Friday, February 17, 2012
Look Before You Leap
Abstinence is the best policy with respect to saving money; but for most of us, when it comes to coffee, that's neither possible nor desirable. So before you take any drastic measures, simply track what you spend. Don't alter your buying habits; just spend a week chronicling your expenses. Though it may feel cumbersome at first, it can be illuminating to learn how, when, why and where you spend money.
You don't have to save all of your receipts, as there are so many apps to help you track your spending right on your phone as you make your purchase. One favorite is the Latte Factor, which helps you add up your total daily expenses and average spending over time. The app's calculator can generate your daily, weekly, and monthly average. Once you measure your averages, you can click on the Latte Factor's "see savings" button to see what you could be earning, albeit approximately, in one, five or ten years time if you invested that money instead of drinking it. It may help you look before you leap, or at least before you lap up another latte.
Test Your Taste
Expensive doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a better bean, or a tastier one. Starbucks (SBUX) is getting more expensive -- the company recently announced a price hike -- but New York Magazine food critic Adam Platt found that patronizing the Seattle-based chain might not be worth it: In a blind taste test, Platt discovered that Starbucks ranked last in termed of taste -- and it's 31 cents more per cup than Dunkin Donuts. Opting for Dunkin Donuts (DNKN) over Starbucks could save you almost $230 a year. But it's always possible to be penny wise and pound foolish. There are also hidden costs: For instance, investing in fair trade coffee will save you and the planet more money in the long run. Common sense can also result in saving cents.
Bring your own mug. You'll be kinder to the environment and waste fewer plastic, paper, or -- gasp! -- styrofoam cups. It might also prevent you from impulse buys at overpriced cafes. The same can be said for owning the other tools of the trade, like a coffee maker, to avoid the temptation to always go out.
If you're out and craving coffee, bringing your mug may also result in saving some money. Many mom-and-pop coffee shops, as well as chains like Starbucks, will deduct anywhere from a dollar to ten cents for sparing them an extra cup. If you did that 360 days out of the year, you would save -- you guessed it -- $36.
Always ask if your favorite mom-and-pop coffee shop offers a punch card for regular customers, or free refills or other deals. If you purchase whole bean or ground Starbucks coffee to brew at home, you can bring in your empty bag and receive a free small cup of joe. Some places offer rewards on your birthday. And it's not just major chains like Cosi that reward returning customers. Small, local coffee stores like Joyce Bakeshop in Brooklyn thank patrons for their routine business with a free coffee after a certain number of purchases. Other coffee shops, like The Mustard Seed Cafe in Los Angeles, offer free refills! When it comes to coffee, customer loyalty incentives abound.
Skim the Top
Why waste money on a lousy latte or questionably concocted cappuccino when you can save by buying a regular coffee and adding milk yourself? Another thing to remember is that iced coffee tends to be more expensive, so when you can get a hot coffee and an extra cup with ice, do. At Starbucks, you can order a tall coffee and a cup of ice for free and mix them. You'll save about forty cents a cup.
Coffee isn't the worst impulse buy, nor should it break the bank. Like all things that taste or feel good, you'll want to use moderation. It's easier to think straight after one or two cups of coffee, but the inverse can be true if you've had three or four.
Generally, a good shovel and a bag of rock salt will put you in a good place for snow preparation, but there's something else that can help, too. It's called Liquid Snow Shovel, a formula that you can easily apply to your sidewalks and driveway with an inexpensive pump sprayer. The liquid product will help keep your surfaces ice-free down to 25 degrees below zero.
How do the savings match up? Well, rock salt goes for about $20 per 25-pound bag. This will cover 500 square feet of asphalt. Meanwhile, that same $20 will buy you one gallon of Liquid Snow Shovel, which covers 1,000 square feet of asphalt. So, you'll be able to treat more ground for the same amount of money.
That's not the only benefit of this product. While shoveling removes snow, it also removes rock salt. Liquid Snow Shovel seeps into your driveway and actually helps you use less the next time you apply. Also, unlike rock salt, this special liquid formula won't corrode your driveway, and is both pet- and plant-friendly.
