Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shop healthy: Combatting the eight germiest places in the mall

Here's my contribution to your safe and healthy holiday season. 
Avoiding viruses and bacteria that cause colds, stomach bugs, and flu starts by arming yourself with knowledge. Stashing a few sanitizers helps too. During this hectic time of year, it pays to slow down and pay attention to a few small steps that can save you a lot of recovery time.

CNN Health ran a story on the "8 germiest places in the mall." Below are the highlights:
  1. Restroom sinks - The filthiest area in the restroom is the bathroom sink. Stay aware of the type of soap dispensers (are they refillable?) and wash your hands thoroughly. Use a paper towel to turn off the water and open the door. If any of these things are not available, follow up with at least a tablespoon of alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  2. Food court tables - Stash a pack of hard-surface disinfecting wipes so that you can clean the table before you sit down.
  3. Escalator handrails - Avoid touching handrails. If you absolutely have to, follow with hand sanitizer.
  4. ATM keypads - Knuckle ATM buttons to avoid getting germs on your fingertips, where they are more likely to transfer to your nose and mouth, and follow with hand sanitizer.
  5. Toy stores - If you make a purchase, wipe down any toy not in a sealed package with soap and water, alcohol, or vinegar before giving it to your child. Also, use your hand sanitizer after touching things in the toy isle; that goes for your child too.
  6. Fitting rooms - The clothes you try on are the germ culprit here. When trying on clothes, always wear full-coverage underwear and bandage cuts or scrapes before trying on clothes. Be sure to wash new clothes before you wear them.
  7. Gadget shops - Avoid transferring germs from the people who tested the new smartphone before you by quickly wiping it down with a disinfecting wipe. Once again, use a hand sanitizer when you're done.
  8. Makeup samples - Avoid public makeup samples. Ask for a single-use unit. If that's not available, use a tissue to wipe off the sample and then apply the product to the back of your hand. Even better, buy the product before you try. Returning is more hassle but also a lot safer.
I'll add my own tip: Shop online from the comfort and safety of your own computer. If you can't do that, or if you prefer the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping mall experience, take a deep breath, grab your sanitizer wipes and hand sanitizer, and enjoy. Above all, don't forget to slow down enough to enjoy quality time with your family; that's what the holidays are all about.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Add tea to your Thanksgiving: Green tea prevents flu in children

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm posting this first thing in the morning so that you can make a slight modification to your Thanksgiving menu. Consider adding green tea alongside your eggnog. If you don't like drinking green tea, there are plenty of recipes, like Green Tea Lime Pie or Green Tea Cake. It might seem a bit much to make a new recipe this late in your feast preparations, but think of all the available family sous chefs you could put to work.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, green tea can help fight the flu. I just came across information on another study: Green Tea Consumption Is Inversely Associated with the Incidence of Influenza Infection among Schoolchildren in a Tea Plantation Area of Japan. How's that for a catchy title?

This study explored whether school-age children (6-13 years old) who regularly drank green tea would have fewer cases of influenza. For four months, during flu season, 2,050 children participated in the study. Those who drank green tea approximately five times per week had significantly fewer cases of flu compared to those who drank almost no green tea. Those who drank the most green tea (about one cup per day) also had significantly fewer sick days.

Less time being sick is certainly a good thing, particularly around the holidays. I think I'll see if my son would like to join me in a cup of the decaf mango green tea that I have at home.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Have robotic bear pillow... will travel?

With Thanksgiving just two days away, many of you are packing to visit relatives. Do you pack your own pillow or wait to see what you find on the other end of your journey? I'm of the pack-your-own camp. There's no substitute for your own pillow when rest is on the line. (Extra geek points to whoever can name the reference.) If I could, I'd even pack my bed, but I don't think my king-sized, fabulously-comfortable monstrosity would fit into my duffle.

"Jukusui-kun" or "deep sleep"
This year I'm hosting instead of traveling, but I am still considering pillow options—for hubby.* This snoozing polar bear lays benignly spread-eagle on its back. But wake the bear at your own peril. A snore triggers arm movement designed to let the new Japanese pillowbot gently brush your cheek. The result? You stop snoring. Immediately. Even if it means you've bolted out of your bed as the bear's arm moves toward your face.

Called "Jukusui-kun" or "deep sleep" in Japanese, the robot is designed to help people sleep better by stopping chronic snorers and those who suffer from sleep apnea, which causes breathing difficulty by sleeping. Blood oxygen levels are measured by a bear-shaped fuzzy glove while a sensor placed below the sheets detects loud noises. There is also a microphone in the pillowbot to monitor snore decibel levels. Add a wireless terminal, pre-programmed with your vital stats, and you're good to go.

