Why Are Diamonds Valuable?

I just read some disturbing information about the diamond industry and thought I'd share.  I have not seen the movie Blood Diamond, nor know its plot, so forgive me if this is all old news...
Diamond jewelry has come to symbolize love. We also think of diamonds as valuable investments, valuable because they are so rare. But we think both of those things -- because we've been conned. 
Diamonds only mean love, and cost more than gold, because one brilliant company convinced people that diamonds were special. 
The marketing strategy was born 100 years ago in the mines of South Africa, when huge deposits of diamonds were found... Before that the discovery of a diamond was so rare that diamonds had become status symbols among royalty. But with the South African discovery, diamonds were suddenly ordinary. Prices plunged. 
Then a smart Englishman, Cecil Rhodes, bought lots of the suddenly cheap diamond minds, and established a monopoly [through the company De Beers] on the diamond supply... [His dealings with diamond-producing countries] brought De Beers an astonishing... 80% of the market... 
To keep prices high, De Beers hoards diamonds. That makes diamonds seem more rare than they actually are. 
But that's only half of their strategy... De Beers played the market brilliantly. It launched an advertising and public relations campaign to manipulate the world into believing that diamonds were the proper way to express love.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, there was not a clear American marriage "tradition" since the country was made of so many different cultures. De Beers jumped on that opportunity and offered their solution: if you want to marry a woman, you put a diamond ring on her finger.  Movie studios jumped on the diamond bandwagon, and sales exploded.

De Beers seems to be able to set the diamond standards based on what's in their warehouses.  When they had an overflow of large diamonds, they advertised "The bigger the diamond, the more you love her." When they acquired many small diamonds from Russia, De Beers encouraged men to buy their wives "Eternity Rings" for their anniversaries, which happened to contain lots of smaller stones.

So now we're left with a conundrum -- De Beers may have started the diamond trend based purely on economic strategy that leaves diamonds chronically overpriced, but it now IS culturally "American" for diamonds (instead of other precious stones) to symbolize eternal love. How can we resolve this?

You are so pretty and so sparkly... but are you worth it?

[source: Myths, Lies, & Downright Stupidity by John Stossel]


Prevent Hearing Loss

Here's a handy guide from Reader's Digest to help you know when you're listening to music too loudly:
One in five adolescents now suffers from hearing loss -- a 30% jump from just two decades ago. The loss is mild, but it means more teens are hearing only about as well as a typical 40- to 60-year-old. 
Playing music too loudly is partly to blame, experts believe. To avoid damage to your hearing, keep these numbers in mind:
  • 60 : You can listen all day if you keep the volume at 60% of the max
  • 80 for 90 : You can boost the volume to 80% for 90 minutes a day
  • 100 for 5 : If you want to crank up the volume as high as it'll go, keep it short -- just 5 minutes a day
Here's to good hearing health!


Walking On Hot Coals

How can people walk barefoot on hot coals without getting burned?  Is it some mind trick?

Actually it's just science... and you can do it, too!

Physicist David Willey from the University of Pittsburgh physics department and 20/20 anchor John Stossel show how it's done:
Willey laid out 165 feet of lumber and set it aflame. As [they] waited for the lumber to turn into hot coals, he said that anyone can "fire-walk" in their bare feet, provided they keep moving, because when you touch burning wood or charcoal, the heat doesn't go instantly to your feet. You'd be burned if you walk on hot metal, but wood and charcoal don't conduct heat very well.
Hot coals can (slowly) roast a marshmallow and burn at a temperature of approximately 1000 degrees F. But it's a poor thermal conductor, so it takes a while to "conduct" (move) the heat from itself to whatever it's touching.  If you keep walking at an even pace on the coals your feet won't keep in contact with any coal long enough to burn them!  Plus, and this is pure speculation, the fact that the skin on your feet is so thick probably delays the heat transfer as well.

You're not so scary anymore, are ya?


Do Cats Only Meow At Humans?

My brother once told me that adult cats only meow to talk to humans, so I decided to see if he was right. And he seems to be!

What are you saying, kitty?

