Friday, April 30, 2010

The Right Swimming Pool Temperature

May is opening time for many outdoors backyard swimming pools across the country, and the benefits of water-based physical activity are many, as listed by the Center for Disease Control. We are opening our this week-end:-) What is the right temperature for your outdoor swimming pool?

In the same way as an office temperature never pleases everybody, neither does a pool temperature... But there are reasonable ranges that are generally accepted. In general, most people agree that 86F and above is too high for lap swimming. The American Red Cross recommend 78F for competitive swimming, and most public pools are maintained at temperatures between 78F and 82F, as recommended by many energy companies. The reference "Pool and Spa Water Chemistry" by Taylor Technologies posits 78F-82F as standard swimming pool temperatures. Below 75F is generally recognized as too cold, although a few recommend as low as 72F for competitive lap swimming, where strenuous exercise with benefit for the cooling action of cold water. Yet the International Swimming federation requires a range of 77F-82F for competitive swimming. In multi-use pools, often around 42" deep and where swimming is not as common, an accepted range is generally 83F-86F.

Based on this data, it is fair to consider 78F-82F as an acceptable range to start with, although most people will find 78F somewhat on the cool side. Young children and older adults need slightly higher temperature. Although the Department of Energy recommends 80F and higher for young children and older adults, the Arthritis Foundation as well as the Mayo Clinic recommend 83F-88F as a range for older adult exercise, which is typically lower intensity and requires less cooling. As we saw earlier, the upper limits of that range (86F and above) will be too warm for regular adult lap swimming, and, in fact, could generate hyperthermia (dangerous elevated core temperatures) during strenuous lap swimming. So, if multiple generations use your outdoor swimming pool, 82F-84F might be a better all purpose range to start with. Since indoor pool temperatures are higher than outdoor pool temperatures, this seems to match the recommendations of the US Water Fitness Association, which recommends, for indoor multi-use pools, a range of 84F-86F,.

At the same time, it should be clear to all that each degree rise in temperature represents significant additional expense. The department of Energy considers that each degree costs 10-30% more in energy costs. Simultaneously, higher temperatures increases the risk of water-borne diseases and the consumption of pool chemicals: above 80F, chlorine demands approximately doubles for each 10-degree increase.Economics, conservation and safety all point towards the lower numbers of these ranges as a better place to be.

Initial pool settings: putting it all together

Taking into account health recommendations, conservation and safety, and assuming use by healthy adults only with no medical pre-conditions, we can arrive at compromise initial temperatures that may be reasonable to start your pool with. You will need to adjust these temperatures to your own family's needs and preferences.

  • Competitive lap swimming: 78F
  • Comfortable adult swimming: 80-82F
  • Combined swimming and multi-use pool: 82F-83F
  • Multi-use pool: 83F-84F
  • Primary or significant use by children and older adults: 83F-84F

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Best Ergonomic Online Stores: a Review

Best Ergonomic Online Stores Part 1

Where should you buy an ergonomic chair, keyboard or keyboard tray? What are the best online stores for purchasing ergonomic products in general? This is a tricky question to answer, because, unlike many other products, ergonomic product selection is an extremely personal choice, which must be very carefully fitted to one's own physiology and needs. In this series, we look at what makes a good ergonomic online store, research and compare online ergonomic stores, and select the best stores as a result.

Ergonomics apply to many, if not all, fields and disciplines. In this review, we focus on products for general office ergonomics, for office workers working at a desk.

What you need to know about ergonomic online stores and ergonomic products shopping
  • The most important products: chair and keyboard tray. Posture is the critical issue that drives ergonomic woes at the office. Experts consider that the most important items (although not the only ones) that drive good (or bad)  posture are the chair and the keyboard tray. When evaluating stores, we will particularly at these two items, but we will also consider other available accessories in the store inventory.
  • Furniture and accessory stores. It is not often the case that a store can carry a deep inventory both in ergonomic chairs, desks, or workstations on the one hand, and in desk or computer accessories such as keyboards and keyboard trays, mice, or other tracking devices, on the other hand. It is more common to have a store specialize in one or the other. This series will look at both categories, and evaluate stores in each.
  • A uniquely personal shopping process. Shopping for ergonomic products is an unusual process, because, by definition, the fit must be intensely personal. The best way to shop for an ergonomic product would be to go to a brick and mortar store - if it was possible, so that you could try all the possible tools or configurations for fit. Even then, you would need a ergonomic specialist to help you select the right products. The closest comparison is someone with slightly unusual feet shopping for shoes. For most people, of course, there is no good ergonomic brick-and-mortar store around, and the web is the only possible venue.

