Archive for the ‘Security’ Category

Secret Doors and Passages

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

When I was a kid, like many children, I was fascinated with secret doors and hidden passageways.  Their purpose, besides the whimsical, is to allow people to evade some threat.  Typically activities involved smuggling or other illegal activities, avoiding religious persecution, or engaging in political opposition.  Medieval castles had secret passages that allowed escape in the event of a siege, and also provided access to underground water supplies.  Early Christians used secret rooms to worship.  Both Catholics and Protestants used hidden doors and passages to escape from each other.  During prohibition speakeasies were hidden behind false doors.  In warfare secret tunnels are used to hide supplies and evade the enemy.  Secret entryways and tunnels have also been built for escape from prisons and prisoner of war camps.  Today hidden doors are sometimes used for panic rooms.  (Secret Passage – Wikipedia

It’s now possible to fulfill your childhood fantasies, since a large number of companies sell such doors.  Here is a list I was able to compile from the web:  Creative Home EngineeringDecora Doors, Secret Doors, Hide A Door, Thomas Custom Woodwork, Niche Doors, HiddenDoors.Net, Hidden DoorWoodFold, Wine Cellar Doors, Inc., Creative Building Resources, and Hidden (Secret) Bookcase Doors

For the amateur carpenter, here are a number of online DIY instructions:  How to Build a Hidden Door Bookshelf, How to Build a Hidden Door Bookshelf, Hidden Door Bookshelf, and How To Make A Secret Bookcase Door to Hide A Safe Room

Here are several articles about them:  Secret passageways and hidden doors are cooler than normal doors, just sayin… (20 photos), Secret Doors and Passages (From, Secret Doors – Luxury Housing Trend, and Build Your Own Bat Cave With Secret Room Camouflage.

And here are a few how to books: Secret Rooms Secret Compartments (Plastic Comb) by Jerry DzindzeletaHow To Hide Anything (Paperback) by Michael ConnorHow To Bury Your Goods: The Complete Manual of Long Term Underground Storage (Paperback) by Eddie The Wire, and Big Book of Secret Hiding Places [ILLUSTRATED] (Paperback) by Jack Luger.


Saturday, September 19th, 2009

While there are any number of uncontrollable factors that will influence your odds of survival in a catastrophe, there also are a number of other controllable elements, many of which are common across crises, which can make a real difference.  Quite a few are simply commonsense: 

The best survival strategy is to never get in a crisis situation to begin with, by being proactive and avoiding the landmines of life. 

Survivors are curious people who often have more knowledge about how to handle a situation, so they tend to be naturally better prepared for the unexpected.  All of us can accomplish the same thing by intentionally gaining experience, training, and having disaster backup plans.  Survivors gather all the information they can from everywhere.  They take training seriously, and are prepared.  Ideally, you don’t want to have to think during a disaster, but already know what to do.

There are individual differences between people.  Researchers have found a serotonin transporter gene, 5HDT, which gives people a greater capacity to remain calm in a crisis.  The 10-80-10 rule says that 10% of people will be clearheaded and do the right thing, 80% of people will be bewildered and do nothing, and 10% will do the wrong thing.  Many people simply shut down into a kind of stupor, freezing under the extreme stress of the moment.  So, often people wait to be told what to do, and the danger here is one of lethargy. 

That 80% is in denial, and people need to get past this and recognize what is happening.  Next a person needs to turn off their fear alarm and stay calm.  Experts advise people to, “Hug the monster.”  In other words face your fears, wrestle with them, and try to get past them.  It is also the case that people’s initial fear often then turns into anger, and a survivor will use this to his/her advantage.

People tend to fall back on what they know, and act in accordance with their prior roles and experience.  When faced with a crisis you need to readjust your normal assumptions, and adapt as quickly as possible.  Having an attitude of humility is important.  Survivors know that they don’t know, and this keeps them from overlooking things.  Pay close attention and respect whatever it is you are facing, as you make an honest assessment of the situation.  Accept the world as it is, surrender to the new reality that consists of those things you cannot change, and make this new place your home. 

Having said that, you don’t give in, but try to see what you can do to improve the situation.  Then, based on your assessment, make a plan and become a problem solver by setting up small attainable goals.  Next, based on that plan, take decisive action, and start eating that elephant one bite at a time.  As you get feedback as to how you’re doing, adjust and reevaluate.  “Plan the flight.  Fly the plan. But don’t fall in love with the plan.”  Accept setbacks, you do not have to be perfect, just moving forward.        

Your emotional mindset can make a huge difference.  Survivors have a general belief that things will probably turn out well in the end.  They think they will succeed.  Remember that you often have much more control than you realize.  You can make a difference, and are stronger than you know.  Survivors learn to manage pain, and do what is necessary.  Control the controllables, and one thing to control is your imagination.  Focus on what you can do right now, not on what might happen.  Don’t blame others, avoid self pity, take responsibility for your survival, and do not wait for someone else to save you.  Look at your new reality as a deadly serious game to be played, but still see it as a game in which you must take calculated risks. 

