Slow Cooker Basics, How To Use Your Crock Pot Or Slow Cooker

You’ll find that slow cookers come with a variety of options and features. Before you start using your slow cooker or crock pot get real familiar with your particular model. If yours came with a book or manual read it over a couple of times and see what the features are. Most will have various heat settings and usually a keep warm setting. You want to be sure your crock comes out so you can put it in the refrigerator if you want to.

Most are continuous cookers. The food cooks continuously all the time that the cooker is on.

You’ll discover that the most common sizes are 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 quart. If your only going to buy one I would go with the largest available so you can make a large stew or cook a big roast. You may also want to buy one that is around 3 quarts in size so you’ll have one for almost any recipe.


You should spray the inside of your cooker with vegetable cooking spray for ease of clean up.

You should always rotate your meats or turn it over half way through the cooking time to make sure your meat gets cooked all the way through. Beef roasts will take longer to cook while chicken will fall off the bone.

You’ll want to brown ground beef before you add it to the crock. Most people also like to coat their stew beef with flour and brown it before they add it. If you brown all your meats first you’ll find you have more flavor when you finish cooking.

When ever possible crush dried herbs in your hand before you add the dried herbs.

Add your ground red pepper or ground cayenne pepper in the last few minutes of cooking time because it will get bitter if you add it to early.

You want to brown things like onions and garlic in a skillet before you add them. Again you’ll like the appearance and taste of your finished product if you do this.

You really don’t have to be a clock watcher with this cooking method. Most recipes call for a number of hours on high, medium, or low and will tell you if you need to stir the item while it’s cooking.

Remember food safety when your cooking seafood or chicken in a crock pot. The internal temperature of chicken must be at least 160 degrees to insure the chicken is done and safe to eat.

If you want to add more texture to your recipes sprinkle the top of your food with fresh herbs just before you serve the food. You can also add grated cheese, croutons, or corn chips at this time.

You can find all kinds of wonderful recipes for the Crock Pot or Slow Cooker by Clicking Here.

Use Plastic and Rubber Grommets to Protect Wires

Standard grommets are manufactured in SBR Rubber, PVC and TPR materials that offer a practical method of providing protection to wires, cables, tubing and hoses from the sharp edges of the sheet metal panels that they may pass through on the finished product. Beyond providing any pass-through lines of protection, they offer a much better aesthetic, finished look. To be cost effective, most product enclosures or faraday cages are manufactured out of off-the-shelf sheet metal panels that come in one of a handful of standardized thicknesses (also called gauges) that in most cases range from the very thin sixteenth of an inch (0.0625″) to a heavier duty quarter inch (0.250″) thickness. When the sheet metal is formed, the stamping of the through holes are generally made in one of the many common imperial or metric diameters.

Knowing these facts, plastic and rubber grommets are designed for easy installation without the need for any special or difficult tooling. They are designed to fit a wide variety of the standard sheet metal gauges and a good majority of the most common panel holes ranging from 3/16″ to 2-1/2″ in imperial sizes and in the key metric sizes up to the 50 millimeters. Beyond the sizing of the parts, they are manufactured out of various flexible materials to provide an easily installed part. These materials also give the added benefit of excellent adhesion once they are in place, while still leaving open the potential to remove them in the future if somehow required.

Selecting of the proper part also requires consideration of the environmental exposures that the product will see during production after the part is added and in the final application. In most cases, rubber is a fine choice, but if chemicals, acids, ozone or UV exposure are going to be present, then a part molded of PVC or TPR is a better fit. Depending on the actual application, a hard plastic or nylon version might be the answer but they are less common in the market, but still offered in a more limited sizing.

Beyond standard through hole grommets, many more specialized styles are available. They including grommet sleeves, which function as a grommet to protect the wires at the plane of the hole, but come with a molded on large sleeve on the one side that acts as a strain relief feature. Diaphragm style are another common variation that are basically standard versions without a through hole. This begs the question of why some do not have a through hole. Well, the membrane layer that fills the center of the part is very thin and can be easily pierces to allow for smaller objects to pass without leaving a large gaping hole. For applications where the parts must provide a seal to prevent dust or water from entering the enclosure, IP67 rated parts can be used to provide a worldwide standard level of protection to the IP specifications. The 67 level is the second highest water protection, being able to withstand the elements as long as the part is not submerged in water and provides full dust and dirt protection. In more extreme applications, IP68 rated cable glands might be required instead, as it provides a water tight seal to a depth of 1 meter and full dust protection.

For economies of scale, it is typical for many sheet metal manufacturers to produce sheet metal with all of the possible holes that might be needed for the feature of any given model. This allows for greater flexibility of the product so that it can be sold to many different markets. Due to this fact, there may be many holes that are not necessary for all applications. This is the reason for panel plugs. Panel plugs are practical way to keep harmful dirt or moisture out of the unit and provide a nice finished look. Panel plugs, much like their cousins, the grommets, are made to fit standard sheet metal holes and thicknesses. They are widely available in various materials from low cost low density polyethylene to flexible rubber or PVC materials.

Planks Aren’t Just For Walking – Matey

Years ago, the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest developed a cooking technique that rapidly infuses food with a delicious, sweet, smoky flavor.

This ancient method of cooking keeps food moist and tender while providing a fast and easy smoked flavor. All you need is a cedar  plank , a grill and some imagination.

For years, cedar  plank  cooking has been used for salmon and fish of all kinds. It’s only been in recent years that it has become a popular way to grill things like vegetables and meats as well as seafood.

For general  plank  grilling, you should preheat your grill to between 400 and 500 degrees and soak the  plank  in water at least an hour before using – this reduces the risk of the wood catching fire. The food goes directly on top of the  plank  and into the grill.

Here’s a great recipe for salmon that uses a unique spice called Sequim Salmon Spice. A mother of two teenagers in Washington State commented, “My kids wouldn’t eat salmon until I cooked it with Sequim Salmon Spice. Now they can’t get enough of it.” I’ve included a source for that and the sauce the recipe uses following the recipe.

