Friday, June 20, 2008

7 Simple Rules For How to Take A Nap

Birds do it, bees do it (we think), even educated monkeys do it. So let’s do it, people. Let’s fall asleep. (The musical portion of this blog is over; thanks for indulging.) But seriously: we’ve talked about the whys of taking naps on the blog before — they improve mood, creativity, memory function, heart health, and so much else — but never, to my knowledge, have we discussed how to take a nap. In fact, whenever we write about naps, we always get a few comments from people claiming they’re unable to nap during the day; they just can’t fall asleep, or when they do nap they wake up groggy and unable to work. In that case, read on, my sleepy friends.

The first thing you should know is, feeling sleepy in the afternoon is normal. It doesn’t mean you had a big lunch, or that you’re depressed, or you’re not getting enough exercise. That’s just how animals’ cycles work — every 24 hours, we have two periods of intense sleepiness. One is typically in the wee hours of the night, from about 2am to 4am, and the other is around 10 hours later, between 1pm and 3pm. If you’re a night owl and wake up later in the morning, that afternoon sleepiness may come later; if you’re an early bird, it may come earlier. But it happens to everyone; we’re physiologically hardwired to nap.

Naps provide different benefits depending on how long they are. A short nap of even 20 minutes will enhance alertness and concentration, mood and coordination. A nap of 90 minutes will get you into slow wave and REM sleep, which enhances creativity. If you sleep deeply and uninterruptedly the whole time, you’ll go through a full 90-minute sleep cycle, and recoup sleep you might not have gotten the night before (we’ve all heard it a million times, but most of us don’t get enough sleep at night).

Try not to sleep longer than 45 minutes but less than 90 minutes; then you’ll wake up in the middle of a slow-wave cycle, and be groggy. I used to hate taking naps during the day for just this reason — I would always wake up in a fog. My problem was I hadn’t yet perfected the art of the 20-minute catnap.

Find a nice dark place where you can lie down. It takes about 50% longer to fall asleep sitting up (this is why red eye flights usually live up to their name), and be armed with a blanket; you don’t want to be chilly. You also don’t want to be too warm, which can lead to oversleeping. (There was a kind of urban legend circulating when I was a kid: don’t fall asleep in the sun, or you’ll never wake up. Not true — but you might wake up three hours later with a ripe sunburn.)

White noise can help you fall asleep, especially during the day when construction crews, garbage trucks, barking dogs and other noisy awake-world things can conspire to destroy your nap. Keep a fan on, or turn on a nearby faucet for a pleasing rushing-river sound. (Just kidding about that last one.)

Don’t nap too close to bedtime, or you might not be able to fall asleep later. Remember, your inbuilt sleepy window is sometime in the early to mid-afternoon — try to nap then.

Quit that silly job where they don’t let you take naps during the day.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Safety: Check your tires

This is very important. Please watch the video.

Aged Tires: A Driving Hazard?
ABC News went undercover and found retailers selling aged tires as brand new. Learn how to decipher the code on your tires to determine its real age.

I urge you all to take the time to look at this 9 minute video on tires and share with others.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How Long Can You Store Gasoline?

Q: I have several five gallon cans of gasoline in my garage that are to be used in a generator in case of a power failure. They have been there for several years as well as a tank full in the generator. Can this gas go stale?
-- C. S. Legum,
Norfolk, Va.

A: Gasoline does degrade or become "stale" during storage. How long it remains viable depends on several factors including the container and conditions in which it has been stored. The gas in your garage is long past its due date, though, especially if it was stored without the addition of a chemical stabilizer.
[Me and My Car storing gasoline]
Associated Press
Many folks store gasoline, as seen here after Hurricane Katrina. But gas can go stale after a few months.

I know it is tempting to use the fuel, especially with prices so high at the pump. Indeed, many times I have poured gasoline of questionable vintage into the tanks of cars, motorcycles and of course, the lowly lawnmower. Several years ago I inherited a roto tiller with a tank that had been half full for years. Of course, it started on the first pull and has run well ever since. Still, the instructions for outdoor power equipment like mowers, snow blowers and chain saws often recommend draining the tank if you don't plan to use the machine for a several months.

