Sunday, August 30, 2009

Death by Numbers

As a 44 year old white woman living in Massachusetts, I have a 1,600 out of a million chance of dying within the next year. Were I to die during that time, it would most likely be from some form of cancer.
I am about a third less likely to die during the next year as is an African-American woman of the same age and living in the same state. But both of us have better chances of surviving the next twelve months than our counterparts in Kentucky or Mississippi.
All of this grim information comes compliments of the Death Risk Calculator developed at Carnegie Mellon University. This easy-to-use tool allows you to calculate your risk for up to 66 causes of death, from skin cancer to homicide to accidental poisoning.
Sure, it's fun but what's the point? Site developer and professor, Paul Fischbeck hopes it will bring focus and factual information to our nation's ongoing debate over healthcare policy.
"It's much easier to make a persuasive argument when you have the facts to back it up, and this site provides all sides with the facts," said Fischbeck. "We believe that this tool, which allows anyone to assess their own risk of dying and to compare their risks with counterparts in the United States and Europe, could help inform the public and constructively engage them in the debate."

Image courtesy of Stock.xchng

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Trouble with Multi=Tasking

What a relief it was to read about this Stanford University study which found that heavy duty multi-taskers are not, in fact, super-human concentrators with the ability to polish off multiple projects simultaneously and flawlessly. Instead, researchers found that those who regularly juggle several sources of media at once were less successful at assigned tasks than people who usually do one thing at a time.

As someone who has trouble reading a book and listening to music at the same time - unless the music is instrumental only and coincides historically and mood-wise with what I'm reading, I have always been suspicious of multi-taskers. Are their powers of mental focus so superior to mine? How do they keep it up? Something's got to give. It turns out that the "something" is the ability to ignore irrelevant information.

"They're suckers for irrelevancy," said Stanford professor Clifford Nass, one of the lead researchers for the study. That inability to filter out what is immaterial to a task naturally decreases accuracy and delays the completion of that task.

Of course, this is not a big surprise to anyone who has ever been behind a multi-tasker in a check-out line. Trying to swipe a debit card, punch in a PIN and carry on a cell phone conversation at the same time inevitably leads to delays, not only for the multi-tasker but for everyone else in the line as well.

Other skills found lacking in multi-taskers were the ability to organize memory and the ability to switch from one task to another.

"They couldn't help thinking about the task they weren't doing," said Eyal Ophir, lead author of the study. "They can't keep things separate in their minds."

So I feel somewhat vindicated in my affinity for uni-tasking. I won't be pressured into a feeling of inadequacy when I'm happily engrossed in a single activity. I don't need to see how many balls I can keep in the air. I'm happy juggling one at a time.

Teachers, Win Free School Supplies!

Why does your class deserve to win a gift certificate for $2,500 worth of school supplies and how would you put those school supplies to good use? If you are a public school teacher and can answer this question convincingly in 400 words or fewer, you are ready to enter the 2009 Tools for Teaching Contest sponsored, and Nasco,

"As a mother of three, I understand the financial hardships many schools are facing this fall and I'm glad we can provide much-needed relief for purchasing school supplies," said co-founder Leslie Linevsky. "We also hope this contest inspires other small and mid-sized businesses to do what they can to support public education."

Entries may be submitted on the website starting on Tuesday, September 1 and ending on Wednesday, September 30.

Essays will be judged on persuasiveness, creativity, clarity and demonstration of need.

The top five essayists will receive eNasco gift certificates to be redeemed for school supplies. The grand prize winner will be able to spend $2,500; a second-place prize of $1,500 will be awarded and three runners-up will each receive $500 gift certificates.

Winners will be notified by October 30.

To enter the "Tools for Teaching" contest or for more information, visit

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Top Ten "Human" Ailments That Also Plague Pets

A dog can catch a chicken but it can't catch chicken pox. A cat can swat incessantly at a dangling be-feathered teaser but it won't develop carpel tunnel syndrome. And humans almost never come down with a raging case of mange. Still, there are many afflictions which people and pets endure in common. Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (VPI) recently reviewed its 2008 claims data and compiled the following list of the top ten medical conditions common to people and pets.

1. Allergies - In 2008, VPI received 63,761 claims for skin allergies. Allergic reactions in pets can result from flea bite saliva, the pollen of nearby plants or foods that pets eat. Treatment for pets is relatively the same as it is for people: control the pet's exposure to allergens (in the environment or to certain foods), administration of antihistamines, and, in severe cases, administration of anti-inflammatory medications.

2. Bladder infection - 23,915 claims received. The symptoms of a bladder infection, or bacterial cystitis, can be difficult to recognize in pets. Don't assume all "accidents" in the house or a pet's frequent urination pattern is simply a behavioral issue. There could be medical basis to a pet's change in urinary habits. It is important to never ignore a pet that appears to be experiencing painful or difficult urination.

3. Arthritis - 19,537 claims received. The aging process occurs more rapidly in pets and has many of the same effects on pets as it does on humans. Arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, most often results from a lifetime of wear and can cause pain or decreased joint movement. Pets suffering from arthritis may need anti-inflammatory medications and/or pet specific pain relievers for their arthritis. (Note: never give a pet a human drug or pain reliever, since these can be toxic to pets.)

