Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bruins’ Stanley Cup rings

How do Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup rings compare to other champs?

How do Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup rings compare to other champs?

Remember the finale from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" when (spoiler) Indy avoids turning into a disintegrating skeleton because he knows the Holy Grail should look like "the cup of the carpenter"? Which Jesus (spoiler) was?

Well, 14 kt. white gold rings with over 300 diamonds aren't exactly the stuff of a blue-collar, dirt under the nails, punch-a-Sedin-in-the-face team. But when you've captured hockey's holy grail, you've earned the right to flaunt it.

Here's the skinny on the 505 Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup champions rings that were given to the players and team personnel on Tuesday:

The crest of the Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup ring features diamond set images of the iconic Boston Bruins "B" logo and the Stanley Cup, fashioned in brilliant cut custom princess, princess and round diamonds set against a background of 14 kt. white gold. There are six larger round diamonds on the crest of the ring that represent the six Stanley Cups that the Bruins have won. The diamond-covered top of the ring is framed on the left side by "STANLEY CUP" and on the right side by "CHAMPIONS" to record the Bruins' 2011 achievement.

How do Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup rings compare to other champs?

One shoulder is personalized with a player's last name and sweater number against an antique black background. The side includes an image the Bruins secondary "Bruins Bear" logo which is surrounded by six stones honoring the Bruins as being one of the "Original Six" professional hockey franchises.

The opposite shoulder of each ring features a diamond-studded Stanley Cup framed on top by "2011" in gold and diamonds which represents this year's team and the first Stanley Cup that the Bruins have won under the leadership of the Jacobs family. The years '72, '70, '41, '39 and '29 also frame the cup and connect this year's team to the earlier championship teams that helped build the Bruins into one of the most storied franchises.

Intricate and custom engraving on the inside of each ring enhances the distinct and one-of-a-kind design. The playoff slogan that decorated the locker room during the championship run, "FULL 60+ TO HISTORY", is on one side while the other shows the National Hockey League shield and the four playoff opponent's logos and series scores the Bruins won en route to the Stanley Cup.

Also, in honor of the aftermath of Game 7 in Vancouver, it doubles as a lighter …

Very impressive championship bling for the B's. But how does it stack up with other recent Stanley Cup rings? Glad you asked.

Here are the Chicago Blackhawks rings from 2010. Yes, there's from the same designer as the Bruins rings. Yes, we assume it's some kind of Original Six template:

How do Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup rings compare to other champs?

From the Chicago Tribune, some details on the rings:

The individual rings, valued at about $30,000, are 14-carat white gold weighing 91.0 grams, with 404 diamonds and gemstones totaling approximately 8 carats. [...]

The ring features the iconic Indian head logo and the Stanley Cup displayed in marquee cut diamonds surrounded by the words "Stanley Cup Champions" on the face. They are personalized with a team member's name and number. One side features baguette-cut rubies and pear-shaped emeralds set in the shape of the Hawks' crossed tomahawks and the other is a diamond-studded Stanley Cup and the 2010 season's motto: One Goal. The years 2010, 1961, 1938 and 1934 also are included to commemorate the team's title history. [...]

The committee viewed examples of past championship rings but was determined to make the Hawks version unique. It incorporated ideas Jostens had not done before, including engraving the inside of each player's ring with the NHL logo and those of the four teams the Hawks dispatched in the playoffs and the series scores.

Here's what the Pittsburgh Penguins wore after their Cup win in 2009:

How do Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup rings compare to other champs?

As you can see in this gallery from the Penguins, there's a bit more color on the front of the ring than with the Blackhawks'. From the team:

Each 14 karat white and yellow gold ring contains 167 diamonds, totaling approximately 4.50 carats of diamonds and averaging approximately 100 grams of gold. The top of the ring is crowned with a custom-cut black onyx imbedded with a 1.3 carat pear-shaped diamond to create the Penguins logo. The logo is placed on an image of the Stanley Cup, which is sitting on a bed of round diamonds replicating the arena and ice surface.

They were the largest rings in Stanley Cup champions history, but smaller than those for the Pittsburgh Steelers for winning Super Bowl XLIII, according to the Tribune-Review.

Here are the Detroit Red Wings' rings from 2008:

How do Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup rings compare to other champs?

The Wings were given their rings in a dangerous spot: the Motor City Casino, during a private team function. Luckily, none of them ended up on the craps table.

According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, it's a "67-gram 14K white gold ring that contains 170 round diamonds, 2 marquise diamonds, 3 pear shaped diamonds and 11 custom cut baguette diamonds." It has several words on it: "Stanley Cup Champions"; "Owner," which is found by four diamonds in honor of the four titles under the Ilitch family; and "Family," because the Red Wings consider themselves a big one.

Here are the Anaheim Ducks' rings from 2007:

How do Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup rings compare to other champs?

The Ducks' rings were made of 14K white gold and 110 diamonds, including 16 diamonds to represent the 16 wins it takes to capture the Cup. But there was some other interesting symbolism as well:

While being a token of last season's success, the ring also pays homage to past Ducks seasons on its left side, where under the player's last name are 14 stones in three different colors. The first 11 are green to symbolize the 11 seasons of the Mighty Ducks under Disney ownership. The next stone is white, symbolizing the lockout, a canceled season and a period of change. Finally, the last two stones are orange and represent the past two years of ownership by Henry and Susan Samueli and a change in name and colors. Also prominent on the right side of the ring is a representation of Honda Center and the old Mighty Ducks logo, which is flanked by '93 and '07 as the years in between the championship.

They put a diamond on the ring to symbolize the lockout? Seriously?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Upgrade Your Life: Revive a dying laptop battery

Laptop battery wearing down? In this week's episode of Upgrade Your Life, Yahoo! News' Becky Worley shows us how to help batteries last longer ... and what to do when they run out!

First, the basics

Most laptops use batteries that can last for 3-5 years, or about 1000 charges. (A premium laptop's battery might last longer.) Every time you charge your battery, the total capacity of the battery is diminished. Originally it may have had a run time of 3.5 hours, but after a year it'll run out of juice at 3 hours, even on a full charge.