Note: Soak cedar  plank  overnight (be sure  plank  is not treated cedar). While grilling, keep water handy to douse any flare-ups.


16oz Salmon Filet (preferably wild)

Sequim Salmon Spice

Sequim Bay Sauce


Combine Sequim Bay Sauce and a generous amount of Sequim Salmon Spice two to four hours ahead. Put this mixture in a zip lock bag or other closeable container. Add the fish and coat well. Let marinade at least 1 to 2 hours before grilling.

Heat grill for 10 minutes on high. Place soaked  plank  on grill, lower heat (wait approximately 5 minutes) before adding salmon.

Place fish on cedar  plank , skin side down. Cook over a low heat (or move to indirect heat). Close the grill lid, grill until translucent and flaky. Approximate cooking time is 10-12 minutes for a 16 oz filet. Remove from heat. Enjoy a few moments while it rests, then garnish with lemon and fresh dill. Serve hot.

Some of the other uses for cedar  plank  grilling might surprise you…pizza, mashed potatoes, nachos, chicken, steaks, pork chops and even deserts. And if you’re adventurous, try soaking the  plank  in wine or even in pomegranate juice.

Though no one is sure whether or not pirate  planks  were made of cedar, one thing is clear…they never tried cooking with one!

Gail Madison lives in the Pacific Northwest and owns Dungeness Gold at where you can purchase Sequim Salmon Spice and Sequim Bay Sauce. Ask about their Cedar  Plank  Combination Basket. You can reach Gail with any questions directly through her website.

Kitchen Improvements – Plan, Plan, Plan

 Planning  is the first step to improving your kitchen. Fail to  plan  and you could face problems with the new look of the kitchen, not to mention your wallet.

Kitchen  Planning 

We’ve come a long way from the old days when kitchen  planning  consisted of being sure there was a “work triangle” formed by the stove, sink, and refrigerator with counter space adjacent to each point. That’s still good logic, but we’ve come a long way past that.

There are fashions in everything. It’s now fashionable to be a good cook. Home kitchens frequently reflect the preferences of professional chefs. Ergo. Brushed steel appliances and gas ranges with more than four burners abound. It takes some  planning  to create a kitchen in which it’s easy to picture a good cook at work, even more to actually be that kind of kitchen.

It’s necessary to answer some questions in order to  plan  a good kitchen. Do you want to be able to socialize there? Will you be cooking for frequent dinner parties or large family gatherings? Is there more than one cook in the household? Does someone in the family like to bake? Are quickie meals for family members about to go off to some athletic event a frequent consideration? How many of these activities are likely to happen at the same time?

A kitchen planner can be a great helper and doesn’t have to add to the expense. Home Depot and Lowes have some surprisingly skillful folks working in their kitchen departments. Upscale appliances can often be bought at places which employ excellent planners who will work with you at no extra charge. No matter what price range you’re in, when you get to the point of choosing appliances, it’s a good idea to check them out at before buying.

Don’t Go Wild

The usual caveat of all improvements applies to your kitchen work. Don’t over build the neighborhood. If you live in an old neighborhood with Formica counter tops, for example, switching to Corrian probably makes sense. On the other hand, changing to granite or marble probably doesn’t. Use the sorts of materials that are used in homes currently being built in the same price range as your neighborhood.

Stainless Steel Handrails For Handicapped People

According to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, all commercial and public areas must have structural parameters that make it easy for people with disabilities to easily access them. One of these requirements is the installation of handrails. A stainless steel handrail is one of the best handrails to install.

Advantages Of Stainless Steel Handrails

Size: the Americans with disabilities act requires that handrails be between 1.25 and 1.5 inches in diameter. The act also requires that the handrails be installed on a solid wall. After installation, there should be a 1.5-inch gap between the wall and the handrail. Since a stainless steel handrail comes in different sizes, you will be able to get the right size that complies with the laid down requirements.

Strength: the act goes further and mentions that the handrail should be able to withstand 1112 newtons of bending, shear stress and tensile. Any fasteners used in attaching the handrail to the wall should also be able to withstand this pressure. A stainless steel handrail is strong thus able to withstand the high pressure.

The act stipulates that a handrail should be free of sharp protrusions or abrasive elements. The edges should have a minimum radius of 1/8th inch. The cool thing is that many stainless steel manufacturers create very smooth designs that can’t injure people.

Usage: handrails are required in different areas such as bathroom and stairs. When installing the handrails you should ensure that the bars are 33-36 inches from the floor.

A stainless steel handrail is ideal as you can use it on a wide range of applications. When installing the handrail in the bathroom you should paint or coat it in order to prevent corrosion.

Types of Stainless steel handrails

Stairway: the handrail extends along walkways parallel to the ground or incline. If the handrail is adjacent a wall there should be a 1½-inch gap between it and the wall. It should also be 15 inches above the ground and be continuous.

Grab bar: this is a shortened handrail that is found in restrooms. It aids in helping a handicapped person to lift himself/herself on and off the toilet seat.

Suicide proof: they are common in hospitals (in psychiatric wards). They usually have a metal sheet that extends from the inside of the handrail into the adjacent wall. This is to prevent patients from tying a rope or anything else to hang themselves.


When buying the handrail always ensure that it complies with Americans with disabilities act. For ideal results, you should buy it from a reputable seller who will not only sell it to you, but will also give you advice on how to install it professionally.

Aluminum Balusters for Decks: Adding Flair

If you’ve been looking for a way to add some unique and expressive flair to your existing construction project, aluminum balusters for decks could be just the thing you need. No such project is complete without railings, but you have a lot of choice when it comes to what you do with those railings. By using a material that not everyone thinks of right away, you will get some benefits that might not be immediately obvious. Here are some of the advantages of going in this direction.


