Friday, May 1, 2009

Learn Something New Every Day (May 1, 2009)

Swine Flu Tip: Use an Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer

Our offices now have industrial-sized hand-sanitizer stations outside the parking garage doors. That's only about 60% alcohol, and you still have to open the door to get inside the office. My hot tip of the day? Just stay home and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that's at least 75.5% alcohol.

Just kidding! It's probably more effective if you gargle with it.

And, as always, don't forget to drink plenty of fluids.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Learn Something New Every Day (April 30, 2009)

Swine Flu: Is It Time to Panic, Yet? ("Are We There, Yet? Huh?")

In 2004, 727 deaths were attributed, worldwide, to acute nasopharyngitis, or the common cold. I suspect more could be attributed to a successful attempt to eradicate the common cold, as the makers of over-the-counter cold and flu remedies faced bankruptcy. There's just no incentive to find a cure for the common cold, no matter how miserable those pesky little viruses make millions of us each year. It would be devastating to the global economy.

About 36,000 people die, in the U.S., each year - from the flu. And yet, there's very little panic over it, most years. People rationalize their reasons for getting - or not getting - the vaccine:

  • "I work in healthcare. I have to get it."
  • "My doctor says that at my age, the flu could kill me. He said I had to get the vaccine."
  • "I'm not getting vaccinated - I'm allergic to eggs!" (The vaccine is made with eggs.)
  • "Who knows if this year's vaccine will protect us, anyway? It probably doesn't even contain the right flu strains."
  • "I hate shots."
  • "I'm terrified of needles." (This is my excuse. That, and "That sucker HURTS! Last time I got the flu vaccine, I couldn't lift my arm for a WEEK!" Double your fun: get the flu vaccine in one arm, and the pneumonia vaccine in the other - on the same day. Then walk around like a gorilla, dragging your knuckles on the ground and asking everyone to "open this" or "carry that" while you wince in pain and try not to swing your arms as you move.)

Considering that 36,000 people die of Influenza every year, that's a pretty lackadaisical attitude. My mother used to tell of the "polio scares" when she was a kid - the daily death toll announced on the radio, parboiling tomatoes and peaches (then peeling off the skin and throwing it away for good measure), not being allowed to swim in lakes and public pools, knowing kids who died or ended up confined in an iron lung for the rest of their lives. It's easy to dismiss statistics and say "only 727 people died of the common cold," or "36,000 is just a tiny fraction of the total population - most people recover just fine" but if you're one of the ones who doesn't survive it - or a close family member of one of its victims - it's still horrible and unacceptable.

But is it worth panicking? No.

Taking reasonable precautions? Absolutely. Know how to prevent swine flu and talk to your kids about good hygiene, not sharing drinks, not touching their faces, and minimizing physical contact. Stay positive and optimistic, particularly when talking to your kids. Remember that most people who catch the flu do survive and recover fairly quickly, but the misery of being sick, not to mention the personal and community cost of lost school time, lost work and wages, and lost productivity, is enough to warrant avoidance. Know when to seek emergency care for the flu, but avoid being around other sick people - in doctors' offices, emergency rooms, crowded places - if you don't need to be there. That's just common sense.

If you use Twitter or other social media outlets, avoid falling victim to hype and misinformation. For example, no, you cannot get the flu from eating pork. On the other hand, if there were less demand for bacon, there would be fewer pig farms...not a bad thing, in my opinion, having been downwind of a pig farm. But then we go back to that whole issue of real risk analysis and the economy, as well as the all-important question of "Would life be worth living if it weren't for bacon?"

To keep abreast of the latest serious flu news, follow these sources: @whonews, @CDCemergency, @CDCflu

BCC: It's Not Just for Sneaky People

Anyone else annoyed by people who "Reply All" to tell everyone to stop using "Reply All"? Or using "Reply All" to every group email saying, "Please take me off your email list"? That could be avoided altogether by the savvy sender. Next time you send that chain mail, Internet hoax, or important group correspondence, try entering all those addresses in the "BCC:" field. I know that "blind copying" seems rude and sneaky, but it does serve a more polite purpose when sending mass missives: It protects multiple recipients' privacy. They may all know you, but some might prefer not to get intimately acquainted with everyone else on your mailing list.

