Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Network Security Begins With an Acceptable Use Policy!

Most folks seem to understand what a firewall is and why it is so very important. They intuitively understand that they need something between the "trusted" internal computer network and the wild west we call the Internet! The installation of a firewall is generally something all business do, from the wireless network at the local coffee shop, to the medium size law firm and the giant multinational distributed enterprise. The barbarians are at the door, but with a firewall we all feel protected! The largest percentage of cyber security risks, however, do not come through the front door and your firewall will never see them enter. The largest risk to the security of your network comes from the employees and guests allowed, either connected by wire or wireless, to attach to your corporate network.

As a CISCO Certified Security Professional, we do a great deal of work in the area of computer network security. When called on to do a "Security audit", "voice readiness" or "network assessment", the first question we ask executive management is where is your AUP? After all we can tell you what protocols are running around on your network and even which user is consuming the most bandwidth. We can not, however, tell you if they are allowed to use that bandwidth! The creation of an "acceptable use" policy (i.e. AUP) is an essential first step in network security. The AUP communicates to all network users what is supported and what applications are allowed on the network. It describes what is acceptable regarding personal email, blogging, file sharing, web hosting, instant messaging, music and video streaming. It defines what is activity is strictly prohibited on the network and clearly outlines what constitutes "excessive use". The computer network is a valuable corporate asset and as such it needs to be valued, protected and secured.

Does your company have a network access and authentication policy? What is the "password" policy? Do you even need a "password" to use the company network? Can anyone just come in and plug whatever phone, pad or computer device they happen to have into the company network? What is the data storage and retention policy? Do you allow VPN tunnels that extend your company network to a home office or coffee shop? Do you allow your users to connect third party provided equipment to your network? Is it acceptable that Bob just added a hub to his office network connection so he can plug in his own printer? How do we feel if Bob plugs in his own wireless access point? Do we have a "guest" network and do we let those folks know what is acceptable on your network?

What are the legal ramifications and liabilities you are exposed to if you are providing a computer network as part of a lease agreement? Are you liable for damages if your computer network is unavailable or "down for any reason? If Home Land Security shows up because your company's public IP address was traced as originating a terrorist treat, do you have the user agreements in place to mitigate the costs you are about to incur defending your good name and reputation?

Computer network security is more than a firewall. A computer with an Ebola virus, Adware or nefarious RAT (remote access terminal) will infect all computers on your network, threaten your corporate data and render your firewall as useless as a screen door on a submarine. If your company has taken the prudent step of providing a Human Resource or employee manual that spells out the company's position on work force violence, sexual harassment, vacation day accrual and drugs in the workplace, why don't you have a manual that defines the acceptable use of your most vital corporate assess, the computer network?

Friday, January 08, 2016

Change Management for You VoIP Telephone System!

For the end user company, the single most challenging aspect of managing a VoIP deployment is the issue of "change management" and technical support. The average VoIP deployment today is going to challenge both the system administrator and the technical service and support team. Today, not only is the technology moving faster than your staff can digest, it touches so many other aspects of your enterprise that is difficult to employ one person that can do it all. From computer networking, to virtualization, Microsoft server and desktop software, data center practices, to disaster and business continuity strategies, technical support has become a challenge for every company big or small.

Remember shopping for that new VoIP system? Did you seek out a partner that had the required technical depth, or where you shopping for the low cost equipment provider? It is post sale support where you find out just how much that system really costs! Consider your next ShoreTel upgrade from Version X to Version Y. Do you have a change management process in place? Does your partner? Change and Configuration Management are as essential to the maintenance and ongoing technical support of your VoIP solution as project management was in the initial installation. What tools are in place to manage configuration interdependencies in your voip deployment, as it can get very complex very quickly.

For example, what version of Microsoft Server are you running? Is it 32 or 64 Bit? Is it running on hardware with sufficient memory, NIC cards, processors and storage capacity? Has it been virtualized? What version of hypervisor are you running and will your new ShoreTel version require you to upgrade your virtual operating system in addition to your ShoreTel server software? How many servers are there to upgrade besides the HQ server and any DVM's? Are they all the same OS version or are some 32 bit and other 64? What about the application servers, like the recording server? What happens when the recording server cant be upgraded to the required new OS bit size to support the new ShoreTel version? How about that VPN server?

We haven't even discussed desktop systems yet? Vista, XP, Windows 7/8? Do we have 32 bit or 64 bit or a combination? Any Mac computers in the mix? Browser compatibility alone will drive a grown man to drink! Microsoft Office 2003, 2010, 2012? Outlook? Exchange Integration? Active Directory? Sales Force Connectors? Will the new version obsolete any hardware? Require new hardware? Do we have custom integrations to worry about? Is TAPI a requirement for any of these applications? How will the latest version of SIP impact the deployment? Apple, Android, Wireless, Mobility?