So, before the next snowfall, stock up on Liquid Snow Shovel instead of rock salt. It will melt the ice for the best price.
We've all grabbed a few squares from the bathroom roll in a pinch, but using toilet paper over tissues is actually a more cost-effective choice in the long run. On average, a box of tissues has 65 sheets and breaks down to about 2 cents per sheet. However, a roll of toilet paper has nearly four times as many sheets as a box of tissues and costs half as much.
Of course, you're not going to toss a roll of toilet paper to your guests when they have the sniffles. With a pair of scissors, an empty tissue box and a little bit of tape, you can refill your dispenser to look just like a store-bought version.
First, take a roll of toilet paper and cut down the length of the cardboard center with your scissors. Remove the tube. Take an empty square tissue box and cut three sides along the bottom. Pull the inner sheet through the top and tape the bottom shut. You'll have a great looking tissue box in minutes, and can count your savings with each and every pull. And that's nothing to sneeze at!
Convertible coats are essentially three pieces of outerwear, which you can layer and adjust according to the weather. Since this item can be used across several seasons, you're saving money by not having to buy multiple jackets.
A convertible jacket can be used as a winter coat, which generally costs around $80. For milder weather, you can wear the lining of the jacket as a lightweight fleece option. Then, when it's really coming down, the shell of a convertible jacket can be worn as a waterproof raincoat.
Purchased separately, these three items can add up to $200, but with the convertible coat option, you can get all three styles for $31 at stores like Walmart.
The coat shown in our Savings Experiment video is of the sportier variety, but if you're looking for an alternative to the casual look, designer brands often include convertible coats in their collections, as well. With multiple ways to wear the piece, you're still cashing in on savings, even if the price tag is a little higher than a sporty convertible coat.
Keep your eyes peeled on sites like Overstock or eBay to find amazing deals. Depending on the brand and season, you could nab a stylish winter coat that will take you through fall, winter and spring.
Publishing in the journal, Obesity, researchers from the Miriam Hospital's Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center and The Warren Alpert Medical School observed participants in Shape Up Rhode Island (SURI) -- a 12-week, statewide online weight loss competition in 2009 that was designed by Dr. Rajiv Kumar, a co-author of the study.
Participants joined as part of a team and then competed against other teams in three categories: weight loss, physical activity levels and pedometer steps (another measure of activity). In total, 3,330 state residents with body mass indexes of 31.2 or greater participated in groups of five to 11 people on a total of 987 teams. Researchers found that people experienced similar weight loss levels as their teammates. They also found that team members who said they were inspired by teammates lost more weight than those who didn't attribute influence to their team. Overall, those who lost a clinically significant amount of weight -- defined as five percent of their initial body weight or more -- were clustered on the same teams.
“We know that obesity can be socially contagious, but now we know that social networks play a significant role in weight loss as well, particularly team-based weight loss competitions,” lead author Tricia Leahey said in a statement. “In our study, weight loss clearly clustered within teams, which suggests that teammates influenced each other, perhaps by providing accountability, setting expectations of weight loss, and providing encouragement and support.”That finding wraps nicely into the mounting data that shows a connection between social networks and health behaviors -- particularly things like diet and exercise.
America has reached a threshold that will permit us to cross over and reach a state of higher health. We have more than enough proof that prevention should be based on positive lifestyle changes. Compliance remains a problem, with far too few people taking the good advice that surrounds us. We need to overcome the gap between what's good for us and how we actually live. Yet leaving compliance aside, the real breakthrough to higher health doesn't lie with prevention.
It lies with a conception of wellness that turns around long-held assumptions that must be challenged. These assumptions include the following:
• Drugs and surgery are the chief ways to combat illness.
• The mind-body connection is interesting but too fickle to rely upon.
• Unique treatment for unique diseases is an illusion; diseases follow a normal course in most people.
• The intelligence of the body is a speculative, marginal idea.
• The human body is a structure made up of many complex smaller structures.
• Disease and health are essentially materialistic.
