Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lost Generation

A palindrome reads the same backwards as forward. This video reads the exact opposite backwards as forward. Not only does it read the opposite, the meaning is the exact opposite..
This is only a 1 minute, 44 second video and it is brilliant. Make sure you read as well as listen...forward and backward.
This video was submitted in a contest by a 20-year old. The contest was titled "u @ 50" by AARP. When they showed it, everyone in the room was awe-struck and broke into spontaneous applause. So simple and yet so brilliant. Take a minute and watch it.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How To Make Homemade Vanilla Extract: {Recipes & Tips}

This homemade brew is very easy to make and can be stored away in the pantry for your own use (and never run out again!) but also keep a batch on hand for gift-giving, they’ll be very appreciated! All that’s needed is alcohol (such as vodka or brandy), vanilla beans and glass jars or bottles.
DisplayQuick Tip: Try experimenting with different beans (ie. Madagascar & Tahitian) to sample all the flavor notes each type has to offer, even try mixing one or two different types in the same jar.
Ready to get started? You’ve hit the jackpot with this page! I have a collection of recipes and tutorials to help guide you along the way as well as a section of tips and frequently asked questions at the bottom.
First, here are three quick & easy methods:
  1. Place one bean into a pint of vodka. Shake daily for two weeks.
  2. Scrape the seeds from three beans and add them to a bottle of dark rum, add the pods as well. Let sit for three weeks, shaking occasionally.
  3. Pour 1/2 cup vodka or white tequila into small saucepan, and heat until it smokes but isn’t boiling. Break 2 beans into pieces and place into jar. Pour the alcohol over top and cover tightly. Let sit for a week, shaking frequently.
A more detailed tutorial:
  • Split 7 beans end-to-end with a sharp knife. Add these to a .750 liter (1/5) bottle of rum, vodka, everclear, scotch, brandy, or alcohol of choice.
  • Let stand for three to four weeks before using.
  • When bottle is 1/4 full add three to four more beans and more alcohol.
  • Let stand for another week before using.
  • Seeds may float in the syrupy liquid but unless the finished product is being given as a gift, don’t remove them–they only add to the flavor.
  • Use one-forth to one-third the amount called for in most recipes as this has a very strong flavor.
  • The beans are good as long as a vanilla scent is present. Once the scent is lost, discard and replace with fresh ones. They can also be removed from the alcohol base and either scraped or chopped then used in place of the extract (for stronger flavor). Or you can remove them from the alcohol, dry each thoroughly and stick them into a canister of sugar to infuse their flavor.
Traditional Method:
(Yields 8-ounces)
Seeds1/2-pint Vodka
4 Vanilla beans
Seal tight jar or container
Decorative bottle
  • Pour vodka into container.
  • Using a sharp kitchen knife, cut a lengthwise slit down the middle of each bean.
  • Cut them into 1/2-3/4 inch pieces then add to container and shake.
  • Wait and shake. It will take 30-days for the brew to mature. Once each day, vigorously shake the container for 30-seconds.
  • Once the 30-day cycle has finished, strain the liquid through a colander or coffee filter and place in decorative bottle.
(Yields 8-ounces)
1 cup Brandy
1 whole vanilla bean
  • Place items into seal-tight container.
  • Wait. It will take 3-weeks to cure properly.
  • Pour into decorative bottle.
Another Way:
  • Start with 1 cup of vodka, brandy, or real extract.
  • Add 2-3 Tablespoons of corn syrup, stir or shake to dissolve.
  • Finely chop 3 or more pods (depending on strength desired); add to bottle.
  • Store in a cool place; stir or shake occasionally to mix ingredients.
  • As the contents are used, top it up occasionally with additional liquid (vodka, brandy, or extract) and a bit more corn syrup; about once a year add a couple more finely chopped pods.
  • Stronger: Use a high proof of alcohol and scrape the seeds from the bean.
  • Weaker: Use a lesser proof of alcohol and soak beans intact.
  • To strain for storage: Use a very fine strainer, coffee filter, or paper towel.
  • Vodka usually gives the highest alcohol content. Brandy adds additional flavor which some folks may or may not prefer.
  • Corn syrup or sugar helps infuse and develop the flavor from the pods (corn syrup dissolves more easily).
  • Using a variety of pods (Madagascar, Indonesia, Tahitian, Mexican) will produce a brew with a much more complex taste and aroma. Try using Madagascar as a base, adding Tahitian and Mexican for additional fragrance notes.
  • Shake container before each use. Small flecks will be in the liquid and provide additional flavor. Dark flecks in light-colored food may also appear, to avoid this, don’t shake the jar.
  • Occasionally spoon out some of the mass of pods that settle to the bottom of the jar for when a very intense taste is desired (to use in things like ice cream or butter/vanilla pretzel cookies).
  • Have a brew jar always on the go and every summer make sure it’s topped up so you’ll have enough on hand for holiday baking.
  • The shelf life of pure extract is indefinite and it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see an expiry date on it (for both purchased and homemade varieties). Since there is such a high alcohol content, it won’t spoil or harbor bacteria like other pantry items. In fact, it develops better as it ages! Careful storage does help preserve it, keep it in a cool, dark spot so the taste doesn’t deteriorate (that’s why many different brands are sold in dark bottles).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How to Make Small Talk

