Lilly Lays an Egg

May 27, 2010

By John Newcomer:

Last week,  I got an excited call from my wife.  “You will never guess what just arrived?” she said.  What could it be?   Gutters for the garden shed?  No.  My new iPad?  No.  Our appliance rebate?  No.  What then??  “Our new chicken coop and four chickens!!” she shared enthusiastically.  What??!!  And so began our journey into the world of backyard farming.

Urban Chickens

Minne, Lilly, Ruby, and Abilene

We are now the proud owners of  Minne, Lilly, Ruby, and Abilene… clucking and foraging away. Apparently, I am not alone.

The Urban Chicken

The urban chicken is now mainstream America.  Cities large (Chicago, IL) and small (Asheville, NC) across America are adopting ordinances that allow residents to raise chickens in their backyards.  The national trend is driven not by economics, but by nutritional concerns about the food we eat.  However, given the cost of organic eggs it is also  very economical to raise chickens.

What does it cost and how hard is it raise chickens?

The Simmons Family & their rooster

Russ and Polly Simmons of Hendersonville, North Carolina have been raising chickens for the last year. They bought their first chicks for only $2.00 a piece.  In just 5 months, the chicks were laying eggs.  If you are impatient you can buy a full grown egg laying chicken for $10.00.  Chicken feed is dirt cheap.  Only $10.00 for a 50 pound bag.  Chickens also like stale bread,  table scraps, pretty much anything that is going into the garbage.

According to Russ Simmons, three chickens will lay two eggs per day. Organic eggs sell for $4.00 for a dozen eggs.  Do the math.  It only takes a couple of months to cover the cost of your chickens and feed.  The wild card in the price equation is the cost of the coop. Russ Simmons built his, and he estimates that it cost him about $500. The good news, chickens are not fussy and any coop will do them just fine. A few pieces of scrap wood and cardboard boxes work just as well as a big fancy one.

Chicken Coop

Chickens are easy keeps.  They will not range very far and come back to their coop every night.  The really good news is they  lay their eggs in the roosting boxes in the coop.  Yes, no hunting the eggs.  Every few days you need to spread straw on the floor of the coop, and every few months remove the straw, which now makes great compost for the garden.

Health benefits of organic eggs

Eggs have gotten a bad rap on health benefits.  Yes, they contain cholesterol, but most of that cholesterol is not absorbed into the blood stream, and they contain a lot of good stuff like protein and choline.  According to a study by the Harvard Medical School, an egg a day is just fine for most people.

More important is the recent study of the President’s Cancer Panel.  It calls on America to rethink the way we deal with cancer and calls on a more rigorous regulation of chemicals.

This is the reason backyard chickens are becoming so popular.  As Polly Simmons points out, she knows for a fact that her eggs have no hormones, chemicals, and are 100% organic.  “And they taste better!”

To name or not to name your chickens

Yes, chickens will one day stop laying eggs.  Then what do you do?  Does Lilly become Sunday dinner? Or remain free to roam around the backyard clucking away.  After providing your family with so many delicious breakfast omelets, my vote is to let her cluck to her hearts content into her golden years.  And don’t get any silly ideas about finding out whether a chicken can really run around with it’s head cut off!



Your Favorite Restaurant’s Eye-popping Calorie Count

May 26, 2010


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Who knew eating out at your favorite restaurant meant you would be taking in enough calories for a party of four! Brace yourself.   A new study of high calorie menu items at popular chains revealed a mind boggling account of glutenous proportions. CBS News visualizes the delicacy debauchery in this eye opening story. Click here for more.

Tips to Protect Your Computer from Attacks

May 25, 2010

The internet is an amazing place, but it can also be a dangerous one, where bad people try to infiltrate your computer to steal your personal information.  The wise thing to do is to educate yourself on what hackers are capable of, and then, find ways to protect your self.  A recent article in the New York Times gives a great summary.

At one time, virus attacks were obvious to users, said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, a training organization for computer security professionals. He explained that now, the attacks were more silent. “Now it’s much, much easier infecting trusted Web sites,” he said, “and getting your zombies that way.”

And there are myriad lures aimed at conning people into installing nefarious programs, buying fake antivirus software or turning over personal information that can be used in identity fraud.

“The Web opened up a lot more opportunities for attacking” computer users and making money, said Maxim Weinstein, executive director of StopBadware, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group that receives funding from Google, PayPal, Mozilla and others.

Google says its automated scans of the Internet recently turned up malware on roughly 300,000 Web sites, double the number it recorded two years ago. Each site can contain many infected pages. Meanwhile, Malware doubled last year, to 240 million unique attacks, according to Symantec, a maker of security software. And that does not count the scourge of fake antivirus software and other scams.

So it is more important than ever to protect yourself.   Click here to read more and learn some basic tips for thwarting them.

