Posts Tagged ‘Flower Blossoms’

Twitter: Stop Making This #FollowFriday Mistake

May 26, 2010

In my previous blog, I wrote about FollowFriday, some of the reasons why it started, and the many ways that Twitter users can participate in it.

Not gaining as many followers as you thought you would on #FollowFriday? You are probably making this mistake.I am writing this blog because I still see a lot of people doing it WRONG. I did not even find out that people were participating in FollowFriday incorrectly until I went to their profiles and saw the FollowFriday recommendations they tweeted to their followers.

Or tried to. One of the Tweeps whose profile I visited had tweet after tweet of her followers during one FollowFriday. She sent out about 60 unique tweets with 8-11 user names each, and all of them ended with the shorter FollowFriday hashtag, #FF. Who ended up seeing her FollowFriday tweets the moment she posted them? Unfortunately, only she did, as well as the users mentioned in the tweet, IF they are online at the time.

What mistake did she make? In each of her FollowFriday tweets, the beginning of the tweet was a user name of her follower. According to Twitter, “[a]n @reply is any Twitter update that begins with @username.”  Therefore, Twitter treated all of her FollowFriday tweets as a reply for the very first user in each tweet. How about the rest of the users in the tweet? Twitter handles the tweet as a “mention”, which is “any Twitter update that contains @username in the body of the tweet.”

Why is it important to know the difference between replies and mentions? Replies do not show up on the public timeline or home timeline, generally speaking, while mentions do. Let’s look at the following hypothetical tweet.

@tonystevens4, @TweetSmarter, @FlowerBlossoms, @ParachuteGuy, @snopes, @NikiConnor, @ScienceChannel, @FailBlog, @shinng #ff

The tweet begins immediately with the user name, @tonystevens4, so Twitter treats the tweet as a reply and will not show up in the public timeline. However, people can see replies in their home timeline if, and only if, they are following both the sender and recipient of the tweet. How would that look like?

From my home timeline:

tonystevens4 @NikiConnor Good morning, Niki!

NikiConnor @tonystevens4 Good morning, Tony!

Going back to the hypothetical tweet, each of the users in the tweet, including @tonystevens4, would find this tweet in their own mentions feed and nowhere else. We can modify the tweet a few ways in order for it to show up in the home timeline and public timeline. For example, we can add the hashtag, #FollowFriday, in front of the tweet,

#FollowFriday @tonystevens4, @TweetSmarter, @FlowerBlossoms, @ParachuteGuy, @snopes, @NikiConnor, @ScienceChannel, @FailBlog, @shinng #ff

or we can add a period or forward slash:

.@tonystevens4, @TweetSmarter, @FlowerBlossoms, @ParachuteGuy, @snopes, @NikiConnor, @ScienceChannel, @FailBlog, @shinng #ff

/@tonystevens4, @TweetSmarter, @FlowerBlossoms, @ParachuteGuy, @snopes, @NikiConnor, @ScienceChannel, @FailBlog, @shinng #ff

What does this show? The mechanism for replies is very specific, but making a tweet appear in the home and public timelines is variable and not standardized. Indeed, as long as the beginning of the tweet does not begin with @username, the tweet will appear in the home and public timelines.

What, then, can the Tweep with the 60 unique, yet exclusive, FollowFriday tweets do in the future? As long as she does not start any of her FollowFriday tweets with @username, her recommendations will appear in her home timeline and the public timeline. If you have tens of thousands of followers, you do not want to make this FollowFriday mistake.

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Francis M. Unson

Twitter: How do you do #FollowFriday?

May 24, 2010

Every Friday on Twitter, have you noticed a flood of tweets from your followers that contain the user names of their followers as well as the hashtag, #FollowFriday or #FF, on your timeline?  If you do a search on Twitter for either hashtag, you will undoubtedly find other people doing the same thing.

FollowFriday began on January 16, 2009 by Micah Baldwin (@micah).  While trending topics come and go due to world events, FollowFriday has become a weekly trending topic ever since, embraced by Tweeps worldwide.  Why do people engage in FollowFriday?  People may come up with many reasons for why they engage in FollowFriday, but the most common reason involves promoting their own followers to others.  After all, no two people have exactly the same set of people they are following.  People spend the weekend, as well as Monday, adding FollowFriday recommendations.