The American Petroleum Institute recommends taking old gas to an approved disposal facility after, at most, two years of storage. But the gas may have degraded beyond safe use by then. To be safe, the trade group says, you should avoid storing gasoline from season to season. For example, if you fill the gas can in the spring you should use its contents before the end of the year.

I haven't had any fuel-related problems. But I have heard enough tales of woe from people who have that I now avoid storing gasoline for more than a few months and always add a stabilizer to the container.

Monday, June 9, 2008

How to choose a pineapple

Nobody really knows how to tell if one is ripe — you see people sniffing and pressing them, and listening to how they sound when thumped.

Now comes Jean Paul Polo of San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the "Quick Tips" feature of the latest issue (July/August 2008) of Cook's Illustratedmagazine, with the following advice:

"With one hand, gently tug at a leaf in the center of the fruit. If the leaf releases with little effort, the pineapple is ripe. If the leaf holds fast, choose a different pineapple. Conversely, avoid pineapples with dried out leaves and a fermented aroma — the fruit may be overripe."

FunFact: Pineapples do not continue to ripen once they've been picked.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Credit card rewards are a real rip off

What has your rewards card done for you lately? Not much most likely.

NEW YORK ( -- You got burned with frequent flier miles, which were nearly impossible to redeem and hardly worth the hassle, so credit card issuers turned to other kinds of incentives to entice you to charge more. But most rewards programs aren't much better, and consumers are still eager to sign up for them despite the same old traps.

About 85 percent of U.S. households participate in at least one rewards program, according to a study released Monday by Consumer Reports. And though rewards do spur consumers to spend more, the study found that confusing rules and restrictions make most reward cards more trouble than they're worth.

"They make it 100 times more complicated," said a former marketing executive at CitiCards, referring to the popular rewards programs. For example, when you read the fine print, you might find that some rewards are limited to certain brands, or expire if not used within a certain timeframe.

Of the different reward cards available, the most popular programs are cash back, where customers receive a percentage of expenditures back in either a check or money off of their next bill. Other reward cards rack up "points" which can be redeemed for various items, or offer people discounts at certain hotels, stores, restaurants and gas stations.

And while cash back, gas and grocery rewards credit cards can offer some relief for costly essential items, they often carry higher annual percentage rates than traditional credit cards, Consumer Reports said. Looking at some of the more generous credit card rewards programs, the study found that rates varied from 9.74% to as much as 19.99%.
What do you think of your credit card rewards?

"If the rates are high, the cost to carry a balance will often erase any savings the rewards program may offer," said Amanda Walker, senior project editor at Consumer Reports.

Some reward cards also carry annual fees, making it even less likely that consumers will come out ahead. And even the more generous programs have limits on how much consumers can earn in rewards, not to mention looming deadlines by which the rewards must be used.

And in addition to the complicated rules, fees and higher interest rates, customers are leaving unused rewards on the table. More than 41 percent of reward cardholders either rarely or never even bother to use their rewards, said a 2006 survey by GMAC Mortgage and Harris Interactive.

To avoid the pitfalls and get the most back from your card, Consumer Reports offers these tips:

Consider where you shop. Opt for cards that will earn rewards at stores and services you use most often, or offer savings on items that you actually buy regularly. Airline and hotel discounts, for example, are not particularly useful for those who aren't frequent travelers.

Project your spending. Figure out how much you're likely to spend, and translate that into cash back or points, depending on which program your card uses. For points, figure out how many you need to get the rewards you want. Make sure to subtract the annual fee, if your card has one. If you realize that you'd have to spend a small fortune to earn only a tiny reward, try another card.

Favor cash back. Points often end up unused - a plus for the credit card companies who got you to spend more without having to give you anything in return. But cash back accumulates without you actually having to do anything. Plus, Consumer Reports found that cash back cards tend to offer better rewards than point equivalents.

Skip credit if you carry a balance. If you don't pay your bills of in full, you may want to pass on the rewards cards altogether. Because rewards cards often have higher interest rates, you may end up paying much more in interest than you reap in rewards.

