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A Beginner's Introduction to FOREX Trading

So you're interested in becoming a trader. You've heard of stocks and bonds, maybe you've heard of commodities trading – but more and more you're hearing about something called FOREX, Spot FOREX, Retail FOREX Trading, or just FX.

What the Heck is FOREX?

Simply put, trading FOREX is a way to profit from the shifts in value between world currencies. If you've ever converted money to visit a foreign country or make an online purchase, technically you've participated in the foreign exchange market.

You've probably noticed the fluctuating exchange rates if so. Perhaps you converted your Euros to Dollars for a vacation and had to cancel at the last minute. When you converted your money back to your native currency, you made a surprising discovery: you lost or gained money because the exchange rate changed.

Trading FOREX is a way to profit off of these changes.

FOREX is short for "Foreign Exchange" and refers to the worldwide decentralized market in which currencies are traded. FOREX is what we call an over-the-counter (OTC) market. What does that mean …? OTC is also called off-exchange trading, which is a good definition: trades which take place between two parties directly, not through a centralized exchange like NYSE. 

We also call it "Spot" trading because those trade orders are delivered immediately (of course, no system is perfect, and as you'll learn later in your FOREX education, some things like slippage can disrupt those perfect orders).

FOREX trading for individuals is conducted through brokers and is regulated by the National Futures Association (NFA) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). When you're ready, check out the NFA's official publications on FOREX free on their website: http://www.nfa.futures.org/NFA-investor-information/index.HTML . 

These are informative as to the risks of trading futures, some basic information about the FX market, and also helpful in assisting you to pick the best broker. Not all brokers are regulated – you need to make sure you choose one that is. Prior to 1996, there were no platforms for individuals to participate in the FOREX market; trading for individuals (like you and me) is called retail FOREX trading.

FOREX trading is a high-risk business and may not be suitable for everyone. If you're looking to get rich quick or gamble for the big win, trading currencies isn't for you. All investing, whether of currencies, commodities, stocks, bonds or any other asset–is a business and should absolutely be treated as such. If you're not ready to invest a lot of time and energy into your education, you're not ready to invest money in anything.

Otherwise, read ahead! 

Why Trade FOREX?

There are a lot of great and unique advantages to trading FOREX.  Here are some of those advantages:

  • Low or no commissions; you usually pay to trade through currency spreads, making this the least expensive market to trade!

  • FX Market is open 24 hours a day.  The American, European and Asian sessions are all available to you since FOREX is an off-exchange market.

  • You can open a FX trading account with a relatively small amount of investing capital.*  Flexible lot sizes are available through some brokers which means you can enter the market with as little as a penny (or whatever you base currency's smallest unit is!).  Trade on leverage – or not.  The choice is yours.  You can manage your money completely.

  • Practice through backtesting and fully operational demo platforms for as much time as you need without risking a penny.  How many businesses do you get that kind of opportunity with?  Experiment without consequence.

  • Simplicity.  Can you follow thousands of stocks and interpret thousands of companies?  Especially while holding down another job, as you probably are right now?  While there are dozens of currency pairs available to trade, it's a LOT less to keep track of and choose from.  You can even choose to focus on just a few and become a successful trader.  There's a lot less overwhelm here.  Plus, a lot of what you learn trading FOREX can directly translate to trading commodities or stocks!

  • Profit long or short.  There are no restrictions on short-selling in the FOREX market.  Since the market is based on the relative changes between two currencies, both long and short trades are considered legitimate.  A bear market can be as profitable as a bull market.  All you have to do is learn to ride the waves.

*Mind you, if you do this, you will either need to trade on leverage – which involves elevated risk – or you will need to take it slow and steady.  Or both.  I recommend the latter.

Still interested?  Then stay tuned for more articles coming soon, or check out some great links:

Great introductory site: www.babypips.com/

Smart guy offering some helpful ebooks: www.robbooker.com/

Message board, news, friendly community: http://www.forexfactory.com/

 


Pantothenic Acid for Acne … Does It Work?

Zits, pimples, boils … yuck!  A blotchy complexion is the bane of teen existence, and a fair number of adults suffer from acne too.  Lately there is a lot of buzz around pantothenic acid as a simple natural remedy for treating acne.  Is there a scientific basis for using pantothenic acid to treat acne, or is it all a lot of hype?  Let’s take a look at the facts.

What is Pantothenic Acid?

Pantothenic acid is another name for vitamin B5.  Vitamin B5 is an essential nutrient, also sometimes known as “pantothenate.”  The name comes from the Greek word pantothen, which translates to “from everywhere.”  This alludes to the fact that you can find small amounts of this nutrient in most foods.  

Like other B vitamins, vitamin B5 is water-soluble.  This means that your body isn’t able to store pantothenic acid, so a steady dietary supply is an ongoing must.

What Causes Acne?

Before we get into why pantothenic acid is used to treat acne, let’s talk briefly about what causes acne in the first place.  Sometimes it’s your diet causing acne, or you might be using cosmetic products which are clogging your pores.  Other times, hormones or heredity are responsible.  Some people simply have skin which is especially oily or dry.   

Wait, dry skin can cause acne?  Absolutely.  It may sound counterintuitive, but there’s an explanation.  “Dry skin has microscopic cracks and fissures in which bacteria can multiply and cause acne,” explains Dr. Francesca Fusco, Mount Sinai Medical Center assistant clinical professor of dermatology.

How Can Pantothenic Acid Help Treat Acne?

According to proponents of pantothenic acid, vitamin B5 can greatly reduce acne flare-ups and breakouts, and may provide even more relief than traditional OTC and prescription acne medications.  But where’s the evidence?  

There are two key reasons pantothenic acid works:

#1:  Pantothenic Acid Acts as a Moisturizer 

First off, preliminary studies indicate that pantothenic acid can moisturize your skin.  Scientists still do not have a thorough understanding of how pantothenic acid achieves this effect, but the research is promising.  If dry skin is causing your acne, the moisturizing powers of pantothenic acid can help to balance your skin’s oil production, curbing breakouts.

#2:  Pantothenic Acid is a Precursor to Coenzyme-A

Coenzyme-A, or “CoA,” for short, is a coenzyme which your body needs to synthesize and oxidize fatty acids.  You can’t manufacture CoA without pantothenic acid.  The scientist who has conducted the majority of the research exploring the connection between pantothenic acid, CoA, and acne is Lit-Hung Leung, M.D.  This article is considered his definitive overview on the topic, published in The Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine in 1997.  Leung also published two other studies on pantothenic acid in 1995 in a journal called Medical Hypotheses.  

What did Leung uncover in his research?  Basically, when you are not getting a sufficient amount of Acetyl CoA, your body is unable to efficiently oxidize fatty acids.  This results in your skin becoming oily.  And as you probably know all too well from experience, oily skin leads to acne. 

To test his hypothesis that supplementing with B5 could balance oil production, Leung gave patients in his research trials large doses of pantothenic acid (5-10 grams per day).  The results were excellent.

Further Evidence

For many years, these studies conducted by Leung were the only prominent research trials available.  This, coupled with the fact that Leung gave his patients such hefty doses of pantothenic acid, acted as a limitation on recommending vitamin B5 for acne treatments.

Just last year (2014) though, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled research trial was published in Dermatology and Therapy.  The researchers tested the safety and effectiveness of pantothenic acid as an acne treatment on more than 40 adults.  There were significant improvements in the group that took pantothenic acid over the group that took the placebo.  The patients who took the B5 had no problem tolerating the supplement.  This lends support for its safety and efficacy.

There is also a great deal of anecdotal evidence backing up pantothenic acid as a treatment for acne.  Consider the numerous high ratings that vitamin B5 supplements get on Acne.org as well as the top shelf reviews you can find for other pantothenic acid supplements online.  So many acne patients who say they tried everything else finally found the results they were looking for with pantothenic acid.

Are There Any Side Effects?

No upper limit (UL) has been established for pantothenic acid for the simple reason that most people handle even large doses very well.  At very high levels, some people might experience diarrhea or hair loss.  Other uncommon side effects include heartburn and nausea.  

Pros and Cons of Pantothenic Acid for Acne

Pros:

  • Scientific research studies back up the efficacy and safety of pantothenic acid as an acne treatment, even at large doses.

  • Pantothenic acid is 100% natural.  In fact, it’s nothing short of an essential nutrient.  It plays a vital function in your body and it’s good for you!

  • There is a huge amount of impressive anecdotal evidence supporting pantothenic acid as an acne treatment.  Check out reviews for B5 supplements to read about other acne sufferers’ experiences.  

Cons:

  • There is still not a whole lot of research on pantothenic acid and acne.  While existing evidence is promising, scientists still do not completely understand the mechanisms through which vitamin B5 works to reduce acne flare-ups.  

  • With no official UL established for pantothenic acid, there is some ambiguity concerning safety.  Still, for most acne sufferers, vitamin B5 is side-effect free, safe and effective.

 

How to Take Pantothenic Acid for Acne

How do you take pantothenic acid?  There are a few topical creams with vitamin B5, and you’ll also find it listed as an ingredient on soaps.  The most effective way to use it though is as an oral supplement.  Take it as a standalone product, or order a multivitamin for skin health which includes vitamin B5 as an ingredient.  With any luck, you will soon be looking at a smooth, clear, beautiful complexion!

Resources:

https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b5-pantothenic-acid

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantothenic_acid#cite_note-8

http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/acne-causes

http://www.lifescript.com/health/centers/skin/articles/battling_grown-up_breakouts.aspx

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/pantothenic-acid

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13555-014-0052-3#page-2

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24831048

http://www.drdach.com/Acne_B5.html

http://orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1997/articles/1997-v12n02-p099.shtml

http://www.acne.org/vitamin-b5-reviews-52/


Best Reclining Sofa Reviews for 2016: Shop for the Top Value!

Can’t decide whether to buy a recliner chair or a sofa?  Need something which offers the space of a couch, but want to be able to kick up your feet and lean back now and again?  Well, you don’t have to choose just one or the other!  A reclining sofa is the ultimate choice for luxury and comfort, combining the best features of both a reclining chair and a sofa.

What is a Reclining Sofa?

A reclining sofa is exactly what it sounds like—it is a sofa which includes one or more pop-up footrests and seats which can lean back.  With a reclining sofa, there is no need to purchase a separate recliner for your living room or entertainment center.  This helps you to conserve both space and money while enjoying versatility in your seating options. 

What Should You Look for in a Reclining Sofa?

While shopping for a reclining sofa, consider the following features:

  • Dimensions and space.  You are generally going to need at least four inches between the back of the sofa and the wall so that you can fully extend the recliner.  If you choose to purchase an oversize sofa recliner, you may need significantly more space than that.  Ensure you will also have space to pop up the footrest without hitting your coffee table.

  • Aesthetics.  Choose a color and texture of fabric that will fit in nicely with your décor.  Leather is a beautiful choice for modern and classic living areas.

  • Durability.  If you have kids or pets, look for a couch which is upholstered with sturdy fabric which is resistant to tears and stains.  The best reclining sofas will also feature sturdy mechanics which will work great over the years to come.

  • Additional features.  More luxurious reclining sofas may offer special features like a fold-down cup-holder console, electric recliner mechanisms you can operate with a button, heating pads, and so on.  These special features will up the cost, but may provide you with great functionality.

We have scoured the internet to find and rate the best reclining sofas according to these criteria.  Let’s take a look at the top four on Amazon.com.  These are the sofas which impressed us the most with their features, pricing, and sterling customer reviews.

  1. Coaster Home Furnishings Transitional Motion Sofa in Black

If classic black leather and stylish simplicity is your ideal, this reclining sofa in the $700-$1,000 range may be exactly what you are in the market for.  Currently there are not many reviews on Amazon.com, but there are quite a few on the Coaster website, and they are overwhelmingly positive.

The sumptuous black leather, stitched seat backs, and pillow arms provide for a refined look and a cozy feel.  As part of the Lee Collection by Coaster, the Transitional Motion Sofa in Black is designed to be your “personal lounge oasis.”  Both ends of the sofa recline using a manual control.  

Pros:

  • Aesthetically speaking, you are not going to find a more versatile or beautiful design.  Black leather looks great in a contemporary setting, but also fits well with classic décor.

  • A loveseat and recliner are available in this collection as well, so if you are looking for a complete set and not just a reclining sofa, the Coaster Home Furnishings Transitional Motion Sofa is a perfect choice.

  • Enjoy movie nights?  If you pull down the middle seat back, you will reveal a cup holder for two.  

Cons:

 

  • Some users who purchased this sofa said that they thought that the seats reclined through electric power, and were disappointed that it did not.  Whether the manual operation is a drawback or not depends on your needs.

  • This sofa does not have as many reviews as some of the others we recommend, so there is less information available to help you make your purchase decision.

Bottom Line:  The main reasons to recommend this sofa are price and versatility.  It is guaranteed to fit with any décor, and if you get a deal at the lower end of the price bracket, you are getting an incredible value. 

  1. Bobkona Motion Sofa in Saddle Microfiber by Poundex

Looking for a budget option which still offers a luxurious experience in comfortable seating?  The Bobkona Motion Sofa in Saddle Microfiber by Poundex is a reclining couch selling in the $300-$600 range.  As of the time of this review, there are only a few customer reviews on Amazon.com, but they are very positive, averaging out of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This sofa features sturdy construction in metal and hardwood in a contemporary style.  The scooped seats are heavily cushioned, as are the backs and arms to provide ergonomic lumbar and head support.  That makes this an excellent choice for customers with back or neck problems.  The saddle-colored microfiber is designed to be both soft and resilient.  

Pros:

  • Customers emphasize that this sofa is very comfortable and attractive.  One buyer wrote, “This is a very well-made product … The fabric is beautiful.  When you sit, you are so comfortable, and the back support is incredible.”

