Monday, October 31, 2011

Louisiana Bans Cash Transactions on Second-Hand Items

Last time I checked, U.S. Bills all have these words on it: This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.

Apparently, cash is not king if you're buying second-hand merchandise in Louisiana.

According to House Bill 195:
A secondhand dealer shall not enter into any cash transactions in payment for the purchase of junk or used or secondhand property. Payment shall be made in the form of check, electronic transfers, or money order issued to the seller of the junk or used or secondhand property and made payable to the name and address of the seller. All payments made by check, electronic transfers, or money order shall be reported separately in the daily reports required by R.S. 37:1866.

State Rep. Rickey Hardy (co-author of the Bill) stated that this was intended to make it difficult for criminals to sell stolen goods.
"It's a mechanism to be used so the police department has something to go on and have a lead."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review: Living Off The Grid by David Black

Hey everyone, I decided to write a quickie review of this. I finished the book a few weeks ago and have been wanting to post this so here goes. The book is Living off the grid by David Black.

I was excited about reading this book since I've never really read anything on the subject of off grid lifestyle so I dove right in.

Right off the bat, I found the generalizations distracting. Distracting enough to highlight it (yes, the Kindle app is awesome like that) and write notes on it.

Here are samples:
On Fifth Wheel Trailers - "There's usually a cab-over, containing an entertainment center, a stash of hunting rifles and beer, or a couple of repulsive youngsters making faces and flipping off passing motorists."

(This was a damn kids, get off my lawn segment of the book apparently)

Here's another:
"The majority of RVers are upple-middle-class kids looking for cushy digs in their cosmic conquests."

I continued reading the book
a) because I like to finish what I started
b) because I wanted to give it a chance, the subject matter interests me
c) because I honestly thought it was going to get better

I was partly right in the fact that it had parts that were good and informative. The ideas overall are pretty basic. The only topic that was in depth was the one on electricity / power source. That chapter just went on longer than it needed to be, too advanced for most.

I was expecting more of a practical, DIY for beginners type of book I suppose.

At least I didn't have to pay for it. It was being offered for free for promotional purposes on Amazon for a little while.

So for my first foray on off grid books, I'll have to give this a 2/5 stars. 

I'll keep it as a basic reference guide for now until I find something more suitable to take its place.

Go have a look see if you're still curious about it. If you have any recommendations on self-sufficiency / living off grid type books let me know.

Report Reveals Jump on Government Requests for User Data

The amount of government requests for user account data and removal of content has increased 29% in the last 6 months. according to Google's transparency report.

Via Google (Click to enlarge)
The data collected is from January to June 2011. 

According to Dorothy Chou, Senior Policy Analyst:

"We believe that providing this level of detail highlights the need to modernize laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which regulates government access to user information and was written 25 years ago—long before the average person had ever heard of email."

The U.S. leads the way in most data requested (5,950).

[Via Google Transparency Report]

Monday, October 24, 2011

Student Loan Bubble- Debt creeping into the Trillion

The amount of student loans made last year exceeded $100 billion for the first time and is on its way to the $1 trillion mark.

Here's some troubling facts from the USA Today article:

  • Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards
  • Students are borrowing twice what they did a decade ago after adjusting for inflation
  • The default rate (borrowers more than nine months behind) rose from 6.7 percent in 2007 to 8.8 percent in 2009.
A generation of wage slaves? Perhaps. This means young students will be starting their adult lives with a hefty amount of debt to repay. For those who are returning or have returned to the university for retraining or a career change means having to take on more debt.

Editor's Note:
With the tuition hikes all across the country this is obviously just going to get worse but those who are college bound should take some responsibility in making wiser decisions in terms of school of choice as well as the major you're pursuing. A more prudent approach to your process of selection should help you save cash overall. Consider taking your basic courses at a junior college then transfer into a 4 yr school. Do some research on your chosen major first such as job market outlook (there's never a guarantee of employment but you should still be as informed as possible).

Quantum Levitation - Quantum Trapping in action

I know what you're thinking. Hoverboards like Marty McFly had is just around the corner, right? Maybe even a game of Quidditch. Not quite. Superconductors only have the field vanishing qualities during extremely cold temps. You would need room-temp conductors for that, which hasn't been discovered yet. Plus there's other components that factor in. But let's just keep the geek dream alive eh?

For a more detailed explanation, read the physics behind it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Car of the future? Self-driving cars could be out by end of decade.

Vehicles that partially drive themselves will be available by the middle of the decade with more sophisticated self-driving systems by the end of the decade, General Motors Vice President of Global Research and Development Alan Taub says.

These advances in autonomous vehicle technology are built on leading-edge advanced active safety systems, Taub told the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress in Orlando on Sunday.

Sensors, radars, portable communication devices, GPS and cameras are the tools that supply critical information to the driver and the automobile’s computer system. Combined with digital maps, the same technologies will allow the driver to let the vehicle concentrate on driving while he does something else.
“The technologies we’re developing will provide an added convenience by partially or even completely taking over the driving duties,” Taub said. “The primary goal, though, is safety. Future generation safety systems will eliminate the crash altogether by interceding on behalf of drivers before they’re even aware of a hazardous situation.”