Do you participate in the weekly trending top, #FollowFriday?  When you're on Twitter on a Friday, you're going to see many tweets with the #FollowFriday and #FF hashtags in them.  How can you participate in #FollowFriday more efficiently?Like retweeting, there is no right or wrong way to participate in FollowFriday.  Many people place a #FF or #FollowFriday hashtag before or after their recommendations.  The people listed tend to retweet the FollowFriday tweet they are in, effectively taking part in FollowFriday, too.  Some people do not leave the hashtags to chance and add “Please follow” just before the list of usernames.  Tweeps such as Daniel (@DanielStoicaTax) go the extra mile and include information from the bio of the person they are recommending in their tweet.

Some people in social media have raised concerns about the value of FollowFriday and why its initial popularity and seeming die off soon after makes the trending topic more of a fad instead of a trend.  One of the concerns I agree with deals with “Noise vs. Value”.  From Monday to Thursday, I can rely on the users I am following to tweet about or retweet new content.  On Friday, however, tweets marked with #FollowFriday or #FF take over my timeline.  I try my best to add new followers, but when you follow thousands, your followers recommend just as many.

How can we combat the “noise” of FollowFriday and increase the value added to our time spent on Twitter?  We have a few options.


TwitLonger allows us to send tweets that exceed 140 characters.  I have not tested just how many characters a tweet through the website can accommodate, but they have come through for me in the past when my own tweets went over the character limit.  TwitLonger works likes this:

  • It accommodates as much of the original tweet as possible.
  • When the tweet is too long, it truncates enough characters at the end so that it can append the following: (cont)…
  • The shortcut link provided takes you to the TwitLonger website where you can view the entire tweet.

You can effectively take care of your FollowFriday recommendations in a single tweet by using TwitLonger instead of sending out 10 or 20 tweets, or more, the normal way.  However, only the first few people at the beginning of the large tweet would be seen in the original tweet.  People have a tendency of replying only to tweets that mention their user name.  Twitter clients such as HootSuite and TweetDeck do not expand FollowFriday tweets from TwitLonger links.  The most intrepid of Tweeps who do add more followers from a TwitLonger link would find it surprisingly convenient.


If I can hazard a guess from their blog entries on their website, TweepML was probably the best way to manage groups of Tweeps before Twitter introduced Twitter Lists a few months later.  Nonetheless, adding a list of followers on TweepML saves the tedium of adding followers, one at a time, especially if you add them through the Twitter website.  TweepML works like this:

  • You find a list of Tweeps you would like to add.  Remove any users you choose not to add before signing in.
  • Sign into the website using OAuth.  You will briefly go to the Twitter website.
  • On the screen asking if you allow TweepML access, click on “Yes”.
  • You will return to TweepML and the website will start adding people from the list immediately.

A warning: Twitter has a number of rate limits in place.  We can get flagged for sending out too many tweets or attempting to follow a large number of users in a short period of time.  There is a good chance you will not be able to follow a list of 500 Tweeps in one instance.  If this happens to you, keep track of the last user on the list that you were able to follow.  A few hours later, continue where you left off, making sure to uncheck the names of the Tweeps at the top of the list that you have already started following earlier.

On the other hand, if you have used TweepML to create user lists, the website will provide you with a link to the list, and you can share that link on Twitter.

Twitter Lists

You can send tweets about Twitter Lists and reference them directly.  For example, in the following tweet, I share three lists and each contains a number of users.  You can create a list with up to 500 users each.  Many Tweeps create a list of “highly recommended” users for FollowFriday and update the list weekly.  It is worth noting that people can follow Twitter Lists but not follow the users that make up the list.

Finally, however way you choose to participate in FollowFriday, you maybe pleasantly surprised to see which of your followers have decided to recommend you.  If you find yourself in somebody’s FollowFriday tweet, don’t forget to send a “Thank you” or “Gratitude” tweet.  After all, they took the time to recommend you for FollowFriday, and you have many options for how you can recommend them back.

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Francis M. Unson

Twitter: 301 Redirect Explained [ILLUSTRATION]

May 10, 2010

The Internet has seen the rebirth of URL shorteners such as and, thanks in large part to Twitter’s popularity.  The most widely used URL shorteners use 301 Redirect, “which allows websites to move transparently between different domains while still using a common web address, allowing the website to preserve its search engine ranking”.