The list of interdependencies is exhaustive and planning an upgrade requires careful consideration and planning. Not only do you need a clear statement of work, a detailed task list, but also a "fall back" plan. Is the maintenance window wide enough? Has the User Group been informed? Configuration Management is a precursor to Change Management and both disciplines requires a great deal of planning and tracking.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Protect Your Computer From Being Hacked!

The thought of people being concerned that NSA is listing and monitoring their activities is a hysterically funny concept to me. Whatever you think of Edward Snowden, know that he is a day late and a dollar short. Most of these very same people that worry about the NSA, have a "Tracebook", Twitter, Instagram or a half a dozen other social media accounts that should be significantly reducing the NSA operating budget. In fact, let's just disband the NSA and hire Google! It seems that most of us have no issue publicly posting our most intimate details on Facebook including everything short of our Social Security numbers. Posting our current location and "checking in" so that the entire planet knows not only where we are, but what we are doing seems to be an absolutely essential public service and should also include pictures of the meal I am about to eat. How many of these same individuals are aware that every picture posted contains Meta Data that also memorializes the GPS co-ordinates and the camera type used to take the picture? I know you want to share picture of the family, but do you really want ISIS to know exactly where they live?

As everyone is so willing to publicly disclose these personal details, it explains why so many remain ignorant of the data mining that goes on that you do not knowingly consent to. I assume we all know that Google is in the business of selling digital user profiles to advertisers? Every type an email to a friend about planning a trip to the Italy only to find your inbox now populated with travel agency "hot deals"? If your email does not fill up with travel deals to the Italy, you can bet your internet browser will now display a travel agency advertisements, "learn to speak Italian" and top Italian Restaurants on every page you view fin! Now ask me what we think about using Google Docs! We suggest that you consider DoNotTrackme extensions to your Chrome and Firefox browsers. We also recommend that you install "self-destructing cookies" and watch how many cookies are exchanged with your browser each use. Remember, we really don't need your username and password, we need your cookies all of which are transmitted in clear text over that Starbucks wireless you have been using! All available using FireSheep!

Now if this is a vulnerability that effects individuals, what vulnerability effects enterprise level environments? Forget the notoriously leaking Windows Operating system and your hopelessly porous laptop, in the wake of the 55 Million credit card numbers stolen from Home Depot and the 45 million stolen from Target, we now have to worry about the credit card machines at the checkout counter. Actually the TJ Maxx heist was in many ways much larger! You might be considering how did the hackers get through the Firewall? As we have pointed out before, most computer network security exploitations are not executed through the firewall, they are executed by "social engineering" with the assistance of an ignorant employee or paid hit man. It is suspect that at least one of the above break ins was assisted by a third party trusted partner like the heating and air conditioning service company. Nothing like a starving janitorial night service crew to earn a few extra bucks plugging a USB device into any desktop computer releasing a new and improved malware version of BlackPOS! Most of these stolen credit card numbers can be purchase here or on the Darknet using a Tor browser to reach silk road type websites.

It seems you can't turn on an electronic device today without it alerting you that a software update is available for download. From the TV set, to the mobile phone, tablet and now even your car, all are subject to software updates. Do you even question what is being downloaded to your device when you do a software update? You just assume you are connecting with Apple, Amazon or Samsung? What if some evil doer was really just spoofing a software update and you just willingly downloaded a super basket of spy goodies that turn on your phone camera, activate your microphone and email snapshots to back to the mother ship. NSA, are you kidding? You would never know if it was your spouse, or employer would you? Yet millions of people do this without care, day after day and think nothing more about it. If you want to be tracked everywhere you go, risk having your most intimate communications published (just ask Jenifer Lawrence and the other celebrity Nude hack victims) just carry your Smartphone with you at all times!

Cyber-crime, next to the Ebola virus and violent terrorism is the single most economically destructive phenomenon to threaten the American way of life since the Cuban missile crisis. Yet the average business owner winces at the cost of engaging a computer network security audit and thinks that penetration testing is lovemaking foreplay. When the IT team asks for a Firewall upgrade or an increase in budget to cover a subscription to virus, spam and bot net filtering they somehow can't justify the added expense. Educating your employees on the safe use of the Internet over WiFi should be part of the healthcare preventive medicine program, but most business will ignore "social engineering" vulnerabilities until a major data thief publicly embarrasses them.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Are Laptop Cooling Pads Necessary?