GM is already putting some of these advanced safety systems into its vehicles. For example, a lane departure warning system is available on the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain; a side blind-zone alert is available on the Cadillac Escalade, Buick LaCrosse, GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban. A host of vehicles, including the Equinox and Terrain, offer back-up cameras.

Additional advanced safety systems under development will provide the foundation for autonomous driving including:

• An industry-first crash avoidance system available on the 2012 GMC Terrain uses a camera to help drivers avoid front-end and lane departure crashes. The system uses a high-resolution digital camera mounted on the windshield ahead of the rearview mirror to look for shapes of vehicles and lane markings, alerting the driver to possible collisions and lane departures.

• Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems gather information from other vehicles, roadways and traffic signals to warn drivers about possible hazards ahead, including slowed or stalled vehicles, hard-braking drivers, slippery roads, sharp curves and upcoming stop signs and intersections. These systems, on display this week at the ITS World Congress, can be embedded in the vehicle or be added as applications to portable devices/smartphones that connect wirelessly to the vehicle.

• The EN-V urban mobility concept combines GPS with vehicle-to-vehicle communications and distance-sensing technologies to enable autonomous driving. The EN-V’s capabilities being demonstrated at the ITS World Congress includes pedestrian detection, collision avoidance, platooning and automated parking and retrieval, where the EN-V drops off its driver, parks itself and then returns to pick up the driver via commands from a smartphone.

“In the coming years, we believe the industry will experience a dramatic leap in active safety systems, and, hopefully, a dramatic decline in injuries and fatalities on our roadways,” Taub said. “GM has made a commitment to be at the forefront of this development.”

GM and Carnegie Mellon University worked together to develop the “The Boss” Chevrolet Tahoe that brought autonomous vehicle operation to life in 2007 and won the DARPA Urban Challenge. The event required teams to build a driverless vehicle capable of driving in traffic and performing complex maneuvers such as merging, passing, parking and negotiating intersections over a 60-mile course.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

City-wide sensor systems

By installing millions of sensors throughout a city and hooking them up to an urban operating system, the Portuguese-based company Living PlanIT envisions that, in the future, cities could monitor and manage themselves more efficiently without the need for additional human supervision.

For instance, in the event of a fire in an occupied building, sensors would spot the fire and then flickering lights and alarms would direct people to a safe stairwell and an exit. At the same time, a fire station would be notified and the system would manage the traffic lights so fire engines could reach the building as quickly as possible.

In this way and others, sensors around the city could keep an eye on what’s happening and keep things running smoothly. The plan involves using sensors for monitoring everything from traffic flow, energy consumption, water use, waste processing, and the temperature of individual rooms. All these sensors would be connected to the Urban OS, enabling them to communicate with each other. The Urban OS was developed by McLaren Electronic Systems, which makes sensors for Formula One cars.

According to Living PlanIT, this kind of “smart city” could lead to cost savings while improving the quality of life for the people who live there. The company is currently building a demo city called PlanIT Valley, located in southern Portugal near the town of Paredes. Although it will take several years for the city to be built, Living PlanIT hopes that the final outcome will be a city that is more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable than today’s cities.

To support the many applications such a system could have, the Urban OS will run PlaceApps, which is the urban equivalent of apps on a smartphone. Independent developers could also create their own apps for specific uses. Eventually, smartphones could connect to the Urban OS to monitor and control household appliances and energy systems. All this will be possible, according to Living PlanIT, while simultaneously protecting people’s security and privacy.

The World Economic Forum recently selected Living PlanIT as one of its Technology Pioneers of 2012 for its work in developing smart cities.

[Via Living PlanIt]

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Navy's UFO-like X-47B Makes First Flight in Cruise Mode

The Navy’s ultimate stealth fighter drone has achieved a new milestone — it flew in cruise configuration for the first time, stowing its landing gear for a streamlined flight. 

The jet-powered, autonomous X-47B is designed for aerodynamic flight — it doesn’t even have a tail — partly to improve its stealth capabilities. But until now, its flight tests hadn’t retracted the landing gear, making it difficult to test its aerodynamic attributes. Further tests will help engineers prove the aircraft’s performance under a wide range of altitude, speed and fuel conditions.
Northrop Grumman is developing the X-4B on behalf of the U.S. Navy, which plans to use them on aircraft carriers. The drone is designed as a robotic strike aircraft, capable of taking on a multitude of missions at much higher speeds than its prop-powered kin, the Predator and Reaper.
It will be the first unmanned aircraft to take off and land on an aircraft carrier deck. As such, the Navy is also studying drone intelligence, so each X-47B will not need to pester the tower when the pattern is full.

[Via PopSci]

Wireless Biometric E-Passports And E-ID Cards Roll Out In 2014 For EU

Digital security specialists, major European electronics makers, and experts in biometrics worked together to make passport control at airports faster. The technology also could have broader applications on the way our identity documents are design and on the way we access public services.

The BioP@ss project, funded through the EUREKA micro-electronics cluster MEDEA+, has developed advanced chip cards and embedded software for next-generation biometrics-enhanced passports and identity cards as well as access to pan-European public services. Contactless card scanning and very high speed data interfacing will reduce queues at airports and frontier posts while boosting European security.

The technology will improve passengers safety while reducing government administration costs and simplifying access to public pan-European electronic services for citizens. The elements are already being incorporated in systems to meet air travel security standards from 2014.

