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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Exploding toads puzzle German scientists
More than 1,000 creatures have puffed up and popped

The Associated Press

BERLIN - More than 1,000 toads have puffed up and exploded in a Hamburg pond in recent weeks, and scientists still have no explanation for what's causing the combustion, an official said Wednesday.

Both the pond's water and body parts of the toads have been tested, but scientists have been unable to find a bacteria or virus that would cause the toads to swell up and pop, said Janne Kloepper, of the Hamburg-based Institute for Hygiene and the Environment.

"It's absolutely strange," she said. "We have a really unique story here in Hamburg. This phenomenon really doesn't seem to have appeared anywhere before."

The toads at a pond in the upscale neighborhood of Altona have been blowing up since the beginning of the month, filling up like balloons until their stomachs suddenly burst.

"It looks like a scene from a science-fiction movie," Werner Schmolnik, the head of a local environment group, told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily. "The bloated animals suffer for several minutes before they finally die."

Biologists have come up with several theories, but Kloepper said that most have been ruled out.

The pond's water quality is no better or worse than other bodies of water in Hamburg, the toads did not appear to have a disease, and a laboratory in Berlin has ruled out the possibility that it is a fungus that made its way from South America, she said.

She said that tests will continue. In the meantime, city residents have been warned to stay away from the pond.

Some scientists say humans can read minds
Mirror neurons may generate ability to empathize

By Ker Than

Empathy allows us to feel the emotions of others, to identify and understand their feelings and motives and see things from their perspective. How we generate empathy remains a subject of intense debate in cognitive science.

Some scientists now believe they may have finally discovered its root. We're all essentially mind readers, they say.

The idea has been slow to gain acceptance, but evidence is mounting.

Mirror neurons
In 1996, three neuroscientists were probing the brain of a macaque monkey when they stumbled across a curious cluster of cells in the premotor cortex, an area of the brain responsible for planning movements. The cluster of cells fired not only when the monkey performed an action, but likewise when the monkey saw the same action performed by someone else. The cells responded the same way whether the monkey reached out to grasp a peanut, or merely watched in envy as another monkey or a human did.

Because the cells reflected the actions that the monkey observed in others, the neuroscientists named them "mirror neurons."

Later experiments confirmed the existence of mirror neurons in humans and revealed another surprise. In addition to mirroring actions, the cells reflected sensations and emotions.

"Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person's mental shoes," says Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. "In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend, we practically are in another person's mind."

Since their discovery, mirror neurons have been implicated in a broad range of phenomena, including certain mental disorders. Mirror neurons may help cognitive scientists explain how children develop a theory of mind (ToM), which is a child's understanding that others have minds similar to their own. Doing so may help shed light on autism, in which this type of understanding is often missing.

'Vulcan Approach'
Over the years, cognitive scientists have come up with a number of theories to explain how ToM develops. The "theory theory" and "simulation theory" are currently two of the most popular.

Theory theory describes children as budding social scientists. The idea is that children collect evidence -- in the form of gestures and expressions -- and use their everyday understanding of people to develop theories that explain and predict the mental state of people they come in contact with.

Vittorio Gallese, a neuroscientist at the University of Parma in Italy and one of original discovers of mirror neurons, has another name for this theory: he calls it the "Vulcan Approach," in honor of the Star Trek protagonist Spock, who belonged to an alien race called the Vulcans who suppressed their emotions in favor of logic. Spock was often unable to understand the emotions that underlie human behavior.

Gallese himself prefers simulation theory over this Vulcan approach.

Natural mind readers
Simulation theory states that we are natural mind readers. We place ourselves in another person’s "mental shoes," and use our own mind as a model for theirs.

Gallese contends that when we interact with someone, we do more than just observe the other person’s behavior. He believes we create internal representations of their actions, sensations and emotions within ourselves, as if we are the ones that are moving, sensing and feeling.

Many scientists believe that mirror neurons embody the predictions of simulation theory. "We share with others not only the way they normally act or subjectively experience emotions and sensations, but also the neural circuits enabling those same actions, emotions and sensations: the mirror neuron systems," Gallese told LiveScience.

Gallese points out, however, that the two theories are not mutually exclusive. If the mirror neuron system is defective or damaged, and our ability to empathize is lost, the observe-and-guess method of theory theory may be the only option left. Some scientists suspect this is what happens in autistic people, whose mental disorder prevents them from understanding the intentions and motives of others.

Tests underway
The idea is that the mirror neuron systems of autistic individuals are somehow impaired or deficient, and that the resulting "mind-blindness" prevents them from simulating the experiences of others. For autistic individuals, experience is more observed than lived, and the emotional undercurrents that govern so much of our human behavior are inaccessible. They guess the mental states of others through explicit theorizing, but the end result is a list -- mechanical and impersonal -- of actions, gestures and expressions void of motive, intent, or emotion.

Several labs are now testing the hypothesis that autistic individuals have a mirror neuron deficit and cannot simulate the mental states of others.

One recent experiment by Hugo Theoret and colleagues at the University of Montreal showed that mirror neurons normally active during the observation of hand movements in non-autistic individuals are silent in those who have autism.

"You either simulate with mirror neurons, or the mental states of others are completely precluded to you," said Iacoboni.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Cops Nab Woman, Say Wendy's Finger a Hoax
5 minutes ago U.S. National - AP
By KIM CURTIS, Associated Press Writer

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Police investigating how a human finger ended up in a woman's bowl of Wendy's chili declared the claim a hoax Friday after she was arrested on charges of attempted grand larceny.

The arrest of Anna Ayala at her home outside Las Vegas was the latest twist in a case that has become a late-night punch line, taken a bite out of Wendy's sales and forced the fast-food chain to check its employees for missing fingers.

She was accused of attempted grand larceny because of the financial losses Wendy's restaurants have suffered since Ayala made the claim. The loss to Wendy's in the Bay area is $2.5 million, according to the felony complaint against her.

Ayala, 39, claimed she bit down on the well-manicured, 1 1/2-inch finger in a mouthful of her steamy chili on March 22 in San Jose. She had hired a lawyer and filed a claim against the Wendy's franchise owner, but dropped the lawsuit threat soon after suspicion fell on her.

When asked whether police considered Ayala's claim a hoax, David Keneller, captain of the San Jose police department's investigations bureau, said yes.

"Our evidence suggests the truest victims in this case are indeed the Wendy's owner, operators and employees here in San Jose," Police Chief Rob Davis said.

At a news conference, police refused to say where the finger originated and exactly how the hoax was carried out.

Ayala — who has a history of bringing claims against big corporations — has denied placing the finger in the chili. She is being held in Las Vegas after her arrest Thursday.

According to a person knowledgeable about the case who spoke on condition of anonymity, the charge stemmed from San Jose police interviews with people who said Ayala described putting a finger in the chili. The source said the interviews were with at least two people who did not know each other and independently told similar stories.

The criminal complaint also sheds more light on the incident at the restaurant in San Jose, where Ayala was visiting relatives.

None of Ayala's family members saw the finger fragment in her mouth, noticing it only after Ayala pointed to the object in the bottom of her chili cup, according to the document. She told a brother-in-law that she had spit it out.

Her father-in-law and mother-in-law told police they saw Ayala throw up, but there was no such evidence at the scene, the complaint says.

The Santa Clara County coroner's office also concluded that the finger "was not consistent with an object that had been cooked in chili at 170 degrees for three hours."

During the investigation, police and health officials failed to find any missing fingers among the workers in the restaurant's supply chain. Wendy's hired private investigators, set up a hot line for tips and offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the finger's original owner. Employees who were working that day at the restaurant also passed lie-detector tests administered by police, the complaint says.

The furor caused sales at Wendy's to drop, forcing layoffs and reduced hours in Northern California. Joseph Desmond, owner of the local Wendy's franchise, called the ordeal a nightmare.

"It's been 31 days, and believe me it's been really tough," he said. "My thanks also go out to all the little people who were hurt in our stores. They lost a lot of wages because we had to cut back because our business has been down so badly."

Wendy's hopes Ayala's arrest persuades customers to return to its Northern California franchises. The company is offering a free "Junior Frosty" at its Bay Area restaurants.

Ayala has filed claims against several corporations. She said she got $30,000 from a Mexican food chain after her 13-year-old daughter got sick at one of the restaurant, but the chain denied it paid her anything.

The complaint says investigators have found 13 civil actions involving Ayala or her children. At times, it says Ayala has settled cases for cash payouts before the lawsuits have gone to court.

Many loyal customers continue to support the Wendy's where Ayala made her claim.

Shortly after Friday's police news conference, Tom McCready headed into the restaurant and ordered two bowls of chili to go and a baked potato with chili on it.

"If they've got 10 fingers, it's OK with me," the San Jose retiree said about the Wendy's employees at the counter.

He said he and his wife have supported the restaurant since Ayala's claim, heading there more often and ordering the chili. His opinion of Ayala's claim: "It's a crock."

Ayala also was arrested on a warrant alleging grand larceny — a charge not related to the discovery of the fingertip. The police chief said the grand larceny allegation stemmed from a 2002 incident in which Ayala allegedly tried to sell a mobile home in San Jose that she did not own. The victim lost $11,000.