Try to find something to enjoy in it.  Be determined to win, yet accept the possibility you might lose even if you make the correct decision, and then go on.  The attitude is, “I might die, but not today if I can help it.”  There is always one more thing a person can do to stay alive for the next minute.  To help your morale, celebrate even the smallest successes.  

Connection to others is one of the keys to group survival.  Organize and set up disciplined routines.  Having a purpose greater than oneself can be vital.  Helping someone else can be the best way of helping yourself, because this will help you rise above your fears.  Return the favor by allowing others to help you.  Many people, not everyone, do actually consider the common good over their narrow self interest.  

Faith is the most universal survival factor.  It can be vital to have faith in something greater than yourself, such as family, friends, or God.  You are better able to stay alive for a loved one than solely for yourself. 

Amazingly, many people find that there is deep wonder, joy, beauty, and humor to be found in such situations.  Survivors often look back and cherish the spiritual journey they have had, even with all the suffering.  For some, it can become the equivalent of a vision quest.  (The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood, 12 Rules of Survival by Laurence Gonzales, Deep Survival; Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales, Doorways of Support and Inspiration: Facing and Overcoming Obstacles by Laurence Gonzales, The Survivors; What keeps them Going by Cheryl Carter New, How to Survive a Disaster by Amanda Ripley)

In different circumstances these principles will play out in different ways:

In Nazi concentration camps survivors didn’t think about anything else, but only today.   Find extra food, keep clean, stay healthy, be useful, and keep warm.   Today keep out of the attention of any guards, and never call attention to yourself.  Do what you’re told.  Help your friends.  Don’t hate, it takes too much energy.  And for this next second, how do I survive?  (Nazi Concentration Camps: Surviving Against All Odds, Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps by Andrea Warren, Survival in Auschwitz and Periodic Table by Primo Levi, Night by Eli Wiesel, This Way for the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel)  

In prison, similar to a concentration camp, in order to survive you must be constantly vigilant to avoid all the landmines in there.  Don’t worry about that which you have no control over, but believe that you can make things better for yourself. 

Don’t collaborate with guards against other prisoners.  Respect the staff, but don’t be friendly with them.  Keep your mouth shut, and do not discuss your crime with other people.  Don’t tell anyone your time is getting short, or that you might be transferred to a lesser facility.  Other prisoners might out of spite try to sabotage it.  Tear up your return address on your mail, and cover the phone when you dial.  Other prisoners will contact your family members if they can.  Be respectful and cordial, but distant. 

Don’t cut in line.  Do not sit on someone else’s bunk, or pick up someone else’s property, unless invited.  Don’t reach over someone’s tray at meals.  Don’t spread lies.  Do not stare at other prisoners.  Never tell anyone what to do.  Don’t make sexually explicit jokes.  Do not discuss politics.  Don’t ask people about their case.  Don’t believe much of what other prisoners say.  

Try to associate with those who are trying to better themselves through educational and vocational training.  Avoid the gang leaders.  

Don’t show emotional vulnerability.  When walking look ahead, and not at your feet.  Always stand up for yourself, and always fight when challenged to.  In a maximum security prison, you will be challenged.  You can lose every time, but you have to fight hard every time, so you aren’t perceived as an easy target.  Backing down only once will have a snowball effect.  You might have to choose to kill someone to avoid a worse fate, because what protects you is your reputation, and you simply can’t afford lose that. 

If possible, get allies by being useful to someone.  But don’t accept protection or gifts from others who might just want to use you.  Try to practice charity when you can. 

Don’t get involved with gambling.  Do not borrow money.  Don’t use drugs.  Avoid coffee, drinking, and smoking; anything habit forming.  Don’t get a tattoo.  Never drink or smoke after anyone.  Do not waste your time on television. 

Set up a schedule with both short and long term goals.  One of the best ways of spending your time is to read and educate yourself.   Get a prison job. 

Keep physically clean and get enough rest.  Get as much fresh air and sunlight as you can.  Work out and take up a martial art.  Practice meditation and fasting.  (Basic Survival Techniques for Incarceration, How to Deal with Being in Prison, 13 Survival Tips for White-Collar Women of Wall Street ,Survive Jail A comprehensive Guide, Prison Survival Manual)

Surviving in a prison hostage situation begins with calling attention to it right at the start.  Pay attention to everything about the situation, who the leader is, weapons, etc. Create a rapport, but don’t show weakness, and do it with dignity.  Make eye contact, use their first name, and talk about your family.  Try to find common interests.  Listen to their point of view, you don’t have to agree, just understand.  Avoid appearing insincere by being overly interested in the situation.  Don’t refuse favors they give you.  Do not resist if threatened with weapons and there are multiple attackers.  Otherwise, resistance is a judgment call.  Follow their instructions.  Avoid drawing attention to yourself, study them, but don’t be obvious in doing so.  If they are attempting to conceal their identity, don’t give any indication you know who they are.  Don’t talk back.  Do not make threats.  Only attempt an escape if you are confident it will work.  (Survival Tips If you are Taken Hostage by Tracy E. Barnhart)

Gavin de Becker lists 7 warning signs of predatory manipulation:  Forced teaming is when someone pretends they have something in common with you when they don’t. “We have a hungry cat tonight.”  They might use charm and niceness, and when lying use too many details.  Typecasting is using a guilt trip, “A classy lady like you would never talk to someone like me.”  Loan sharking is when someone gives unsolicited gifts, and then expects far more in return.  A person might give an unsolicited promise, which won’t be kept.  He/she probably won’t respect your boundaries by discounting the word “No.”  (The Gift of Fear – Wikipedia

In the wilderness you need to determine your survival needs and inventory your resources.  Personal protection involves such things as clothing, shelter, and fire.  You need to think of how to signal for would be rescuers.  Look at your food and water needs.  How is your physical and mental health?  Avoiding injuries can be crucial. 