If your battery capacity has diminished, there are a few things you can do about it. First, you have to correctly gauge how much capacity has been lost. There are free downloads to do this job, like Battery Bar (for Windows PCs) or Coconut Battery (for Macs). These will compare your battery's current maximum capacity to how long it lasted when it was new.
(UPDATE- we originally recommended Battery Eater and while the program works great, their download site has been compromised and we are recommending an alternate program, Battery Bar downloadable from CNET.)

Calibrating your Battery

You can't miraculously reconstitute your battery's capacity. It loses power over time due to chemical reactions taking place in the battery, as it chugs along powering your laptop. You can't undo those changes, but there is one common battery issue you can fix: In many laptops, the operating system's battery meter gets out of sync with how much juice the battery actually has.

Imagine if the gas gauge on your car dashboard was misreading how much gas you actually had in the tank. You'd either run out of gas when you thought you had a quarter of a tank left, or you'd be filling up too frequently. In your laptop, this can mean your laptop shuts down abruptly when the meter says you have 30 minutes left. Or else the meter might warn that you only have 2 minutes of battery life left and shut your laptop down, when it really has another 20 minutes remaining.

Recalibrating gets the battery meter to correctly read the current state of the battery, so you and the operating system know where you stand with existing battery life.

How to recalibrate

First, charge your laptop's battery to full, and leave it that way for at least two hours. Then unplug your laptop, and set its power management settings to never turn off or lower the monitor brightness. (HP has instructions for how do to this on Windows 7 and Vista, as well as Windows XP, while Apple has instructions for Mac laptops on their site.)

You want to drain the battery completely, then let your laptop sit for at least five hours this way -- like, say, overnight. (Just be careful and mute the volume, since some laptops make a warning sound when they're about to run out.) Afterwards, charge it up again, and you should notice a more accurate portrayal of your battery capacity. In some cases, you may even get more life out of it.

Best practices to maintain battery life

You'd think that the best way to keep your laptop's battery from wearing out is to not use it. Right?

As it turns out, batteries are like muscles; they need to be worked out regularly to stay healthy. Ideally, you'd use your laptop unplugged at least once a day, like on a train or bus commute or on the couch in front of the TV. If you're not going to use it, constantly charging your battery is a bad idea; HP recommends on their website that if you're going to leave your laptop plugged in or put up in storage for more than two weeks, you should take the battery out of your laptop.

Past the expiration date

So when is it time to throw out that old battery? The answer, surprisingly, is "never." Laptop batteries contain lots of toxic chemicals, and should never end up in landfills. Fortunately, has a list of environmentally responsible recyclers that will take your old battery with no fuss.

When is it time to replace your battery, then? Use the free utility apps Becky mentioned, and when they say that your battery can only hold around 25% of its original capacity it's probably time for a new one. You can buy a replacement battery from the original laptop manufacturer, and there are plenty of places online that sell discounted PC laptop batteries, like Laptops for Less and Owners of newer Mac laptops can get their laptop's non-removable battery swapped out at any Apple store, with a scheduled appointment.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NHL who makes more money?



Toronto Maple Leafs

505 8 27 187 82.5

New York Rangers

461 11 0 154 41.4

Montreal Canadiens

408 20 70 163 53.1

Detroit Red Wings

315 -6 0 119 15.3

Boston Bruins

302 11 40 110 2.6

Philadelphia Flyers

301 10 22 121 13.3

Chicago Blackhawks

300 16 0 120 17.6

Vancouver Canucks

262 10 42 119 17.6

Pittsburgh Penguins

235 6 42 91 -1.6

Dallas Stars

227 -8 88 95 6.4

New Jersey Devils

218 -2 115 104 6.9

Los Angeles Kings

215 3 76 98 0.7

Calgary Flames

206 3 15 98 4.6

Minnesota Wild

202 -4 56 92 -2.3

Colorado Avalanche

198 -4 15 82 2.3

Washington Capitals

197 7 40 82 -9.1

Ottawa Senators

196 -1 66 96 -3.8

San Jose Sharks

194 6 23 88 -6.2

Anaheim Ducks

188 -9 19 85 -5.2

Edmonton Oilers

183 10 55 87 8.2

Buffalo Sabres

169 0 30 81 -7.9

Florida Panthers

168 6 57 76 -9.6

St Louis Blues

165 -6 73 79 -6.2

Carolina Hurricanes

162 -9 80 75 -7.3

Columbus Blue Jackets

153 -7 29 76 -7.3

New York Islanders

151 1 66 63 -4.5

Nashville Predators

148 -5 55 74 -5.5

Tampa Bay Lightning

145 -24 31 76 -7.9

Atlanta Thrashers

135 -5 48 71 -8.0

Phoenix Coyotes

134 -3 26 67 -20.1

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mother has three babies on dates 8-8-8, 9-9-9, 10-10-10

Fri Oct 15, 11:16 AM

Jordan Chittley
Yahoo! Canada News

Michigan parents may have the luckiest children on the planet.

Barbara and Chad Soper should also have no problem remembering all of their kids' birthdays. Their three children were all born exactly one day, one month and one year apart, each on what many consider a lucky day - 8-8-8, 9-9-9, 10-10-10.

Barbara needed drugs to start labour for her first daughter, Chloe Corrin, who was born full term as the Beijing Olympics were kicking off on Aug. 8, 2008.

Their son, who they tell USA Today was an unplanned miracle, was due Sept. 20, 2009. Due to some hemorrhaging during Barbara's first birth, her doctor suggested Cameron Dane come into the world a bit early. He was born on Sept. 9, 2009.

While the couple thought it would be neat if their third child was born on Oct. 10, 2010, the chances seemed unlikely as she wasn't due until Nov. 4, 2010. Then Barbara developed blood clots in her legs and doctors told her the baby needed to be delivered. Cearra Nicole came into the world on Oct. 10, 2010.

"She's feeding well," says mom to USA Today of their newest born three weeks early. "She's a trooper."