Ayala's son denied the grand larceny charge related to the mobile home sale.

"She didn't steal any money in connection with the trailer," Guadalupe Reyes Jr. said in brief comments to reporters while leaving the family's suburban Las Vegas house.

Friday, April 22, 2005

What I wish I had known when I was single...
By Therese J. Borchard

In this new series of essays, married writers reveal what they wish they'd done differently during their dating days. Lesson #1: Chuck the checklist ASAP!
For many of my single years, I had a lengthy checklist of what my dream guy should be like: Tall, sophisticated, would sweep me off my feet by reciting lines from Walt Whitman. A natural philosopher and die-hard romantic, my husband-to-be would enjoy deep conversations about the meaning of life while gazing at me with those piercing brown eyes. (It's not like I'm picky, or anything...)

So I went out and—though you may find this hard to believe—without too much trouble, found a few guys who made good on 99 percent of these criteria. And my brain said, "Yes, this is the right kind of guy for you: Your spiritual and intellectual equal," but, at a gut level, something wasn't quite right. One guy I dated was a brilliant theologian on his way to a tenured position as a professor at an Ivy League school. Yet the simple task of grocery shopping took him hours because he couldn't decide which brand of peanut butter to buy. Another guy I saw composed exquisite poetry, but was a nightmare at social functions since he'd sidestep the small talk and immediately launch into a dissertation on Dante's The Divine Comedy.

My relationships with these men didn't lead to marriage, but I didn't give up. My checklist was always in my mind's eye when I sized guys up. I reasoned that I simply hadn't found the right romantic, well-read intellectual. He was out there, and when I finally met him, our relationship would be electric.

Then I met Eric. "Oops," Eric said to me the first time I met him, looking down at his fly, which was open. "Looks like the horse is out of the barn." I laughed, and we talked some more, but I wasn't exactly dying to give him my number. After all, Eric had graduated from a mediocre college in Indiana. His clothes were wrinkled. Sophisticated, he was not. Even so, I figured it wouldn't hurt to go out with him a few times and have some fun while scouting out the real deal.

Months passed, and Eric and I kept going out. I was conflicted all the way; my checklist was still there, waiting for me to get real and move on. Just about every time we got together, Eric would say something that would remind me of the gulf between us. Like the day I told him I had always dreamed of hiking the Himalayas. This was met with an eyebrow furrow and a "Why would you want to go anywhere without good water pressure and dependable toilets?" Or, the day I nervously took him to meet my very religious mom. I'd prepped him for this, but he promptly informed her that "holy was out; happy was in." Spiritual enrichment, or any type of enrichment for that matter, did not exist in his world. He'd rather practice his golf swing than ruminate about the meaning of life. Why was I wasting my time with someone who was so obviously not my ideal?

The why only became clear to me as I spent time with a good friend who'd found a guy who—check, check, check—had just about everything on her list. They had that perfect, clone-like state that I craved. Each spoke five languages and was very ambitious. Their breakfast conversation? Business strategies for developing countries. But then one day they asked if I'd seen a certain PBS documentary on the Civil War, and I admitted to laughing myself silly watching a SpongeBob SquarePants rerun with Eric instead. They reacted with a mix of astonishment and horror—and that said it all to me. Finding that man of my checklist dreams would seal my fate. Someone who was my mirror-image, who loved philosophy and poetry, would keep me on a path with few surprises. Eric—who met not even one of my requirements for Mr. Right—had the ability to amaze and delight me (often in very childlike ways, I'll admit).

That's the thing about checklists: They may help us better understand who we are and what we want. But they can never capture a real person—or account for the incredible combustion that happens when two people get together and allow themselves to fall in love.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

10 men who give love a bad name
By Amy Spencer

1. Henry VIII
Talk about picky! The 16th-century English king had no problem scoring women and even married six of them. But if they bore him daughters instead of sons, he dropped them like hot potatoes. Some he just divorced or had banished from his court, but the unluckiest ones (second wife Anne Boleyn and fifth wife Katherine Howard) he had executed... Ouch. Sorry, Henry, don't think that's what was meant by 'til death do you part.

2. Donald Trump
If you can put a price on love, Donald Trump will still get it at a discount. Though the real-estate mogul has a net worth of about $2.6 billion, he pulled some tricks out of his own tome, The Art of the Deal, by haggling for his honey's engagement ring. Instead of paying the full $1.5 million for fiancée Melania Knauss' 15-carat diamond ring, he paid only half to jeweler Tony Graff in return for the gem's appearance on The Apprentice. Donald, doesn't half-price only buy you half-love?

3. Mick Jagger
Now, we understand sex goes hand in hand with rock and roll on the road, but when is this 61-year-old rocker going to pull over? The Rolling Stones frontman can't seem to stop fathering kids en route, and now has seven children with four different women, ranging from age 24 (Karis, with singer Marsha Hunt) to a wee five (Lucas, with Brazilian model Luciana Gimenez Morad). And the girlfriends in-between—including actress Sophie Dahl—are as young as his kids. You're already a grandfather, Mick. Satisfaction coming any time soon?

4. Tony Soprano
We often can't help feeling a soft spot for television's toughest guy, but geez, Tony, can you not be faithful for five minutes to Carmela? For five seasons, we've had to watch him not-so-secretly cheat on his wife with a Russian, a depressed career-woman, and the strippers in the back room of the Bada Bing!—not to mention hitting on his own therapist! Carmela kicked the lug out last year, but took him back when he promised to stop hitting the sheets with other women. "I swear to you on our children," he told her, "that my midlife crisis problems will no longer intrude on you anymore." Somehow, Tony, we don't believe you.

5. Justin Timberlake
Guys aren't usually the ones to kiss and tell, but in November 2002, this one told the whole country during a TV interview. Months after Justin and his Mickey Mouse Club co-star Britney Spears had broken up, the boy-bander was asked if Britney had kept to her promise to save herself for marriage. Justin took the low road and answered, "Sure, sure," so sarcastically that Brit's good-girl bubble was burst. Britney was forced to fess up later, telling the press, "I thought he was the one. But I was wrong. I didn't think he was gonna go on Barbara Walters and sell me out!" Cry us a river, Justin, that wasn't your dirt to dish.

6. Pat Buchanan
This famously conservative political commentator married Nixon's secretary Shelley Ann Scarney in 1971, and we can only assume she's been doing the dishes for him ever since. In his 1990 memoir Right From The Beginning, Pat made it clear that he's not the least bit open to the idea of equal, loving partnerships, saying, "The real liberators of American women were not the feminist noise-makers, they were the automobile, the supermarket, the shopping center, the dishwasher, the washer-dryer, the freezer." Clearly, he likes the little ladies at home with an apron and a bottle of Mr. Clean. But feeling liberated? Hardly.

7. Robert Johnson
The way this blues singer moans and wails about women, you'd think love was the death of us all. Sure, he had some horrible luck in his love life: His first wife Virginia died in childbirth, and legend has it that Robert died at age 27 after a woman's jealous husband poisoned him. But the misery in his music is even worse as he moans lines like, "Leavin' this mornin'…I've been mistreated, baby and I don't mind dyin'." After lyrics like that, we need a big lovey hug from Richard Simmons!

8. Matt Damon
Some people find out they've been dumped by phone, some by Post-it, and others when their boyfriends announce it on Oprah! In 1998, Matt wasn't even asked about his relationship with Good Will Hunting co-star Minnie Driver, but he chose to tell Oprah and her 20 million viewers he had news anyway: They'd broken up. According to Minnie, that's the first she'd heard of it! Even if, as Matt claimed, they split ten days before his Oprah appearance, it wasn't right to turn daytime television into his personal love press conference. So much for good will, Matt.

9. Ralph Kramden
He's one of the most beloved icons of our time, but we have a bone to pick with the lovable loud-mouth. The Honeymooner got the biggest chuckles when he pumped his fist at his wife Alice and said, "To the moon, Alice," and "One of these days, Alice, one of these days. Pow! Right in the kisser!" Yes, Ralph, we heard the laugh track, but the truth is, threatening to pop a woman just isn't that funny.

10. Howard Stern
This radio shock jock has always touted his monogamy, first with Alison Stern, his ex-wife, and now with girlfriend Beth Ostrosky. Yet he spends his daily four-hour morning show talking women into stripping for him, spraying whipped cream on their bodies and having girl-on-girl encounters in front of him. Who the heck approved this look-but-don't-touch policy? Yes, you make us laugh, but your alleged fidelity isn't worth much when you treat every other woman that way.

10 women who give love a bad name
By Craig Stevens

1. Helen of Troy
According to Homer, this Greek hottie was Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, and Heidi Klum rolled into one. But no matter how crazy in love she and Troy-boy Paris were, she should have thought twice about ditching her kingdom and letting her rival suitors wage a fall-of-civilizations war over her. We know men make bad decisions based on lust, but Helen, did you have to follow suit?

2. Lorena Bobbitt
We don't doubt that John Wayne Bobbitt was a bad hubby. But maybe Lorena should have sought a separation, rather than separating him from his penis with a kitchen knife while he slept, taking the severed wiener for a moonlit drive and flinging it into a field. She blamed the act on an "irresistible impulse." Hey, Lorena, buying shoes on sale is an irresistible impulse.