IMPORTANCE OF LAPTOP COOLING PADS

Every laptop user has felt it at one point. The scorching hot waves of the heat of your laptop slowly cooking your legs as you try to finish up a project or check your emails. You might have also noticed, the performance of your computer seems to slow down in this case, too. You are right. This isn't just your imagination. This is due to throttling that takes place in the device. Having processing power in a compact space like the body of a laptop often puts a strain on the hardware. Intensive activities like gaming or even binge watching Netflix might be causing the throttling and making your computer over heat. This problem might eventually lead to permanent damage.

However, cooling pads come to the rescue in elongating your laptops life span and helping it deliver its top performance without the hassle of overheating. The most common complaints from laptop and notebook users are that their laptops systems almost crash due to heat exhaustion and the uncomfortable feeling of using a laptop that feels too hot while in use. Laptop cooling pads increase airflow to your laptop's mechanism. Majority of these pads have fan systems that allow the laptop's system to have access to a cool stream of air. This stream of cool air helps the device stay at a stable, cool temperature, eliminating the possibility of overheating. The stabilization of temperature in the device allows the mechanism to breathe which helps the computer to function better and makes it easier for the user.

The excessive heat that the laptop produces is not comfortable or healthy for the user. Recent studies have been showing that Wi-Fi using products, such as laptops, may be harmful to the user. It is possible that the laptop-cooling pad, while cooling the device can also block off some of the harmful radiation too.

While purchasing cooling pads it is important to pay attention to things like performance, the CFM and sometimes even the fan noise factor. Amongst that, it is also important to focus on the design and pick a cooling pad suited most to your working and life style. Fortunately many laptop and notebook cooling pads are very stylish and come with cool features like different lighting features and colors.

Even the best laptops might come down due to overheating permanently. The straining of throttling can unfortunately damage your laptops and notebook devices. Sanoxy Cooling pads will however eliminate this issue and provide you with a healthier and "cooler" laptop.

http://www.amazon.com/sanoxy

Thursday, December 24, 2015

How To Manage Stretch Marks

1. External applications: Topical creams and moisturizers, skin firming agents and skin hydrators are available in different trade names but they give fewer results in long standing cases; however the following topical agents are widely used with varying results.

Topical agents are supposed to promote collagen synthesis when applied on the affected skin.
  • Topical retinoid therapy (retin A treatment)
Examples: - Retinaldehyde, tretinoin, Isotretinoin, adapalene etc are used. Tretinoin should not be used during pregnancy and lactation.
  • Glycolic acid creams are used to remove the outer layers of the skin.
  • Silicon dioxide is used with some benefits.
  • Elastin cream can promote formation of elastin.
  • Hydroxyproline containing creams are useful.
  • Alpha hydroxyl acids (8 to 10%) are used with good results.
  • Glycerol is used as a moisturizer.
  • Topical vitamins (E, A & K).
  • Vitamin E oil is commonly used.
  • Creams containing marine tissue extract are useful externally.
  • Antioxidants (they act as scavengers of free radicals).
  • Vaseline is routinely applied on the skin.
  • Biopeptide CL containing creams are useful.
  • Topical sunless tanning products are also useful.
Some naturally available substances are also used with good results, which are mentioned under a separate heading.

2. Masking methods: Here the stretch marks are not removed, but kept covered by appropriate dressing and other methods like tattoo or ornaments etc.

3. Dermabrasion: Here the superficial layer of the skin is removed by a procedure called micro dermabrasion, which will increase collagen production resulting in the formation of normal healthy skin. This method is recommended for those who do not prefer painful and expensive surgical techniques. This is the cheapest and harmless method among all types of skin resurfacing techniques. Here no chemicals or medicines are required. Micro dermabrasion involves the use of a pen like instrument that sandblasts the skin with tiny crystals to remove the cells in the superficial layer of the skin. On an average 10 to 12 sittings are needed for a better result.

4. Skin remodeling: Here needles or lasers are used. Needle pricks can induce collagen production in the affected area.

5. Chemical peeling: Here some chemicals in cream base are applied on the affected area. These creams can remove the epidermis of the skin. The dermis can produce more collagen and gradually normal skin is formed.

However this method is painful and may even cause skin injury due to some reactions.

Glycolic acid and Jessner's peels are commonly used. For medium depth peeling Trichloracetic acid is used. Here the skin becomes red & swollen for a few days and gradually becomes normal.

6. Laser treatment: This is the most commonly used method, which gives better result than any other method. Statistics show that about 70% of cases treated with a laser have given good results. However, laser cant give good results in all cases as it works on certain skin types.

