Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pimp My Prius

I have been in Hollywood all week attending the Digital Hollywood conference. My company is presenting a keynote speech regarding how best to get movies on the Internet quicker and in a way that consumers want. I love coming to this conference because I get to hang in LA and check out the latest trends and thinking.

LA is the driving capital of the world and Hollywood is the fad capital of the world…since they are one in the same place, it follows that the latest car fads are always on display here.

How times have changed…just last year the vehicles of choice were big, blinged out SUVs. The shiny black Cadillac Escalades, paramilitary looking Hummers and sort of prissy looking Range Rovers were all the rage. Of course the ubiquitous Porsche, the LA people's car was and is still always in style.

Move forward to 2008, and there is barely a SUV in site. They seem to have all been replaced by the Toyota Prius Hybrid, the most well known and recognizable of the new gas/electric automobiles that save gas by essentially switching back and forth from a gas engine to an electric motor. In Hollywood, it is as if everyone drove their SUV into some kind of wierd car wash looking thing and drove out the other side in a Prius. (Could be a movie plot..."Car Wash VIII...the Transformation")

For most Hollywood types, the switch to Prius was only necessary to show their concern for the environment, since saving some money on gas is not all that important to their tax bracket. I am told that driving an SUV in Hollywood is now considered "career suicide" and driving one would destine you to a role in a Chuck Norris film or YouTube missive.

But the switch to Prius has created a new problem for Hollywood types…how to you customize this little Japanese wedge to show your individuality? How to you hang bling on something that looks like a sideways drop of water?

Enter the car-customization business, which is big in LA, and it's an easy matter to add a bit of style - some blue racing stripes, beige leather interior - to an otherwise anonymous Prius. Thus, the Prius Hackers have been born.

According to Andrew Tilin, a well know automotive writer, the Prius Hacks can be classified in the following ways.

The Electricity Fiend: This hack adds 260 pounds' worth of lead-acid batteries and channels the extra juice into the car's propulsion system. This Prius can now run on just electricity at up to 34 miles per hour for 10 miles.

The Paranoid: If the grid goes down - by dint of natural disaster, terrorist strike or a spike in demand – there is a Prius that can supply power to your home. They have spliced a heavy-duty outlet right into the car's electrical system and made it so household appliances can be run by a Prius via a standard computer-backup system. When the car's own potent battery loses too much energy, running the engine recharges it. They say "If you are frugal, one tank of gas can power the house for a couple of weeks."

The Fuel Watcher: This hack involves a super accurate fuel gauge. This works with a pocket-size computer, mounted on the car's dash, which displays the precise percentage of fuel remaining and calculates - based on the drivers unique driving habits - how many tenths of a mile they can still go.

The Video Jockey: This really popular Hollywood hack turns the car's monitor into a video screen that plays DVD's or, from a rear-mounted camera, broadcasts an image of what's directly behind the car. It can also feature the drivers best camera angle and, if required, custom lighting from their favorite lighting director.

The Prober: This hack enables the car to drive for about a mile on battery power alone. This helps if you run out of gas…thus the name. They say many Prius users have installed this option.

The Pariah: I learned about this hack from Chris, the sommelier from "Flask Fine Wines in Studio City". This hack involves dropping a Chevy 454 V-8 into the cavity that remains when you pull both the electric motor and wimpy gas engine out of the Prius. Although not as quiet as a regular Prius, this hack is rumored to have saved many spandex clad cylclists on Mulholland Drive (who can't hear the electric version of the Prius coming). Most importantly, the typical driver of the Pyriah hack revels in the look of shock that comes from smoking Porsches from stop light to stop light on Ventura Blvd.

I believe these Prius hacks are just the beginning. Hollywood does not tolerate mediocrity (except in primetime) and a new blinged out generation of Prius are just around the corner. There is even a rumor of a Porsche hybrid, which presumably would be the next big thing. However, as someone who used to own an old Porsche , I would hope that their version of a hybrid would involve the mix of gasoline and nuclear power.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Fever for Kids is Not Bad

If you have been the parent of a small child, no doubt there have been sleepless nights worrying about your child having a fever. All kinds of old wives tales and misinformation have led to unfounded fears about fevers. We feel that we have to “bring the fever down” using all kinds of over the counter medicines, poultices, incantations and prayers. Most of these reactions are totally unnecessary, usually ineffective and sometimes even dangerous.

Fever by itself is not harmful or dangerous, and unless it is very high (over 106 or 107 F), it is unlikely to cause brain damage or other problems. Fever is not a disease, instead, it is a symptom that can accompany many illnesses, especially infections. In general, you should call your pediatrician if your infant under three months of age has a rectal temperature above 100.4 F, if your infant aged 3-6 months has a temperature above 101 F, or if an infant above 6 months has a temperature above 103 F.