Why the Ability to Make Small Talk Is So Important

It’s easy to dismiss small talk as idle chit-chat, or superficial or pointless, and claim to only be interested in “real” conversation. But how do you get to the point of having a deeper conversation with someone in the first place? Someone you just met would be weirded out if you just walked up to them and asked, “Why do you think God allows bad things to happen to good people?” Conversation is a ladder, with small talk serving as the first few rungs. You can’t leap-frog up the ladder. That would be like trying to sprint before warming up, or cook a steak without defrosting it, or merge onto a highway without building up speed on the on-ramp, or…well you get the idea.
Think about it. How did all of your current most important non-familial relationships begin? Most likely with a bit of small talk one day. Asking about a homework assignment in chemistry class or commiserating about the pain you were in while doing bear crawls down the football field. And now you’re best buds.
Small talk is the portal through which every person you will ever meet will enter your life. That’s huge when you ponder it. You never know who you’re going to encounter in a class, at a coffee shop, at the gym, at a wedding; they could be your future business partner or boss, your future best friend or wife. You simply never know when someone you meet will send your life in a new direction. But if you can’t initiate these relationships, your circle of contacts and intimates will never expand past the current roster of friends whose Facebook updates and tweets you can’t take your eyes off of in order to meet the gaze of those sitting right next to you.

How to Gain the Ability to Make Small Talk with Anyone, Anywhere

The first step in becoming an expert small talker is to start seeing yourself as the host, as opposed to the guest, in any situation. The host acts as a leader. He’s active, not passive, and takes the initiative in talking with people, guiding the conversation, filling in awkward pauses, introducing people, and making others feel comfortable and welcome.
How do you become the consummate host wherever you go? Your hosting duties can be broken down into two categories: Approaching Others and Being Approachable.

How to Approach Others

Initiating Conversation with Strangers

We often feel self-conscious engaging a stranger in small talk, but most people are feeling as shy and insecure as you are. It’s a great comfort and relief when someone takes the initiative to talk to them, saving them from standing alone by the punch bowl while they feel awkward and conspicuous. People love to talk (especially about themselves), and are typically flattered when someone is paying attention to them.
Look for someone who seems approachable, who’s by himself and isn’t talking to someone else or working on something. Make eye contact, smile at them, and then go up to greet them.
But what then? Anyone who’s had their small talk disintegrate after an exchange of “What do you do?” may worry that their attempt to initiate conservation will fizzle into awkwardness. But when you know what you’re doing, you can sail right over any potential slumps.
The ARE method of initiating small talk. Communications expert Dr. Carol Fleming offers a three-part process to kick off a conversation: Anchor, Reveal, Encourage (ARE).
Anchor. This is an observation on your “mutual shared reality” that extends the first little thread of connection between you and another person — the lightest of pleasantries about something you’re both seeing or experiencing.
  • Dr. Landis is hilarious.
  • The set list tonight has been fantastic.
  • This weather is perfect.
Don’t get caught up thinking that such comments are too superficial, and search in vain for something truly clever to say. Fleming calls such exchanges “friendly noises,” and you both know they’re not meaningful, but just a gradual and polite way to segue into a “real” conversation.
Reveal. Next, disclose something about yourself that is related to the anchor you just threw out.
  • I’ve tried to get into Dr. Landis’ class for three semesters, and this is the first time I was able to land a spot.
  • There’s a much bigger crowd here than there was at their show last year.
  • I’ve been waiting for a break in the heat to go hike Mt. Whilston for the first time.
By opening up a little more, we extend to the other person a few more threads of connection and trust, while at the same time providing them fodder to which to respond.
Encourage. Now you hand off the ball to them by asking a question:
  • Did you have a hard time getting into the class?
  • Did you see that show?
  • Have you ever done that hike?
Keep building the conversation. By employing the effective ARE method, you’ll successfully have exchanged a few pleasantries, but these tender threads of small talk can easily disintegrate and blow away at this point…when the dreaded awkward pause shows up.
So you want to weave those light threads into an increasingly sturdy rope. You do this by offering follow-up comments and questions that continue to build the conversation. Let’s take a look at how our three example conversations might progress:
You: Dr. Landis is hilarious. I’ve tried to get into his class for three semesters and this is the first time I was able to land a spot. Did you have a hard time getting into the class?
Person: Yeah, I actually sat on the stairs for the first few classes, and just hoped some people would drop out. Luckily they did, and he added me.
Once the person has answered your initial question, you can use a follow-up comment or question – each designed to prompt a response. Giving a comment takes more skill, as you have to craft one that will continue the back and forth. Ideally, you should form both a comment and a back-up question in your mind so that if they respond with only a laugh or an uh-huh, you’re ready to get things moving again.
A clever/humorous comment is one option for your follow-up:
You (said jokingly): I’m thinking you had something to do with their disappearance!
Person (laughs): Oh, for sure! I tell ya, people are dying to get in here.
You: Are you taking this class for your major or just because you want to?

