Friday, May 31, 2019

1978 to 1985 -- A Good Time For Being A Teenager

On Tuesday, April 4, 1978 I became a teenager. That's right... I turned 13 the same year that the movie musical "Grease" was released, the first Garfield comic strip hit newspapers, and a gallon of gas was only 65 cents. Eight Track Players were a popular item, selling for $169, and the average annual income was $17,000. The Bee Gees songs "Night Fever" and "Stayin Alive" were on the radio, and families would watch such television shows as The Waltons; Happy Days; Mork and Mindy; Eight is Enough; and, tuned in for the final episode of The Carol Burnett Show. In many ways, 1978 was a simpler time than today.

On Thursday, April 4, 1985 I left my teenage years. I turned 20 the same year that the first "Back to the Future" movie was released, Microsoft Corporation released the first version of Windows, and a gallon of gas was only $1.19 cents. The average annual income was $22,100 and musical artists Duran Duran, Bruce Springsteen, and Phil Collins were on the radio. Families watched such television shows as Family Ties; Growing Pains; Cheers; The Cosby Show; and, tuned in for the final episode of the George Burns Comedy Week. In many ways, 1985 was a simpler time than today.

A lot actually happened during my teenage years. Live Aid concerts around the world raised millions of dollars to help those starving in Africa, and the pop industry in the U.S. joined together to sing "We Are The World." The first compact discs (CD's) were produced; the Olympic Games took place in Los Angeles; the Space Shuttle Columbia and Space Shuttle Challenger were launched on their maiden flights; Disney's Epcot Park opened; the Pac Man arcade game became popular; Sony released the Walkman for listening to music cassette tapes; MTV was launched (and actually aired music videos!); the first snowboard was invented; and, two weeks before I turned 20 the first domain name was registered to Symbolics Inc., a computer systems company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, it wouldn't be until six years later (1991) when the Internet would become available to the public.

It has been over 34 years since I was a teenager. Certainly, the world is different than it was back then. However, I look back with fond memories of nightly family dinners; family road trips; family hikes; watching family-friendly TV shows; and, hanging out with my friends as we hiked, biked, camped and went sailing. My teenage years were before the days of laptop computers, the public Internet, cell phones, and even before video cameras (Camcorders) were available. Certainly, technology has revolutionized our world by creating amazing tools and resources -- putting useful information at our fingertips. However, I can't say that there hasn't also been a negative impact on our world due to technology. There have certainly been times when I have wished that my own children could have experienced their teenage years at the time I did, between 1978 and 1985. However, as I wrote a couple of days ago... the days of our lives are like sands through an hourglass. The sand keeps falling, the times keep changing, and the years keep unfolding with a seemingly faster progression. My advice: feel blessed for the past, grateful for today, and hopeful for tomorrow.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Today's Farmer: "Rain, Rain, Go Away -- Come Again Another Day!"

"Rain Rain Go Away" is a nursery rhyme most of us are familiar with. It dates back to at least the 17th century and has been used in songs by a number of artists. For today's U.S. farmers, it's a rhyme that is being said almost daily since the moisture level is at the 99th percentile in 85 percent of the growing areas of the Midwest.

Ongoing rain is causing planting difficulties for many farmers, because if you plant corn in saturated soil the chances of having a good crop decrease significantly. Working conditions in Illinois fields have only been suitable for about a day and a half this month in many areas. The latest Illinois Crop Progress and Condition report shows only 35 percent of the state’s corn and nearly 15 percent of soybeans have been planted as of May 26. Last year, corn was at 99 percent and soybeans were at 89 percent at this point.

During May 2019, Iowa has experienced the lowest percentage of corn planted in 24 years -- all due to consistent rainy conditions. Ohio has recently seen corn planting levels at a mere 9 percent versus 69 percent this time last year. Farmers in central Indiana are experiencing what they call the worst planting season in history. The latest crop progress report released by the United States Department of Agriculture shows only 22% of corn has been planted in Indiana, compared to 94% this time last year. In addition, only 11% of soybeans have been planted, compared to 85% this time last year.

Consumers will start to feel the financial result of all the rain. According to Bloomberg data, corn recently traded around $4.12 per bushel, surpassing last year's peak around $4.06. Prices haven't been this high since June 2016. However, some analysts say they could get higher -- to as much as $5.00 per bushel.

I live in America's "Corn Belt" region and I pray that the rain will go away... and come again another day when it's truly needed.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"Like Sands Through The Hourglass, So Are The Days Of Our Lives"

On November 8, 1965 (just seven months after I was born), the still running daytime soap opera "Days of Our Lives" first aired on television. It is set in the fictional Midwestern town of Salem and follows the lives, loves, triumphs and tragedies of the Horton, Brady, Kiriakis, Hernandez and DiMera families. My mother and sisters watched this soap as I was growing up and one thing I remember is the opening words: "Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives." The hourglass is an effective symbol for the passing of time. We see the sands running through the glass without stopping, knowing that the end is increasingly near. Unlike the clock with its endless cycles, the hourglass has a definite limit and visually represents, quite effectively, the passing of time.