What makes for a good ergonomic online store
  • Focus on Ergonomics. Because the personal fit is so important, because the customer cannot see or try the product, and because most customers don't really know what is critical to know and look for about ergonomic products, it is important that the store specialize in ergonomics and be highly competent in it. A general purpose store with a small ergonomics department does not cut it - would you like an average Walmart salesman with a high-school degree and two months on the job to advise you about critical health matters?
  • Online ergonomics information. The right store needs to educate its customers, in general, about the ergonomic issues they face, and, in particular, about the ergonomic issues in the specific products they are shopping for. This translates into general ergonomic information sections on the site, and very specific ergonomic information linked into the product pages as needed for given product types and specific products.
  • Ergonomic consultants as part of the sales process. Most people need a well trained ergonomic consultant to be able to advise them on the products they need to buy. This is practically a medical product purchase. Only stores with sales personnel that is highly trained in ergonomics and available to the online shopper, either on chat on by phone, should be considered as best-in-kind stores. This availability is more critical than low prices - in fact, it compels higher prices.
  • A clean, well-built web site. Shopping for ergonomic products is a complex process. The right type of a web site is one that will help guide the customer through a simple but clear process of choice,  rather than overwhelm her with choices or attempt to sell her with promises of big discounts and prices in red ending in $.99.
  • Product information. we would really like to touch, feel, and try the product. However, the only thing we have is the product description and pictures given by the site. So, we would like the product information to be very extensive: detailed description, exact dimensions, all options, description of adjustments and adjustment process, texture, feel, diagrams, multiple pictures from different angles user's manual, installation manual, everything. There is never too much. There can only be too little...
  • Good chat and/or phone access. A consequence of the previous point is that the store needs to provide good chat and/or phone access to its well trained sales people - and that they actually be available to talk to or chat with you.
  • Inventory of known brands.  In order to purchase ergonomic products with confidence, we need to have access to fit and quality feedback from other users. This is only possible if the store carries known brands with enough notoriety to have accumulated enough user reviews across the net.
  • Large inventory across multiple categories. Beyond distributing well known brands, the best online stores need to cover many categories of  ergonomic products, and carry a broad set of products in each category. Why? Because it is not enough to carry the "best product", it needs to carry the best product for YOU specifically.
  • Store reviews. Because the quality of the store itself, both before and after the sale, is so critical to the buyer, having good store reviews is important., already reviewed here, is an excellent way to evaluate the customer experience when such reviews are available for the store in question. Testimonials by named customers in named organizations are also a positive aspect. Testimonials by anonymous customers, or by named customers where the corporate organization they belong to is not named, are useless as they can be totally made it (and often are).
  • Product reviews. Being able to access direct user reviews for the products you are purchasing is particularly important for ergonomic products, where fit is so critical. It is all the more important when the store uses little known brands or proprietary products. 
  • Product-specific ordering options. Buying ergonomic products such as keyboard trays or chairs is a complex process, because the products themselves have so many options - all of which may be important. A normal shopping cart cannot capture that complexity. In many cases, a custom-programmed product "builder" must be offered in order for the customer to be able to pick and choose all of the options required for these complex products.
  • Self-directed diagnostic and shopping guides. Few people know enough about ergonomics to be able to diagnose themselves exactly what it is that they need, down the the very product that will take care of their issues. For the most complex products in particular, chairs and keyboard trays, the best stores often step-by-step selection guides, sometimes combined with ergonomic consultant advice, to allow the buyer to make the right choices. 
    • Pricing. In the case of ergonomic products shopping, unless you already know exactly what you are going to buy, pricing, while not totally negligible is not a significant component when compared to expert advice and after sales support. It should a secondary factor compared to other, more critical criteria. We have found, in general, little price differences  in retail pricing for high end ergonomic chairs and keyboard tray systems (typically less than 10% or chairs, 15% for keyboard trays).
    • Blog. A nice to have: how much of an ergonomic store is it? Does it regularly post on ergonomic issues. Does it have passion? Does it discuss customer support with fervor? We would like to know what drives the store - a blog is a great way to find out.
    Next week, we research ergonomic accessories online stores and compare them... So come back soon!

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    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    A Multi-Tool That You Can Carry On

    There a very few things that are more useful to a frequent traveler than a light and compact multi-tool - many people carry one around everywhere in their daily lives. This is, however, impossible to do while traveling if, like many frequent travelers, all of your luggage is carry-on: no knives allowed...

    Swiss Tech's $9 Utility Key, a truly minute stainless steel tool, is shaped and sized exactly like a key, and lives on your key ring. It includes a small flat screwdriver, an eyeglass screw driver, a Phillips screwdriver, a bottle opener, along with - yes - very small serrated and straight knife blades. It is an extraordinarily useful tool if the alternative is none:-)

    The Utili Key should not be confused with the Utili Key XT, another multi-tool from Swiss tech that replaces the 2 knife blades by a nail file and a nail cleaner, and adds a wire cutter and stripper. We find the XT less useful because of the loss of the knife blades.

    While the Utili Key is a true boon to travelers, it still suffers from a small number of flaws. Use of any of its tools requires opening the Key, which automatically removes it from your key ring. You must exercise caution when opening it - several users have reported cutting themselves on the small but sharp blades in the process. Among the many very positive reviews, there is one report of a Utili Key falling off a key ring on its own. Lastly - while the Utili Key does survive the very large majority of airport security scans, it will still be taken if found, as mentioned by some reviews:(

    The Utili Key is a robust and long lasting tool, whose users are often dedicated fans, and whose reliability has been reported by reviews for more than 8 years of continuous use. Its amazing compactness makes it a cinch to carry everywhere all the time - it is a true Every Day Carry (EDC) tool.

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    5-Minute Test Cuts Colon Cancer Risk

    An easy test, with few or no complications or secondary effects, taken once in a lifetime, may lower mortality of colon cancer by 43% and incidence by over 30%, according to a new study published this month in The Lancet.

    Colon cancer is the 5th most common cancer, after melanoma, prostate cancer (for men), breast cancer (for women), and lung cancer. The lifetime risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer for men and women is over 5%. Developments that significantly lower colon cancer risk and/or mortality have a significant impact to average life expectancy for all of us.

    This UK study followed more than 170,000 subjects between the age of 55 and 64, and compared those who had undergone sigmoidoscopy with a control group of subjects who had not been screened. After a follow-up of 11 years, the screened subjects were 31% less likely to have been diagnosed with colon cancer, and 43% less likely to have died of it. There was no sign of the effect wearing off either, possibly because most or all cancer precursor polyps may already be in place and detectable at age 55.

    Sigmoidoscopy is a simple procedure, significantly less impacting than colonoscopy, simpler and less risky, as well as less costly. It requires no anesthesia and can be performed by nurses. The nurse inserts a thin tube with a small camera (flexi-scope) through the rectum to inspect the lower bowel, which is the location for half of all colon cancers. The nurse then snips polyps, which can be cancer precursors, with a cutting tool inserted through the same tube. Cancers issued from higher up in the bowels may be detected through a fecal occult blood test.

    Harpal Kumar, head of Cancer Research UK, the UK equivalent of the American Cancer Society, calls this study a breakthrough: "We don't often use the word ‘breakthrough,' but this is one of those rare occasions when I am going to use that word... It is extremely rare to see the results of a clinical trial which are quite as compelling as this one." The study suggests a detection protocol consisting of the combination of a single sigmoidoscopy at age 55 along with regular fecal occult blood tests.

