One of the most fun stories of the Christmas season is that of the Three Kings visiting the baby Jesus, bringing him gifts.
That gift-giving day is on the calendar as the 12th day after Christmas, Jan. 6, just about the time when most of us are packing away the gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the year.
Some people undecorate on January 1. If decorations have been up since before Thanksgiving, removing them right after New Year’s Day is recommended. The neighbors are probably tired of your lighted Santa, reindeer, and trees. The real Christmas tree and wreaths are getting pretty dry by that time.
Still, many people are sad to see their outdoor and indoor decorations go and wait until the unofficial undecorating day of January 6.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that undecorating day is prime time for falls. The CDC urges using steady step stools and ladders when taking down outdoor and indoor decorations. Take your time. Use the same amount of care as when putting them up.
Here are a few tips from professional decorators:
* Take photos of inside decorations and groupings you especially like so you will have a guide for next year. Box the groupings together.
* Discard broken pieces and donate redundant pieces to a charity. If you have ample storage space, save the giveaways until next October before donating.
* Clean decorations before storing them. Dust shiny tree ornaments. Clean white cotton objects, like white lambs, with a toothbrush and then coat with cornstarch. Toss artificial poinsettias in a bag with a half cup of salt to move the dust.
* Store decorations thematically or in their original boxes. For tree ornaments, it can be convenient to store according to color. Next year it will be easier to choose colors for the tree.
* Put artificial trees in their original boxes to protect them for future use and for convenient storage.
* Store outdoor decorations together in the garage, basement, or attic.
You never know when an idea will pop up: The invention of bubble wrap
It’s undeniably satisfying and almost meditative: The pop of bubble wrap between our fingers and thumb. But did you know that the invention of bubble wrap — as with many great inventions throughout history — was an accident?
In 1957, engineer Alfred Fielding and his business partner, Swiss chemist Marc Chavannes, were trying to invent a textured wallpaper. They sealed two shower curtains together and initially were disappointed by the air bubbles trapped inside.
But the enterprising men soon started brainstorming other ways to use the material, scheming their way through 400 ideas. They named the product Bubble Wrap and continued to test ideas.
Three years later, in 1960, they decided to use it as packaging material and founded the Sealed Air Corp.
Their decision coincided with IBM’s newest invention, the computer called the 1401 unit, which needed a safe way to be transported. Sealed Air Corp. landed its first major customer and soon, smaller companies followed. Until then, most packaging materials consisted of balled-up newspapers, which could be messy.
Over the years, the line expanded to different-sized bubbles and sheets, plus other materials. A non-poppable pool cover even came along. The small business grew to become a Fortune 500 company with sales of $4.5 billion in 2017, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Volunteering: a good cause that’s good for your health
National Volunteer Week, which takes place from April 18 to 24, is an annual opportunity to recognize and celebrate the impact that volunteer service can have on a community. It’s also an ideal time to learn more about the other benefits of donating your time to a worthy cause.
Boost your physical and mental health
Various studies have shown that volunteering can contribute to better physical health. Depending on the type of activities you do as a volunteer, you can actually reduce your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, lessen symptoms of chronic pain, improve cognitive function and even live longer.
What’s more, volunteering can do wonders for your mental health. The social contact and sense of purpose that come with volunteering help reduce stress, anger, anxiety and depression. It can also improve your self-confidence and overall well-being.
Connect with a larger community
Since it was first established in 1974, National Volunteer Week has grown exponentially. Today, thousands of volunteer projects and special events are organized throughout the week, bringing together people from all walks of life who want to help their communities.
If you want to give back and enjoy the benefits of volunteering, you can use the Points of Light Engage database to find thousands of opportunities in your neighborhood and around the world. Visit engage.pointsoflight.org today.
For more information about National Volunteer Week, visit pointsoflight.org/nvw.
Great time for stargazing
Here’s something to do that costs almost nothing and carries the promise of awe: Look at the sky.
Humans have been stargazers forever, wondering in ancient times if the points of light were holes in the heavenly veil, offering a glimpse of the light of heaven. But even ancient civilizations knew the paths of the stars and were guided by the North Star (Polaris).
Today, light pollution from cities means that your yard might not be the ideal spot to watch the heavens, so you might need to pack up a blanket and some snacks, throw the kids in the car and drive to a good dark sky location. Visit www.darksky.org/our-work/conservation/idsp/finder/ to look for a good spot near you.
And if you want to know when certain planets are visible, when you can catch a good meteor shower, whether the moon is doing something spectacular or if you’re just curious about what you might see, there’s a tool for that, too. Visit www.space.com/33974-best-night-sky-events.html to see a calendar of night sky events and stargazing maps. The website includes handy visuals, so you know what to look for when you scan the horizon.