  • It is also easy to assemble this sofa.  The same reviewer quoted above emphasized how happy they were with the simple set-up process.  

  • The color you see pictured is exactly what you get.  If you like the design but prefer another color, a darker brown (“Chocolate”) version is also available.  

  • You cannot beat the low price!

Cons:  

  • Some customers said that the sofa was a little firm after about a year of use.

Bottom Line:  You are not going to find a lot of sofas in this low price bracket which are as sturdy, durable, soft, and comfortable as the Bobkona Motion Sofa.

  1. Homelegance 9668BLK-3PW Power Reclining Black Bonded Leather Sofa

The most expensive sofa to make our list is the Homelegance 9668BLK-3PW Power Reclining sofa.  This couch generally sells in the $900-$1,200 price range, though you may sometimes see it listed for more.  Usually when you see a listing for $2,000+, it is a set of two sofas, or it is the entire Center Hill collection, which also features a loveseat and reclining chair.

This is a luxurious sofa featuring plush cushions and a comfortably tufted back rest.  The nail-head accenting under each arm provides for a look which is as classic as it is timeless.  There is no need to manually crank the recliner; the power mechanism does the hard work for you so you can kick back and relax.

Pros:

  • Customers say that the reclining mechanism works great and makes it easy to relax in total comfort.  The tufted seat backs provide plenty of support for your upper and lower back.

  • From a design standpoint, this sofa offers you a look which is very classy and can fit in nicely with any décor.  In this sense, it is very similar to the other black couch on this list, the Coaster Home Furnishings Transitional Motion Sofa.  The nail-head accenting however gives it some extra flair which the Coaster sofa lacks.

Cons:  

  • This sofa is more expensive than the others on this list, including the similar Coaster black sofa mentioned above.

Bottom Line:  If you have a couple hundred extra dollars to spend on a beautiful sofa, it may be well worth it to consider the 9668BLK-3PW Power Reclining Black Bonded Leather Sofa.  If you like the design but prefer a different color, you can also purchase the couch in brown.  If you are interested in the Homelegance brand but prefer a less expensive sofa that is even more popular, you will definitely want to take a look at the Homelegance Double Reclining sofa below.

  1. Homelegance Double Reclining Sofa, Brown Bonded Leather

This sofa by Homelegance is part of the Cranley Collection, and on its own sells in the $700-$1,200 price range (an outstanding deal at the lower end of that bracket).  It is a very popular purchase on Amazon.com, where it currently has more than 70 customer reviews and an average rating of 4 out of 5.  That is a lot of positive feedback for a sofa; most sofas only have a few reviews at most!

This reclining sofa features overstuffed seats, arms, and backs containing high-density foam.  The upholstery is brown bonded leather, but you have the option of purchasing this sofa with black bonded leather upholstery or with chocolate textured plush microfiber as well.  If you need a full furniture set, you can purchase the entire Cranley Collection, which includes the reclining sofa, a reclining loveseat, a reclining chair, and a corner seat.

Pros:

  • Both ends of the sofa recline.  This is a power recliner; you pull on the release lever and the mechanism does the rest of the work for you.  Live in a small space?  This couch is reasonably large, measuring 83” x 39” x 40”, but it may interest you to know that the cushioning slides forward when you use the reclining feature, which pulls it away from the wall.  That means you do not need a lot of space between the wall and the sofa to recline and relax.

  • Assembly is fast and easy; you can have this sofa set up in under a minute.

  • Customers emphasize that this is an incredibly comfortable reclining sofa.  One buyer wrote, “Wouldn’t know it isn’t real leather, very soft.”

Cons:

  • There were some customers who mentioned that the upholstery may eventually start flaking and peeling, but using leather conditioner may prevent this.  If you take good care of your couch, you should have a good experience.  Another buyer said, “After almost a year of owning this sofa, it has held up well.  No sagging in the seats and no cracks in the leather.”

Bottom Line:  Even though the leather is not real, this is a beautiful couch which will stand the test of time with proper care.  Its popularity makes it a sure bet.

Conclusion

Which reclining sofa is the best?  That depends on what you are in the market for.  Those on a tighter budget will want to consider the Bobkona Motion Sofa.  For a classic look, consider the Coaster Home Furnishings Transitional Motion Sofa in black.  If you like the Coaster sofa but want some extra embellishment and class and are willing to pay a slightly higher price, the Homelegance 9668BLK-3PW Power Reclining sofa may be ideal.  

Our pick for the best overall choice however is without a doubt the Homelegance Double Reclining Sofa in brown bonded leather.  The feedback is amazing, the price is right, and the superior design combines a resilient build with a look which captures timeless appeal.



5 Habits to Make You a Better Shooter

When I first got into shooting, I didn’t know a clip from a magazine or a bullet from a cartridge.  A lot has changed since those days, but I am still a far cry from where I want to be when it comes to taking accurate, precise shots with my AR-15 rifle.  I hit the practice range once a week if I can, but “practice makes perfect” is only true if you are practicing the right habits to begin with.  If like me you are still struggling with your distance shots, here are 5 habits that will help you to become a better shooter.

  1. Find your natural point of aim.

When you first get yourself in position behind your rifle, you probably are a little tense because you are busy aligning your sights.  A lot of novice marksmen miss this, and try to shoot right away.  

But you need to focus on finding your natural point of aim.  This refers to getting your entire body aligned with your target, not just aligning your sights.  This needs to be the position you are in when you pull the trigger—in other words, when you are relaxed, not tense.  So you need to take time before each shot to make sure that you are in that position.  So take it slow.  Breathe.  Close your eyes if you need to for a moment, and then open them again and make sure you are still aligned.  Don’t be surprised if your aim is off from where it was a moment ago.

There is a helpful acronym you can use called BRASS to remember what to do:

  • Breathe

  • Relax

  • Aim

  • Stop (breathing)

  • Squeeze the trigger

How do you know if you are struggling with natural point of aim?  One dead giveaway is a horizontal spread in your shots.  Another way to tell is to simply try what I suggested.  If you close your eyes and relax, and then discover your aim is suddenly off, you need to work on this.  When you shoot, that “off” aim is exactly where your bullets are going.  But once you get to the point where your natural point of aim is aligned with your target, you should start seeing better accuracy.  Do it every time, and watch as your precision improves as well.

  1. Improve your trigger technique.

This is absolutely essential for precision shooting.  You need to be able to pull your trigger without moving your sights.  Here are some tips:

  • Invest in a high-quality aftermarket trigger if you need one.

  • Use only the first pad of your index finger to squeeze the trigger, and try to keep it close to your fingertip.  

  • Keep your index and trigger fingers away from the pistol grip.  If you press on the grip, you will get sideways movements.  Yes, this can be tricky with the AR-15.

  • Exert pressure only from your finger, not the rest of your grip.

  • Avoid tensing muscles elsewhere in your hand, including the lowest finger joint. If you tense these muscles, you can also get horizontal movement.

  • Try to keep your index finger in position on the trigger from shot to shot.  When you feel the click, you can fire the next shot (assuming you are ready).

Once you get your trigger technique down and you are able to eliminate unwanted movements, you should be able to shoot in much tighter groups.   

  1. Tighten your hold (despite low recoil with guns like AR-15).

While most of this advice applies across the board, I am particularly focused on the AR-15 since that is what I have.  One of the nice things about this gun is that it has a low recoil.  But that should not tempt you into thinking that a light hold is best.  That is a mistake that I made a lot in the beginning.

Especially with the AR-15, a firm grip is important.  When you firm up your hold on the pistol grip, your trigger finger can move more independently, which reduces unwanted motion from the rest of your hand and body.  I also find it is useful to have some pressure on the buttstock from my cheek.  Doing this keeps the sights steady and helps me to hold my natural point of aim.

  1. Practice shooting in the wind.

It is intuitive to want to practice shooting in a carefully controlled environment.  It is of course easiest to learn the basics that way.  But real life isn’t always so kind, and you never know when you will need to take a shot in less-than-ideal conditions.  If you have never practiced shooting in the wind, you may not be able to make that critical shot when you need to.

I recommend that you do practice in windless conditions first.  Once you know you have the basics down well enough to make accurate shots without wind, you are ready to practice in the wind.  Deliberately plan outings to the shooting range on windy days and practice your long range shots.  

While doing this, I also highly recommend that you take notes about both the weather conditions and the impact the wind has on each of your shots in a journal.  Using this information, you will be able to get more of a feel for the effect of the wind and what you need to do to compensate across various distances and terrains.  It won’t be easy, but it will pay off.

  1. Dry fire your rifle to practice (if it is safe for your gun, use snap caps).

Let’s talk about dry firing.  You may very well have heard over and over again that you should never dry fire your gun, or you will end up damaging it.  In reality, most modern guns can be safely dry fired.  There are some exceptions, like rimfire rifles and pistols, but the AR-15 isn’t one of them.  

Why can you safely dry fire modern rifles but not older models?  The steel used to engineer modern rifles is a lot stronger.  It can hold up to dry firing whereas weaker steel couldn’t.

That being said, your gun still isn’t designed for the purpose of dry firing, so you should still take precautions.  Namely you should go out and purchase some snap caps.  These contain cushioned primers which the hammer or striker of your gun can snap against.  Using these while you are dry firing will ensure that you won’t damage the firing pin.

Why do a lot of dry firing?  Well, aside from the fact that it will conserve ammunition, it gives you a chance to work on your natural point of aim without anticipating firing the round.  If you tend to tense up before you pull the trigger, dry firing may help you to un-learn that bad habit.  Work on forming good habits while dry firing, and you can then transfer those habits over to firing with live ammunition.  Plus, dry firing gives you the additional benefit of making it easy to practice shooting anywhere.  

Dry firing has become a popular practice in recent years for developing trigger control and practicing the finer points of marksmanship.  You can even purchase bolt carriers for the AR-15 which will fire a shot-indicating laser.  

Conclusion

Whether you are a novice or you have been shooting for a long time, there is always something you can do to improve your precision and accuracy.  I have been using all of these techniques for years and they have paid off handsomely.  It takes time, effort, dedication, and a lot of patience, but when you start seeing those beautifully accurate tight groups you never thought you were capable of, you will be glad you did it.

Sources

http://blog.cheaperthandirt.com/improving-ar-15-marksmanship-skills/ 

https://www.ar15.com/archive/topic.html?b=9&f=1&t=226988 

http://www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/gun-shots/2013/07/precision-shooting-tips-how-improve-rifle-accuracy-competition 

http://blog.cheaperthandirt.com/dry-fire-practice-is-it-safe-for-your-firing-pin/ 

https://www.qdma.com/articles/10-shooting-tips-from-army-marksmen


15 Low-Carb Diet Benefits Backed By Science                                       (Excerpt)

Remember in the 90s when low-carb diets were getting all the media attention?  

At the time, for a lot of people, low-carb was just another fad.  We all knew people who tried low-carb because everyone else seemed to be doing it, and not because they were concerned with their health.  

In fact, back then there were a lot of people who questioned whether low-carb was healthy at all.  

Concerns were raised over whether a high-fat, low-carb diet could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Since then, however, low-carb diets have been studied extensively (link to Resources page).  

Not only is low-carb great for losing weight, but it turns out it is actually the healthiest diet you can eat.  It even has benefits for your cardiovascular health!  

Low-carb might have been a fad in the 90s, but it isn’t “just another fad diet.”  It really works.

Ready to find out what a low-carb ketogenic diet can do for you?  Read on to find out all about the scientifically-proven weight loss and health benefits!

  1. Low-carb increases your HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.

If you have concerns about your cardiovascular health or you are just a health-conscious person, you probably have heard of HDL vs. LDL cholesterol.

HDL stands for “High Density Lipoprotein,” and is often referred to as “good” cholesterol, whereas LDL stands for “Low Density Lipoprotein,” and is typically called “bad cholesterol.”

Neither term actually refers directly to cholesterol itself, so the phrases “HDL cholesterol” and “LDL cholesterol” are actually misnomers.

Rather, HDL and LDL are names for the specific types of lipoproteins which ferry cholesterol around your bloodstream.  

  • LDL moves cholesterol from your liver to other body systems

  • HDL transports cholesterol from areas throughout your body back to your liver

  • Once at your liver, cholesterol can either be used again or it can be excreted as waste

Increasing your HDL levels decreases your risk of heart disease (http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/111/5/e89.full, http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/79/1/8.short, http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/11374850/reload=0;jsessionid=3xh9AgWu71C5wgBypxTn.0, http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/109/15/1809.full ).

Interestingly enough, one of the best ways you can boost your HDL levels is by eating more fat in your diet, not less (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/77/5/1146.short , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1386252, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/70/6/992.full ).  

This may seem counterintuitive to you if you have heard time and again throughout your life as so many of us have that fat is terrible for your cardiovascular system.  

Key Takeaway: 

Eating a low-carb, high-fat diet is an excellent way to increase your HDL levels and prevent heart disease (http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1900694 , http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2003-031606, http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0735109707032597?via=sd )

  1. With low-carb, you can control your LDL cholesterol.

As mentioned previously, HDL is typically referred to as “good” cholesterol, while LDL is usually referred to as “bad” cholesterol.

This is something of an oversimplification.

Elevated LDL levels are associated with a heightened risk of heart attacks, but scientists have discovered that there are different sizes of LDL particles, and that the smallest LDL particles are the ones that increase the risk of heart attack.  The larger LDL particles do not seem to significantly increase the risk of heart attack (http://atvb.ahajournals.org/content/12/2/187.short , http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167527399001072 , http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/95/1/69.abstract ).

Low-carb diets help you out with your LDL cholesterol in a couple of ways.  Eating low-carb both reduces the amount of LDL in your bloodstream, and raises the size of the particles (http://jn.nutrition.org/content/136/2/384.long , http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1900694 , http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109707032597 , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16403234 ).