Watch the video below to see how it works:

Just one problem.... Jukusui-kun polar bear and accessories will probably require a suitcase all its own.

*My husband sent me the article. I didn't promise not to blog about it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Playing with Fire: Kindle Fire first impressions

I always did like playing with fire…. Now I have a whole new reason. My Kindle Fire arrived yesterday afternoon. I have only used it for a few hours, but so far it has been a whole lot of fun.

It's heeere!
(Pardon the cheesy iPhone snap.)
The Fire is a Kindle in name only, and I hope that prefacing the name with the word Kindle doesn’t confuse too many people. The Fire is not an e-reader. Yes, it can be used as such, but the experience of that aspect in no way lives up to the experience on an e-ink Kindle. Reading is workable for shorter time periods. I set the display to sepia, which helps, but I'm still mostly using the Fire for cookbooks and children’s books, where it’s a treat to see color pictures. I’ll leave the bulk of my reading for my Kindle Keyboard.

The form factor is nicely compact and simple—perhaps too simple, because I really miss having physical buttons for home and volume. On the plus side, I felt no strain from holding my Fire for extended periods.

This is my first Internet-capable device in quite a while without 3G, so I really feel the restriction. I hope future offerings include a 3G option. Meanwhile, I’m working on planning ahead a bit more. Part of my Fire playtime last night was devoted to downloading an eclectic collection of books, music, apps, and shows from the Amazon Cloud. The Cloud-focused device should at least help me keep my Fire tidy and uncluttered with unused files. On the negative side, the Fire’s performance was sluggish during media downloads.

The screen is very sensitive. At first it took a bit of adjustment to learn where to tap for certain things, such as pulling up a book from the carousel. The item would often scroll and snap back. After a couple of hours, I mostly get it right on the first go. Typing is requiring a similar adjustment. The space bar placement catches me out because it's slightly offset to the left. It’s one of those typing quirks that I never realized until now; I almost always hit the space bar with my right thumb.

I had a lot of fun exploring everything from books to video. I set up my email without any more trouble than it took to remember my password. My Words with Friends app took up where I left off on my iPhone—nice! Videos via Netflix and Amazon loaded well. I watched a bit of a few different movies and shows and later settled in for an entire episode. There was a slight pixilation a couple of times during the show, but mostly it looked great. The sound is definitely better with headphones.

Audio books work well. I was able to access my Audible account and download a book (The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery) that my hubby and I started listening to on the way to work this morning. Songs from the Amazon Cloud were there at a tap of the finger; I downloaded about 40 to my Fire. I purchased a couple of trial magazine subscriptions and was happy to see all the pictures available (National Geographic Magazine and Bon Appetit). I haven’t used the web browser much yet, but the couple of pages I looked at loaded quickly.

I still have a lot of exploring to do, but I would say that the Fire is a great first-generation device. Yes, there is room for improvement, but that will happen quickly. Meanwhile, those of us who are early adopters get a head start on the fun.

Deciding on the right case for my Kindle Fire is proving to be the hard part. (My Teal JAVOedge MiMo Flip Case for Amazon Kindle Keyboard is fabulous, so I hope that they come out with something for the Fire.) At the top of my wishlist is some kind of stand to prop up my Fire for hands-free use, and it would be even better if the stand could do both landscape and portrait. The stand could be integrated into the case, but it doesn't have to be. I also need the case/cover/skin to be protective (toddler in the house) and I would like it to be attractive. Bonus points if it's a fun color. If you have recommendations, please post them in the comments secton below.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Swabs for the Belly Button Biodiversity Project

On Friday I received a small, yellow envelope from the team at the Belly Button Biodiversity Project. A tube with culture swabs and associated paperwork were neatly packaged inside.

The instructions for How to Sample your Belly Button Biota include the following note: "Do not do anything out of the ordinary to your belly button before sampling (e.g. scrubbing, lint removal.)" Instructions noted and followed. My swabs, Informed Consent Form, and a small questionnaire are headed back in the mail today. I will post the results here when they are available.

Now to solve the mystery of what happened to the other two kits that I requested. I'd like to see how my microbiome correlates to the two people closest to me—my husband and son.

In other fun news.... I am impatiently awaiting the delivery of my Kindle Fire, which is scheduled to arrive today. I will post a review here after I have had a chance to use it for a week or so.

Friday, November 11, 2011

World's first simulation of complete H1N1 influenza virus

Happy 11/11/11 and happy Veteran's Day! Here's some food for thought, before you head off to whatever activities you have planned to celebrate the occasion.

Scientists in China have created the first computer simulation of the complete H1N1 influenza virus, down to the atomic level. This is a major break-through was announced just yesterday. Until now, studying viruses in the laboratory has been challenging because reactions occur too quickly to observe. 