Here are the ways that cats communicate:

1. Meowing
They naturally meow just as kittens to get their mother's attention. But as a result of domestication, it appears that they have learned to meow at humans for the same reason!

2. Purring
Most of the time, cats purr because they are happy.  They sometimes purr when they are feeling sick or during stressful moments.

3. Hissing/Growling
Cats hiss or growl when they are angry or want to threaten other animals or humans. They typically will attack with their claws and paws if whoever they are hissing at doesn't back off.

4. Chirping/Chattering
This is a "bird-like" noise that cats can make while watching potential prey. Some have thought that the cats are imitating birds or mice, but the accepted theory is actually that they are simulating the biting motions they'd do if they actually caught the prey.

5. Caterwaul
Cats make this "crying baby" or howling noise to signal to other cats that they are in heat. In rarer occasions, cats will caterwaul to get their owner's attention, like if they are behind a door and need to be loud.

6. Body Language
There are so many ways cats use their body to communicate, I feel as though it may be their primary source of communicating, especially with other cats, who instinctively know what their bodies are saying.  Here are a few examples, some of which could be confusing to humans:

  • Lying on their back: this could mean submission and trust, or that they want to attack with all four claws, or just that's how they feel comfortable
  • Puffed tail: the cat is surprised or scared; they can also arch their backs and puff out their back hair to look bigger to whatever they feel threatened by
  • Tail-twitching: this could mean they are hunting, or they are irritated, or they are excited, or they are playing
  • Flattened ears: the cat is feeling threatened
  • Nose-touching: this could just be a friendly greeting, or they are marking their territory
  • Licking: the cat is trying to bond with another cat or sometimes with their human owner
  • Pawing: this could mean they are showing affection or contentment or curiosity, or that they are comforting themselves, or that they are marking their territory

There are tons of other ways cats communicate to each other by whisker position, tail height, and other body movements.

7. Scent
Cats claim territory by territorial marking or by rubbing their scent on people or objects.

All that to say (since it seems I have strayed from the original question): it appears that past kitten-hood, cats mainly meow to humans, and use a variety of other methods of communication to deal with other cats and other animals.

It's pretty smart of them, actually. Cats must have figured out at some point that humans communicate well with noise... and don't always read their body movements correctly!

[source: wikipedia]

ps. Check out this cat who somehow learned to bark... yet didn't want their human owner know! I guess cats have a great ability to learn how to communicate the most effectively.


Is Bottled Water Better Than Tap?

Bottled water ranges from $4-$8 per gallon, whereas tap water costs less than a penny per gallon*.  Is it worth it?

Here are some answers from John Stossel's book:

Does bottled water taste better than tap water?
ABC News ran a taste test. We put two imported waters, Evian and Iceland Spring, up against Aquafina (America's best seller), American Fare (Kmart's discount brand), Poland Spring (which is bottled in America, not Poland), and some water from a public drinking fountain in the middle of New York City. 
We asked people to rate the waters. Only one water got "bad" ratings [the most expensive one, Evian]. The water our testers liked most came from Kmart, which costs a third of what Evian costs. Aquafina ranked second... 
Tied for third were [Iceland Spring] and... drum roll... New York City tap water. In other words, reservoir water -- squeezed through the antique pipes of NYC before emerging from a water fountain in Harlem -- tastes as good as expensive imports. Even people who told us that they didn't like tap water did like it, when they didn't know it was tap water.
Is bottled water more "pure" than tap water?
Many people believe that bottled water is cleaner. So we sent bottled and tap water samples to microbiologist Aaron Margolin, of the University of New Hamsphire, to test for bacteria, like E. Coli, that can make you sick. "No difference", he said. 
Some people worry more about traces of chemicals in water, like chlorine, lead, chromium, copper, and iron. It's possible that you will ingest more of these from some tap waters than bottled, but trace amounts of chemicals are not only harmless, they may even be helpful; that's why iron, copper, and chromium are in vitamin pills.
There are some counties where the tap water is not as safe or tasty as bottled water, but it appears that in the majority of America, you can save money (and trash) by just drinking out of the tap.