The common methods people use to try to get back to safety are:  People try traveling randomly, others pick a particular route, some try backtracking their route, and still others sample different routes and see which looks most promising.  Another tactic is to try view enhancing.  Some people will use folk wisdom.  Staying put is one often recommended strategy.  Navigation can be done by the stars, terrain features, and map and compass.   

Survival skills that are commonly recommended are firearm use, climbing, mountaineering, knife usage, knot tying, tool making, and being able to make ropes, rafts, and boats.  (Wilderness Survival by Gregory J. Davenport, The Psychology of Lost by Kenneth Hill, Survival skills – Wikipedia, What are Primitive Survival Techniques? What is Modern Wilderness Survival? What is BushcraftSurvival Grounds, Survival, Trueways Survival School)  

(See also: The Worst Case Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven & the Extreme Edition, etc.,  Survival Books, Publications and VideosThe New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency: The Classic Guide for Realists and Dreamers, SAS Survival Handbook: How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate, on Land or at Sea, United States Army Survival Manual (FM 21-76), United States Air Force Survival Manual (AB 64-4), PREPAREDNESS NOW!: An Emergency Survival Guide for Civilians and Their Families, First Aid Guide (100 Pack), Wilderness Living, The Art of War, War of the Flea: The Classic Study of Guerrilla Warfare, Sas Jungle Survival (SAS Survival), The Doomsday Scenario: How America Ends, Survivalist’s Medicine Chest, Wilderness Survival, Surviving the Desert (Simply Survival; Greg Davenport’s Books for the Wilderness), Fruits and Berries for the Home Garden, Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties: And How to Build Them, Shelter, How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter, and Self-preservation That Makes Starvation in the Wilderness Next to Impossible , The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, When All Hell Breaks Loose by Cody Lundin, 98.6 Degrees, The Art of Keeping your Ass Alive by Cody Lundin, Never Again – A Self-Defense Guide for the Flying Public by Mark H. Bogosian, The Survival Guide: What to do in a Biological, Chemical, or Nuclear Emergency by Dr. Angelo Acquista, Life After Doomsday by Bruce Clayton)

Pregnancy & Child Related Information

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I’ve previously blogged about how geophagy (eating clay) has been practiced for thousands of years to prevent morning sickness.  Pregnant women become hyper-sensitive to environmental toxins, and morning sickness helps protect the developing fetus from deformities.  It now turns out that all that misery could pay off for yet another reason, because women who have a greater degree of morning sickness might have more intelligent babies.  (Morning Sickness may be Sign of a Bright Baby)  The researchers involved theorize that the hormones which cause it might also protect a baby’s brain.  

S. Boyde Eaton, et al., have written (Dietary Intake of Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids during the Paleolithic, p. 20) that our brains are somewhat smaller than our Paleolithic ancestor’s brains, and that one reason might be our modern dietary deficiency in DHA omega-3 fats.  Along with DHA, it seems that, for rats, enriching the environment of the mother long before she becomes pregnant can affect the learning of her offspring.  Researchers theorize that the mother’s learning affects the nature of the hormones she will release during her later pregnancies.  This will affect epigenetic chemical markers on her offspring’s genes, which will in turn affect these genes’ expression during brain development, finally causing changes in the brains of the pups.  (Can Experiences be Passed on to Offspring? and A Mother’s Experience can Alter her Offspring’s Memory Performance)  Meanwhile, stress during pregnancy very likely harms a baby’s brain, and might increase the risk of schizophrenia.  Researchers think the mechanism is likely related to the stress hormone cortisol crossing the placenta.  (Stress Harms Baby’s Brain While in Womb)  Another possible factor that could increase the risk of schizophrenia is having the flue during pregnancy. (Flue During Pregnancy may Increase Risk of Schizophrenia in Certain Offspring

There are some indications that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for preeclampsia.  (Vitamin D for the Prevention of Preeclampsia?  A Hypothesis.)  This is a condition that occurs in pregnancy, which causes the patient to develop hypertension, along with protein in their urine.  It’s widespread, affecting about 10% of pregnancies, and is currently only treatable through termination.  It is most common in first pregnancies, and some researchers think that it’s the result of the mother’s immune system inappropriately attacking fetal cells.  The theory is that they are being triggered by the foreign antigens that were introduced by the father.  So, besides vitamin D supplementation, another recommendation is to delay pregnancy for a while after beginning sexual relations, on the theory that this allows the mother’s immune system to become acquainted with the father’s sperm’s antigens.  (Introduction and Overview of Evolutionary Medicine (p.24) by Wenda R. Trevathan, et al.) 

Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with chronic pain and muscle weakness, which suggests this might be a possible factor in a painful difficult birth. (Lack of Vitamin D Linked to Pain, and Recent Developments in Vitamin D Deficiency and Muscle Weakness Among Elderly People)  Stephan Guyenet, of Whole Health Source, reports that pelvic inlet depth index was larger in our hunter-gatherer ancestors (97.7% versus 92.1% today), and that this might be still another reason why childbirth is difficult for modern people.  (Longevity & Health in Ancient Paleolithic vs. Neolithic peoples)  Because vitamin K2 deficiency narrows the bone structure of the face, it seems natural to speculate that this could also be part of the reason for our lower pelvic inlet depth index today. 

Difficult births lead to caesareans, and, using MRIs, researchers have been able to show that women who have had c-sections had lower response levels to their baby’s cries.  This might indicate weaker bonding with their infants.  Researchers suggested that this possibly occurred because these women missed out on the hormonal priming from oxytosin that takes place during a vaginal delivery.  (C-sections may Weaken Bonding with Baby)  

Home birthing is as safe as in the hospital.  Two studies, one from the Netherlands and the other from Canada, found no evidence of greater death rates among home births, for low risk pregnancies, in either the mothers or their babies.  In the Netherlands study nearly 1/3 of those who started at home did end up being transferred to the hospital, but the risk was no greater than those mothers who had started out in the hospital.  Researchers said that a good midwife was the key. (Home Births “as Safe as Hospital,” and Home Birth with Midwife as Safe as Hospital Birth, Study) (See also: The Natural Family Site, and Why Have Natural Childbirth?) 

Also, as I previously blogged, some people claim that placenta eating can prevent postpartum depression.  (Placenta

The natural childrearing people argue against circumcision on a number of grounds, including that they believe there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for it.  (Put Down that Knife!  11 Reasons not to Circumcise, Circumcision – Wikipedia, and Circumcision Rates)

Pacifiers reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by about 90%.  (Pacifier Greatly Reduces Risk of Sudden Infant Death)  They reduce the risk regardless whether or not the infant sleeps on his/her stomach, in soft bedding, or his/her mother smoked.  Problems such as thumb sucking, tooth development, and difficulties breast feeding can be avoided by waiting a few weeks before using one, and stopping when they become toddlers.  (However, there apparently is a trade-off, because, according to Gabe Mirkin, studies from Finland found that children who use pacifiers are more likely to have recurrent ear infections.)  Other people also recommend co-sleeping as protective.  (See below)  One more way of lowering the risk of SIDS is by using a fan to circulate the air in the room.  This reduces the risk by 72%. (Fan Use Linked to Lower Rate of Sudden Infant Death)  (See also: Sudden infant death syndrome – Wikipedia)

Coming to very similar conclusions as The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, here is an article on Evolutionary Psychology: Natural Parenting - Back to Basics in Infant Care by Regine A. Schon.     Matt Metzgar wrote up this outline.  (I inserted some additional materials and links):  

Evolutionary Function of Crying (For a second opinion see: Should Infants be Allowed to Cry Themselves to Sleep?)

  • Crying signals genuine needs of the infant
  • Crying should be immediately attended to by the mother or caregiver
  • Crying takes significant physical effort on the part of the infant
  • The immediate response to crying should be to restore physical contact between the caregiver and the infant

Infants as Carried Young

  • Hunter-gatherer women carried their infants in slings close to the body
  • This increased beneficial skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the infant
  • The common leg positions of babies suggest they are adapted for carrying

Cosleeping  (Regarding co-sleeping: Mr. Metzgar cites this article (which argues in favor of it), Why Babies Should Never Sleep Alone: A Review of the Co-sleeping Controversy in Relation to SIDS, Bedsharing, and Breastfeeding, and this site, Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory.  See also: The Benefits of Co-Sleeping)       

  • Cosleeping for the infant and mother has been the universal norm throughout most of human history
  • Bedsharing is the environment to which the vulnerable newborn is best adapted
  • Cosleeping may reduce some forms of SIDS

Breastfeeding (See also: Breastfeeding Linked to Smarter Babies (Again)  This article points out that, as well as being correlated with 5.9 points of higher IQ, breastfeeding also apparently reduces the chances of a mother later developing rheumatoid arthritis, and lessons the child’s odds of later developing cardiovascular disease.  This article, Big Bad Cavities: Breastfeeding is not the Cause, states that more than three dozen studies have shown no link between breastfeeding and the disease of Early Childhood Carries (ECC).  Medical News Today reports that the concentration of volatile organic compound toxins in breast milk are much lower than indoor air, and also much lower than the safe levels for drinking water. (Concentrations of Certain Toxins in Breast Milk are Low, Study Finds))

  • No alternative to breast milk existed before the transition to a farming economy
  • Therefore, infants have been breastfed for 99% of all human existence
  • Artificial substitutes have been unable to replicate the complex structure of breast milk
  • There is mounting evidence about the many benefits of breastfeeding on child development


  • Human infants are born in an exceptionally immature state
  • The conditions for the early part of infant life should attempt to mimic that of the womb
  • This includes close contact with the mother’s body in a tight, warm embrace
  • Heartbeat sounds are comforting to an infant; women tend to hold infants on the left side of their body, close to their hearts
  • Rocking an infant provides a calming effect since it mimics the movement stimulation the infant received from the mother’s normal daily movements
  • Swaddling replicates the feeling of the womb and has been proven effective in calming infants

Toilet Training  (What is Infant Potty Training, Benefits of Infant Potty Training, Infant Potty Training, The Controversy over Infant Potty Training, Shaping self-initiated toileting in infants)  (There are also major health benefits of squatting instead of sitting for defecation.  (The Squat Toilet)  The repeated refrain is to do things the way nature intended.)