That said, using BCC: on private, personal correspondence is still creepy, and using it inappropriately at work quickly erodes trust among team members. So use it wisely, but please use it on those mass mailings.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chic Gamine

It's obvious that my friend, Karen, has caught onto my musical tastes. She practically forced me to listen to this CD she picked up at the Houston International Festival, this "Chic Gamine," and before we got to lunch, I was hooked - and jealous that she got to see them perform in person. Look them up on MySpace, too - it's almost worth it to hear better recordings of some of their top songs. Be sure to listen to "Butterfly Woman" and "I Don't Lie."

Learn Something New Every Day (April 29, 2009)

How to: Get Twitter Tweets on Your Cell Phone

I didn't sign up for mobile Twittering for a long, long time. I wanted to be sure my "unlimited messaging plan" really was "unlimited" before risking a breach of that particular floodgate. I wanted to be sure I understood how to turn it off again. I needn't have worried; configuring Twitter to send messages to my mobile phone was easier than I'd expected it to be. And it didn't automatically send messages from everyone I follow - just the ones I selected to follow on the cell phone. I could limit it to direct messages only, and I could set a quiet, "do not disturb" period during which I would receive, but not be notified of, new messages.

I thought I was the last person to jump on the bandwagon, but judging from my blog's keyword tracker, apparently not. For those of you who landed here wondering "how to set some one on cell phone to follow on twitter," here's how:

1. Log on to your account at http://twitter.com

2. Click Settings.

twitter-bar

3. Click the Devices tab. Enter your cell phone number (starting with "+" and your country code, and leaving off the leading "0" if necessary).

twitter-devices-tab-001

4. Check the box next to "It's okay for Twitter to send txt messages to my phone. Standard rates apply." Twitter doesn't charge for this, but your cellular service provider may. If you're on a pay-as-you-go plan, don't allow text messages from anyone whose tweets aren't worth $0.20 a pop to you. Click Save.

twitter-devices-verify

5. From your cell phone, you will need to send a confirmation (a unique code, sent by Twitter, as shown above in green). You must send this message back to Twitter in order to verify that you can receive and send messages. Twitter will send one back to you: "Twitter has verified your device and sms alerts are enabled. Std msg charges apply. Send 'off' to silence or 'stop' to quit. Send 'help' for more." Nothing you do from your cell phone changes who you are following and whether you will receive their updates on your phone. For that, you will need to configure settings on the Web at http://twitter.com for each individual.

twitter-devices-tab-configure

6. From the Devices tab, you can now turn sms messaging on, off, or choose to receive only direct messages (DM's). With Device updates On or set to receive Direct Messages, you will receive all Direct Messages from people you follow, regardless of the general sms settings you've chosen for them.

twitter-device-updates

7. Next, choose the times during which you do not want to be disturbed. My cell phone buzzes each time a new text message is received. I don't want to be awakened at 2 AM because someone I follow tweeted. To set up your quiet period, click the box next to "Turn off updates during these hours." Click the drop-down arrow next to each box and choose start and end times.

twitter-device-snooze

twitter-device-snooze-002

8. Now, for each person you follow whose updates you want to see on your cell phone, first go to the individual's Twitter home page (click @name next to one of their tweets, or click their avatar). The screen should look like this:

twitter-follow

9. Click Device updates OFF. The yellow area shown above will expand to show additional options:

twitter-device-updates-on

10. Below Device updates, click On. You will begin to receive this user's updates on your cell phone. To turn off this user's updates, you must come back to this page and click Off. Turning updates Off from your cell phone is only temporary, and does not change the options you've selected here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Winning Recipe

Ingredients

  • Graham cracker crumbs
  • Butter
  • Brownie mix (usually needs 2 eggs, 1/2 cup oil, 1/4 cup water added)
  • Mini-marshmallows
  • Semi-sweet chocolate morsels

do-brownie-smores

do-parchmentLine the Dutch oven with a parchment paper Dutch Oven Liner (I found these at Wal-Mart) or foil, to make clean-up easier. Otherwise, grease oven well with butter.

Mix graham cracker crumbs and softened butter and press into bottom of Dutch oven to form a crust. Reserve some of the graham crackers for a topping.