For most older children, it is not so much the number, but rather how your child is acting that is concerning. If your older child is alert, active and playful, is not having difficulty breathing, and is eating and sleeping well, or if the temperature comes down quickly with home treatments (and he is feeling well), then you don't necessarily need to call your doctor immediately

Kitty’s Indian Sweat Bath

When Kitty lived with the Mescal Indian tribe near the Peyote Mountains of New Mexico, she popped a fever one night after an especially trying day of ritualistic activities. The Indians decided to treat her with a sweat bath.

Although the sweat bath has ceremonial functions, sort of like a modern day hot tub party, it also is used in the treatment of rheumatism and fever. Usually the sweat lodge is a small domed structure with a framework of arched poles and a cover of hides or bark. Rocks are heated and rolled into the lodge. Water containing plant medicinals is then sprinkled on the rocks to form steam.

The sweat bath was usually followed by a plunge into cold water. This was NOT Kitty’s favorite part of the treatment.

For little ones, the medicine can be worse than the fever and the illness behind it.

Parents have long relied on fruit-flavored cold medicines to relieve the sniffles and fever. But concerns about the over-the-counter medications marketed for children have led the Food and Drug Administration to study the safety and effectiveness of these products. (In fact many of these medicines are behind the counter now…due to their use in the manufacturing of Crystal Meth…definitely not a children’s medicine).
Pediatricians and others want the government to require labeling that says these medications should not be given to children under 6.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in January that over two years, 1,519 children under 2 were treated in emergency rooms for adverse effects and overdoses associated with cough and cold medicines. The medications were also the cause of death for infants who were found dead in their homes. The babies, all less than 6 months old, had levels of the decongestant pseudoephedrine that were 9 to 14 times the dosage for children 2 to 12. (The babies were essentially on a high dose of speed)

Drugstores said to be confusing

Parents sometimes don't read labels and then become confused by all the products on drugstore shelves. (Remember: Apply directly to the forehead…and repeat 30 times). Many of the most popular cold medicines contain up to four active ingredients, any of which can cause side effects.
Decongestants, for example, are stimulants that can raise the heart rate and cause insomnia, loss of appetite or irritability, said Dr. Joel Steinberg, professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

"I see a lot of small kids who are really fussy," he said. "The parents think it's the illness but it's actually the medication they're taking." (and you wonder why the kid can’t sleep)

Antihistamines, often found in cold medicines, can cause drowsiness, but children can also have a paradoxical reaction and become hyper, said Dr. Maria Fisher, an Arlington, Texas, pediatrician. Multi-symptom cold medications often contain acetaminophen, but some parents don't realize that and unknowingly give their children more of the drug for a fever, she said.

Too much acetaminophen has been associated with liver toxicity. (These are the same parents who quaff a handful of Tylenol Extra Strength capsules to kill a hangover…the absolute worse thing you can do to your liver. Take an Advil or Aleve instead…better to risk your stomach than have your liver fail.)

No proof of effectiveness

Not only do these drugs have side effects, there's little evidence that they work, Steinberg said.

"The standard cough syrup has no effect on coughs," he said. "And you shouldn't take medicine that has no effect." (Duh)

Physicians say the safest approach is to skip the medications and use saline drops, a cool mist humidifier and nasal suctioning to help with congestion.

If a parent feels they must use OTC medications, doctors recommend giving the smallest dosage possible. It's better to give the medication during the day before administering it at night, so any side effects can be observed, Fisher said.

"Usually a cold or virus lasts a couple days and runs its route," she said. "But if it lasts, we go to the doctor."

Read more on this.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Most men assume that shopping for clothes creates sort of a high for women, because they seem to like it so much. But research shows the opposite.

Trying on clothes brings most women low.

This is a story for every woman who has frowned at her image in a dressing-room mirror and wished for a better body. Most women have felt the same, and some have even been brought to tears, according to a poll for Fitness magazine.

The survey of 1,001 women finds that when they try on clothes, they're not only deciding whether to buy the outfit, but they're also critiquing their bodies and finding flaws.

Most (88%) say a trip to the clothing store has made them re-evaluate their bodies, and if they could magically change one part, 42% would target their waist; 23%, hips and thighs; 10%, rear; 10% chest; 4% arms.

So it's no wonder that 64% say shopping for clothes is bad for their self-confidence. And 10% have cried in the dressing room, (while 100% of their husbands are crying at the credit card bills.)

More findings:

• 39% have purchased something that was too small, hoping it would look good once they lost weight. (Don’t worry, I’ll wear this outfit next summer)
• 62% say they own a pair of jeans that no longer fit. (Miracles happen...keep them)
• 34% have a skinny outfit to wear only when they're at their ideal size; 51% have an outfit for when they are feeling flabby or bloated. (explains why women need large closets)
• 14% have refused help from sales personnel so they wouldn't have to reveal their size. (It’s OK…I’ll just break into the dressing room)
• 15% have accidentally ripped or gotten stuck in a garment that was too small. (Sir…now I actually DO need your help)
• 75.6% of women try on just one outfit in the morning at home, 16.7% average two outfits. Slightly less than 8% try more. (up to 47 outfits)

The good news is that 41% percent of these women started working out after a shopping trip. (which probably meant joining an expensive health club, or buying a treadmill from Sears)

Connect this with another study that shows that men become happier than women by midlife. According to the study, women start out as happy young adults but by midlife wind up the sadder sex.