You: The set list tonight has been fantastic. There’s a much bigger crowd here than at their show last year. Did you see that one?
Person: No, I didn’t actually didn’t discover this band until a few weeks ago.
There’s no good comment to give here that would keep the conversation going, so a follow-up question is most appropriate.
You: Oh yeah? How did you find out about them?

You: This weather is perfect. I’ve been waiting for a break in the heat to hike Mt. Wilston. Have you ever done that hike?
Person: No, I haven’t.
Instead of being clever, another option for your follow-up comment is to share a little more about yourself.
You: It’s one of my favorite hikes. It only takes about an hour and a half to get to the top from the trailhead and the view is awesome.
Person: Well the most I’ve hiked is up the hill on campus, but that does sound pretty doable.
You: I think me and a couple of friends will be doing it tomorrow. If you’re interested in coming along, let me know. I’m in 3B.

Whether you follow-up with a comment or question, be sure to alternate between the two options. Strike a balance: too many questions fired one right after the other will make the conversation feel more like an interrogation, and too many comments won’t give the other person a chance to talk. That’s no good, as your interest in what they have to say is what endears you to them.
So tip the scale more heavily towards questions. Once they respond to one question, you ask clarifying questions about their answer. Start with questions that can be answered with one or two words, and then build on those to expand into open-ended questions that won’t put them on the spot, but will allow them to reveal more or less about themselves, depending on their comfort level. Use questions that begin with phrases like:
  • Tell me about…
  • What was the best part of…
  • How did you feel about…
  • What brought you to…
  • What’s surprised you most…
  • How similar/different is that to…
  • Why…
Here are some effective small talk chains, with the common, but less open-ended questions marked through, and a better alternative following it:
  • Where are you from? → Did you live there all of your life?  What was it like to grow up there? → What brought you here? → Are any of your family members close by? →  How many siblings do you have? Tell me more about your family. → Is it tough being away from them? → What do you miss most about your hometown?
  • What are you majoring in? → What made you decide to choose that major? → How do you like it? What’s been the best class you’ve taken so far? → Tell me more about it. → What was the most interesting part of the class? → Do you think you might write about that for your thesis?
  • What do you do? → Do you like your job? Describe a typical day at work. → How has the economy affected business? → Why has your company thrived while others have taken a beating? → Would you recommend a young man like myself going into the field? → Do you know anyone who might be looking for an intern?

Initiating Conversation with Acquaintances

Starting some small talk with an acquaintance – someone you only chat with a bit at church each Sunday, a coworker you see around the office sometimes, an old friend you don’t keep in very good contact with but run into occasionally – requires a different approach than breaking the ice with a stranger. In an encounter with an acquaintance, you’ll likely start with a question, but how you craft that question is important.
Ask open-ended questions. Here’s how it usually goes: How was your weekend? How’s your day going? How have you been? Whatadya been up to? Fine. Fine. Good. Not much…cue the crickets! Questions like these are conversation killers — they only prompt a one or two word response, and are basically used by most people as rote hellos in passing, not as questions where an actual answer is expected.
So you have to follow up:
  • How was your weekend? Good. What did you do?
  • How’s your day going? Good. What’s been the best part so far?
  • How have you been? Good. What’s been going well for you?
If the acquaintance gives another abbreviated response, you can say something like, “What else? I really want to know.” People are used to going through the motions with folks, and are looking for permission to talk a little about themselves. But if they remain reticent, they may simply not want to talk, and you should always respect that.
Catching up with an acquaintance has unique pitfalls: you know only an outline of his life, but you don’t know what’s changed in it since the last time you talked. So you want to frame your questions with care and keep them neutral to avoid “stepping in it:”
  • Have you landed a job yet? (turns out he’s still unemployed) → What’s been going on with the job search lately?
  • How’s Jen? (she just dumped him) → Bring me up to date about you and Jen.
  • I heard you took a trip out to Cali last month. That must have been awesome! (he had to go to California because his dad died) à What brought you out to California last month?
  • How long have you two been dating? (they haven’t discussed whether they are actually dating yet) à How did you two meet?
What Do I Do If I Have Trouble Coming Up With Questions or Things to Say?
Observe. Some of the easiest and best questions simply come from observing people and their surroundings:
  • I see you got your Ph.D from the University of Washington. Why did you pick that school?
  • Ah, you’re reading The Great Gatsby? That’s my favorite book. How are you liking it?
  • I can’t help but notice you’re a fan of the Jets. Who do you think their starting QB is going to be?
  • Tell me about this picture. Are you running a marathon? Who’s running with you?
  • How do you like your Jeep Wrangler?
  • Where did you get your hair cut? I’m looking for a good barber.
Listen. You can start a conversation by building on something someone said that wasn’t directly addressed to you, but you were privy to.
For example, in smaller classes in college, sometimes the professor will have everyone introduce themselves on the first day of class. If there’s someone in the class you’d like to get know more, you can later start a conversation by saying something like: You mentioned you were from Colorado. What part?
Or after a business presentation, go up to the speaker and say: I thought you made an interesting point about the benefits the traditional newspaper offers over the online version. What do you think is the future of print?
Compliment. A good way to kick off some small talk is to tie a compliment and a question together:
  • That’s a really nice fountain pen. Is it hard to learn to write with one?
  • I was really impressed with the patience you showed with those kids today. How do you stay so calm when they’re bouncing off the walls?
When complimenting a woman, stick with a behavior, accomplishment, or article of clothing rather than a body part.
FORM a question in your mind. If you’re at a table with a group of people and the small talk hits a snag, remember the acronym FORM:
  • Family. Tell me about your family. Are your siblings alike or different? What new things is your kid doing these days? How’s your grandpa’s health?
  • Occupation. What are the best and worst parts of your job? How has the economy affected your industry?
  • Recreation. Are you still running these days? Have you gone on any camping trips lately? What’s the latest thing you’ve built in your workshop? Seen any good movies lately? Read any good books?
  • Motivation. Where do you hope to be in five years? Do you find your job satisfying? What do you like about your new church?