Key Takeaway: 

Now you understand the benefits of low-carb for your cholesterol.  Low-carb both raises your “good” HDL cholesterol and controls your “bad” LDL cholesterol, leading to vast improvements in your cardiovascular health.

  1. Lower your triglycerides with low-carb.

If you are following your cardiovascular health markers, you are looking at your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and triglycerides.  

What are triglycerides?  Fat molecules!

It is well-known that higher levels of triglycerides in your blood stream are associated with an increased risk of heart disease (http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=207954 ).

You might assume that intuitively, triglycerides would increase the more fat you eat, but ironically this is not the case at all.

Many studies demonstrate that eating more carbs increases your triglyceride levels more than anything, so eating fewer carbs can decrease your triglyceride levels (http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1900694 , http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022637 , http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2003-031606 , http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109707032597 , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20107198 ).

Key Takeaway: 

Eating low-carb is an excellent way to lower your triglyceride levels!  This is yet another way low-carb contributes to outstanding cardio health.

  1. Blood pressure decreases on a low-carb diet.

It is a well-known fact that chronic high blood pressure can lead to hypertensive heart disease (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/162449-overview ).

High blood pressure is also a factor which can increase your risk for kidney failure or stroke.  

High blood pressure is extremely common, so much so it is nearly ubiquitous.  According to the CDC, around 1 in 3 American adults suffer from high blood pressure.  That is 70 million people.  Even young people and children can suffer from high blood pressure.

If you are looking for a long-term diet to decrease your blood pressure, low-carb is an ideal choice.  Studies demonstrate that low-car can help to lower chronically high blood pressure, lowering your risk for related diseases (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16409560 , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17341711 , http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2003-031606 ).

Additionally, it has been demonstrated that controlling your insulin levels can reduce blood pressure (http://ajprenal.physiology.org/content/293/4/F974 ).  

Low-carb diets help to control insulin levels (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022637 ).

Key Takeaway: 

Eating a low-carb diet controls your insulin levels, which in turn can help you to reduce your blood pressure.


SSD – Solid State Drives Enter the Mainstream

Solid-state disk (SSD) drives are still in the early adopter stages, but with changes in the computing market they may well be about to take off.  What exactly is a solid-state disk drive?  A solid state drive is a drive with no moving parts.  Unlike a traditional hard disk drive (HDD), an SSD drive has no actuator arm or read/write head.  Instead, solid state drives rely on non-volatile NAND flash memory.  Since they don’t require the extra time to manipulate physical parts in order to read and write data, SSD drives are faster at both.

If you aren’t too familiar with SSD drives, you may be wondering why they haven’t taken off faster.  The main reason for slow adoption is probably pricing; right now SSD drives still cost a lot to manufacture, which is why companies need to charge more for them.  As more research is put into their development and they become easier to manufacture, prices will probably decrease.  

Intel, one major manufacturer of SSD drives, has recently announced that its sales revenues will fall this quarter because flooding in Thailand has curbed HDD production.  You’d think this would be seen as bad news, but the company’s executives choose to see it in a positive light; the shortage in HDD production overseas will not only impact Intel but also Intel’s competitors; with less competition across the board from HDD computer manufacturers, Intel may finally be able to bring SSD drives into the mainstream.

Applications of SSD Technology

What form will SSD technology take as we see it enter the mainstream of computing?  Perhaps the most recognizable application already on the market is that of the ultrabook.  An ultrabook, or ultrathin, is a super-thin laptop with a long battery life, a keyboard, and no internal HDD.  

An ultrabook is in a sense a compromise between a tablet and a laptop—it is lightweight and small, like a tablet, but has the approachability of a laptop.  Ultrabooks may also incorporate tablet touch screen capabilities, making them more user friendly.  The most well known example of ultrabook technology currently on the market is probably the MacBook Air by Apple, which is only 0.8 inch thick.  Many other manufacturers are starting to flood the market with ultrabooks as well now including Asus, Toshiba, Acer and Lenovo.  

Ultrabooks contain SSD drives with flash memory chips.  This enables manufacturers to make them incredibly thin and lightweight.  Intel has stated that it intends to take advantage of the HDD shortage to increase the sales of Intel SSD drives.  While the company hasn’t discussed details relating to ultrabooks, we will most likely be seeing more and more of them on the market.  

Changing Needs of High Tech Customers

The flood in Thailand is not the only global shift which is likely to propel SSDs into the mainstream at last.  The changing needs of high tech consumers also may have a positive impact on SSD sales.  In the past, consumers were concerned largely with storage space on their machines, but with the advent of cloud computing and mobile technology, many consumers are now becoming quite used to storing their data in the cloud.  

This being the case, the swift retrieval of cloud data and high-speed playback of multimedia are increasingly more important to consumers than storage space on their computers.  SSDs don’t offer more storage capacity than HDDs, but this is less likely to be a deterrent now that consumer needs are changing.  If you use your computer primarily for audio and video playback, gaming and other performance intensive applications, you would almost certainly notice the difference a solid-state disk drive makes!

Price has been an issue with SSDs for years now, but the good news is that while ultrabooks (and SSD drives in general) cost more than standard laptops equipped with HDDs, they still cost less than standard laptops did only several years ago.  As consumers start to discover that tablets don’t allow them to do everything that they really would like to do, and that an ultrabook with an SSD can provide a high tech answer to their needs, it is likely that the sales of SSDs and ultrabooks will flourish in the coming years.


Modern Warfare 3 Confirmed for Wii

During a recent investor’s call, Activision confirmed that Modern Warfare 3 will be released for Wii.  Even though the previous game, Call of Duty: Black Ops, was released for Wii, Modern Warfare fans were still in suspense about the status of the newest installment.  Rumors indicated that the game would indeed be released on Wii, but until recently the only platforms which Activision had confirmed were Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Modern Warfare 3 will be the third of the Modern Warfare games but the eighth in the Call of Duty series.  The game is being developed by Infinity Ward and will share the first-person shooter format of the previous games in the Modern Warfare series.  As with previous titles, the game will run in multiplayer mode.  The game will run at 60 frames per second and will feature an exciting new survival mode.  The survival mode will feature waves of attackers similar to the Nazi Zombies mode featured in Call of Duty: World at War.  This version is enhanced though, since instead of spawning in fixed, arbitrary locations, the enemies will re-populate in positions which are based on the movements of the players.  

One major change in Modern Warfare 3 will be the structure of the killstreak reward system.  The system will rely less on perks and encourage players to develop their skills in order to dominate other gamers.  In particular, the Commando Perk which has been a nuisance to so many players will be dropped.  This should level the playing field somewhat and make the system fairer.  Modern Warfare 3 will also see the return of quick scoping, which wasn’t present in Black Ops.

The game’s plot will resume right where Modern Warfare 2 left off, and feature familiar protagonists like Captain John “Soap” MacTavish, Captain John Price, and Nikolai.  Vladimir Makarov will continue his role as arch nemesis.  New playable characters to be introduced include Derek “Frost” Westbrook, Sandman (both Delta Force operatives), Marcus Burns (Special Air Service sergeant), and Yuri, a Russian federal security agent.  As the plot unfolds, the Russian Federation will proceed with its attack on America and push into European countries including France, England, and Germany.  Battlefields will also include Somalia, Sierra Leone, Moscow, and Dubai.

The scheduled release date for Modern Warfare 3 for Wii and other systems is November 8, 2011.  Trailers are available on YouTube now!


(Note: “Anunnaki” below is deliberately misspelled for SEO purposes)

 

Who Are the Reptilians?

 

If you’ve found your way to our site, you’ve probably spent some time scanning the night skies for UFOs.  But what if looking skyward means you are missing what’s right in front of your nose?  What if aliens are already living among us?  Could your neighbor down the street by an alien undercover?  And what about the leader of your country?  

This is the theory of the reptilian race—also sometimes known as “lizard people,” “draconians,” “saurians,” or “reptoids.”  Reptilians have actually cropped up in science fiction throughout the years time and again.  They’ve been written about by Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft.

Sometimes, real-life mimics fiction, but more often, fiction mimics real life.  Could it be that the inspiration for these stories runs deeper?

When Robert E. Howard wrote about “serpent men” in his story, “The Shadow Kingdom” in 1929, he was actually inspired by an idea presented by the co-founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Blavatsky.  Blavatsky’s great work was The Secret Doctrine, and in it she talked about “dragon men” who might once have inhabited a lost civilization called Lemuria.

Already, we are getting out of the realms of fiction and are now traversing a landscape where mysticism, archaeology, world history, and astronomy intersect.  Delving deep into occult lore, you will find mentions of reptilian beings time and again.  These beings crop up way too frequently to be a coincidence.

David Icke’s Theory of the Reptilian Elite

If you want to learn everything there is to know about the reptilians, David Icke is your go-to guy.  If you have been around the block a few times in conspiracy circles, then you have doubtless heard his name.  

David Icke differs from a lot of conspiracy theorists in that his life and career were pretty mainstream for a long time.  Originally he was a professional footballer; later in the 80s he joined the BBC as a prominent sports presenter on Newsnight.  He was so popular he eventually co-hosted Grandstand, which was BBC’s big sports program at the time.  

In 1990, everything changed.  One day as he was standing at a newsstand, Icke felt a draw toward a book written by a psychic healer from Brighton named Betty Shine.  Eventually he visited her, and she told him she had a prediction for him—that he would become a great spiritual healer.  


From that point on, it was down the rabbit hole.  Icke experienced one strange event after another.  Eventually he was invited onto a BBC chat show called Wogan.  On the show, he went public with his unusual beliefs.  The result was mass ridicule.  From that moment on, Icke was branded a paranoid by the mainstream media—but conspiracy theorists and UFO hunters began listening with enthusiasm.  

David Icke first began talking about the reptilians in The Biggest Secret in 1999.  It is Icke’s belief that the Annunaki gods of Babylonian lore are in fact a race of reptilian aliens who hail from the constellation Draco.  And not only did they walk the earth as gods in the days of yore, but they still walk among us today as shapeshifters.  

Icke is not the first writer to suggest the theory of “ancient astronauts.”  Others who have come before him include Erich von D?niken, who wrote Chariots of the Gods in 1968, and Zecharia Sitchin, who penned Divine Encounters in 1995.  

It should be noted that reptilians are believed not only to come from another star system, but also another dimension.  According to David Icke, the universe is actually a multiverse, and different dimensions occupy the same “space,” but are only accessible one (or in our case, three) at a time.  If you could push through dimensions, you would find other objects and species occupying the same space you are in now.

So the reptilians come from the Draco constellation, but not our Draco constellation.  Icke writes that they inhabit the Fourth Dimension, which is just one dimension over from our own world.  Having crossed over, they can manipulate us to their own ends.  

This connects back to occult lore again.  If you know much about magick, you may be familiar with the practice of summoning entities, most of which will try to strike bargains.  Icke believes that these entities are the reptilians, and this is yet another way in which they cross over into our world.  

Why don’t we see reptilians running around all over the place?  Good question.  Icke posits several explanations:

  • Reptilians are shapeshifters.  They are already humanoids that walk on two legs and in some sense, look quite similar to us.  It would not be a big leap or a hard adaptation for them to live amongst us as humans.

  • Many of the reptilians may actually be living in caves deep underground.

  • The world we see and the world as it is are two very different things.  Even if you do not literally believe in a holographic universe, you have to admit that quite often we allow the wool to be pulled over our eyes by politicians, CEOs, and all manner of scammers and frauds.  Is it really so hard to believe that a species that already lives like sheep may be bowing to extraterrestrial authorities?  People miss what is right in front of them and vote against their own self interests everyday.  

Are Annunaki the Same as Reptilians?    

This is a good question, and there is some contention here.  Some people say yes, the reptilians and the Annunaki are one and the same.  Others point toward ancient carvings of Annunaki as evidence against this theory.  Only some of the carvings show reptilian figures; many show figures that look far more human, or even birdlike.

This could mean that the reptilians are just one species of Annunaki.  It might also mean however that the reptilians and Annunaki are indeed one and the same, and those figures that did not look reptilian were simply shapeshifters like we have today.  

Why Are the Reptilians Here?

What would this super advanced race want with a lot of lowly humans?  Well, what would we want with an inferior race that was easy to manipulate?  Just as human beings love power, so do reptilians.

David Icke says that the reptilian race are here in order to mine for monatomic gold (with the aid of human slaves), which apparently can boost the power of their nervous systems.  This is how they are able to shapeshift, cross dimensions, and so on.  They also derive energy from human suffering, so it is well within their interests that we wage war, engage in animal cruelty, and so on.  

This is why the reptilians have placed shapeshifters in positions of power.  So long as the human race is enthralled to their interests, they suffer, and if they suffer, they serve the needs of the reptilians.  

Even nonbelievers have to admit there is something intuitively familiar in this narrative.  Whether you believe as Icke does that there literally are cold-blooded aliens or not, the cold-blooded actions of world leaders especially over the course of the 20th century is enough to make us wonder whether our leaders are human.  We certainly do live in a culture of alienation.

List of Reptilian Celebrities

Looking for a list of reptilian shapeshifters?  You’re not alone.  Everyday, believers in the reptilian bloodline are trying to identify shapeshifters and hybrids in our midst.  

Obviously, there is a ton of disagreement over who is a lizard and who isn’t, but here are some popular allegations:

  • Barack Obama

  • George W. Bush (and most of his advisors)

  • Bill Clinton

  • Beyoncé

  • Lady Gaga

  • Benedict Cumberbatch

  • Madonna

  • Angelina Jolie

  • Numerous senators and world leaders

As you can see, the list is all over the place, including both left- and right-wing politicians and a range of movie stars and singers.  A better question might be, “Who isn’t a reptilian?”  