Put all brownie mix ingredients into a large Zip-Loc freezer bag, remove most of the air, seal, and gently knead for several minutes to mix well. Pour over graham cracker crust, cover with lid, and place over hot coals. (I used a 10" Dutch oven with seven coals on the bottom and twelve on the lid.)

Every fifteen minutes, rotate the lid clockwise 1/4 turn. Then lift the entire oven and rotate it over the coals counter-clockwise 1/4 turn. Check after 30 minutes.

When brownie appears to be mostly cooked, top with mini-marshmallows, a sprinkling of semisweet morsels, and a dusting of graham crackers. Replace lid and add three or four briquettes, if necessary. Check after 5-10 minutes; when marshmallows are golden brown, dessert is done.

Enjoy! (And I think I'll spare you the nutrition info on this one.)

Swine Flu: How Panic Spreads


CREDIT: http://xkcd.com/574/

Learn Something New Every Day: Vocabulary Quiz

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine Flu: How Disease Travels

Here's an interesting map of the current outbreak of Influenza that originated in Mexico and has now traveled to the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. There are suspected cases in Europe and Israel, all linked to recent travel to Mexico. There are confirmed cases across the U.S., most recently in New York and Ohio.

According CBS News, the new virus "contains human virus, avian virus from North America and pig viruses from North America, Europe and Asia." It's rare to see such a mix of genetic material from such widely spread geographic areas. Scientists are still unsure how the disease is spreading; normally, swine flu involves direct human contact with infected pigs, and doesn't easily spread from person to person. However, this outbreak seems to involve people who have had no contact with pigs, and little or no contact with each other.

Of further concern is the large number of deaths in Mexico that are being attributed to this virus, although no deaths - so far - have occurred outside of Mexico. One theory is that the normally vulnerable groups - infants, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems - have had their seasonal flu vaccines, giving them a limited protection against this outbreak, or at least lessening the severity of symptoms.

Blog Comments: Conversation or Junk Mail?

The answer depends, entirely, on you.

My grandmother used to say, "You have to write letters to get letters." And while letter-writing isn't a dead art quite yet, it is quickly being replaced by IM, email, and blogs.

Does anyone just spill their words onto paper, pay postage, and not hope for a response?

Even junk mailers hope someone might glance at the postcard and make an impulse buy before tossing it in the trash. They've figured out the odds and the cost of doing business; it's a coldly calculated exchange, and not deep enough to be called a relationship. It's more like a one-night stand.

Retailers and service providers have always known the importance of building a relationship with customers, in order to gain loyalty and repeat business. While they don't expect lengthy correspondence in exchange for their sale flyers and coupons, they're a bit disappointed when you toss them in the trash and don't stop by frequently - or at least pop in for a quick hello on every major holiday. They like to know what you're thinking. In fact, they can be somewhat needy, willing to spend inordinate sums of money getting others to ask, "Why haven't you come to see us lately?" Like insecure and dysfunctional family members, they're often willing to bribe you to visit.

If you've been hanging out with the truly dysfunctional side of the family - the retailers and service providers - too long, you may have forgotten the niceties of polite conversation, or how to start one. Friends and family expect a genuine, somewhat meaningful relationship that is as complex and subtly nuanced as Aunt Carolyn's nine-layer bean dip. The only bribe they offer is their ears - or eyes - and the occasional pot roast or a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Everyone likes to be heard, and these are the only folks who give a fig about what you have to say. If you occasionally disgrace yourself, you're automatically forgiven - they're willing to blame it on Aunt C's bean dip. Note, though, that unlike the junk mailers and retailers - unlike the folks who service your AC unit or your plumbing - these folks usually treat conversation like a tennis match. "Ball's in your court!" they say, expecting you to lob it back.

It's the same with blogs. Most are written by real people - even the biggest corporate blog has real people behind it. Friends and family really do want a conversation with you. Take a minute to chat when you drop by their online "home," and they'll usually do the same for you. Refill your coffee and pull up a comfy chair - it might lead to a meaningful conversation. Even the "professional bloggers" usually welcome some exchange of ideas (hint: they often use it as fodder for future posts, so your silence can leave them reeling and your offhand comments may just end up in some widely read and highly acclaimed article). Sploggers and spammers, the "junk mailers" of the online world? They can be good for entertainment, but never feel obligated to respond. Unlike most blogs, these can be written by a small script while the nefarious mastermind sleeps. They're usually programmed not to answer back.

