Sunday, October 3, 2010

Bed Bug Travel Tips

Bed bugs are still in the news. Almost daily, I've spotted one scary article after another on major news sites and blogs. Terrifyingly, the creepy subject matter seems to be resonating across the globe- by people who are either infested by bed bugs, or scared to death that they soon will be!

Bed bugs are natural hitchhikers and aside from banning DDT, one of the reasons they have endured is their natural inclination to move and scatter and hitch a ride. This is built into their nasty, insect DNA, and they see you, and all fellow travelers, as their ticket to survival land!

I'd like to share some travel tips that can significantly reduce your chances of bringing home these unwanted guests. Yes, some of these are extreme and not all hoteliers and motel chains are going to appreciate the requests. It's up to you how ardent (or annoying) you want to be and how proactive  about prevention you wish to become.

Bed bugs are not class conscious!! A clean hotel one day, can become a breeding ground the next. It only takes one pregnant female to cause a serious problem for you down the the road.

Here is what you should consider when selecting a hotel:
  •  Visit  travel review sites like Trip Advisor to see if the hotel you are considering has had any complaints.
  • Ask the hotel if they change the bedspreads (and blankets) upon check out. Not all do! If they don't, ask them to either give you a new one or remove it. (I prefer they remove it from the room then I don't have to deal with it.)
    • Hotel bedspreads  and furnishings are commonly in dark patterns, making insect activity hard to spot
    • You have no idea what previous activity has occurred on the bedspreads. (If I see a bedspread the first thing I do is roll it up and put it away).
  • Ask that your mattress be steamed before check-in.Not every hotel, motel, B&B or Inn is going to offer this service, but there is no harm in asking!
  • Ask if they are using a bed skirt or dust ruffle. Conscientious hotels are removing these decorative bedding features because they provide additional hiding places for bed bugs. It may not look pretty, but if your bed is missing a skirt, your hotel is taking the extra step it needs to prevent the bed bug from spreading. Thank them for their efforts!
Steps you need to take:
  • Before packing your luggage, lightly dust with diatomacecous earth. See my earlier blog for more details.
  • Place all items in sealed plastic bags with a zipper seal, or use a product like Space Bags, or some of the inexpensive food storage containers. The bags, however, provide more flexibility.
        • Everything goes in a sealed container
        • Everything gets put back in a sealed container
      • Do not place your luggage on the bed or on the floor. Use a luggage rack, open up the ironing board if provided and use it, or ask the hotel for additional luggage racks.
      • Bring a hand steamer. These are about the size of a hair dryer and can be picked up in most drug stores or wherever As Seen On TV merchandise is sold. They usually run under $30. I don't travel without one! When you get into your hotel, steam any gaps around the headboard, wall art, night stand, etc.. Most hotels affix their art and furniture to the wall or floor- but there are still gaps where insects can hide in and behind. A jet of steam should force any live insects out in the open. Steam will also kill insects on contact. If you don't see any, you are safe! Try not to steam off the wallpaper however. A few short bursts should suffice!
        • You could also steam the area in between the box spring and mattress and the flooring around the bed.
      • Steam any chairs, sofas, sofa beds etc. Again, darker upholstery makes it hard to spot a problem. Bed bugs like to hide in folds, and near the base of any upholstery cording. Steaming will reveal a problem...and it also sanitizes the furnishings. It will also kill other unwanted pests, lice, etc.
      • Make certain that dirty laundry is kept in a sealed bag. Not a trash bag or a bag with a draw string. There must be a complete, 100 percent seal.
        When you return from your trip:
        • If you can, set your luggage outside in a driveway, balcony, back yard deck, etc. before bringing into the house. Remove the contents of your luggage (remember, they are still in sealed bags) and steam the inside and outside of your luggage. Allow to air dry.
        • The contents inside the sealed bags or containers should have kept your belongings safe. Inspect before bringing in. Wash laundry in the hottest setting possible. Dry on the hottest setting possible.
        • Report any bed bug activity to your hotel immediately, and also contribute helpful reports on travel review sites.
        Remember- bed bugs don't just hide in beds. They lurk wherever people hang out, sit, rest, read, etc. They are tiny and fast and the baby instars are practically invisible. They are known to hide in clock radios, tableside books, etc. If you act under the assumption that you have brought back an unwanted traveler, and act accordingly, your diligent efforts will pay the dividend of a bed bug free home!

        Sunday, May 16, 2010

        Don't use a debit card when dining out!

        This Saturday, my husband got an e-mail from American Express, warning him of a fraud alert. It was a personalized e-mail, but fearing a phishing scam, he went to a trusted bookmark where he monitors our AMEX account (and my shopping habits!) and sure enough, in big red letters, was the announcement of a fraud alert. Someone attempted to buy an Apple iPhone and other smaller purchases using his account number. AMEX denied the purchase because the card numbers were keyed in manually.

        In addition to American Express, we alternately use our Visa or MasterCard or a debit card which works directly from our checking account.

        How did our AMEX number get loose? We carefully retraced our purchasing steps. We use AMEX exclusively for online purchases. We use our debit card at grocery stores or places where there is point of service swipes. Our credit cards rarely leave our possession.  Except when we dine out.

        The week before last, we did just that. My husband and I enjoyed a meal at a well-known eatery in Rehoboth and a nice, young waitress, likely a college student, took our AMEX card to process our bill.  She was not a foreign student.

        We can't accuse the eatery or the waitress. The breach could have occurred with any employee who has access to account numbers. But it got us thinking- the only time credit cards usually leave our possession is when I don't feel like cooking- which is a lot.

        In those few seconds, a part-time, seasonal employee could run a paper and pencil impression, or easier still, take a quick image of our card with a cell phone. The person doing this may not be interested in using our card for purchases. Instead they can earn a few quick bucks selling a valid number to outside parties that do.

        Fortunately, AMEX and other banks have excellent fraud and security departments. They sniffed the fraud out before it could even occur, and had it occurred, we would not have been held responsible.

        But if we had used our debit card, cash funds could have been removed from our checking or savings account. Eventually, our bank would make good on it - most banks do- but it could be days or weeks before you regain access to your funds.

        What can you do?

        1. Do not use debit cards in restaurants. If that is where the funds are coming from, you are better off getting the cash from an ATM. If you can't use cash, at least use a credit card that offers 24-hour customer service and has a good reputation for customer protection and fraud detection.

        2. Ask every restaurant manager you patronize to consider using customer point of service swipes. Convey your concern, and let them know you have been a victim of similar fraud in the past. The more an establishment's management hears these requests, the more likely they will consider changing their payment processing policies.

        3. Know your financial institution's policies on fraud. What, if anything are you liable for? How long does it take to get a replacement card? How quickly will stolen money be put back in your account?

        4. Notify an establishment if you feel there is a security leak. You can't accuse if you don't have proof, but you can share your suspicion and concern. For all you know, they may have had similar complaints which will tip them off to a serious staffing problem. Be polite, but share the information with management.

        5. Notify your financial institutions ahead of time if you are traveling. Many banks have profiles, algorithms, etc. based on prior purchasing habits.  If they start seeing out of state or country activity, or an uptick in shopping patterns, they may question or block your purchases, which can be embarrassing.