• Spontaneous remissions and the placebo effect are curious phenomena, while "real" medicine is a numbers game.
All of these assumptions are hidden just beneath the surface in medical education, the attitudes of physicians, and the common public discourse about illness. They have been slow to change, yet for 30 years the possibility of a new set of assumptions has been expanding. What would wellness look like if we tossed out -- or at least challenged -- the standard accepted notions in this list? We would look on each person as the author of sickness and wellness. Every treatment would be tailored to the individual. The body's intelligence would be the first line of information about how sick or well a person is, long before serious symptoms arise. And arching over all these ideas, consciousness would be the control center for both mind and body.
I promised practical guidelines to higher health in this installment, but I needed to lay out these new goals first. If you don't know where you're heading, you will approach wellness in a haphazard, piecemeal, usually emotional way. Here we know that we want to become the authors of our own wellness. That's the biggest goal, the one that all practical matters must serve.
So the practical matters that make the most sense fall into two categories, things to do and things to avoid.
Things to do:
1. Practice prevention -- you already know what this means in terms of diet, exercise, and not smoking.
2. Keep in mind a vision of living an active, healthy life well into your 80s.
3. Work first and foremost on your inner sense of well-being.
4. Actively take measures to reduce stress. This includes getting eight hours of sleep a night without fail.
5. Find out who you really are -- a secure, flexible sense of self is a great preventive of illness.
6. Be easy about diet but head toward less fat, red meat, processed food, refined sugar and carbohydrates, along with a balance of food groups that favors fruits and vegetables.
7. Learn to meditate. If that's not possible, take two breaks a day where you sit silently and alone to collect yourself.
8. Associate with people who share your positive outlook, uphold your spiritual ideals, and delve into the world's wisdom traditions.
9. Express and share your emotions. Take steps to get rid of toxic emotions.
10. Find an outlet for love, which means both being loved and showing love.
Things to avoid:
1. Don't obsess about diet and exercise.
2. Don't wait for others to cure you after you've failed to practice prevention.
3. Don't attach hope to miracle cures as a reason to avoid lifestyle changes.
4. Don't do what you know to be wrong.
5. On the whole, don't bother with vitamins and supplements unless there is a good medical reason behind what you're taking.
6. Don't take unneeded medications, and reduce those you must take to a sensible minimum.
7. Don't wait to correct hypertension and overweight, which cause long-term damage even though they are slow-acting.
8. Don't haunt the doctor's office.
9. Don't fall for medical scares and fad disorders.
10. Don't put yourself in high-stress situations thinking that you can handle them. In the same vein, don't fool yourself that you can go short on sleep for more than two nights.
None of these measures is surprising, yet surveys indicate that few among us are close to perfect about them. The main surprise, if there is one, has to do with consciousness, putting your inner sense of well-being first and foremost. But the body's intelligence always goes back to the feedback loops that sustain every cell, tissue, and organ. These loops are in process; they aren't material structures like the liver and kidneys. You don't have direct control over invisible processes like liver enzymes and the rise and fall of hormones. Yet if you are secure in being the author of your own existence, your body gets the message, and then you can have confidence that it will reflect your positive awareness through a state of wellness.
I am sorry to paint with such a broad brush. Many people want a specific answer about cancer or Alzheimer's; already pressured by ill health, they want an alternative to conventional drugs and surgery, which means for most that the goal is immediate, painless healing. Such healing does exist, but it is elusive, unpredictable, and quite variable. One day the higher health will encompass healing treatments that today exist on the fringes. Our understanding isn't there yet, which is why so much remains to explore in the world's traditional healing systems, East and West. What I've offered here seems general, but it is powerful nonetheless. Becoming the author of your own life is a high spiritual goal, but the body shouldn't be left behind on the journey. In the end, the body benefits from the path to higher consciousness as much as the mind and spirit.
This is a city of contrasts, where vastly different worlds rub shoulders, and the unexpected lies lurking around every corner.
Hang a right during an aimless stroll through the chic beachside neighborhoods of Ipanema or Copacabana and you might just bump into a lush tropical forest. Hang a left, and the luxury condominiums could give way to a warren of brick and corrugated iron houses perched precariously on a rocky outcropping – a "favela," or hillside slum.