“Me!” you say.

… Right.  Sure, we believe you 😉

How to Identify Reptilian Hybrids

Want to know how to spot reptilians?  You need to look for both physical characteristics which “bleed through” the shapeshifting guise, and you need to look for personality traits of reptilians as well.

Physical Traits:

  • If a person has narrow, slit-like eyes and facial features which appear suggestive of a lizard, they may be a shapeshifter.

  • Reptilians on the whole are believed to be quite tall, so this may also be a giveaway.

  • If you look around, you’ll find videos and pictures suggesting that sometimes reptilians lose control of aspects of their shapeshifting abilities, resulting in strange textures on their skin or changes in their eyes.

Personality Traits:  

  • Reptilians are cunning expert manipulators.

  • Power-hungry individuals may be reptilians.

  • Reptilians are energy vampires.  They are draining to be around.

  • Narcissism and related traits like gaslighting could indicate you are dealing with a reptilian.  

  • Destructive sadism may also be a sign of a reptilian; remember, they feed on suffering.  

Reptilians in the Mainstream

When a lot of people read about reptilians and David Icke’s theories for the first time, it all seems pretty “far out there.”  But if you think about it, there are a lot of places where reptilians crop up in mainstream media, especially in fictional universes.  Think about Lord Voldemort, the snake-like fascistic evil wizard of Harry Potter lore.  Another fun example is the Silurians from Doctor Who.  The Silurians aren’t evil and they aren’t even aliens, but they are ancient reptilian humanoids living in secret caves deep underground.

Whether you believe in the reptilians or not, the mythology of lizard people among us weaves throughout human history and is very much a part of our collective identity.  It dates back to the Annunaki and continues to interlace through our daily lives in modern stories such as Doctor Who.  It resonates with our experiences of trauma as a species.  It is at least in part a reaction to war, to greed, to poverty, to slavery and all forms of tyranny.  

Even though the reptilian race is a fearful theory, it is also one of hope—hope that the universe is bigger than just ourselves, and that if we can liberate ourselves from our oppressors, we might just become a kinder, more compassionate species.


Oxford

Oxford is a destination not to be missed on any tour of the Cotswolds or Britain at large.  The county town’s fame extends far beyond its region; it is one of the most renowned cities in all of Europe.  Known as the “city of dreaming spires,” it is a magical place with gorgeous architecture which showcases every period in British history from the Saxons onward.  Transected by the rivers Cherwell and Thames and containing the oldest English-speaking university, it has become a cultural and academic crossroads.

Oxford was settled by the Saxons but it wasn’t chartered until 1191 when Henry II gave Oxford citizens the same rights enjoyed by the inhabitants of England’s capital.  A number of important religious houses were constructed by a variety of orders in Oxford at this time including the Cistercians, Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians and Trinitarians.  Parliaments were frequently conducted in Oxford in the Middle Ages and it was there that the Provisions of Oxford were drafted.  These documents were a turning point in political history and are considered the first written constitution in the country.

Oxford is best known for its prestigious medieval university.  The University of Oxford is one of the most celebrated schools in the world and contains 38 colleges.  The University has more than 100 libraries including the recognizable Radcliffe Camera.  There are many museums on the campus which you can visit including the oldest museum in the UK, the Ashmolean Museum.  Also noteworthy is the Museum of Natural History which houses the unearthed prehistoric remains of dinosaurs and other creatures.  The adjacent Pitt Rivers Museum houses over 500,000 archaeological finds.

Oxford’s city centre is another very popular destination.  Shopping opportunities abound in both retail and independent forms.  Blackwell’s Bookshop boasts the largest room book store room in all of Europe known as the Norrington Room.

There are so many landmarks in Oxford that you could probably spend months in town and not see everything.  Other places to visit include gorgeous gothic churches like the St. Mary The Virgin Church and the Christ Church Cathedral.  Oxford has its own 1.8 hectares Botanical Garden containing over 8,000 species of plants.  More destinations to enjoy include the Sheldonian Theater, the Museum of the History of Science, and Modern Art Oxford.  28 nature reserves within and surrounding the city of Oxford offer peaceful, green walks for those wanting to enjoy the fresh air and some quiet.  On the west edge of town, you can visit Oxford Castle, a 14th century motte and bailey fortress with an accompanying hotel (developed from a former 18th century prison!).

Oxford has sparked the imagination of so many that it figures hugely into literature and film.  Some films you may have seen filmed in Oxford include all the Harry Potter films, Children of Men, Tomorrow Never Dies and The Scarlet Pimpernel.  Numerous writers lived in Oxford or attended the university including Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, T.E. Lawrence, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and Philip Pullman (whose Dark Materials books, favourites in Britain, are set partly in Oxford).  If you choose to include Oxford on your Cotswold tour, the “City of Dreaming Spires” will surely inspire you as much as it inspired these writers and filmmakers!


The Champagne Group – Hot Girls, Cold Drinks and Memorable Entertainment

Since 1996, the Champagne Group has been operating some of the most popular nightclubs in Angeles City.  These are the go-to places to find the hottest girls, the best stocked bars and the best entertainment in the city.  If you want a night you’ll always remember (or one that you’ll forget the next morning!), check out any of the Champagne Group’s hot establishments:

  • The Champagne Club.  This was the first club opened by the Champagne Group.  It is well known for its intimate atmosphere and its lovely ladies and has been a popular destination for tourists and locals in Angeles City since 1996.

  • Club Camelot.  This singular nightclub offers a unique, medieval atmosphere, a fully stocked bar, and of course what you came for, beautiful ladies-in-waiting to stir your fantasies and indulge your desires!

  • Lancelot.  Built on the foundations of the former Volcano Nightclub, Club Lancelot is a well known location with a cozy atmosphere and outrageous entertainment.  Lancelot ladies are sweet, alluringly gorgeous, and very friendly to foreigners.

  • Brown Sugar.  This club has longer operating hours than any other club in Angeles City and is conveniently located at the center of the prominent Fields Avenue right next door to Club Camelot.  Doors open at two in the afternoon and close at five in the morning.  In between, expect nothing but the best rock ‘n roll entertainment, gorgeous dancers, delicious drinks, and the wildest girls.

  • Apartelle Royal.  While you’re in Angeles City, you’re going to need somewhere to sleep off the after-effects of those crazy nights!  Apartelle Royal is an affordable hotel conveniently located right next to Club Camelot and Brown Sugar.  Executive and Jacuzzi rooms are equipped with DVD players and all rooms include free WI-FI access.

No matter what you’re looking for in a nightclub, the Champagne Group has just the place to satisfy your entertainment needs and introduce you to the sexiest girls in Angeles City!





Why Online Stores Fail to Convert 

Online shopping has become a retail stronghold in the recession; in spite of falling retail figures offline, more and more shoppers have turned to the internet for wider selections and better deals.  A study by Forrester Research shows that 69% of European internet users over the age of 18 purchase products through online vendors; over half of those do so monthly.  

Nonetheless, online store owners are familiar with the many hassles of trying to get people to purchase from the internet.  In spite of the best intentions, many shop owners have a hard time getting conversions.  What are some of the reasons that a full third of online Europeans don’t want to shop online?

  • Security concerns.  Most customers who don’t shop online say they fear sharing their credit card information over the internet.  

  • Shipping issues.  Customers don’t like paying high shipping prices.  They also fear their items will be damaged during shipping or get lost in the mail – or simply not be sent.

  • Returns.  Some users worry that returns will be a pain both due to having to schedule time to go to the post office and having to pay the return shipping.

  • Customer service problems.  Some people are upset if there is no live person who can be contacted during a transaction online.  They don’t want to wait for an email.

How can you, as a shop owner on the internet, address and remedy these issues?

  • Lower your shipping prices.  You may be surprised – check into flat rate shipping options if you haven’t already.  Or – if you’re already using flat rate shipping but your items are small and lightweight, consider switching to standard envelopes.  If you still can’t bring down your shipping costs, consider altering your item prices or offering free shipping as incentives during high volume shopping seasons.

  • Include a clear terms of service page for your shipping and returns policies.  Make sure people know exactly what to expect as far as how you will be shipping, when you will be shipping, and how long it will take.  Explain the reasons a customer can or cannot return an item and whether you will return their money or provide them store credit.

  • To address security concerns, add a guarantee of safe shopping; offer to compensate users for unauthorized purchases.   Having a third party icon (like Paypal.com’s icon) on your page can help ensure shoppers that there is a third party arbitrating their transaction and thus protecting their interests.

  • Give customers a clear way to contact you.  Live help is best if you can staff it; if not, make it very obvious how to contact you and when customers can expect a reply.  Welcome communication and feedback.

People who don’t shop online are shown to have lower income and educational levels on average.  These people have reduced trust – but they still have the same desires for security, convenience, selection and communication as everyone else.  If you cater to these people using some of the suggestions outlined above, you will not only convert more customers but increase your sales to the people who are already purchasing goods online.



Types of Wire and Supplies

Now that you’ve read up on the basics of wire wrapping and some of the history of this wonderful craft, perhaps you are feeling ready to try your own hand at it.  What kinds of supplies do you need?  Happily, this is one of the few crafts you can get started on with a very minimal budget.  You can purchase everything you need to make your first wire wrapped pieces of wearable art for about $35.00.  That includes pliers, wire, and beads to work with.  Let’s talk about the basic supplies, their costs, and what each of them is used for.

Pliers

You are going to need two pliers to wire wrap effectively.  One pair is used for cutting, and the other is used for wrapping the wire around.

  • Needle-nose pliers.  A small pair of needle-nose jewelry pliers will cost you around $10 to $15.  These pliers have a comfortable grip and come to a very small point at the end.  With these pliers, you can pull wire through loops that you cannot reach with your fingers, as well as do other wrapping tasks that require a little more force than you can exert by yourself.  You will probably still do most of your wrapping without them, but they are an indispensable supply.

  • Side-cutting pliers.  These pliers should also cost you around $10 to $15.  This type of pliers is very small, like the needle nose pliers, and has a comfortable grip.  The side-cutter jaws allow you to make a nice clean cut through your wire.  These pliers are strong enough even to cut steel wire.  The box joint construction of side cutting pliers keeps the jaws aligned to keep the cut line even.

Wire

Wire is probably the most complex aspect of supply shopping for wire wrapping.  There are a lot of different types of wire which are appropriate for wire wrapping.  Let’s break down the different materials, gauges, and strengths of wire so that you understand what you are looking at when you are shopping.

Materials

Many different materials can be used for wire.  The most common is copper.  Copper may be plated with silver or gold, or coated with a color (red, blue, green, purple, black, etc.).  Copper is the least expensive type of wire you will find.  You may also find steel, brass, nickel, silver, gold, and other materials.  Each material has its own unique characteristics which change the wrapping experience.  Brass for example is very springy, which can make it challenging to work with.  

Gauges

Wire comes in different shapes and sizes.  Most wire is round, but you may also find square wire and other shapes (square wire has edges and corners, whereas round wire is the typical smooth, cylindrical wire you are probably used to seeing).  The size of a wire is called its gauge, and refers to its thickness.  Very thick wire is tough to bend but will hold its shape beautifully.  Very fine wire is extremely easy to bend, but will not hold shape well.  It is great for embellishing pieces and holding things together.  Medium gauges are ideal for most work.  You will probably want to buy several gauges when you get started.  Here are some common ranges for gauges:

16-18 gauge:  These gauges are pretty thick and hard to bend, but hold shape well.  Great for wire sculpture or for creating strong frameworks for pendants, bracelets, or other pieces that require strong structural stability.

20-22 gauge wire:  These medium gauges are great for most applications.  They can create reasonably strong frameworks, and may be useful for some embellishments.  

24-26 gauge wire:  These two gauges are great for fine, detail work, and embellishment.

Recommended gauges for beginners:  I recommend purchasing a spool of 20-gauge wire and a spool of 26-gauge wire.  The 20-gauge is your “go-to” gauge for most projects.  It is the most versatile, useful gauge for the majority of purposes.  The 26-gauge wire spool will serve you well for embellishments.  

Strength

One more aspect of wire to be aware of is its strength.  Regardless of the main material used in wire (many wire spools are made of alloys), the strength may vary.  Wire is usually broken down into three strength categories:

  • Hard wire.  This type is hardest to bend, but holds its shape well.

  • Dead soft.  This type of wire is extremely malleable.  It is very easy to bend, but it will generally not hold its shape well, even at a medium gauge.

  • Half-hard.  This is your “go-to” option if in doubt.  It is the most commonly used type of wire.  It is relatively easy to bend, but not as malleable as dead soft wire.  It holds its shape reasonably well, though not as well as hard wire.  This is the type you should start with as a beginner.  

Coated vs. Non-Coated Wire

Finally, one last note on coated wire is necessary and often overlooked in beginner’s guides.  The majority of the wire you will find for sale has some kind of tarnish-resistant coating on it.  This is great if you want your wire to stay shiny without polishing.  It is however not desirable if you are planning to let your wire tarnish and take on a patina for an aged look.  Coated wire will basically never tarnish, and no amount of effort will get you through that coating.  So be mindful of what you are purchasing.

Beads and Stones

You will also need something to wrap!  Strings of beads will not be as helpful to you as they are to other jewelers, unless you plan to do a lot of large elaborate pieces.  One great starter supply is a box or bag of “extra” beads.  Many stores sell these loose beads at bulk discount prices.  The beads are often large enough to wrap, and because of the nature of your art, you do not necessarily need a lot of matching beads.  You can get a pretty big bag of these for around $5.00.  They are great for pendants.  Strings of beads will be most helpful for bracelets, crowns, necklaces, and other large projects.  You will also need matching beads for earrings.  