Different types of lasers are used on the basis of the color of skin. Here a narrow beam of laser is transmitted through the affected skin that can stimulate the production of collagen. Laser can stimulate the division of fibroblasts of the skin, thereby promotes tissue repair. It is true that laser cant remove stretch marks, but improves their appearance. Dual laser treatment is effective after a few sittings. Pulse dye laser therapy is also used with sizeable results and is a better choice among different laser treatments. However laser therapy is expensive and also causes pain during the procedure. More over five to six sittings are needed to make some noticeable improvement. Laser therapy gives better results in red raised scars and pinkish stretch marks. However, modern laser therapy is very expensive.

7. Cosmetic Surgery: Here surgical methods like skin grafting, skin reduction, liposuction etc are done. In case of horrible abdominal stretch marks with folded skin due to fat deposition that does not respond to normal methods can be managed by abdominoplasty. However this method is very expensive and may cause scars on the operated site.

8. Endermologie: This mode of treatment was invented in France. Here, a special machine is used to massage the affected site with the help of rollers and a suctioning action of the machine. This method is supposed to improve the blood circulation and removal of toxic substances from the skin. It can also strengthen the connective tissues of the skin. Series of endermologie procedures have given marked improvement in the appearance of stretch marks.

10. Anti depressive medicines: Those who are over anxious about stretch marks need mild doses of antidepressants and psychotherapy.

Dr Olusola coker and Debola cole are experts in skin care. They both have treated and cured women with stretchmarks across the globe. visit their website for details http://www.fadeyourstretchmarks.com

Monday, December 21, 2015

Choosing the Right Technology for Kids

Today, we live in a digital world that's supported majorly with technology and while technology has changed our world, it also plays an important role in our child's developmental milestones. Thanks to the latest trends in the field of educational based technology, kids are now getting up close and personal with technology daily, at homes and at school.

But is there really a need to of making technology available only at a particular age? Not really, as technology also plays a very positive and vital role while a child is growing. Today with an introduction of smartphones and other mobile devices like tablet PCs and tablets, we have quicker and comfortable access to the internet at any time and any place. This makes it a must have for kids too, as they help promote and share knowledge and information that's related to child's day to day activities along with school based education.

What to buy?

There's a whole wide range of electronic toys and devices available in the market, that are great portable devices to teach your little ones. But deciding what to buy is difficult at times. But we as parents have a fair idea on what might suit our child and what products may excite him to learn. Remember, each child develops differently and would have their own learning milestones. So don't push too hard and do keep in mind the following guidelines while buying these products:

Pre-Nursery: 0-3 Years

It's an ideal age to introduce them to a variety of sounds and lots of colorful stuff. Look for products that feature sounds, are good to touch and feel and most importantly are 'play friendly' in terms of safety measures.

You can buy a stuffed toy that makes a sound, music rattles to make him giggle, something that lights up like a room monitor that glows and pick up books that have bright pictures and sounds too. All these would help a child learn the 'cause and effect' and learn via touch and feel. These will keep the child occupied for a little longer and will open a world of possibilities too.

Prep 2-5 years

At this age, a child needs to hear interesting sounds, see lots of movement around and touch and feel the stuff. This is indeed the most inquisitive age for our little explorers, so be very cautious on what you are gifting them. Encourage them to play with action figures that make sounds and are movable, interactive story books, electronic playsets and talking animals make creative buys.

To increase their learning, gradually introduce them to your smartphone that has a wide range of easily downloadable kid's applications for listening to rhymes or learning numbers, learning shapes & colors. Read them stories that are interesting and show them the moving images to keep them enthralled and entertained. Try creating learning with a theme, so that kids learn faster. Visit a Zoo and ask them to identify the animals!

+5 and above:

Once the kids are 5, it's different to keep a track on what technology they are getting exposed to. At this age, they'll no longer be interested to play with electronic toys or e-readers and would in time, reach out to the internet and play video games or other handheld games that have enhanced features like 3-dimensional effects.

So try to introduce them to a leap frog or similar educational electronics and let them choose what they need to explore. Make sure they are involved in physical activities too.

Screen time too needs to be fixed, as the bright images of the computer screen can affect their sensitive eyes. Don't let them get into a habit of only sitting on the computer. Change your passwords regularly. Offer kids other interesting things to indulge in. Reward or surprise them with gifts.

Please make sure to be around the child whenever they are on the laptop and keep a track what they are watching or reading. Let them keep experimenting independently with new things. Help them search for educational websites and other interactive games. Kids can also read and learn about science experiments and increase their knowledge bank.