When looking for railing ideas, most homeowners think practicality first and worry about aesthetics as a secondary concern, if at all. There’s no reason to go about it in this order, however. The railings are simple there to keep people from falling through to the ground below. The posts and primary railings are going to stay in place whether you put up the balustrade pieces or not. You might as well have some fun with the aesthetics. Aluminum balusters for decks are an attractive choice that can mix well with nearly any style of construction you have. Talk to your supplier and you’ll likely find that you have a wide selection from which to choose.

Practical Concerns

Of course, choosing aluminum balusters for decks doesn’t mean making a sacrifice for the sake of aesthetics. There is a strong argument to be made for the fact that these posts actually provide increased safety for any children or pets who might be out on the platform. Most decks are built several feet above the ground below, meaning that an accidental fall can be serious. Kids get hurt growing up; that’s a fact of life. But that doesn’t mean you have to be the architect of their injury. By putting in a safe and strong railing, you’re living up to your responsibility as a parent and a homeowner.

Extra Features

Many aluminum balusters for decks are more than just posts to put up for safety. Forward thinking suppliers have added additional features to their plain railings, making the choice that much more attractive. Some come with lights, for instance, which can add a festive atmosphere to your outdoor oasis. Others are etched in a way that add a touch of class to what can be a boring stylistic endeavor in many instances. You don’t have to get crazy (in fact, real estate experts often advise keeping these things conservative for the sake of future resale), but it doesn’t hurt to let your artistic flag fly.

Stainless Steel Wire Balustrading

If you’ve been thinking of how to improve your outdoor or indoor features then there are many things that can help to create a more aesthetic appearance and that can make a big difference. One option is  balustrading .  Balustrading  is when you have the small roundish pillars around your area (perhaps a patio or a terrace) which hold up railings and walls. These are often stone themselves and will tend to be ornate and well decorated. You will often find these in Roman architecture and they are a far more attractive way to create a side rail than just using a small wall which lets in less light and has no detailing. If you have  balustrades  around a patio terrace overlooking a nice garden, then it can feel like sitting in a wine garden in France, a large manor house from a period drama, or a scene from Romeo and Juliet.

The great thing about  balustrades  is that they are relatively easy to install yourself and that they can be something great to do as DIY for your home. Not only will they look great, but when people ask about them you can proudly tell them that you installed them yourself.

When you do this you will essentially buy the  balustrades  first and these will be the large concrete pillars that curve outwards. Look for ones that fit your décor and that have a decoration that you appreciate. From here you should then look into fitting them into place and that means that you will need to attach them to both the patio where they will be standing and the rail that they will normally be used to hold up. To do this you will use stainless steel wire and this will go down through the middle in order to essentially skewer the  balustrade  into place. If you do it lightly this will then mean that you are able to twist the  balustrades  round even once they are installed but that is up to you.

Stainless steel wire is the best option for this because it is the most sturdy and the most versatile. It will bend if necessary and at the same time it is relatively cheap and easy to find. You should buy a large role of stainless steel wire and then cut off each piece as you need it to feed through the  balustrading . Do bear in mind that it can be a good idea to buy extra to avoid running out or for if anything should happen to your  balustrades .

Stainless steel wire is useful as it won’t rust and it won’t easily snap. This is very important when you consider that the role of the  balustrades  is to hold your banister up – if they broke this would fall down and if they were on an elevated region this could cause someone who was leaning to fall and hurt themselves.

As well as using  balustrades  for your outdoors, you can also use wooden ones for staircases and there are many other applications.

Video Ads – Statistics Are In

It appears that the internet is becoming the ‘vidernet’. With more and more video sharing websites popping up, and more advertisers pouring their budgets into online video advertising, the predictions of the visionaries of the last few years seem to be coming to fruition.

According to a study by Google and AOL conducted by market insight and information group TNS, 75 percent of respondents reported watching more video online than they did a year ago, and over half expect to watch more online video in the next year.

78% feel that online video ads provide as much or more of an opportunity to learn about a product or service than television, and 63 % said they prefer video sites to include advertising if it helps keep content free. Apparently the online community is embracing video much more willingly than expected.

Here are some other numbers to look at if you still need convincing: 64% of respondents have taken action after seeing an online video, 44 % going to the advertiser’s Web site, 33 % searching for a product or service, 22 % visiting an actual off-line store, and 21 % discussing the advertised product with friends or family. So not only does online video bring in new business, it gets the ball rolling on that elusive buzz marketing campaign.

The responses came from 2,394 online users between 18 and 54 years old. The study also found that online video ads result in 32 % of viewers describing the featured brand as innovative, 32 % as creative, and 30 % as fun. Who woulda’ thunk?

Online video has become such an effective form of advertising that even the major television broadcast networks are jumping on the bandwagon. NBC, NBC Universal, Disney-ABC, and others are scrambling to get their online networks up and running.

According to a study conducted by the top video information source DoubleClick, consumers are approximately three times as likely to replay an online video ad unit as they are to click through on a standard JPG or GIF ad.

As technology attempts to play catch-up with consumers’ appetite for edgy, informative, and relevant advertising, online video technology is poised to lead the race in delivering considerable revenue to forward-thinking companies. Can’t wait to see what the internet looks like in ten years…

Mental Golf Coaching

Mental golf coaching has had a big impact on some recent golf tournaments. It’s not only relevant to the top golfers in the world – it can make a massive difference to any golfer’s performance. It’s all about training your mind to focus on the right things to help you perform at your very best…

The luck of the Irish?

One week after the 2011 British Open, the Irish golf open was being played at Killarney. In it were three Northern Irish and one Irish major champion competing. Darren Clarke the current Open champion has stated that it helped his major win to know that Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy had all won majors before him. I’m convinced this gave him strong belief in himself.

Believe and you will achieve!

Belief plays an important role in our lives and if you believe you can achieve something then you will. This is never truer than when you are playing golf, but you need to train your brain to think the right thoughts at the right time. This is just one part of mental golf coaching, but a very important one.