There are only 12 days a century that have the same number for day, month and year. A statistician told USA Today that with one set of assumptions, the chances of a family having three babies born on those three days is about one in 50 million.

In Chinese languages, the word for eight sounds similar to the word for "prosper" or "wealth." Nine is lucky because it is the greatest single-digit number and a homophone of the word "longlasting."

Most recently, over 10,000 couples in Shanghai married on Oct. 10, 2010, with hopes of securing a lucky future together.

No word what would happen if one of the children was born on April 4, 2004. Four is considered unlucky because it is similar to the word for "death."

Follow Yahoo! Canada News on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Myth: There Were 13 Colonies

Myth: There Were 13 Colonies

Myth: There Were 13 Colonies

Truth: Like the rest of us, you probably bought the ol’ Thirteen Colonies story, but it’s not an accurate depiction of colonial America for most of its history. As settlements were founded, each new city was recognized as its own colony: for example, Connecticut contained 500 distinct “colonies” before they were merged into one in 1661. Sometimes colonies were mashed together into mega-colonies, like the short-lived, super-unpopular Dominion of New England, which incorporated Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine, plus New York and New Jersey for a couple of years. Colonies also split, like Massachusetts, which spawned New Hampshire in 1679. And some colonies weren’t colonies at all: while it’s often listed as one of the Thirteen Colonies that rebelled in 1775, Delaware wasn’t technically a colony or a province. Designated “the Lower Counties on the Delaware,” it had its own assembly but fell under the authority of the governor of Pennsylvania until it declared itself an independent state in August 1776. So technically, there were just 12 colonies in 1775 and 13 states in 1776.

Myth: Social progress began in cities and then filtered out to rural areas.

Truth: Sorry, city slickers! While women’s suffrage was discussed everywhere in the United States in the nineteenth century — most notably at the Seneca Falls Convention organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in upstate New York in 1848 — the first real progress came on the Western frontier.

In 1869 the Wyoming territory became the first political entity in the Northern Hemisphere to grant women the right to vote regardless of their professional or marital status. It also passed laws allowing women to hold public office, own property and elected the country’s first female judge. So why was Wyoming so far ahead of the curve? The biggest reason is that men in Wyoming appreciated their women. After all, there weren’t many of them—in 1870, there was just one woman for every five men in the territory. Life was tough on the frontier, between the sod houses, blizzards, outlaws and small pox, and the women in Wyoming often worked alongside the men, hunting, farming, ranching, and prospecting for gold. Legislators hoped that by giving women rights, it would lead more women to move there. Indeed, women’s suffrage spread quickly in places where women were scarce; Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, California, Arizona, Oregon, Kansas, Alaska, and Montana all granted women the right to vote by 1914. When it came to women’s suffrage, it was the city folks back East who needed to catch up.

Myth: Thomas Edison got his start in science because he came from a wealthy, educated family.

Truth: If the 15-year old Edison hadn’t saved a boy from a runaway train, his life could have turned out pretty differently.

To understand why Thomas Edison is such a nerd hero, all you have to do is skim his patents. The man invented the lightbulb, the phonograph, electric railroads, underwater search lights, a trick for camouflaging navy ships, and over a thousand other important things. But none of that would have happened, if Thomas Edison hadn’t saved a child’s life first.

In 1862, at the age of 15, Thomas Edison got his first job as a newspaper boy at a train station in Mount Clemens, Michigan. One day, while hawking papers, Edison noticed that a three-year old boy was playing on the tracks, right in the path of a runaway freight car. Although the engineer had spotted the boy, and was trying desperately to stop the car, he couldn’t. The quick-thinking Edison jumped on the track, swooped the boy up in the nick of time, and then dove away from the speeding train.

The action not only saved the boy’s life, but it changed Edison’s as well. The boy’s father happened to be the station’s telegraph operator. He was so grateful to Edison that he took him under his wing, and trained him in telegraphy, sparking the inventor’s lifelong love affair with all things electric.

Myth: Columbus realized he’d discovered a new land.

Truth: The bullheaded Columbus believed till the end that he’d landed in Asia.

Back when he set out to sail the ocean blue, Christopher Columbus drastically miscalculated the circumference of the earth at 19,000 miles vs. 24,900 miles. That’s because he based his projections on Roman miles (4,840 feet) instead of nautical ones (6,080 feet). Whoops!

So when the explorer’s ships landed at the Bahamas in 1492, Columbus assumed it was Asia. He saw no sign of the spices he sought, but he did find some people to call “Indians” and he proceeded to steal their gold. In 1493, Ferdinand and Isabella sent Columbus back with instructions to rob the place blind.

This is where an understandable mistake turns into obstinate stupidity. On the four return expeditions, everyone but Columbus realized the land they were exploring wasn’t the East Indies. Some of the evidence to support this included the natives’ repeated testimony that they’d never heard of China, Japan, India, silk, pepper, elephants, or any of that nonsense.

Amerigo Vespucci, dispatched as quality control in 1499, wrote that “these regions . . . may rightly be called a new world,” and later had his name stamped on the place. But Columbus scoffed at his colleague, dismissing the locals as “bestial men who believe the whole world is an island,” and forcing his crew to sign an affidavit declaring they’d discovered Asia. Columbus died in 1506, still believing he was right.

Myth: The Alamo was about defending liberty and freedom.

Myth: The Alamo was about defending liberty and freedom.

Truth: The roughly 250 Americans who died at the Alamo weren’t defending liberty— they were protecting slavery.

Texas was still part of Mexico after its War of Independence from Spain. But the land attracted so many American settlers, that they soon outnumbered the Mexicans. Incredibly, that was just fine with the Mexican government. In fact, many Texans wanted Texas to become a Mexican state.

But trouble started brewing in 1829, when slavery was banned throughout Mexico. This angered settlers who moved to Texas specifically to establish Southern-style, slave-powered plantations. Texas was briefly given an exemption, but in 1835, General Santa Anna revoked it.