Simulating billions of particles in the correct conditions was no small feat. The researchers, at the Institute of Process Engineering of Chinese Academy of Sciences, used over 2,200 Tesla GPUs to power the Mole-8.5 supercomputer.

I suspect that the technology will need fine-tuning, but the possibilities are exciting. Using the H1N1 simulation, and others like it, scientists will be able to perform new research—an important step in developing more effective ways to control epidemics and create anti-viral drugs.

With this kind of detail for a virus, I can imagine a future where computers will have enough processing power to create a realistic simulation of places and even people. Perhaps someday my son will visit a real holodeck.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Is Amazon's Kindle Owner's Lending Library a good thing?

In my last blog, I mentioned downloading a book from the Amazon Kindle Owner's Lending Library. This is a new feature offered to Amazon Prime members. Until today, I only knew how to access the Lending Library via my Kindle, but you can use the links above to reach the web version.

How does it work? Members of the Amazon Prime program who own a Kindle device can borrow up to one book per month from a select set of titles (currently 5,375). One book a month doesn't sound like much, particularly as someone who used to walk out of the library with a stack of six to eight books, but even my limited browsing of the available titles has shown a few that would have saved me (or those on my account) the purchase price.

This new option will let me try titles that I might not have purchased otherwise. My first borrow, The Nighttime Novelist, would have cost $10.79 as a Kindle edition. I tend to stick with ebooks that cost about the same as a paperback, if not less, so that's a price I'm usually not willing to pay.

The Amazon Kindle Owner's Lending Library has not been greeted with much love by the press. (Here's a example in the Wall Street Journal: "Amazon's Library Donation.") People are saying that it’s bad for investors, publishers, authors, agents, and Amazon. Predictions say that it will die by the end of the year.

Personally, I think that Amazon knows what it's doing. In the years (more than a dozen) that Amazon has been earning my loyalty, I have seen the company go from a small book seller to giant purveyor of nearly everything imaginable. They even make and sell their own line of reading devices, which now includes a multi-media platform in the Kindle Fire. As a bibliophile and writer, I can well imagine the excitement of personally making your dream device a reality.

As an author, I am glad that Amazon continues to return to its roots as a seller of books. I never considered indiependent publishing until I realized the opportunities given by book-lovers who are reading on their Kindles every day. Once I found an editor who could help me achieve the clean copy that is so important, I was sold. I would be glad to see Dormant gain additional exposure via Amazon's Lending Library.

Instead of going into more detail on the subject of the Kindle Owner's Lending Library and why it is a good thing, I'll leave you with this question.... What do you think? Is Amazon's continued expansion as a purveyor of electronic offerings good for you as a customer? What about those in other roles? If you wear more than one hat in the debate, please share!

For those who want more detail, I refer you to a fellow blogger who has one of the best in-depth discussions on the topic that I have seen thus far: Amazon’s Prime Lending Library has them in a tizzy…but it makes sense.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Does a Kindle get heavier when you add a book?

Since the arrival of my first Kindle in June 2008, I have reveled in how light and compact it is. Carrying around hundreds of books now weighs less than one of the books that used to accompany me everywhere. 

This week, I have been following a discussion on the Kindle weight debate, posted on a Discovery channel forum. Does my Kindle actually weigh more with my books loaded onto it than it did the day I removed it from its packaging?

When I download a book to my Kindle, the device is carrying more electrons than before. That means that, theoretically, my Kindle does get heavier as I add more information in the form of e-books. That said, the mass of an electron is quite negligable, though on a particle physics level this extra mass may be noteworthy and therefore calculable. However, the difference in weight would be so tiny as to not be measurable.

In other words, I didn't feel any difference in the weight of my Kindle after I added my newest e-book—The Nighttime Novelist, a writing-related read on loan via Amazon's new Kindle Owner's Lending Library.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Drinking water can help children lose weight

Son with Camelbak (9mo)
I try to make sure that my son always has a source of cold water available, just like I keep my own water supply handy. (He even has a CamelBak 0.4-Liter Kids Bottle, like Mommy's and Daddy's CamelBak 0.75-Liter Better Bottle.) Now I have an additional reason to continue the practice.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, Children who drink water demonstrated an increase of up to 25 percent in resting energy expenditure (REE). The study size was small (21 overweight, but otherwise healthy children) but the findings reinforce the concept that the increased water-induced REE could assist overweight children in weight loss or maintenance. The conclusion: adding a water-drinking emphasis to dietary guidelines could help fight the obesity epidemic.

Researchers were inspired by previous studies that "demonstrated that drinking water significantly elevates the resting energy expenditure (REE) in adults, and that low water intake is associated with obesity and lesser success in weight reduction." That's all I need to reinforce the benefits of drinking water in adults. I can use all the help I can get!