick and Dizzy

The reason humans tend to become sick to our stomachs when we get dizzy is because the balance sensor (in the inner ear) does not agree with the information from the eyes. This makes the brain believe that we have ingested some sort of hallucinogen or other damaging substance so it tells the stomach to attempt to purge it.

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Did You Know? #1: Sight Processing

One third of the human brain is dedicated to processing sight information from the eyes.

What is this Did You Know section?

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Did You Know?

I’ll be adding a new “Did You Know?” section to Mini Life Hacks.

This section will be full of factoids about the human race, physics, evolution, biomechanics, the senses, etc. And the purpose is to help people understand these discreet facts or information packets since they contribute to the overall understanding of one’s self. The reason they are broken up into factoids is because they may not particularly relate directly to one another, and also because by reading one fact at a time it makes it easier for the mind to retain the information as opposed to being garbled with a bunch of other information.

To get to this section just click on the "Did You Know?" category. Please let me know if you enjoy this section and also leave a comment if you have a “Did You Know?” that you want to contribute.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Best Paper Towel in the Universe. Hands Down.

Viva paper towels are, by far, one of the best products I have ever used. And no, they're not paying me to say that.

I don't generally do product reviews, but I've just got to say something here.. These paper towels (and I use the word paper cautiously - it's more like magic material) are the most amazing things I've seen. They take a beating a keep on keepin' on. You can literally scrub the carpet with these, rinse them out, ring them dry and use them again.

My wife and I buy the small ones (pick-a-size) and really, one is all ya need... They do cost a bit more than most paper towels, but honestly, it's a whole different animal. These suckers will blow you away. I found a good deal on Amazon (who knew, they build lunar landers and sell paper towels...) for just a little over a dollar per roll. I'm sure your local bulk store has a decent deal too.

I seriously recommend that you check these out.

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Get Free Movies at RedBox

This will be a quick one. If you get movies at Redbox (those big red machines at grocery stores and drug stores) you should know about how to get them for free :)
You can use the codes below when you check out the movie - just press "Enter Code". You still need a credit card but it will not be charged unless you keep the movie for more than one day. Each of these codes will only work once per credit card:


This website has more codes, but the three above I have tried many times without fail. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sick of Staring at the Monitor? Try Eye Exercises!

My eye! My beautiful eye.Image by feastoffools via Flickr
It's a pain in the EYE to stare at a computer screen all day long. Trust me, I know... Eyes get fatigued and this can lead to discomfort, dry eyes, teary eyes, headaches etc.. Which can, in turn, lead to frustration, stress, unhappiness etc.. Which can, in turn, lead to depression, anxiety and other health issues... need I go on?

Some sources refer to this as "Computer Vision Syndrome". Personally I hate the word "syndrome" because it is used to describe a simple condition and in actuality, it has a cause and resolution just like everything else. The word syndrome invites people to exhibit undue concern... but enough on that for now.

I started doing some simple eye exercises a while ago, and have found that they work great for:

  • Relieving eye tension
  • Taking your mind off of work for a minute
  • Overall relaxation
  • Rejuvenating the eyes for the remainder of the day.
Try these quick exercises whenever you can. Once a day would be good, otherwise, just do them whenever you can. If you wait until you've already got a headache, the exercises probably won't get rid of the pain so try them occasionally throughout the day for the best results.

Exercise #1: Trace the screen.
Keep your head facing your monitor, keep your back and neck straight. Moving only your eyes, trace the frame of your monitor. When eyes move, they naturally "hop" from one spot to another, try to keep the movement as smooth as possible. One revolution around the frame of your monitor should take about 8-10 seconds to complete. Do this 5-6 times.

Exercise #2: Stretch your peripherals.
No, this doesn't mean yank on your mouse... Again, keeping your back and neck straight and your head facing forward, look UP with your eyes as far as you can. Hold this for 5 seconds and then look DOWN as far as you can; hold again for 5 seconds. Relax the eyes and close them for 5 seconds. Then look to the LEFT as far as you can for 5 seconds and then the RIGHT for 5 seconds. Again, relax the eyes and close them. Repeat this 5 times.

Then roll your eyes all around in the widest circles you can. Try 10 circles in each direction.

Exercise #3: Blink more often.
Not really an exercise, just don't forget to blink! It's been proven that people blink 5-6 times less than normal when working on a computer, so make a conscious effort to blink more often which simply keeps your eyes moistened and prevents them from drying out.