Enter the Alamo. Overconfident after a few easy victories against smaller Mexican forces, the Texans divided their army and left just a few hundred men in San Antonio. Santa Anna surprised the town in February 1836, causing 250 rebels to take refuge in the Alamo under the informal leadership of Davy Crockett and James Bowie.

There was no way the rebels could break the siege— it was 1,500 Mexican troops to their 250— but there was no point in surrender either: Santa Anna had announced that he would take no prisoners. In the end the defenders were all killed.

Against all odds, Santa Anna’s cavalry was later defeated in just 18 minutes by a smaller force of Texans in a desperate surprise attack. They captured Santa Anna as he tried to flee through a nearby swamp. The humiliated dictator ended up trading Texas for his freedom and the Texans succeeded in upholding slavery. For the next nine years, the Republic of Texas existed as a nation unto itself, before joining the United States in 1845— needless to say, as a slave state.

Myth: Herbert Hoover didn’t do anything to counteract the Great Depression (and FDR saved the day with The New Deal).

Myth: Herbert Hoover didn’t do anything to counteract the Great Depression (and FDR saved the day with The New Deal).

Truth: Hoover tried many things, but sadly, America might have been better off if he hadn’t. But was the new guy— Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- really all that different? The truth is, most of FDR’s initiatives were simply continuations (or expansions) of Hoover-era policies.

The only real difference was FDR’s willingness to distribute relief aid directly to ordinary Americans, which alleviated suffering but did little to end the downturn. Aside from this, their supposed differences are mostly the product of PR spun by both sides during the 1932 election.

So why did a strategy that failed for Hoover work for FDR? Easy: it didn’t. In fact, the series of social and economic reforms enacted by FDR (collectively known as the New Deal) delayed recovery by allowing big business to form anti-competitive cartels, raising the price of consumer goods, discouraging hiring by decreeing high wages, propping up failing businesses, and crowding out private investment. What really revived the American economy? War.

Myth: Baseball is distinctly American.

Myth: Baseball is distinctly American.

Truth: Baseball was probably derived from “Rounders,” a game played in Ireland since the fifteenth century.

By the eighteenth century, rounders incorporated many of the basic elements of modern baseball: two opposing teams with one in the field and one batting; successive batters trying to hit a small ball and then make the “round” of four bases to score. Three strikes and you’re out!

During the 1820s-1850s, Irish immigrants brought rounders with them to the New World, where local variations developed. In the Massachusetts variant, the batter stood between home plate and first base, and the opposing team could “out” someone by beaning them with the ball. Runners weren’t required to stay on the baselines, meaning there was an element of “tag.” The Philadelphia game gave us the familiar diamond-shaped field and nine players to a team.

In 1845 it was decided to standardize the rules of New York’s game. The Knickerbocker Rules decreed nine innings and said any “knock” outside the lines of first and third base was foul. In 1858 they added the “strike zone,” and in 1863 they added the automatic “walk” after four balls.

For a while, the Knickerbocker Rules also required underhand pitching. Of course, the biggest surprise might be that until 1865, Knickerbocker Rules also allowed fielders to out the batter by catching the ball after one bounce. This was mostly for safety purposes since the game was still played without gloves or protective gear.

Myth: John Wilkes Booth helped the South by assassinating Abraham Lincoln.

Truth: Just the opposite. He succeeded in making things (much) worse for his beloved South.

Lincoln had always advocated a lenient policy for the Reconstruction of the South: he wanted to have all the Confederate states reincorporated into the Union by the end of 1865 and proposed relatively moderate requirements for readmission. Vice President Andrew Johnson was ready to carry out Lincoln’s moderate plan— but after the assassination, he didn’t have the authority or charisma to control Radical Republicans in Congress who took a much harsher approach, motivated in part by anger over Lincoln’s assassination. In the end, Booth’s last act only made a bad situation worse for his beloved region.

Myth: America defeated Nazi Germany with help from its plucky British sidekick.

Truth: The Soviet Union defeated Hitler pretty much by itself.

While American and British participation did help shorten the war considerably, by the time the U.S. joined the effort, the Soviet Union had already done most of the work.

From the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 to the end of the war, the number of German troops deployed on the Eastern front never sank below three-quarters of Germany’s total strength. As a result, the Eastern front saw mind-boggling casualties: just under 90 percent (3.2 million) of German combat deaths and three-quarters of German tank losses occurred there. On the Soviet side, 11 million soldiers died, including 2 million in German POW camps. Combined with civilian deaths, the total Soviet toll came to an astonishing and horrifying 25 million, compared to 1.3 million combined military and civilian deaths for the United States, U.K., and France.

The truth is, the U.S. and U.K. weren’t eager to jump in. Stalin mentioned opening a second front in Western Europe in July 1941, and in June of 1942 the Western Allies assured him the invasion of France would begin no later than September 1943. When it didn’t, Stalin withdrew his United States and U.K. ambassadors, accusing the Western Allies of delaying so the Germans and Soviets could wear each other out. And he may have been right.

The U.S. did help the Soviet Union with supplies, including tanks, planes, and locomotives, but this aid only accounted for about 9 percent of Soviet war time needs. The British and Americans also “helped out” by dropping about two million tons of TNT and napalm on Germany, killing over 300,000 civilians, but “strategic bombing” achieved little: important German factories moved underground, and war production actually increased from 1942 to 1944.

Myth: Old people supported war in Vietnam, while young people opposed it.

Truth: It turns out younger Americans (under the age of 30) were consistently more likely to support the war in Vietnam than those over the age of 49, with middle- aged folks falling somewhere in, well, the middle. In August of 1965, a Gallup poll found 76 percent of adults under 30 supported U.S. intervention in Vietnam, versus 51 percent of adults over 49. By July 1967, those numbers had changed: 62 percent of the under- 30 crowd still supported intervention, while the over- 49 crowd was down to 37 percent. In January of 1970 those numbers fell to 41 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

What explains those trends? It’s anybody’s guess, but it may be due to the older generation’s personal experience of conflict in World War II and Korea— including shortages, long separations, and the loss of loved ones— which made them more cautious about rushing into new fights... especially if they had sons eligible for the draft.