    Dr. Durado Brooks, director of prostate and colorectal cancer at the American Cancer Society, said that the study results confirm the value of its colon cancer screening guidelines and would not change them. The American Cancer Society's guidelines include (but are not limited to) sigmoidoscopies every 5 years, and, alternatively, colonoscopies every 10 years.

    Interested in reading more about this? Find more information in the Washington Post, WebMD, MedPage TodayBloomberg Business WeekReuters, BBC News (UK), or the LA Times.

    Needing Testers for Paper Products Review

    Help us assemble our next paper products review!

    In our search for the best household paper products, we need some testers to complete the data available on the net on paper products - namely toilet paper and paper towels. We will ask you to try two brands of paper products for 2 weeks and answer a questionnaire at the end of your test.

    Please contact George on email -  gg23 AT Thanks for your help!

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    Added Sugars Linked to Cholesterol Levels

    Added sugars in food increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and trigycerides, and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol, according to a new study published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    We have all been made aware, for many years, of a putative link between cholesterol levels and a diet rich in fat. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which followed more than 6,100 subjects from 1999 to 2006, the amount of added sugar consumed by the subjects was correlated to their cholesterol and triglycerides level. The more added sugar they consumed, the higher their LDL and triglycerides levels (that's bad), and the lower their HDL cholesterol level (that's bad too). HDL cholesterol level was 50% to 300% more likely to be low for people who got more than 10% of their daily intake of caolires from sugar, compared to those who got less than 5% of their calories from sugar.

    The implication: a diet rich in sugar may be nefarious to cholesterol and triglycerides levels, and conducive to heart risk. We knew that too much sugar was contributing to weight gain - this is the first time that we see a direct link between sugar and other cardiovascular risk factors.

    The study found that sugar represented on average 360 calories a day, or 16% of the total calories ingested daily, an increase of over 50% in the past three decades, according to study co-author Miriam Vos, MD, of Atlanta’s Emory University. This amount represents 21 teaspoonfuls of sugar, or 2.5 to 3 times more than the levels recommended by the American Heart Association.

    There are significant amounts of added sugar in many soft drinks, fruit drinks and processed foods. In fact, as fat levels are gone down in processed foods following increased consumer sensitivity to fat content, they have often been replaced by more added sugar. Frequently found added sugars include high-fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, brown rice syrup, agave syrup, cane juice, table sugar, brown sugar and many more. A recent study reported on this blog found that high fructose corn syrup was actually more nefarious than regular sugar.

    Another study published this month by the Italian National Cancer Institute finds that simple carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (indicative of carbs that are easily turned into sugars by the body), such as white flour or white rice, increase the risk of heart disease in women.

    Our understanding of nutrition has gone through several radial changes in the past 40 years. Our focus on fat as the root of all nutritional evil may, in the future, make way to a more comprehensive understanding, where sugars and refined carbohydrates could be equivalent risk factors.

    Want to read more about it? Try the New York Times, CNN, WebMD, USA Today,, FoodConsumer, CBC News, or

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    Online Sources for Travel Belts and Accessories

    Where do you go when you want to research and find money belts and, in general, good travel accessories? The web is deep with travel sites, but few on them specialize in travel accessories and gear. Do not worry though - we have you covered:-)

    Online travel gear retailers

    The most commonly referenced online travel gear retailers are Travelsmith, Magellan, Rick Steves, Walkabout, Design-Go (UK),  LewisNClark, Corporate Travel Safety, SkyMall, Tilleys, and Packing Light. It is also possible to find good accessories in luggage stores such as eBags, Tom Bihn, Red Oxx, LuggageToGo, LuggageOnline, LuggagePros, LuggageBaseStopoverStore  and many others.

    Online outdoor gear retailers carrying travel gear

    Many outdoors gear retailers also have good travel gear, such as REI, CampMor, Cabela's, LLBeans, Sierra Trading Post, BackCountry, BackCountryGear, BaseGearAltRec, Gander Mountain, Sonoma Outfitters, Moosejaw, Cotswold, GearXEastern Mountain Sport, Rock Creek, ProLiteGear, US Outdoor Store, Bass Pro Shops, and the used equipment marketplace GearTrade.

    Online resources for travel gear advice

    Some good reference travel sites and blogs that include gear advice are One Bag, Rick Steve's Europe1bag1world,   TravelBlog, Travel InsiderFodor's, TrailSpace, Travel Deals Review, Road Warrior Tips, Travel And Leisure, Tripadvisor, Travelite, Virtual Tourist, Business Travel Connections, Cruise Critic, Road and Travel Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, Travel Gear Central,   Backpacking LightOutsideOnline, and Tim Leffel's Practical Travel Gear (older blogger posts  here). An intriguing site specifically focused on money belts is Moneybelt.

    User generated content sites - user communities and nets

    The best user content sites that can be used to gather travel gear information are Flyer Talk,, 1bag1world forum, Lonely Planet Forums, BackpackGearTestBackpacking Light, TravelBlog, Virtual Tourist, TripadvisorTravellers' Point forums, Independent Traveler ForumsCruise Critic Forums, Cruise Line Fans Forums, Cruise Addicts,  and Rick Steves' Graffiti Wall.

    Validating a purchase decision with user feedback

    While it is tempting to simply take the advice of web experts and pundits, we find that user feedback is frequently quite different from that of "experts", who often evaluate a product based on a couple of days of exposure, and no idea of long term usability and reliability issues. Before making an important purchase decision, we find that it is critical to validate choices by specifically researching end user feedback on items of interest.

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    Thursday, April 22, 2010

    The 5 Best Travel Money Belts

    Our investigation of the best travel money belts found two primary options - nylon webbing and leather belts. We went very deep into research to compare both types, along with all the models we identifies. In the end, we feel that none of the leather travel belts surveyed quite make it into the top, either because of issues intrinsic to the fact that they are made of  leather -such as weight or zipper pocket thickness- or because of design issues -such as a slipping buckle  for Thomas Bates' reversible belt. There are times, though, when a canvas belt or plastic buckle, however discrete, does not quite cut it. As a consequence, we decided to have a specific leather category separate from the general travel belt category.