While the technology is a boon, remember it is crucial for a kid to keep active in an environment where he is physically active. So opt for outdoor activities and let them explore the natural space. Do praise them in all that they do and inculcate their interest in technology and keep them exploring this amazing world.

Each child is different and with a whole wide range of electronic toys and devices available in the market, there are times when we as parents can't figure out what to buy and when is the ideal time to introduce them to new technology. These guidelines would help you make a better decision. By Ashima Mukherjee

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

What Is Blood Pressure, And Why Is It Important?

In simplistic terms, blood pressure is a measurement of the force with which your blood is pumped round your body. It is the pressure that your pumping blood places on the walls of your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart. The easiest way of understanding the concept of BP is to think of water pumping through a garden hose. When it does so, the water places pressure on the walls of the hose as it tries to 'escape' in any possible direction.

And in the same way that you increase the pressure on the walls of your garden hose if you increase the water flow by turning the water tap or faucet on a little more, your increases if your heart starts pumping more blood around your body for some reason in exactly the same way.

Your exact hypertension is measured by reference to two different factors. The first of these factors is the strength of each heartbeat, whilst the second is the resistance put up by the 'tubes' through which you blood passes, primarily your capillaries and arteries.

It is the arterioles, the tiny blood vessels that feed into the capillary network that regulate hypertension more than any other part of your body. These arterioles expand and contract in rhythm with the beating of your heart as result of the muscular tissue in their walls. Hence, measuring hypertension is in effect checking the strength or weakness of your heart.

Your blood pressure is measured by reference to two different numbers which represent the systolic and diastolic pressures.

The first of these, the systolic is a measurement of the highest pressure point which is recorded when the heart beats or contracts. The lower figure, the diastolic is a measurement of what is happening when your heart is at rest, effectively representing the low point of your blood pressure.

As a general rule, it is the diastolic pressure measurement which medical professionals pay most attention to, because if your diastolic pressure is too high, it suggests that your arteries and capillaries are under too much pressure even when your heart is at rest.

In an average non stressed adult, normal hypertension would be in the region of 120/80 mmHg. In fact, the better your physical condition, the lower your diastolic pressure measurement is likely to be, with well conditioned athletes regularly recording a diastolic pressure of between 50 and 60 mmHg.

However, according to the American Heart Association, nearly 1 in three adults in the USA suffers from high blood pressure.

Much more terrifyingly, it is believed that anything from one third to one half of high blood pressure sufferers are completely unaware of their condition, which is one reason why your doctor always measures your blood pressure when you visit them irrespective of the condition that has brought you to their office or surgery in the first place.

High blood pressure is known by the medical profession as hypertension, but it is also possible to suffer from a slightly less serious form of the condition known as pre-hypertension as well.

Although exact definitions of what represents high blood pressure varies to a certain degree from country to country, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute suggests that in the USA, systolic pressure of between 120 and 139 or a diastolic pressure of between 80 and 89 mmHg represents pre-hypertension.

Stage one hypertension is represented by systolic pressure of between 140 and 159 or diastolic pressure in the range of 90 to 99 mmHg, whilst stage two hypertension is demonstrated by a reading in excess of 160/100 mmHg.

Why does it matter?

As suggested earlier, there are huge numbers of people in the USA (and in most industrialized Western countries) who suffer from high blood pressure that are not even aware of their condition.

This is the primary reason why high blood pressure is often known as 'the silent killer' as many of the conditions to which high blood pressure contributes are often fatal. In effect, if you have high blood pressure condition that you are not aware of, you are considerably more at risk of suffering a wide variety of potentially lethal medical conditions without being in a position to take steps or measures to reduce the risk, hence, the 'silent killer' soubriquet.

Dr Olusola Coker is well know as a speaker on Hypertension and Diabetes. His ebook has helped so many people across the globe solved their hypertension problems.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Avoid Sleeping With Your Smartphone

Smartphones can be useful at night to send a text, check the time, set an alarm, look at the calendar, use as a flashlight, read a book, and so much more. However, does the small radiation that the phone emits warrant concern? Here's some compelling evidence as to why sleeping with a smartphone may keep you from being your best the next day.

Why You Should Not Sleep Near Your Smartphone

Mobile phones use electronic magnetic radiation in the microwave range. Sleeping with a phone nearby boosts your radiation exposure just a bit, which can prevent an optimal sleep cycle.

Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, 32GB, (Verizon), Gold Platinum
Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, 32GB, (Verizon), Gold Platinum
Smartphones affect deep non-REM sleep, which leaves less time for blood flow to be directed to your muscles. Therefore in the morning, you may experience lack of concentration, soreness, and focused performance.

"Anything that disrupts the integrity of your sleep will potentially have adverse consequences in functioning during the day, such as grouchiness, difficulty concentrating, and in children hyperactivity and behaviour problems,"says Dr. William Kohler of the Florida Sleep Institute.

Five ninth-grade girls from Denmark observed these very consequences and noticed they couldn't concentrate the morning after sleeping with their phones. So they perform scientific experiment: Take 400 cress seeds (edible herb related to watercress) and split them into 12 trays, placing the trays in two rooms at the same temperature, six in each room. Give the trays the same amount of water and sunlight for 12 days, but expose six of the trays to mobile phone radiation. The girls had WiFi routers emit the same level of electromagnetic energy as a cell phone.

As you can see, the results are dramatic. The plants in the non-electromagnified room grew, while those situated next to the routers didn't grow at all or died.

"None of us sleep with our mobile phones at our bedside any more. Either we keep them at a distance or in another room," said one of the students.

Taking Precautions with Cell Phone Radiation

Two years ago, the International Agency for Research on Cancer rated smartphones as "group 2B", which means they may cause cancer in humans. Mobile phones are still a relatively new technology, so it will still take years to fully understand what, if any, adverse side effects cell phone radiation will have. Let's take the "better safe than sorry" approach and take a few precautions:

If you must keep your phone nearby for a morning alarm or clock, put the phone on "airplane mode", which will shut down the transceiver.

If you need to be on call and can't put the phone in airplane mode, at least put the phone a couple feet away from your bed.

Text instead of talking whenever possible. Use speaker phone, or a Bluetooth headphone device, instead of holding the phone to your ear whenever possible.

Try an experiment if you sleep with your smartphone. Put it in another room for a week, and don't look at it immediately before bed. See if you notice any significant change in your mornings and please report back your findings.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Christmas: It's Not About the Stuff

I realized something a few years ago. When my mind drifts back to Christmases past, I don't remember the gifts. Really. I couldn't tell you who gave what to whom, even if my life depended on it. Instead, my memories take me back to family gatherings, beloved friends, holiday activities, and traditions.

I don't remember what toy or gadget Santa brought me when I was ten years old, but I remember the gifts were piled beautifully underneath a real Eastern Red Cedar tree my dad cut down with his bare hands, and I remember riding around town in the back seat of an old, green Oldsmobile Delta 88 looking at Christmas lights and occasionally commenting, "Oh, look at that house! Wow!"

I don't remember what my high school boyfriend gave me in twelfth grade, but I remember that several close friends and I went Christmas caroling all over town that year in the back of a pickup truck-and we had a blast. I also remember my family received dozens of Christmas cards, and we taped them to a door so we could admire them and vote for the prettiest cards.

I do remember a few gifts from 2010, but they are grossly overshadowed by the happy memory of my mother-in-law, frail and living with dementia, spending a day with us watching the animated movie, "Up," in front of a warm, cozy fire.

For years I've pondered the rampant commercialization of Christmas and other holidays. Somewhere along the way, we've all been brainwashed into thinking Christmas isn't Christmas without spending a small fortune on gifts. We've been bombarded with images of luxury vehicles parked in the driveway topped with gigantic bows and women opening small boxes revealing sparkling diamonds. Retailers want us to believe we cannot possibly find joy in the season without giving and receiving lots and lots of stuff.

I get it. It's about profits. It's about the economy. According to the National Retail Federation, the holiday season can account for anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of a retailer's annual sales. That's a big, crazy chunk of change. Indeed, if everyone chose not to purchase holiday gifts, it would probably throw the United States into a tailspin.

But for me, it turns my stomach to see retailers pushing the materialistic nature of Christmas so many weeks in advance. Last year, the Christmas decorations were out at big box stores before Halloween. That's just ridiculous.