Who was that famous car maker, oh yes Henry Ford,who said “if you think you can or if you think you can’t you are probably right”. Powerful words and this has been proven time and time again. One of the classic examples was the 4 minute mile and Sir Roger Bannister. Scientists and doctors believed the heart would explode if anyone ran as fast as Sir Roger Bannister did. But, guess what? Sir Roger Bannister did break the four minute mile and his heart did not explode and a week later there were many runners that broke the four minute mile.

In golf we create these beliefs all of the time. I see this a lot when I am coaching golfers. They often say ‘I can’t play that hole or I can’t hit that club’, but this is simply not the case.

They would have played that hole well at times, but chose to focus on bad experiences instead. They would have hit that club well, but they chose to focus on bad shots they had with that club.

Another example is the circus elephant that is chained up. It is trained to have something around its foot and it believes that it cannot escape. After some time of conditioning the elephant owner only has to put a light rope around the elephant’s leg so it believes it cannot escape. As we all know, the elephant could easily break through the rope and escape to freedom but it doesn’t, because as I said before, it has been conditioned.

Train your mind to focus on success

In golf we need to focus on our successes just like Darren Clarke focused on Irish success – his mental golf coaching helped him do this. Of course this was not the only factor in his win, but it helped. He didn’t let negative thoughts enter his mind – and he did this very simply by focusing on positive thoughts.

Learn from your best performance

Here is a good mental golf coaching tip – next time you finish a round of golf cast your mind back to your three best shots and write them down in vivid detail.

Relive the shots and make them real in your mind. Also write down three things that you learned from your day out on the course. This is a great technique to help you move forward with your golf.

When you are faced with a similar shot next time you are playing, relive that great shot you played. As you build up more and more memories of the good shots you’ve played you’ll be able to recall great shots for almost every situation you find yourself in.

I am not suggesting you talk yourself into shots that are simply not achievable – you need to play within you own capabilities. But by focusing on positive shots you are far more likely to have a positive outcome, and you’ll enjoy your game a lot more as well!

Remember – your mind is an amazing thing!

You’ll find lots more mental golf coaching tips in our Golf Putting Lessons.

Choose the Right Switches for Your Local Area Network Upgrade in 2011

Mid-size and large organizations are entering another cycle of Local Area Network upgrades due to two recent technology changes. One is that 10Gb Ethernet are now standard connections on servers. The other is the widespread adoption of wireless devices like the iPad that has put a strain on Wireless Local Area Networks. This is forcing the adoption of 10Gb Ethernet for server and access layer uplink connectivity. Because the LAN has to be upgraded, organizations are looking ahead a few years to see what other technologies are going to have to be accommodated, and working with experienced network designers to put together a comprehensive plan. There are many considerations to take into account in order to get an optimal design for the Core, Distribution, and Access layer upgrades, and specific Cisco switch choices are important in order to implement the design well.

Core Network Upgrades

The core network is the primary site where application servers are located. Most organizations now have a combination of dedicated application servers alongside servers configured for hosting virtual servers, usually running VMware ESXi. The older servers tend to have multiple Gigabit Ethernet connections, so the core network switches are similar to the Cisco 6500 or a stack of Cisco 3750 Gigabit switches, with 50-300 Gigabit Ethernet ports total.

New servers are shipping with 10 Gb Ethernet on the motherboard, and the price for 10 Gb Ethernet cards has dropped so much that 1 Gb for servers is becoming difficult to cost justify. Especially since 10 Gb connections in the datacenter can be made with copper twinax cabling, it is difficult to make the decision to purchase anything else.

This is combined with the trend to moving away from storage in the servers, usually called Direct Attached Storage, and moving all storage into a fast and reliable storage array accessed by iSCSI, Fibre Channel (FC), Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), or ATA over Ethernet (AoE). Sometimes the storage array is accessed at the file level as Network Attached Storage (NAS) by either CIFS or NFS. It is much more cost-effective to access networked storage over 10G Ethernet connections than 1Gb Ethernet or even Fibre Channel because the price of a 10Gb Ethernet connection is much lower than an equivalent Fibre Channel connection. Because the storage array can be backed up and replicated to another site, it adds the additional benefit of improving business continuity capabilities.

If the organization is purchasing new storage arrays at the same time as the new servers, they can be specified for 10Gb iSCSI, 10Gb FCoE, or 10Gb AoE, but if the storage arrays are older Fibre Channel arrays, there has to be a provision made for connecting the new servers to the old storage. This is where the Cisco Nexus 5000 switches come into play. The Nexus 5000’s have the ability to connect to FC storage arrays, and merge the FC stream into a 10 Gb FCoE connection. This capability allows the organization to not have to purchase Fibre Channel Host Bus Adapters for every new server, and also limits the size of the Fibre Channel Storage Area Network that has to be maintained.

Not only can the Nexus 5000 provide Ethernet access to legacy storage for the new servers, it can connect the older 1 Gb servers into the system as well. This is done by connecting Nexus 2000 fabric extenders into the Nexus 5000 at 10 Gb speed, putting the Nexus 2000 boxes at the top of the rack of the older servers, and connecting the multitude of existing1 Gb Ethernet to the Nexus 2000 boxes. This architecture provides high speed server and storage access at the upgraded core of the network, as well as connectivity to new storage, legacy storage, and older servers.

All this server and storage connectivity should ideally be done at layer 2, without any layer 3 routing getting in the way and slowing things down. This is also the design recommendation for using Vmware with shared storage, because this allows for virtual server loads to be dynamically moved between physical servers while still accessing the same storage.

The core network upgrade can all be done independently of the access layer upgrade. If an organization has a large layer 3 switch like the Cisco 6500 or a stack of Cisco 3750’s at the core of their current network, the Nexus 5000 can be connected in with multiple 10 Gb Ethernet connections, providing the lowest cost upgrade while still retaining the core network upgrade performance benefits. For larger core networks, the Cisco Nexus 7000 can be used to provide a larger quantity of 10 Gb links to multiple Nexus 5000 switches.