Some 380 million identity cards are in circulation in the EU’s 500 million population. However, security levels must be raised for electronic e-ID cards and passports while also simplifying access to electronic public services for citizens across Europe. The challenge facing the digital security industry was to meet new standards without changing the infrastructure already in use in airports. It was also necessary to speed card reading to cut waiting times and enable access to much more data.

Extended security required

E-passports and e-ID cards incorporate a microprocessor chip storing crucial private information such as biometrics as well as name, date and country of birth. The EU required extended security to ensure that the chip could not be read without physical access to the ID document and that data exchanged between contactless chip and reading device is encrypted.

New technologies and standards developed during the project, implement asymmetric cryptography reliant on a shared key between reading device and chip during authentication. The result is enhanced data confidentiality which prevents skimming or eavesdropping.

Security specialist Gemalto set out to meet the new requirements through a project bringing together 11 partners in five countries covering all elements of the smart-card platform. “Gemalto invests heavily in research to retain its leadership position and we like co-operative programmes such as EUREKA for this type of complex innovative project,” explains Patrice Plessis of Gemalto.

While the initial focus was on e-passports and e-ID cards, applications were also envisaged for health-service access, electronic voting and driving licences. “We built on the results of the previous MEDEA+ Onom@Topic project,” says Plessis. The project won two years ago the prestigious EUREKA Innovation Award, rewarding every year a research project leading to outstanding commercial results.

Match-on-card environment

Facial image verification is the main use of biometrics features with e-passports and e-ID cards. The goal of BioP@ss was to develop an innovative match-on-card biometrics environment, suitable for on-card processing, and to develop an environment enabling users to interact from a biometrics e-ID personal device with a set of multiple near-field communication (NFC) enabled terminals. Concretely, airplane passengers will simply have to pass through a gate with their passport in their pocket to be immediately identified. This could replace the long waiting line at airports’ passport controls.

All this required new chip technologies which have provided several innovations such as very high bit rate contactless interfaces, able to transmit thousands of data parameters within a few seconds, advanced biometrics and NFC connectivity that will enable the delivery of innovative services to citizens by simply using a personal e-ID.

Advances in BioP@ss included further development of security chips and encryption technologies, and security software for personal computers. Data transfer rates between cards and readers have been increased more than tenfold – from 800 kb/s to 10 Mb/s. Moreover, a new chip-card operating system makes it possible to use future e-ID documents on the Internet without any additional software components on the PC.

“We also worked on proof of security for supplemental access control for e-passports, contributing a new standard called PACE -Password Authenticated Connection Establishment-, which was adopted in mid 2011,” says Plessis. In addition, the EUREKA project contributed to a new ISO standard for contactless data transfer, currently under consideration, and to the CEN IAS standard for the European Citizen Card.

Increasing security and mobility

BioP@ss made advances in the development of a software making operations on ID related data more transparent, thus creating the necessary protocols for what are already called third-generation passport, e-ID cards and resident permits. Those are very important for the new travel regulations initiated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, or ICAO, entering into practice from the end of 2014.

The technologies developed are being incorporated into card platforms by the BioP@ss partners. Packages including the technology are already on the market, while card specialists Gemalto and Giesecke & Devrient are working on complete contactless means of Internet authentification. Benefits include increased mobility in Europe with faster and more flexible access to e-government and better protection of personal data. “Moreover, it will be possible to reuse the building blocks developed in middleware/software, biometrics and protocols in other projects and platforms to improve European security and competitiveness,” points out Plessis.

[Via Eureka Network]

Monday, October 17, 2011

Swedish Daycare to Test GPS for Tracking Kids

A daycare centre in the southern Swedish city of Malmoe said Wednesday it planned to test GPS devices for tracking children when they are out on excursions.

"We will test this system on 10 children for a week in October. We will have 10 GPS transmitters attached to their reflective vests when we're outside the nursery school," explained Karin Werholt, who runs the Kronprinsen (Crown Prince) centre that cares for 36 children between the ages of one and six.

"We will test if the transmitters are robust, if they work well and if they affect the children's playing in any way," she told AFP, adding that the centre did not have any problem keeping track of kids and it remained unclear whether it would purchase the system if the test went well.

According to the Malmoe company Purple Scout that provides the system, the GPS transmitters all report the positions of the children to one mobile phone, which sounds an alert if a transmitter moves beyond a certain distance from the phone.

"This is in no way meant to make it easy for administrators to reduce the number of nursery school teachers," project leader Henrik Hoff told AFP, rejecting some initial criticism of the project.
"It is meant to complement their work, but it cannot stop a child from running off. It only makes it possible to discover they're gone at an earlier stage and find them quicker," he explained.

Purple Scout is planning an official launch of the system on October 18 and aims to have its first orders by the end of the year, according to Hoff.

"The daycares we have talked to are very positive to the idea," he said.

[Via PhysOrg]

Star Trek Type Tricorder in Development

A Star Trek Tricorder
In the fictional Star Trek universe, a tricorder is a multifunction handheld device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and recording data.
Three primary variants of the tricorder are issued in Star Trek's Starfleet. The standard tricorder is a general-purpose device used primarily to scout unfamiliar areas, make detailed examination of living things, and record and review technical data.