I, for one, would like to see a Christmas renaissance where Christmas and the entire holiday season are celebrated in a simpler way with more emphasis on meaning, love, charity, and fellowship. I realize that this is a tall order to fill, especially for families with small children. Anyway, I would like to propose a few ideas for the holidays that don't cost a lot of money but are loaded with value.
  • READ A CHRISTMAS BOOK TO A CHILD. There are lots of great Christmas titles to share with children during the holidays. Check a few out from the local library or visit a book store and buy one or more. Practice reading, giving each character his or her own voice and pausing in places to add suspense. Consider The Polar Express, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Christmas Story, or Carl's Christmas. And if you can't read a book to a child in person, use your smartphone and video yourself reading the book. Post the video on YouTube or Facebook and give the link to your nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and the neighborhood kids.
  • HOST A SNOWFLAKE CONTEST. First, select an unbiased judge. Next, have each participant fold, cut, and unfold a sheet of white paper to make a unique snowflake. Display all the flakes on a table or on a large window and have the judge select a favorite. Announce the winner as "The 2014 Snowflake Queen" or "The 2014 Snowflake King." Consider giving the winner a small prize.
  • SKETCH THE FAMILY TREE. Family history and genealogy are always priceless gifts for family members. On a large sheet of paper, place your name on the far left. Draw lines branching off to the right and write your mother and father's names. Make sure that you record full names including maiden names, if you know them. Draw lines extending to the right of each of your parents' names and write each of their parents' names. Go as far as you can remember. If you have the time and motivation, make a few phone calls or research your family at the library or online and add to the tree. To add even more value to the tree, attach sheets documenting specifics about certain family members. For example, you might write, "My grandfather, Henry Herman Lanier, was a farmer who lived on and farmed land just east of Metter, Georgia. He also worked for the Fuller Brush Company and the railroad during his life. He was a tall man who smoked a pipe. Papa Lanier loved fishing and chocolate covered cherries, and he always had a bottle of whiskey hidden under his truck seat."
  • GO CHRISTMAS CAROLING. Make a few copies of six or seven Christmas carols. Get your group together and practice a little. Then, walk around the neighborhood or drive around town and stop at friends' homes to sing and spread merriment. Again, if you can't go out, use a smartphone and make a Christmas caroling video and post it on Facebook or YouTube.
  • VISIT YOUR SICK AND ELDERLY FRIENDS AND FAMILY. The gift of time outweighs any object you could ever purchase. Make some time and go. Consider taking photographs to share, a movie to watch, or other items that would spur conversations (old heirlooms or keepsakes). Consider taking shut-ins out for a cup of coffee, an ice cream cone, or to look at Christmas decorations. If someone is sick during the holidays, consider taking him a couple of cans of chicken noodle soup, some cough drops, and a box of tissue.
  • GIVE HANDCRAFTED GIFTS. Through the years, I've received wonderful homemade gifts from my mother. She's made pillows, blankets, pickles, jelly, barbecue sauce, cakes and pies. These gifts are more special than impersonal gift cards or money, and I am happy to know she didn't spend a fortune.
  • GIVE A KEEPSAKE OR HEIRLOOM. Consider passing along an heirloom and keepsake to a family member or friend. Do you have your great-grandmother's apron? Or your dad's pocketknife or fishing lure? Or a vase from Aunt Jenny's house? Or the first book you ever read to yourself? Maybe it's time to let go of one of your special possessions. And consider capturing your keepsake's origin and history on paper for the recipient.
String popcorn. Attend a church service together. Make hot chocolate from scratch. Find a live nativity scene in your community. Try to make divinity or fudge. Volunteer at a local nonprofit. Ring the bell in front of a Salvation Army kettle. Feed the hungry. Buy a coat for a homeless child. Take a name from an Angel Tree and provide a toy to a child who is less fortunate. Learn to play a favorite Christmas song on the piano and wow your holiday guests. Tell those closest to you how much you love them.

Instead of overspending this year, consider participating in the simple activities that enhance relationships and add meaning, and memories, to life. Think about it before you buy this year. It's really not about the stuff!

Amber Lanier Nagle has published hundreds of articles in national and regional magazines.

She is the brainchild behind Project Keepsake (www.ProjectKeepsake.com), a published collection of nonfiction stories about the origins and histories of keepsakes-a pocket knife, a cake pan, a quilt, a milking stool, etc. She says, "Everyone has a keepsake, and every keepsake has a story to tell."

She's also published two eBooks titled "Southern Exposure" and "Have a Seat."

She facilitates writing workshops on freelance writing, writing family stories, writing about keepsakes, and other topics.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Today's Educational System

I am reading articles all over the place of children who graduated from High School and do not even know how to read. They cannot even talk or spell properly. The Educational system claims that they "earn" a diploma. How, exactly do you earn a diploma if you cannot even read?

The reality is that children today are not encouraged to learn or memorize but rather they are simply encouraged to show up for so many days out of a school year. They gain no work ethic from this. It is amazing how the numbers that are slapped on paper are what claim the child's potential.

There was a meeting at the network that I work for and it explored how today's youth are not college material and unlike the olden days children do not move out of home at the age of 18, Children tend to still live at home between the ages of 18-25 due to the complete laziness they have been conditioned to in the educational system.