Make Yourself Approachable

It’s true what Dale Carnegie said: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.”
But it’s also nice when others initiate the conversation. Sometimes you’re just not in “host” mode and raring to initiate conversation, but you’re still open for small talk. If you want strangers to strike up a conversation with you, you need to put out the vibe that you’re open to it and that you’d be an interesting person to talk with. You need to be approachable.
In figuring out how to be a more approachable, just take a look around the room. What people attract you, and which do you seek to avoid. What does each set do or neglect to do?
Wear a conversation piece. People often feel the most comfortable in approaching you to ask about some specific item you’re wearing. An arrestingly handsome tie (not a novelty tie), an interesting tie tack, a lapel pin, a unique (but tasteful) ring, watch, or necklace, even a printed t-shirt (I’m not talking Affliction here, you know…let’s say one with “Semper Virilis” on it, for example) worn in a casual setting, can all easily inspire curious questions that spark a conversation.
Exhibit friendly body language. Our nonverbal body language accounts for the majority of how others perceive us. Body language that is warm and inviting will draw others to you and make them feel comfortable conversing.
Arthur Wassmer came up with the last acronym we’ll cover today — SOFTEN — to describe the elements of nonverbal behavior that attract others:
  • Smile. A warm, friendly smile puts others at ease. When you’re walking around, display a slight, soft smile. After you make eye contact with someone, give them a bigger, genuine smile.
  • Open posture. Instead of standing at an angle, with your arms crossed or in your pockets, face others directly and hang your arms naturally by your sides.
  • Forward lean. When listening or speaking, leaning in shows someone you are paying attention. The more intimacy you build with someone, the closer you can lean, but at first, respect the person’s physical space.
  • Touch by shaking hands. A good hearty handshake, where the web between your thumb and pointer finger meets theirs, conveys confidence and vitality.
  • Eye contact. Being able to make eye contact shows you’re confident and builds intimacy with others. We’ve written some seriously great articles on the importance of eye contact and how to do it right, that I highly recommend reading.
  • Nod.  Whenever you listen to someone speak, nodding, along with other verbal and nonverbal forms of feedback like “uh-huhs”  and “hmmms,” show you’re focused on what the speaker has to say.
Be well-groomed and well-dressed. Not over dressed – that will drive folks away and make you seem uptight. But don some clean clothes that fit well and exhibit your own style and lots of confidence.
And a note about facial hair…it’s a dynamo conversation starter. Everyone wants to comment on my mustache. And beards, while they used to be the mark of the crusty backwoodsman or shifty rebel, are now often read by folks as “approachable” – the look of a super laid-back, good-humored guy.
Offer your name to those you’ve met before. A new acquaintance may not remember it. A former professor may have had thousands of students come through their classes. Trying to figure out your name as you talk, along with the worry that the fact they don’t know it will be revealed, will distract them from focusing on the conversation. So just offer it up when you see them:  Hi, Dr. Smith, Brett McKay from last year’s History 101!
Never give one word answers. A “yes,” or “no” FULL STOP sounds curt. Ever been to this event before? No. Are you a friend of the groom? Yes. Just add a bit to soften it, as it makes you sound more game to talk: No I haven’t. Yes I am.
Expand your answers, even when a “No I haven’t” or “Yes I am” will technically suffice. Examples: No I haven’t, but my friend Michael Davidson finally convinced me to come this year. Do you know him? I think you guys went to the same high school. Or: Yes I am. Chuck and I were fraternity brothers at the University of Alabama.”
The goal here is to provide your small talk partner with more information from which they can make a comment or pose a question that will keep the conversation going. Just think of when the shoe’s on the other foot – the more fodder someone gives you, the easier it is to formulate a good response.
Mirror your partner. People feel more comfortable, and are charmed more, by those who match their behavior, tone of voice, talking speed, and so on. Don’t match your conversation partner tic for tic, but if they speak softly, bring your own voice down a notch; if they’re enthusiastic, act similarly.
Give an accessible description of your job. One of the most common questions for folks to ask is, “What do you do?” If your job is pretty technical, try to put it in layman’s terms, so that they have something to ask you follow-up questions about, as opposed to just saying, “Oh, nuclear fission, huh?”
Have a wide range of knowledge and keep up with current events. By being well-read and keeping up with what’s going on in the world, you’ll always have a bit of knowledge to match the varied interests of those you meet.