Gemstones are wonderful centerpieces to wrap.  Wrapped gemstones are beautiful to behold, and are also very attractive to buyers.  You can wrap pretty much any gemstone if you are careful, even those that are liable to flake apart (like mica, danburite, and so forth).  Quartz, agate, obsidian, tiger’s eye, petrified wood, and many other gemstones look beautiful wire wrapped.  Tumbled stones are easier to wrap than rough-cut stones, but both can have a wonderful effect.  Stones with holes bored through their centers are easiest to work with, as are flattened stones.  Round stones pose extra challenges.  

Optional Extras

  • Sandpaper.  You are going to have some loose ends of wire on your pieces.  Most of the time you can simply tuck these out of the way, which will prevent them from scratching a wearer.  You can optionally sand these down with sandpaper to smooth them out.

  • Liver of sulfur.  This cool chemical compound reacts with metal to provide a nice tarnish.  It works in a matter of minutes, and can make your pieces look antiqued.  Great for bringing out texture and providing a different look.

  • Hammer.  A jewelry hammer and anvil set can be used to flatten wire.  This again provides a different look and texture to a piece.  

Now you have a complete guide to wire wrapping supplies.  You can find most of these supplies at a jewelry supply shop or online.  Two pairs of pliers should run you around $20 to $30.  Starting beads should cost about $5 if you find one of the aforementioned bags of extras.  The cost for wire can range quite a bit, depending on how many yards come in a spool, what material you are purchasing, and whether there are fancy color coatings or not.  

Expect to pay around $5 to $7 for most spools of copper wire (color-coated or not).  Sterling silver, gold, and other materials may be more expensive.  It is best to start out with copper wire for your first few pieces.  It is less expensive, and will be more suitable for the learning curve.  As you progress, you may decide to invest in more expensive wire wrapping supplies.  In our next installments, we will teach you what you can wrap and introduce you to some starting techniques.


10 Steps To Becoming a Successful FOREX Trader

Want to learn to trade FOREX, but don't know where to start? Flustered? Frustrated?  Overwhelmed? Here's a simple 10 step plan to get you on the road to trading success.

1.  First of all, decide why you want to trade FOREX.  "I want to make a gagillion dollars" is not sufficient.  Better examples would be "I want to trade for a living" or "I want to achieve better self discipline."  If you do want to make a gagillion dollars, that's fine too (who doesn't?)–but have a reason for it.  Unless you're already pretty well off financially (and don't blow your FOREX account), you're in for a long haul learning to trade.  Know why you want the money, what you plan on using it for.  This is as important for the purposes of getting to know yourself as it is for finding motivation that can keep you going when the going gets tough.  

2.  Research, study, learn everything you can about market basics.  Learn some fundamental and technical analysis techniques.  Once you start figuring out what draws you, start honing in on specifics.  Study different trading systems developed by others.  There's no need to go pitching thousands of dollars into finding the perfect system.  No system is perfect.  There's lots of great stuff out there available for free or for a reasonable price.  Don't get swept into the quest for a holy grail.  Find something that works consistently for YOU, even if it isn't perfect.

3.  Download a Charting Platform.  I recommend either Metatrader4 (free) http://www.metatrader4.com/traders/ or Xtick (pay) www.xtick.com/ .  Start experimenting on old data with the systems and techniques you are studying.  If you find something that suites you, advance to step 3.

4.  Backtest.  This is where a LOT of would-be traders fail, either because they don't do it enough or don't do it at all.  Pick a pair you're interested in and go back several years in the data on that currency pair on the timeframe you've chosen and move your chart forward tick by tick, imagining it as real time, and noting down the trades as you would really have taken them in real life to the best of your ability.  If you succeed at achieving profitable, consistent results in backtesting over a couple year worth of data, advance to step 4.

5.  If you haven't already done so, develop a Trading Plan.  This is absolutely essential to succeeding at trading FOREX or anything else.  A trading plan incorporates details about your trading method, your entry and exit rules, your money management plan, the currency pairs you will trade, the times and days you will look at the charts and the times and days you will trade.  You should look at your trading plan every day.  This is also a great place to list your goals and the ways you will reward yourself for meeting them.

6.  Demo Test (also called Forwardtesting).  Do this until you have achieved consistent profits for at least three months.  This is where a lot more people fail.  If you trade without testing, you are a gambler and nothing more.  Trading involves risk, but it doesn't have to involve blind risk.  Being able to test this stuff in real time without investing real money is a fantastic opportunity.  So use it to its fullest advantage! 

7.  Acquire the investing capital.  For some, this is effortless.  For others, it will be the hardest step.

8.  If you've done steps 1-7, you may be ready to go live with your trading.  You may want to consider starting with half the amount you originally planned, and trading that for a few months until you know that you can stick to your discipline and trade real money.  The psychological shock of trading with real money is greater for some people than others.  It's not always easy to predict whether this will be you, so there's no reason to chance it.

9.  Rinse and repeat.  Never stop learning, researching, testing, or adapting.  The market will change–it is a fluid, evolving entity.  If you want to survive, you have to be too.  All systems will eventually fail unless they are tweaked over time to fit the changing market conditions.  There is no holy grail in trading except you, so lastly,

10.  Invest in yourself.  No matter what system or method you decide on in FOREX, one factor will never change, and that's you.  YOU are the number one most important ingredient in your trading.  If you don't know yourself, you will not succeed at this for long.  Stay humble but don't lose confidence, and if you truly love this (or any other business), never give up.


Partagas Cigars and More Announced for 2011

Habanos S.A. has announced two new Partagas cigars for 2011, the Serie E No. 2 and the Serie D No. 5.  The Serie E No. 2 measures 5.5 inches with a 54 ring gauge; the Serie D No. 5 is a petit robusto measuring only 4 3/8 inches with a 50 ring gauge.  According to Habanos S.A. Marketing Director Ana Lopez, the reason for the small size of the Serie D No. 5 is that it provides a shorter duration smoke, making it possible to distribute it to customers in countries which have severe restrictions on cigar smoking.  The Serie E No. 2 on the other hand is the first Partagas cigar available in Duke size.  

Previously, the Partagas Serie D No. 5 was included in Edición Limitada in 2008.  Only now has it become available over the long term as part of standard production.

Another cigar being introduced into S.A. Habanos’ distribution line is the 3.5 inch 44 ring gauge H. Upmann Half Corona.  This very small cigar is being marketed toward novice smokers.  

Some lucky guests as the Habanos Festival were able to preview some of the new releases over the past several days.  The rest of us will have to be patient, but there is a clearly a great deal to be excited about!



Is it a Fakeout or a Breakout?  3 Suggestions for Avoiding Fakeouts and Price Spikes

When you start testing or trading binary options, one of the most irritating and frequent occurrences you are bound to notice are fakeouts.  Fakeouts are a plague for traders everywhere, so rest assured you are not the only one who has to deal with them.  

What is a fakeout?  It’s a fake breakout.  Price looks like it is trying to head somewhere, and believing you have spotted a breakout pattern, you enter into a binary options trade.  The moment that you do, price turns around and plunges back the opposite way, and suddenly you have lost money.  The next time you think you spot a breakout, maybe you sit on your hands instead of pulling the trigger.  Only that time, price goes exactly where you thought it would.  And this time you missed an opportunity.

This cycle can be extremely frustrating, if not downright devastating to a trader’s confidence.  Pretty soon after experiencing this a few times, you may not know when to pull the trigger at all.  You may start trading randomly, or you may stop trading altogether.  Other traders have to deal with fakeouts too though.  So how do they spot them and learn to tell the difference? 

There are a number of different strategies you can use to avoid being faked out by the market.  Some of them involve learning to identify a fakeout from a breakout on sight.  Others involve waiting for confluence or indicators to align.  Sometimes the problem may simply be that you are trading in a choppy market.  Then there is the idea of using retracements to ensure that price is going the direction you want it to.  I am going to break down some of these ideas for you below.  These suggestions will hopefully get you going on the right path.

  1. What type of market are you trading in?

This suggestion involves looking at context.  There are certain market conditions which are conducive to trading and others which are hazardous—much like sea conditions.  Smooth sailing is possible when waters are calm, but during choppy, hazardous seas, setting sail will only result in disaster.  Choppy markets, like choppy seas, tend to capsize traders.  

When you look at your chart, do you see a lot of whipsaws and random price spikes?  Is the market behaving unpredictably?  Or is it nice and tranquil and calm, with little directional price movements inside a ranging channel?  In the latter situation, you might catch a trend breakout or profit from small, predictable price movements.  In a choppy, unpredictable market, you will lose money.  Wait for conditions to clear, or trade a different asset displaying friendlier behavior.

  1. Wait for confluence.

Do you know what confluence is?  When several different indicators on your chart align to tell you something, that is called confluence.  The word originally referred to the merging of two rivers.  As an example, when a couple of moving averages on your chart merge together and price bounces off of them, that is a type of confluence.  The two moving averages are acting as stronger resistance than either one alone would.  You could trust an upward price movement far more in this situation than you could if you only had one moving average acting as support.  You do not have to rely on confluence, but it is a great tool for your trading toolbox, and if you are struggling, it can help you identify the best trade contexts.

  1. Learn how to use retracement patterns.

When price moves in a certain direction, returns in the previous direction, then turns around and proceeds on its way in the original direction, that is called a retracement.  Little retracements happen all the time in the market, even in strong trending conditions.  So, for example, say that oil breaks out above a support line.  You might be thinking of entering a Call trade at this point.  Oil then turns around, reversing direction, and goes back down.  It hits the support line, then reverses once again, and goes back up.  This time it goes a lot higher before it hesitates, reverses again, touches a higher line of support, and then goes back up.  

Now imagine you had entered into a Call trade on oil right when you spotted that original breakout.  What expiry time would you have set?  Maybe you would have chosen a relatively short time to be in your trade.  When price reversed, heading back down, you might have lost money.  Even though price goes up again after the retracement, what if your trade expired before it went on to be profitable?  Even though you were correct about the trend direction and the breakout, you still would have lost money.  Why?  Because you did not wait for the retracement.

In many cases, price does not recover.  After turning around, oil could have continued heading down, and might not have gone back up for some time.  In that situation, had you entered on a signal you thought represented a breakout, you would actually have been faked out by a brief price spike.  While forming, it would have looked like a breakout signal, but afterward, it would have been quite clear that you were wrong.

Waiting for the retracement prevents timing issues and also reduces the likelihood that you will lose money due to a price spike.  If price retraces and then respects the existing level of support (or resistance), returning to the movement that you believed was happening, that line of support becomes even stronger.  This contributes to the positive context for your trade.  

Test Until You Get It

Avoiding price spikes and fakeouts is not the most intuitive process in the world, and it is something that numerous traders struggle with, so try not to feel bad if it gives you trouble.  Do try to avoid losing money because you don’t yet know what you are doing.  There are brokers who will allow you to demo test indefinitely.  Why lose money trading poorly when you can wait to trade until you actually have a chance to be profitable and successful?  In the meantime, this article has more detailed information on these topics.  You also may be interested in learning more about another technique for trading using retracements.  Click here to learn about Fibonacci retracement levels.


5 Common Foods Women Should Shun to Avoid Cancer

Cancer is a worldwide pandemic, and a leading cause of death in Australia.  According to Cancer Council Australia, 114,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed just last year and 43,000 Australians died of cancer.  The Australian government states that the most common cancer for Australian women to develop is breast cancer, and that 1 in 4 women will develop cancer by the time they are 75.

These statistics are terrifying – but Australian women are not helpless to keep themselves safe and healthy.  Every day, new research brings more information about cancer to light.  The more we learn about the carcinogens that cause this terrible disease, the more we can do to prevent it.

A new scientific study in the British Journal of Cancer tells us that one of the major carcinogens today is acrylamide.  Acrylamide is a chemical substance which is created when foods are fried at high temperatures.  Carbohydrate-rich foods like potatoes and cereal are most likely to form acrylamide.  

Previously, acrylamide was already known to cause cancer when introduced into animals in high concentrations.  The study states that acrylamide increased the risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women by 20%, adding to the evidence that even in the tiny concentrations present in food, acrylamide can cause cancer in humans at an alarming rate.  Another study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology concluded that women who consume a serving of potato chips each day are twice as likely to develop ovarian or endometrial cancer.

Acrylamide was discovered by researchers at the Swedish National Food Administration and Stockholm University in 2002.  Acrylamide only seems to appear when food is cooked at temperatures higher than 120°C.  This carcinogenic neurotoxin has been discovered in both fried and oven-baked foods, but never in raw or boiled foods.  It tends to be found in starchy, carbohydrate-rich foods more than any others.  It is believed that the sugars present in those starchy foods react with amino acid asparagines at high temperatures, creating acrylamide.  

"Consumers can reduce their exposure to acrylamide by limiting their intake of potato chips and French fries…and quitting smoking, which is a major source of acrylamide," stated Mary Ann Johnson, PhD of the American Society for Nutrition.

What are the 5 top foods to avoid which are high in acrylamide?  

  • Potato crisps:  1000 micrograms/kg

  • French fries:  500 micrograms/kg

  • Breakfast cereals:  200-300 micrograms/kg

  • Instant coffee: 200-300 micrograms/kg

  • Breads:  50-100 micrograms/kg

Other foods to avoid containing acrylamide include doughnuts, biscuits, cookies and popcorn.

Women can lower their risk of developing cancer not only by avoiding fried foods but also by eating healthily.  Some good foods to concentrate on eating are boiled potatoes, rice, pasta, fruits and vegetables.  Porridge is a better choice than breakfast cereal for a morning snack.  Green tea and red wine are believed to have cancer-fighting properties due to their great concentrations of antioxidants.  Antioxidant supplements like N-acetyl cysteine and lipoic acid can help combat the carcinogenic effects of acrylamide.