        6. Check your credit reports regularly. Annual Credit Report is the ONLY legitimate and free without any catch or additional fee service.

        7. Be observant where and how you give out credit card information. Can you be overheard? Is the credit card leaving your possession? Make sure online sites are secure- look for https in the url (the added s indicates the site is secure).

        Concerned about joining Facebook? Do so worry-free by following four simple steps!

        Facebook has gotten a lot of bad press lately, and deservedly so. The chief criticism of Facebook is that it continually adds new features and automatically enrolls its members to accept them. Members find out about the changes through friends' warnings and blog and news reports.  Facebook members have to navigate what has been aptly called a "labyrinth" or maze of privacy settings to "opt out" and prevent their data, opinions or comments from being shared all over the Internet.

        The blogosphere switchboards have been lighting up like August fireflies about Facebook. Simply Google "Facebook privacy concerns" and you will get all the background and prudent education you will need on the subject.

        That being said, Facebook can be fun and safe if used wisely. There is one sure fire way to assure your Internet privacy and still use Facebook. Don't tell them who you really are!  Follow these steps when opening up a Facebook, or any Internet account, for that matter:

        1. Adopt an Internet pen-name. Writers, artists and musicians do it all the time! This can be similar to your own name, especially if you want friends to find you. But change a letter, alter the spelling, or better still, use a "handle" or pseudonym. The Beatles were famous for this when they would play on friends' albums and wanted to do so to avoid contractual obligations. George Harrison became Hari Georgeson, George O'Hara, etc. So pick an Internet name and be consistent - stick with it.

        2.  Create a new Date of Birth. Why on earth would you ever give out your real DOB to strangers on the Internet? There is just no excuse for this practice! Unless it is for legitimate, secure-site functions (https) like banking, filing local tax returns, etc., do not share your real DOB. Especially for social networking purposes! My gosh are you nuts? Facebook asks for your DOB and other information so that it can target ads to your particular demographic. I have an Internet birthday that I use all the time - anytime I am queried about it on the Web.  I am not interested in defrauding anyone. I don't advocate making oneself 10 years older or younger. Keep it close to the real thing,  but not the real thing, okay?  Just because Facebook asks doesn't mean they have to know and then share the real deal about your life! Believe me, they are not going to be checking what you provide against your state's bureau of vital statistics. Facebook is not the IRS- though they are probably reporting to it - or will be soon! Ha! Ooooh! Hmmm?

        3. Be smart about secret questions and answers. Pick an incongruous phrase: "tomato popcorn" for instance, and use that phrase as your answer to ANY secret question you are prompted with when you open any Internet account. What was your first phone number? "tomato popcorn." What was your first car? "tomato popcorn." What is your pet's name? "tomato popcorn."  Get the idea?  The answers are text fields. You can put anything in them. Pick a phrase you will remember and use it for everything. It doesn't have to (and shouldn't by design) make any sense!! Make it something that no one could guess or associate you with- note "incongruous."  People are sharing the whazoo-out of their lives- their pictures, pets, vacations, family members- openly online. It wouldn't take a hacker very long to figure out the important keywords of your life - and try and guess your secret question to get access to your password. So muck it up a bit- be smart-and come up with an utterly ridiculous phrase as your answer to Internet secret life.

        While you are at it, make sure your bank has your new secret answer. Think about it- when we write checks we are giving out our account number and bank. We share our real birthday and location of birth on Facebook- getting one's social security number is not that difficult today. Anybody could call up, pose as a forgetful you, get a new password to your online banking if they know your mother's maiden name. See the importance of the secret question and answer?

        4. Create an anonymous e-mail and link that e-mail to your social networking sites. I like  because it is quick and easy and anonymous. Creating a new e-mail is very simple. Do not give out legitimate information. If you live in Newark, NJ, say you live in Princeton, NJ. Do not provide a verifying e-mail.  They ask but you don't have to provide one. Use your alter-ego Internet name and DOB. Pick a user name that is nothing like your real name. If your name is Wally Smith in real life, your e-mail should be something like:  THAT is the e-mail you give to Facebook when opening up an account!! is one of many very good free e-mail services. Gmail is another.

        Okay, so you've opened up your Facebook account with your alternate name, e-mail and DOB. Now you don't have to be quite as careful when you share your likes and dislikes, where you work, how you believe, who you are related to and who you are sleeping with. If you are compelled to share this information- if your friends simply must know these facts about you, then at least it is not connected to the real you when Facebook shares it with the world because you forgot to uncheck some box. But the real reasons those questions are there is so that Facebook can target advertisements to you. Informing your friends of your favorite books and movies is a purely secondary benefit. Facebook is hoping that you are like most people- that you love talking about your favorite subject - you! In fact, they are banking on it- literally.

        Because I work for a higher ed institution, and have a degree, and shared that on my profile, I get ads like this.
        And please check your settings! It is indeed a labyrinth. Selecting "just friends" is not good enough. If your friends are playing games or are Application-happy (quizzes, polls, Farmville, various cosa nostra themed games)- then your data is linked to their use or misuse of privacy or good Internet judgment. Can you depend on them to walk through the privacy labyrinth and do the right thing? There are a lot of useful guides in the blogosphere and IT-friendly sites on exactly where you need check and look into regarding Facebook's privacy and sharing policies. Believe me, on Facebook it is pages deep and maze-like. All of Facebook's privacy settings are not neatly placed under "privacy settings." You must look on every tab of every section to adequately protect yourself.

        I use Facebook for keeping in touch with my friends. I have family all over the continent. Thanks to Facebook, I have caught up with cousins and second cousins, shared the joy of new births, virtually traveled with friends to far off places, etc.  For me, the biggest Facebook benefit is photo sharing. But I have taken the time to review my settings- and therefore can enjoy Facebook safely and privately. You can too!

        Sunday, April 11, 2010

        May I mention the meme?

        One of the more entertaining aspects of the Internet is watching trends exponentially explode, videos going viral, and how photographs can be exploited by creative people using imaging software like Photoshop, or the free, open-sourced software, GIMP.

        For Internet aficionados, geeks, amateur Photoshoppers and pranksters, there is a new site that categories these "memes" and provides the history behind each phenomenon -  a database of examples of the trend that have been used, popularity statistics, and in most cases, how you can jump on the bandwagon and play in these Internet reindeer games. Checkout Know your meme.

        For example in 2004, someone created this image (below) to illustrate their interpretation of the differences between the Europe and the U.S.A.

        Then people start to jump on the bandwagon:

        Europe and America even have their own version of actor Hugh Laurie:
        There are oodles of examples for each meme. And Know Your Meme database often gives you the template or what they call an "exploitable," to keep adding to the pile of oodles with your own creative prowess:

        So if you want to know how a crazy phrase on the Internet got started, are Bonsai cats for real?, and how many YouTube versions exist of people trying to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon, Know Your Meme database will provide the answer of how it all came to be, and loads of laughter as you make your way through the entertaining (sometimes gross, funny, mean, politically incorrect) examples.

        Saturday, April 10, 2010

        Spokeo- how does your online profile look?