It's this proximity between rich and poor, city and nature that gives Rio its intensity. But it also makes navigation a challenge for first-time visitors. It's even more difficult during Carnival season, when city streets morph into rowdy block parties with tens of thousands of costumed revelers dancing to infectious samba beats.
Luckily, Rio is dotted with landmarks that allow you to easily find your bearings. Sugarloaf Hill, the awesome rocky outcropping that can be visited by aerial cable car, presides over Guanabara Bay in the east. The monumental statue Christ the Redeemer reaches toward the sea from his perch inside the dense Tijuca Forest in the heart of the city. A 5-mile (8 kilometer) stretch of white sand marks Rio's southern edge, home to the legendary Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon beaches.
Here, the beach is a way of life, and these iconic stretches of sand are the stage upon which Rio natives – known as Cariocas – play out their lives. Weekends draw huge crowds from across the class spectrum to swim, surf, sun, jog, picnic, gossip, frolic, flirt, stretch and strut.
During the Southern Hemisphere summer, January to March, the throngs are often so thick that towel-size real estate can be hard to come by. But persevere.
Between the tall, tan young and lovely girls from Ipanema, their muscle-bound, tattoo-covered male counterparts, the flocks of screaming children and steady stream of vendors, hawking everything from sunscreen to frozen slush made from Amazon berries, the action is not to be missed.
Theft has long been on a problem on the beach, but the government's recent takeover of some nearby slums – which pushed the drug lords who reigned there out – has improved security throughout the city, including the seaside.
Still, it's best to leave all valuables – cell phone, camera, watch – at home and avoid drawing attention to yourself by dressing like the locals. Rest assured, while they don't cover much up, Brazilian "sunga" or Speedo-style suits for men and "fio dental" string bikinis for women have a magical way of bringing out everyone's best assets, whatever your body type.
No trip to the beach is complete without a stroll down Avenida Visconde de Piraja, Ipanema's main drag – a sort of relaxed Fifth Avenue, where the dress code consists of bikinis, sarongs and flip-flops. Homegrown clothing lines abound, churning out pretty but pricey sundresses, short-shorts, pantsuits for the daring and, naturally, bikinis. Top Brazilian beachwear houses include Lenny, Salinas and Osklen.
If you haven't gotten your fill of snacks on the beach, head to Bibi Sucos, which serves up a dizzying array of freshly squeezed exotic juices – jabuticaba, anyone? – and, with Brazil's dizzily spiraling prices, is among Rio's few remaining inexpensive pleasures. A more sophisticated meal can be had at Market, also on Visconde de Piraja, which serves up tasty, healthy alternatives to the "comida por quilo" self-service buffets that offer up meat in all its imaginable incarnations, paid by the weight.
If you're a Brazilian at heart, with a well-developed carnivorous instinct, no trip to Rio is complete without a visit to a "rodizio," a fixed price restaurant where an endless variety of meats, from filet mignon to chicken hearts, are served off the spit by a parade of waiters. Porcao, which has three Rio locations including one in Ipanema, is a "rodizio" of epic proportions.
To work off the meat overdose, a hike will doubtless be in order, and Rio offers several excellent options.
The world's largest urban forest, Tijuca is home to a host of monkeys, parrots and cute raccoon-like creatures called coatis (cuatis in Portuguese) as well as the Christ statue, perched atop a verdant, 2,300-foot (701-meter) peak. You could take the "bondinho," or little street car, that winds its way to the top.
But if you really want to burn off those extra calories, a better option is a hike to the top of the Tijuca Peak, which is a full 1,000 feet (300 meters) higher and offers unparalleled panoramic views over the city. Take a cab to Alta Boa Vista, where the trail to the top begins. Get an early start, because the park closes at sundown, and the hike can take up to six hours round trip.
A less strenuous way to commune with Rio's unique brand of urban nature is a stroll through the Jardim Botanico, 350 well-manicured acres of flora from Brazil and beyond. Founded in the early 19th century by Portuguese King Joao VI, the botanical gardens include the stunning Orquidario, where hundreds of delicate orchids are on display.