3. Celine Dion
The Vegas songbird may warble about matters of the heart more than any other pop star, but it takes only a few nauseatingly saccharine high notes, earnest facial contortions, and chest-pounding performances to figure out that she's really in love with the sound of her own voice. And let's not forget her and hubby Rene Angelil's over-the-top, Arabian-themed renewal of their wedding vows at Caesar's Palace. Camels? Belly-dancers? They had 'em. All in all, it's all just too over-the-top for us.

4. Liza Minelli
Talk about bad, bad choices. After three marriages (to singer Peter Allen, filmmaker Jack Haley Jr. and sculptor Mark Gero), she vows to never marry again—then embarks on her biggest train-wreck relationship of all to producer David Gest. Alas, the ink was barely dry on the license before she was accusing him of embezzlement and he was accusing her of getting crocked and beating him. Hey, maybe it's genetic: Liza's mom, Judy Garland, tied the knot five times. Let's hope if Liza says her vows a fifth time, there's a happily-ever-after ending.

5. Lucy Van Pelt
This famous Peanut know-it-all is every prepubescent boy's nightmare. Honestly, we doubt Charlie Brown ever recovered from her sadistic invitations to "kick the football." The thing is, Lucy always gets what she wants—and, good grief, does she ever want cute piano prodigy Schroeder. So does she let up around him? Nah, she eliminates the competition by throwing his beloved piano into a tree. Five-cent psychiatrist, heal thyself.

6. Andrea Dworkin
This famously radical feminist has stated in her writing that "romance is rape embellished with meaningful looks." Not exactly the kind of person you want offering a toast at your wedding.

7. Melanie Griffith
Wanting to look good for your husband is perfectly natural, especially if he's a younger Latin heartthrob like Antonio Banderas. But what's unnatural is just how hard she tries. Melanie has said, "I need to figure out, without anybody really noticing, how to keep my machine oiled and lubricated and tuned up and tightened." Hey Melanie: Antonio didn't marry a car, he married you—so quit stressing.

8. Female Praying Mantises
Devouring your mate's noggin as a post-coital snack? That's not cool, even for a bug.

9. Mary Kay Letourneau
Not only did this teacher sleep with her 12-year-old student, she claims she had no idea doing so was illegal. "If anyone had ever said, hey, this is a felony, there isn't any way that I would have gotten involved," she said in an interview after completing 7-1/2 years in prison. Lame excuse, we say, to this woman who went on to have two children by her student and chased him all the way to the altar. Mary, couldn't you have just met a nice man who's of legal age?

10. Little Debbie
You're a pretty little package, so innocent and sweet, offering us a wholesome snack treat for every occasion. How could we not fall sugar-buzzed head over heels in love? But when we suddenly can't squeeze into our favorite Dockers, where are you then, Debbie? Debbie?

272nd time a charm for man on driving test
Exam official says he’s regarded almost as 'one of the family'

SEOUL, South Korea - The motto for one would-be South Korean driver likely is "if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again another 271 times."

Seo Sang-moon passed the academic part of his driver's license examination on his 272nd attempt earlier this week.

The repairman, from a small town in the southeastern part of the county who will soon turn 70, said he was illiterate and used the test process to teach himself the rules of the road because he could not read them in a manual.

Since the oral exam was launched, Seo took the test as often as he could, paying about $1,000 in fees along the way. Each failure taught him a little more, and after 271 attempts, he was able to get the minimum score needed to pass the academic test.

Test officials were thrilled to see Seo pass.

"He has been coming here for more than five years and we regard him almost as being one of the family," an official from the exam office said by telephone.

Seo said he was preparing for his road test, and was discussing with his wife what kind of car to buy once he get his license. "Driving seems a bit hard. But after trying 271 times to pass the oral exam, what do I have to be afraid of?" Seo said.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

How to Dispose of an Old Notebook
Should you keep it? Sell it? Donate or recycle it? We cover the pros and cons of each option.

James A. Martin

Feature: What to Do With Your Old Notebook
The last few columns have been devoted to buying a new notebook and migrating your data to it. First I provided tips on buying a new notebook. Then I discussed how to move your files, applications, and other stuff from the old notebook to the new model. And last week I offered advice on connecting your PDA to your new notebook.

Now, the final installment in the series: What the heck to do with your old notebook. Keep it? Sell it? Donate or recycle it? I'll give you tips and advice on all those possibilities. But while I'm doing that, please have pen and paper ready. There will be a pop quiz.

Keep It?
Unless you already have a second computer, hold on to your old notebook as a backup. With all the viruses, worms, and assorted ills floating around on the Internet, your new computer could become infected and you'll be out of commission for a while. Or, God forbid, you could drop or lose your new notebook on a trip. It could get stolen. On a crowded flight, someone could spill sticky cranberry juice on the keyboard. You get the picture.

Alternatively, if you work in a small office or have a home network, an older computer can have a fruitful second life as a dedicated file server.

Bottom line: Just because your old notebook isn't cutting-edge anymore doesn't mean it can't be useful.

Pop Quiz Question 1: If your notebook is your main PC, and you use it a lot for work, how often should you exchange it for a new model? The answer is in the first installment in this series, "More Notebook Buying Tips."
Sell It?
Selling an unneeded computer online can be a good way to get rid of it--just look at all the used models on EBay,, and other Web sites. But getting your computer ready to sell requires some effort.

Your computer should be in good working order; if it's not, you'll need to get it fixed. Then you need to make absolutely sure that any and all important files have been moved to your new notebook or backed up to an external drive, CD, or DVD.

After that, you've got to permanently remove any personal data, to ensure the next owner doesn't dabble in identity theft. This is easier said than done; files erased via the Recycle Bin, for instance, can still exist on your hard drive. Fortunately, some programs act, in effect, as digital file shredders, such as Detto Technologies' PrivacyExpert ($30 as a download; $40 for the CD). For more about wiping your hard drive clean, read PC World contributing editor Lincoln Spector's "Ditching an Old Computer."

How much money you'll make selling your old notebook depends on its age, condition, specs (such as memory and hard drive space), and so on. To get an idea of your computer's market value, type in the manufacturer name and model number (such as "Dell Inspiron 8100") in the Search field on EBay's home page and click the Search button. On the search results page, select "Completed listings" under Search Options (in the left pane of the search results page) and click "Show Items." Among the results, look for notebooks similar to yours to see what others have paid for it. If it's only fetched, say, $100 to $200, it's probably not worth the effort involved to sell it.

Pop Quiz Question 2: Name a computer program that can transfer your files, Internet favorites, system preferences, and other data from your old computer to your new one. Hint: You'll find the names of two such programs in the second installment, "Moving to a New Notebook."

Donate or Recycle?
Donate equipment to charitable organizations and you can be rewarded with a tax deduction. After making sure the hard drive has been scrubbed and you have no possible need for the computer, get an idea of its value at EBay or elsewhere. Print out the information for your tax records. Then find a good home for your notebook among local charities, or browse the TechSoup database of charities and businesses needing old computers.

Another option is to recycle it. The National Recycling Coalition's Electronics Recycling Initiative provides information on computer recyclers and refurbishers by state.

The worst thing you could do is to throw your old notebook away. Most electronic devices, notebooks included, contain mercury, cadmium, and other hazardous materials.

For more ideas about how to dispose of your notebook, read PC World Consumer Watch columnist Anne Kandra's "A Computer Is a Terrible Thing to Waste."

Pop Quiz Question 3: When you sync your PDA and notebook for the first time, will all third-party applications installed on your PDA automatically be installed on the notebook? Find out in the third installment, "Migrating Your PDA."

More Notebook Buying Tips
The must-have accessory, payment options, buyers remorse.

James A. Martin

Why I Needed a New Notebook
Since 2000, I've used a notebook as my one and only PC. I love the convenience of having all my files with me in the office and on the road.

I bought my last notebook, a Dell Inspiron 8100, in February 2002. Ordinarily, I upgrade every two years. To save money, though, I postponed upgrading as long as possible. But in the last year, it's been increasingly inconvenient using the aging portable. My Inspiron lacks many conveniences that are often standard in today's notebooks: USB 2.0 ports, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a flash-memory card reader, a DVD burner, and other features. And with a weight of nearly 10 pounds with AC adapter and batteries, the Inspiron has been a burdensome traveling partner.

Finally, in December 2004, my Inspiron developed some serious technical problems, and I had some extra cash. It was time to take the plunge.

Tip: Computer technology changes rapidly. So if you use a notebook as your only computer, and you use it frequently, you may want to consider an upgrade every 24 to 36 months. Otherwise, you're likely to end up with an aging, persnickety, slow system, and your productivity will suffer.