Cancer is a sobering reality, but even simple lifestyle changes like eating right can go a long way to help women reduce their odds of developing cancer and living long, healthy lives.


5 Hot Careers to Watch in 2013

 “What do you want to do for a living?”  It’s a question all of us have been asked by friends, families, teachers, and advisors many times, but it’s a tough one to answer.  It’s one thing to pick a career we think would be enjoyable, but it’s another to pick a career that might actually be there.  In the recession economy, a lot of professions became difficult if not impossible to get into, and some job fields are still growing very slowly or not at all.  We’ve done some research though to find some occupations which will be growing more quickly than average over the next seven years.  Here are some of the hottest careers to get into in 2013!

Medical Assistant

The entire medical field is growing more quickly than most others, in part because we have an increasingly elderly population.  All those people will need a lot of medical care, and there is a shortage of professionals who are available to take care of them.  This shortage leads to long wait times for patients in many areas.  

This is a great field to get into if you are looking for a career with expanding opportunities in any economic climate.  A medical assistant earns between $20,000 and $35,000 a year.  The salary makes this position most suitable for those who aren’t the sole earners in their households.  If you’re interested in a medical career which is growing fast where you can earn more money, look into becoming a nurse, physician assistant, or other medical staff member.

Public Relations Specialist

Of all the jobs in the Communication field, PR is among the biggest right now, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates this field will continue to grow more quickly than others.  Why is this field so big?  Because companies always need to get the word out about their products and services, and that need for good promotion and public expertise will never change, even in hard times.  PR specialists can make as much as $57,000 a year.

Biochemist or Biophysician

These highly technical, cutting-edge careers not only can bring in great salaries, but also great opportunities.  If you work in this field, you’ll be searching for research solutions to important medical and engineering problems.  The median salary for this job in 2010 was more than $79,000 a year.  This is a job that requires a lot of training, but it can pay off in more way than one.  While you’re earning that great salary, you can help to improve the quality of human life by engineering tissues, researching cures for diseases, and more.

Personal Financial Advisor

The reason this career is growing is twofold:  Firstly, there is an aging population to consider.  A lot of people are trying to retire.  Secondly, the hard times have made that something of a challenge.  

While that challenge has cut out all hope of retirement for many people, it’s also created a segment of the population who can still do it, but need a little extra help along the way.  You can earn around $65,000 a year as a personal financial advisor.  And that’s not including the money you can learn how to save by becoming a financial expert—a skill that can pay off when you manage your own accounts!

Marketing Researcher

Just as companies need PR agents to get out the word to news sources on their products and events, they also need marketing specialists to come up with the best ways to promote their products and services to those who might purchase them.  

Part of this job also involves coming up with the right products in the first place—identifying a target market.  This means pulling together data on advertising methods, market conditions, and potential demand, and then coming up with the best recommendations.  With a median salary around $60,000 a year, marketing research analyst is one of the most lucrative Communication jobs which are out there.  

As you can see, these careers are all in different fields, but you can see a consistent pattern across all of them.  The factors which drive these fields include a growing aging population, and companies which need to find customers.  There are many things which change in difficult times, but the need to sell products and the need to deal with health problems don’t change.  That’s why you might want to consider a profession in one of these fields for 2013.  You can also check out the full list of fast-growing occupations on the BLS website. 


Make Your Own All Natural Herbal Hair Conditioner Rinse

Want to have healthy, gorgeous hair without using harsh chemicals?  Try making your own totally organic herbal hair rinse to naturally condition your hair!  It's easy, it's inexpensive, and best of all, it's fully customizable to your hair and your needs.  

Recipe for Herbal Hair Rinse

What You Need:  Apple Cider Vinegar, a saucepan to boil it in, a jar for your finished conditioner, and a selection of herbs (see the next section for suggestions).  That's all!

  • Get a large glass jar with a lid to serve as your container.  I use old salsa jars for mine.

  • Fill the jar between a quarter to halfway with herbs as needed, once you've decided on your formula (see suggestions below).

  • Heat enough apple cider vinegar on the stove to fill the rest of the jar to the brim.  Raise the heat to a full boil.

  • Pour the boiling vinegar over the herbs in the jar. 

  • Seal the jar with the hair rinse, and put it in the fridge for two weeks to "steep."

  • Some people strain out the herbs from the vinegar after two weeks.  I don't find this necessary.  As long as you pour slowly, you should be able to pour out the liquid without pouring out the herbs.  If this doesn't work for you however, go ahead and strain the mixture, isolating the apple cider vinegar, which will now be infused with the essence of the herbs you steeped it in.

  • You can store your herbal hair rinse either in the fridge or at room temperature.  There's no danger of it spoiling.  If you leave the herbs in, it will simply continue to steep and become more concentrated and powerful over time.  

Suggested Conditioning Ingredients for Herbal Hair Rinse

You can get this stuff at an apothecary or a health food store.  It’s cheap in bulk.

Lavender:  This is an all-around helpful herb for all types of hair; removes grease and promotes growth

Thyme:  Degreases, helps prevent dandruff and hair loss

Rosemary:  Adds shine and body, promotes growth, prevents dandruff.  Great for all hair types.  In larger quantities, can darken hair.

Calendula:  Conditions, also lightens hair.

Chamomile:  Softens hair, promotes growth, lightens the hair.

Marigold: Lightens hair

Sage:  Restores colour

Horsetail:  Strengthens damaged or weak hair

Parsley:  Restores colour, adds shine

Turmeric:  Adds shine, prevents flyaway hairs, may add golden colour to light hair

Lemon juice:  Lightens hair

How to Use Herbal Hair Rinse

The hair rinse should last you a long time.  You only need a couple spoonfuls for each use.  Dilute these in a full cup of water, warm or cold is up to you.  After showering, when your hair is still wet, pour the cup of diluted rinse over your hair (I do this standing in the shower so I don't need to worry about a mess).  If you have long hair like I do, I suggest placing the ends of your hair in the cup and letting them soak for a minute or so before pouring the rest of the rinse over the top of your hair.  Try to get underneath your hair too!  If you can tolerate the smell (and by now, it should smell much better than it did when you were cooking it, since the herbs will be infused!), leave it in your hair as it dries for maximum benefit.  When your hair becomes dry, the smell will go away completely, and the rinse will leave your hair softer, healthier and easier to manage.

Note

Herbal hair rinse is best used in conjunction with an all natural shampoo product.  Replacing your chemical shampoo with an organic product will eliminate the need for store-bought conditioner (which is sold to repair the damage caused by the harsh chemicals in the factory shampoo), but herbal hair rinse will still enhance the positive effects of herbal shampoo.  Even if you still use factory shampoo and conditioner, you can still benefit from the addition of an herbal hair rinse.


The Benefits of Olive Oil in Natural Soaps and Skincare Products

Olive oil is one of the oldest and most popular ingredients used in natural soaps and skincare products.  People have been using olive oil to replenish and cleanse their skin for thousands of years—even before the invention of soap!  The ancient Egyptians used olive oil to keep their skin clean and healthy, and when soap was first made in Mesopotamia, it was done using soda ash and olive oil.  The process of creating soap has transformed through the years, but the use of olive oil as a prime natural ingredient hasn’t changed.  There are numerous organic ingredients which can enhance the cleansing and nourishing power of natural soaps, but olive oil remains a staple because of its ability to moisturize your skin, improving texture and preventing wrinkles and age lines from forming.  

Unlike factory made soaps which include artificial additives, natural soaps won’t dry out your skin or cause irritation.  What many people don’t think about is that you wouldn’t want to put anything on your body you wouldn’t put in your body, since skin absorbs nutrients and additives alike.  We don’t really understand the long term effects of many of the chemicals which are contained in factory soaps.

Since olive oil is healthy for your to ingest, you know that it’s good for your skin, and what you’ll absorb will only be nutrients like vitamin A and E and antioxidants and free-radical fighting polyphenols.  Polyphenols can assist in the repair of collagen and other cell tissue, which preserves the youthful appearance of your skin.

Olive oil can be used on skin directly, but many people don’t enjoy the greasy sensation which comes with using olive oil all by itself.  That’s why purchasing natural soaps which contain olive oil can be so useful.  You get to enjoy all the healthy benefits of olive oil without that greasy residue.  

Moreover, olive oil in natural soaps contains a compound called squalene, which reduces the greasiness that naturally builds up on skin.  That means that olive oil will moisturize your skin, but not to the point where your skin ends up being oily.  Essentially, whether you suffer from dry, scaly skin or oily skin, olive oil can help neutralize the effects and bring your skin to a place of healthy moderation.

Chlorophyll, another nutrient in olive oil (which gives plants their green colour), can assist your skin in healing from abrasions and scars, as well as combat the effects of acne.  Together with polyphenols, chlorophyll helps maintain the appearance of youth.

Many people pay a lot of money for fancy skin treatments at spas, or the latest “miracle” cream which is usually packed with unrecognizable ingredients which may or may not be healthy for your skin, or for you.  Why not save some money and some peace of mind by instead purchasing natural soaps which contain only organic ingredients which have been safely and effectively used for thousands of years?  Artisan soaps like those sold by From the Earth Natural Soaps are hand crafted with only the finest ingredients.  Olive oil was the secret for beautiful skin in ancient times, and like beauty itself, olive oil’s application in natural soaps and skincare products is timeless.


Bissell Powerfresh Steam Mop, White, 1940

If you’re looking for a steam mop in the mid to upper price range that has a plethora of great features and excellent customer reviews, the Bissell Powerfresh Steam Mop may fit the bill.  This steam mop sells for around $85.00, making it more expensive than a mid-range mop, but still less expensive than many models which are out there.  The Powerfresh is a slender model measuring 11.6 x 7.1 x 28.6 inches and weighing 9 pounds.  It is easily maneuverable and comes with a great warranty.  

The Powerfresh can be ready to go in as little as 30 seconds, which can be very helpful when you are trying to maintain efficiency with your cleaning procedures.  Like other steam mops, the Powerful eliminates the need for harsh chemicals which can damage your floors or cause health issues for employees or household members.  The mop can run continuously for about 15 minutes on high before the tank needs to be refilled.  

Key Features:

  • Easy Scrubber.  This is a flip-down accessory you can use to reach into corners and other tough-to-reach spaces.  According to the product specifications, the Easy Scrubber cuts cleaning time in half.  Optional scent discs can be added to the scrubber to spread a refreshing, clean scent throughout a room.  

  • Steam cleaning with the Bissell Powerfresh eliminates 99.9% of germs and bacteria without the need of cleaning agents.  The steam is powerful enough to clean sticky messes without leaving behind any debris or residue.  It only takes 15 seconds of contact for most germs to be killed, leaving behind a floor which not only looks clean, but is also thoroughly disinfected.  

  • SmartSet Digital.  This control system allows you to change the setting on the machine from low to medium or high with the quick push of a button.  This makes it easy to adjust settings on the go without slowing down.

  • Two-Year Warranty.  This steam mop comes with a full warranty for parts for two years.  Bissell Powerfresh is designed for easy maintenance.  The filter inside is replaceable.  The beads are designed to change color from green to blue to act as an indicator.  Only when the beads turn blue do you need to replace them.  Use distilled soft water to preserve the filter for as long as possible.  The mop pads are made of microfiber and are also machine washable and replaceable.  

What Do Customers Say about the Bissell Powerfresh Steam Mop, White, 1940?

As of the time of this review, there are over 400 customer reviews for this steam mop on Amazon.com.  With 4 and a half stars, that makes the Bissell Powerfresh one of the most highly rated mops we have looked at.  Here are some of the most common statements made by customers:

  • Works great on many different materials.  Customers stated that they achieved equally good results using this mop on linoleum, ceramic, stone, marble, laminate, vinyl, or hardwood.  This makes the Powerfresh a very versatile option, suitable for many different environments.  This is particularly great if you need the mop for a public building with several different flooring materials.  Reviewers caution that sealed hardwood floors may not do as well with the heat. 

  • Cost-effective.  One reviewer said, “The Bissell Steam Mop will pay for itself since you do not have to purchase additional supplies for it other than the optional fragrance discs.”  Keep in mind you will need to replace the filter now and again, but if you use distilled water, you can reduce this cost.

  • Easy to use.  Another review stated, “The Bissell 1940 is almost ridiculously simple to use.  It is light, easy to push, compact to store, and I can buy supplies for it from Amazon, Bissell, or a variety of other local and online stores.”

Any detractors?  Several reviewers said that the steam mop quit working on them within several months.  Bissell customer service responded to these reviewers directly on the Amazon sale page, pointing them toward the 2-year warranty included with the product.  Bissell also recommends using only distilled water to maintain the health of the machine over time.  

The consensus is strong.  If you use the Bissell Powerfresh Steam Mop 1940 properly and take good care of it, it can provide you with easy, efficient, powerful cleaning for years to come.  Customer service is fast, responsive, and direct, and the great warranty adds quality and life to the product.


Best Hiking Backpack Reviews

When you’re out backpacking, you want to be enjoying the scenery and not worrying about your supplies.  To get the most out of your next backpacking adventure, you need to start out by getting the right pack!  The best hiking backpack will be able to hold everything you need without weighing you down.  In reality, the best backpack for hiking is a somewhat subjective thing, because everyone has different preferences, body types, and needs.  Certain hiking backpack brands pull in consistently excellent reviews though, and there are a few backpacks in particular that come highly recommended for hikers of all builds and levels of experience.

What to Look for in the Best Hiking Backpacks

When you are shopping for a backpack, consider the following factors:

  • Capacity.  How much space is available?  Typically you will see this measure in terms of volume (generally liters).  Bigger isn’t necessarily better; it totally depends on the duration of your planned hiking trips and what you are going to need.  For a day or overnight trip, 20-50 liters is about the right capacity.  For a weekend trip, look for 50-60 liters.  60-80 liters is ideal for a trip spanning 2-5 nights, and an extended trip will require 80 or more liters.  