Myth: The stock market crash on October 24, 1929, caused the Great Depression.

Truth:The economic downturn was already under way on that infamous date in history, thanks to credit-happy consumers and reckless lending.

The Federal Reserve Banks controlled the money supply by adjusting the interest rate on loans to private banks. Not really understanding the impact of what they were doing, officials kept interest rates low through the 1920s because it was politically popular. The loans allowed businesses to invest in new factories and consumers to buy more stuff. When American exports were too expensive for foreign consumers, the U.S. government simply boosted foreign demand by encouraging American banks to lend the foreigners billions. The whole system was pumping more air into a credit bubble now engulfing the world.

With easy credit access, more consumers bought more goods at higher prices, allowing businesses to hire more employees at higher wages. This gave them collateral to borrow more money and buy more stuff, which . . . you get the idea. Easy credit also led to rampant stock market speculation, with stockbrokers lending investors up to 90 percent of the value of the stocks they’d bought. This wasn’t good for that growing bubble.

The merry-go-round had to stop eventually. When the Federal Reserve finally pulled the plug in 1929, raising rates after a belated change of heart, the wild ride immediately ground to a halt. U.S. industrial production stalled in June 1929. By September, the standstill triggered big slides in stock prices, and October brought panic. Stockbrokers called in loans, speculators started going bankrupt, and many investors were ruined. Then the market recovered: after tumbling from 380 in mid-October to below 200 in November, by April of 1930 the Dow was back above 290.

So if the U.S. survived the infamous Black Friday crash, what actually kicked off the Great Depression? The truth is, there was another crash— the “real” crash— with the Dow Jones plunging from 270+ in June, 1930 to 41.22 on July 8, 1932. Spread out over two years, this 85 percent decline was less of a crash and more of a slow, groaning collapse.

Myth: During the American Civil War, the South was unified in wanting to secede.

Truth: There was widespread opposition to secession in certain areas – especially the “Upland” South. One part of Alabama even declared independence because it refused to align itself with the Dixie!

Unlike plantation owners in the Deep South, the whites in Appalachia – largely the descendants of Scots-Irish settlers –had no financial stake in slavery and tended to be more ambivalent. While the wealthier members of the community, who might have owned a handful of slaves, were usually staunch supporters of the Confederacy, most of the poor “dirt farmers” saw no reason to fight for the right of the wealthy to own slaves. These feelings essentially mirrored the sentiments of poor whites in the North, who saw no reason to fight to free the slaves.

In the end, the Midlands were effectively a third force in the Civil War, which tried (and failed) to steer a course between the Union and the Confederacy. Kentucky and Missouri declared their neutrality before being invaded by both Confederate and Union forces in 1861. Meanwhile, counties in northern Alabama and eastern Tennessee tried to secede from the Confederacy and rejoin the Union. Incredibly, some groups succeeded: West Virginia seceded from Virginia to form a new Union state in 1863, and the citizens of Winston County, Alabama, declared themselves the Republic of Winston and defied Confederate authority to the end of the Civil War, helping Union forces with local scouts.

Myth: The Puritans came to America to establish religious freedom.

Truth: The Puritans came to America to escape other people’s religious freedom.

In 1593, radical Protestant “Separatists” emigrated from England to Holland to live in peace without being hung or jailed for religious nonconformity. That led to a new problem for the Puritans: the Dutch allowed people to practice all sorts of “crazy religions,” including Judaism, Catholicism, and even atheism. Worried about their children’s morals, the Separatists hopped on the Mayflower in 1620. Remembered as “the Pilgrims,” they wound up in what is now Massachusetts and founded the first Puritan colony in the New World. Although half of them died the first winter, Separatists were so eager to get away from Holland and England that two more boatloads arrived in 1623 and 1627.

Inspired by the so-called success at Plymouth, about 20,000 non-Separatist Puritans left England for Boston. But these non-Separatists proved just as intolerant. When Roger Williams suggested detaching church from state, he was banished and went on to found Rhode Island. Fellow rebel Thomas Hooker led his more relaxed followers to Connecticut. Shortly thereafter, Puritan elders exiled a woman for criticizing their authority, like Puritans had criticized the Catholic and Anglican clergy. It seems that Puritans, in addition to disapproving of laughing, smiling, dancing, and touching, did not have a sense of irony.

The bigger point is that seeking isolation across the ocean didn’t solve any of their problems. The Puritans were surprised when new immigrants and their own children didn’t share their religious ideals. In 1691, King Charles II accelerated the Puritan society breakdown when he changed the colony’s royal charter so that property ownership became the basis of voting rights instead of membership in a Puritan church. He also amended the charter to include protection of religious dissenters. Looking back, the old-fashioned Puritans might have regretted the move overseas.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

avoid 10 overpriced products

10 most overpriced products you should avoid

Who wouldn't want to save both time and money? Often, however, one comes at
the expense of the other.

Convenience, for example, comes at a price. You'll pay dearly for the luxury of enjoying a candy bar from the minibar in your hotel room. Make the effort to walk out of the hotel and the price of the candy bar drops significantly. Here's WalletPop's list of the top 10 overpriced products you should avoid if you want to save money:

1. Text messages: 6,000% markup

According to a story in the Chicago Tribune, outgoing 160-character text messages on a cell phone typically costs users 20 cents, while it only costs carriers three-tenths of a cent to process. That's a 6,000% profit.

SMS (short message service) texts are limited to 160 characters because they, in effect, piggyback on a secondary data channel necessary to coordinate voice communications. Even if you're paying 10 cents per text, that's nothing to LOL about.

"Six hundred text messages contain less data than one minute of a phone call," testified Consumers Union policy analyst Joel Kelsey at a hearing before Congress. If text data rates applied, he said, a brief cell conversation would cost customers $120.

2. Bottled water: 4,000% markup

When the business of bottled water has a documentary film made about it, you know something's awry. Estimates are all over the place for how much more bottled water costs than tap water from home. The web site Twilight Earth puts it at a 4,000% markup, partly based on the fact that it takes five bottles of water to make the plastic for one bottle of water. Blogger Jeff Berndt points out that water that is prepackaged is more expensive than a gallon of gas.