        One of my Facebook friends recently posted some concern about a new online phone book, Spokeo dot com, a new-fangled version of the online directory, designed not only to provide your name, address and telephone number, but an aggregate of everything that is known about you on the Internet. A Spokeo profile will list photographs of you, where you can be found on social networks etc. It also does something else, it purports to collect valuable information about your life habits, interests, credit history, your mortgage and age. For a small fee, it will elaborate further. All of this information obtained by public records and what you choose to share about yourself on the Internet.It also adds to the mix public demographic information based on ZIP Code profiles and other various sources.

        Well, I just had to search myself to see what all this concern was about. It was oddly disturbing to see my life unfold before me. Because I practice safe Internet usage, use non-specific user names, keep my Facebook settings private, and engage in deliberate privacy behaviors, there wasn't too much divulged that isn't already available publicly. Sharing with the world that I like to read and garden is not earth-shaking information. In fact it's downright generic stuff. It did make me older than my husband, probably because I never put my real DOB on any online documents. So yes, because I am wiser, I end up being older! So be it!

        Spokeo knows I own cats, like Rock and Roll music, and I am apparently a fat lush! Hey, I could use to lose a few...but my profile is chocked full of wine, food, and cooking. Gourmet cooking at that. Tell that to my husband who gets a frozen pizza delivered to him twice a week and the closest thing to French cuisine we eat comes in a Stouffer's red box!

        My Spokeo profile over emphasized my lust for food and wine!  Really, I have other hobbies!

        I did buy a Julia Child cookbook once at a yard sale several years ago that collects did Spokeo find out about that???

        I was surprised to find out that I am a sports enthusiast- if watching one week of October baseball counts, then yes I am. I apparently like to stroll, as opposed to walking, or running, I am now identified to the world as a "stroller." Oddly, I am defined as both being interested and disinterested in politics. I am an avid politico...but I guess when I am preparing fabulous gourmet dishes, I set politics aside so I can concentrate. One has to follow Julia's recipes carefully!


        Spokeo knew we had an elderly parent living at home with us who moved in, in early 2007, but who passed away in late 2008, so the information got fed fairly recently, but was not updated. It is kind of weird to share with the world, albeit semi-accurately, who you are living with. Sadly, today my husband and I are both adult orphans. It's just us and the cats now. I wonder how long it will take Spokeo to catch on.
        Thanks to Spokeo, my life is flashing before me in all its virtual splendor!

        The really interesting stuff was the financial portrait. There is a big dial showing my credit level. Having recently checked my credit report- (something everyone can do free once a year), I know this dial is wrong!
        Suffice to say I was disturbed that it appeared below average. Clicking the hyperlink "See available information" directs one to a pay for information page, which I was not prepared to do. So just for the heck of it, I searched the names of people I knew had both great and terrible credit. The dial appeared the same for each, so this is not a live-accurate image, but an indication of services offered. The low tilting level, I think is there to cleverly and deliberately alarm most people and prompt them to pay to see, "what the hell happened to my credit?!"

        I was also very surprised to learn I lived in a million dollar home (oh how I wish this were true!) but it was not known if this million dollar baby had central heat or air conditioning. While earlier it listed both my husband, myself and my mother-in-law in residence, this portion of the report adds a fourth, undisclosed person, and my million dollar home appears to be a Victorian (sadly, also not true.) On the other hand, maybe I will start getting the Restoration Hardware catalog in the mail.

        According to Skopeo, I live in a Million Dollar Victorian circa 1900

        A little information is a dangerous thing. Half-truths do not paint an accurate portrait. What can you do to keep your life from being disclosed in such a manner?
        • Make sure your social networking sites are optimized for privacy.
        • If you post on blogs, forums, newsgroups, comment on news stories, etc. use an alias or non-revealing user name.
        • Create a free email account with a generic name to use for shopping, posting and most Internet activity.
          • Keep emails associated with your real name PRIVATE. Use a secondary email for Internet activities
        • Resist signing on to other sites via Facebook and Twitter. This is a way your Internet activities can be aggregated. I use Facebook and Twitter, but I post links to them independently and I do not sign on to them via a quick connect on another site.
        • Don't give anyone your real date of birth. Why? Why? Why? Unless it is the IRS, or a legitimate government entity or personal is no one's business what your DOB is. I have a separate Internet DOB I use, very close to my real one, and that is the one I give out in every case when "they" just have to know!
        • Be careful of online surveys, polls, and those questionnaires that come with warranty cards, or when you enter contests. Data information is a commodity. They are not asking you about yourself because they are curious- they are selling the information.If you simply must fill those things out, go ahead, get creative- you are entitled to fantasy life right? Share that one, not your real one!
        • Realize that those discount grocery store cards and key tags collect data about you. When you fill out the supermarket form to get the discount card, I bet you gave them your real name, phone number, email etc. Why?  They are collecting information about your shopping habits and they are building a profile of you and selling it. In turn, they thank you by giving you a price break. That is a fair trade. Just be aware it is happening.
        • According to Snopes, activating Spokeo's privacy measures are dubious at best, Snopes likens it to "Whack-a-mole" and they have little faith that requesting privacy has any effect at all, So in so many words, once it's out there, it is out there. The only thing you can control is what or what does not go  "out" henceforth.
        • Whenever you do enter information online, (and there are legitimate instances to do so like HGTV's Dream House Giveaway) please read the Web site's privacy policy carefully. They will disclose whether they are selling all or parts of your information to other sources. You must then weigh if those disclosures are worth entering personal information online.
        In this information age, who we are is important. We are living, breathing, "strolling" data bank creatures full of information that others want to mine and profit from. Some of us work hard to build our life, our history, our credit, and our reputation, and whether you mind sharing it or not is a personal choice- but all of us need to know that it is being collected behind the scenes-that it is being shared on a much wider scale than ever before- and most importantly how and why.

        I have half a mind to create a whole new life for myself via surveys, customer response cards, and contests. I wonder how long it will take for the changes to appear in Spokeo profile? I think I will give myself a raise, bump up my education level, shave off a few years, and award myself a nice career title. My new, virtual home will be someplace ritzy, perhaps Ponte Vedra, Florida, ZIP Code 32082-that should get me into the 2-4 million dollar home range. I'll get rid of the cats, and get lots of big dogs, and engage in extreme hobbies. Might as well create an exciting life, right? Stay tuned. My Spokeo profile is about to get interesting!

        Saturday, April 3, 2010

        Diatomaceous Earth-a bed bug's worst nightmare

        Diatomaceous Earth, or DE, is a bed bug's worst nightmare, and if you are unfortunate to have been infested by these nasty creatures, DE will become a treasured friend.

        A few years ago, when my husband and I both were both Certified Pesticide Operators (CPO) or  "exterminators," we had a good friend contact us, panicked as all get out, over an infestation of bed bugs in their home. This was a nice home, a clean home, located in a resort area of Delaware. After calling a nationally known exterminator and having them come out twice, they were still plagued by the bed bugs. (They didn't call us initially because they were "embarrassed.")

        The Plague is a good analogy for bed bugs. They are extremely difficult to get rid of and they multiply quickly. If you want them out of your house for good, you must employ bio-secure measures- just like you see on TV disaster movies-to eradicate them from your home. It is more time consuming than expensive. Be ready to commit!

        The key here- think sectioning off- think sealing off-think bio-securely. Think cross-contamination!