Even for a person like myself who transitioned easily between older and newer versions of Web x.0, the definition of “301 Redirect” seems planted in Web 1.0, at a time when people made personal websites on hosts such as Angelfire or the defunct GeoCities (remember those?).  Twitter has given new life to URL shorteners but in some ways, modified peoples’ understanding of what 301 Redirect actually does.  The heady definition I provided probably requires simplification to reflect current usage.

If you can’t wait for industry leaders to simplify the definition, however, I hope this crude drawing shows how 301 Redirect would work, namely, between the tweets on Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter account (@GuyKawasaki) and his news website, Alltop.  Notice that, despite using four different URL shorteners for the same article, all four “lanes” of the “@GuyKawasaki Highway” merge into one street, Holy Kaw! Boulevard”,  the section on his website where we would find the article.

If the definition of 301 Redirect seems dated, this illustration showing the links between the tweets on Guy Kawasaki's Twitter account and his news website, Alltop, should help.

The Symbiotic Relationship between Guy Kawasaki, Twitter, Alltop, and 301 Redirect

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Francis M. Unson

College Aid Opportunities to the Rescue

May 6, 2010

Parents often find the first bill from their child’s college a real eye-opener.  When they do the math, they realize their current cash flow and financial aid insufficient.  Where can parents and students alike turn to make up the difference?  Here are six college aid options to consider.

Where can parents and students turn to when their cash flow and financial aid are insufficient? Some options include Stafford Loans and PLUS, among other options.Federal Government Stafford Loans

You can apply to borrow money for your school until May of the current school year.  Undergraduates can borrow $2,625-$5,500 per year, while graduate students can borrow up to $18,500.  For the 2008-09 through 2011-12 school years, subsidized Stafford loan interest rates for undergraduate students drop to 6.0%, 5.6%, 4.5% and 3.4%, with a return to 6.8% in 2012-13.  Loans for graduate students throughout the same period remain at 6.8%.  The government will pay interest on the loan for students who can demonstrate need. Students who do not demonstrate need can defer interest payments until after graduation, but interest will be added to the principal balance.  If you must borrow from a bank, consider Sallie Mae, a bank affiliated with the Student Loan Marketing Association.

Parent Loans for Undergraduate Students (PLUS)

PLUS allows parents to borrow the total cost of tuition less the amount of financial aid the child is eligible to receive from the school, with a fixed interest rate capped at 8.5%.  Unlike the Stafford Loan, the interest on a PLUS cannot be deferred.


Although most colleges bill students twice a year, Academic Management Services offers a monthly payment plan to spread out the cost.

Home-equity loans

When applying for this type of loan, your bank will charge the prime lending rate plus one-and-one-half points.  The interest on the loan is fully tax-deductible.  Furthermore, the equity reduction in your home improves your chances of receiving more financial aid in the future.

Borrow against your pension

According to federal law, you can borrow against the assets in your tax-deferred pension, profit-sharing and 401 (k) plans if you need money for college.

Borrow from your IRA

Consider this your very last option if possible.  According to federal law, you can borrow funds against your IRA on the condition that you can replace the funds within 60 days.  If you cannot replace the funds within 60 days, you will be taxed on the amount withdrawn, but you won’t incur a 10% penalty because the funds went towards qualified higher education purposes such as tuition.

Families should become aware of the options they have at their disposal towards paying for the college education of their children with the understanding that they’re not alone.  The federal government provides loans with manageable interest rates and terms for students and parents alike.  Even if they don’t turn to the government for help, they have additional options.  Children should not be denied higher education opportunities just because of a perceived lack of funds or insufficient financial aid.  Families just have to know where to look.

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Francis M. Unson

Twitter Influence: Another Case Study

May 4, 2010

I wrote a Twitter Influence case study in a previous blog comparing the different approaches that @TweetSmarter and @tonystevens4 took towards building a strong Twitter Influence, concluding with the lessons I have learned by following them.

Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of Alltop

Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of Alltop. Courtesy:

The following case study takes the same approach towards analyzing the Twitter Influence of another prominent, highly followed, highly listed and highly influential user, with two usernames: @GuyKawasaki / @Alltop. Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of Alltop, tweets from both accounts, and each account serves a slightly different purpose. I will, like before, present my findings from what I learned by following Guy’s accounts and the example tweets that back up my findings.