Technology has created an interesting phenomenon in which people increasingly crave real face-to-face connection, while at the same time becoming less equipped to facilitate it.
The only way to get better at small talk is to practice. And you have to practice it in situations where it really doesn’t matter, so that you’re ready when it does.
Strike up some small talk with the man behind the deli counter or the person working the register at the grocery store: How’s your day going? How much longer on your shift? What’s been the best part of your day so far?
Instead of ducking out of events that you’re not too keen on attending, go with the express purpose of practicing your small talk skills. Look it as your conversation lab – you don’t care much about what the people there think of you anyway, so feel free to try things out and make mistakes.
Don’t get hung up on “failing.” If someone’s not interested in talking, that’s okay. No harm, no foul. Just move on. Small talk is only annoying when it’s unwelcome, and the initiator fails to pick up on this disinterest. If the person you’re trying to engage gives several short answers, and keeps angling their body away from you, let them get on with whatever they’d rather be doing.
But as the old saying goes, you have to wrestle some gators to make a gator soup. All experiences, good and bad, will help you hone your mastery of small talk, so you can talk to that girl on the shuttle to campus with ease, and you don’t have to wait in your car to avoid walking up the stairs to your apartment at the same time as someone else.

Easy ways to do rough conversions between some imperial units to the metric system

Note: These are not meant to be exact conversions, but to give you an approximation that is easy to do mentally and that will be good for most situations that do not require exact precision.

Temperature: From Fahrenheit to Celsius

(step 1) Subtract 32 from the Fahrenheit temperature
(step 2) Divide the result by 2

Example: 50°F -> (step 1) 50-32 = 18 -> (step 2) 18/2 = 9
So 50°F convert to roughly 9°C

If you want to be more precise, multiply the result of step 1 by 5/9 instead of dividing it by 2. But dividing by two should be a good enough approximation for most purposes.

Temperature: From Celsius to Fahrenheit

Just do the opposite of the °F to °C conversion explained above.

(step 1) Multiply the Celsius temperature by 2
(step 2) Add 32 to the result

Example: 9°C -> (step 1) 9*2 = 18 -> (step 2) 18+32 = 50
So 9°C convert to roughly 50°F

Weight: From pounds (lbs) to kilograms (kg)

(step 1) Subtract 10% from the lbs measure
(step 2) Divide the result by 2

Example: 60 lbs -> (step 1) 60 - (10% of 60, which is 6) = 54 -> (step 2)  54/2 = 27
So 60 lbs convert to approximately 27 kg

You can also just divide the lbs measure by 2.2, but I find that it is much easier to do the 2 steps above if you are doing it mentally.

Weight: From kilograms (kg) to pounds (lbs)

Just do the opposite of the lbs to kg conversion explained above.

(step 1) Multiply the kg measure by 2
(step 2) Add 10% to the result

Or you can just multiply by 2.2

Example: 20 kg -> (step 1) 20*2 = 40 -> (step 2)  40+(10% fo 40, which is 4) = 44, or simply 2.2*20 = 44
So 20 kg convert to approximately 44 lbs

Length: From feet to meters

(step 1) Multiply the feet measure by 3
(step 2) Divide the result by 10

Example: 10 feet -> (step 1) 10*3 = 30 -> (step 2) 30/10 = 3
So 10 feet convert to approximately 3 meters
Or if you find it easy to do decimal multiplications mentally, just multiply the feet measure by 0.3 (or 0.28 if you want to be more exact).

Length: From meters to feet

(step 1) Multiply the meters measure by 10
(step 2) Divide the result by 3

Example: 3 meters -> (step 1) 3*10 = 30 -> (step 2) 30/3 = 10
So 3 meters convert to approximately 10 feet

Or if you find it easy to do decimal multiplications mentally, just multiply the meters measure by 3.3 (or 3.28 if you want to be more exact).

Area: From squared feet to squared meters

(step 1) Subtract 10% from the squared feet measure
(step 2) Divide the result by 10

Example: 500 squared feet -> (step 1) 500 - (10% of 500, which is 50) = 450 -> (step 2)  450/10 = 45
So 500 squared feet convert to approximately 45 squared meters

Or if you find it easy to do decimal multiplications mentally, just multiply the squared feet measure by 0.09 (0.093 if you want to be more exact)

Area: From squared meters to squared feet

(step 1) Multiply the squared meters measure by 10
(step 2) Add 10% to the result

Example: 50 squared meters -> (step 1) 50*10 = 500 -> (step 2)  500 + (10% of 500, which is 50) = 550
So 50 squared meters convert to approximately 550 squared meters

Or if you find it easy to do decimal multiplications mentally, just multiply the squared feet measure by 10.8

What to do when you feel something is in your eye

If you ever feel there's something in your eye, like dust, just do this:

Look down, open your eyes wide, and keep blinking.