The medical tricorder is used by doctors to help diagnose diseases and collect bodily information about a patient; the key difference between this and a standard tricorder is a detachable hand-held high-resolution scanner stored in a compartment of the tricorder when not in use. The engineering tricorder is fine-tuned for starship engineering purposes. There are also many other lesser-used varieties of special use tricorders. The word "tricorder" is a portmanteau of "tri-" and "recorder", referring to the device's three default scanning functions: GEO (geological), MET (meteorological), and BIO (biological).

DARPA's (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Virtual Tricorder program will develop technologies for analyzing and assimilating massive datasets collected on individual test subjects to visualize, understand, and assess health status by modeling and simulating biological systems.

The resulting application will enable medical practitioners to visualize and understand complex relationships across patient data in electronic medical record systems. Not only will this technique allow physicians to visualize patients' health status more accurately, but it will also provide tools to predict the systemic impact (positive and negative) of pharmaceutical and other therapeutic interventions on the patient. Achieving this will require modeling the complex, multi-feature, multi-scale interactions in biological systems from the holistic perspective of systems biology rather than the traditional reductionist perspective.

Virtual Tricorder will combine multiple physical/biological models to create the capability to realistically simulate numerous simultaneous physical/biological phenomena. Virtual Tricorder technology will have potential applicability in both time-critical medical settings such as a military intensive care unit (ICU) and also long-term recovery settings where patients are being treated for multiple comorbid conditions with multiple therapeutic approaches.

FY 2012 Plans include:
- Conceptualize modeling and simulation techniques for biological systems.
- Develop techniques for registration and fusion of multi-modal medical imagery (PET/MRI/CAT/sonogram).
- Develop techniques for modeling physiological impact of medications and other therapeutic interventions.
- Develop approaches for integrating physical and chemical measurements that range from the microscopic (pathology data) to
the macroscopic (radiology data).
- Initiate development of visualization techniques that scale from the tissue to the organ to the whole-body.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Robots for Tagging, Tracking, & Locating already in the works.

Military research has been the source of a number of modern technologies, most notably the Internet.
But now, the Army just issued contracts to develop two technologies that don’t seem as fun as, say, poking someone on Facebook.

The contracts, which Wired reports are for work on surveillance projects, could make drones more adept at targeting specific individuals.

One is to develop drones with strong facial recognition that prevents the drone from losing a face in a crowd. Others are for machines that can integrate intelligence data with information from an informant to determine your intent.

Part of a broader effort called TTL (for “Tagging, Tracking and Locating”), these new projects will support the Pentagon as it attempts to monitor enemies and insurgents in places like Afghanistan, where the strategy has switched from rebuilding societies to targeting specific individual bad actors.
Current technologies include using tiny transmitters that can use cellular, satellite or radio frequencies to report their whereabouts and lingering scents that mark targets with a vapor that can be tracked for hours. But they are inadequate because targets may discover their transmitters and remove them, and scents eventually dissipate.

A drone that recognizes you

Progeny Systems Corporation, which won one of the contracts, is developing a drone that can use photos to create a three-dimensional model of the target’s face. As Wired says,
It’s not an easy trick to pull off — even with the proper lighting, and even with a willing subject. Building a model of someone on the run is harder. Constructing a model using the bobbing, weaving, flying, relatively low-resolution cameras on small unmanned aerial vehicles is tougher still.
The new technology, called the “Long Range, Non-cooperative, Biometric Tagging, Tracking and Location” system, could be revolutionary because it can overcome what is a current problem in tagging, tracking and locating work: targets are usually only visible occasionally in crowds or in sheltered positions.
Progeny’s new project can take a poor-quality (50 pixel) photo of someone with any expression, in any pose and under any lighting and build a 3-D model of his/her face. After the face is initially entered into Progeny’s system, it takes only another 15- or 20-pixel image to recognize him.

The technology is robust enough that it can tell identical twins apart, as evidenced by tests that researchers from Notre Dame and Michigan State Universities ran using images of faces at a “Twins Days” festival.
Though the software works better the closer the drone is, the facial information can be added to “soft biometric” information such as skin color, height, build, age and gender to track a person of interest from a distance too far to use facial recognition.

Drones that read your mind

Another technology, being developed by Charles River Analytics, analyzes human behavior to determine if someone has malicious intent. The technology, called Adversary Behavior Acquisition, Collection, Understanding, and Summarization (ABACUS), compiles behavioral data to determine if a subject has built up anger against the U.S. and might pose a threat.
Similarly, Modus Operandi, Inc. is developing a system that will use “probabilistic algorithms th[at] determine the likelihood of adversarial intent.” Its name is “Clear Heart,” which surely trades on the idea of transparency and does not imply what is to be found in these targets’ hearts.

[Source: Smart Planet]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Invisibility Cloak - Researchers Make Object Disappear (Video)

Scientists have created a working cloaking device that not only takes advantage of one of nature’s most bizarre phenomenon, but also boasts unique features; it has an ‘on and off’ switch and is best used underwater. (Video at the end of this post)

The researchers, from the University of Texas at Dallas, have demonstrated the device’s ability to make objects disappear in a fascinating video shown at the bottom of the page.