        The source of our friend's bed bugs could have been anywhere. The couple had a son going to college who lived in a house with "lots of guys" and the son came home frequently to visit his parents (translation: do laundry and pick up some life sustaining donations from mom and dad.) Our friends also traveled a great deal and in the summer, loved to have guests stay for weekends. Any of those scenarios could have brought them an onslaught of these:
        Courtesy of Wikipedia

        In case you haven't heard, bed bugs are making an energetic comeback across the globe.They are not class conscious. They have been found in luxurious five-star hotels. Quick moving and natural hitchhikers, it only takes one pregnant female to infest a dwelling. Yes dwelling. Bed bugs are not restricted to just beds. No one likes pesticide exposure, but the changes in pesticide laws, anti-pesticide feelings and practice have created an environment where bed bugs have re-emerged and thrived.

        In addition to their speed and natural scattering impulse, bed bugs can live without feeding for a very long time. Accounts vary, but my research shows bed bugs can stay alive in isolation for well over a year and a half!

        Our friends also panicked. The wife eeked and screamed. She ordered her husband to get the mattress out of the house pronto! He did as commanded. He and his son carried the nasty mattresses though the house, setting them down a couple times to get their bearing before getting them outside. Bed bugs were exiting at the rest stop. Our friends unwittingly spread the bed bugs into their living room and the kitchen and hallway.

        Chemical pesticide application by a licensed CPO is advised for initial knock down of large numbers, but even with repeated applications, pesticides will not eradicate the problem.

        Before sharing how DE works and how to apply it- chances are, if you are reading this, you have already discovered bed bugs and likely panicked as a result. Here are some VERY IMPORTANT things you should and shouldn't do:
        • True or not (and probably true) YOU MUST ASSUME THAT SOME BED BUGS HAVE LEFT THE SCENE OF THE CRIME AND ARE HIDING ELSEWHERE!  Yes, it's big and bold and red for a reason. Please heed this advice or you will be dealing with bed bugs for a long, long time.
        • DO NOT move furniture out of the infested room!  The idea here is to create a bio-secure lockdown of the infested room.If you haul your mattress through the house in  a panicked frenzy to get rid of it, bed bugs will be dropping off and fleeing to other parts of the house. You will turn a localized problem into a multi-room infestation. If you have already done this, the application suggestions below must be applied to the entire house.
        • Spray the perimeters of the infected room with a pesticide labeled for bed bugs. This would be the stage you call a CPO in. Ask for a CPO who has bed bug experience. This is huge! You don't want a kid coming in, working at his first job as an exterminator. If you hate pesticides more than bed bugs, you do have alternatives I share toward the end of this, (sorry but necessary) very long blog.
        • If you call in a CPO, it is not the time for bargain hunting. Interview the CPO business. How experienced are they with bed bugs? This is not a spray and leave type of deal. If that is all they are going to do, then you are wasting your money.
        • The inside and outside of all bedroom furniture must be sprayed. Turn nightstands upside down. 
        • This is a good time to finally organize that sock drawer! The contents of the room needs to be CAREFULLY cleared out, sealed off and sequestered. This is soooo important!
        • Slowly take down all wall art. Bed bugs tend to travel UP! We have found many a bed bug behind a picture frame or work of art- are there grooves in the framing? Yes they can be hiding in there.
        • Go to the grocery store and clear the shelves of the largest zipper seal bags you can find. Gallon size or larger. Put everything you own in these bags. Books, tissue boxes, alarm clock, CDs, everything goes in the bags.  Everything!! Empty your drawers and bureaus. Space Bags and similar products are ideal.
        • Severe heat and cold will kill bed bugs. Slowly remove linens and pillows and place them in bags and carry them to your laundry room. Do not plop your laundry in laundry baskets. Remove laundry from bags and immediately wash them in hot cycles and dry on high heat setting. If you cannot wash pillows, tumble them for a half hour on the hottest dry setting.

        • Freezing will kill bed bugs. Put books, etc. wrapped in bags in the freezer and leave them in there for several days. If you have very large thick books, put a couple of sheets of aluminum foil between pages to help conduct the cold to the center. Bed bugs do hide in books, especially the young ones.
        • Nothing leaves the room unless it is sealed off. Take what you seal off outside the house, like a driveway or lawn to inspect items in the bags. If you can live without the item, leave it in the bag- possibly for a whole year. I have read accounts of people putting their items in storage tubs and taking them to a storage pod or center and leaving them for a year or longer. Yes, it is that serious.
        • Go to your local big box store and get two zippered allergy mattress covers. You will be covering your mattress and box spring with a total envelope that zippers shut.  Have your CPO spray your mattress. There are pesticides labeled for mattresses. If you do this yourself, make sure the label is suitable for furniture and for bed bugs. Seal the mattress with the enveloped mattress cover. Put a piece of duct tape over the zipper head, in the event it loosens and moves down to let bed bugs out.
        Nobody likes to be exposed to pesticides, but those labeled for bed bugs and home use are very useful for initial knock down. If you are totally adverse to pesticide use in any circumstances, using DE and steam will work, but not as quickly.

        Now for the real solution. How to get rid of  bed bugs once and for all!
        • Vacuum the infected area extremely well. Remove vacuum bag and replace. Seal old vacuum bag before throwing away. Remember, you might have vacuumed live ones but you didn't kill them. They can escape the vacuum cleaner!
        • If you have a hand steamer, now is a good time to steam crevices, furniture, baseboards and anywhere a tiny bug can hide. If you don't have a steamer, rent one or buy one!
        DE such as this are readily available on the Internet and in most hardware'home improvement stores. I recommend a 5 lb bag- one pound bag shown.
        • Purchase a 5 lb bag of Diatomaceous Earth (Wikipedia link for general description of DE). DE is a totally organic substance, made from the crushed shells of microscopic water creatures known as diatoms. A 5-lb bag of FOOD GRADE DE should run anywhere from $25-$35. There are numerous online stores that sell DE.  DE is also the main ingredient in pool filters, but this is not the grade you want. You must get FOOD GRADE.
          • NOTE: Organic doesn't mean you don't have to be careful. DE is microscopically sharp. It is silica based. Therefore, over exposure could damage your eyes, and if inhaled, your lungs. Wear goggles and a dust mask when applying.
          • DE is not harmful to pets. Food grade is as it means- people buy DE to put in animal feed because of the deworming quality of the diatom shells. DE also will kill fleas and other insects that come in contact with it.
        • Find a soft plastic bottle to apply the dust. It is important that the surface have a consistent light application. No clumps. An inexpensive squeeze bottle will do.

          • To humans, DE feels and looks like baking flour- but to bed bugs, and any insect pest for that matter, crawling across a lightly powdered surface of DE feels and acts like razor blades. The shell flour cuts their exoskeletons, causing them to die from dessication (drying out).
          • DE will not provide an instant knockdown. After applying, you will still see bed bugs for a short while. If they crawl across a field of DE, they will die. This will also kill any other insect. They cannot survive an encounter with DE.
          Apply the DE everywhere!   The important thing here is to poof the DE over surfaces- it should not land as clumps, but fine dust. 
          • Dust around all baseboards, in between mattresses, all around beds, behind switch plate covers, etc. If you are doing other areas of the house, DE can go in between furniture cushions, under seating, atop kitchen cabinets, dust bookshelves, all baseboards, moldings, floor thresholds, transition strips, outlet and switch plate covers. Our friends even puffed some light dust over their electronic equipment.
          • Sequestering items that may have been exposed to bed bugs is very important. If you have a quilt that you can't wash or immediately dry clean, take your quilt out to the lawn, dust it with DE and put it in a Space Bag. Compress if desired. Store quilt in a freezer, or keep in the Space Bag for a year and a half.
          Resign yourself to live in a dusty room or home. DE dust is your friend. Keep it down  and around as long as possible. This means your home will look like you have never dusted or cleaned. If you are having friends over and you must clean, then do so, but reapply the dust after they leave. Overnight guests during this period is not a good idea. If you vacuum, you must reapply.