4. Diabetes - 8,590 claims received. As with humans, diabetes requires daily management of the disease and a combination of treatment involving weight control, specially timed meals, insulin injections and/or oral medications.

5. Skin Cancer - 2,114 claims received. It would be easy to think that with hair usually covering the majority of their bodies, pets don't have to worry about skin cancer. Unfortunately, the three most common skin cancers in humans also occur in pets. Areas of skin that are white or pink on a pet's coat are particularly susceptible to sunburn which, with long-term exposure, can lead to skin cancer. As such, it is important to monitor the skin of pets with white ear tips and pink noses.

6. Gum Disease - 1,748 claims received. Pets have a disadvantage compared to people in the dental category. Food particles tend to gather in the corners of their mouth after a meal, so tooth brushing and regular checkups are necessary. Without tooth brushing the pet is susceptible to the potentially harmful effects of excessive plaque buildup on the tooth's surface. The plaque harbors bacteria, which easily invade the adjacent gum lining, leading to gum recession and gum disease.

7. Acne - 705 claims received. Acne in dogs and cats affects the chin and lips. While dogs often outgrow the condition, cats are more likely to suffer lifelong breakouts. Most pets are not bothered by the condition, but in severe cases, the affected areas may become painful or itchy. Topical medications may be prescribed by a veterinarian to relieve the pet's discomfort.

8. Stomach Ulcers - 584 claims received. Ulcers in pets can be caused by drugs, cancer, kidney or liver disease, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease or chronic stomach inflammation. Pets with stomach ulcers may vomit or display abdominal discomfort.

9. Cataracts - 495 claims received. A cataract is a change in the transparency of lens in the eye. An opaque lens blocks light from reaching the retina and may cause a partial or complete loss of vision. Cataracts in pets may be caused by diabetes, malnutrition, radiation, inflammation, or trauma. Like humans, surgery may be required to remove the affected lens or lenses.

10. Laryngitis - 382 claims received. Dogs and cats can bark or meow for hours upon hours, but every so often, one will lose his voice. The cause may be an upper respiratory tract infection, irritation due to an inhalant, or just excessive vocalization. An inflamed larynx will cause vocal difficulty. Fortunately, it is rarely serious.

Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Image Library

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Paw Project

Banned or considered unethical in many other countries, de-clawing surgery is commonly performed in the U.S. to prevent cats from scratching furniture. Since a cat's claw grows from within the last bone of its toe, de-clawing requires an amputation at the last "knuckle."
"Declawing is one of the most painful surgeries routinely performed by veterinarians, and it can result in serious physical and behavioral complications," said Jennifer Conrad, DVM, who founded The Paw Project in 2000 to promote public awareness about the crippling effects of de-clawing, to rehabilitate de-clawed cats through reparative surgery, and to support measures to eradicate de-clawing.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Do Your Kids Take School Too Seriously?

For many parents, September brings the blessing of getting to send the kids back to school - a safe and stimulating environment where they will be mentored, protected and enriched, where new universes of knowledge will open up for them to explore with supportive and sensitive teachers and peers.
But, along with the optimistic rush that a fresh start can bring, comes worry about the unknown. What peer pressure is lurking in that new grade or new school? What little ne'er-do-wells populate that new afterschool program?

A recent study reveals that the biggest (29 percent) back-to-school fear in moms' minds is that their children will be exposed to kids who drink and use drugs. Certainly understandable. This was followed closely by worries that teens "will feel pressure to do well academically or pressure from tests" (22 percent). That one surprised me. I guess things have changed mightily in the 20-plus years since I was a teen. Let me just say this; the fear that I was putting too much pressure on myself academically was never one of the things that kept my mother up at night. Not once did I cause her to break into a cold sweat at the thought of her my obsessive study habits.

Still, personal experiences aside, school pressure does seem to be a legitimate cause for concern. On a 2007 survey, teens ranked it first on a list of reasons they've used drugs and alcohol, out-scoring other popular responses such as "to feel cool" and "to feel better about myself."

For more information, visit Partnership for a Drug Free America
Learn about talking to your kids about drug and alcohol abuse at Time to Talk

Monday, August 3, 2009

First School Bus

In 1869 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed the first legislation in the United States allowing the use of public funds for transporting children to and from school. Over the next half century, the other 48 states followed suit.
In its earliest days, long before bright yellow paint and flashing red lights, the school bus took the form of a long, wood-framed wagon, pulled by horses or mules, with wide planks running the length of the sides, to serve as benches. Children boarded and exited the wagons at the rear to avoid frightening the animals.
In the anthology Good Old Days Remembers the Little Country School House, Emma B. Lee recalls chilly Indiana mornings, riding to school with classmates, in a wagon drawn by two horses. "The only heat we had came from one of those little round kerosene heaters that was anchored behind the driver's seat. That didn't make much heat for a wagon big enough to haul 18 to 20 kids."