  • Weight.  The larger the volume of the pack, the heavier it is going to be.  This tradeoff is a reality you have to accept if you want to go on long treks.  An empty 80 liter pack might weigh 6 or more pounds empty.  A 20 liter pack might weigh less than 2.  

  • Size.  This is different from capacity.  The best hiking backpack will fit you.  To choose your pack, you will have to measure according to your actual torso length, not your height.  It should fit snugly over your hips (which will support most of the weight).  You will need to check your waist measurement as well.  

  • Helpful compartments and pockets.  Top-loading and panel-loading backpacks are both available, but most take the top-loading form.  You will put items you do not need to access that often in the main compartment.  Pockets are great for holding smaller items or items you may need to access more frequently.  Some packs include size and front zippers and front panels for easier access, and may even include a sleeping bag compartment.  Attachment points for equipment are common as well.  

  • Other features to look for include a hydration reservoir, ventilation (this prevents your back from getting too sweaty), and padding.  Padding is not as important if you are striving to keep the weight down, but if you know you will be overloading a pack, you may want the additional support that padding provides.  Consider materials strength as well; ultra-light packs often sacrifice stronger materials to keep weight low, but this would be an issue if you plan on overloading.  Waterproofing is another optional feature to look for, especially if you plan on doing a lot of trekking in a rainy climate like the Pacific northwest.

Before shopping for the best backpacks for hiking, ask yourself some questions about your hiking habits.  This may actually be the most important step in the buying process.  A high quality backpack that works great for another hiker may or may not be the right one for you, depending on what you want to do with it!  It is important to not just pursue a good hiking backpack from one of the best hiking backpack brands, but one that is good for your hiking purposes.  

  • How many days is my typical trek going to be?  Will I usually be going out for a day or two, or will I be going out for several days or longer?  If the answer is, “My trip lengths vary wildly,” seriously consider purchasing two packs.

  • How important is it for me to keep the weight down?  How much am I planning on stuffing into my pack?  

  • Do I need a specialized pack?  This might be applicable if for example you are a climber and need a climbing pack.

Now that you have an idea what to look for in a good hiking backpack, we are ready to have a look at some best hiking backpack brands and what they have to offer.  We have taken an in-depth look at customer reviews and features for a wide range of hiking backpack brands, and have come up with a short list of the very best backpacks for hiking!

Arc’teryx Altra 65

The Arc’teryx Altra 65 is a highly rated backpack which sells in the $400-$500 range.  It is designed to be ideal for multi-day trips into the backcountry as well as lighter week-long treks.  This backpack includes a number of exciting features to minimize your burden and keep you going on your hikes.  Composite construction keeps the pack’s weight as low as possible and prevents that backwards pull that is liable to drain your energy.  Since the load sits close to your body, it is easier to carry.  The shoulder straps are ergonomically shaped, and the tough nylon fabric is resistant to moisture and tearing.  Wingman pockets and a U-shaped zipper keep your gear accessible on the go.  Customers praise the Arc’teryx Altra 65 for its versatility and handy compartments.

North Face Terra 65

This is a less expensive choice, retailing in the $150-$200 range.  The North Face Terra 65 is highly rated on Amazon.com with an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars.  This stylish blue and red pack includes OPTIFIT suspension for comfort, and includes vertical channels for ventilation.  The shoulder harness is padded to prevent bruising and strain, while the hipbelt helps to distribute the load evenly and preserve your energy.  Soft air mesh improves hip ventilation and keeps the backpack comfy.  A side zipper makes it easy to access the main compartment at any time.  

What are customers saying?  The North Face Terra 65 is popular because it is lightweight yet strong.  Its durability helps it hold up great to plenty of use over the years, and it is great for keeping gear dry.  The main compartment is huge and can hold plenty of equipment, though some users find the side zipper annoying.  

Osprey Stratos 24 

The Osprey Stratos 24 is an even more popular backpack that also has received 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com.  You can purchase this backpack for $80-$120.  With more than 70 customer reviews, there is a lot of information you can use to learn more about this good hiking backpack.  Features include large panel access, an attachment for an ice axe, and zippered mesh hipbelt pockets.  It is ideal for treks that last several days or longer.  

Customers stated that they found the main compartment a little hard to reach (this is a common complaint with even the best backpacks for hiking), but that they found the other features intuitive and handy, like the mini-pocket on the shoulder strap.  Large pulls make the zippers easy to use.  The hydration pack includes openings in the right places, and the removable rain cover provides additional great functionality.  If you know you will be hiking in a rainy environment, you can bring it; if you are heading off into the desert, you can leave it at home.  The design of the Osprey Stratos 24 is incredibly well-balanced; as one customer pointed out, it sits the same way on your back whether it is empty or full.  This is definitely one of the most outstanding pack designs we have seen.

Kelty Red Cloud 90

This popular backpack has more than 40 customer reviews on Amazon, currently ranking 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Is it the best backpack for hiking?  It may well be, ranging in price between $150 and $350, and including an abundance of exciting features.  This top loading back is made out of durable 420-denier polyester, includes front-panel access, a sleeping bag compartment, hydration, ice-axe loops, mesh water bottle pockets, load stabilizer straps and more.  The lid can convert into a lumbar pack.  

Customers who purchase the Kelty Red Cloud 90 stated that they were impressed by the high capacity of the pack, which provided them with plenty of room for everything they needed for longer treks.  The Kelty Red Cloud 90 was not designed as an ultra-light pack (empty, it weighs over 5 pounds), bur rather as something heavy duty that can accommodate all your needs.  The fabric is extremely resilient   Even though the pack is not waterproof, it does resist water pretty well.  The balancing is excellent; even if you have the pack loaded up to three quarters of its load capacity, there will be no unbalancing while you are walking.  The volume is tremendous; even huge zero degree sleeping bags and other bulky supplies will fit fine inside the Kelty Red Cloud 90.

Gregory Z30 

This backpack sells in the $130-$150 range, and is very popular with shoppers.  It includes great features like a ventilated back panel, excellent lumbar support, and intuitive and easy-to-reach access points and pockets for supplies.  It is pretty large (but not huge; it would be ideal for a couple of days or even a day hike) and is actually quite similar to the Osprey Stratos 24 which we discussed earlier.  It is a heavier-duty pack than the Osprey Stratos 24 though, and can hold more weight without the balance suffering.  The pockets are also arguably even better distributed.  It weighs around 2 pounds, and includes hydration, pockets on the hipbelt, a rain cover, 2 mesh pockets for water bottles, and an expandable pocket.   

Customers who bought the Gregory Z30 were very positive in their hiking backpack reviews.  They loved the pockets and compartments, and stated that the pack is reasonably lightweight, while still remaining durable.  Lumbar support is a feature that a number of reviewers praised, and a few users commented that it can work for other purposes too, since it can easily qualify as a carry-on luggage bag at an airport.  

What is the Best Hiking Backpack?

One thing you will notice when you are reading hiking backpack reviews is the fact that two customers will often disagree wildly about a single pack, even though both are referencing the same features.  One hiker’s pro can be another hiker’s con, depending on why they purchased the pack and what they intended to use it for.  

To summarize, here were our general findings on the five best hiking backpacks:

  • Arc’teryx Altra 65:  This is the most expensive option we looked at, and may be the best backpack for hiking if you are going on long treks.  This pack has a very high capacity and advanced ergonomic design.

  • North Face Terra 65:  If you do not mind the side zipper on the main compartment, this is a good hiking backpack with a lot of great features.

  • Osprey Stratos 24:  This exciting pack from one of the best hiking backpack brands features incredible load balancing, and is ideal if you are looking for something lighter.  The removable rain cover is a great feature if you hike in a variety of environments.

  • Kelty Red Cloud 90:  This is a large, heavy-duty pack that was designed to offer you all the space you could possibly need.  It is an excellent choice for hiking in cold environments where you might need to bring along extra layers of clothes and heavy-duty sleeping gear.

  • Gregory Z30:  This pack is similar to the Osprey Stratos 24 and can hold a bit more weight.  It features the same excellent balancing, but does not have the removable rain cover.

Any of the hiking backpack brands discussed above offers a range of great choices, and the specific packs we talked about are some of the best hiking backpacks out there.  The best thing you can do when choosing your backpack is sit down and inventory your needs, and then cross-reference the specifications and hiking backpack reviews online against your list to find the best fit.


What is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

If you’re in over your head financially, and you don’t see any way out, one possible solution that might help you to make a fresh start and move on with your life is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 are the most common types of bankruptcy filings in the US, though for most people Chapter 7 will be the best choice.  When you file for this type of bankruptcy, most of your unsecured debt will be wiped out—that means all your bills and loans which are not tied to personal property like a house or car.  

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is sometimes referred to as “liquidation” or “straight” bankruptcy.  Most people choose this type of bankruptcy for two reasons.  Firstly, you generally don’t have to go on a repayment plan, and secondly, you can hang onto most or all of your property.

Basic Facts:

  • It takes about four to six months to complete the entire Chapter 7 bankruptcy process.  It will cost you about $300 in fees, and you will usually only have to visit court once.

  • You are required to attend credit counseling with an approved agency in order to file for this type of bankruptcy.

  • If you have received a discharge from a previous bankruptcy filing anytime in the last 6 to 8 years, you cannot file again.  You also cannot file for Chapter 7 if you could easily complete a repayment plan as required by Chapter 13.

  • When you file, you’ll need to provide proof of your property, income, monthly living expenses and debts.  You also will have to describe any property and money which you owned and spent over the most recent two years, as well as property you sold or gave away during that same timeframe.  If you believe some of your property is “exempt” from the Chapter 7 process (in other words, property you believe you can keep), you must list all items.  This could include a car, a house, clothing, and so on.

The Chapter 7 Process:

Step 1:  The Automatic Stay

Bankruptcy 7 provides you what is known as an “Order for Relief.”  This is colloquially referred to as an “automatic stay.”  Basically, when you file, none of your creditors can go after you.  There is a temporary hold on all collections.  That means nobody can garnish your wages, take money out of your bank account, or try to repossess your property.  You are granting the court temporary control over your possessions.  

Step 2:  The Trustee Collects

The court will assign you someone called a “bankruptcy trustee” to try and pay off your creditors.  That person will collect your nonexempt property and sell it to pay off as many debts as possible.  The trustee is paid based on his or her ability to get the debts paid off, so be assured, any property you do not carefully specify as exempt (with the court’s approval) will be considered fair game.  If you’re like most people in this situation however, the trustee probably won’t find much of value to sell.

Step 3:  Meeting with Creditors

A couple of weeks after you file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, you’ll be scheduled for a meeting with your creditors.  This meeting is arbitrated by the trustee.  You’ll be sworn in, asked questions about your circumstances and paperwork, and discuss matters with your creditors in an attempt to reach a solution which is acceptable to everyone.  This will probably be the only time you visit the courthouse.

What Happens To Your Property?

If you have exempt property, you can typically keep it.  This includes vehicles (up to a certain value), clothing (but not luxury clothing), household furnishings and electronics (unless you have extras, like a second TV), jewelry (up to a certain value), life insurance and pensions, home equity, tools used for business, earned, unpaid wages (up to a certain value), public benefits, and personal effects.  

Nonexempt property includes luxury cars, clothing and expensive jewelry which could help pay off your debts (including family heirlooms), coin collections, expensive instruments (unless you work as a musician), secondary vehicles or estates, cash, bank accounts, and investments.  

The good news is that a lot of nonexempt property is tedious to sell, and a trustee will often pass it over it if doesn’t look easy to move and liquidate.  So a lot of people who find themselves in this situation do not lose anything.  What about secured debts which are tied to exempt property?  If you’re behind, the creditor may attempt to lift the stay and possess your property, but if you are current, you will probably keep the property.  Sometimes liens against property in these situations can be erased through the Chapter 7 process.  

Which Debts Will I Still Owe?

Aside from certain bills that you may be current on (like your mortgage), you will still owe child support, back taxes, and student loan debts in most cases.  If you incurred debts through fraudulent acts, you will still owe those debts as well.  Is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy right for you?  Every individual case is different.  If you would have to forfeit a lot of property or you would still have a fair amount of debt left over after filing, it may not be the best option.  There are other options like credit counseling which are available to you as well.  For the best course of action, it is wise to seek legal advice.


Genesis by StudioPress Review

The Genesis Framework by StudioPress is a popular WordPress theme club which gives you instant access to dozens of child themes.  If you don’t already know what that means, a child theme is a theme that inherits the functionality of a parent theme; you can further modify and customize the child theme in order to create a unique theme.  The Genesis Framework comes with a lot more than themes, however—it also comes with a foundation for your website and includes great SEO value, widgets, and layout options, support and more.

<h3>Company Information</h3>

StudioPress is a US-based company that has been in operation since 2009 and has a very high Google PR of 8.  Their website receives a ton of traffic because their themes and framework are very popular.  This is one of the few companies TopFiveAwards has looked into which offers a thirty-day money-back guarantee.  StudioPress has received many accolades for their Genesis Framework, and was called “best of the best” among WordPress premium framework providers by Mashable.

<h3>Licensing Terms</h3>

StudioPress sells their themes separately, but only offers one all-in-one package.  The Pro Plus All-Theme Package costs a one-time payment of $349.95 and includes all of the themes StudioPress has created along with the Genesis Framework and all of the themes the company will create in the future.  There are no recurring fees, which is definitely an appealing aspect of this package.  Purchasing all the themes as part of the package (instead of separately) results in over $800.00 of savings.  All themes and other elements are released under the GPL license, and you may use the themes across unlimited sites.  The package includes full theme support and lifetime updates.