@GuyKawasaki / @Alltop

Like @TweetSmarter, I would describe @GuyKawasaki and @Alltop as a reliable source of information. In Guy’s words, his website, Alltop, is “an online magazine rack”. Indeed, when browsing the subject headings on Alltop, you will find about as many topics as you would find at the magazine section of Barnes and Noble or Borders.

What he does

Guy sets a schedule for tweets on his namesake’s username, @GuyKawasaki, so that people in different time zones around the world can read the articles referenced in his tweets. If you are on your computer all day, you will see up to three tweets about the same topic from this username. Interestingly, when Guy follows you back, you will receive a direct message (DM) from him encouraging you to add his other username, @Alltop. He promises that the tweets from @Alltop are unique and non-repeating, even though they originate from the same place as the tweets from @GuyKawasaki.

What does Guy tweet about? A lot of subjects, to say the least. All of Guy’s tweets from both accounts link to the Alltop website, particularly the section called, Holy Kaw! All the topics that interest us. In other words, since the articles featured in this section are, in their opinion, the most interesting or intriguing, his followers are very likely to retweet them. Meanwhile, visitors to the Alltop website can find an archive of articles that Guy has tweeted about previously as well as links to “stories [from] the top news websites and blogs from any given topic”, which include the following:

In addition, a handful of ghost writers and “ghost Twitterers” help Guy write the “starting point” introductions that entice his followers enough to click through to the article source.

Why this is significant

Guy and his company, Alltop, have become a reliable source of information that his followers trust, relying on “results of Google searches, review of the sites’ and blogs’ content, researchers, and [their] ‘gut’ plus the recommendations of the Twitter community, owners of the sites and blogs, and people who care enough to write to [them]“. The Twitter community, therefore, has served as nothing short of a content filter, and Alltop displaying just the filtered content. Aware that the content may have worldwide appeal, he schedules tweets on the @GuyKawasaki account to appear three or four times per day to make sure that people in different countries and time zones can read his tweets while they are awake. In order to avoid repeat tweets that some people consider spam, he sends unique, non-repeating tweets from the @Alltop account. When people visit the Alltop website, they find themselves at a website with well-organized topics and high-value content that may very well become their default news portal. When you schedule tweets on a daily basis and have tens of thousands of tweets under your belt under both usernames each, you may need a hand at sending extra tweets or writing article introductions.

Here is a sample of the tweets he posts:

By the way, I must note one caveat. Recently, Twitter updated their policy that banned recurring tweets. Strictly speaking, no two tweets can be sent that is a character-for-character copy of each other. While some high-volume users have stopped long-term scheduled tweets (e.g. verbatim tweets posted at regular intervals), others, such as Guy, have pressed the services of multiple URL shortcuts that use 301 redirect, as seen below. Twitter sees the character string of each tweet as unique even though all three links lead to the same article in Alltop:

While @TweetSmarter and @tonystevens4 exert their Twitter Influence on the Twitter medium almost exclusively, Guy Kawasaki exerts a Twitter Influence beyond the Twitter realm thanks to the Alltop website. In fact, Guy could conceivably have a following from people who read the news regularly yet not be a part of Twitter or Facebook at all. I can conclude with certainty that Guy is a reliable, retweetable source of information through his Twitter usernames, @GuyKawasaki and @Alltop, and the Alltop website.

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Francis M. Unson

Cinco de Mayo: History and Misconceptions

May 3, 2010

So what’s the big deal about Cinco de Mayo?  Even the people of Mexico scratch their heads when they hear of the festivities taking place in the United States.  In order to understand the significance that Americans have placed on the fifth day of May, we must look to mid-19th century American and Mexican history.

Cinco de Mayo has many misconceptions, such as the history and the food. The origins of some "Mexican" food is also shrouded in mystery.The French began a period of occupation in Mexico following the end of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 in which the United States emerged victorious.  Mexico plunged into economic despair, and a Civil War only worsened matters.  President Benito Juarez’s moratorium suspending payment of all foreign debt, issued on July 17, 1861, drew the ire of Mexico’s creditors, namely, England, Spain, and France, and the three European nations invaded Mexico to get the payments owed to them.  The English and Spanish eventually withdrew, but not the French, who wanted to establish an empire under Napoleon III and, possibly, challenge the rise of the United States.  The following year, on May 5, 1862, despite a well-equipped French army, the ill-equipped Mexican army defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla.