Access Layer Switch Considerations

The access layer upgrade is sometimes usually driven by the need to have 1Gb desktop connectivity, but in many cases more by the desire of the organization to have 802.11N wireless access points. 802.11N full speed access requires 1Gb links, and multiple access points mean the uplinks from the switches have to then increase to 10Gb.

The access layer switches are used for workstation connectivity and are also used to power 802.11N wireless access points, 1 Gb IP phones, and Ethernet powered thin clients. In addition to high speed wireless, the access layer has to accommodate Voice, Video, and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. For all these requirements, the access layer switches have to have more than just raw bandwidth. They also need to be:

  1. Secure – with voice, video, and desktop sessions on the LAN, the switches must have security features that can prevent them from getting attacked with MAC address floods, rogue DHCP servers, gratuitous ARP’s changing the default gateway, and other attacks that can be launched by malware. This security must be implemented at the switch level.
  2. Fast – As traffic goes through multiple switches, each hop can add latency. Instead of store and forward of the Ethernet frames, switches should use cut-through to move things along. At the choke points of the LAN, which are the uplinks, bonding multiple uplinks together can improve speed if done properly.
  3. Quality of Service – The switches should be able to reclassify traffic at the switch port level as it enters the LAN in order to prevent untrusted applications from claiming the highest traffic priority. Then throughout the LAN infrastructure, higher priority applications like voice, video, and virtual desktop sessions have to be given priority over other traffic like file transfers and print jobs.
  4. Reliable – Long Mean Time Between Failure, well tested code to limit bugs, good support from the manufacturer in case there is a software or hardware issue.
  5. Manageable – The switches have to be able to be managed remotely, have SNMP information, be able to log, and be configurable. GUI interfaces are OK, but there is nothing like a solid command line interface for rapid configuration, troubleshooting, and repair. Ideally the switch management should be integrated into a network management application.
  6. Power Density– Switches have to be able to support the power density of the planned devices. Most switches can not power all ports at the highest levels, so it is important to calculate the expected power load of the switches and specify the correct ones.
  7. Power and Cooling – Since many devices like access points, video cameras, and IP phones are powered from the switches, all access layer switches require properly sized Uninterruptable Power Systems. A basic switch consumes about 60 Watts. A 48 port switch with 15 Watt phones plugged into every port will require at least 600 Watts. Put a few of those switches in the closet an you are looking at not only upgrading to a much bigger UPS, but also better cooling.
  8. Redundancy Capable – The only place that there should be a single point of failure is at the access layer in the closets. If a switch fails, only the devices connected to that switch should lose connectivity – all others should work around the issue. In most cases that means dual uplinks from each closet to a redundant distribution layer at the core, and these uplinks should be able to link together into a port channel so that the full bandwidth of the uplinks can be used.

Distribution Switch Upgrades

The distribution layer is where all the access layer uplinks come together. Most of the organizations tend to have a large main campus with an extensive LAN. Many of them have a LAN that is set up in a fashion similar to the Cisco High Availability LAN designs of a few years back. This is 100 Mb Ethernet at the access layer and multiple1Gb fiber uplinks to the core/distribution switches. The larger networks have multiple distribution switches and separate core switches, but most mid-size organizations have the collapsed core/distribution model.

The Nexus 7000 enters the discussion when an organization considers upgrading the fiber uplinks on the access layer switches from 1 Gb to 10Gb Ethernet. As soon as an organization internalizes the need for 1Gb access layer switches and 10Gb uplinks, the place where these uplinks all come together has to be upgraded as well. The logical choice for this upgrade is the Nexus 7000.

The Cisco 6500 is an excellent switch that has versatility and speed. The problem is that most of the installed base has Sup720 supervisors. These supervisors have a maximum connection speed to any one line card of 40Gb, which means an entire 6509 can only have 32 10Gb Ethernet ports without oversubscription. It is more cost-effective to either replace the Cisco 6500 with a Cisco Nexus 7000, or change the 6500 to a 1Gb access-layer switch. Just about every 1Gb blade on the 6500 can be upgraded for Power over Ethernet, and with bigger power supplies, the 6500 makes an excellent access layer switch.

One of the catches in this 1Gb to 10Gb upgrade is the fiber issue from the access closets. The requirements for 10Gb fiber are different than for 1Gb fiber. 1 Gb fiber connections can be made for a considerable distance over multi-mode fiber with the use of long-haul SFP’s and mode conditioning cables. This does not work for 10Gb Ethernet over fiber! Longer multimode fiber runs have to be re-pulled with single mode fiber in order to support the 10Gb uplink upgrade.

Cisco Switch Models

Cisco switches have all of the above listed attributes, and sometimes more importantly, there are always good local Cisco resellers in every market that are able to create a custom design based on the organization’s needs, then assist with the installation, configuration, and ongoing support. Other brands of switches can be used, but having local experts available is an important consideration.

There are a few Cisco switches that we use in every design, because they have the right combination of price and capabilities. These are used in most LAN design situations, unless there are special requirements.

Cisco 2960-S. This is an excellent all around access layer switch. It can be set up as a standalone switch, or four of them can be stacked together with FlexStack when fitted with the optional stacking module. The uplink ports can be set up as either 1 Gb or 10Gb, and the stack uplink ports can be bonded together to create a reliable connection back to the distribution switch. The stack can be managed as one switch, and the stack connection speed is fast at 20 Gbps. This is a layer 2 switch.

Cisco 3750-X This is a great distribution switch or core/distribution switch. It is faster than the 2960-S and can route at high speed, making it an excellent layer 3 switch. The switch can have up to 9 in a StackWise stack, which can be managed as a single switch, and the stack connection speed is very fast at 64 Gbps. There is a model of this switch that has six 10Gb ports, so it can be used as a core/distribution switch for smaller environments.