What I Bought
I knew what I wanted: Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion Dv1000. One look at the portable's gorgeous high-contrast screen in a Best Buy store and I was hooked. The Dv1000 also meets my other criteria:
At about 6.4 pounds with battery and power adapter, it doesn't weigh too much.
It has a graphics chip (Intel Extreme Graphics 2 for Mobile) that's capable of wide-aspect, high resolution and of supporting extended desktop mode in which the notebook screen and an external monitor form one big desktop.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are built in.
It's got USB 2.0 and FireWire ports, and a built-in flash-memory reader.
Despite being smitten almost immediately with the Dv1000, I still did my homework. I discovered that the HP notebook was receiving great reviews for its compelling features, which include a terrific screen; clever multimedia touches such as the QuickPlay mode, which lets you play DVDs and audio CDs without booting up in Windows; and comfortable keyboard.

For one professional's opinion, read Carla Thornton's PC World review of the Dv1000 (she gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars). Also see my "Vibrant Notebook Screens" story for info about the Dv1000's screen technology.

Tip: Exhaustively research any computer before you buy it, no matter how right for you it seems at first blush. Also, even if you're loyal to one brand or already have your mind made up on a particular model, go to an electronics retailer and check out the competing models. You might be surprised by what you find. For instance, I've bought nothing but Dell computers since 1997 and had intended to do so again. But after seeing the Dv1000 and comparing it to Dell's current notebook offerings, I decided to give HP a try.

The Must-Have Accessory
I also wanted a docking station, and HP sells a pretty cool one. The HP Xb2000 Notebook Expansion Base ($250) elevates your notebook's screen to an ergonomically correct eye level, comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse, includes above-average Harman Kardon speakers, and has a bay for an optional 160GB hard drive. The hard drive is $200 if bought separately, but HP is currently offering a $50 "instant" rebate, for a total of $400 if you buy the self-descriptive HP Xb2000 Notebook Expansion Base with 160GB Hard Drive Kit.

Tip: If you use a notebook as your only computer, get a docking station. Connecting peripherals, such as a printer and external monitor, to the docking station instead of directly to the notebook makes it easy to disconnect your notebook and go.

How I Bought It
Rather than buying a preconfigured system, I configured a Dv1000 at HP's Web site. If I'm going to live with a notebook for two or more years, I want it to be exactly what I want. The system I chose included a 1.8-GHz Intel Pentium M 745 processor, the fastest chip offered in the Dv1000 when I ordered.

Tip: To boost performance, buy as much memory as you can afford. I chose 1GB of DDR SDRAM, consisting of two 512MB memory modules, which added $150 to the system's cost. I could have chosen 1GB of memory on a single module, leaving one slot open for future upgrades; this would have added $275 to the total price. But for me, the convenience of one module wasn't worth the extra expense. The Dv1000 can also be configured with 2GB of memory in two modules, which would be $625 over the base system price.

Tip: Consider buying the fastest, though not necessarily the largest, hard drive available. Though I could have had an 80GB hard drive installed, 60GB seemed ample for my needs. But instead of selecting the lower-priced 4200-rotations-per-minute drive, I chose a 5400-rpm drive. The faster your hard drive, the faster you can open files and run applications. Some applications, such as video editing, benefit from ultra-fast hard drive speeds like 7200 rpm--but those drives aren't typically available in notebooks.

How I Paid for It
In November, I compared the pros and cons of leasing vs. buying a notebook.

I considered leasing my next notebook, but HP offers leasing for its business notebooks only, not for consumer portables like the Dv1000. I could have bought it using an HP credit card without paying any interest for 12 months, however. Ultimately, I decided I didn't want yet another monthly payment. So I charged the Dv1000 on my American Express card, earning Membership Miles points that I can trade in for air travel or other perks. (I pay off the card's balance every month, so I don't pay interest.)

The Bottom Line
So far, I've had only one minor complaint about my new notebook.

Originally, I opted for the 12-cell battery that promises more than 5 hours of battery life instead of the 6-cell battery that runs for about 3 to 4 hours. But the 12-cell battery protrudes noticeably from the notebook's bottom and puts the keyboard at a downward tilt when the computer is laid flat, which isn't as comfortable as a level keyboard, in my opinion.

Even though I contacted HP within the 30-day return period, the customer service rep told me I couldn't exchange the 12-cell battery for the slimmer 6-cell unit. The battery was part of my system configuration, I was told, and to change it would alter that configuration. The customer service agent's solution: Buy a 6-cell battery for $129. (Opting for the 12-cell battery had added $25 to the notebook's price.)

An HP spokesperson later confirmed that the company's policy on customer-configured systems does not allow returns or exchanges on nondefective components. Such returns and exchanges are allowed, however, for customers who purchased preconfigured, off-the-shelf computers.

Ultimately, I decided to live with the bulky battery--and I was glad to have the extra power during a subsequent cross-country plane flight, in which I watched several DVD movies.

Incidentally, the total cost of my Dv1000 was $2042, including California sales tax. By comparison, I paid $2727 for my Inspiron 8100 nearly three years ago. You've got to love those numbers.

4 tips for getting the laptop you need
By Kim Komando

I was at one of those super-duper mega-electronics stores awhile back buying an antenna for my new high-definition television.

Just for giggles, I wandered through the computer department. Sitting there like an anxious teen waiting to be noticed at the school dance, I saw no less than 50 different laptop makes and models.

Notebook PCs are now the computer of choice in the United States; their sales have eclipsed those of desktop PCs. And competition has caused their prices to descend at a rate roughly similar to those of desktop PCs.

So that's why I came up with these four simple ways to pick the laptop that's right for you.

1. Know your needs.
There is a bewildering array of sizes available. The smallest of them — I'm talking true laptops, not handhelds — are the ultraportables. Generally, anything under 3.5 pounds falls into this class.

If you live out of a suitcase, and can identify airports by smell, you know the value of a light computer. A six-pound computer can feel like a sack of potatoes at the end of a long concourse. An ultraportable can feel ultra-friendly in this situation.

But ultraportables have obvious limitations. Their screens are usually small, no bigger than about 10 inches. Keyboards are junior-sized. And they are often underpowered. Personally, I think there are too many compromises in this class. But I don't travel much on business; if you do, less weight might make an ultraportable worthwhile.

Next come the thin & lights. They can weigh up to five pounds. You can probably get a CD-RW or DVD drive. You should be able to get a full-size keyboard. The screen will be 12 to 14 inches.

Mainstream computers will be similarly equipped. They weigh more because they usually have bigger screens. I believe in big screens. Don't make a decision before you look at the screens. But remember that you're picking up weight.

Lastly, we have the desktop replacements. These are big honkers, up to 10 pounds. They have all the equipment you'd expect in a desktop PC. They're for people who don't travel much. It doesn't matter how much they weigh in the office. Screens run up to 17 inches, in both Windows and Apple versions.

2. Choose your speed from a multitude of multiprocessors.
People buying more expensive computers will be bombarded by microprocessor names. Here's what you might run into, along with my take on them:
Pentium III-M: This is an older chip, based on an obsolete desktop chip. It's workable, but there are better choices.

Pentium 4: This is a desktop chip. It's powerful and power-hungry. You won't get much more than two hours on your battery. These run hot, so the laptops have to be big for cooling.

Pentium 4-M: These are less powerful than their desktop brothers. But they are better with batteries, and the computers are not as heavy.

Pentium M: These run slower than the 4's, but they're just about as powerful. This is Intel's newest chip, and, for my money, the best of the Pentiums.

Athlon XP-M: Advanced Micro Devices’ answer to the Pentium. This is a good chip, and it’s usually cheap. Not widely used, but definitely worth considering.

Athlon 64: This is a top of the line chip from AMD. It could run 64-bit software, if any were available. It also runs today’s 32-bit software very well. This chip is extremely fast, but probably no better than its Athlon XP cousin. Don’t pay extra for the 64-bit capability; you can’t use it.

Celeron and Celeron M: The budget chip from Intel. This is not as fast as the Pentiums or the AMD chips.

Transmeta: These are used by a few Japanese manufacturers. Transmeta chips are on the slow side.
3. If you travel a lot, invest in a wireless-equipped laptop.
Many laptops come equipped for Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity). That's becoming more and more critical for the road warrior; many hotels and airports have Wi-Fi available for accessing the Internet.

The Wi-Fi standards can be confusing. All carry the number 802.11, but there are three varieties: a, b and g. The most common has been "b," but it is being supplanted by the much faster "g," with which it is compatible. The Wi-Fi networks you find on the road are geared toward 802.11b, but "g" should also work there. The third flavor — "a" — runs on a different frequency. I'd avoid it, unless it comes in combination with "b" or "g."

In 2003, Intel brought out its Centrino system. This includes the Pentium M and wireless technology. Intel's advertising has stressed this wireless capability. I don't think that's a big deal; everybody's got wireless.

What is a big deal is Centrino's battery capacity. Four or five hours on one charge is commonplace; some computers will go six hours. That will get you through an airport wait and a cross-country flight. Furthermore, some of these computers have "hot-swappable" batteries. So we're talking 8, 10, even 12 hours without turning the computer off. Anybody flying to Europe?

4. Here are some other things you'll want.
Unless you're storing video or large volumes of music and photos, the hard drive should not be an issue. You can get by with a 20-gigabyte drive; most machines have a minimum 40-GB drive. If you do lots of video work, get the biggest drive you can find.