    The best leather travel belt
    • #2 leather travel belt: Thomas Bates reversible leather belt. This $35, 1.25" full-grain leather reversible belt is made of good quality leather, and sports a black side and a brown side. it comes in several sizes instead of our preferred one-size-fits-all M.O., possibly leading to ordering issues on line. Its carries a small number of reviews, mostly good, but a worrisome percentage of them identifies buckles issues - breakage (it happens to plastic buckles) or slippage. The belt does not come with a cash pocket, and is also available from Magellan. We really want to like this belt because it is such a good idea for travel, but, while this is our second choice for a leather travel belt, we believe that it needs some buckle improvements in order to make it a top contender.
    • #1 leather travel belt: Travelon money belt. For $35 to $40, the  1.25" Travelon money belt comes in very well finished leather, in business black or more causal brown, in a convenient one-size-fits-all model. Reviewers comment on the goof fit-and-finish. Its good quality metal buckle is easily removed at security - a design choice that we find quite elegant when one needs the good looks of a true leather belt. Be aware that stuffing too many bank notes in the zippered pocket will definitely make it noticeable when wearing your shirt tucked in your pants...

    The best overall travel belts

    • #3 overall travel belt: TDU belt by 5.11 tactical. This belt in NOT a money belt, but an excellent travel belt. It comes in two widths, 1.5" and 1.75", and three colors, black, brown and khaki. It carries excellent reviews from a law enforcement community  that isprone to use it in difficult environments. It is lightweight, and its nylon webbing is robust and long lasting. It does not have a money pocket. Regrettably, it comes in multiple sizes rather than a one-size-fits-all model, leaving the door open to  common online ordering problems. It is very utilitarian, and inappropriate for business use. We are, however, impressed by the robustness of its plastic buckle, which was the only one with few or no reports of buckle breakage or slippage. This appears to be the toughest belt available for the job.
    • #2 overall travel belt: Bison Designs T-lock money belt. This 1.2" belt comes with a Delrin cam buckle and many available patterns, including topstitch solid black, brown and olive. It is carried by many online stores and has many very positive user reviews across the web, including some with many years of use. The nylon webbing is robust and long lasting, and the belt is lightweight.  It comes in 2 sizes, Medium (up to 38" and Large (up to 42") - we prefer one-size-fits-all models for ordering convenience. It has a full length hidden zipper pocket for cash - longer than the competition. There are reports of buckles breaking when stepped or sat upon (particularly when open). A black and an olive model will take you through all situations,  including most business uses ,except for the dressiest ones. If you do not travel with two belts, you might consider carrying in your pack a $2.50 spare lightweight military brass buckle.
    • #1 overall travel belt: the Eagle Creek All Terrain Belt. Our favorite is a $18, 1.25" nylon webbing belt with a Delrin cam buckle. The strong nylon webbing comes in black, brown, dark khaki and navy, and the belt is lightweight. It carries many very positive user reviews across the web, quite a few of which cover multiple years of use.  There is a 3/4 length hidden zipper pocket for cash.There are some reports of buckles breaking when stepped or sat upon, especially when open. We find the black and khaki versions perfect to take along any pleasure trip, and even business trips that are not too dressy - black for dark suits, khaki for casual. While the cam buckle is very unlikely to break during a trip, it might be a good idea to carry a $2.50 spare lightweight military brass buckle.

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        Wednesday, April 21, 2010

        Comparing Travel Belts

        Looking for travel money belts, or just travel belts, through the regular travel gear retailers is a fast process, as few of them carry good travel belts.  TravelSmith carries several interesting items. The $49 Pennington Leather Money Belt is actually a leather travel belt with a zipped money pocket on the inside.  It looks all right, but its metal buckle does not go through security. The Eagle Creek Travel Belt, for $18, has a lot going for it: the discrete nylon buckle does not look plasticky at all,  the  strong nylon webbing  comes in black, brown, khaki and blue, and an inside pocket with a plastic zipper allows you to store up to approximately $400 in $20s lengthwise. Finally, the unbranded and un-reviewed $24 men's airport-friendly travel belt (possibly sourced from Thomas Bates),  also has nylon webbing and a polycarbonate buckle.

        Magellan also carries several interesting designs, including the Eagle Creek belt, with a large number of mostly positive reviews. Its $10 PacSafe travel belt is fairly similar to the Eagle Creek belt, one-size-fits-all, plastic buckle, inside zippered pocket for cash, and also carries a good set of mostly recent user reviews, (the Pacsafe belt can also be found on Amazon). Its unbranded braided, no metal belt is a stretch nylon webbing belt with a plastic slide buckle, and comes in black.   Finally, it shows off a good looking reversible leather travel belt (appears sourced from Thomas Bates) with a non-metal slip-through buckle, which, however, has mixed reviews.

         LeTravelStore carries the Eagle Creek money belt as well as the $39 Travelon Money belt, a good looking leather belt with a metal buckle that is removable when you go through security.  Rick Steves does not carry a travel belt, although it has a silk money belt with a large pocket for passports and IDs (Rick considers it a critical need for the traveler), which appears to be a rebranded Eagle Creek silk money pouch. Other popular travel gear retailers do not carry travel belts in their present inventory.

        Going beyond the regular online travel retailers involves screening thousands of threads and posts from  hundreds of varied forums, travel blogs and review sites, and searching multiple product search engines, such a Google Products, TheFind, Shopwiki, ShopZilla, PriceGrabber, Bing, Pronto, Become and more. The process is long, painful and involved, but it allowed us to find some more interesting items.Several models had few or new reviews, or included non-removable metal parts, and we did not include them in our comparison - some of them. among many, were the Shomer parachuting belt, Rolf's casual money belt, Luxury Divas leather money belt, BT leather money belt, Tilley's premium money belt, and Patagonia's travel belt.