  • Infants were historically toilet trained much earlier than in modern times
  • Natural toilet training depends on reading an infant’s signals and responding appropriately
  • Children trained in this way complete toilet training anywhere from 6 months to 2 years

Matt also reviewed this book, The 90-Minute Sleep Baby Program.  As he says, the basic idea behind the book is that humans have a 90 minute cycle of activity and rest.  This means that when a baby wakes up their next nap should be 90 minutes later.  (Older children might string several of these together.)  22 out of 27 reviews on Amazon gave the book 5 stars.  Matt speculates that many children today are sleep deprived, which is obviously troublesome.  It turns out that sleep deprived children have twice the risk of becoming obese.  (Sleep Deprivation Doubles the Risk of Obesity in Both Children and Adults

Matt also very favorably reviewed, The Happiest Baby on the Block.  The author argues that babies need a uterus like environment, and he suggests a number of tactics for mimicking it.  These include swaddling, shh sounds, side/stomach position, swinging, and sucking.  He claims that his program will calm almost all babies.  

Matt also pointed out Baby Sign Language, which allows the infant to communicate his/her needs at a much younger age.  I think it’s very surprising that this wasn’t stumbled upon thousands of years ago, yet it is a remarkably simple and wonderful advancement.  It apparently isn’t some sort of silly fad, but brings real benefits, which I think all parents would appreciate, including greatly reduced frustration on everyone’s part, and increased language skills. 

Matt has blogged about Baby Led Weaning, which takes the position that children shouldn’t be fed pureed foods (Pureed Food “isn’t Natural for Babies’), but instead weaned directly onto solid foods.  The argument behind the idea is that this is much closer to the way our ancestors would have done it.  (It should be said that hunter-gatherers often did pre-chew the child’s food to help him/her along.)   

I have blogged before about going barefoot, and children who go barefoot as long as possible have about half the rate of flat footedness later on.  Having said that, being flat footed doesn’t appear to be as big a problem as people once thought.  There appears to be no relationship between the height of children’s arches and their ability to perform athletically, and it very well also might not affect their injury rates. (Flat Feet don’t Impair Kid’s Motor Skills)  

A study from Sweden concluded that risk factors for snoring as an adult include respiratory and ear infections as a child, being raised in a large family, and being exposed to a dog at home as a newborn. (Have A Dog? Your Child is More Likely to Snore as an Adult) 

Children who suffer from cyclic vomiting might actually be suffering from migraines. (Gabe Mirkin: Cyclic Vomiting

Low levels of carbon monoxide, 25 parts per million, might cause oxidative stress on the cochlear nerve, and permanently damage the hearing of children.  Such carbon monoxide can come from tobacco, cooking, and heating appliances.  (How Chronic Exposure to Tiny Levels of Carbon Monoxide Damages Hearing in Young Ears)  However, the main cause of hearing loss in modern world is loud noise.  The blast from a single gunshot, or the loud prolonged noise of a rock concert, can result in permanent hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Many cases of bed-wetting might be caused by breathing problems.  63% of bed-wetting children stopped when they had surgery to remove their adenoids or tonsils, and the use of a plate to widen the palate of bed-wetters with narrow palates ended the condition in 70% of cases. (Breathing Troubles the Cause of Bed-wetting?)   Gabe Mirkin discusses another theory, that it’s the lack of antidiuretic hormone that causes the problem.  This hormone causes the kidneys to shut down at night.  (Bedwetting

The BBC reports that a 10 minute test for dyslexia has been developed that can be used starting at age 3 & 1/2.  (Early Warning Test for Dyslexia)  The test has children repeat sentences and re-tell a story while looking at how the child builds sounds up into words.  For parents of children who seem a little different there is the book, Quirky Kids: Understanding and Your Child Who Doesn’t Fit In- When To Worry And When Not To Worry.  One reviewer thought the book would be most helpful to parents who are just beginning to suspect something is unusual, but don’t know what might be the problem.  It also debunks a number of folk myths out there, and reportedly has a good section on the pros and cons of various medications.  Science Daily has this article, Specific Behaviors Seen in Infants Can Predict Autism, New Research Shows, which reports that Canadian researchers have discovered that there are behavioral signs that can accurately predict autism in children as young as one year old.  (See also: The Vitamin D Theory of Autism)