Let's examine this more closely. When men shop, they usually go to places like “The Men’s Wearhouse” where they “Guaranteed you'll like the way the look”. That’s what men like… a good warranty. It makes them happy.

In these places, you’ll notice that the men rarely try anything on. They just go to the XL or XXL pile of shirts and pants…find the blue, red or white version of the "guaranteed" style…and buy it…all the while being confident that they "will like the way they look."

Maybe we could conclude from these studies that women should stop shopping so much and they would be happier. Although this might be true, it is the exact wrong thing to be considering in the economic situation the country is in. It would be a disaster for the economy if women stopped shopping. So I say to all women, it is your duty to the country to shop, so just buck up, and go shopping...just grin and bear it for the good ole USA.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What are the most successful parasites on earth? Dogs

Dogs trade unconditional love for food.

“Calling dogs parasites is fighting words, but what can I say? Dogs have got us exactly where they want us, and we, idiotic grins fixed to our faces, go along with it all....from The Truth About Dogs: An Inquiry Into the Ancestry, Social Conventions, Mental Habits, and Moral Fiber of Canis Familiaris by Stephen Budiansky.

“Dogs are a brilliant evolutionary success almost without parallel in the animal world, and they owe that success to their uncanny ability to worm themselves into our homes, and to our relentlessly anthropomorphic (definition: attribution of uniquely human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings psyches) that let them do it. “

Translation: for some reason us humans want to believe every animal thinks just like us…which explains why my friend’s hermit crab named “Peety” is just shy…not cowardly. (according to my friend…who is just cowardly) People think their dogs are sort of dumb downed four legged humanoids that just need to be talked to in a high squeaky voice so they can understand English. (Visit the Dumb Friends League website)

Further proof of this comes from a different study that show that “Dogs Can 'Catch' Yawns from Humans” and the results suggest domestic dogs have the capacity for a fundamental form of empathy, the researchers say…and empathy is extremely important in showing unconditional love. (You gotta read this article, which also details how the researchers figured this out.)

Budiansky goes on to say that “for all the myths and tales of the dog's service to man, only the smallest fraction of dogs that live off human society today earn their keep. No one has done an actual study of this, but there is reason to be suspicious even of the most common rationalization of dogs' utility to man, as guardians of property or intruder alarms; for every tale of a dog successfully frightening off burglars, there are thousands of dogs who bark incessantly at every friggin’ thing that moves and then sleep blissfully through a crime in progress.”

Perhaps our dog, a large loping bloodhound named Maggie is the exception. She earns her keep (according to my wife) by informing us daily that there are squirrels in the yard, which she does by howling, drooling and sort of crying until we feed her breakfast. Then she sleeps until dinner when she informs us yet again that there are squirrels in the yard. My wife sees great utility in this behavior and feeds the dog gratefully.

Kitty Kinnin tells me that her dogs, which are both Pomeranian/Black Bear mixes, earn their keep as well by converting dog food to wool for black sweaters.

The researcher goes on to say that, “Owners who think their dogs are conscious of their guilt when they poop on the oriental rug, owners who try to reassure and comfort and reason their dogs through their fears, owners who desperately want their dogs to desperately adore them—these are the owners of dogs that more often than not are maladjusted and miserable. (How many wacky people do you know that have equally wacky dogs?)

“Punishing a dog for defecating even seconds after the fact is futile, for dogs do not make such connections over time and space; but dogs will earnestly search for some connection between events in their immediate world and the immediate consequences, and a dog who is punished whenever his owner returns to find poop on the rug will very quickly learn to fear his owner's return, period. (Jeez your dog seems terrified of you…Yeah well it’s because he poops everyday on the rug….Did you every think he might poop everyday on the rug BECAUSE he is terrified of you?)

“A dog that is rewarded with petting and soothing words when he trembles during a thunderstorm will quickly learn to tremble all the more, and on more occasions, in pursuit of such rewards.” (Awe sweetie …don’t tremble…its OK to poop on the rug everyday…I was just kidding when I threatened switch you from organic dog food back to Alpo)

“A dog whose owners want love at all costs quickly learns to be a domineering bully—such is the nature of the wolf-dog social structure. It can be worse: his owners can actually achieve their ambition, and the dog can become neurotically dependent on them and go into hysterics at every parting.” (Neurotic dogs…no way…they chase their tails for very rational reasons) Read Article.