        511tactical carries an interesting $15, 1.5" law enforcement TDU belt with plastic buckle from 511Tactical, with a set of good customer reviews as well. A very cool company founded by an ex-TSA employee, Beep-Free Products, manufactures a series of good looking travel belts with non-metallic buckles. They can look stylish, fashionable, or just business-like. Ex Officio carries an $18 webbing money belt in 2 patterns, brown and grey, and 2 sizes (medium and large), with a Delrin belt buckle, which was recently removed from the LeTravelStore inventory. REI carries, under its own brand, a $17, 1.125" stretch belt, with a plastic buckle.

        Finally, the last two companies give you a very wide choice of patterns to go with specific  non-metal buckles. Thomas Bates, a small company long known for its interesting webbing belt designs, has several designs, all with nylon webbing, including a $13 1"1/4 hiker belt with polycarbonate buckle, a $13 backpacker belt with a plastic slide buckle, and a hiker money belt with  inside zipped money pocket and plastic buckle. Both the hiker's belt and the backpacker's belt are available in approximately 400 different patterns, often quite lackadaisical. Finally, Bison Designs carries the Ellipse Delrin buckle and the T-lock Delrin buckle with a very broad assortment of good-looking nylon-woven belts in southwest-inspired designs. The T-lock money belt offers the same T-bolt buckle, and a webbing belt with an inside zipped money pocket, with a small number of designs available.

        What did not work out for us

        The metal buckle from the Pennington leather belt ruled that belt out for us - we already have enough  trouble having to take off shoes, jackets, watches, wallets and more at security. The reversible leather belt found on Magellan was quite attractive, but there were enough problems with the buckle not cinching or holding in the reviews that we eliminated it early as well (along with its Thomas Bates original). We were not able to find  reviews for Travelsmith's unbranded men's airport friendly travel belt, and the lack of site reviews combined with the small amount of information available on the site compelled us to take it out due to lack of information. While the Ex Officio belt seems as good as any, the two patterns used for this belt  (they look so similar to two of the Bison Design patterns that we believe they are sourced there) make dual-use for this belt hard, and we removed it from the mix early as well. The REI stretch belt is a narrow belt that only comes in khaki, with a single user review - we are not sure that a stretch best is the right concept for travel. We will not consider it until it gathers more user reviews. The same applies to Magellan's braided no-metal belt, a stretch belt that comes in black only and with no user reviews.

        Comparing travel belts

        The Beep Free site has many good looking "beep free" belts. The most interesting are the 1.5" chestnut leather belts, the 1.5" chestnut braided belt, and the 1.25" brown braided belts, but they also have many other models, fantasy styling, glove leather, crocodile finish etc. These models are all good looking, in general made with good quality leather. They all share the same buckle type, which is a traditional tang buckle made of plastic. Because this buckle type is inherently more fragile than slide or clip buckles normally used for plastic, Beep Free also sells replacement buckles, as well as a nickel finish metal buckle that can replace the plastic buckle once you have reached your destination. Beep Free has very few user reviews, but some notice among experts (such as PracticalTravelerGear Review or 1bag1world review) and a fun TSA Beep Free Money Belt Youtube review. The braided travel belts in particular look good, although, because of the braiding, they might be a touch too fragile to endure rough travel.While we like the choice of belts and the styling, we feel that the buckle type is  too fragile, and too much of an impediment:. Needing to carry replacements and having to switch to a metal buckle, - it all seems too much trouble for travelers with little space and too many things to worry about already.

        The $10, 1.2" PacSafe Cashsafe travel belt  comes from a company with an excellent reputation for making solid travel accessories - it is also available through Magellan and Amazon. It comes in black only (a drawback),  nylon webbing and plastic cam buckle, with an exceptionally long (27") zippered money pocket, in a one-size-fits-all model going from 30" to 46". It carries a good set of excellent reviews, although all of them are recent and none show a prolonged pattern of use - maybe too recent an item to carry much of a track record? Whatever the case, it appears as a solid choice for a low price - the only regret being that it does not come in any color that would work in casual dress or hot climate.

        The $35 Travelon money belt is an interesting one: it is all leather, and looks quite good. Its solid metal buckle is easily removable at security. It comes in black and brown, making it possible to use as dual use business/casual. Its long inside zipped money pocket is well finished and covered with a leather flap. Its reviews, spread multiple sites, are good - check out this YouTube review. Because of the thickness of the zipper and flap, it can be a bit voluminous and noticeable when used as a money belt. It is a convenient one-size-fits-all  (32" to 40") model, which you cut to length on pre-finished cut marks - the cut end is hidden by the buckle. Like all full size leather belts, it is heavier than webbing belts, and subject to more environmental damage from water and friction.

        The variety of patterns available for the webbing of the Thomas Bates belts is remarkable, and by far the most choice of all travel belts. All these patterns are available for their $13, 1.25" plastic oval slide buckle belt, and for their very practical $13, 1.25" polycarbonate cam buckle belt. All belts are conveniently one-size-fits-all, up to 42". Their $17, 1.25" webbing money belt, however, only comes in 4 solid colors, black, khaki, navy and olive - which is still at least as good as most competitors. This money belt, with a polycarbonate locking (cam?) belt, appears quite similar to the well reviewed Eagle Creek All Terrain belt.  Between the other two hikers' belts, we give the preference to the cam belt buckle, which seems intrinsically more solid in terms of design. Thomas Bates, a small US company, has very few user reviews  (we could only find one for their money belt) and no expert reviews that we could find, although it appears, to our eyes, to be the source for several  unbranded belts found on large online retailers - so it is possible that some of these reviews apply to Thomas Bates. All of Thomas Bates webbing belts appear of good quality, but we are unable to verify it through valid user reviews:(

        We really wanted to like Thomas Bates' $33, 1.25" black/brown reversible leather belt (also available at Magellan) because they made so much sense: one business side, one casual side, polycarbonate slide buckle, and 3oz of total weight. Most reviews were positive, and pointed at the high quality of the leather.  However, several mentioned slippage (a common problem with plain leather and slide buckles), and one mentioned a broken buckle. as usual when a belt is sold by size rather than being one-size-fits-all, several users mentioned sizing problems (this belt sizes large).