This novel design, presented on Tuesday 4 September, in IOP Publishing’s journal Nanotechnology, makes use of sheets of carbon nanotubes (CNT) – one-molecule-thick sheets of carbon wrapped up into cylindrical tubes.

CNTs have such unique properties, such as having the density of air but the strength of steel, that they have been extensively studied and put forward for numerous applications; however it is their exceptional ability to conduct heat and transfer it to surrounding areas that makes them an ideal material to exploit the so-called “mirage effect”.

The mirage effect, frequently observed in deserts or on long roads in the summer, is an optical phenomenon in which light rays are bent to produce a displaced image of distant objects or the sky.

The most common example of a mirage is when an observer appears to see pools of water on the ground. This occurs because the air near the ground is a lot warmer than the air higher up, causing lights rays to bend upward towards the viewer’s eye rather than bounce off the surface.

This results in an image of the sky appearing on the ground which the viewer perceives as water actually reflecting the sky; the brain sees this as a more likely occurrence.

Through electrical stimulation, the transparent sheet of highly aligned CNTs can be easily heated to high temperatures. They then have the ability to transfer that heat to its surrounding areas, causing a steep temperature gradient. Just like a mirage, this steep temperature gradient causes the light rays to bend away from the object concealed behind the device, making it appear invisible.

With this method, it is more practical to demonstrate cloaking underwater as all of the apparatus can be contained in a petri dish. It is the ease with which the CNTs can be heated that gives the device its unique ‘on and off’ feature.

Lead-author, Dr Ali Aliev, said, “Using these nanotube sheets, concealment can be realized over the entire optical range and rapidly turned on-and-off at will, using either electrical heating or a pulse of electromagnetic radiation.

“The research results also provide useful insights into the optimization of nanotube sheets as thermoacoustic projectors for loud speaker and sonar applications, where sound is produced by heating using an alternating electrical current.”

An Institute of Physics spokesperson said, “It is remarkable to see this cloaking device demonstrated in real life and on a workable scale. The array of applications that could arise from this device, besides cloaking, is a testament to the excellent work of the authors.”

[Source: Institute of Physics ]

Friday, October 7, 2011

Frugal Food Strategy

With the cost of nearly every food ingredient rising steadily, knowing how to implement strong frugal food strategies is a life skill people can no longer afford to leave undeveloped. 

There is no shortage of articles on the subject, but the time to sift through thousands of individual recipes is hard to find when you have other priorities on your plate like earning a living. That’s why I feel it’s more helpful to think of grocery savings in terms of categories. This leaves the door open for people to explore individual recipes and ingredients that suit their particular family needs, while still providing some direction with regards to saving money on the food bill.

Go international for flavorful food fun that won’t break the bank.
Many popular ethnic foods are extremely affordable, making international cuisines a powerful grocery-savings strategy for the at-home cook. Basically, any type of ethnic food that relies heavily on plant-based foods and incorporates legumes regularly is a safe bet when it comes frugal flavor. Examples include Mexican dishes such as bean burritos, Caribbean food items such as coconut rice with pigeon peas and a number of Indian meals such as saucy lentils and vegetable biryani.

Strategic side dishes can shave serious dollars from your grocery receipt total.
We all want to serve something the whole family will enjoy sitting down to experience together, but blowing the budget on fancy extras can leave you short on savings for other necessities when they arise. That’s why having some favorite frugal side dishes you can regularly rely on at dinner time makes excellent money-saving sense. There are still nutritious and affordable ways to dress
them up. For example, one of our favorite ways to enjoy sautéed string beans is with a little minced garlic and sesame seeds. This doesn’t represent a huge cost to us, but provides way more wow factor than the plain steamed variety.

Making your own dry mixes is a seriously underutilized saving strategy.
While it may not seem like much to tack on a few extra bucks for convenient baking mixes, the truth is making things from scratch is literally a fraction of the cost. The problem? Time. That’s where creating your own dry mixes in bulk comes into play. By purchasing or saving large one – five gallon containers with airtight lids and creating mixes in bulk every few months, you can easily save both time and money. Whipping up a bulk batch of homemade corn bread mix, followed by a small pan of the finished product for dinner one evening, takes virtually the same time as simply baking the bread does.

However, the end result is that you have a large batch of dry mix that’s just as convenient as what you’d buy at the store standing ready for you to use the next ten or twelve times you need it. Similarly, homemade brownie mix in bulk is great for those small, square pans of treats the kids enjoy having after school. There are many other online recipes for making your own dry mix, including ideas for pizza dough, baking mix, pudding and more. Find a few that work with your family’s meal preferences, and start saving today!

Precision meat purchases represent powerful savings opportunities.
Having a long-term love affair with meat can mean major money getting added to your overall food budget. There are ways to indulge your carnivorous tooth without going broke, however. Using ground beef as a seasoning item, stretching seafood for further savings and embracing stir fry dishes and soups with gusto are all excellent ways to enjoy your meat money to the fullest. For poultry fans, there are a number of ways to save money on chicken as well, including the purchase of those large bags of chicken leg quarters, making your own stock and more.