Should one of Rio's spectacular rainstorms force you indoors, you can seek shelter in a museum. Top choices are the MAM modern art museum near the historic downtown, which includes exhibits by top contemporary artists; the Instituto Moreira Salles in Gavea, with its topnotch photography collection; and the Museu de Arte Contemporanea, a space age complex designed in by celebrated Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer in Rio's sister-city, Niteroi.
For a stiff dose of Rio nightlife, hit Lapa. Bars serving up Brazilian cane alcohol, "cachaca," tiny clubs with live music and massive, multilevel mega-discos are all concentrated in this historic neighborhood near the city center. Friday nights, this is where the action is, and the crowds are so thick you can barely walk – let alone dance.
Crowds are an inescapable fact of life in Rio during Carnival.
Weeks before the official Feb 18-22 celebrations, "blocos," or block parties that attract up to tens of thousands of revelers start sprouting up across the city. While most blocos are simply an excuse for drunken dancing in the streets, some have themes, like Copacabana's "Blocao" costumed pet parade or "Sargento Pimenta," or Sargent Pepper, with its medley of Beatles hits.
But the crowning jewel of Rio Carnival remains the two-night long competition at the Sambodromo. Thirteen samba schools vie for the top prize: Their elaborate floats, massive percussion sections and troupes of sequin and feather-clad dancers samba their way down the avenue as ticket-paying spectators look on from the bleachers.
Peanut butter is apparently the choice of both moms and drug smugglers. A California man was detained Wednesday at Oakland International Airport after marijuana was discovered hidden inside his Skippy jar, reports NBC Bay Area.
The unidentified man was heading to Los Angeles, but was stopped after a screener noticed something strange in his jar of PB. That object turned out to be a zip-top bag of pot, stuck inside the peanut butter. According to ABC 7 San Francisco the PB in question was of the Skippy Creamy variety.
“Drugs aren’t something we’re looking for,” said TSA spokesman Nico Melendez to the San Francisco Chronicle. “The concern here is that peanut butter is prohibited anyway because of the liquid ban."
According to witnesses, the man told agents the drugs were hidden because he didn't have a medical marijuana card. He was cited and released.
This is the second time in four months that peanut buttered pot has been found in baggage, reports Mercury News. Both instances involved Skippy. For those keeping track, that is one incident away from a trend.
This instance involved just a small amount of drugs, but in January officials at Philadelphia international airport found a cache of cocaine worth $4 million.
To get to the bottom of these sex-life stumpers, we ran them by a panel of experts — and here’s what we found out:
Do Aphrodisiacs Work?
Ah, aphrodisiacs — for thousands of years, people have been downing herbs, spices, fruits, and veggies in order to enhance their sex lives. Today, the most notorious sexy snacks include oysters (either because they're high in zinc — or because they resemble a woman's vulva), dark chocolate (thanks to its effect on our brains’ neurotransmitters and endorphins), and avocados (which have been linked to fertility).
But are they really all that effective? According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, no. The FDA has asserted that there is no evidence that aphrodisiacs have any effect on libido at all. However, a 2011 analysis indicated that certain herbal aphrodisiacs do appear to have an effect, but more research is needed.
Can You Really Have Multiple Orgasms?
Hoping to have the Big O-O-O tonight?
According to sex researchers, multiple orgasms aren’t exactly what they’re made out to be. Instead, they are really just “aftershocks” related to the original orgasm.
Aftershocks or not, they can still be quite pleasurable for women — and for a small percentage of men, too. “Men typically have a postorgasmic refractory phase during which they cannot maintain an erection or experience a second orgasm,” says Dr. Stember. “Some men, however, can maintain rigidity after orgasm or experience a second orgasm during the same sexual episode.”
Can Too-Tight Underwear Trigger Erectile Dysfunction?
You may have heard that extra-tight tighty-whities come with one big risk: erectile dysfunction.