        Cabela's $12, 1.25" T-lock belt, aimed at outdoor people, is the prototypical nylon webbing/ Delrin cam lock outdoor belt. It has a very large number of reviews, most of which are positive. Some of the buckles experience early failure typical of quality control issues. Later -rare- buckle deaths,  from stepping or sitting on, are typical of plastic buckles.

        The TDU belt from 5.11 Tactical comes in 2 widths, a 1.5" belt and a 1.75" belt, both with nylon webbing, a plastic slide buckle, and three colors: black, coyote brown and khaki. They have thick plastic slide buckles with a catching tab. Regrettably, they need to be ordered by size - they appear to size large, so ordering for the same size as your pants appears to work. They are made for law enforcement personnel, and their numerous positive reviews point out the robustness of these belts. Surprisingly given the number of reviews available, no user mentions a broken buckle - possibly an indicator of high quality buckles. Their appearance make them applicable to casual uses only, but, for this use, they seem to be strong and effective.

        Bison Design, like Thomas Bates, is another company which offers a very broad choice of patterns for nylon webbing belts. Where Thomas Bates designs are mostly lackadaisical, Bison Design is mostly inspired by Southwest motives. The $12, 1.2" Ellipse belt comes in approximately 55 patterns (including sober solids), and a chunky Delrin slide buckle. The reviews are very positive and emphasize robustness and long lasting design in very sporty uses, with a generally non-slipping buckle (although some reviews do mention slip). They also mention, in passing, that the design lacks elegance and is appropriate to casual uses only. The $14, 1.2" T-lock belt comes in about 50 patterns, with a solid Delrin cam buckle.  Numerous and very positive reviews, where many users are quite passionate about their love for this belt. Several of them, while still very positive, also mention breaking the cam buckle -it seems that it is more vulnerable to breakage when open, if stepped or sat on. Multiple users have been using this belt for several years. Both of these belts come in two sizes, medium (up to 38") and large (up to 42"), and can also be found at REI. The T-lock belt also comes in a money belt version, with about 35 patterns available.

        Last but not least, we have the $18, 1.25" Eagle Creek All Terrain travel belt, which is the easiest travel belt to find on the web, and the one for whom we have the most extensive set of reviews, going back multiple years. The All Terrain can be found on most travel sites. It is a nylon webbing belt with a Delrin cam buckle, and comes in four colors, black, brown, khaki and navy. Like other nylon webbing and plastic buckle belts, it is very light (under 3 oz). It is a one-size-fits-all model that you cut to size (we like that), with a 20" long zippered money compartment (shorter than the PacSafe), which can take up to approximately 20 US bank notes. We like Delrin as a material more than generic polycarbonate. The All Terrain has the largest set of reviews on the web (more here, here and here), as well as the best feedback scores - along with a Youtube review. Many users have been using these belts for years, and some of them are quite passionate about their attachment to the All Terrain. At the same time, similarly to the Bison Design T-lock, quite a few reviewers mentioned broken buckles, often due to unexpected stress (stepping or sitting on the buckle). The All Terrain is neutral enough to be used with casual business and dinner attire, as well as suits and ties unless the locale is truly dressy.

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        Tuesday, April 20, 2010

        The Best Travel Money Belts: a Review

        Are you tired of having to take your belt off at every airport? Do you worry about how safe it is to leave your cash in the hotel room - or to take it with you? Have you ever had a belt fail the morning of a big business meeting abroad? What you need is a good travel money belt.

        What you need to know about travel belts

        • Going through security: belts ring at airport security gates if they have metal buckles. It is best to use plastic buckles if you can find good quality ones - the risk being, of course, that the buckle might fail at the wrong time. If the belt has a small money pocket, a metal zipper might ring at security as well, requiring you to strip the belt and go through again.
        • Travel belts vs. money pouches: A travel belt is not a money/travel pouch, which is often what some call a large hidden pouch, worn under your clothes, where you can put your passport, IDs, cash and critical papers. A travel belt, however, can have a small, hidden zippered compartment, on the inside,  to be used for cash only - you typically have to fold bank notes in third lengthwise. We refer to these belts as travel money belts.
        • Leather vs. webbing: Leather belts are sometimes more vulnerable to humidity, friction and stress, in particular when woven. Nylon webbing, while less elegant, is less vulnerable and lighter. Cotton, hemp, and other organic materials are not recommended because they are damaged too easily.
        • Plastic vs metal: Delrin or polycarbonate buckles, while strong, are more prone to failure than metal - but metal will ring at the gates... As Delrin is a DuPont brand name, it guarantees more reliable mechanical properties than generic polycarbonate, whose exact properties vary from supplier to supplier. We prefer Delrin. Quality plastic buckles are very tough, but they can still occasionally break  - typically when stepped on, in particular if they are open. Leaving them closed when not in use is best. While it is very unlikely that a good plastic buckle will break during a trip, a light brass or nickel military surplus belt buckle, for $1-2 in any military surplus store, will fit 1.25" webbing belts fitted with a plastic buckle, and would be a good spare to consider carrying with you when using plastic buckles.
        • Sized belts vs. one-size-fits-all models: From reading customer reviews, it is apparent that belts with specific sizes often are hit-or-miss when ordered on the web: many customers report having to exchange their purchase for a size up or down. Unless you can purchase locally, a one-size-fits-all model is more convenient.