Since about 40% of bottled water comes from municipal taps, you're better off refilling that plastic bottle at home and toting it around. (Just be sure to clean it in between uses).

. Movie theater popcorn: 1,275% markup

When a movie is first released, most of the movie ticket proceeds go to the movie studios, not the theaters. Theater owners try to make up the difference by selling more snacks such as popcorn. It's an effective method. When you pay $6 for a medium-sized bag of popcorn in theaters, you're paying a 1,275% mark up compared to the cost of buying three 3.5-ounce bags of microwaveable popcorn sold in a box for about $3 at the store.

The average movie theater makes 40% of its profits from concessions. Owners try to keep ticket prices lower, knowing that higher ticket prices would stop you from going in, and buying a soda, candy bar or bag of popcorn.

4. Brand name drugs: 200% - 3,000% markup

Over-the-counter medications were at the top of a recent WalletPop list of products to always buy generic -- and for good reason. Some estimates put the markup of brand name drugs at 600,000% when compared to the cost of active ingredients. But, on average, the markup (while still high) is much lower than that.

In the past year, the cost of brand name prescriptions has increased nearly 10%, while generics have dropped, according to American Association of Retired Persons. Between April 2009 and March 2010, the average annual drug cost for a person taking three generic medications decreased by $51, while someone taking three brand name prescription drugs saw their cost increase $706. It was the biggest brand drug price spike in eight years, the AARP said.

Generic drugs are often much cheaper than brand names, but even prices on generic drugs, such as generic Prozac, vary widely. Costco, for example, often sells generics for much less than Walgreens and other pharmacies.

5. Hotel mini bar: 400% markup

A 1,300% markup on Gummy Bears at the Omni Berkshire Place in New York may be the high point of hotel mini bars mark ups, but unfortunately it's not that outrageous. Markups of 300% to 400% are common at hotel mini bars. found some crazy mini bar charges in New York City, including $10 for a bottle of water and a $12 toothpaste kit. Do your wallet a favor and keep the fridge door closed.

6. Coffee: 300% markup

Thanks Starbucks. Nowadays, it's pretty common to pay a markup of 300% or more for coffee. And even those huge profit margins still may not keep your neighborhood coffee shop in business. Just keep in mind: That $3 cup of coffee (assuming you don't tip, add shots, or buy some fancy concoction) you buy at the corner cafe can be made at home for a quarter.

7. Wine: 300% markup

It's not unheard of for a restaurant to pay $5 wholesale for a bottle of wine and charge a customer $25 for the same bottle. A glass of wine can have a higher markup because the bottle could be thrown away if all of it isn't used.

The San Francisco Chronicle's food critic says that a markup of 2.5 times the wholesale price of wine is fair at restaurants to cover the cost of stocking the wines, serving it and still reaping a healthy profit. A $10 wholesale bottle should cost the diner about $25, and about $15 retail. Since wine is a restaurant's biggest profit area, don't expect to bring in your own bottle and drink it for free. A corkage fee of $10 to $20 is likely. Always call ahead and ask.

8. Greeting cards: 200% markup

The best greeting cards anyone ever keeps, are those made by hand. Either the crayon scribble of a child or a heartfelt note by a friend, are more likely to be kept forever than a generic card bought at the grocery store for $2 or $4.

So why do people pay the 200% markup that stores put on greeting cards? For the convenience. Buying that mass-produced card is a lot easier than making one at home. If you don't want to draw your own card, then print one out online. Paper and ink cost money, but printing them at home for virtually nothing beats paying $4 at the store.

9. Hotel in-room movies: 200% markup

Like the ripoff at the mini bar, in-room movies are another way for hotels to stick it to your wallet while you're stuck in a room with nothing to do. Why risk trying to find a local theater when you can pay 200% more for the ease of watching the movie in the safety of your room?

If you want to refrain from buying the $10 to $15 movie rentals in a hotel, bring your computer with you on trips and either bring your own DVDs, find a local movie rental store or bring your latest Netflix movie from home and then mail it when you're done. If you have free WiFi at the hotel, stream movies from Netflix. Some hotels have DVD players in rooms, or loan them to guests. So if you don't want to lug your laptop with you, call ahead and see if that is an option.

10. Pre-cut vegetables and fruits: 40% markup

Like many of these overpriced products, pre-cut vegetables and fruits are a way to save time. But it's time you're paying for, sometimes as much as 40% more for. That's just one of the traps that grocery stores use to get you to spend more money. You'll likely get fresher fruit and veggies by buying them at the farmer's market or at the grocery store and cutting them up at home. Save time by cutting a few days' worth of veggies up at home for a few meals.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chinese Tour and Jan Wong's excellent adventure

Jan Wong's excellent adventure

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Aboard BUS 83801 — If it's Saturday, it must be Ottawa. No, Montreal. No, Thousand Islands. Wait, it's all three.

Local Chinese newspapers keep printing ads for cheap Canadian package tours. The ads promise five cities in three days. I'd seen dozens of Chinese from these tours lined up at McDonald's bathrooms on the highway. I'd just seen China through Canadian eyes. It was time to see Canada through Chinese eyes.

So here I was meeting Tour Bus 83801 in the predawn gloom in a Scarborough parking lot. "Foreigners do this same itinerary in five or six days. We do it in three," our tour guide, Fontaine Cheng, said smugly. By "foreigners," she meant anyone not ethnically Chinese. The "Three-Day Luxury Tour of Eastern Canada" costs $373.23, including tax, hotels, Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking guide and 1,500 kilometres on a bus.

,Had I shared a room, the tour would have cost even less and with four in a room — as some of my Chinese bus mates had — the price would have dropped to $139.23.

Anyway, how bad could it be? The Mississauga travel agent who booked it couldn't tell me much except that I'd better send cash fast because the tour was selling out. On board, I was pleasantly shocked to learn I'd be staying at the Sheraton Centre in downtown Montreal the first night, and the Hilton in Quebec City the second.