Stick with nutritious, cheap food choices.
Those who know me well are aware that I pride myself on learning how to prepare tasty tidbits from the cheapest of grocery items. You know, the ones most people turn their noses up at on a regular basis. After all, how much enjoyment can you get from things like frozen spinach, brown lentils, cauliflower and chick peas? Plenty. Embracing cheap food items from the healthier areas of the grocery store will have you feeling more energetic and in control of your weekly grocery costs in no time. Roasted cauliflower steaks can be extremely succulent if prepared properly, and collard greens offer consistent nutrition for a song. These high-nutrient foods also are lower in calories, enabling you to fill up faster on the good stuff while maintaining a calorie count your doctor will give you a gold star for.

Buying affordable food for your family doesn’t have to mean skimping on nutrition. These money-saving shopping and meal planning strategies will have you on straight path to savings in no time.

RVS Note: If you've never been to one of those international groceries, you're missing out. Even if you're not very adventurous with your choice of food, it's worth taking a trip there and checking out what your local store has to offer. Usually their veggies are super fresh, not to mention very cheap and if you happen to like to dabble with cooking, you'll come out of it inspired to try something new. Another tip I'd add to this is to see what's in season. For example, it's a great time to get apples this time of the year so I've been making lots of desserts and sauces based on that. Simple food tastes the best.

[Source: News Bad]

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Solar Bottle Light

Here's another amazing alternative energy idea being implemented in the Philippines right now to help bring light to those who aren't able to have electricity in their homes.

The project is called One Liter of Light. All that is used are 1.5 liter bottles, water, 2 capfuls of bleach (to keep the algae from forming) - this only needs to be replaced every 5 years.

Developed and designed by MIT students, this simple light source can produce the equivalent of 55 watts of light.

You can check out their site:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Homeschooling Gets an A+

"There's no place like home," an iconic line uttered by Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, might apply to learning the ABC's, math and other core subjects. A new study from Concordia University and Mount Allison University has found that homeschooling — as long as it's structured or follows a curriculum — can provide kids with an academic edge.

"Structured homeschooling may offer opportunities for academic performance beyond those typically experienced in public schools," says first author Sandra Martin-Chang, a professor in the Concordia Department of Education, noting this is among the first nonpartisan studies to investigate home education versus public schooling.

Published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, the investigation compared 74 children living in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick: 37 who were homeschooled versus 37 who attended public schools. Participants were between 5 and 10 years old and each child was asked to complete standardized tests, under supervision of the research team, to assess their reading, writing, arithmetic skills, etc.

"Although public school children we assessed were performing at or above expected levels for their ages, children who received structured homeschooling had superior test results compared to their peers: From a half-grade advantage in math to 2.2 grade levels in reading," says Martin-Chang. "This advantage may be explained by several factors including smaller class sizes, more individualized instruction, or more academic time spent on core subjects such as reading and writing."

The research team also questioned mothers in both samples about their marital status, number of children, employment, education and household income. The findings suggest that the benefits associated with structured homeschooling could not be explained by differences in yearly family income or maternal education.

Unschooled versus traditional school

The study included a subgroup of 12 homeschooled children taught in an unstructured manner. Otherwise known as unschooling, such education is free of teachers, textbooks and formal assessment.

"Compared with structured homeschooled group, children in the unstructured group had lower scores on all seven academic measures," says Martin-Chang. "Differences between the two groups were pronounced, ranging from one to four grade levels in certain tests."

Children taught in a structured home environment scored significantly higher than children receiving unstructured homeschooling. "While children in public school also had a higher average grade level in all seven tests compared with unstructured homeschoolers," says Martin-Chang.

Public schools play an important role in the socialization of children, says Martin-Chang, "Yet compared to public education, homeschooling can present advantages such as accelerating a child's learning process."

In Canada, it is estimated that about one per cent of children are homeschooled. According to 2008 estimates from the National Center for Education Statistics, about 1.5 million children in the United States are homeschooled.

[Source: Science Daily]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Life After an EMP Atttack

Most Americans do not know this, but a single EMP attack could potentially wipe out most of the electronics in the United States and instantly send this nation back to the 1800s.

If a nuclear bomb exploded high enough in the atmosphere over the middle part of the country, the electromagnetic pulse would fry electronic devices from coast to coast.  The damage would be millions of times worse than 9/11.

Just imagine a world where nobody has power, most cars will not start, the Internet has been fried, the financial system is offline indefinitely, nobody can make any phone calls and virtually all commerce across the entire country is brought to a complete stop.

A nation that does not know how to live without technology would be almost entirely stripped of it at that point.  Yes, this could really happen.  An EMP attack is America’s “Achilles heel”, and everyone around the world knows it.  It is only a matter of time before someone uses an EMP weapon against us, and at this point we are pretty much completely unprepared.

The sad thing is that we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars hunting down “terrorists” in caves on the other side of the globe and we have been told that because of “national security” it is necessary for our private areas to be touched before we are allowed to get on an airplane, but our government is doing essentially nothing to address what is perhaps our biggest security vulnerability.

What would you and your neighbors do if the power went out and it did not ever come back on?

What would you do if an EMP attack happened in the middle of the winter and you suddenly were not able to heat your home any longer?

What would you do if all the electronics in your car got fried and you simply could not drive anywhere?

What would you do if all the supermarkets in your area shut down because food could not be transported across the country anymore?

What would you do if you were suddenly unable to call your family and friends for help?

What would you do if you were suddenly unable to get the medicine that you needed?