Exercise #4: Look to the horizon.
Pick an object with a good amount of detail at least 20 feet away, or as far as you can get, (if you're near a window, you can look outside at tree leaves or something) and focus on that object. Take a couple seconds to establish your focus and then take a few more to refine your focus on smaller and smaller details of the object. Remain in this focus for a couple seconds. Then hold up your hand about 6 inches or less from your face and bring your focus to that. Again hold this focus for a few seconds. Repeat this 5-10 times, or until you can feel your eyes really working. Then repeat it a few more times for good measure.
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Monday, January 19, 2009

Watch TV Online to Save Time and Money.

First of all, don't watch pointless crap television. It's not good for you. Watch a the news and one or two shows that you really like, and don't bother with the rest. It's of no value to you and the progression of your life.

Secondly, if you pick the shows you want to watch and seek them out online you will be much more disciplined about not channel surfing. Most networks are broadcasting their shows online now and they are free to watch. Plus you miss out on lots of commercials. A one-hour show online is really only 40-50 minutes.

The TV in my house is only hooked up to my Wii. When my wife and I want to watch a show we go online, watch one show and then move on.

Check out these networks that broadcast full shows:
also, take a look at for a compilation of lots of shows from different sources all in one place.

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Optimum Comfort while Sunning on the Beach

Half Moon CayImage by ccheviron via FlickrI just got back from the Bahamas where I had, yes, a beautiful vacation, but also time to think and learn. While I was laying on my stomach on my towel in the miles and miles of white sand beach at Half Moon Cay (right), I was turning my head back and forth to keep my neck from straining. I figured there's got to be a more comfortable, less strenuous way to lay in the sun... (sarcasm...)

Then I realized that sand, especially when covered by a towel, is amorphous and can be formed any way you like and it will remain in that shape at least for a short time. I punched a hole in the sand directly underneath my head and made two trenches, one on each side of the hole so that I would be able to breathe. After that my head rested nicely, top and bottom, (forehead and chin) on the soft white sand piles and I was able to enjoy a few more hours of sun with no strain from having my head turned to the side.

Be safe, take care of your body, USE SUNSCREEN!

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

One More Thing Before the Bahamas

* (en) World Map * (pt) Mapa Mundo * (de) Welt...Image via WikipediaIf you need to get out of your driveway first thing in the morning to go on a cruise in the Bahamas, and you know it's going to snow, don't forget to park at the end of the driveway so that you only have to clear a small section behind your car....

Gotta go!! Be back in a week.
Sunshine, here I come!!

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Frying Pan Tilts off the Burner When I Try to Cook..

I was just frying up a pound of chicken for dinner and getting rather annoyed that whenever I cook the frying pan tilts off of the burner because the handle is too heavy...

It's important that the bottom of the pan and the burner be in direct contact if you want to effectively use your electricity, as well as get an even heat in the pan. Air is a great insulator and you will lose a lot of heat if they are not in contact.

In the past I've tried to find a salt shaker or spice container of the perfect height to wedge under the handle and keep it flat, but that's annoying.. Today I got wicked smart and just moved the chicken to the far side of the pan! The weight of the chicken keeps it flat and I don't have to deal with balancing the pan on the salt. Works great, but you might have to offset the pan so that the chicken pile is centered on the burner in order to get it cooked evenly.

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How Can I Make Money in this Crappy Recession??

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBaseBeats me!!

No but seriously... I don't know. Here's what I do know, however. There's a whole lot of people out there scared of actually going to stores and spending their money. Those same people are coming home and spending time online looking for tips on saving money, self-help blogs to help with depression, political articles to keep up with how the media is portraying the recession... And they're frantically clicking all over the place to try to find peace of mind.

What I'm getting at, is that you should all make a million dollars with Google Adsense.... okay.. easier said than done, trust me. But they do make a lot of sense this year. They appeal to a demographic that is not required to spend a penny and are just looking for help, which is exactly the kind of demographic that is rapidly spreading all over the U.S. and beyond. And I think it will be many moons before companies stop advertising with Google, so we're pretty safe there.

You probably have already done this, but if not, check out to start putting ads from all sorts of companies on your blog.

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Don't tailgate, because you never know!!

Looking south above :en:Interstate 80, the Eas...Image via WikipediaWe all have the tendency to tailgate other cars when we're driving. Don't tell me you've never done it! First of all, it's not safe, that's obvious. And it's just rude, you're probably pissing someone off by doing it; you're "adding bad karma" to the universe, if you will.