But I didn't expect the iron-fisted guide and strange history lessons. And I still wake up screaming about the daily all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets.

Saturday, Toronto, 5:30 a.m.

Bus 83801 begins picking up customers from four Toronto-area Chinese communities: Mississauga, downtown Chinatown, Markham and Scarborough. As we leave the last pickup point, Guide Cheng hands out yellow buttons that say, "Safeway Tours" in English and "Prosperity-Peace Travel" in Chinese. They match the flag she will wave above her head for the next three days.

Cheng, a fresh-faced woman with a ponytail, immigrated here 19 years ago from Malaysia. Her silken voice belies her tough demeanour. We are not to be late. We must sit in assigned seats, rotated daily out of fairness to those who covet the front. She will call us only by number — I am No. 8. There are too many Wongs, Wangs, Chans and Chens on the tour.

She also forbids us to use the on-bus toilet except in emergencies. "There are more than 50 people on this bus," she says in rapid Cantonese, followed by equally rapid Mandarin. "If everyone uses the toilet once, it will affect the whole bus." She lets that thought linger.

Every seat is taken. Ditto on another identical bus, with which we are travelling in tandem. The tourists are mainly from China. One newly married couple just received landed-immigrant status in Canada and flew from Canton to celebrate. An older couple from Tianjin, Dong Lanying and Cui Yantang, have been visiting their landed-immigrant son and Canadian grandson in Vancouver.

Neither speaks a word of English. Everything intimidates them. "But we wanted to see Eastern Canada," says Dong, 60, explaining why she and her husband had got up the nerve to leave the safe confines of her son's home where everyone speaks Chinese.

"What can I buy that's Canadian?" asks my seatmate, Chen Xiaowen, 39, a former film actress from China who now owns a travel agency in Tokyo catering to Chinese tourists. When I suggest maple syrup, she says, "What do you do with it?"

Saturday, Kingston, 10:10 a.m.

We break for lunch at McDonald's, a bizarre schedule that we will follow for the next three days: bus ride at dawn, no breakfast and a very early lunch, which Guide Cheng euphemistically calls "brunch."

Even those without jet lag begin feeling queasy. Dong flew in with her husband from Vancouver the night before. A gaunt woman with glasses that slip down her nose, she clutches her stomach. "My wei is no good," she says, using the Chinese word for stomach, but referring to her entire digestive system. She skips the Big Mac and fries. Cui, a quiet gentleman and chain smoker who grabs a cigarette every time the bus lets him out, buys her sugar cookies at the nearby IGA.

Back on the bus, Guide Cheng gives us a brisk Canadian history lesson. The 401, she explains, is properly called the M-C Freeway. "M stands for Macdonald, the same place we had hamburgers," she says. "Many people think Sir John A. Macdonald is related to Ronald McDonald. That's not true."

She asks everyone to guess what the "C" stands for. Silence. She points to her watch. More silence. "An expensive watch," she hints, arching her tattooed eyebrows. "Cartier. George Cartier was a leader in Quebec," she says impatiently. She doesn't say whether Sir George-Étienne Cartier is related to the luxury watchmaker.

Cheng also says the Hudson's Bay Company was set up as a tax dodge. "French fur traders decided to sell their furs to Charles II, king of England," she explains. "This way, they could evade taxes."

Saturday, Gananoque, 11:50 a.m.

Our bus pulls up behind its twin in Gananoque as the Thousand Islander disgorges another mass of Chinese tourists. Normally, cruises shut down by mid-October, but a crew member says they'd already done two that morning. All Chinese? "Pretty much," he says, laughing. It's freezing on deck. Only a hardy few venture outside to snap photos. The rest of us huddle inside listening to the recorded tour in English, French, Mandarin and Cantonese. One lone Chinese tourist, bundled in a parka, stays on the prow for most of the cruise to take photos. When a wave hits him right in the face, everyone laughs. He comes back inside.

Remembering Guide Cheng's admonition against using the bus toilet, my seatmate, Chen, stylish with mauve sparkly nail polish and a snakeskin jacket, lines up to use the washrooms on the boat. "Very stinky," she reports on her return.

By now, I realize our group includes a Filipino-Canadian family from Toronto and at least six Japanese. None speak Chinese, so Guide Cheng occasionally gives out snippets of information in English.

Saturday, Ottawa, 3 p.m.

My tour mates take in a seven-minute tour at the Royal Canadian Mint, line up to lift a solid gold bar, then storm the gift shop. This is, after all, a store selling money. Ignoring the mugs and T-shirts, they snap up gold coins, silver dollars and sets of commemorative coins as fast as the four clerks can sell them. Chen thinks the coin sets are a bargain at $15.95. She buys one for her teenaged son, another for a friend with a newborn baby.

"It's pretty booked up with Chinese tours," said Christiane, our Mint guide, hurrying to help her beleaguered colleagues. "You should give me a commission!" yells one Chinese tourist who speaks English and has been helping his countrymen shop.

We drop into the Canadian Museum of Civilization for an hour. The Chinese pose in front of totem poles. Then we drive to Parliament for more photos. The tourists pick red maple leaves off the ground. They spot a squirrel. "Looks like a rat!" someone exclaims. Everyone grabs their cameras. We drive by 24 Sussex Dr., Rideau Hall and the Chinese embassy. "I can't see anything," a woman behind me says.

Meals and admissions aren't included in our package. Guide Cheng passes out worn brochures of the sights we will see. She extols the culinary delights ahead. In Quebec City, she promises an authentic French meal. The Chinese buffet restaurant in Ottawa where we will dine shortly is patronized, she says, by the Chinese ambassador himself.

Four "delicious" meals and five admissions cost $105.50, she adds, handing out envelopes for us to fill with cash. Chen, who knows the tourism business, is skeptical. But when a few of us balk, Guide Cheng warns there will be nowhere else to eat nearby. And anyone who declines to visit a site will be locked out of the bus and have to wait in the cold. We all pay up.!

