Rain, Families, Pets- Oh My!

winterdogShort, dark, wintery days can be a problem in a family household. Both children and adults get restless from a lack of exercise, sunlight and outdoor activities. What many people forget is that the gloomy indoors can have a significant effect on more than just the humans of the household- they can depress pets as well. In fact, many dogs exhibit ‘uncharacteristic’ anxiety and agitation during winter months.

This is generally a result of boredom and pent-up energy. Dogs and cats need to be kept stimulated in order to remain happy indoors. Making sure to keep them busy will also protect your furniture and clothes from bite marks. So, what can you do?

First, invest in some brain-stimulating chew toys, like the KONG genius toy. These will keep your dog entertained with an ongoing challenge, and satisfy his primal instincts to work for his food.

Next, have your children play indoor fetch with your pooch. Toss a tennis ball up the stairs- your dog will really burn energy and bask in the extra attention.

Another fun family-related pet activity is setting up an obstacle course. Lure your dog under cushions, over broom handles and between pre-arranged furniture with a tasty treat.

Of course, preparing for nasty weather with waterproof gear is always a great option (as long as your pet doesn’t mind the rain). Plan a family walk through the neighborhood and offer a prize for those who splash in the most puddles!

Is Your Kitchen Making You Sick?

clean-kitchenThe winter season is often associated with the flu, the common cold, and other inconvenient ailments. While the cold weather is often a contributor to these conditions, experts revealed that the microbes getting you sick may in fact originate in your home, and more specifically, in your kitchen.

Kelly A. Reynolds, PhD, explained:

“Moisture and food particles make it the perfect environment for growing germs that make you sick. If you’re not killing them, you can go from 10 microbes to millions within 24 hours.”

You may think your kitchen is spotless, but here are the places you might want to double-check:

  1. Your kitchen sink. Dr. Reynolds says: “There can be millions of pathogens clinging to the sink, the seal of the drain and the rubber gasket around the garbage disposal.” She suggests cleaning the sink regularly, especially after rinsing raw meat, vegetables or pet bowls. Make sure to use a disinfectant spray at least once a day.
  2. Your sponge, dishtowels and dish brush. According to the NSF International, more than 75% of dish sponges and towels carry harmful bacteria. Therefore, it’s important to change these towels daily and wash them in hot water. Sponges should also be changed at least once a week, or cleaned with disinfectant regularly.
  3. Your hands. Raw eggs, meats and vegetables can all carry pathogens, which will be transferred to different surfaces by your hands. Dr. Robert Donofrio of NSF International suggests: “Get out everything you need, such as the knife, the cutting board and the pot, so you’re not opening cabinet drawers and contaminating surfaces.” Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly as well.

Other places that make ideal hiding spots for pathogens include your coffee maker, purse or briefcase, refrigerator, stove, cabinet handles, garbage cans and countertops.

Orangutan’s Eyes May Hold the Key to Improved Quality of Life

Dr. Neil Mennie, a neuroscientist in Malaysia, believes the eye movements of an orangutan at the country’s National Zoo may hold the key to improved quality of life in captivity, as well as in the wild.

In order to learn more about the orangutan’s feelings and interests behind bars, scientists fitted Tsunami with two cameras- one that records what she sees, and the other the movement of her right eye. The purpose of the exercise is to “bring about improvement in the lives of captive apes,” according to Reuters.

Dr. Mennie believes the eye movements will reveal Tsunami’s level of engagement with different activities, and enable zoos to enhance apes’ lifestyles and living conditions.

“I think this is going to give me a lot of important data on their special memory, for example, their visual attention, and how they basically just coordinate actions with four different limbs,” Mennie explained.

Muhammad Daniel Felix, Deputy Director of the Malaysia National Zoo, said the experiment’s findings may have a significant impact on the zoo’s practices.

“There is a very strong movement on the welfare, taking care of the welfare and ethics of animals in captivity,” he explained. “By having this experiment, or the results, it will help… We will be able to identify what actually stimulates the animal in captivity. So we can use the results to improve our exhibit design, how we take care of the animals, what to put inside the exhibit…”

Mennie believes the findings will also unlock new information regarding orangutan’s behavior in the wild as well, such as foraging strategies, locations, and the value of different rewards.

Porcupine Quills To Aid Medical Equipment Design

New research has implied that porcupine quills may hold the key to less painful hypodermic needles. The natural shape of the porcupine spines allows easy, smooth penetration. It also makes them difficult to remove.

Porcupines use their quills as protection; they can shed them before escaping a predator, often burying them in their assailants’ skin before running. These sharp barbs then lodge themselves tightly in the flesh.