To further this point, I recently went to a wedding in Indiana where they served Absopure bottled water. As it turned out, it had been bottled (and "purified"?) from the municipal water in Plymouth, Michigan. Municipal water is city water!  I suppose Plymouth's tap water is tasty enough for these customers!

*Tap water rate for Ann Arbor, MI.


What's Broasting?

Maybe you've seen prepared "broasted chicken" at the grocery store and wondered (as I have) what it is, and how it's different than roasted or fried chicken.

Broasting is actually a very special (and trademarked) method of preparing chicken, meats, and fish with a specific marinate, breading, and spices, and then pressure frying it. It's (basically) a quicker and less greasy way of frying that makes the food crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.

How come we don't hear of more people broasting? Well, it's only available for commercial use.  So you can grab a broasted whole chicken from your local grocer, or a leg from a fast food restaurant, but unfortunately you can't do this method at home.

Read more about this interesting cooking method at the Broaster Company website: broaster.com.

Side fact: L.A.M. Phelan, the inventor of the Broaster pressure fryer, also invented the the first automatic gasoline pump, the first automatic toilet, and the first automatic commercial refrigerator. We owe him a lot! :)


Weird State Laws

Aw, everyone loves strange laws, right?  Here are a few for you today from John Stossel's book:
In Belton, Missouri, it's illegal to throw a snowball. 
In New Jersey & Oregon, it is illegal to pump your own gas. 
In Kern County, California, it is illegal to play bingo while drunk. 
In Illinois, it is against the law to hunt bullfrogs with a firearm. 
In Massachusetts, it's illegal to deface a milk carton. 
In Fairfax, Virginia, the use of pogo sticks is outlawed on city buses. 
In Palm Harbor, Florida, it is illegal to have an artificial lawn.
Also, in Spring Hill, Tennessee, you can't do any outdoor home-improvement projects in any residential neighborhood on Sundays.

And inn Friendship Heights, Maryland, it's illegal to smoke indoors or outdoors.

Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse. :)


Where Robots Come From

... or where the word "robot" comes from at least!

From Reader's Digest:
Some robots (Robbie, Wall-E) we adore. But many others (the terminators, Alien's Ash, those cylons from Battlestar Galactica) are downright evil -- with good reason: The term robot comes from the Czech robota for "compulsory labor" and the Latin orbus for "orphan". Now, if you were a motherless machine forced to work against your will, wouldn't you be belligerent too?
:)  I knew there was a good reason to not like robots!

You may look cute, but you still scare me!


Are Women Bad Drivers?

According to scientific research conducted in 2002, men are worse!  Here's a quick analysis of that research from John Stossel:
Women have a bad reputation when it comes to driving... But researchers with the Social Issues Resource Center beg to differ. Their 2002 report analyzed a stack of studies on male and female driving differences and came to a bold conclusion: "In all studies and analyses, without exception, men have been shown to have a higher rate of crashes than women." 
Men, the report claims, drive faster than women and have less regard for traffic laws: They speed, they drive drunk, run stop signs, and therefore crash twice as often as women do. In the US, men cause 71% of all road fatalities, a figure that's remained constant since 1975. 
But don't men drive many more miles than women do?  Wouldn't that account for some of the difference? It's true that males account for 62% of all miles driven, vs. 38% for females, but even after miles are clocked and driving hours are factored in, men still get in way more fatal accidents [about 40% more].
So maybe it's time to give the ladies a break. :)


What's A Hysterical Pregnancy?

Late in last season's hit sitcom 30 Rock, the character Jenna experienced a "hysterical pregnancy" during a gas leak, where she had all the signs of being pregnant without actually being pregnant.  I couldn't help but wonder... is that really a thing? 

Not only is it a thing, but women and men can experience it!

According to WebMD
False pregnancy, or pseudocyesis, is the belief that you are expecting a baby when you are not really carrying a child. People with pseudocyesis have many or all of the common symptoms of pregnancy [swollen belly, stopped menstruation, feelings of fetal movement, nausea/vomiting, milk production, etc] with the exception of an actual fetus.  
This condition is very rare, occurring in only 1 to 6 out of every 22,000 births.  It is most common in women aged 20 to 44, although it can affect women of all ages. 
In rare cases, even men can have a false pregnancy. Some men experience a related phenomenon known as couvade, or sympathetic pregnancy. They will develop many of the same symptoms as their pregnant partners -- including weight gain, nausea, and backache.
People suffering from a false pregnancy can sometimes even test positive on pregnancy tests!