What would you do if your debit cards and credit cards simply did not work any longer and you could not get any of your money out of the bank?

What would you do if all of these things happened all at once?

A single EMP attack would be the worst disaster that the United States has ever seen by far.
An electromagnetic pulse could potentially fry the vast majority of all the microchips in the United States.  In an instant, nearly all of our electronic devices would be rendered useless.
Yes, the federal government knows all about this.  The following excerpt is from an April 2008 report by the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack….
“The consequences of lack of food, heat (or air conditioning), water, waste disposal, medical, police, fire fighting support, and effective civil authority would threaten society itself.”
Most of us have become completely and totally dependent on electricity and technology.  Without it, most of us would be in huge trouble.
The following is how an article in the Wall Street Journal described the potential consequences of an EMP attack….
No American would necessarily die in the initial attack, but what comes next is potentially catastrophic. The pulse would wipe out most electronics and telecommunications, including the power grid. Millions could die for want of modern medical care or even of starvation since farmers wouldn’t be able to harvest crops and distributors wouldn’t be able to get food to supermarkets. Commissioner Lowell Wood calls EMP attack a “giant continental time machine” that would move us back more than a century in technology to the late 1800s.
It wouldn’t be so bad if we had the knowledge and the infrastructure to live the way that they did back in the 1800s, but today that is simply not the case.

Dr. William Graham was Ronald Reagan’s science adviser and the chairman of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.  Dr. Graham believes that in the event of a large scale EMP attack, the vast majority of Americans would either freeze, starve or die from disease.
According to Graham, in the aftermath of an EMP attack life in America “would probably be something that you might imagine life to be like around the late 1800s but with several times the population we had in those days, and without the ability of the country to support and sustain all those people.”

Would you be able to survive?

All of those big bank accounts may never be able to be recovered after an EMP attack.  Your money might be instantly fried out of existence.

The following is what Graham believes would happen to the financial system in the event of an EMP attack….
“Most financial records are stored electronically. ATMs, which depend upon both power and telecommunications, would not be available; banks, which try to back up records but in general aren’t strongly aware of the EMP problem, would face the problem of unprotected storage and computer systems”
This is the danger of having a financial system that is so dependent on technology.  We may wake up one day and find that all the money is gone.
But if an EMP attack actually happened, the biggest concern for most of us would be trying to figure out how to survive.
The president of the Center for Security Policy, Frank Gaffney, is convinced that a single EMP attack could result in the deaths of the vast majority of the population of the United States….
“Within a year of that attack, nine out of 10 Americans would be dead, because we can’t support a population of the present size in urban centers and the like without electricity”
Are you starting to get a feel for the scope of the problem?
The sad thing is that so much could be done to protect this country from an EMP attack.
Right now, most vital U.S. military infrastructure has at least some protection from an EMP attack.
But the general population has been left completely and totally vulnerable.
It has been estimated that the entire power grid could potentially be protected for about 20 billion dollars.  Considering the fact that we have spent over 400 billion dollars in Afghanistan, I think that we could afford it.
We have spent our national security dollars very, very badly and someday it is going to come back to bite us in the rear end.
Right now, other nations around the world are working feverishly to develop EMP weapons.  The following is from a statement by Dr. Peter Vincent Pry to the United States Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security on March 8th, 2005….
Russian and Chinese military scientists in open source writings describe the basic principles of nuclear weapons designed specifically to generate an enhanced-EMP effect, that they term “Super-EMP” weapons. “Super-EMP” weapons, according to these foreign open source writings, can destroy even the best protected U.S. military and civilian electronic systems.
But it is not just Russia and China that have been developing “Super-EMP” weapons.  According to Newsmax, it is believed that North Korea may have tested a “Super-EMP” weapon back in 2009….
North Korea’s last round of tests, conducted in May 2009, appear to have included a “super-EMP” weapon, capable of emitting enough gamma rays to disable the electric power grid across most of the lower 48 states
Remember, all it would take is one strategically placed EMP attack to wipe out this nation.
But an EMP weapon is not the only danger that can produce this type of effect.  The truth is that a really bad geomagnetic storm could also potentially produce almost as much damage.
This is something that everyone knows is one of our biggest vulnerabilities and it is something that we can make preparations for.
Yet the Bush administration and the Obama administration have just stood there and have done nothing.
Our idiocy is astounding.
General Eugene Habiger, the former head of U. S. Strategic Command, has said the following about the possibility of an EMP attack in the future….
“It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.”
Remember, this is something that could cause millions times more damage than 9/11 did.
Instead of molesting old ladies at airports and chasing goat herders around the mountains of Afghanistan, perhaps we should be addressing our largest security vulnerabilities.

But that would require using some common sense.  Sadly, common sense seems to be in very short supply in Washington D.C. these days.
So if the government is not going to do anything about it, that means that it is up to you to prepare yourself and your family.  This world is becoming very unstable and disasters can strike at any time.
We all saw what happened after Hurricane Katrina.  The government response was a nightmare.  An EMP attack would be millions of times worse and the federal government probably would not even be able to get you and your family any assistance.
You would truly be on your own.
So are you ready?
This is yet another reason why the number of preppers in the United States is exploding.  A lot of people can see how the world is changing and they understand that the federal government is not going to come through for them when the chips are down.

