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.