Both Windows XP and Apple's OS X are excellent operating systems. But they require gobs of memory. Get 256 megabytes of random-access memory (RAM), minimum. If you can afford it, jump to 512 MB.

Your new machine should have at least two USB ports. Try to make them USB 2.0. The 1.1 variety is much slower. If you will be downloading video from a camera or running an external hard drive, get a Firewire port. That runs circles around USB 2.0.

Many laptops run the video system with system RAM. That's fine for office applications or Internet surfing. If you're doing photo or video work, or playing games, you'll be happier with a separate video card. Get one with a minimum 32 MB of RAM. The more RAM the better in this case; some computers have cards with as much as 128 MB.

You'll need a spare battery. Also, invest in a surge suppressor to take on the road. Electricity surges can damage or kill your computer. Portable printers are inexpensive and handy when you're out of town. And when you hit the road, you'll need a carrying case.

Yes, buying a laptop isn't easy. But who said life would be a bowl of cherries? With a little research, you can find the laptop that is perfect for you.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Texas oilman seeks gusher from God in Israel
Zion Oil & Gas founder using Bible to find oil

KIBBUTZ MAANIT, Israel - A Texas oilman is using his Bible as a guide to finding oil in the Holy Land.

John Brown, a born-again Christian and founder of Zion Oil & Gas of Dallas, can quote chapter and verse about his latest drilling venture in Israel, where his company has an oil and gas exploration license covering 96,000 acres.

"Most blessed of sons be Asher. Let him be favored by his brothers and let him dip his foot in oil," Brown quotes from Moses’s blessing to one of the 12 Tribes of Israel in Deuteronomy 33:24.

Standing next to a 177-foot derrick at Kibbutz Maanit in northern Israel, Brown said the passage indicated there is oil lying beneath the biblical territory of the Tribe of Asher, where the agricultural community is located.

Geological surveys and an attempt by an Israeli-based company to find oil at the same site 10 years ago, a venture he said was abandoned for lack of funds, led Brown to pick the spot where new drilling will begin this week.

Brown said he raised money for "Project Joseph" from fellow evangelical Christians in the United States.

"From the investment standpoint, they certainly hope to have a return of the money," he said. "But the basis of it is Genesis, chapter 12."

In that passage, God promises to shower blessings on those who bless the “great nation” sired by the Hebrew patriarch Abraham.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Five myths of fatherhood
by Bruce Linton

If you're like most new or expectant dads, you're probably carrying around some silent assumptions about what it means to be a father. Those ideas are rooted in your experiences with your own father and in what you believe society expects of a male parent.

Unfortunately, few resources exist to help men address these issues or put common myths to the test. Yet the more you examine and understand your unspoken expectations of fatherhood, the better chance you have of becoming the parent you want to be.

Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that there's only one definition of a "good father." But fatherhood is not a fixed entity. You have the power to craft your own version to meet your needs and the needs of your family -- and you can do it over time. From pregnancy through the first three years of parenthood, men change and develop a unique identity as a father. Here are five other commonly held beliefs and the truth hidden behind them.

Myth 1: Only the expectant mother's feelings are important
Your partner's amazing body changes during pregnancy and the focus on the birth process make it easy to think that her feelings are the only ones that count. Your concern for her physical and mental health is important now and during the postpartum period, but so are your own feelings.

It's easy for an expectant dad to talk excitedly about the positives of becoming a father. It's much tougher to give voice to the equally important -- and inevitable -- feelings of fear and apprehension. Will I faint at the birth? Will there be medical complications? How will our relationship change? Can I pursue my career and be the father I want to be?

Your partner needs to hear your feelings. Many men keep their fears about pregnancy and fatherhood to themselves because they don't want to add to their partner's worries. Don't be afraid of burdening her. Women crave this kind of interaction, and they know that becoming a father brings challenges. Sharing your fears with your wife or partner will bring you closer.

You can also seek out other expectant fathers, read a good book about becoming a father, and attend a fathering class or group for support. Give yourself permission to express both your feelings of vulnerability and excitement. If we always play the part of men who are strong, we lose touch with a part of ourselves. By valuing your concerns during pregnancy and early parenting, you challenge the myth that we merely accompany our partners through the process.

Myth 2: Newborns don't really need their fathers
The intense connection between your partner and infant -- especially if they're breastfeeding -- can leave you wondering whether your baby really needs you. Rest assured he does. You're an important person in his life, and being with you is comforting and soothing to him. To bond with your baby, hold, rock, and coo at him, but wait until after he eats so you'll have his full attention. Taking over after a meal also gives your partner a chance to recoup her energy after breastfeeding.

You can help feed your baby if your partner expresses milk into a bottle or if you decide to supplement breastfeeding with occasional formula feeding. And you can help your baby indirectly by helping your partner around the house. Lightening her workload is nurturing for her and allows her more relaxed time with the baby. Remember, you make a difference to the whole family.

Myth 3: Men don't know how to care for young children
This is a great lie that keeps fathers from having a primary relationship with their babies and causes unnecessary anxiety for new mothers who fear that men aren't capable of handling newborns. Even Dr. Spock, the late pediatrician and best-selling author, cautioned in his first book that men are subject to "clumsiness" around babies. He changed his opinion in subsequent editions and you should, too. We know now that a father can be a child's primary caregiver. Parenting is learned on the job by everyone, moms and dads. If you spend time with your baby, you will become sensitive to his needs.

Myth 4: Men who focus on their children can't make it in the work world
Men are raised to value work as their main source of worth and self-esteem. Society's underlying message is that men who make sacrifices and choose family over career advancement do it because they can't succeed at work. But we are at the beginning of an epic shift in cultural norms. More men are finding parenthood meaningful and that is raising the status of fathers. Some men are trading career advancement for time with their family because they value the fulfillment they find in fatherhood, not because they can't hack it in the job market. More men than ever feel that being a good father is a significant accomplishment in life.

Myth 5: You are destined to be just like your own father
Your father will take on new significance when you become a dad. It's natural to reflect on your history and think that, for better or worse, you will follow in your old man's footsteps. But your own father needn't be your primary role model for parenting. He is just one influence on what kind of dad you'll become. Look to others who have nurtured you over the years, including teachers, coaches, friends, uncles, brothers, and so on, and create your own identity as a father.

In my research throughout the world, I found no evidence of one consistent model for fatherhood. Different cultures approach fatherhood in a variety of ways. In fact, in some African cultures, "father" is a group of men, not an individual. Fatherhood is socially constructed, meaning it adapts to the needs of individual cultures. That is exactly what our fathers did. For them, being a good father meant providing the family with a home, food, and education. Our own dads probably didn't spend as much time with us as we would like to spend with our own children. But they did what they thought was best for us, given societal and family demands at the time.

You, too, must make choices that are best for your family. Try to see fatherhood as a role you grow into as you explore the possibilities. You can take the positives from your own family history and add to them in ways that never occurred to your own father.

How to challenge the Five Myths of Fatherhood
1. Take time to reflect on how becoming (or being) a father is affecting you. Share your feelings with your partner and other new and expectant fathers.

2. Hold, rock, and talk to your newborn right from the birth.

3. Learn how to change diapers, give baths, feed your baby, and be part of his daily life.

4. Consider what career compromises you are willing to make to spend time with your child. This is an experiment that takes place over time.

5. Take what you like best about your father, teachers, coaches, friends, and relatives to create your own identity as a dad. Anyone who has nurtured you can be a good role model.

Think You Want to Be a CSI?
Kate Lorenz, Editor

Do you think of naming your children Gil, Horatio or Warrick? Are songs by The Who frequently playing in your head? Chances are you are a huge fan of CSI, the TV phenomenon that has spurred three hit series and has a hot syndication following. Thanks to the popularity of the hit series, there's a growing curiosity in careers in forensics and criminology.

Lest you think that is the only contributor to the growing interest in a career in crime scene investigation, other factors include population demographics, increased awareness of forensic science by law enforcement, increased numbers of law enforcement officers, database automation in several categories of physical evidence, jury expectations, legal requirements, accreditation and certification requirements of laboratories and personnel, and the impending retirement of a large number of currently practicing forensic scientists.

Criminalistics and forensics, which is projected to grow as fast as the average industry growth by the BLS, is the science and profession dealing with the recognition, collection, identification, individualization, and interpretation of physical evidence and the application of the natural sciences to law-science matters, according to Education and Training in Forensic Science: A Guide for Forensic Science Laboratories published by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Forensics includes analytical chemical methods to analyze controlled substances, fibers, glass, soil, paint and other materials, as well as fingerprint analysis, toolmark and firearms identification and document examination.

Qualifications/Characteristics of a Good Candidate
Most forensic scientists are employed in crime labs associated with law enforcement or other government agencies. Education should include a bachelor's degree (at minimum) in the natural sciences, plus completion of written and practical tests. Other factors considered may include drug tests, criminal history, medical or physical exam, past work performance and polygraph test.

More than 20 colleges or universities in the U.S. offer a bachelor's degree program in forensic science; more than 10 additional schools offer a bachelor's of science in chemistry, biochemistry or genetic engineering with an emphasis on forensic science; a few additional schools offer a bachelor's of science degree with an emphasis in a specialty area, such as criminalistics, pathology, jurisprudence, odontology, toxicology, or forensic accounting.