          For the returning college student, insist they keep their luggage outside the home, or at least until they can remove the contents of their luggage or duffle bag and get them into a dryer for a hot 30-minute spin. If you are lucky enough to have a chest freezer, bag the clothes and put them in a freezer overnight if you can't put them in the dryer.

          Hand steamers are also excellent for those who have rattan or wicker furniture. Wicker and rattan provide numerous nooks and crannies to hide and protect bed bugs. Steaming helps drive them out, and at 130 degrees, kills on contact without chemicals.
          Steamers such as this are available at most home improvement centers and retailers like Usually under $30.

          In fact, those who subscribe to a totally 100 percent organic lifestyle should use steam and DE in tandem. Steam first, let dry, apply DE. Repeat as necessary.

          Sites and advice devoted to bed bugs will tell you that one of the worst things you can do is sleep in another room. This is true. It is quite unnerving to stay in a room you know has creepy crawly activity in it- but bed bugs can quickly detect the human body and move toward it. If you do not wish to cross contaminate a room, sleep in the problem room. If you must move to another room, use bio-secure behavior and measures.

          Our friends reported that within days of applying DE, bed bug activity dropped noticeably. Within a month, they reported little activity and three months later, no activity at all. We advised them to change their laundry regularly, refresh their pillows with a spinning in the dryer regularly just to be safe. It has now been over two years, and they report zero bed bug activity.

          When traveling, use sealed bags to protect your clothing and items in your suitcase. Keep your suitcase off the bed and use a luggage rack if provided. Lift up the mattress from the box spring to see if there are any signs of congregation near the mattress seams.  Remove the bedspread from the bed. I had an airline employee tell me horrible stories about hotel bedspreads (they aren't usually changed after each guest) and who knows what was happening on the bedspread before you got there - so even if bed bugs aren't suspected, hanging out on the bedspread is NOT a good idea! See my article on travel tips to prevent bed bugs.

          For those who arrive from overseas, questionable student housing, or if you are hosting guests who are frequent travelers, you need to be judicious. You can't insult your guests upfront, but when they leave, linens should be immediately changed,and pillows should be run through a 30-minute high heat cycle in the dryer.Puff a fine layer of DE in between the mattress and the box spring and your home will remain or be, bed bug free!

          Be very careful accepting used furniture. College students are very susceptible to this. It's hard to turn away a good looking sofa sitting out on a curb, but one should be very wary. I have friends in NYC who tell me that bed bugs are such a concern, nobody takes discarded furniture that is set out anymore. With good reason!

          Another good resource is your Cooperative Extension office. Almost every county in the U.S. has an Extension office, usually affiliated with a local land grant university's college of agriculture. Suspected insects can be brought in for identification. Cooperative Extension Web sites have fact sheets on all insects, and have entomologists on hand who contribute to the researched based information that Extension makes available to the public.  If you are searching about bed bugs on the Internet, look for a url that ends in .edu as a trustworthy source.

          Disclaimer: I am no longer a practicing CPO, nor an expert on bed bugs, but after treating many houses the traditional way, I have found Diatomaceous Earth to be a very effective and worthy opponent to the bed bug scourge. Do your homework and research. There is very valuable (and frightening) information out there in the blogosphere that is worth heeding. There are many sites that tout the effectiveness of DE, and my experiences concur with their conclusions.

          Saturday, March 27, 2010

          America's Immigration Woes- Nothing New!

          "Get out of here, you low life, you scum!"
          "Go back to the country you came from."
          Go away, America doesn't want you."
          "America is for Americans!"

          Hey. Who's doing all the shouting? Who are they targeting? Mexicans? Guatemalans? While that kind of rhetoric is felt and wielded quite often in America today, it is nothing new. It's been going on for nearly two centuries now, and one of the earliest targets of anti-discrimination backlash were the Irish.

          As a fourth generation Irish American, that kind of reaction, well, seems foreign. Generations away from those kinds of taunts, it's a little hard to believe that my ancestors were greeted so coldly, and reviled so heartily. Compounding the heritage problem was the Irish's Catholic faith. The Irish were seen as a quickly multiplying scourge in America - a new form of fast breeding locust.

          But it's true, and characters like Bill the Butcher in Martin Scoreses's 2002 film Gangs of New York, nativist sentiment ran high and virulent against the Irish. You were only an American if you were born here,the nativists argued, nevermind that that privilege was a direct result of some brave souls fleeing an oppressive Europe in a boat generations before. Apparently, only the first generation of ships docking in harbors counted for anything.

          In mid-19th century, the Irish immigrants were the lowest of the low. If the Irish had any use at all to society, it was servitude. A fascinating account of America's immigration history can be found in the 1992 book Low Life- Lures and Snares of New York, by Luc Sante. Sante describes the horrific conditions of tenement life in New York City. I was surprised to read how hated the Irish were when they reached New York's harbors. The Irish weren't alone, almost every immigrant group has had their turn at being the latest low life. This is brutally honest portrait of NYC, politics and the history of immigration that is only glossed over in history text books. Often suggested reading along with the Gangs of New York, by Herbert Asbury, unless you are an indigenous Native American, there is likely something in this book about your family's history..

          Each May in New York City, Sante writes, families would move en masse, to a new and hopefully better tenement lodgings, incrementally inching their way up from the bottom rungs to decent housing and respect as Manhattan and its boroughs grew. The move would make room for the new wave of immigrants and low lifes. If one could survive New York City long enough, one might get lucky enough to occupy a building with shared plumbing, wasn't a fire trap, or live a private enough existence so as to not be put on display, like zoo animals, for New York City society who toured the tenements ostensibly for philanthropic reasons, but really only came to gloat and gawk and take souvenir photographs.

          The Irish were considered animals. Fast breeding base creatures under the complete influence and control of a Roman Pope. Noted illustrator Thomas Nast, a German Catholic-turned-Protestant immigrant who came to America at the age of six, and considered to be the father of the political cartoon, repeatedly depicted the Irish as monkeys - sub humans with simian features.

          Nast's problem with the Irish, was their growing multitude - and their usefulness as voters to a corrupt city manager known as Boss Tweed. Tweed a Scottish Presbyterian, was no fan of the Irish, but he saw political value in their numbers and often sided with the Irish's demands for public funding of their Catholic schools. Causes like that outraged Nast and many others. His cartoons in  Harper's Weekly were eagerly awaited with each new issue and strongly influenced public opinion.