The vast majority of today's youth do not know what accomplishing a goal is thanks to the 36 hours a week, ten months out of every year that they spend in what has become America's educational environment.

Not knowing the meaning of earning something is what this world has come to. Children are being taught that simply going through the motions is what matters. Then when they get out in the real world reality is their biggest slap. They have difficulty not only keeping but finding jobs due to the fact that they cannot even fill out an online job application and properly complete an assessment test. An assessment test shows the work ethic that you have, it shows your ability to work with others as well as your ability to take initiative when needed.

Apparently schools are suffering financially and as far as enrollment for both public and private schools. It is hard to support something that doesn't support your child having the future that they should be helping provide.

I do not condone what goes on today in the schools. Middles school a bully can throw a fit if their victim ignores them and be told by a mediator that they have to be nice to the bully. In High School the Teachers throw fits when the assessment test results show that the children are struggling. Yet, at the same time you see teachers in the news for "fudging" grades to make themselves look good and Principals being arrested for stealing money from the schools.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My Take on Health Care Reform - When Does Talk Become Action?

In the 1800's Ralph Waldo Emerson told us that the world is made of two camps of individuals. He called them conservatives and reformers. Conservatives are quite happy with the way things are. They have established themselves in positions of power and influence in society and control government, institutions, and money. Control and Status Quo are the key words of a conservative. The conservatives grant favors to companies and individuals in the form of law to retain their control.

In the other camp are the reformers whose key words are Revolution and Change. The hero is often a reformer who finds flaws in the status quo and leads the revolution. If he succeeds a new order is born.
When change is instigated from the conservative point of view nothing ever really changes because in truth they do not want change. Change in so-called Health care reform is not based on revolting against the current system of health care delivery but with the way to pay for it.

The only way health care costs will lower is to create a landscape that rewards health instead of sickness. Conservatives will not let that happen. Sick people are valuable as evidenced by our massive health care industries.

A sick person is a drain on society. Needed in society is reform that rewards wellness. That kind of reform will not inspire a conservative. The sickness industry is a powerful lobby worldwide. The profit potential in drugs and surgical intervention is far too valuable for any conservative to give up. There is little promise from conservatives who will continue to raise taxes and pay for the system from the ranks of the well.

Eventually society will produce enough reformers to change society attitude to one that rewards wellness. What is my attitude?

· Assume responsibility to pay for my health issues
· Beware of the promise of artificial and synthetic chemicals
· Not depend on drugs or interventions to maintain life
· Not be a burden to society or my family

My name is Bill Tallmon. 25 years ago I made a decision to eliminate medical doctors and drugs from my life. The Natural Health credentials I earned (ND, PhD) helped me become my own doctor and do away with the MD and drugs. I believe that you can do the same. I am creating a set of natural health treasures based on my successful journey. I learned to control the pain, weight loss or gain, energy, relationships, mental instability and avert the medical crisis that leads to a medical doctor's drugs and interventions. (beyourowndoc, under construction) is a drug free nature cure approach to the issues of health care. You can find out more. Visit http://embracingnature.net for now.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Things Falling Apart

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,"

This was Yeats' grim observation of the political scene, after the First World War, captured incisively in the poem The Second Coming.

Unfortunately, these words apply not merely to the political scene but to everything and everywhere. It's all coming to pieces- the world we live in.

There are "weapons of mass destruction" across the continents, and if one is used, another will follow and then no body can stop the devastation.

The economy is getting worse each day. The voracity and corruption at the very roots of economy has reached a scale unimaginable.

The environment is unbalanced. It is all about global warming, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, wild fires, earthquakes, Tsunamis, the melting icecaps... and the list goes on.

Does this ring a bell somewhere? We can't just sit back and watch.

It does not require any sixth sense to foresee an immediate future in which the world is hammered by the weather and stumbling from an economic meltdown.

We all thought for years that the future held, although vague, visions of progress and success, and that our problems would be "solved" by science. But now, as it seems, the same science is being held responsible for screwing things. In case of the global warming problem, we may have already done so.

Fortunately, these actions are not irrevocable and can be cured by the actions of man. The predicament of present times from which an escape is not possible apparently, still has a way out left that says "Never lose Hope".

It's just that we need to unite and raise our voice. But the problem does not end here. Rather, it begins here. As "the best lack all conviction", the sensible people are honestly confused. They don't know how to put the pieces of a shaken world back together. And so they are silent.

We don't need someone else to say these things. We can say these ourselves and must, so that the center holds, and things don't fall apart.

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