Other skills essential to this work include critical thinking, decision-making, good lab practices, observation and attention to detail, computer proficiency, interpersonal skills and time management. Plus, knowledge and understanding of legal procedures can be helpful.

Types of CSI Jobs

Forensic Anthropologist
These experts are physical anthropologists who generate biological profiles for unidentified human skeletal remains, identify unknown individuals and evaluate skeletal trauma. They are often university-based and consult for medical examiner offices.

Forensic Computer Scientist/Digital Evidence Examiner
Think Warrick Brown on CSI. These investigators are computer and information scientists/technicians who may be involved in the recovery and examination of probative information from digital evidence. This evidence includes desktop computers, laptops, network servers, and other digital equipment including cameras, personal digital assistants, pagers, software programs, databases and e-mail.

Forensic Engineer
The forensic work in this area mostly relates to civil litigation and sometimes criminal casework. But for people like the character Calleigh Duquesne on CSI: Miami, the range of forensic activity includes accident reconstruction, product failure investigations, structural failure analysis and related investigations.

Forensic Entomologist
Although the head of his unit, this is Gil Grissom's specialty on CSI. These investigators are often university-based and consult for medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement agencies and attorneys. They use insect evidence to help reconstruct the circumstances surrounding human death, including time of death and movement of the body.

Forensic Nurse
These specialized nurses perform functions such as serving as sexual assault nurse examiners and case reviewers for medical malpractice attorneys.

Forensic Odontology
Forensic Odontologists are dentists and oral pathologists who most often consult for medical examiner offices. They identify people from dental structures and analysis/comparisons of bitemarks.

Forensic Pathologist
Like Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on CSI: New York, forensic pathologists are medical doctors who serve as medical examiners and sometimes as coroners. They determine the cause and manner of death through autopsies and death investigation.

Forensic Psychiatrist
These are medical doctors who serve as researchers and clinical practitioners where psychiatry is applied to legal issues. They might conduct psychiatric examinations to determine civil and criminal competence, psychological trauma and criminal responsibility.

Forensic Psychologist
This person applies psychology to questions relating to the law and the legal system. This work includes psychological evaluation and expert testimony including trial competency, forensic behavioral analysis, civil commitment and guardianship.

Forensic Toxicologist
Forensic Toxicologists, like Eric Delko on CSI: Miami, provide services in postmortem cases (support death investigations), human performance cases (driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs) and workplace testing (mandatory job-related alcohol/drug testing). The work encompasses the determination and interpretation of drugs and their metabolites in biological fluids.

Friends 101: Why Friends are Important, and How You Can Help Your Child Succeed
by Martha Brockenbrough

I have a ten-month-old daughter named Lucy, and over the weekend I watched her try to do something new: make friends.

We were at the home of a friend whose four-year-old daughter was racing around and having great fun with her three-year-old cousin.

Lucy couldn't keep her eyes off the older girls, but she wasn't able to figure out how to take part in their play until she crawled under a card table that had a distinct "fort" air about it. The other little girls joined Lucy, who started grinning with pleasure.

All too soon, the girls crawled out, leaving Lucy alone. Sure, Lucy is a little young for friends who can run around and shriek real words. She's even too young to play with kids her own age, although other babies fascinate her and she loves to be near them. I know these things intellectually, from all the books and articles on child development I've read.

Yet all that knowledge didn't stop my heart from breaking just a bit to see her delight fade so quickly when the girls ditched her.
My brother-in-law told me to get used to this feeling. Part of the agony of parenthood is watching our children try to make friends with others, and either succeed or fail. You instinctively dislike seeing your child get rejected.

Keep Learning
Find online classes and degree programs.This instinct serves a good purpose. It turns out that the ability to make friends is critical for the success of our children, even early on. And it's not just because friends make our children smile and laugh. Friends may also help kids do better in school because so much of their learning comes from interaction with others, according to a 1998 study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And kids who feel connected in school will be happier getting on the bus in the morning.

What's a parent's job in this, other than to get a stomachache every time our children venture onto the playground in search of friends?

We can do a lot to help our kids succeed socially. It helps to know a bit of background information, such as the role friends play in our children's lives, when kids are ready to make friends, the basic friendship skills we need to instill, and some troubleshooting tips to assess whether our kids are having trouble.

Why friends are important
Your kids learn a lot from their friends--things you can't teach them, no matter how much you want to.

"Friendship is huge in the life of children, especially preteens and teens," author Carol Weston told me. "Friends become a child's chosen family. If his social life is going well, he gains confidence. If she has trouble connecting, it hurts and can make her feel sad and withdrawn and lonely."

Probably the most important thing kids learn is how to have peer relationships. As a parent, you can't do this, because you and your child aren't equals.

For example, when you're sitting on your family room floor and your very young child asks you to pass him the blocks, you probably hand them right over. If your child is sitting with a peer and asks the same thing, though, he might not get what he wants.

To succeed, your child will need to learn strategies for getting what he wants. For example, he might simply yank the toy out of his friend's hand. If he does that, he may learn that it's not the best way of getting what he wants because it leads to fighting and time-outs. The successful child will learn that he needs to negotiate a trade, to wait patiently, or to find something else equally fun to play with.

Friends also provide emotional support, something that is part of the foundation of healthy adulthood. You can't be with your child on the elementary school playground or at the high school dance. Your child's friends will be the ones to stick up for her, to include her in games, and later, to tell her she looks great even if her lousy prom date wanders off instead of dancing with her.

Friends also help your children learn. Friends solve problems together, imitate each other, and pass on knowledge (such as how to jump rope or speak pig-Latin).

Some experts believe that the single biggest predictor of your child's success later in life is her ability to make friends. In fact, they claim it's even more important than IQ and grades.

This doesn't mean that the kids who are most popular in school do the best later on in life. What matters is not the number of friends a child has but rather the quality of the relationships.

This is good news for those of us who hate to think that popularity really is the Holy Grail of childhood and adolescence. While it's true that popularity has many advantages, and that many popular kids really are nice people--and not just the best dressed or best looking--it's better to have a few good friends than to have the admiration of the masses.

When are kids ready for friends, and how can parents help?
So, when is your child old enough to have a best friend?

It's pretty well known that kids in middle school and high school place a high value on friendship. This is the audience for whom this type of rhetorical question was invented: "If Sally jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?"

But the roots of friendship reach far earlier into a child's life. When babies like my daughter play, even alongside other children, they're still playing by themselves. It's called parallel play. By the time Lucy is two, she'll be interested in taking turns and playing cooperatively. She'll still do some parallel playing, though. This helps kids learn language and limits from each other.

Children between the ages of three and six play directly with each other. Their games have rules, especially at the top of this age bracket, and kids start having favorite friends to play with. Children aged six to nine form close emotional bonds. And friendship only gets more important from there on out, as kids gain the life skills that will lead to future independence from their parents.

All along these years, parents can help ready their children for successful friendships.

Author Carol Weston, who has written three advice books for girls (Private and Personal, Girltalk, and For Girls Only), lists a few things parents can do to instill friendship skills.

"They can be role models themselves by enjoying their own friends and showing that friendship is part of their own lives," Weston says. And they can pass on some of those unwritten rules of friendship.

Small children need to learn to say thank you and wave bye-bye, Weston says. Older kids need to learn about hurt feelings, including what causes them and how to deal with them. And they need to learn about the issues surrounding popularity, she adds.

As with all things, some kids will make friends easily and others will require more work. The kids who do it easily "just have the knack of being friendly, smiling, saying hi, asking questions, and paying compliments," Weston says.

Weston's point here is important: Kids who make friends easily take an interest in other people. They're not focused on being liked as much as they actively like others.

Six ways to help your kid make friends

1. Help your child communicate.
Kids who are naturally outgoing have an easier time expressing their interest in other children than shy ones do. But you can help build this skill through practice. Ask your child about her favorite games and toys. Compliment her on specifics when she shows interest in other people: "You were so nice to let Roger talk about his puppy. I am proud of you."

2. Keep play short and sweet.
Parents should keep early play dates short, so no one gets too tired and everyone has fun. Schedule the next one soon thereafter, so kids can quickly build on their comfort foundation.

3. Know your child.
If your child is bossy, meet on neutral turf and agree beforehand on which toys will be shared (and which ones should be put away because your child just can't seem to share them). If you have a shy child, match him with a younger child so he has a chance to be the leader.

4. Help play get started.
If the kids are whiny or are having a hard time figuring out what to do, have some fun projects ready to go. Coloring, sculpting, blowing bubbles--these are great ways to get things humming or restore harmony.

5. Help your kids help others.
Encourage your child to be a better friend by helping him include others in play. If you see someone being excluded, don't ignore it. This is an opportunity to work on your child's empathy skills. "Rachel is being left out. That must make her feel very sad. Can you think of a way to include her in the game?"

6. Help your kids help themselves.
If your child is the one who's being left out or treated badly, teach her to speak up.

Troubleshooting tips
Sometimes, kids have extra challenges making friends, even if you're doing everything right as a parent.