Cisco 4500. This is a good access-layer switch. It can have a high density of 1Gb ports, and multiple 10Gb uplink ports. Even though it is a chassis switch, it should not usually used at the core layer of the network, since it can easily be oversubscribed, leading to potential server and storage performance issues.

Nexus 5000 This switch has 20-40 ports that can be used for 10Gb or 1Gb connections. It is used to connect servers, Nexus 2000 switch extenders, and to connect to Layer 3 switches. There is also a larger version of the Nexus 5000 that can be enabled for Layer 3 switching as well, the 5596.

Cisco Nexus 7000. This is the switch of choice for multiple 10G uplinks and very fast layer 3 routing. It works well with the Nexus 5000 and Nexus 2000 series switches, completing the Nexus core and distribution switch design.

Remote Site Switching

For remote sites that are away from the main campus, unless they are big, the LAN should be designed with the knowledge that 100 Mbs is usually faster than required. Most remote sites connect back to the network core over a Private Network such as a Metro Ethernet connection, and MPLS Wide Area Network, or the Internet through a Virtual Private Network. The speed requirements of remote site LAN’s can be much lower. This switches we usually use for this design are:

  • Cisco 2960 with Gigabit uplinks
  • Cisco 3750 with Gigabit ports for the uplinks

If 1Gb connections to the desktop are preferred, the Cisco 2960-S and Cisco 3750-X listed above are a good combination.

One of the most useful devices to increase reliability of the switching infrastructure is a redundant power supply. A good rule of thumb is that moving parts break first, so the most likely item to fail in the switch is the power supply or the cooling fans. Every single power supply stackable Cisco switch and most of the smaller routers have a DC port in the back. That is for backup power.

The Cisco RPS2300 can be used for redundant power. It has dual power supplies, and can connect to six different devices. If those devices ever lose their power supply, then the RPS box will provide power via the DC power port, and everything will continue to run.

Putting together a LAN upgrade design is a straightforward process. The difference between a good design and a poor one really come down to the details. No one wants to get a cheap network that will not handle the needs of the organization in the next few years and have to be replaced, and conversely most organizations would not want to pay for an oversized network that is too expensive.

It is best to get a design done from a reseller that regularly sells deploys the products they are recommending. Good Value Added Reseller’s will stay on top of the new products that are out, and will change their recommendations are based on the customer’s needs and budget. Many will do this at no cost as part of the sales process, and in many cases they are better than consultants or switch manufacturer’s, because the VAR’s are responsible for putting together designs that will work when they do the the deployment!

The Facts About Air Bags

Myth: I almost always wear my seat belt, so an air bag is unnecessary expense. Besides, they only protect you against   frontal  collisions.

Fact:  Frontal  and front-angle crashes account for more than half of all accident deaths. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “To argue that airbags are a poor idea because they do not provide protection from all types of crash injuries is like arguing that polio vaccine shouldn’t be used because it doesn’t cure cancer.” Also, in serious  frontal  collisions, if you neglect, or forget to wear your seat belt, the air bag will still provide significant protection.

Myth: Air bags themselves are a real health hazard and cause serious injuries.

Fact: They do inflate instantly upon impact and at a great speed. According to a recent study, about one in three air-bag inflations left a driver or passenger with burns, bruises, and neck sprains. But with few exceptions, the injuries were minor. The odds of sustaining an injury do, however, go up if you sit too close to the steering wheel (3 inches or less). Nonetheless, numerous federal and auto industry studies attest to the fact that air bags save lives and prevent serious injuries.

Myth: Air bags won’t work unless they are properly maintained and that’s expensive.

Fact: Air bags last throughout the life of the car and require no maintenance. A few car manufacturers, however, suggest that you have them inspected at intervals ranging from three to 10 years.

Myth: Air bags don’t work all the time, and they also go off accidentally, causing the driver to lose control of the car.

Fact: According to some studies, air bags work 99 percent of the time. Some consumers, however, have complained to federal agencies that air bags failed to deploy when they were in an accident. What is important to remember is that air bags are designed to inflate when a car hits and object head-on and at speeds of 12mph or more; customers who complained usually weren’t aware of those facts. Air bags rarely inflate accidentally. They won’t be activated when you hit a bump or a porthole or when you stop suddenly. And air bags are designed so that you will not lose control of your car.

These Artists Turned Used Cars Into Art

Ask anyone to describe a beautiful vehicle, and you’re likely to hear about sleek new models or vintage roadsters. Across the U.S., however, intrepid artists have used highway toss-offs to create works of art.

Cadillac Ranch

Way out west, in the dry desert heat of Amarillo, Texas, lies one of the most beautiful examples of automotive art in the country. This piece features a straight line of old, brightly colored used cars protruding out of the flat desert ground, tail end up, with their hoods completely buried in the sand. The piece was installed by artists Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez, and Doug Michels under the moniker of their alternative architectural group, Art Farm.

The sculpture is meant to illustrate both the emergence and disappearance of the iconic “tailfin” feature that was included in the design of certain cars made between the years of 1943 and 1964. Marquez noted that the inspiration for the project was spawned from a children’s book that he and Lord found in a bar while living in San Francisco. The vibrant row of vehicles is visible from the frontage road of Interstate 40, just westbound of Amarillo. They allegedly stick out of the ground at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

Greg of Akron’s Van Murals

In the late 1960’s through the mid 1970’s, when vans were still a hot commodity in the automotive industry, an artist by the name of “Greg of Akron” had a vision for transforming the bland paint jobs on these vehicles into something more colorful and unique. He accomplished this by covering them in massive, one-of-a-kind murals for his pleasure and that of his customers alike. Greg of Akron, who preferred not to use his last name for incorporation purposes, rose to artistic fame through his larger than life airbrushed paint jobs, which he performed on used cars in his Norton, Ohio studio.

Greg, who was formerly a construction worker, painted thousands of vehicles in his career, from drag racers to motorcycles. However, his most notable work of art is a vibrant yellow and red mural entitled “Flying Eagle,” which was completed in 1975 on a black van. In that year alone, his business grossed $500,000 from custom paint jobs. Greg of Akron passed away in 2007, but his legacy is certainly alive well.