The United States and the state of Puebla in Mexico make Cinco de Mayo a day of celebration, which typically includes lots of Mexican food and alcohol.  What, then, constitutes Mexican food?  While certain beer and hard liquor companies have roots planted firmly in Mexican soil, you may be surprised to find out that a number of food items thought to originate from Mexico have, in fact, originated elsewhere.

“Taquito”, or “little taco”

  • Restaurant/location: El Indio in San Diego, California
  • Creator: Ralph Pesqueira Sr.
  • Year introduced: 1940

The “Chimichanga”, or “Thingamajig”

  • Restaurant/location: El Charro Cafe in Tucson, Arizona
  • Creator: Monica Flin (by accident)
  • Year introduced: 1922

“Fajitas”, or “Tacos al Carbon”

  • Restaurant/location: The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation in Houston, Texas
  • Creator: Head chef at Ninfa’s (name unknown)
  • Year popularized: 1973


  • A number of stories lay claim to the mixed drink’s origins.  Spurious at best, I will only list that the years the margarita was “invented”: 1934, 1936, 1941, 1948, and 1971.

Does the United States have any reason at all for celebrating Cinco de Mayo?  Even though the loss at the Battle of Puebla was a minor setback before France’s eventual occupation, the United States did ask the French to leave and they complied.  The U.S. state of California, with a long history tied to Mexico, celebrated Cinco de Mayo since the 1860s in support of Mexico’s resistance to French rule.  Many people probably would not even think about California taking on a supportive role as a reason to hold a celebration.  Besides the “Mexican” food that people eat on Cinco de Mayo, the most persistent misconception about Cinco de Mayo is that it is Mexican Independence Day, which is itself celebrated on September 16.  Despite so many misconceptions that surround Cinco de Mayo, the United States and the state of Puebla in Mexico will continue celebrating the commercialized holiday.

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Francis M. Unson

Data Storage Devices – By The Ton

April 30, 2010

The last week of April 2010 marked the death knell of the 3.5-inch floppy disk, one of the mainstays of portable data storage since the early days of the personal computer in the early 1980s.  Advances in ever-smaller, more portable, and vastly capacious data storage devices, such as recordable CDs and DVDs, and solid state devices such as USB flash drives and flash memory cards, hastened the end of the floppy disk that can store just a tiny percentage of data compared to the devices in use today.  How far, then, has technology come regarding data storage devices?  Let’s example a relic from the 1950s.

“Introduced in 1956, the IBM 305 RAMAC (Random Access Memory Accounting System) was an electronic general purpose data processing machine that maintained business records on a real-time basis.”

The end of the 3.5-inch floppy disk has arrived. How much did the first data storage devices weigh? How much do current storage devices, such as the USB flash drive, weigh?

The 350 Disk Storage Unit, used by the IBM 305 RAMAC

The IBM introduced the 350 Disk Storage Unit, or what we would now regard as a “hard drive”.  The specifications, heady at the time, included the following:

  • 5 million 7-bit characters (not even 8-bit characters, or “bytes”)
  • 50 aluminum disks, coated with magnetic iron oxide
  • Random-access storage (vs. sequential storage)
  • Vacuum-tube control electronics (transistors come soon after)

The entire unit took up the space of two refrigerators and weighed one ton(!).  Available only for lease, clients spent $3,200 per month for the full setup.  The cost, as you can imagine, does not include the monthly electrical bill augmented by its use as well as the use of air conditioning to prevent it from overheating during operation.

The end of the 3.5-inch floppy disk has arrived. How much did the first data storage devices weigh? How much do current storage devices, such as the USB flash drive, weigh?

The once-common 3.5-inch floppy disk

When you hear five million characters, does that sound like very much to you?  It shouldn’t; that is equal to 4.4 megabytes (MB), or about four 3.5-inch floppy disks at 1.44 MB apiece.  So over 20 years after IBM introduced the enormous hard drive, the physical storage of 4.4 MB went from two refrigerators to the mere thickness of about two or three Post-it® pads and weighing well under one pound.