Additionally, if the particle is in the extremities, move your eyeball in the opposite direction of where you feel the pain. So if you feel pain at the top, do the above steps but roll your eyeball to the bottom and keep blinking.

Learned it from my teacher in first grade and works every time. Even when I'm wearing contacts.

A simple handy zipper repair

This works perfectly and came in handy this weekend when I wore my favorite jeans that has a zipper that refuses to stay up.
Suggest Edits

How to pick a sweet honeydew melon

Brush your hand gently over a honeydew melon. Don't buy it unless it is covered with tiny hairs - the fuzzier, the sweeter.

To easily convert from kilos to pounds

To easily convert from kilos to pounds, double it and then add ten percent.


1) 73kg x 2 = 146

146 + 14.6 = 160.6 lbs

2) 45kg x 2 = 90
90 + 9 = 99 lbs

How to tell if you are about to buy a juicy orange or grapefruit, no matter what the skin looks like:

  • Pick up the orange or grapefruit. If it feels light, it's not juicy and will taste rather woody.
  • Go through the bin picking the ones that feel heaviest compared to oranges or grapefruits of a similar size. They'll be the tastiest ones.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How Porsche Hacked the Financial System & Made a Killing

In 1931, Austro-Hungarian engineer Ferdinand Porsche started a German  company in his own name. It offered car design consulting services, and  was not a car manufacturer itself until it produced the Type 64 in 1939. But things got interesting for Porsche long before then.

In 1933, he was approached by none other than Adolf Hitler, who  commissioned a car designed for the German masses. Porsche accepted, and  the result was the iconic Beetle, manufactured under the Volkswagen  (lit. “people’s car”) brand. Today, Porsche’s company is one of the  world’s premier luxury car brands, while Volkswagen (VW) is itself the  world’s third-largest auto maker after General Motors and Toyota.

Three years ago, Volkswagen found itself fearing a foreign takeover.  Porsche, the company, decided to step in and start buying VW stock  ostensibly to protect the landmark brand, widely fueling market  expectations that it would eventually buy Volkswagen outright. Of  course, this isn’t quite what came to pass.

For three years, Porsche kept accumulating VW stock without telling  anyone how much it owned. Every time it purchased more, the amount of  free-floating VW stock would decrease, driving the stock price up  slightly; your basic supply and demand at work. Eventually the share  price became high enough that, to outside observers, it wouldn’t have  made any sense for Porsche to buy Volkswagen. It would simply have cost  too much.

To explain what happened next, I’m going to first tell you about a financial maneuver called shorting.


At any given point, only a certain amount of a publicly traded  company’s stock is floating freely in the market. The rest is held in  various portfolios, funds, and investment vehicles. Now, everyone’s  familiar with the basic idea behind the stock market: you buy stock when  it costs little, and you sell it when it costs a lot, profiting on the  difference.

But that assumes a company’s value is going to increase. What if,  instead of betting a company will go up, you want to make money betting  the company will go down? You can — by selling stock you don’t own.

Say you borrow a certain amount of stock from someone who already  owns it. You pay a fixed fee for borrowing the stock, and you sign a  contract saying you will return exactly the same amount of stock you  took after some amount of time. So, you might borrow a thousand shares  of Apple stock from me (I don’t actually own any, but play along), pay  me $100 for the privilege, and sign an obligation to return my stock in 3  months. At the time, Apple stock is worth $10 per share.

After you borrow the stock, you immediately sell it. At $10 a share,  you get $10,000. Two and a half months later, another rumor about Steve  Jobs’ health sends AAPL crashing to only $6 per share for a few hours,  so you buy a thousand shares, costing you $6,000. You give me back those  shares. Because you successfully bet the company would go down in  value, you earned $4,000 minus the borrowing fee. This is called  short-selling or shorting the stock, and the downside is obvious: if  your bet was wrong, you would have lost money buying back the shares  that you have to return to your lender.

Where Things Get Kinky

When Volkswagen’s share price exceeded the point where it made sense  for Porsche to buy the company, a number of hedge funds realized that  Volkswagen shares have nowhere to go but down. With Porsche out of the  picture, there was simply no reason for VW to keep going up, and the  funds were willing to bet on it. So they shorted huge amounts of VW  stock, borrowing it from existing owners and selling it into  circulation, waiting for the price drop they considered inevitable.

Porsche anticipated exactly this situation and promptly bought up  much of these borrowed VW shares that the funds were selling. Do you see  where this is going? Analysts did. According to The Economist,  Adam Jonas from Morgan Stanley warned clients not to play “billionaire’s  poker” against Porsche. Porsche denied any foul play, saying it wasn’t  doing anything unusual.