A recent study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It discusses the unique build of the quills, revealing why they are such an effective weapon. The reasons are twofold; the quills have sharp, piercing cone-shaped tips as well as microscopic barbs that face the opposite direction. These barbs gather the force of the stab at the tip, providing cleaner, faster penetration as well as anchor the quill in the flesh. In other words, less pressure is needed in order to penetrate the resisting tissue.

Dr. Jeffrey Karp of Bringham and Women’s Hospital in Boston explained:

“We were most surprised to find that the barbs on quills serve a dual function. Namely, the barbs reduce the penetration force for easy insertion into tissue and maximize the holding force to make the quills incredibly difficult to remove.”

The findings should improve the design of needles and other medical equipment, according to the researchers.

Karp said:

“Towards medical applications we developed plastic replicas that remarkably mimicked the reduced penetration force and increased pullout. This should be useful to develop next generation medical adhesives and potentially design needles with reduced pain.”

The Presidential Inauguration Dilemma

inaugurationReally, it’s a fascinating question for those who are intrigued by history – and even for those who aren’t that interested. If the official inauguration day (January 20th)  for the new President of the United States of America falls on a Sunday, what does the country do? And if the inauguration ceremony takes place on the 21st, then who is actually president for those gap hours?

This is a question that many have sought to answer through the years, and that President Barack Obama will address today. One Senator from Missouri, David Rice Atchison, actually managed to be president for one day, and this historic document is part of Shapell Manuscript Foundation’s “Between the Lines” program.

The crisis of the Inauguration date has actually been visited a total of seven times. The first time it occurred was for the swearing in of President James Monroe (the swearing in date was, at that time, on March 4, 1821). Monroe decided, on the advice of the justices of the Supreme Court, to postpone his second-term swearing-in by one day. There was no crisis and the country survived having “no president” for a day.

The second time that this occurred was on March 4, 1849. Rather than break his Sabbath, President-Elect Zachary Taylor put off the oath-taking for one day. David Rice Atchison, a Senator from Missouri, then joked that he was actually the president, as the Presidential Succession Act of 1792 said that without a president or vice-president, the office would go to the President pro tempore of the Senate. Ironically, however, Atchison didn’t actually take the oath that day but went home to sleep.  He ended up taking his oath of office only a few minutes before Taylor took his, so technically no one was in charge that day.

As he wrote in the letter that the Shapell Manuscript Foundation has in its collection,

I never for a moment acted as President of the US, although I was President of the Senate, at the expiration  of Mr. Polk’s term and inauguration of Genl Taylor [nor] yet for one moment did I ever consider that I was the legal President of the US, Genl Taylor was the legal Pres, & Millard Fillmore Vice President, either of whom had the legal right, to the Presidency although 31 hours elapsed between the egress of Mr. Polk and the taking of the oath by Genl Taylor.

For those keeping tabs on the presidency today, President Obama will be sworn in today in a private ceremony and will then be sworn in with a more public ceremony tomorrow, on Monday, January 21.

Get the Most Out of Your Sleep

The use of phones and other mobile devices is becoming more and more common, and especially from bed. This habit may actually have a negative effect on sleep quality.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “more than 90 percent of Americans regularly use a computer or electronic device of some kind in the hour before bed.” Researchers have found that the “exposure to light from computer tablets significantly lowered levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates our internal clocks and plays a role in the sleep cycle.”

Those suffering from mild sleep disorders or disturbances may want to consider turning off all electronics prior to bed. Here are some other sleep-supporting habits to try, from Womansday.com:

  • Go to bed earlier. As simple as it seems, going to bed earlier can help you get the extra sleep your body craves. Even if you don’t feel tired, try lying down about an hour earlier until you get a full 7-8 hours each night.
  • Relieve stress. People with uncontrolled stress are more prone to insomnia. But exercise, meditation, yoga and other techniques can help you relax. Do something to relieve stress each day.
  • Let it out. Try to decrease your brain activity before bed by writing down your thoughts in a journal. It will help clear your mind so you can close the book on today and move forward.
  • Turn down the lights. It’s more difficult to fall and stay asleep in a room that is too bright. Wear a sleeping mask and close the blinds and curtains to diminish light and set the mood for sleep.
  • Relax a little. Schedule some downtime each day for meditative activities like stretching, reading or enjoying a hot bath. This can help you unwind after an intense, stressful day so you’ll sleep more soundly.
  • Eat at regular intervals. This keeps your energy and blood sugar levels stable all day long. With fewer highs and lows, you’ll be alert all day and ready to sleep at night.
  • Add white noise. Most people can’t fall asleep when it’s too loud. Wear ear plugs to drown out disturbing sounds and turn on “white noise,” like a fan or rain CD, so you can sleep more soundly.