Alexander Calder’s original Art Car

Alexander Calder is an extremely well known and coveted artist, primarily know for his moving sculptures, called “mobiles.” What many people might not know about Calder is that he was the first person to be commissioned to paint professional race cars.

In 1975, French racer Herve Poulain had the idea of combining the physical intensity of endurance auto racing and the emotional delicacy of the visual arts. The racer approached Calder with the idea of painting his car for an upcoming race, to which Calder agreed. The artist created an eye-catching, geometric design composed of large red, yellow, blue, and white fragments that would change the way people looked at racing designs. Other famous artists, like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and David Hockney would go on to paint racing automobiles as well. In fact, artists today are continuing the trend on all types of vehicles, from used cars to motor homes.

Through their various projects, artists like the above have illustrated how vehicles can be used to take people to both physical and emotional destinations.

Bipolar Disorder in Psychotherapy

Individuals with bipolar disorder struggle with a sense of internal damage so pervasive they feel there’s no realistic hope for improvement, leading to a search for “magical” solutions instead. This article will provide a case illustration of this dynamic: a young man in his 20s who might have been considered “cyclothymic” rather than receiving a full diagnosis of bipolar disorder, though his mood swings demonstrate the same high/low dynamics.

Jeffrey was an extremely bright and talented young man, recently graduated from college, who aspired to be a writer. He came to me because of depressive episodes so severe he felt barely able to function. He managed to hold down a clerical job to support himself despite his depression, attempting to write in the evening after work and on weekends. If he were feeling deeply depressed, he couldn’t write a word. After work, he’d often collapse into a state of inertia, barely able to feed himself, watching mindless TV. He suffered from extreme insomnia and often slept but a few hours.

Jeffrey badly wanted to have a relationship but felt completely worthless, as if everything about his adult functioning self was a   facade , and that as soon as anyone got close to him, they’d find out he was a fraud. He would describe himself as a loser, “damaged goods,” or “a worthless piece of shit.” The issue of “shittiness” often came up in our work. He had a recurrent dream that the toilet in his bathroom would back up and his apartment would be flooded with feces. Or sewer pipes in the ceiling would break. In these dreams, he’d feel completely helpless to do anything about the broken plumbing or sewer problem. The damage felt insurmountable.

In our work together, I would talk about these dreams in two different ways. The overflowing sewage represented both his “backed up” emotions which he felt unable to tolerate or process, as well as the hopelessness he felt about his internal damage. We returned to this issue again and again, particularly his fear that our work together was pointless because (a) I couldn’t possibly tolerate all his “shitty” feelings either, and (b) the damage was simply too vast.

Periodically, the depression would lift and he’d enter a hyper-industrious phase, writing for many hours at a time and throughout the weekend. He’d come up with a “brilliant” new idea for a novel and write 10, 20 or 30 pages at a time. He wouldn’t stop to reread or revise but simply kept on with a manic drive in the hope of completing the book within a few weeks, selling it to a publisher and advancing to an idealized life in which he’d be a wealthy, famous and critically acclaimed author. He felt increasingly anxious during these periods; although he came to his sessions, he felt difficult to reach and became suspicious and hostile if I tried to examine his drive to write. Eventually the manic phase would pass and he’d slip back into depression, discarding the partial manuscript as “worthless”.

During the manic phase, he clearly felt in the grip of magical thinking; underneath, he feared that he was only passing off shit as if it were something of great value. When he was in his hyperactive writing phase, he unconsciously felt it as a kind of evacuation, too, as if he were magically ridding himself of all the bad intolerable feelings. He couldn’t go back and revisit his work or revise it because to do so might deflate the manic triumph of his creation as well as bring him back into contact with the bad feelings he’d tried to evacuate.

My job was to show him, again and again, that he felt hopeless to do anything realistic to improve, either in terms of his writing or his internal damaged world; only magic could solve his problems. Over and over, we had to return to those shitty bad feelings, try to understand them and help him to tolerate his own emotional experience. It was the work of years. Eventually he completed and sold a novel but continually struggled to wrest his writing from the realm of magic.

DCC Decoders & Sound Decoders

This article pertains to the manufacturers of decoders and sound decoders including controllers, digital readouts, reliability and warranties. The basis of the discussion is my experience as well as eight fellow railroaders in my area. The experience of all of us is between 45 to 50 years as model railroaders. Experience with DCC is three years plus for all of us.

First I would like to go over some of the manufacturers I and my friends have had experience with. We will begin with decoders in general and their reliability based on manufacturer.

We will start with Digitrax and their decoders including the various DCC equipment they manufacture. The decoders are good but I have had more failures with Digitrax than any other brand. The Throttles are excellent as is the Zephyr Digitrax Command Control Basic Set. I have one and it is the only one among all manufacturers’ products that has a digital readout so you can set the CVs and control number and see immediately if the decoder has accepted your commands. The digital screen will tell you if you have a short by blinking across the face of the screen. It tells, you using specific codes found in the handbook, if the command and control is communicating with the decoder. It should be noted that the Zephyr will talk to all decoders discussed in this article.

The odd thing is that Digitrax does not have the digital readout on their more advanced command and control sets. The throttle can be plugged into any of their command and control sets to run trains.

Digitrax has very good downloads on the WEB site for installation, CV usages and other information to allow the user to maximize Digitrax decoders.

The issue I have with Digitrax is that they have the worst warranty program than anyone else. It is the reason I no longer buy Digitrax decoders. The reason being, that if you do not have you purchase receipt, you must pay a $17.00 fee for a replacement. It is a $25.00 fee for the throttle repairs. Even when I had the receipt for a throttle that failed and it was still within the warranty time period, they charged me the $25.00. However, the most grievous part was when I bought five (5) DZ123 decoders on line from a dealer and they were all bad. The DZ123 had a known problem where the small wires coming out of the decoder had bad   solder  joints. I did not immediately try and used the DZ123 decoders. In fact, it was several months before I found the problem when I went to strip the leads and wires just fell out of the decoder. I went through all five and each one had the same problem.