<h3>Theme Quality</h3>

The quality of the Genesis themes is very high, with some themes developed for general use and others for specific applications.  For example, AgentPress is specifically designed for real estate agents while Lifestyle is built for online magazines.  Corporate is built for any professional business to use, while Crystal is designed to show off photos and other images.  Family Tree is designed to help you showcase special moments, and Mindstream is created for blogging.  

The fact that there’s something for everyone here is definitely a plus, especially if you operate a web design business and regularly build websites for diverse clients.  Whether a client wants a website for their family tree or wedding announcement or for their new startup real estate business or photography business, you’ll be able to find a great format effortlessly.  You can also customize the themes you purchase to your heart’s content using the many theme options which are available to you and the plugins and widgets which are available to enhance the sites you create.

<h3>Theme Options</h3>

When you purchase one of the Genesis themes, you need to purchase the Genesis framework in order to modify the theme options.  The theme plus the framework costs more than $70.00 (so you can see immediately why the package results in massive savings).  You’re given a number of layout options, a customizable backdrop and header, footer widgets, featured images, threaded comments, and more.  PSD layered graphics are available for easy modifications.  Detailed tutorials on the site teach you how to use the Genesis framework, though most of the theme settings are very intuitive.  You don’t need to know code to use the Genesis user interface, which makes it simple to modify fonts and sizes, categories, posts and more with a click.  It’s also effortless to add in WordPress widgets in order to add more functionality to your websites.  

StudioPress has created numerous different plugins for WordPress which can be used for specific purposes.  For example, if you’re creating a real estate website, you can use the AgentPress Listing plugin to add listings to your site and make those listings searchable to site visitors.  If you’re building a social network, you can use Genesis Connect to streamline the process.  You can also use the Social Profiles Widget to insert links to your social profiles.  While some plugins are free, others may cost an extra fee.

<h3>Overall Value</h3>

Genesis is a very popular choice among website designers because their package includes so many themes, many of which are excellent for specific purposes.  Since the sites are so specific but cover so many niches, Genesis offers both breadth and depth.  Built-in SEO, custom widgets, and excellent security features increase the value of the package even more.  One drawback however may be that the learning curve may be a bit steep if you want to go beyond the modifications permitted by the child themes; there is a lack of documentation for manual customizations at this point.  If you don’t know much about code, you may hit a wall if you want to take the themes further.  

Genesis appears to offer great customer support.  Aside from the poor documentation for manual customizations, there are many in-depth tutorials including video tutorials, and a support system that includes an email/ticket system for specific inquiries to the staff.  An updates blog and social networking features helps you keep up with the latest and meet fellow developers and resolve problems together.  

There is one more drawback, which is that while this package includes 46 themes, the cost per theme is pretty high at $7.78 per theme.  Most other theme clubs we’ve looked into have much lower prices per theme, and some of the best packages we saw included themes at less than $3.00 per theme.  Ultimately the price value is the only factor that has really brought down our overall ranking from a perfect score.  You’re getting a lot more in that cost than just the themes, however, including excellent customer support features, lifetime updates, and unlimited licensing.   The themes themselves are of an excellent caliber.  In conclusion, TopFiveAwards gives Genesis a 9/10 for clean and effective designs and a great subscription service which can provide you with a superb starting point for your new or existing blog.


7 Reasons to Market Your Website in 2011                 (excerpt)

“What’s your website?”

This is a question you’ve probably been hearing more and more over the past several years.  Maybe your response has been to direct people to your business’s phone number or its street address.  After all, that worked fine in the past.  But the world is moving into the future, and Australia is moving with it.  So are your competitors’ businesses.  

Maybe you already have a website.  But are you using it and marketing it to its fullest potential?  

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ recent findings (2006-2007), 64% of Australian homes had Internet access, a leap in four percentage points from the previous year.  

Consider for a moment what a phonebook entry or a newspaper advertisement can’t buy you:

  • A written record of communication with your customers.

  • A way to contact your customers directly and unobtrusively.

  • An easy way to regularly update patrons on your business and its offerings

  • The flexible advantages of multimedia presentation 

  • Real time statistics about who is looking for you, who is interested in your products and services, and who is converting

For the hefty price most phonebooks, newspapers and other print media have been charging you for temporary and inflexible ads, you don’t get a lot of bang for your buck.  

What can the internet offer you that other forms of advertising can’t?

  1. Improve you Reach and Ease of Access

  2. Social Media, A Powerful Marketing Tool

  3. Blogging

  4. Amazing Branding Opportunities

  5. Demonstrate Your Professionalism

  6. Real Time Statistics

  7. The Bottom Line: Save Money Marketing Your Website

Whether you’re new to internet marketing or already have a website, these are seven great reasons to market your website in 2011.  

  1.  Improve your Reach and Ease of Access

According to Google, there are now more than 4 million business listings claimed by business owners on Google Places (formerly Google Maps).  That number is growing every day as more people turn to the internet as the most convenient way to look up the products and services they need.  The internet is faster and easier to use than a phonebook, and has more information than a phonebook can provide.  

Many people no longer use their phonebooks at all when looking for a product or service, especially in their local communities.  20% of searches on Google are for local businesses and other local queries.  Internet directories like Google Places, Yelp and Yahoo Maps have all the functionality of traditional phonebooks, but also allow users to share reviews for your business.  There’s no more effective method for converting new customers than to let your current customers speak for you.  Testimonials are one of the most powerful marketing tools available to gain trust.

If your business markets to a national or international consumer base, the internet is even more critical to your success.  Phonebooks only connect customers to businesses in their own community.  Having a website can give you a wider geographical reach than you ever imagined possible.  If you are selling a physical product or an online service, you can even set up your website to double as a shop.  You may be able to sell to customers who would never be able to visit your storefront.  Many internet users enjoy the time and money they can save by shopping from their comfort of their homes.  This can include shoppers in your community too.

The internet allows potential customers to search more specifically than the categories in a conventional phonebook.  This means that clients in your niche will have an easier time finding you on the internet by using specific keywords.  A website can allow you to target those keywords through a process called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).  

SEO helps you rank high in the natural, or organic, results for a keyword that a user enters into a search engine.  These are the main results you see central to the search page when you use a search engine.  You may have noticed the sponsored links and banner ads that also appear on the sides or top of search engine pages and elsewhere on the web.  These paid slots are yet another tool available to you on the World Wide Web.  Advertising this way is usually very affordable, and you can often set a custom budget that fits your needs.  We’ll cover more on that later.

At first, Search Engine Optimisation may seem overwhelming, but hiring a web design company like Web Corporate Media can help you overcome the hurdle of creating an effective website.   

Having a website imbued with the power of Search Engine Optimisation can help customers find you who would never know you existed otherwise.    For businesses targeting local customers, local directories like Google Places and Yelp are also an indispensable technique for finding new patronage.  Together, a website and local directory listings create a powerful weapon in your marketing arsenal.


Modern BCAA Review

Are you deliberating about whether to purchase Modern BCAA by USP Labs?  This BCAA supplement is getting a lot of positive press, and you probably have run into quite a few bodybuilders who swear by it.  To help you make your decision, here’s our own honest, straightforward Modern BCAA review.

Modern BCAA is a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement which comes in the form of a powder, not a pill.  This is good for a couple reasons.  The first is the price.  Those BCAA pills can cost triple what Modern BCAA costs.  The second reason we prefer our BCAA this way is that you need to dissolve it into water in order to take it.  The water soluble form is easier for you to digest.  So already that’s a definite plus for Modern BCAA vs. other BCAAs.

No review on Modern BCAA is complete without some note about the taste.  To take Modern BCAA, dissolve 2 level scoops into 20 ounces of water.  You shake it up and it mixes clear (which is nice).  Unlike other BCAA supplements we’ve tried, this one doesn’t taste like crap.  It’s pretty good actually!  Both the white blue raspberry and the grape bubblegum are great, but we prefer the grape.  Just be sure to rinse out your shaker after you’re done; BCAAs can leave a smelly residue behind.  Modern BCAA is no exception in this respect.  It’s not a big deal; you’re probably not going to find any BCAA which doesn’t do this.  The powder is extremely micronized, which makes it super fine, more so than any other BCAA product out there.  This is why it mixes in so well.  

Modern BCAA ingredients include leucine, isoleucine, and valine, along with the dipeptide Sustamine L-Alanyl-L-Glutamine.  Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the three branched chain amino acids.  These are essential amino acids, meaning you can only get them through your diet or supplements.  Your body is unable to manufacture these from scratch.  As a bodybuilder, you need these BCAAs, since they are key building blocks for proteins which make up your muscles.  The Sustamine L-Alanyl-L-Glutamine is a specialized dipeptide form of L-Glutamine, which is another key building block for your muscles.  The Sustamine form makes it more readily available to your muscles since it can be more easily absorbed by the cells in your intestine.  This stuff also protects your immune system, which can suffer if you overstrain yourself while working out.

These ingredients are 100% natural, which is important to us.  We don’t like putting artificial additives in our bodies, and we also don’t want to use steroids or prohormones which can have adverse effects.  We want something which will enhance our production of testosterone, not reduce or destroy it.  The ingredients in Modern BCAA do just that.  They augment testosterone production, help us burn pesky visceral fat, and improve the strength of our hearts and cardiovascular health.  We’ve also noticed we feel a substantial endurance boost when running with this stuff in our systems, most likely due to the presence of the Sustamine.

How does Modern BCAA hold up against other BCAA supplements?  In terms of Modern BCAA vs. Xtend, Xtend costs less, but Xtend’s ratio of leucine, isoleucine, and valine is only 2-1-1.  Leucine is by far the most important of the three branched chain amino acids for bodybuilders!  Modern BCAA’s ratio is 8-1-1.  That’s four times the ratio of leucine!  Considering that Modern BCAA doesn’t cost four times as much, that’s a pretty good deal.    

We’ve tried Xtend and other BCAAs, but nothing else we used was so finely pulverized, dissolved so well into the water, tasted so delicious, and made us feel as good as Modern BCAA.  We were able to last significantly longer at the gym and while running, and we discovered that we needed a lot less time between workouts to recover.  Our muscle soreness was a lot briefer, and we had less of a burn while exercising.  We were able to bench a lot more and within a few weeks, our physiques were looking pretty toned!

So to close off our USP Labs Modern BCAA review, we really must conclude this is the very highest quality BCAA supplement we’ve tried.  We’re also very happy with other products created by USP Labs, including Jack3d and the Asteroid Stack.  There’s a good reason that this company is considered so reliable by so many athletes; they just make damn good stuff.  Modern BCAA is no exemption; this is a fine product which will enhance your workout and your general health.


About Us

What is Kalon Surf?

Kalon Surf is where surf meets sand …

… Where beginning, novice, and advanced surfers meet with just the challenge they need to advance to the next level.

… Where luxury accommodations meet with sustainability.

… Where outdoor active fun meets with relaxation and tranquility.

… And above all, where our guests meet with the best customer service they have ever experienced.

Kalon Surf is a luxury boutique resort and surf school located in Domincal, Costa Rica.  Our mission is to provide each and every one of our guests the most personalized, exciting, and memorable vacation they have ever experienced.  Whether you have never touched a surfboard in your life or you are a veteran wave rider, we can show you something new on the sparkling waters off of Costa Rica.  And when you get back from your day out on the waves, you get to enjoy beautiful accommodations, gourmet cuisine, relaxing spa services, and nights that are every bit as unforgettable as your days.  It’s all part of one all-inclusive surf package, customized to your needs!


Review of Kodak EasyShare C182 Digital Camera

If you're looking for a great point and shoot digital camera with some nice manual capabilities at an affordable price, the Kodak EasyShare C182 may be the digital camera for you.  

Priced around $100.00, the C182 combines ease of use with flexible features.  I bought this Kodak camera after my old Canon decided to die after several years with no provocation.  With 12.4 megapixels and a 3X optical zoom, the resolution on the EasyShare is great and the 8-1/1400 sec. shutter speed makes for nice, sharp, clean shots.  The digital camera comes with 16 MB of internal memory and a slot for a SD card, but I've never had a need for one.  The LCD display is nice and clear, and the camera is capable of shooting video.  Upload to the computer is simple and smooth.

You can control the exposure  to ±2.0 EV with 1/3 EV steps.  There are white balance options at set modes (daylight, indoor, etc.), various shooting and scene modes with internal settings, and a handy "program" mode where you can control many of the features yourself.  The automatic ISO sensitivity is 64-400, but you can set it manually up to 1600.  

I've had this camera a year now with few problems in functionality.  The one defect I can think of is that the long exposure modes do not work for me.  The resulting shot is always blank and white.  

If the EasyShare C182 has a single major drawback in its programming, it is the inability to manually set focus.  There are three focus modes: macro, infinity and auto.  The first two don't work very well.  "Auto" works quite well overall, but the problem with it is that it focuses on the center of the screen whether you want it to or not–which means you cannot always frame a shot the way you want to.  

The macros you can get with this digital camera are nice enough, but this isn't a great camera for super close up shots of very tiny objects; it does best several inches or more away from an object.  The EasyShare C182 does do magnificently with landscape shots though.  Not only are the shots well focused, and the lighting well distributed, but there is a wonderful, ineffable quality to them much resembling a watercolour if you view them zoomed to 100% on your computer.  Zoomed back out, they look like ordinary photographs, but something of the painterly quality still lingers.  This is something special which you won't find with every camera.

In conclusion, despite drawbacks with the auto-focus and the long exposure, the wonderful landscape shots and the decent macro shots make the Kodak EasyShare C182 well worth $100.00.  More expensive cameras will give you a wider range of options and control, but this one makes up for it in adaptability, ease of use, and of course the stellar price.  Several years ago, this same camera probably would've gone for about $500.00.  A good thing to keep in mind!

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