What can cause hysterical (false) pregnancy?

According to an article in the NY Times:
Though scientists are still largely baffled about what causes it in humans, recent case studies and studies of similar conditions in animals are beginning to provide insight, exploring the role of hormones and psychology.  
Psychiatrists have suggested that pseudocyesis occurs in patients who desperately want to become pregnant — or who have a strong desire to be involved in a family member’s pregnancy experience.   
In a recent issue of the journal Psychosomatics, Dr. Biju Basil, a psychiatrist at Drexel University, reported a case of a woman who went through false delivery at the same time her son’s girlfriend was giving birth. "She started having labor pains..." Dr. Basil speculated that “she wanted to [subconsciously] play a more active part in this new life that was coming into the world.”  
Still, for all the theories about false pregnancy’s origins in the subconscious, biological studies suggest it may be in part hormonally mediated as well... Case studies at the University of Michigan and elsewhere indicate that many patients have elevated levels of hormones like estrogen and prolactin — compounds that can cause physical symptoms like abdominal swelling and milk excretion...  
This raises the possibility that pseudocyesis is the result of a delicate mind-body feedback loop: an initial emotional state induces abnormal hormone secretion, which in turn has its own physical and psychological effects... anxiety may be one emotional state that helps set this feedback loop in motion.
Wow.  That's incredible. False pregnancy has written about since at least 300 BC!  The human body is a crazy thing.

And what's stranger -- dogs have much higher instances of false pregnancy than humans!


Keep Colored Clothing From Fading

Yet again, Reader's Digest has come up with an easy solution to our random everyday problems:
That new cherry-red shirt you just purchased is fantastic, but just think how faded the color will look after the shirt has been washed a few times. Add a teaspoon of pepper to the wash load. Pepper keeps bright colors bright and prevents them from running too.
It's worth a try, I'd say. Click on the link above for other pepper tips!


The Difference Between http:// And https://

This may seem obvious, but I was completely unaware of the subtle difference until recently!

If you go to a website, you'll notice the address usually contains a http:// at the beginning. It stands for "HyperText Transfer Protocol" and is the standard way of transferring text to the internet.

If there is an "s" at the end of the abbreviation - https:// - that means that the site is "secure". A site becomes "secure" when the information on it will get encrypted (changed so that only the person with a key or password can see it) so that third parties can't view that information.

If you are entering personal or account information onto a website, make sure that little "s" is in the address!


Is DDT Dangerous?

DDT, the chemical used as a bug and mosquito repellent in farming, has been pretty controversial since started being more widely used in the 1950s & 60s. People believe that it's been a cause of cancer and possibly worse.  Recently I read some research to the contrary:
Despite [DDT's] overuse, there was no surge in cancer or any other human injury. Scientists found no evidence that spraying DDT seriously hurt people. 
It did cause some harm: It threatened bird populations by thinning the shells of their eggs. 
In 1962, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson make the damage famous and helped instill our fear of chemicals. The book raised some serious questions about the use of DDT, but the legitimate nature of those questions was lost in the media feeding frenzy that followed. DDT was a "Killer Chemical!" and the press was off on another fear campaign. 
It turns out DDT itself wasn't the problem -- the problem was that much too much was sprayed... 
In the late 1950s we sprayed DDT indiscriminately, but it only takes a tiny amount to prevent the spread of malaria. If sprayed on the walls of an African hut, a small amount will keep mosquitoes at bay for a year. That makes it a wonderful malaria fighter. But today DDT is rarely used to fight malaria because environmentalists' demonization of it causes others to shun it.
It's interesting how media coverage of a chemical can influence people's views on it more than science can. If the above paragraphs are true, it's tragic, considering how many people die of malaria each year...

[source: Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity by John Stossel]