        What makes a good travel belt
        • Weight: a travel belt, like all travel accessories, should be light. Heavy buckles or wide belts are not recommended. A good quality nylon webbing belt with a Delrin buckle will top the scales at 3 ounces.
        • Strength: the last thing you want to do is to  have your only belt break in the middle of your Amazon rafting trip... Nylon webbing for the belt, and synthetic plastic for the buckle, if good quality, make for a strong and light combination.
        • Money pocket: even thin, light belts can have, on the inside, a zipped pocket for carrying cash. It is best to use a good quality, strong plastic zipper so as to make sure it will not trigger a security gate alarm. 
        • Good looks: it needs to look good (or at least OK) with what you will be wearing, business or casual. It must also look like a perfectly normal belt if it has a money pocket, with regular width, and no undue wrinkles or bulges. 
        • Versatility: the same model belt, in 2 colors, should be able to tackle both business and casual needs.
        • No Metal: airport security gates have become so sensitive that even a small quantity of metal, such as a small belt buckle, or a metal zipper from a hidden money pocket, may trigger an alarm. The best travel belt has a strong plastic buckle and a plastic zipper for a hidden money pocket. 
        This review focuses on travel money belts, but, for the sake of completeness, will also research travel belts without a money pocket.
                                                          Next: Comparing travel belts                       Next Page >>

          Bone Drugs Can Prevent Breast Cancer: Study

          Two osteoporosis drugs, tamoxifen and raloxifene, greatly reduce the risk of breast cancer for high risk women, according to a study published in Cancer Prevention Research and presented this week at the American Association for Cancer Research 2010 annual meeting. This federally funded study followed 20,000 women for seven years.

          The study found that tamoxifen reduces breast cancer risk for high risk women by almost 50%, but presents several side effects, including doubling the risk of endometrial cancer (from 0.1% to 0.2%), and increasing hot flashes. Raloxifene, on the other hand, appears to function without significant side effects, but is not quite as effective as tamoxifen in breast cancer risk reduction, lowering overall breast cancer risk by 38% for high risk women.

          "We have two very effective agents for breast cancer prevention," says study co-author Patricia Ganz. "The impact of these drugs is huge," says Gabriel Hortobagyi of Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.  "The only thing that reduces the risk as much is a bilateral mastectomy."

          Hortobagyi, along with other experts, believes that not enough women use tamoxifen or raloxifene as means to prevent breast cancer. According to co-author study Patricia Ganz, the average woman has a 12% lifetime risk of breast cancer, which rises to 18% for a woman whose mother or sister has had the disease, and 30% for a woman with atypical hyperplasia.  These are short odds for all women. The results of this study are unusually strong, and warrant a discussion with your doctor if you are a woman approaching or of menopausal age.

          Are you considered high risk? The study assumed that you were at high risk if your risk of getting breast cancer in the next 5 years (using the commonly used "Gail model") is above 1.67% - you can use this assessment tool to find out what your risk is in less than 90 seconds.

          Want to read more about this? Try APUSA TodayBusiness Week, Wall Street Journal, or Pittsburgh Tribune. This WebMD story clearly presents the pros and cons of both drugs, and the risk analysis to figure out if you are high risk. Even if you are not, it is worth talking to your doctor.

          Breast Cancer Assessment Tool

          Update (7/2010): added risk calculation

          Monday, April 19, 2010

          Vitamins and Breast Cancer: Conflicting Reports

          A recent Swedish study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition links the use of multivitamins among women with a possible 19% increase of in the risk of breast cancer. While this is a relatively small amount, breast cancer as a whole eventually affects approximately 12% of all US women, so the resulting risk factor is not insignificant.

          This result goes against that of several recent studies, which have found no link between multivitamins and breast cancer or cancer in general. An American study issued from the Women's Health Initiative, published in February 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, studying 68,000 women for a median of 8 years, found no link between multivitamins and cancer. Another Dutch study, published in December 2009 in Public Health Nutrition, analyzed 3,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer and an equal number of controls, and found no link between the use of multivitamins and breast cancer.

          The latest observational study on vitamins and breast cancer, out of Toronto, CA, and published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, focused Vitamin D and calcium. It followed 7,500 pre- and post-menopausal women. The authors found no relationship between total intakes or food intakes of Vitamin D and calcium, on one side, and breaks cancer risk, on the other side. Vitamin D intakes from supplements was associated with a 24% lower risk of breast cancer.

          All of these studies were observational cohort studies, meaning that they statistically calculated associations between different factors, such as use of multivitamins and incidence of breast cancer, after the fact, through the use of questionnaires. Observational cohort studies are extremely useful for finding possible hints of causal relationships, but they cannot prove causal relationships.

          On the other hand, some intervention trials - which do prove causal relationships if properly led - have shown benefits from using some vitamins with respect to breast cancer. In fact, as recently as yesterday, a Puerto Rican intervention study presented at the American Association of Cancer Research 2010 Annual Meeting, and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed up to 40% reduction in breast cancer for subject using both multivitamins and calcium, among 700 Puerto Rican subjects. Three years ago, a 4-year 2007 Creighton University intervention study, following 1,200 patients, and described in Medical News Today, showed significant benefits - 60% reduction and more...- associated with Vitamin D3 and calcium together in breast cancer prevention. Yet, almost simultaneously with this one, another large and well regarded cohort study, following 17,000 subjects, found no link between Vitamin D and overall cancer, although it found strong statistical links with a reduction in colorectal cancer, and possible links with a reduction in breast cancer.

          So what conclusion can we draw? How can these studies contradict each other, along with other studies as well? The first component of an answer is to look for possible flaws in the studies that might impinge their conclusions.

          The Swedish study has been found by some experts as not being strongly statistically significant. The head of surgical oncology at Newcastle's Calvary Mater Hospital, Professor John Forbes (quoted in this ABC News Australia story) considers that the results of the Swedish study are barely statistically significant and do not indicate what the outcome might be for women taking fewer vitamin tablets, and that studies into the benefits of vitamin D are far more compelling. The study seems to show very wide confidence intervals [i.e. bad] after correction for factors affecting participants that have strong association with breast cancer [such as use of postmenopausal hormones and the significant number of subjects that had never given birth,] and may have other flaws - see the interesting comments in this NZ Science blog. The Puerto Rican study covers a small number of patients -many of which might have started the study already vitamin- and calcium- deficient,- and may not have used totally appropriate methodology when adjusting for the number of cancers present at the start of the study. The Creighton study itself suffers from the small number of cancers included in the study. As for the other observation cohort studies, they suffer from the inherent flaw of all such studies - lack of ability to prove a causal relationship.

          In summary, all of these studies have flaws. Short of a new meta-analysis of all multivitamins studies, or a strong double blind intervention trial, the evidence is inconclusive. Dr David Katz, MD, of Yale University School of Medicine, and Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, generally concur on the opinion that there is no need  to stop using multivitamins, but also that only people likely to actually need multivitamins will benefit from them, and that it is best to focus on  food as a source for nutrients. We are not shucking our multivitamins yet.