But What Should I Say?

"What kind of comments do you want?"

Remember the Golden Rule? "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." What kind of comments or response would YOU want?

Spontaneous comments - the kind inspired by something you've read - are always welcome. If they take the conversation off on a tangent, that's okay. If you're new to my blog, please introduce yourself! If you have a blog, and your thoughts evolve into a post there instead of a comment on mine, that's okay - just leave me an invitation and directions to your place.

Sometimes, people post comments that make you wonder if they're the sort of people who listen with half an ear, waiting for a nanosecond of silence in which to blurt out something that was on their mind two hours ago. Friends can get by with that, sometimes, but when I see that on my blog from someone I don't recognize, I have to assume they're junk mailers masquerading as real people.

Can I Leave a Link of My Own?

Of course. Leave me a meaningful comment, take two seconds to engage in a little entertaining chit-chat, and you get a line of free advertising or the right to leave breadcrumbs back to your personal blog. The only links I'm likely to delete are these:

  • Comments or links to sites that promote illegal activities, hate, or bigotry;
  • Links to "adult" (as in "M for mature") sites;
  • Links to splogs, "get rich quick" schemes, irresponsible (dangerous) products, etc.;
  • Links to sites that don't allow links in comments (c'mon, now, it's a two-way street!);
  • Comments that contain nothing BUT links to other sites;
  • Comments that look like they were left by a automated script ("bot");
  • Comments in languages other than English (unless I can read them and be sure they're appropriate).

So please, grab a coffee and pull up a chair...

Swine Flu: Do We Need to Worry?

What is Swine Flu?

Swine influenza is a common respiratory disease in pigs, most often occurring during the fall and winter; however, most types of swine flu do not kill many pigs or infect humans.

Influenza viruses change constantly. Pigs can be infected by swine, avian, or human flu viruses. When different types of viruses infect pigs, the viruses can trade genes to create new viruses that are a mix of swine, avian, or human influenza viruses. Rarely, these viruses jump to humans, causing outbreaks of a new type of flu for which no vaccine is yet available.

Beginning in mid-March, Mexican health officials noted a steady rise in Influenza-Like Illness (ILI). The number of cases as of April 23 exceeded 854, with 59 deaths. Laboratory tests conducted in Canada confirmed that 18 of these were Swine Influenza A/H1N1, with 12 cases being genetically identical to the 7 confirmed cases in California. Two cases have been confirmed in Texas and two more in Kansas, as of April 25, 2009.

I've Had the Flu, and It's Awful - But How Do I Know if it's an Emergency?

According to the CDC, the emergency warning signs for children that indicate a need for urgent medical attention include:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting

Why is this Flu Outbreak Worrying Health Officials?

There are cases of human illness associated with an animal influenza virus.

The majority of these cases have occurred in otherwise healthy young adults. Infants and the elderly, the age groups normally hit hardest by influenza, have not been as heavily affected.

The geographical spread of multiple community outbreaks is of concern.

The Swine Influenza A/H1N1 viruses characterized in this outbreak have not been previously detected in pigs or humans, and appear to be fairly resistant to antiviral drugs. They show some sensitivity to oseltamivir and zanamivir, but not to amantadine or rimantadine.

What Can I Do to Stay Healthy?

Stay away from pigs and sick people.

Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth - this is how many germs are spread.

Wash your hands frequently; use soap and water or alcohol-based hand cleaners.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Be sure to throw the tissue out in the trash can or flush it down the toilet!

If you get sick with the flu or flu-like symptoms, do everyone a favor and stay home from work or school. Government officials in Mexico have closed schools and other public facilities to help prevent further spread of this disease, and World Health Organization officials have declared this "a public health emergency of international concern," so don't be a martyr and drag yourself to work where you might spread it to all your coworkers.

Call your doctor, but avoid crowded waiting rooms if possible and consider wearing a face mask to the doctor's office (or hospital) if you must go, in order to prevent the spread of germs to or from you.

Antiviral drugs work best if you start taking them within two days of becoming sick, so if you think you have the flu, don't delay - call your doctor.

Where Can I Learn More?

For more information, refer to the following sites:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

World Health Organization (WHO)