Go forward another 30 years to the present time and ubiquitous, very lightweight, ultra-high capacity storage devices has marked the end of the 3.5-inch floppy disks.  However, if you wanted to have a floppy disk backup of your one gigabyte USB flash drive, how many disks would that take?  Brace yourself: you would need about 700 floppy disks(!), weighing just over 30 pounds, a huge burden on your neck considering that a USB flash drive weighs 2.1 ounces.  How much smaller will data storage devices become in the future?  The 3.5-inch floppy disk, once the new benchmark in light storage devices, seems quite “heavy” in the face of much lighter solid state data storage devices available today.  Its end was only a matter of time.

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Francis M. Unson

Living within your means: Avoiding life’s spending traps

April 29, 2010

Just before the economic decline that began in the last quarter of 2007, the average personal savings as a percentage of disposable personal income for households in the United States hovered just below 1%.  Over two years later, despite high unemployment, the percentage remains seemingly unchanged.  Credit card debt.  Recession.  Real estate meltdown.  What relief do we have in the face of a steady stream of economic gloom?  We can start by setting aside money for future expenses as well as keeping in mind a number of spending traps.

What does it take to live within your means and avoid life's spending traps? Awareness of your financial situation, making sound financial decisions, and discipline to follow through with a carefully made budget are a good start.Paying off debt is much harder than taking it on

We dislike being confronted with this reality until the monthly statement arrives in the mail or their inbox.  While credit cards serve a useful purpose when used carefully and with responsible planning, we cannot forget how much they can afford to pay back.  Easy access to our money with debit cards and ATM machines do not help matters, but we can take a proactive step and setup a text message alert with our bank that notifies us of our account balance before making a purchase.

The allure of home equity loans

We like the fact that home equity loans are tax-deductible and that we can use the money to pay off a large debt like a credit card.  If we do not intend on using that credit card ever again, using a home equity loan would make sense.  However, if we fall into the trap of using our newly paid-off credit card and resume our spending habits, we would have the loan AND the credit card to pay off.

Spending unexpected income in your mind

Did you or your spouse already spend the extra money in your minds?  For example, you want to remodel the kitchen, whereas your spouse wants to take the family to Hawaii.  Before the money arrives, deduct any taxes from it, then work with the remainder.

Creating a “complete” budget

Does your budget include spending on food, housing, and transportation?  Yes, as it should.  However, is it complete?  No, especially if you excluded occasional expenses such as taxes, gifts, insurance, car repairs and family vacations.  How can you include occasional expenses practically in your budget?  Estimate how much these expenses will come to on an annual basis, then divide that figure by 12, allowing you to set aside enough money each month.

Budgets are a mutual agreement

You and your spouse are agreeing not only on the “complete” budget, but also on allowances for each of you to spend money on what is important to you or them.  Drawing up a budget that excludes these allowances would cause resentment and cause one to spend the money in other ways.

So what does it take to live within your means?  Awareness of your financial situation, making sound financial decisions, and discipline to follow through with a carefully made budget come to mind.  Understanding that using credit cards produces debt straightaway whereas spending cash is merely a reduction in assets would be a significant step away from falling into a spending trap.  You can borrow money against your home to pay off a debt, but make sure you never create that debt again, lest you have two payments, the original debt and the second mortgage, to make every month.  Finally, creating a complete budget that includes spending on regular and intermittent expenses, as well as allowances for you and your spouse, will help you both live within your means and be better prepared for life’s spending traps.

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Francis M. Unson

Buy a Ready-Made Disaster Kit vs. Make One from Scratch

April 26, 2010

Disasters can strike at any time, arriving in the form of unannounced earthquakes, forecasted yet still destructive hurricanes and tornadoes, other acts of God and even man-made chemical spills or power plant meltdowns.  When disaster strikes, are you prepared? What does being prepared mean?  The makers of one such disaster kit breaks it down like this: Food, water, shelter, first aid, alert, and “other items”.  The first three should look familiar to you as the traditional items on an immediate “basic needs” list, while first aid deals with injury inflicted during the disaster.  Alert items help EMT or search and rescue find you sooner.  “Other items”, such as a dust mask and work gloves, help reduce further injury.