Do the math on do-good programs. Do-gooders might be enticed by cards that give rewards to charity. But they usually pay very low rates - about 25 to 50 cents for every $100 you charge. You're probably better off going with the cash back, and then sending money to a charity yourself. You'll end up with a larger donation - and a tax deduction.

Use airline miles fast. If you do still use airline miles and manage to save up enough for a trip, make sure to use them right away. Airlines are always changing their redemption rules, and considering how much the big carriers are struggling these days, holding onto unused miles can cost you.

Avoid temptation. Research has shown that credit card customers are tempted to charge more in order to earn points toward a reward such as new digital camera or set of golf clubs. But overspending for a "freebie" often doesn't pay.

Five Secret Japanese Tricks to Make Life Better

In Japan, there's an organic, non-commercial cure for almost anything. It's a tradition that blossomed in the post-WW2 era when people had to save money and space for economic reasons. Today, this habit of utilitarian thriftiness paired with a quirky national sensibility has spawned a phenomenon called urawaza—a collection of offbeat life hacks and unmapped shortcuts. It's also the subject of my new book, Urawaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan. Keep reading for excerpts on how to silence a crying baby, get rid of splinters, swim backward, make grass greener, and easily clean up egg yolk... all using common household objects.

1. How to make a baby stop crying
Dilemma: Sure, the baby's cute. But why won't he stop crying?
Solution: The secret to stop a crying baby lies in making the sound you produce during the mouthfeel stage of wine tasting.
Why this works: When babies are still in the womb, the noises they can hear are limited to those in the 6000-8000mHz range. The sound you make when you slosh the liquid behind your lips during wine tasting takes place at about 7000mHz, reminding the baby of a time when the world around was peaceful and the whirs and stirs inside Mommy's tummy soothed him back to a sleepy state.

2. How to get rid of surface splinters
Dilemma: You have dozens of little splinters in your hands and arms from helping your little brother with his secret wooden fort. Isn't there a way to get rid of them without having to pluck each and every one out with tweezers?
Solution: Dip your finger in a tub of liquid glue and smear it all over the problem area. Once it dries, peel it off, just the way you used to when you were a bored little kid in arts-and-crafts class. The splinters will come right out along with the peeling glue!
Why this works: Surface splinters are hard to get out not because they're deeply embedded but because they're tiny and hard to grasp even with the daintiest of fingers. The sticky glue serves a function similar to a lint roller when the glue is applied evenly across the splintery surface of your skin. Plus, it's super fun to peel glue off your hands.

3. How to clean up spilled egg yolk
Dilemma: The egg was supposed to crack in the pan—not on the floor. Now there's gook all over the linoleum.
Solution: Sprinkle some table salt on the spilled egg and wait ten minutes for it to soak in, then sweep the egg yolk right off the floor with a broom.
Why this works: The salt dissolves the lipoproteins in the egg yolk, which changes its texture from gooey to nongooey, making it easier to clean. (Bonus: Brian Lam of Gizmodo shows us how.)

4. How to make the grass green again
Dilemma: You got a new puppy, and now your once beautifully green lawn has bare brown patches all over it from dog pee.
Solution: Pour some beer on the problem areas, making sure the foam's covering all the naked spots. The grass will be greener in no time.
Why this works: Beer has fermented sugars in it, which can act as natural fertilizer. The dying grass will feed on these sugars, detrimental fungi will die, and your lawn will start looking normal again.

5. How to swim backward
Dilemma: Your breaststroke is weak, your dives all end up as belly flops, and you can't even do half a somersault without getting water up your nose. You need some kind of skill that will set you apart from the rest of the pool party this summer—but what?
Solution: Learn how to swim backward! When you flex your feet instead of pointing them while holding onto a kick board, your body will chug through the water in reverse gear.
Why this works: The direction you advance in the water depends on which way you're kicking. When you kick away from your body—which is essentially what you appear to be doing when you flex your feet—you reverse the body's inclination to go forward. It takes a little bit of practice, but once you perfect it, the whole party will be wide-eyed with wonder at your newfound skill.