But then, last October 26th, they stepped forward and bared their  portfolio: through a combination of stock and options, they owned 75% of  Volkswagen, which is almost all the company’s circulating stock. (The  remainder is tied up in funds that cannot easily release it.)

To put it mildly, the numbers scared the living hell out of the hedge  funds: if they didn’t immediately buy back the Volkswagen stock they  were shorting, there might not be any left to buy later, and it isn’t their stock — they have to return it to someone. If their only option is thus to  buy the VW stock from Porsche, then the miracle of supply and demand  will hit again, and Porsche can ask for whatever price it wants per VW  share — twenty times their value, a hundred times their value — because  there’s no other place to buy. They’re the only game in town.


Porsche’s ownership disclosure sent the hedge funds on such a flurry  of purchases for any Volkswagen stock still in circulation that the VW  share price jumped from below €200 to over €1000 at one point on October  28th, making Volkswagen for a brief time the world’s most valuable  company by market cap.

On paper, Porsche made between €30-40 billion in the affair.  Once all is said and done, the actual profit is closer to some €6-12  billion. To put those numbers in perspective, Porsche’s revenue for the  whole year of 2006 was a bit over €7 billion.

Porsche’s move took three years of careful maneuvering. It was darkly  brilliant, a wealth transfer ingeniously conceived like few we’ve ever  seen. Betting the right way, Porsche roiled the financial markets and  took the hedge funds for a fortune.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What's a Bitcoin and why would you want one?