          In one of his most famous cartoons, The American River Ganges, Sept. 30, 1871, the Catholic bishops are depicted as ravenous crocodiles, scrambling to the shore to gobble up innocent American children. A Protestant preacher valiantly tries to defend the children from the slithering papal onslaught. Nast drew the bishops mitres as salivating jaws eager to clamp down and feed upon a WASP America. At top center, U.S. public schools can be seen crumbling due to the fact that Tweed diverted public funds to a Roman Catholic institution seen thriving in the distance. In a revision of the cartoon, Nast added Tweed safely perched atop the cliff looking on as his Tammany Ring of corrupt cohorts sent down innocent children for feeding. No, they are not rescuing them!

          Nast's cartoons are credited for causing the eventual undoing of Boss Tweed, but the Irish would persevere beyond Nast's pen and ink. Slowly but surely, the Hibernian menace assimilated and moved up the social ladder, most notably through politics and law enforcement, though never quite as high a level as Protestants. Some vestiges of Irish prejudice remain today. The term "shanty Irish" is still bandied about and the alcoholic stereotype persists, though mostly through humor or in celebration surrounding St. Patrick's Day. But by and large, those of us with Irish-American heritage are far removed from the unwelcoming catcalls - blissfully unaware of how difficult it was for our ancestors to gain acceptance as Americans. It is important we do not forget our history and the journey endured to become American. It is important because that history is being repeated.

          Today, the Irish today have cleared the ladder to the platform of acceptance - the lowest rungs since filled by other cultures, who like the Irish before them, follow in historic footsteps in an arduous effort to call America home. Some things are different today- immigrants escape for different reasons and from different regions now, and seldom dock at harbor by ship. But if you listen to the immigration rhetoric today, it's clear some things, sadly, haven't changed a bit.

          Sunday, March 14, 2010

          Textbook Tyranny in Texas!

          "If we are so timorous of ourselves, and so suspicious of all men, as to fear each book and the shaking of every leaf ...if some who but of late were little better than silenced from preaching shall come now to silence us from reading, except what they please, it cannot be guessed at what is intended by some but a second tyranny over learning." ~John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644

          Conservative factions of Texas' Board of Education recently announced a revamping of its textbook policy, mandating that content delivered to school children reflect the conservative values possessed by a majority of Texans, with an emphasis on Judea-Christian principles championed by our nation's founding fathers.

          Well, some of them. Thomas Jefferson's enlightened thoughts, musings and questions, which arose from his profound curiosity, would be eradicated from Texas' textbooks and students would not be permitted to appreciate that there was great debate in the beginning and aftermath of forming our nation's identity. The founding fathers represented a diverse group of men, who constantly re-evaluated their thoughts, tested their principles and endeavored to consider equal, all forms of religion, freedom of speech and exchange of new ideas.

          John Milton was before their time, and never set foot in America. But he was a revolutionary. The famous English poet and essayist of the 17th century, and practicing Puritan, was no stranger to censorship and thought control. He lived in angry and revolutionary times. Decades after kicking out the Catholic Church, Protestant England sought to control all publications through its chief agency of censorship, the Stationer's Company.

          If Milton were today's Texan, how would he react to this news? Would he be for the Texas textbook decision? In very simplistic terms,one might think so - the Puritans were the Renaissance version of the Tea Party movement. They were against big government, were suspicious of the liberal arts, and preferred to live plain and wholesome lives, practice their faith, and have direct participation in their governance. They viewed the English monarchy as excessively hierarchical, and the state religion, the protestant Anglican Church of England, as corrupt and full of needless pageantry. If Milton were a Texan, one might assume he'd be the Matt Drudge of his day, blogging furiously to advocate the return of the state to the people.  Well, think again!

          Today, Milton is remembered as the poet who wrote the great Epic poem, Paradise Lost. Few realize, most of Milton's early notoriety and written work was issued in the form of self-published pamphlets-the 17th century's version of the modern blog. He lambasted what he observed to be crooked governmental excess. He wrote about controversial topics, religion, and revolution, and during the reign of Charles I, did so anonymously for fear of serious (execution) retribution. He was difficult to shut up. To look at him in the few austere images of him that exist, in his plain Puritan-like garb, one might assume he was a virulent ideologue, an at all cost  champion who mixed up the political Kool-Aid of the day and served it convincingly.

          But as ardent as Milton was with his personal religious beliefs, he did not preach, advocate, or practice intolerance. As Milton ventured into written communication he was horrified to find that getting anything published in England required state/church approval. He was disturbed when fellow Puritans, when they assumed control after the regicide of Charles I, tried to control society in a similar fashion.

          The act to control printed material and censor heretical ideas was, in itself, heresy to Milton. Staunchly protestant, Milton nevertheless devoured everything he could get his hands on - all tenets, all history,all points of view. Fluent in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Italian and English, Milton committed to memory original texts not tainted by the slant of dubious translators. He appreciated the old with the new, weighing the classical lessons with modern literature and opinion.  He read everything! More importantly, he wasn't afraid to yield to his unquenching curiosity by reading everything!

          Any position Milton eventually adopted was proclaimed after a full investigation and solid course of academic study of all sides in debate. By doing so, when Milton would argue his point, he did so convincingly, with facts at his disposal. Few could match his wit and method. Those who vehemently disagreed with him still tipped their hat in respect for the manner in which he presented his positions.

          Ideas other than his own - those materials that the ruling power regarded as controversial, subversive or heretical, fueled his curiosity and bolstered his credibility during civic debate. As the Puritan movement gained momentum, eventually causing England's most enduring revolution and regicide of King Charles I, Milton was initially encouraged by a new day when intellectual freedom would reign instead of kings. The commonwealth, led by Cromwell, would finally serve the people!

          Reality did not play out as Milton might have hoped. When the Puritans gained power, absolute power corrupted absolutely.  Censorship began anew and the Puritan leadership was as intolerant as the Anglicans they had replaced. The Puritans shut down theaters, were suspect of most entertainment and freedom of expression, and imposed their culture and way of life on the entire population. One evil was replaced by another. One extreme replaced another - and rational thought in the middle had few defenders.

          Milton detested the micro management of expression. A physically demure man who was going blind, he treasured every form of written word and understood the power packed in language. Milton's personal faith was so resolute - he did not feel threatened by the beliefs of others.  He argued passionately and reasonably for the inclusion and availability of all thought, even heretical opinion, for the "whole people."

          His message to censors: What are you so afraid of? If you live your life by your standards, if you are true to your tenets, why should you be worried about those who think differently? Shouldn't your faith provide ultimate protection from heresy?

          Milton's famous essay, Areopagitica, still taught in law schools today, is a freedom of speech masterpiece. His reasoning is well-positioned and warrants a modern audience. Milton writes that censorship ultimately has the opposite effect in a society- that suppression of creative thinking and expression breeds rebellion, and removes the ability to choose freely.

          "A man may be a heretic in the truth, and if he believe things only because his pastor says so, or the Assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy," Milton wrote.

          Censorship, he continues in Areopagitica, "hinders and retards the importation of our richest merchandise, truth."It is the greatest discouragement and affront that can be offered to learning."

          Milton argues that if societies wish not to be comprised of "backwater scholars" then citizens need to hear all sides of debate and thought. If not to agree with other points of view, then at least be familiar with them, and be able to talk intelligently about them.