If you’re rusty on your constellations or never took the time to learn them, there are more free tools that can help you and your family get the most out of your stargazing excursion. Download the free Star Deck constellation and astronomy flashcards. The Star Deck is available in both English and Spanish.
There are also a number of free apps available to help walk you through your journey to the stars. Try SkyView, available from the Apple and Google app stores. Of course, be aware that with your phone lighting your surroundings, your eyes might not adjust to the night sky as well, and you might miss the show.
A brief guide to building an emergency fund
An emergency fund is essential to your financial security because it provides a safety net in the event that you become unemployed or need to pay for an unexpected expense. Since April is Financial Literacy Month, here’s a look at how to create an emergency fund that will help you weather financial hardship without increasing your debt.
How much to save
Most financial experts recommend that you set aside enough money to cover your household expenses for three to six months. Take into account necessities like rent or mortgage payments, transportation costs, food, and utilities.
How to save
An emergency fund takes time to build up, so start saving as soon as possible. Create a plan to set aside a portion of your income each month, even if it’s a small amount. Find ways to reduce your expenses and use your next bonus or tax refund to bolster your savings.
Finally, remember that this money should be reserved exclusively for emergencies. Adequate savings will help ensure you don’t have to rely on credit cards or high-interest loans if you get sick, lose your job, or need to make a major home or car repair.
Where to save
A high-interest savings account is a smart place to put aside an emergency fund because it ensures your money is accessible if you need it. Plus, you’ll likely earn a bit of a return on your savings. Other liquid, low-risk investment options include a money market account or a certificate of deposit.
If you need help building an emergency fund or achieving other financial goals, speak with a certified financial planner or a registered investment adviser.
How to curb robocalls
Robocalls spiked during the pandemic last year, and scammers made off with a shocking $19.7 billion from scam calls in 2020. They used COVID-19 to deceive people in texts and phone calls, using treatments, financial relief, free testing, and the like as their bait.
Even if you haven’t been scammed, these calls are nonetheless annoying. So here are a handful of ways to curb the incoming phone garbage:
* Use a call rejection service. Dial *77 and wait to hear three beeps before hanging up. Now any call that hides its number will be rejected. Be aware that some carriers do charge for the service.
* Check your carrier for services that help block calls. They might have a small monthly fee, but it could be worth it.
* Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov. When you add your name to the list, you are taken off the for-profit call list and telemarketers supposedly can’t call you. Of course, scammers don’t follow the law, but this should still cut down somewhat on the number of unwanted calls.
* Seek revenge. Peaceful revenge, of course. A new app called Robo Revenge, aka Do Not Pay, automatically registers your phone number on a Do Not Call list and gives scammers a fake credit card number. It also sends a dispute letter on your behalf demanding compensation. The company’s website also advertises help fighting parking tickets, canceling free trials, copyright protection, and more.
A quantum drama has a sad ending
Three years ago, Microsoft excitedly announced that it had jumped into the quantum computing realm with the discovery of an elusive particle that the company said it could harness to build a quantum computer.
Called a Majorana fermion, the particle would be used — in theory, anyway — as individual computational units (called qubits) in quantum computers. It was big news for Microsoft, which was looking to catch up with IBM and Google, who had each already built prototypes.
Sadly for Microsoft, the discovery didn’t pan out. In February of this year, the lead physicist and 21 co-authors of a paper announcing the particle’s discovery published a new article retracting the original findings.
It turns out that the original paper excluded some data, confounding some fellow physicists who wondered whether the oversight was intentional or a confirmation bias-induced oversight.
Either way, it was sad news for Microsoft.
Compared to quantum computing, what you do on a regular computer is like a caveman pounding on a rock. Quantum computing massively increases the capabilities of storing and manipulating information. It would supercharge processing and computational speed.
Classic computers currently manipulate individual bits, which are 0 and 1 (no and yes or off and on). In quantum computers, there are no bits. There are qubits, and they can exist as both 0 and 1 at the same time. The traditional laws of physics actually do not apply in the quantum world.
Google’s quantum computer boasts 53 qubits that can store 253 values, or more than 10,000,000,000,000,000 (10 quadrillion) combinations. IBM supposedly is working on 1,000 qubit quantum computers.
The technology is expected to lead to unimaginable improvements in everything from chemistry and emissions to diagnosing illness.
The power of quantum computing
How powerful is this? In 2019, Google’s infant quantum computer solved a problem considered impossible (as a practical matter) for regular machines. According to LiveScience, it completed the complex computation in 200 seconds, while the most powerful supercomputers would have needed approximately 10,000 years. That is a brisk 1.5 trillion times faster.