By Woody Leonhard
You might have heard in recent weeks about Bitcoin millionaires — people who raked in vast sums of real money riding this relatively new form of currency.
Bitcoins offer both a fascinating, new approach to money and many potential pitfalls. Here's what you should know about this online phenomenon.
The history of money is fascinating. Ancient humans traded salt for fish, wheat for beer, and camels for wives. Around 9,000 BC, give or take a millennium or three, people started using an intermediary object — something they might not need but could exchange. For example, I'll take one bag of rice for my duck; I'll give you a half-bag of rice for that small clay pot or a whole bag for that big pot.
In Asia, cowry shells (considerably easier to carry than bags of rice, no doubt) were used long ago for bartering. But as trade expanded around the world, more sophisticated forms of "currency" were needed: bronze-cast knives in China, silver bars of set weights in Mesopotamia, gold bars in Egypt.
Around 700 to 500 BC, the first coins appeared — typically, stamped bits of naturally occurring silver/gold metal called electrum. Minted coins followed, their value dictated by the weight and fineness of gold or silver used. Coins from Athens, Persia, and China circulated all over the world.
Around the 11th century, paper money appeared alongside coins in China. In Europe, the first paper money was a sort of IOU used to document loans in gold. The IOUs gradually formalized into official banknotes.
In the 17th century, European governments (and much of the world soon after) moved into the business of issuing paper money, backed by deposits of gold and silver.
Skipping over centuries of hyperinflation, bank runs, and the end of the gold standard, we arrive at the monetary system in use today.
With the exception of cash and trade, every monetary transaction we make today goes through the same basic cycle: you offer to buy something with a credit card or check, a central record-keeping organization verifies whether you have sufficient funds or credit, the purchase is approved, and the transaction is posted to your account.
All forms of electronic money work the same way. You put through a charge using a credit card online, or you receive or send money via PayPal, or you tap your stored-value card or phone to make a payment. As long as you have enough money or credit, you're good. The system works because the currency used remains relatively stable.
Establishing an entirely different kind of money
Bitcoins are currency, but they're unlike anything most of us use today. They're a blend of new technology, old-style bartering, and free-market thinking. Although completely electronic, a Bitcoin's value is set by the open market — not by any government entity.
Like cash, Bitcoin transactions are untraceable. If you want to transfer significant amounts of money through traditional channels, it takes either suitcases of cash or at least one intermediary bank — along with all the required paper trails and fees. Not so with Bitcoins. Using some cryptographic magic and extreme redundancy, the Bitcoin network requires no central bank, no list of Bitcoin holders, nothing that can trace a person to a specific transaction. If that sounds like an ideal setup for money launderers, drug dealers, and/or fugitive prime ministers, you're on the way to understanding the early attraction of Bitcoins.
About four years ago, Bitcoins came to prominence as the preferred currency on the Silk Road website. As reported by the Guardian and other sources, the majority of sales on Silk Road involved drugs. Bitcoins made those transactions untraceable.
Today, Bitcoins are undoubtedly used for less sordid transactions. But their fluctuating value also gives them a commodity- or stock-like aspect. Through 2012, a single Bitcoin's value grew from U.S. $5 to about $13. This year, a Bitcoin cost $266 on April 10 and then fell to $125 the next day, prompting the crash of the largest online Bitcoin exchange, the Japan-based Mt. Gox (site). When the exchange came back online a day later, Bitcoins hit a low of $65. As I write this, a couple of weeks later, the value's almost doubled to $120.
Now that's what I call volatility!
Nobody knows for sure why the Bitcoin market soared, then crashed. One theory places the blame on Cyprus's banking crisis, where thousands of bank accounts received involuntary "haircuts" by a Cypriot government flailing for cash. Panicked depositors ran for alternatives — among them, Bitcoins. Others speculate that organized crime manipulated the market to buy low and sell high. (On April 24, Mt. Gox was also hit by a massive distributed-denial-of-service attack.)
Steve Forbes, no stranger to the subject of money and finance, put it succinctly in his op-ed article, "Bitcoin: Whatever it is, it's not money!" He states that the Bitcoin is too volatile to be "money" in any traditional sense of the term. "It has no fixed value. It trades like a stock or commodity."
To Bitcoin proponents, that's precisely the point. Bitcoins are kind of an anarchist's version of cowry shells — not beholden to any government, bank, political group, or individual trying to corner the market in a specific commodity.
How a distributed-currency system works
As mentioned above, Bitcoins are entirely electronic. At its heart, a Bitcoin is simply a number — like the serial number on a banknote. To use a Bitcoin, you sign in to your Bitcoin wallet, stored either at an online service or in an application on your personal computer or mobile device. The wallet shows your Bitcoin balances; it's also where you get Bitcoin addresses (essentially separate accounts), which you give to other Bitcoin users when transferring the currency. According to the "How does Bitcoin work?" page, the system is somewhat like a distributed email network.
Bitcoins also work somewhat like a typical online bank transfer but with important differences. For instance, there's no bank-like clearinghouse for Bitcoin transactions. Nobody has a list of all account numbers and owners. There is, however, an ongoing list of transfers: which accounts transferred how much to which other accounts. The list is public — it's stored in hundreds of different locations, on hundreds of different computers. (You can see every transaction going by in real time on Clark Moody's site.) Who owns the accounts is, on the other hand, private.
The technical details of Bitcoin transfers — how Bitcoins change ownership and how the system prevents transferring the same Bitcoin twice — involve public-key cryptography and some fancy computing techniques. Unlike a bank, the Bitcoin network doesn't keep track of your Bitcoins — only Bitcoin transactions. Which means you're responsible for protecting your Bitcoin wallet.
When you ask somebody to send money, you have to give them a Bitcoin address — essentially an encrypted public key. The Bitcoin software actually encourages you to generate a new address number for each transaction. If you get money from one person and then send that money to someone else using a different address, it's basically impossible for anyone other than you to know where the money came from or where it went.
There's some time delay on the transactions. Typically, it takes 10 minutes for Bitcoin transfers to take effect. The reasons are complex, but they're associated with preventing double spends — trying to spend the same Bitcoin twice, either intentionally or inadvertently. Since there's no central repository of accounts and balances, the delay is basically the price you pay for having a whole bunch of computers simultaneously verify the transactions.
If you're accustomed to bank wire transfers taking an hour, a day, or even a week to complete, 10 minutes doesn't seem like much of a hardship. And the Bitcoin verification runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week on hundreds of computers, making the system fairly reliable.
Incidentally, the first widely recognized Bitcoin transaction was the purchase of two pizzas. The buyer reportedly paid 10,000 Bitcoins — pricey even at early Bitcoin rates.
Where Bitcoins came from; where they're going
Bitcoins have a fascinating history. The originator of the concept, who went by the handle "Satoshi Nakamoto," has never been identified. I say "went" because Satoshi appeared out of the blue in 2008, published a few papers, never made a public appearance, and stopped answering emails in December 2010. However, the importance of Bitcoins doesn't rest in the person or persons who created it. The creation itself holds the answers to pressing money problems such as making private transactions without resorting to piles of cash.
If you want to keep your Bitcoin transactions private, there are two points of vulnerability to online snoops: when you buy Bitcoins using some other currency, and when you sell your Bitcoins. Once inside the system, you're anonymous. In other words, when you use Bitcoins only to pay for purchases, there's no traceable record. (One person recently sold his house with Bitcoins, another sold a Porsche.)
That obviously presents a problem for law enforcement. Because Bitcoins make investigations more difficult, law-enforcement agencies are leaning hard — sometimes with sanctions, sometimes with legislation — on the Bitcoin clearinghouses to provide information about transactions. Mt. Gox's sign-up page warns that if you try to access your account using the Tor network or public proxy servers (two common means of disguising your location), they might suspend your account and force you to submit anti-money-laundering documents. (A page, on the other hand, recommends using Tor to hide your PC's IP address.)
Today there are approximately 11 million Bitcoins in circulation. The system is designed to let the number of Bitcoins increase at a very slow rate — by 2140, there should be about 21 million Bitcoins in circulation. If you want to learn more about Bitcoins, take a look at the official Bitcoin FAQ.
Bottom line: If you do become a Bitcoins user, keep in mind that the value of your Bitcoins can change rapidly and unpredictably. Whenever someone asks me whether I'd buy Bitcoins right now, my answer is a resounding "Hell no!" It's an interesting concept — a currency not tied to any country or financial institution — but the recent run-up and decline of Bitcoin pricing give me nosebleeds. Put your savings in Bitcoins, and you might make enough money to retire in the next year. Or you could lose 90 percent of your gamble — er, investment.