7 Things You Should Never Do on Facebook

May 17, 2010

Oversharing personal information is bad, especially when it’s online.  Lots and lots of people you may not even realize could be learning a whole lot more about you than you’d like them to know.  CWN’s Larry Wiezycki recently wrote about how Facebook allows strangers to view your private information, unless you opt out.

Wallet Pop pointed out in a recent article that the majority of social network users share too much private information.  Somehow that little voice in our heads that should stop us fails to speak up when it comes to sharing information online.

Consumer Reports surveyed 2,000 households and found that 52% are posting some form of personal information online that falls under risky social media behavior.

Consumer Reports came up with seven things to stop doing on Facebook now:

  1. Using a weak password — Given the number of places Facebook connects to and the wealth of information about you on it, there’s no reason not to use a strong password with a mix of capital letters and numbers.
  2. Listing a full birthdate — Putting your full birthday online is opening yourself up to identity thieves who can use it to open accounts and possibly guess your SSN.
  3. Overlooking useful privacy controls — There have been many changes to how your personal info can be used, check out this guide to keep your personal information private on Facebook.
  4. Posting a child’s name in captions — You simply don’t need to share this information.
  5. Mentioning being away from home — Telling the world you are going on vacation, and giving specific dates, is as bad as letting your mail and newspapers pile up.
  6. Being found by a search engine — Turning off this options decreases the likelihood that strangers will find you.
  7. Permitting youngster to use Facebook — If your child is on Facebook you should be monitoring what they are doing so that they don’t spend $1,375 on Farmville or get in touch with the wrong people.

Careful What You Copy – Hidden Security Threat

May 17, 2010

Be careful what you copy on that copy machine at work.  Turns out every image is stored on the machine’s hard-drive and if those machines are ever sold, so too, is all your personal information.  This little known fact was exposed in an investigative report by CBS’s Armen Keteyian.  Click here for more.

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Is It Safe To Use Plastics In Microwave Cooking?

May 12, 2010

By Terry Smiljanich:

Is it dangerous to use plastic containers or plastic wraps in microwave ovens? Are carcinogenic dioxins or other harmful chemicals released into your foods as a result?  There are many frightening claims about this on the internet.  The truth is some caution is advisable in certain circumstances, but all out panic is not necessary.

Microwave ovens heat up your foods by use of electromagnetic waves that heat up the atoms in your food. Heat from a conventional oven does the same thing. It’s just the wavelengths that are different, with microwaves penetrating deeper into the food, thus cooking the food more quickly and efficiently. Any plastics or plastic wraps used in a microwave will likewise heat up, but their particular atomic structures prevent them from heating up as quickly as foods or liquids.

Birth of a Legend

Back in 2002, a news report spread through the internet that a “Doctor Fujimoto from Castle Hospital” in Hawaii had warned of the dangers posed by dioxins in plastics that could cause cancers in people that used such plastics in their microwaves. Emails passed along this warning, and in 2004 information was added that Johns Hopkins Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center were likewise advising of the dangers of dioxins in plastics. In 2007, a “Johns Hopkins Cancer Update” allegedly reiterated this health hazard.

As it turns out, “Dr. Fujimoto” was not a medical doctor or staff physician at Castle Hospital in Hawaii. He was a Ph.D. Director of the Center for Health Promotion at Castle Medical Center in Kailua, Hawaii. Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore did not warn of dioxins in plastics and issued no such “cancer update.” The simple fact is that plastics do not contain dioxins, but the truth can’t easily stop an urban legend from taking off, especially in our connected world.

Bisphenol A

Recently, new internet traffic has warned that plasticizers used in the manufacture of plastics and the presence of Bisphenol A (BPA), can cause cancer or nervous system disorders when used in preparing food. BPA is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of hard plastic bottles and metal-based food and beverage cans.

The FDA and controlled scientific tests, however, have shown no such adverse effects from normal exposures to BPA. The FDA is continuing the study of BPA’s in foods meant for infants and children (e.g., baby bottles), and is looking for ways to reduce exposure of infants to BPA. In these cases, you would be best advised to stay away from plastic containers containing BPA where children are involved. Check the labeling.

Safe Use of Plastics in Microwaves

So what is the truth about using plastics in your microwave? Any dangers? Well, there are some steps you should take in deciding whether to use plastics in microwave cooking.

Plastics intended for food use must pass FDA safety standards before they are allowed on the market. Since foods may sometimes (but rarely) reach temperatures that melt certain plastics, certain plastic containers are labeled as safe for use in microwave ovens. The biggest danger posed by improper plastics containers is that touching them after heating could cause burns. Butter, for example, often comes in plastic tubs meant for cold storage. Due to its high fat content, butter gets extremely hot in a microwave and could partially melt the tub it is in. The same is true with foods having a high sugar content.

When cooking frozen foods in plastic containers meant to be microwaved, the containers have either been approved for use  by the FDA or tested for compatibility with microwaves.

What About Those Flimsy Plastic Wraps?