          Part of learning and expanding one's mind (and I would argue, to be intellectually competitive), is "to be still searching what we know not by what we know," but what is still out there to be discovered. Milton recognized the need, and encouraged his readers, to move forward to the "light which we have gained was given us, not to be ever staring on, but by it to discover onward things."

          In his epic poetry, Milton expanded on characters familiar to all Christians. Adam, Eve, God, Christ, and Satan.With his extraordinary and well-fed imagination, Milton created complex and multi-layered protagonists and antagonists.These characters have intrigued scholars and students for four centuries. The reason Milton is still read, studied and admired today, is because he included real life conflicts and ideas into his stories and plot lines. Milton could write about evil because he studied it. Christ's rejection of Satan's temptations in Paradise Regained, is all the more compelling when Satan is explained and understood. If your faith is above reproach, then nothing ought to threaten it.

          On the face of things, 10-gallon hat notwithstanding, Milton could have been a Texas kind of guy. And while he might agree with Texas' endeavors to maintain a wholesome, conservative, back to basics lifestyle, he would likely decry the Texas method of trying to get there.  Milton would view their Board of Education as yet another institution using censorship to further a singular educational, cultural or theological agenda.

          There was no place for censorship in Milton's world. The vast reservoir of philosophies filled Milton's mind with incredible visions and passages - ideas swirled inside his brain and illuminated his vision, so that when his eyes finally did fail him, this plain and simple revolutionary, was able to compose his masterpiece in total blindness. He had access to every point of view. He worked diametrically opposing philosophies into his drama. Milton drank no one's Kool-Aid!  He grew his own tree of knowledge, with many branches, rooted in in the soil of objectivity and fertilized by study. That tree fed his brilliance, his angst, and cemented his expertise and enduring respect. Letting it all in for consideration never damaged him, except perhaps to his eyes.

          But with physical sight removed, Milton continued to see and appreciate the spectra of voices that brought enlightenment. He did not fear the exploration of diverse thought nor the exchange of ideas. He advocated the seeking of not one singular truth, but of finding light in the common truth of many.

          Saturday, March 13, 2010

          Dooooooooooo! Okay...all right!

          For all you Beatle fans out there, allow me to introduce you to "The Amazing Stevie Riks." Riks is a multi-instrumental, multi-vocal, and multi-identity performer who obviously studies his subjects and presents them with great affection and tongue in cheek humor. Riks hails from Chester, UK, not to far from Liverpool, and has reached across the big pond through YouTube, where he reigns over devoted fans, Beatlemaniacs, and almost anyone who has been touched by the Sixties' first British Invasion. In the parlance of the Brits, he is "very cheeky!" Riks records all of his videos at home, and records all the background music you hear in accompaniment. With an oft-used split screen trick, you get  Rik's inside look into the most famous songwriting duo of the 20th century.

          He does a kickin' Lennon and McCartney, and the only person I know who can replicate Harrison's thick, Liverpool scouser accent with uncanny accuracy. He nails Harrison's subtle expressions and smirks- the only one I know who can!

          Unlike tribute bands and Beatlemania events that seem to mindlessly parrot Beatle tunes and Beatle stereotypes, Riks actually puts a lot of thought into his work and gives us something more-something original to the presentation-his exceptional talent as a musician and singer is blended with careful examination and deep, deep affection of his subjects. They are the qualities, cultural and musical, that aficionados immediately appreciate, and which provides Riks with a solid, and growing fan base.Riks' impersonations may be filmed inexpensively- but they are never cheap. The short, small screen vignettes are rich in detail and authenticity that fans recognize.  He is very funny too! Those of us who grew up with the Beatles, lived for their videos (they called them film clips back then) that they randomly released to the world. Now two of them are gone. But thanks to Riks, they live again through two to three minute clips of humor and good music. It's good to see them back again!

          The Fabs are not the only musical celebrities in Riks' repertoire- (He does an absolutely AMAZING David Bowie too- Just listen to his rendition of Life on Mars.) Fans of the Bee Gees, Queen, Rolling Stones and Oasis, and countless others will find something to delight them. For me, it was the Teach Yourself series for John, Paul, George and Ringo, that first led me to discover Riks on YouTube...and now, well, I can't dust the house, or pull up weeds, without "dooooooing!"

          Unusually accessible to his fans, Riks takes suggestions and requests and in addition to YouTube, can be found sharing his wares freely on Facebook and Twitter. Everything, from drafting his wife to play sidekicks (like Yoko) to his adoring passion for his dogs, gives a good indication that Riks is a genuinely nice guy, whose talent and well-deserved recognition, hasn't gone to his head. No one that silly could ever be stuffy! It's doubtful one could ever hope for a personal, return e-mail from Paul McCartney, but with Riks, you just might get the next best thing, and it's a pretty great replacement at that!

          Give yourself a bit of a treat Luv, and become a fan or subscribe to the very talented Mr. Stevie Riks!

          Pulse pens are a godsend, but privacy an issue?

          I am one of those people who can't decipher her own handwriting, so when I saw a colleague using Livescribe's Pulse Smartpen- I just had to have one. I got it last week and it appears to live up to the hype. For students and journalists,of which I am both, the digital voice recorder is a godsend. The Pulse Smartpen does more than write and record- it synchronizes what you write to what is being heard, and the two combined can be uploaded to a PDF and shared with individuals free of charge without additional software on Livescribe's community page. has some great video demos of the pen in action.

          But I do see one or two drawbacks in the academic community regarding privacy. If students upload their notes to Livescribe's sharing site, do the people who are being (unwittingly) recorded (classmates and instructors) need to be notified that you are recording them and sharing their lectures, class participation and private asides with others?  Imagine yourself a student in a classroom. Your teacher or professor is being difficult. You lean over to your Pulse pen-owning classmate and utter, "so and so is a real A-hole." or "this assignment is boring, stupid..." or maybe you are sharing non- academic revelries from the night before "man did I get s-faced last night." Not that students would ever say such things to their friends (wink), but if they did, would you want that blasted for all your other classmates, and possibly a wider audience to hear?

          Professors need to be concerned too. Students with digital pens can record voice, lecture, and intellectual property and share their notes and audio with others. We've all seen what YouTube does with 30-second gaffes, what happens when off-color remarks are made? What is going to happen with jokes and when clever college wit is taken out of context and made public?

          Instructors at the high school and college level should consider a digital pen policy in their course syllabuses. One option to consider would allow students to record and post to fellow students on the roster, but the Pulse owner cannot share with non-students. Pulse owners should also openly disclose to their class that they are recording. In fact, instructors would be wise to simply ask on the first day of class, "Who here has a digital pen?"  All notes should be cleared from the upload site once the course is completed. Should professors be added or invited to the shared site so they can examine how their intellectual property is being managed?

          For me, the device will help during interviews, when quoting someone accurately is paramount. Digital storage allows you to go back to your notes at any time for complete retrieval and accuracy, or if someone were to challenge that you got the quote all wrong,, the Pulse Smartpen has your back!

          Pulse pen owners can also upload multi-language dictionaries.This is wonderful in business and for travel. But in a Spanish class discussion, a digital scribbler can write a word in English receive instant translations with just the tap of the stylus. If that student is shooting up his or her hand with the right answer every that fair? Is that student really learning?