According to a study by the University of Rochester Medical Center, there is no detectable risk to children from the mercury in the seafood their mother’s ate, up to 12 servings a week.  The study period was before birth to age 9, and the children were tested for 21 different cognitive, neurological and behavioral functions.  These abilities included concentration, attention, problem-solving, and motor skills. (No Detectable Risk From Mercury in Seafood, Study Shows

Tonsils serve to trap germs and train the white blood cells when children are young, but as they grow older their importance lessons.  Doctors generally seem to say that their removal can be justified if they obstruct the throat, or the child suffers from frequent throat infections.  (Dr. Alan Green on Tonsil Removal)    

Not surprisingly, mother’s who talk about people’s mental states, such as beliefs, wants, and intentions, have children with a greater understanding of social interactions.  (This obviously does not establish causation, because mothers with greater social skills might pass on genes that also dispose their children to have those same skills.)  Researchers note that these greater social skills do not necessarily imply that these children will be better behaved. (The Secret to Building Children’s Social Skills)   The Incredible Years is an organization which hosts a variety of programs for teaching parents, teachers, and children social skills.  It turns out the ability of a mother to read her child’s emotions is more important than her social status for the child’s development. (Why Mind-Reading Mums are Best

Not surprisingly, children are happier who have a sense of spirituality, that is meaning in life, and they think that their lives have value.  Good interpersonal relationships also helped, and accounted for 27% of the happiness variation between children.  Being more sociable was also a happiness predictor.  (Spirituality is key to kids’ happiness

Researchers want to know why some children are resilient in spite of bad upbringings.  They have found that resilient children tend to share a number of characteristics:  They have at least one supportive person in their life, have a positive outlook, a pleasant altruistic personality, they are eager to learn, and have problem-solving skills.  They take responsibility for their mistakes, and move on.  They also have an interest or friend they can turn to when they need to.  (This description to me sounds somewhat like the characteristics of lucky people.)  (Raising Resilient Children Foundation, their book, Psychosocial Characteristics of Resilient Children, and The Resilient Child)

Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, in The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting our Children and What We Can Do About It, argue that there’s almost no evidence that homework helps kid’s academic success.  They point out that the amount of homework has skyrocketed in recent years, which is contributing to an epidemic of obesity, and robs kids of the time they need to be kids.  They also give advice on how to separate useful assignments from the time wasters.  Richard Louv, author of, Last Child in the Woods, argues that children suffer from a nature-deficit disorder. 

For preventing myopia, besides a low glycemic diet/ Paleolithic Diet, it seems that playing outside is also protective.  Researchers in Australia have found that kids who spend a lot of time outside have lower myopia rates. (Kid’s eyes need the great outdoors)   

I have previously blogged about The Freedom to Learn site.  Peter Gray has a series of articles which argue that play is essential for healthy human life, and maintaining a band’s existence.  John Holt takes a similar approach in his books, How Children Learn and How Children Fail, that children are natural learners, and the process of forcing them to learn in school changes their personalities for the worse.  David Elkind’s book, The Power of Play: How Spontaneous Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier Healthier Children, argues that play is changing from teaching children social roles, vocations, and academic skills to teaching them brand loyalty, fashion consciousness, and group think.  Matt Metzgar reviewed Susan Linn’s book, The Case for Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World, which argues that many of today’s toys are scripted, and that they don’t foster the development of social and critical skills.  Matt also discussed this article, Sucker-Me Elmo, which questions the merits of electronic toys.  Meanwhile, New York City is developing the next generation playground, which is designed to foster the imagination of kids. (New York developing a next-generation playground)  Here is a site that features educational products for children We Make Stories, which allows the child to write and print their own stories.

It turns out that pedophiles don’t randomly search through MySpace sites searching for kids.  Instead they go for those kids in chat rooms who are presenting themselves in sexually suggestive ways. (Welcome to Crimes Against Children Research Center, and Salon – Stop Worrying about your Children)  This information is from the same woman who runs Free Range Kids, which I have written about before.  Boing Boing favorably reviewed this book, If Your Kid Eats this Book Everything will Still be Okay: How to Know if Your Child’s Injury or Illness is Really an Emergency by Lara Zibners.  Zibners is an emergency room pediatrician who says that 75% of late night emergency room visits are unnecessary, and this book is a guide to all the things you don’t have to worry about.

On the other hand, there are real risks out there, and Dreambaby makes safety products to help reduce these.  Science Daily has a story, Homes Need More Protection Against Falls, which points out that falls are the second leading cause of death among children, and that this is because many homes have inadequate protection against them.  Such homes are lacking such commonsense things as banisters, grab bars, anti-slip bathtub strips, and child safety gates.  Eco Child’s Play has a similar outlook, and advocates “Green Parenting for Non-Toxic Healthy Homes.”  This site focuses on alternative medicine, and sources of toxins from such things as plastics, medicines, and cleaners.  (See, for example: 12 Warnings for Parents and Kids in 2008, 10 Ways to Avoid Toxic Plastic - BPA (Bisphenol A), Synthetic Estrogens and Your Child, Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, 9 Best Articles for Natural and Home Remedies on Echo Child’s Play in 2008, Another Reason We Can’t Trust the FDA, Melamine…, New Study Suggests Link Between Hairspray Exposure and Genital Birth Defect, How Safe is Your Child’s Playground?, Balloons Cause More Deaths than Marbles, and Finding Safer Products for our Children)  They also discuss products to make parent’s lives easier. (Postpartum Bamboo Belly Wrap Helps Shrink Your Belly and Prevent Stretch Marks, and Why Tilty is a Better Sippy