Hard plastic containers are one thing, but what about flimsy plastic wraps like Glad Wrap or Saran Wrap? Do they pose a safety hazard in the microwave?

It appears they do not. Using plastic wraps over food helps retain moisture during cooking, thus promoting uniform cooking, and their use also eliminates splattering of food. Microwaves heat the food much more quickly than the wrap. Again, any melting of the wrap is caused by coming into contact with extremely hot food. This is why it is recommended that a small space be maintained between the wrap and the food, especially fatty foods that can get very hot.

Both Glad Wrap and Saran Wrap state that their products are safe for use in a microwave. Glad points out that wraps can tighten during microwaving, and recommends leaving a small vent to allow some steam to escape and prevent splitting of the wrap. Both companies also deny that their products contain BPA or plasticizers.

Postscript

After posting this article, Consumer Warning Network received an email from Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center thanking us for writing about the urban legend concerning supposed dioxins in plastic containers. Johns Hopkins still receives daily emails asking whether Johns Hopkins experts had authored such a report, and still encounters bloggers who continue to post the fake report as the truth. The Internet is obviously not always a good source for medical information.

Walk Away Mortgages

May 11, 2010


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More and more homeowners who owe more on their mortgage than their house is worth are just walking away.  That’s right, throwing their emotional bond to their “home sweet home” to the wind and spitting in the face of the stigma that goes along with foreclosure.  Families like the one profiled in a recent “60 Minutes” report say it’s the only thing that makes financial sense.  Click here to see more.

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Who Pays for the Massive Oil Spill Clean-Up in the Gulf?

May 7, 2010

By Terry Smiljanich:

The on-going tragedy of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by the catastrophic destruction of British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, has raised serious questions concerning legislative protections afforded to companies causing such environmental disasters. How will such legal limitations on liability serve to protect BP from being responsible for full compensation to the victims of this man-made calamity?

Oil Pollution Act of 1990

After the 1989 Alaskan oil spill caused by the Exxon Valdez, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.The Act increased federal oversight of maritime oil transportation and drilling, increased safety standards for such activities, set liability standards for such spills, and activated a trust fund to help pay for cleanup costs resulting from oil spills.

Responsible parties for causing such oil spills were made liable for removal costs and damages resulting from the incident, including economic losses resulting from damage to natural resources such as fishing and recreation. There is no liability for removal costs or damages if the spill incident is caused by an Act of God, an Act of War, a third party, or any combination of them.

As a trade off for requiring the creation of an industry-funded oil spill trust fund, responsible companies were provided a limitation on their liability for such removal costs or environmental damages. Such liability limits were set at $75 million.

Are such liability limits sufficient to protect the public? Obviously not. According to a study conducted by the Department of Homeland Security last year, since 1991 there have been 51 spill incidents in which the damages exceeded the liability caps. The potential damages resulting from the BP spill are already estimated at $1.6 billion, and this figure could rise further. Even at $1.6 billion, such damages exceed the current cap on BP’s liability by more than 20 times.

If, however, claimants can prove gross negligence by the responsible party (a much higher standard of proof), the limitations on liability would no longer apply. It would be up to courts and juries to make such findings and allow higher damages to be awarded beyond the $75 million total cap.

Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund

In 1986, Congress had created a trust fund, the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, to be paid for by the oil industry to provide contingency funds for clean-up and damage costs resulting from oil spills. This trust fund remained unfunded, however, until after the Exxon Valdez incident. In the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the oil industry was required to put $1 billion into the trust fund, based upon a new tax (currently 8 cents per barrel). This reserve fund currently stands at $1.6 billion.

These costs on the oil industry are, of course, passed on to the consumer. It is estimated that the tax to cover the Oil Spill Trust Fund increases the cost of oil by about one tenth of a percent. Have no doubt about it, readers, but we consumers are the ones who actually paid for the $1.6 billion currently sitting in the fund. Meanwhile, BP’s profits just for the first three months of this year stand at $6.1 billion, after posting profits of $4.3 billion in the final quarter of last year (that’s not a typo).

BP’s Liability

BP’s CEO Tony Hayward announced that “this is not our accident, but it’s our responsibility.” BP has stated that it will pay “all necessary and appropriate clean-up costs,” and will pay compensation for “legitimate and objectively verifiable” claims for property damage, personal injuries and commercial losses.

If BP holds true to its word, the government will be compensated for its clean-up efforts and the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund will remain intact. There will undoubtedly be clean-up costs and liability claims that BP will dispute, and such disputes (given the example of the Exxon Valdez incident) will take decades to resolve.

If the oil slicks damage the sensitive wetlands of Louisiana, the rich oyster beds of the Gulf Coast and the coral reefs off of the Dry Tortugas and the Florida Keys, no amount of money in the world will compensate us for our ecological and economic losses. Such are the risks that need to be weighed against our overweening thirst for oil and desire to “drill, baby, drill.”