A disaster kit addresses the basic needs of food, water, and shelter for you and your family. Should you buy a ready-made kit or create one from scratch?Why do I recommend buying a ready-made disaster kit? While these kits come with everything you will need, creating a disaster kit from scratch and buying everything that comes with it takes a lot of time and effort.  The 58-item disaster kit comes with 21 unique items.  Would you like to run around a sporting goods store or department store seeking out these items?  Furthermore, you may need to make a trip to a specialty store if you can’t find some of the items.  In any event, purchasing a ready-made disaster kit will cost between $40-90.  Creating one from scratch will cost around $80 if you purchase the items in bulk, but you will be left with lots of leftovers, enough to make multiple kits.

Here are the contents of the ready-made disaster kit with all the items you need to get by until the city or state restores basic services and utilities and businesses reopen.  All the items come in a bright, safety orange backpack:

6 Emergency Drinking Pouches
1 2400-Calorie Bar
1 Flashlight w/batteries
2 Light Sticks
1 Whistle
1 Rain Poncho
1 Emergency Blanket
4 Hand Warmers
15 ¾” x 3″ Adhesive Bandages
5 ⅜” x 1 ½” Adhesive Bandages
1 Antibiotic Ointment Packet
3 Antiseptic Wipes
3 Alcohol Prep Pads
1 First Aid Guide
2 Acetaminophen Tablets (e.g. Tylenol)
2 Ibuprofen Tablets (e.g. Advil)
2 Antacid Tablets
1 Pair of Work Gloves
1 Dust Mask
1 Biohazard Bag w/tie
4 Hand Sanitizer Packets

If you feel compelled to create your own disaster kit for, say, your family of four, buying the items in bulk will save you a lot of money.  Below, I will also list the number of items purchased in bulk in parentheses.  Even if you assemble four complete kits and stuff them in a single orange backpack, you will still find yourself with a lot of leftover items, as the numbers will show.

24 Emergency Drinking Pouches (pack of 60)
4 2400-Calorie Bars (pack of 24)
4 Flashlights w/batteries (each)
8 Light Sticks (pack of 10)
4 Whistles (each)
4 Rain Ponchos (pack of 4)
4 Emergency Blankets (pack of 4)
16 Hand Warmers (pack of 40)
60 ¾” x 3″ Adhesive Bandages (pack of 100)
20 ⅜” x 1 ½” Adhesive Bandages (pack of 100)
4 Antibiotic Ointment Packets (pack of 100)
12 Antiseptic Wipes (pack of 100)
12 Alcohol Prep Pads (pack of 200)
4 First Aid Guides (each)
8 Acetaminophen Tablets (pack of 50)
8 Ibuprofen Tablets (pack of 50)
8 Antacid Tablets (pack of 125)
4 Pairs of Work Gloves (each)
4 Dust Masks (pack of 30)
4 Bio-hazard Bags w/tie (pack of 25)
16 Hand Sanitizer Packets (pack of 200)
1 Orange Backpack

As you can see, just four items (flashlight with batteries, whistle, First Aid guide, and work gloves) were not purchased in bulk.  In any case, unless you ran a doctor’s office, were compiling a disaster kit that complied with OSHA, or had accident-prone children, the chances of requiring so many first aid items, hand warmers, and packets of hand sanitizer are slim.

You may save a lot of money by assembling your own disaster kit but you will waste a lot of time doing so and you will have a lot of items leftover.  It is never too soon to purchase a disaster kit so that you and your family can have some peace of mind when the unexpected takes place.  Disaster kits address the most basic of human needs.  Do not wait until a disaster already takes place to think about the needs of you or your family.

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Francis M. Unson


The Public Launch of a “Private” Space Plane

April 23, 2010

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The United States Air Force launches a spacecraft, but mission details and even its duration remain a mystery.

The evening of April 22 marked the launch of the United State Air Force’s spacecraft, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, into space to test “a new batch of reusable technologies”, according to Gary Payton, deputy undersecretary of the Air Force space program.  Launched into space using an Atlas V rocket booster from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the test vehicle will undergo a demonstration mission.  Payton, however, would not go into further detail about the length of the mission or what exactly the demonstration will entail.  Following the mission’s end, the craft will land at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  Following the renewed commitment of the government to the U.S. space program, we can expect more aerospace-related activity in the near future.

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Francis M. Unson