The truth? There’s no scientific proof to back the claim, says Jennifer Landa, MD, a preventive medicine specialist in private practice in Orlando, Fla. But men may still need to take heed: “There are studies that show that tight-fitting underwear can increase the temperature of the scrotum, which can be a cause of male infertility” by harming sperm, she warns.
Is the G-Spot Real?
Most experts believe that it’s a reality for some women and “a gynecological UFO for others” — and many women swear they’ve found it. However, the most recent research doesn’t look promising: "Without a doubt, a discreet anatomic entity called the G-spot does not exist," researcher Amichai Kilchevsky, MD, wrote in the Journal of Sexual Medicine after analyzing 60 years of research on the topic.
Do Sex Dreams Reveal Your True Feelings?
If you and your boss are getting it on in dreamland, that means you must be sexually attracted to her, right?
Actually, attraction is not necessarily part of your sex dreams, according to Lauri Loewenberg, a certified dream analyst and author of Dream On It. Although the dream might allow you to safely play out a fantasy about someone, she says, “most sex dreams involve a partner we would never even consider touching with a 10-foot pole.” Instead, the dream partner may symbolize an unmet need in your sex life. If, for example, the partner in your dream is laid-back and carefree, embracing those qualities may help you better deal with your own stress.
Can You ‘Think Yourself Off’?
A hands-free orgasm?
Some people (including Lady Gaga) have claimed they are able to think their way to orgasm, says Barry Komisaruk, PhD, a neuroscientist with the department of psychology at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “But while thinking yourself into having an orgasm has been reported anecdotally, the overwhelming majority require some degree of physical stimulation.”
Can Excessive Masturbation Trigger Erectile Dysfunction?
Is there such a thing as too much masturbation — so much so that it could cause sexual dysfunction when you’re with your partner?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the only time masturbation becomes too excessive is if it gets in the way of daily activities. And Dr. Landa says that no clinical data suggest that masturbation can increase your risk for sexual problems.
However, there have been reported problems about excessive dependence on pornography, she notes. "It seems that there is a subset of men who become reliant on pornography for erections.”
Can Men Have Erection-Free Orgasms?
Seems implausible, right? But Stember says that it can occur.
In a man’s sex life, “it is not true, surprisingly enough, that an erection is required for orgasm,” he says. “After treatment for prostate cancer, for example, many men find themselves unable to achieve an erection rigid enough for penetration, but discover they can still reach orgasm with stimulation.” The good news for men with this sexual problem is that their rigidity can be restored with treatment.
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These women are protected by an unusually weak inflammatory response in their vaginas, the scientists noted.
"In this part of the world, women represent over 60 percent of HIV cases, and this proportion continues to increase," Dr. Michel Roger, of the University of Montreal Hospital Centre and its microbiology and immunology department, in a news release. "Studying women who are naturally resistant to the virus enables researchers to identify interesting information in terms of developing vaccinations or microbid gels that could prevent transmission of HIV."
The researchers followed women from Benin and Zimbabwe over the course of 15 years. They found that when some of these women are exposed to HIV, the immune-system cells in their vaginas produced fewer inflammatory molecules than the cells in women infected with the virus.
Although these molecules are usually helpful by activating lymphocyte T-cells that destroy viruses, HIV actually uses these T-cells to invade people's bodies, the researchers said.
"Fewer T-cells means fewer target cells available for the virus to use," Roger explained.
The researchers also found the women's immune response in their vaginas — where the virus entered their body — was different from their body's response once the virus was in their bloodstream. The study concluded that a better way to stop the spread of HIV would be to block the virus from entering the body, rather than fight it once it had already invaded."AIDS vaccination research has entirely focused on the bloodstream and this approach has been a failure," Roger said. "Our research shows that the immune response is different at the site of the infection, and that we should turn to the entry points in order to find a means for blocking the virus."
The researchers said that the body's mucus membranes would be protected through a through a nasal-spray vaccine.
They added that more research is needed to fully understand the immune response in the vagina and determine if women's DNA plays a role in natural HIV resistance.
The results were recently published in the journal PLoS ONE.