In recent years people have been taking bullying far more seriously, and researchers have found that, at least with rats, bullying might scar the brain for life.  When rats were bullied new brain nerve cells would form, but then die, and they acted depressed.  (Bullying May Scar Brain for Life

Psychologist Randall Flanery has this advice for being a great dad:  Run a benevolent dictatorship.  Be friendly, but not a friend.  Admit when you’re wrong.  Remain firmly flexible.  Stick around even when they don’t want you to.  Ask questions.  Don’t take it personally if they express unhappiness.  Know that parenting is 24/7, and then some.  Keep in mind that who you are is more important than what you buy them.  Laugh.  Of course, there is also the book, Supernanny: How to Get the Best from your Children by Jo Frost.  For the sport parent, there is Who’s Game is it Anyway: A Guide to Helping Your Child Get the Most From Sports, Organized by Age and Stage by Amy Baltzell.

Car Theft Protection

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

There are a lot of opinions out there on the best way to keep your car from being stolen. 

There is the Ravelco, which they advertise by claiming that, “we’ve NEVER had a vehicle stolen by bypassing our device.”   It costs about $350-$400, and consists of a 16 pin plug and its mate, which when inserted; complete the circuits it’s wired into throughout the electrical system of the car.  So, it’s in effect a multiple kill switch.  Each installation is unique, and they claim this system has so many possibilities that it is virtually impossible for a thief to wire around it without essentially rewiring the whole car.  (See also Car Thief Stoppers

I found a discussion group in which people criticized it by pointing out that a thief could still steal the car with a flatbed.  (But will anything work if the thieves are willing to go to this much trouble?)  One person’s opinion was that a simple fuel cut-off switch would be effective, and a lot cheaper.  Installing the Ravelco properly is time consuming, so some installers do such a bad job that it doesn’t provide good protection.  One person suggested that you might do better with the combination of a fuel pump disable, on a timer, with a GPS.  This way the thief will get about a block, the car will die, he won’t be willing to figure out what has gone wrong, so he will take off, and then you can recover the car.  Someone else pointed out that, if you have no-deductible insurance, it might not be cost effective to pay the $350 to protect it from theft.  If you are worried about losing the interior equipment, then thieves can just gut the car without moving it.  Other people recommend LoJack, but some people think that thieves would just defeat this device by garaging the car, or detecting it and ripping it out.  They also point out that police often don’t have a lot of LoJack trackers to find such stolen cars.  One guy protected his car by hooking up a “ghost switch,” along with 4 separate alarms.  A ghost switch hooks up to several devices, and will activate the output only when the correct sequence of inputs is input.  For example, put your foot on the brake, turn on the ignition, turn the left signal on, release the brake, turn the left signal off – and then the car will start.  

Here is the Ravelco site that discusses their opinion of these various alternative ways of protecting your car.  Here is a site which claims the Ravelco can easily be defeated, Debunking the Ravelco Anti Theft Device.  I wrote to Ravelco for their reaction to this site.  They responded that such claims are simply bogus, and are sometimes made by disgruntled dealers they fired years ago.

Free-Range Kids

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

People have become so afraid for their children in many families kids are no longer even allowed to go outside to play without adult supervision.  When Lenore Skenazy wrote a column about letting her 9-year-old take the subway alone all Hell broke loose.  On one show she appeared with the title, “America’s Worst Mom?”  She argues that, while the world isn’t 100% safe, parents have misplaced fears and greatly exaggerated the extent of the dangers.  For example, she points out that in 2006 the number of children abducted by strangers in the United States was 115.  Each was horrible tragedy, but in a country of 300 million, each was also a very rare event.  She argues that by being so over-protected children are being short changed, and are growing up with a lack of independence that ill serves them both now and in the long run.  In short, we have become a nation of neurotics when it comes to our kids.  She believes it’s time to relax and rethink how we are raising them.  Lenore runs the blog site, FreeRangeKids.

Dovetailing with Skenazy’s ideas, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv, argues that today many children don’t spend any time outside in the natural world, and that this is part of the explanation for the high rates of ADHD, anxiety, depression, stress, and obesity we see afflicting our children.

Secure Homes and Survival Shelters

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

I ran across a site that describes an underground survival home built in Southwest Colorado, which the owner calls the, “Ultimate Secure Home.”  It is a reinforced thin-shelled concrete dome type house, designed by the company Formworks.  The house is buried under 6 feet of earth and requires almost no maintenance.  It is immune to any weather condition, including tornados.  It is also immune to mice, rot, insect infestations, fire, a 7.0 earthquake, and a near multi-kiloton atomic blast.

Waterproofing is provided by 3/16″ thick - 18″ wide Bentonite rolls (Bentonite – Wikipedia), and a felt-like drain mat leading down to a French drain system. (How to Create a French Drain System)  In addition to the 6 feet of earth, two layers of 1″ thick foam were used for insulation.  Its earth shielding gives the home excellent radiation protection, and it has a lifespan of 200 to 1,000 years.