Saturday, Vanier, 5:30 p.m.

"Look, there's lots of restaurants," says Chen, miffed, as we debark in a parking lot in a suburb of Ottawa. We're in a strip mall, with various kinds of pizza and fast-food restaurants. But we troop dutifully into Du Barry Chinese Buffet. The place is huge and full of customers, but the only Asians besides our bus tour are the waiters.

Dong really isn't feeling well. Cheng says anyone not eating must wait outside the restaurant. I decide enough is enough. I pull up a chair for Dong and tell a waiter to get her a glass of hot water. She sits there, cradling her head, as everyone else piles their plates high with chop suey, chow mein and deep-fried cocktail hot dogs. The tourists taste everything. They avoid seconds. There is no sign of the Chinese ambassador.

Over dinner with Chen, Cui and Dong, we discuss the latter's digestive problems. I suggest All-Bran. They look blank, so I write it down on a slip of paper and tell them it should cost about $3.50 or $4. They head for the supermarket next door and return in defeat.

"It was over $30," Cui says. "We don't mind spending $10, but $30 is too much."

I bolt down the rest of my bean sprouts, head to the washroom because, you know, we're not allowed to use the one on the bus, and make it into the supermarket one minute before it closes. I find the All-Bran. Every box is marked, "$32.9." I laugh. So does the cashier. Cui doesn't think it's funny at all, but he buys a box when we assure him it's actually $3.29.

Back on the bus, Dong starts eating All-Bran. Guide Cheng puts a Jackie Chan movie, The Tuxedo, in the DVD player. During the trip, we will watch two Jackie Chan movies, a Taiwanese comedy about overweight lovers and some wordless Mr. Bean videos. We arrive around 9 p.m. at the Sheraton. Guide Cheng calls us by number and hands out keys. Our phones are blocked for outgoing calls, but my 10th-floor room has 10 fluffy pillows and a view that includes a snippet of the St. Lawrence River.

Sunday, Montreal, 6:28 a.m.

An unsolicited wake-up call, apparently arranged by the efficient Cheng, jolts me out of bed. Why we need an hour to pack our pajamas in an overnight bag eludes me. It's not like there's any breakfast. Unlike my bus mates, I didn't think to bring emergency rations. A few of them figure out how to use the coffee machine to boil water for instant noodles.

At 7:30 a.m., we load our luggage on the bus and disturb the early mass-goers at St. Joseph's Oratory. Everyone stares at the actual heart of the founder, Brother Andre, encased in red glass. One elderly Chinese man stares at the priest's life-sized wax statue. "As short as Deng Xiaoping!" he exclaims, referring to the diminutive Chinese leader.

Later, at Notre Dame Cathedral, Guide Cheng tells us to ignore the no-camera signs. We spend 15 minutes annoying a group of worshipers. At the Olympic Stadium, we stop for a minute to watch families swimming. Then Cheng hustles us through a tunnel into the Biodome, an indoor zoo and aquarium.

Four hours later, we pull into another mall for another buffet, this time in Montreal East, at the Le Buffet Chinois Mandarin. Dong is able to eat again. She digs in for the first time. She stops after a few bites. An hour later, we head for Quebec City. We have not seen Old Montreal, the Port, Mount Royal, not even Chinatown.

Sunday, Quebec City, 3 p.m.

We arrive in a downpour after a glance out the window at the Plains of Abraham. Guide Cheng takes us on a 20-minute walk through the Lower Town, which mainly consists of pointing out washrooms and where people can buy disposable raincoats. Then we have two hours free time for shopping. Cheng finally reveals the name of the French restaurant where we'd be dining that night: La Maison du Spaghetti.

We have a choice of steak, chicken, fish or for $5 more, we can upgrade to lobster. "This is French food?" says Chen, puzzled. She has ordered fish, which comes with frozen carrots and peas and parboiled rice. I gently break the news. The wine, something called Caribou, is screw top. The bread is pallid, the soup bitter. My liver pâté comes garnished with a stray hair, which I notice only after I've eaten half (the pâté, not the hair.)

All around us, others leave their rice uneaten. "Chinese love rice," says Chen, shaking her head. "You know it's really bad if the Chinese won't eat it."

Monday, Quebec City, 6:30 a.m.

Another unsolicited predawn wake-up call, followed by a call from Guide Cheng herself, just in case. At 7:30, Chen tries to buy some breakfast in the food court under the Hilton and gets completely, utterly lost. The bus starts to pull away. I report my seatmate is missing. Guide Cheng is not happy. Chen arrives breathless and sweating, clutching a box of fried eggs. She is 10 minutes late.

After driving all morning, we pause for our third Chinese buffet in three days in Lasalle, Que. It is also called Le Buffet Chinois Mandarin. Guide Cheng assures us the ownership is different from Le Buffet Chinois Mandarin where we ate the day before. We eat in silence. We have spent more time at Chinese buffets than sightseeing in either Montreal or Ottawa. Back on the bus, two young Japanese women behind me rip open a bag of Doritos. "They won't eat the buffet," explains Chen, who has lived in Japan for 16 years and speaks fluent Japanese.!

Monday, Kingston, 3:40 p.m.

Our Kingston city tour consists of 22 minutes at the waterfront for photos, then it's all aboard for Toronto. No one has used the onboard toilet. But one of us has been late. Guide Cheng makes Chen sing a song as a penalty. Soon the whole bus is singing along. Now that no one is dozing, Guide Cheng takes back the microphone. The travel company pays her only $40 a day, she informs us.

Last year, during SARS, she got nothing. Everyone should pay a daily tip of $7 for her to share with the driver. Then she walks down the aisle, stuffing cash into a manila envelope. I figure the take, for three days and 55 passengers, is $1,155. I'm sure it's a total coincidence that she pointed out Revenue Canada's headquarters in Ottawa and the women's prison in Kingston during the tour.

"What city we see the Biodome?" says Chen, the three days of sightseeing blurring, as she rummages through her wallet for exactly $21. "And where was the church with the heart?"