All children are capable of having friends, although high self-esteem really helps them succeed, says Kathy Noll. Noll is the author of Taking the Bully by the Horns, which offers help to both bullies and their victims.

How can you tell whether your child may be having trouble making friends? Noll lists several warning signs to watch for:


Reluctance to go to school

Difficulty concentrating

Poor grades

Doesn't bring other kids home to play

Seems to get along better with adults

To help your child make friends, you need to show that you care and can be trusted. Focus on the positive, Noll says. Instead of pointing out what is causing your child's failure, talk about what he can do to succeed.

Noll points out that the odds of success improve with better basic social skills. The advice to "hold your head high" isn't just figurative in this case. Your child could look like an easy target if she walks with her head and shoulders down, speaks meekly, or doesn't make eye contact.

You can enlist your child's teacher as an ally. If your child isn't finding friends right away, the teacher can give advice about suitable playmates. You can work with other parents to set up play dates for your kids. You might even set up really fun regular outings. One suggestion I came across was "Wednesday afternoon at the park," with open invitations to everyone in your child's class.

Keep Learning
Find online classes and degree programs.Throughout all of this, talking with your child is crucial. If he tells you he's fearful about a new situation because he won't know anyone, remind him of times he's triumphed in similar situations. If your daughter comes home from Valentine's Day at school crushed because she didn't get any cards, talk to her about those feelings. Don't dismiss them; the hurt is very real. Talk about possible reasons why she didn't get valentines. Maybe her friends didn't make them. Maybe they didn't have enough for everyone, or maybe they forgot to bring them.

Experiences like this do happen to kids, and they're very painful blows to a child's self-esteem and confidence. But with the right help and love from a parent, they can build strength.

The time you spend on this is an investment in your child's well-being. "Some may be more open to it than others, depending on their perceptions of themselves and the world, and also the influence of their caretakers," Noll says.

"But all children are capable of--and deserving of--love and friendship."

Pregnancy symptoms: Top ten signs you might be pregnant

Most likely, you won't experience any pregnancy symptoms until about the time you've missed a period or a week or two later. If you're not keeping track of your menstrual cycle or if it varies widely from one month to the next, you may not be sure when to expect your period. But if you start to experience some of the symptoms below (not all women get them all) and you haven't had a period for a while, you may very well be pregnant. Take a home pregnancy test and find out for sure!

10. Tender, swollen breasts
One of the early hallmarks of pregnancy is extremely sensitive, sore breasts caused by increasing levels of hormones. In fact, the tenderness you may be feeling now is probably an exaggerated version of how your breasts may feel before your period. The tenderness will diminish significantly after the first trimester, once your rising hormone levels have stabilized and your body becomes accustomed to them.

9. Fatigue
Feeling tired all of a sudden? No, make that exhausted. Increased levels of the hormone progesterone and the extra effort your body requires to start making a baby can make you feel as if you've run a marathon when all you've done is put in a day at work. You should start to feel more energetic again once you hit your second trimester, although fatigue generally returns sometime around your seventh month.

8. Implantation bleeding
The fertilized egg begins to burrow into the lining of your uterus about six days after fertilization. Sometime after this you might notice a small amount of red spotting or pink or reddish brown staining. Only a minority of women experience this so-called "implantation bleeding." (If you have pain along with spotting or bleeding, call your practitioner immediately, since this can be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy.)

7. Nausea or vomiting
If you're like most women, morning sickness won't hit you until about a month after conception. (A lucky few escape it altogether.) But some women do start to feel queasy a bit earlier. And not just in the morning, either -- pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting can be a problem morning, noon, or night. It tends to peak around 8 to 10 weeks, when your hormone levels are highest, and then will most likely taper off as you begin your second trimester.

6. Increased sensitivity to odors
It's not uncommon if you're newly pregnant to find that you're now overwhelmed by the smell of a bologna sandwich from several desks away and that certain aromas instantly trigger your gag reflex. This, too, may be a side effect of rapidly increasing estrogen in your system.

5. Food aversions
While some women insist they crave certain foods during pregnancy, food aversions are even more common. You may suddenly find certain foods you used to enjoy are now completely repulsive to you. This problem may come and go or last throughout your pregnancy.

4. Frequent urination
Shortly after you become pregnant, you may find yourself hurrying to the bathroom at an alarming rate. Why? It's primarily due to the fact that during pregnancy the amount of blood and other fluids in your body increases, which leads to extra fluid being processed by your kidneys and ending up in your bladder. This symptom may start as early as six weeks into your first trimester and remain or even get worse throughout your pregnancy.

3. A missed period
If you're usually pretty regular and your period doesn't arrive on time, you probably took a pregnancy test long before you would have noticed any of the above symptoms. But if you're not regular or you're not keeping track of your cycle, nausea and breast tenderness and extra trips to the bathroom may give it away before you realize you didn't get your period.

2. Your basal body temperature stays high
If you've been charting your basal body temperature and you see that your temperature has stayed elevated for 18 days in a row, you're probably pregnant.

And finally...

1. The proof: A positive home pregnancy test
It's best to wait until at least the first day of a missed period before you take a pregnancy test. (If it's negative, try the test again in a few days.) Once you've gotten a positive result, make an appointment with your practitioner.Congratulations! Fact-checked by the BabyCenter Editorial Team and approved.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Rx for the Heart: A Good Belly Laugh
No joke! Laughter may be the best medicine after all

By Samuel Greengard

Heart disease is no laughing matter. Every year, nearly 1 million Americans die from some form of cardiovascular disease and about 62 million Americans suffer from a heart-related condition such as coronary heart disease or high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. However, if researchers have their way, many of these individuals will soon have the last laugh.

In March, Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventative Cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, reported that laughter pumps up heart health. "We are learning that there is a lot closer heart-mind-body link than previously understood," he says. "Researchers have scrutinized negative stressors on the heart — depression, hostility and bereavement, for example — but haven't looked as closely at positive influences."

That's changing. Miller, who examined 20 healthy volunteers, looked at how blood vessels react when participants watched movie clips that were either humorous (such as "King Pin") or stressful (such as the opening scene of "Saving Private Ryan"). He found that blood flow increased by an average of 22 percent in 19 of the 20 participants when they laughed, and decreased by 35 percent in 14 of the 20 participants when they tensed up. A previous study Miller conducted in 2000 found that those with heart disease are less likely to find everyday situations funny — such as someone spilling a drink on them at a restaurant.

Laughter, the best medicine
Miller's prescription? "Pop a funny movie into the DVD player, go to a comedy club, get together with a group of people or engage in some other activity that makes you laugh," he says. "It can be inexpensive and remarkably simple to do." Unfortunately, in today's frenetic society, where enjoyable activities often take a back seat to work and getting the kids to soccer practice, it's easier said than done. Yet, "even if it's less than 15 minutes a day, laughter has a positive affect on the body," Miller says.

In fact, a daily dose of The Three Stooges or the newspaper comic section can help the heart as well as the entire body. In the 1990s, Lee Berk, an associate research professor for pathology and human anatomy at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda, Calif., conducted several studies that showed laughter improves the body's immune system by reducing adrenaline, a hormone that boosts the heart rate. Although adrenaline (also known as epinephrine) is crucial in certain situations, chronically high levels can wreak havoc with internal organs, including the heart.

What's more, "Laughter increases the production of natural ‘killer cells' that go after virally infected cells and tumor cells," Berk says. "The reality is that when you remove distress and introduce eustress — laughter, medication, prayer, music and other enjoyable activities — our biology undergoes fundamental changes. We have an apothecary sitting on our shoulders that allows us to do the same thing that many pharmaceutical drugs do without the expense and side effects."

Rx: A good belly laugh
Unfortunately, modern medicine has focused almost exclusively on "treatment" instead of "prevention," Berk says. A few individuals, such as former Saturday Review magazine editor Norman Cousins, realized as early as the 1960s that laughter truly is the best medicine. When he found himself afflicted with debilitating arthritic condition that causes severe pain, he began watching a steady dose of funny movies. He made a dramatic recovery and chronicled the experience in his 1979 best-selling book, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration.

Both Miller and Berk say that laughter is not a substitute for moderate exercise, good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle. However, it is increasingly clear that those who want a healthy heart should march to the beat of laughter. "It's an area of health care that has been generally overlooked," Miller says. "A good belly laugh should be a part of everyone's daily life."

Schiavo case will shape political debate
Did GOP mobilize its conservative base or overreach?
Nancy Kramer, of St. Petersburg, Fla., holds a dead rose and a defaced photograph of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, on Thursday, in front of the Woodside Hospice where she has been holding vigil since Terri Schiavo died.
By Dana Milbank

Updated: 9:42 a.m. ET April 1, 2005Terri Schiavo is dead, but the passions stirred by the fight over her life will shape the political debate for a long time to come.

Republicans say the Schiavo case has mobilized their conservative base for the struggles over judicial nominations and a likely Supreme Court vacancy this summer. In defeat, they hope to make Schiavo's death into a rallying point for a broader "culture of life" movement to secure judges and a justice who would restrict abortions.