Part of the home’s electrical power is provided by a state of the art solar panel system that is rated at 11.5 Kw hours per day and can produce 240 volts.  The 16 Kyocera solar collector modules are mounted on two separate stands with 3-way trackers, so that they follow the sun across the sky.  The home has a safe room with a Trace Engineering master power supply control panel, dual 5.01 inverters, and dual C 40 charge controllers.  Both the inverters and charge controllers are programmable.  Power is stored in 24 two-volt lead acid batteries, which weigh out to 2 tons.  A TriMetric meter monitors the batteries for volts, amps, amp-hours, battery percent, how much energy is left, when to shut the chargers off, and how the solar arrays, inverters, and chargers are performing.  This system also allows you to determine how much energy any particular device is using.  The house has an 11.5 Kw Onan propane generator that automatically charges the batteries when necessary.  A Pulse Tech Power Pulse battery maintenance system eliminates sulfation on the battery plates and dramatically extends their life.

The safe room also has a Swiss Luwa air filtering system.  This system will filter out all known war chemicals, viruses, bacteriological agents, fallout, and smoke from forest fires.  You can shut off power, water, and propane to any part of the house from the safe room.

The radio communications console has multiple communication systems, including a shortwave radio, a two-meter HAM transceiver, a police, fire, and ambulance scanner, two-way radios, an intercom system, and several electronic security devices.

The house features a gravity-fed water supply from a 1,000 gallon underground cistern, along with a back-up of two 55-gallon water barrels.  The property has a private water well rated at 15 gallons per minute, along with a 3 hp stainless steel industrial well pump rated for continuous duty.  The septic tank and leach field are both oversized.  The house has a “Perfect Window” ventilation unit (Perfect Window – Honeywell) and efficient electrical appliances.

The kitchen has a Sun Frost refrigerator/freezer, a Peerless propane range with “no-glow-bar” propane oven, and a Staber 2000 clothes washer.  In the garage there is a chest-style freezer.

The house has a propane water heater with a power ventilator such that carbon monoxide won’t back up into the safe room if the exhaust pipe was to become blocked by snow or vandals.  Included are a propane wall heater and clothes dryer.

The property has multiple cameras stationed outside, an automatic emergency phone dialer, an in-house intercom system with five stations, an outside PA system, as well as a number of other security systems.

For storage the house has two attics (one of which is 576 sq. ft.) over 24 shelving units, numerous closets, a pantry, cabinetry, two multi-purpose rooms, and various hidden compartments.

The building can never get below 50 degrees F., even during the most extreme winter conditions.  The Stanley-Waterton woodstove and range is rated for coal use, has an electric blower that increases its efficiency, and has grate shaker and ash box that allow hot ashes to be removed without having to cool it down.  The property has 24 cords of split and stacked firewood, several tons of coal, and 2,000 gallons of stored propane.  1,000 gallons of the propane are in an above ground well hidden protected tank, and the other 1,000 gallons are in an underground tank.

To help attenuate any EMP pulse from an atomic blast, when the house was constructed eight 8 feet long copper grounding rods were driven into the earth underneath it that are wired into the steel I-beams.  One indication of the EMP protection provided by the structure is that no radio reception is possible inside of it without an outside antenna.

If you don’t want to go quite this far another option is that you can install an underground “All Hazards Shelter” based on corrugated steel pipe available from Utah Shelter Systems.

How To Communicate Securely in Repressive Environments.

Monday, July 13th, 2009

This short exerpt  is from the blog boing boing,  and based on an online article by Patrick Philippe Mejer.  

“Mobile Phones* Purchase your mobile phone far from where you live. Buy lower-end, simple phones that do not allow third-party applications to be installed. Higher-end ones with more functionalities carry more risk. Use cash to purchase your phone and SIM card. Avoid town centers and find small or second-hand shops as these are unlikely to have security cameras. Do not give your real details if asked; many shops do not ask for proof of ID.

* Use multiple SIM cards and multiple phones and only use pay-as-you go options; they are more expensive but required for anonymity.

* Remove the batteries from your phone if you do not want to be geo-located and keep the SIM card out of the phone when not in use and store in separate places.Use your phone while in a moving vehicle to reduces probability of geo-location.

* Never say anything that may incriminate you in any way.”

Safecracking for the Computer Scientist

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

This article by Matt Blaze, “Safecracking for the Computer Scientist“, is very long, but quite informative.  The basic way you open a real safe is the same way I would “crack” my toy safe as a kid. 

Combination lock tumblers (the wheels which turn) are imperfect mechanical devices, and as such, they leak information about the internal functioning of the lock.   You don’t gain information by sound, as they portray in the movies, but by feel.  The play, or give, in the lock provides enough information to determine its combination, since when any given tumbler is in the correct position (its notch is lined up with the metal insert pin) the safe handle will behave slightly differently than when it isn’t.  Safe manufactures know this, and so make things challenging by modifying the tumblers, etc., but experts can still open such locks.