An EMP attack could end life as we know it at any time.
It is a glaring security vulnerability and the entire world knows that it is there.
I hope that you are getting ready, because the government certainly is not.

[Source: Info Wars]

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why the Food Market Will Be the Next To Burst

Private investment firms are betting on hunger, and their reasoning, unfortunately, is sound.

Residential real estate may be slumping, but ag land is booming. In Iowa, farmland prices have never been higher, having increased a whopping 34 percent in the past year, according to The Des Moines Register. The boom is driven in part by agribusiness expansion, but also by a new player in the agriculture game: private investment firms. Both are bidding up land values for the same reason: the price of food.

They're betting on hunger, and their reasoning, unfortunately, is sound. This is bad news for would-be small farmers who can't afford land, and much worse news for the world's hungriest people, who already spend 80 percent of their income on food.

Thanks to the world's growing population of eaters and the fixed amount of land suitable for growing food to feed them, supply and demand tilts the long term forecast toward higher prices. More immediate concerns -- like increasing demand for grain-intensive meat and the rise of the corn-hungry ethanol industry -- have fanned the flames of a speculative run-up in agricultural commodities like corn, wheat, and soy. Add cheap money to the mix in the form of low interest rates, along with an army of traders chasing the next bubble, and you've got a bidding war waiting to happen.

The Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 allowed the bidding to begin by allowing the trade of food commodities without limits, disclosure requirements, or regulatory oversight. The Act also permitted derivatives contracts whereby neither party was hedging against a pre-existing risk; i.e. where both buyer and seller were speculating on paper, and neither party had any intention of ever physically acquiring the commodity in question.

Agricultural commodities markets were created so that traders of food could hedge their positions against big swings in prices. If you're sitting on a warehouse full of corn, it's worth making a significant bet that the price will go down, just in case it does, and makes your corn worthless. That way at least you make money on the bet. Derivatives can add leverage to your bet, so you don't need to bet the entire value of your corn in order to protect it.  

Derivatives, it turns out, are also really cool if you want to make a ton of money by betting just a little. And if you can bet a lot, even better, as long as you keep winning. The golden years of commodities trading lasted from 2002 to 2008, when prices moved steadily, but not manically, upward. Then they crashed. And then they rose even higher than before. This is the kind of volatility, except worse, that commodities trading was created to prevent.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter recently released a "Briefing Note" titled, "Food Commodities Speculation and Food Price Crises."
As he sees it, "Beginning at the end of 2001, food commodities derivatives markets, and commodities indexes in particular began to see an influx of non-traditional investors, such as pension funds, hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds, and large banks. The reason for this was simply because other markets dried up one by one: the dotcoms vanished at the end of 2001, the stock market soon after, and the U.S. housing market in August 2007. As each bubble burst, these large institutional investors moved into other markets, each traditionally considered more stable than the last."

In those years, the market value of agriculture commodities derivatives grew from three quarters of a trillion in 2002 to more than $7.5 trillion in 2007, while the percentage of speculators among agriculture commodities traders grew from 15 to 60 percent. The total number of commodities derivatives traded globally increased more than five-fold between 2002 and 2008.

The rush of speculators into agricultural commodities created something like a virtual food grab. While a traditional speculator might drive up the price of a commodity by physically hoarding it, now speculators, fund managers, sovereign nations, and anyone else with the money can do the same by hoarding futures contracts for food commodities, but with no expectation that they will have to physically deal with actual commodities. No messing with deliveries, maintaining warehouses, trapping mice, or other reality-based headache unless they happen to truly want the commodity.

Americans may not be starving, but we are feeling the pinch, paying upwards of a dollar for an ear of sweet corn at farmers markets, while in the southwest, dried corn chicos, a local delicacy, have doubled in price. In D.C., a group of livestock producers addressed the House Agriculture Committee last week, seeking the elimination of federal mandates for ethanol use in gasoline. The meat makers blame high corn prices on the biofuels industry.

If this was just about corn, I would say let the cows and cars fight over it. They can have it. After all, whatever corn doesn't get converted to chicken feed and gasoline probably isn't going to be made into chicos anyway. It's going to be made into corn syrup for the young and the obese.
But the commodities markets of the world are connected, running together in a herd, which makes this about a lot more than corn. It is likely that increased demand for meat and the rise of ethanol were indeed a trigger in rising corn prices, De Schutter says, dragging the rest of the grain markets into the bubble. But it was deregulation that opened the doors to betting on hunger.

A logical place to start calming food prices would be to un-deregulate them. And there's hope of that happening. The United States, by far the biggest player on the commodities stage, just made a step in that direction with the passage of the recent Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Act puts size limits on individual holdings, including agriculture commodities and derivatives.

Unfortunately, given the global nature of capital, even if the U.S. were to completely shut down speculation, it would just move offshore. International regulation is what's needed, and since the U.S. opened this Pandora's box of speculative horrors with deregulation, we have the moral responsibility, not to mention the political firepower, to shut it. With financial regulators underfunded and understandably distracted, a strong show of public support could help get their attention. But if our biggest inconvenience is higher prices for meat and sweet corn, that public display might be hard to come by. Especially if our retirement portfolio, wisely diversified with commodity index funds and ag land holdings from Iowa to Ethiopia, is growing.

[Source: Alternet]