          The pen works with specially embedded digital paper so exam fraud is not an issue. On any other paper, the Pulse is just a thick pen.  Pulse Smartpens do not have to record voice either. The pen will continually scan as you write, allowing the notes to be uploaded without sound.

          I can't be certain, but I don't think that when University of Delaware's journalism professor Dr. Ben Yagoda, wrote his best selling writing guide, The Sound on the Page, he had digital pens in mind!

          Toe tags with a larger purpose!

          Okay, the cover got me. I needed something to read for the beach a couple of years ago, and romance novels not being my thing, grabbed Stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers on a lark. Yes the subject is rather macabre, but Mary Roach presents various essays, and tales of how the human body is used post-mortem, with irreverent, but not ill-placed humor. It opens with an array of human heads in supermarket aluminum lasagna pans! (I will leave that there- you will have to read to find out more). It's oddly comforting to know our bodies can be useful after death, rather than taking up square footage as another embalmed unit of coffin-enclosed landfill. Nevertheless, I was a little shocked by what I read - I had no idea there were so many options in the afterlife! As Roach opened each chapter with an innovative use of corpus de homo sapien, I tried to envision my body taking the place of  one of her featured cadavers. I can't say any of the scenarios appealed to me! I've loaned this book out so many times, I eventually lost my copy. Hope who ever has it, passes it on. This book will evoke a "oh my gosh, I had no idea" reaction!" Informative, entertaining, and most of all humbling.

          What is your mother's maiden name?

          Social networking sites are here to stay, and membership and participation in them is growing exponentially. I've jumped on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon, and I have to admit, the allure is very real, the draw to share bits of wisdom and engage in exercises of narcissism is very strong. For those who are so inclined, they provide a format, as do these blogs, to share a lot about oneself-and indeed, people are sharing more private, intimate details than ever before. What we don't realize is, we are opening ourselves up for a very real possibility of getting hacked- and being invaded by evil doers intent on stealing your identity.

          If you are like me, it is hard to keep track of all the blog, various e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and Internet passwords. I've heeded all the advice out there, and I have a strong alpha -numeric-symbolic- based password. Because I have a laptop, I have stopped the practice of letting my browsers store my passwords despite all their offers to save them for me. They must know my mind is leaking like a sieve. Sometimes I regret that - my mature and aging brain isn't good at retaining alpha-numeric-symbolic phrases. I've locked myself out of many a new account because I couldn't remember the password I created only days earlier.

          Ah, but there is an Internet savior! Thank goodness for that little "Forget your password?" link found at the bottom of most log-ins. They were made for people like me-and many of times they have bailed me out of a memory pickle. You have used them too, once or twice, I am sure!

          In most cases, clicking on the password reminder feature brings you to the secret question you created when you first opened your account.  Web-based services aren't the only ones who use this feature- I recall getting asked my secret question many times when I have had to call my bank to verify information or make a transaction. Think about write a check, you are passing out your routing number. What is to protect you?...your secret answer!
          The secret questions are usually offered in an array of drop down options, a tried and true one is the ubiquitous, "What is your mother's maiden name," which is ridiculously easy for a hacker to determine. Or "What is the name of your favorite pet?" and so on. Should you have a synapse relapse, all you need to do is  enter the answer and Voila! the secret question is there to rescue you.

          Now keep that in mind as we return for a minute to to social networks, in particular Facebook. Here we are, sharing our life away in status reports, news feeds, and that most indulgent feature of FB, the profile page, where we list who we are, what we like, where we live, what our birthdays are, who we are in a relationship with, how we vote, and who our friends are. You've set your privacy to "just friends" so you have nothing to worry about right?

          Those friends...those 1300 friends- do you really know who they are? Are these Mob War playmates or true and trusted friends? And it is not just your friends who are peeking into your privacy!

          Any application you allow in FB, grants the developer of that application access to your profile. The annoying snowball fights, the hearts, the candy, the flowers, the adorable kitten pictures, the quizzes, (what Rolling Stone song are you?) horoscopes, and your lucky day meter..all of them are written by third party developers with little or no oversight from Facebook. All my FB friends must think I am a snoot, because I never accept the invitation, though I do thank them for the thought via a wall post.

          I am not snooty- I'm smart. Anyone with the time and interest can gather a pretty reliable picture of who you are- enough to take a good stab at the secret answers. I hate to spoil all the Farmville fun, but you should stay away from Facebook applications!!!

          So here is what you should do. Create an incredibly incongruous phrase, e.g., "hot dog mamogram," and that phrase becomes the answer to any, ANY secret question. The phrase should not have anything to do with you, but it has to be something you will remember - something a hacker could not figure out. "Hot dog mamogram" would not be a logical answer for "Where did you spend your honeymoon?" so therefore it is a perfect answer for YOU to use. Some sites are now giving people the option of creating their own secret question- and that is good, but if you do select that option, please write a question that no one but you could answer or presume to even guess at.

          Another practice I endorse is creating your own Internet birthday date. For instance, if your real birthday is July 1, 1965 create a new date that is one day and year higher or lower than the real one...July 2, 1966, and use that across the board when you are queried for your date of birth. Why should that be anybody's business? Facebook does not verify your information with your state's Department of Vital Statistics, at least not yet! Facebook uses your DOB to target ads to your news feed, and it provides valuable demographic data to all the owners of business pages you have fanned.

          I have seen friends leave off the year, from their DOB. I guess they think that is a level of protection. But in the same profile, they will state the year they graduated from high school. Hmmm, you might as well just put up your DOB for everyone to see because you are not fooling anyone?  So, tweak that DOB just a little. I don't advocate putting up a false face. Making yourself 21 when you are 16, or shaving 10 years off to attract a romantic partner is dishonest. But a one day or year adjustment is a necessary little white lie and it is not going to shake up your virtual world- its purpose is meant to protect your privacy and identity. True, this technique goofs up all the Facebook well wishing a little bit- you will get your greetings a day late or early- but what is more important? a virtual slice of birthday cake or knowing your identity is protected?

          Friday, March 12, 2010

          Review: Game Change by John Heilemann, Mark Halperin

          I've always been fascinated with national politics. I have landed on both sides of the political aisle, worked on campaigns and received personal correspondence from a president! When I heard about the buzz that proceeded this book, I was eager to get my hands on it the first day it was published. Some have called it sheer gossip. Others have called it an insider's look at how modern campaigns really operate. I agree with the latter. Politics and politicians are presented to Americans through short sound bites, carefully managed interviews, and staging designed to offer focused group dependent points of view. But what really goes on behind the scenes? How do the players maneuver through their handlers, react to pressure and cave to or rise with public opinion?

          What surprised me most about the accounts in this book, the R's and the D's alike- is that rarely, does the public see who they really are. They are not politically correct behind the political stage curtain. They curse, they tell off-color jokes, they slip up, sell out, and do what ever is necessary to win.

          An almost audible switch flips when politicians step up to the podium or when the red record button signals "Action!" The change from private to public is demonstratively dramatic- and the revelations in this book are fascinating to read. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was! Our leaders are imperfect human beings. They talk, sigh, and get frustrated just like we do. If only we could see that side more often, it might be shocking, but it would be very real and like Game Change offers, a refreshing, raucous revelation.

          This is a fascinating and well-written account. No one, nor any side is spared from the authors' scrutiny and excellent old fashioned reporting.