          Like to read more about this?
          Update: new references added. ACSH was edited out after further research showed unclear credentials for its funding sources. While we applaud their stated intent to focus on scientific facts, we feel that ACSH should be transparent about where its funding comes from, when commenting on issues of financial interest to its sponsors.

            Friday, April 16, 2010

            High-Fat Breakfast May Help You Lose Weight

            A high-fat breakfast may be the best way to help you lose weight and stay healthy, according to a new study published this month in the International Journal of Obesity by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

            Mice fed a high-carbohydrate meal at the beginning of the day gained more weight than mice starting the day with a high-fat meal, and experienced more metabolic syndrome. The experiment was repeated 4 times, and the results were consistent. "The data were so convincing," said lead author Molly Bray, professor of epidemiology at UAB School of Public Health, "that everybody in the lab started eating chicken biscuits and sausage biscuits in the morning."

            senior author Martin Young, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine in the UAB division of Cardiovascular Disease: "the first meal you have appears to program your metabolism for the rest of the day. This study suggests that if you ate a carbohydrate-rich breakfast it would promote carbohydrate utilization throughout the rest of the day, whereas, if you have a fat-rich breakfast, you have metabolic plasticity to transfer your energy utilization between carbohydrate and fat."

            The authors of the study hope to find a way to get people to lose weight and stay healthy by changing the timing of what they eat, rather than by restricting the total caloric intake - an approach that has not been widely investigated. If the study results can be proved true for humans as well, it will make more sense to have high-fat breakfasts and low fat dinners.

            Want to read more about this? The UAB press release has detailed information, as does the Birmingham News story. More commentary can be found on NHS Choice UK, Science Blog, Fox News Health, Science Daily Science 2.0, ENN, DrSharma, PhysOrg, TheFamilyGP, AOL Health, iHealthBulletin, eScienceNews, Medical News Today, the Globe and Mail, and Health News.

            study in the International Journal of Obesity

            Thursday, April 15, 2010

            The First Affordable Electric Car

            The first $25,000 all-electric car (EV) with at least a 100 mile range between charges is available to order this month: the Nissan Leaf goes on sale, for pre-orders only, on April 20, 2010.

            The Leaf, a 4-door hatchback, will be priced under $33,000, but will benefit from a $7,500 government rebate, and will lease for $349 per month. Several states also have additional rebate programs. Nissan recommends the use of a custom home charging station, available for approximately $2,200 from Aerovironment. The Leaf will start shipping in the first half of next year. What this means is that, in 2 to 3 years, we will see EVs that can serve as commute cars under $20,000 on the used car marketplace.

            The primary uncertainty in the economics of the Nissan Leaf is the battery. As years go by, it will progressively lose its maximum charge capability, dropping below its original 100 miles range. Car manufacturers have typically assumed a 10-year life cycle for car batteries. At today's cost for batteries, the impact of upgrading the Leaf's battery would probably bring the value of the car close to zero at at 10 years of age. However, most experts assume a sharply dropping price curve for car batteries in the years to come, due to increased production volumes and improved know-how. So it is probable that the economics of used EVs will end up being fairly similar to those of traditional gas-powered vehicles.

            This is a true milestone - the the first time that we can buy an all-electric (EV) car, with a practical range, for a price that actually makes economic and rational sense to the consumer. It is not clear if the soon-to-ship Chevy Volt, the first announced competitor to the Leaf, will be able to meet this goal. The Volt's price has not been announced yet, but is expected to be around $40,000 before government incentives.

            Wednesday, April 14, 2010

            Prewashed Greens Contaminated By Fecal Bacteria

            Prewashed bagged salad greens were found largely contaminated by enterococus and coliform bacteria in a recent test by Consumer Reports. These bacteria indicate fecal contamination and poor sanitation.

            Consumer Reports gathered 208 samples of prewashed bagged salad greens, purchased in multiple stores in three different states. It found high levels of contamination in 39% of the samples for coliform bacteria, and 29% for enterococcus.

            There was no difference in contamination between clamshells and bags, and between organic and non-organic greens.Many contaminated samples contained spinach, and were one to five days from their date of last use. Packages that were at least 6 days away from their date of last use saw less contamination.

            What should you do?
            • Do not assume that prewashed or triple-washed greens are safe to it "as is"
            • Pick bagged greens that have as much time left as possible to their date of last use - at least 6 days
            • Avoid spinach mixes
            • Wash bagged salad greens thoroughly prior to use, even if prewashed or triple-washed

            Consumer Reports original article

            Tuesday, April 13, 2010

            A Chocolate A Day May Keep The Doctor Away

            A square of dark chocolate daily may reduce risks of stroke and heart attack, according to a new study published this month in the European Heart Journal by researchers at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Nuthetal, Germany.

            This German study, the largest of its kind so far, followed 20,000 subjects for a period of 8 years. Those who ate the most chocolate - about 7.5 grams per day, equivalent to a chocolate square or a bite - had lower blood pressure, a 48% lower risk of stroke and 27% lower risk of heart attack compared to those who ate the least amount of chocolate - about 1.7 grams per day. A follow-up questionnaire seemed to indicate that dark chocolate was better than milk chocolate, and that white chocolate was not effective at all - an analysis that has been made by several recent studies.

            At the same time, researchers cautioned that eating larger quantities of chocolate may not have the same positive effect because of the large caloric content and amount of saturated fat. They advise that, for those interested in following a daily chocolate diet including a chocolate square per day, it would be best to have it replace some other caloric intake.

            This study, while promising, is not definitive, since it is a post facto statistical analysis, and may have been influenced by other factors in the participants. A more definitive study would involve a double blind experiment, with participants being divided in a test group and a control group.

            Interested in reading more about it? The results of this study were widely discussed, in the Associated Press, WEbMD, TheHeart, the Washington Post, CNN, ABC News and more. The original press release is quite informative, and the full study is available.