Democrats, backed by public opinion polls, say the conservatives overreached and that the GOP now appears to be a captive of the religious right. They say the Schiavo dispute, on top of struggles over stem cell research and gay rights, will cause a backlash by moderate Americans.

The diverging interpretations reflect larger electoral strategies by both parties. Democrats, following a traditional approach, believe they can return to power by staking out ground as the party of the center. Republicans, using a strategy employed successfully by President Bush in the 2004 elections, believe the key is not in appealing to the middle but in motivating its active conservative base.

The battle over Schiavo's symbolism has already begun. Tony Perkins, president of the Christian policy group Family Research Council, issued a statement after Schiavo's death blaming the judiciary (even though it was mostly conservative judges who rejected the intervention by Bush and Congress.) "This is a tragic and unfortunate event that should awaken Americans to the problems in our court system," he said. "As many in the nation mourn the passing of Terri Schiavo, we should remember that her death is a symptom of a greater problem: that the courts no longer respect human life."

'Political crack-up'
By contrast, former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, in an article published around the time of Schiavo's death, said Republicans are undergoing a "political crackup" as damaging as the Massachusetts decision to condone same-sex marriage was for Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign. "The Bush administration doesn't have a faith-based initiative; it is a faith-based initiative," he wrote in Salon.

The most direct consequence of the Schiavo affair is likely to be a push for federal and state legislation; lawmakers in both parties have proposed laws that would make it more difficult to remove life support in cases where the patients' wishes are disputed. The Senate health committee and House Government Reform Committee, among others, will examine parts of the issue.

But experts say changes are largely unnecessary. In the three decades since the Karen Ann Quinlan case, there have been only a few big legal battles over the "right to die." Alan Meisel, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, said only one case in several thousand winds up in litigation -- hardly a legal crisis. "Schiavo is the exception that proves the rule: We haven't had a lot of agonizing cases," said Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration lawyer.

Beyond its direct impact, the Schiavo dispute is likely to color all sorts of policy debates, and, depending on how those turn out, could be part of the theme in next year's midterm elections.

Conservatives have begun to tie the case to their larger effort to win judges opposed to abortion. "It is entirely possible that in her death Terri Schiavo will become a symbol for many people about a disturbing trend in American culture," said Gary Bauer, a prominent conservative activist. Predicting a donnybrook over the eventual Supreme Court nominee, he said the Schiavo case "will make more acute the feeling at the grass roots that too many of the most important decisions are being made by unelected judges."

It is, of course, difficult to argue that the Schiavo case would have turned out differently if more of Bush's conservative judicial nominees had been confirmed. Conservative judges were at least as likely as liberals to oppose federal intervention. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, rejected the Schiavo appeal, and William H. Pryor Jr., whom Bush has seated temporarily on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in hopes of winning his confirmation to that court, did not dissent publicly from the decision not to hear the case. Key opinions relevant to the case were written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia.

'Founding Fathers' blueprint'
It was, in fact, an appellate judge appointed by President George H.W. Bush who wrote a ruling Wednesday criticizing the president and Congress for acting "in a manner demonstrably at odds with our Founding Fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people -- our Constitution."

But conservatives say this will not prevent them from linking the Schiavo case to others. "Although the form of this issue was assisted suicide, it has a lot more relevance for abortion," said Jeff Bell, a Republican operative. "State-sanctioned private killing is what this is about." Bell said he was not concerned about public opinion, because "it's very clear the intensity is on the side of the people who thought this was an abomination."

Democrats, at first ambivalent on the issue and relatively quiet as the controversy played out, have been buoyed by polls such as one by CBS News last week finding that 82 percent opposed Bush and Congress involving themselves in the matter. Three-quarters thought Congress got involved because of politics over principle, which could account for the 34 percent approval rating for Congress -- its lowest since 1997.

Democrats say they are encouraged that the dispute has put some of the party's more extreme characters, such as antiabortion activist Randall Terry, into prominent roles. "The other side has overplayed its hand and taken a beating," said Democratic strategist Jim Jordan.

Some Republicans and conservatives have expressed worry that this may be true. In an op-ed in the New York Times this week, former Republican senator John C. Danforth cited the Schiavo case as evidence that "Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians." Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, usually supportive of Bush, called the federal intervention "a legal travesty, a flagrant violation of federalism and the separation of powers."

But Republicans and Democrats of all stripes are likely to return to party lines when the subject shifts to judicial nominations. And that suggests the fight could be even nastier than the Schiavo affair.

Idiots Rule: The Greatest TV Fools of All-TimeTV is full of fools, but which fool is the foolingest fool in all of Foolville?
By the foolish Paul SemelMSN Entertainment

Clearly, TV is full of fools, and we ain't just talking about the goober who keeps canceling "Star Trek." Nearly every situation comedy and cartoon has a fool or two, and there's plenty more on the dramas, reality shows, even the news. But not all fools are created equal. There are fat fools, skinny fools, fools who climb on rocks, tough fools, sissy fools, even fools with chicken pox. Which is why, in honor of April Fool's Day, we've picked our favorite TV fools. And ate some hot dogs.

Real Fool: Jessica Simpson from "Newlyweds."
Why? Do you not remember the tuna fish comment?

Lost Fool: Gilligan from "Gilligan's Island."
Why? Because if it wasn't for him, it would've actually been just a three hour tour.

Fools Rush In: Cosmo Kramer from "Seinfeld."
Why? Because after nine seasons, he never learned how to knock.

King Of Fools: Carrie Spooner Hefferman from "King Of Queens."
Why? Only on TV would a hottie like her marry a shlub like Doug.

Tool Fool: Tim Taylor from "Home Improvement."
Why? Because he ignored basic safety rules.

Duel Fools: Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton from "The Honeymooners."
Why? Because they were the original Beavis and Butt-head.

Dual Fools: Beavis and Butt-head from "Beavis & Butt-head."
Why? Because they were Beavis and Butt-head.

Beautiful Fool: Chrissy Snow from "Three's Company."
Why? Because her I.Q. was smaller than her bra size.

Friendly Fool: Joey Tribbiani from "Joey."
Why? Because you've got to have "Friends."

Fool Of Beer: Cliff Clavin Jr. from "Cheers."
Why? Because this know-it-all didn't know anything.

Retro Fool: Michael Kelso from "That '70s Show."
Why? Because being pretty and dumb means you're still pretty dumb.

Technical Fool: Marshall Flinkman from "Alias."
Why? We'd tell you, but then Sydney would have to kill you. And she's kind of busy.

Military Fool: Maj. Frank Marion Burns from "M*A*S*H."
Why? Because he had Hotlips but was still jealous of Hawkeye.

Furlough Fools: Dr. Sherman Potter, Max Klinger and Father Francis Mulcahy from "After M*A*S*H."
Why? Because they should've known to leave well enough alone.

Future Fool: George Jetson from "The Jetsons."
Why? Because he should've known how to stop that crazy thing.

Inspector Fool: Inspector Gadget from "Inspector Gadget."
Why? Because without his niece, Penny, and her dog, Brain, he never would've solved any crimes.

Spy Fool: Maxwell Smart, a.k.a. Agent 86, from "Get Smart."
Why? Because without his wife, Agent 99, they never would've stopped that guy from "The Love Boat."

Well-Red Fool: Lucy McGillicuddy Ricardo from "I Love Lucy."
Why? Because despite her hair color, she was the original ditzy blonde.

Fool's Gold: Lucille Ball from "I Love Lucy."
Why? Because in 1956 our Well-Red Fool won the Emmy for best actress.

Ship Of Fools: Yeoman-Purser Burl "Gopher" Smith from "The Love Boat."
Why? Because he was the one who steered them into that iceberg.

Wait a minute...

Why Do Fools Fall In Love: Gregory Montgomery from "Dharma & Greg."
Why? Because a lawyer should've known better than to marry that crazy broad after only one date.

Fool Me Once, Shame On You...: Tony Danza.
Why? Because he's played Tony in every show he's ever done ... including his talk show!

Caped Crusader Fool: Bruce "Batman" Wayne from "Batman."
Why? Because no one who becomes a violent vigilante after witnessing the murder of his parents would ever be such a cartoonish goof.

I Pity The Fool: Capt. H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock from "The A-Team."
Why? Because he made the rest of that motley crew look like rocket scientists.

Fool and The City: Charlotte York from "Sex And The City."
Why? How did she not know Trey was a mama's boy?

Cool Fool: Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli from "Happy Days."
Why? Because he actually did jump the shark.

Dancing Fool: Fred "Rerun" Stubbs from "What's Happening!!"
Why? Because he really only had one dance move.

A Fool And His Money... : Neil Cavuto from "Your World With Cavuto."
Why? Have you seen what he wears?

Hair Fool-licles: Howard Cosell from "Monday Night Football."
Why? Because that toupee wasn't fooling anyone.

In-Fool-Mercial: Ron Popeil from every damn infomercial.
Why? Because if you act now, it won't make a damn bit of difference.

Frankenfool: Herman Munster from "The Munsters."
Why? He was made that way.

Chain of Fools: Anyone who runs on "Cops."
Why? Because you can't escape the long arm of the law.