I no longer had the receipt but sent the decoder back anyway without and payment. I learned after I had sent the decoder back that there was a known problem with a specific batch of DZ123 decoders. I received a letter from Digitrax requesting payment for the replacement. I in turn wrote back about their admitted known flaw and that I had four other DZ123 decoders with the same problem. They responded requesting a credit card number to pay for the one decoder. Needless to say, I refused to pay twice for the same decoder.

If it was not for the throttles and command and control set I would never do business with them again. This is sad since the power supplies, command and control sets, throttles, track block controls, etc., are excellent. This is a judgment call and the modeler must determine for his or herself what to do.

The next manufacturer is NCE who produce decoders primarily. They are very good to excellent and I have had no trouble with them. The are easy to install and program with the Digitrax Zephyr. They provide very good downloads off their WEB site in decoder use and installation.

NCE has an excellent warranty for their products. I had one decoder fail and I returned it with an explanation of what happened and it was replaced with no problems. If you explain the circumstances that occurred when the decoder failed they will check the decoder and will either replace it or return it to you with an explanation of what went wrong and how to re-install the decoder so it works.

The manufacturer that I now do the most business is Train Control Systems (TCS). From my perspective they are the best producers of decoders and their warranty is “Our Famous Goof Proof No Questions Asked Warranty”.

They have more decoders to fit any diesel and steam engine made. Their WEB site is fabulous. You can download all their decoder data with color pictures of each decoder. In addition, you may download a huge installation program with colored pictures of each engines’ installation and written explanation for just about every manufacturer’s engines. I’ve done this and placed all the data in a binder and now have a quick reference for any engine I have. The exception is brass engines. There a breed all their own.

When it comes to sound decoders there are only two that I would recommend for steam sound. For diesel there are three I would choose from. For steam sound the best is Soundtraxx Tsunami’s and Quantum (QSI). QSI has now released the Quantum Revolution Aftermarket HO DC/DCC Sound Decoder Systems. Quantum Revolution has been developed for installation in existing non-sound HO engines. Before, QSI sold only to engine manufacturers and importers. Lok-Sound is okay in a pinch but the chuff is more for European trains. Lok-Sound is manufactured in Germany.

Broadway Limited (BLI) now produces their own sound. It’s good but you have to buy a decoder since BLI does not have decoders built into their sound system. BLI once used QSI sound decoders exclusively but a falling-out change all that.

Precision Craft Models, a sister company to BLI, uses LOK-Sound exclusively.

The MRC steam sound is junk. They use MRC exclusively which is unfortunate. The MRC CVs cannot be changed permanently. You set the sound levels where you want them and then you take the engine off the track. Once you do that, when you go to run the engine again the CVs have automatically rest themselves to factory settings. MRC does not produce any WEB site downloads.

When it comes to diesel sound all four manufacturers sound decoders are very good. The odd thing is that the MRC diesel sound decoder CVs can be set permanently. I have several Athearn Genesis F units and the sound is great and I set the CVs and everything is copasetic.

It is the Athearn new steam engines that are causing modelers to rethink buying them. The earlier steam engines came with or without sound. In some cases you could not get, for example, an Athearn Big Boy without sound. Several of us model railroaders bought Big Boys with sound and immediately tore out the sound system and installed Tsunami’s. This was expensive so we are ignoring the Athearn steam engines for now. This is sad since Athearn Genesis steam engines are excellent but the MRC sound is not friendly to the hobbyist.

Installing Your Own Security Alarm System

Many people are searching for information on how to install an alarm system in their own home or place of business. There is little information available to the Do It Yourself consumer, when it comes to the processes and methods of the pros. The Experts Know! Alarms, is a consumer advocate site that has many insightful articles and information about Security Alarm Systems.

Let’s take a peek inside a professional installer’s toolbox, and see what they keep on hand to get the job done properly.

1 Dropcloth

1 6-8′ Ladder

1 Toolbox

1 Tool Pouch or Apron with Pockets

Power Drill

Heavy Duty Extension Cord

Cordless Drill

Drill Bit Small Set

Drill Bit 3/8″ x 5″

Drill Bit 3/8″ x 18″

Drill Bit 3/8″ x 72″ (Bell Hangers or Flex Bit)

AT-T25 Stapler & Staples

22G. Stranded 2 Conductor wire (500-1000 Ft.)

22G. Stranded 4 Conductor wire (500-1000 Ft.)

18G. Solid 2 Conductor wire (For Fire Devices)

1 Roll Black UL Listed Electrical Tape

1 Roll Light Color UL Listed Electrical Tape

1 Pair 5″ Diagonal Cutters

1 Pair Wire Strippers

1 Cordless   Soldering   Iron 

1 Roll  Solder 

1 Box B Connects (Goobers) Silicone Filled

1 Pack Small Tie Wraps

1 Steel Fish Tape

1 Wire Coat Hanger (for fishing)

1 Green Flexible Grab Stick

1 Multimeter with Test Tone

1 Stud Finder

1 Box # 6 Wall Anchors

1 Box # 6 x 1/2″ Screws

1 Box # 6 x 1″ Screws

2 Large Butterfly Wall Anchors

1 Container of Dap

1 Pry Bar for Molding Removal

1 Small Paint Brush

1 Small Can Pure White Paint

1 Phillips Head Screwdriver

1 Flat Head Screwdriver

1 Micro Flat Head Screwdriver

1 Flashlight

1 Pack Extra Flashlight Batteries

1 Bubble Level

1 Drop Cloth

1 Vacuum

1 Dust Buster

3 Clean Rags

1 Telephone Test Set

1 Tone Generator & Tone Finder

1 Single Edge Razor Scraper

1 Sharpie Marker

1 Roll of Trash Bags