A good way I've found to stop myself from doing it is by looking at the back of the driver's head, and trying to picture someone I know (particularly, someone I don't hate) and imagine that it is them driving the car. Because no matter who it actually is, they are a real person and have a real story just like the rest of us. It's amazing how much this little bit of consideration will change your attitude towards them and make you feel like you should be kindly backing off.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Learn How to Get Amazingly Clean Teeth!

Three toothbrushesImage via WikipediaIn general, the world is moving at a much faster rate today than it did a decade ago; things need to be accomplished quicker and people are more impatient than ever. Maybe, instead of impatience, I should say, we have a different level of patience now than we did in the past. If we isolate the level of patience we have today and quantify it, there's no justification to refer to it as "impatient"; such is the evolution of man.

Um.. This article is about teeth, right?!?... yeah....ok.

My point is that when people have to continually do one task, especially as mundane as brushing your teeth for any amount of time, it can seem very BORING, and you will have the desire to be finished so that you can move on to other things.

My advice: Do something else while you brush your teeth. Read the mail, check your email, feed the cats, read the newspaper, or all of the above.

Finding one-handed or no-handed tasks to do while you brush your teeth will make it feel much less like you are wasting your time in front of the mirror. If you're doing other things it should be easy to brush for an excess of 5 or even 10 minutes. And I guarantee you will notice that your teeth feel much cleaner if you double your brushing time. Granted, if you are preoccupied with something else, you will have a tendency to stop moving the brush, or get stuck brushing one section for a long time. Just be conscious of that and you'll get better at it with time!

Happy brushing!

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Monday, January 5, 2009

The Pain is Only what you Make It - Mind over Matter

During a serious test of physical endurance, a wise man once told me:

"The Pain is Only what you Make It"
I used that advice to my advantage that day and achieved a great victory that would reward me for the rest of my life.

Physical pain is an interesting phenomenon described by the International Association for the Study of Pain as:
"an unpleasant sensory and emotional associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage"
Another widely used definition of pain from Margo McCaffery is as follows:
"Pain is whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever he says it does"
The thing I've learned about pain and the perception of it, is that the body, nervous system and brain overcompensate quite a bit with its warnings. In the first definition I've italicized 'potential' tissue damage. Even if the body is in no immediate danger of physical harm it still gives indications of pain to the brain as a warning. It's time we stop this tyrannical behavior of our own bodies and do our due diligence to learn exactly what they can handle and what they can't. The older we grow and the more we experience the more pain we will naturally encounter and therefore, the more familiar we become with how our body reacts to different stimuli.

Self-observation and getting to know your limits and what you are capable of, I am convinced is of great importance to leading a happy healthy life. (See post: "Always Challenge Yourself") If you know the exact moment when this false alarm called "pain" will turn into actual physical harm, you should convince yourself that it is okay to dance on this line. For example, often times when lifting heavy awkward objects it can be uncomfortable for many people and the object may cause pain in your hands and fingers. But if you are aware that this amount of pain is safe and will cause no physical harm you can easily endure it and rest assured that you will be able to shake your hands out when you are done this task and there will be no harm done. Do you see how this realization can increase your physical strength? You are now permitting yourself to lift 15 extra pounds than your body and pain threshold would otherwise allow.

Furthermore, if you know the extent of physical harm that will be done by any given action, it may be acceptable to endure it depending on the task at hand. For example, you can probably commit to catching or breaking the fall of a falling dish if it means you may get some abrasions on your knuckles from the counter top, or a bruise from the falling dish. But you may not commit to that if it is not your dish, or if it is unimportant to you.

The more you learn about yourself and your body the more control you will have over what you do with it, and you are able to take the control away from your tyrannical bodily instincts.
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Friday, January 2, 2009

Energy Saving Tips - For the Window Blinds

A window blind with slats.Image via WikipediaIf you have the kind of venetian blinds with horizontal slats, like I do (like the one in the image) , there's a simple little trick you can use to help retain the heat.

When you're closing up for the night, angle the blinds the opposite way you normally would. I mean, angle them so that to look out of them you would need to look downwards through them and not upwards. Since heat rises and cool air falls, this will help to deflect some of the cool air (at or around the window panes) OUT, and the warm air (rising inside the room) IN.

It's not a huge savings, but every little bit helps!!
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