The other day, my 11-year-old stepdaughter told me that I don't act my age (54) -- but that I appear much younger due to not having gray hair, very few wrinkles, and because I dance, play and act goofy now and then. She said that I look and act like I'm in my 30's. Of course, that's what any father or stepfather wants to hear from a child! It did, however, get me thinking.

Those of you who have followed my life/blog for any amount of time know that I have four adult children (ages 19, 21, 24 and 26). My stepchildren are ages 11, 14, 21 and 22. Yep... that brings the child count to eight! Six of the eight are adults. In seven years, Kelley and I will be empty nesters. I'll be 61 years of age at that point. I read that 60 percent of empty nesters are 55 years of age or older.

There are countless articles available outlining all of the benefits to look forward to as an empty nester. I've never read one of them. Rather than "looking forward" to our home no longer having children, I am enjoying the remaining years I have left before that time comes -- and that time will be here too quickly. For now, I'm going to enjoy all of the bike rides I can with my remaining two stepchildren at home. Playing, laughing, and enjoying time together is what I'm focused on. The empty nest years, the retirement years, the future grandpa years are still a bit in the distance. Sure, I'll enjoy those years when they arrive, but I'm certainly not going to wish those years arrive sooner.

Esther Pauline Lederer -- who went by the pen name Ann Landers -- once wrote, “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” I believe there is a lot of wisdom in those words. For now, I'm focused on supporting Kelley in her role as a mother... as well as being the best Dad/Stepdad that I can be. Many of our children are already successful adult human beings, and we're going for a 100 percent success rate in that!

The sands of the hourglass continue to fall and rather than focusing on the past or the future, I'm making the most of what's in the middle -- each individual falling grain (each day) that is a blessing beyond measure.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

May Sound Odd, But Video Game-related Injuries Are On The Rise

The growing list of colleges and universities with "e-sports teams" (students who are on scholarship to play video games) is growing, and so are the injuries that come with it. Maryville University is one of the nation's top e-sports programs in the country, recently winning the highly-coveted League of Legends championship in 2017. Doctors are treating some players for hand, wrist, neck and back pain.

Dr. Hallie Zwibel with the NYIT Center for Sports Medicine, said: "Poor posture can produce exponential forces on your neck, back, shoulder. Eye fatigue is the most commonly reported complaint from these pixelated images that you see when you are playing on a computer. They're making 500 action moves per minute. So there's a lot of high-speed thinking, and I think that fatigues the eyes even further."

Some of the common gaming injuries are: Carpal Tunnel; Trigger Finger; Tennis Elbow; and, de Quervain’s Tenosynovitis (a condition that affects the tendons along the thumb side of the wrist, causing pain when someone turns their wrist, grasps anything or makes a fist -- sometimes referred to as "Gamer's Thumb").

According to physical therapists who treat gamers, they practice for 10-12 hours a day in front of a computer... sitting for long stretches. Bad posture and inactivity can lead to muscle and nerve issues. Six high-profile eSports athletes have suffered a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) over the last seven years. Medical professionals note that spontaneous pneumothorax is caused by poor body posture.

On a side note, the World Health Organization (WHO) has officially added video game addiction — characterized by "a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior that takes precedence over other life interests" — to their International Classification of Diseases database. WHO’s expert on mental health and substance abuse says only a small fraction of video game players will develop "gaming disorder," but some extreme cases have been seen, such as gamers who played for 20 hours straight, missing sleep, meals, work, school and other typical activities. Other diagnoses in the same category include gambling, alcoholism and caffeine addiction.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Friday, May 24, 2019

"I Wouldn't Advise Anybody to Make a Coast to Coast"

I know a man who finished a run across America this week. He ran all alone pushing a jogging stroller from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. Immediately following the run, he announced that he would not do it again: "I don’t want to expose myself to the risks in traffic... I wouldn't advise anybody to make a coast to coast -- much too dangerous." I understand how he feels. When I ran solo coast to coast in 2006, I had seven very close encounters with inattentive drivers -- sometimes having to jump into a ditch to avoid being hit. While running across Germany I had to jump over a guardrail.

In this blog, I've written about the dangers of extreme ultra-running pursuits. There have actually been several people who have been extremely injured or died while attempting to run across the United States -- all involving vehicles. In 2017, a university professor running across America to raise money and awareness for lung disease was hit along the side of the road in Ohio and was hospitalized for months as a result. That same year, another man, who was walking across America to raise awareness of climate change, died after being struck by a vehicle in Florida. In recent years there have been several who have died attempting to cross the country on foot. That is one of the reasons why I don't provide advice or coaching to those wishing to try the challenge.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Monday, May 20, 2019

Cheating in Running Races is Becoming an Increasing Global Problem

Several years ago, a 61-year-old runner was caught cheating in the Marine Corps Marathon. Simply stated, he only ran the last 5 to 6 miles of the race, claiming he earned second place in his age group. However, there was evidence to show that he had indeed cheated, which lead to his admitting it. He said, "I messed up. There's no reason to do that. There's really nothing else to say. There's not a good explanation. I apologize to all the other runners."

The man said he had been a runner for most of his adult life, but in recent years his body struggled to make it through the 26.2 miles -- yet he still wanted to be known as a marathon runner. "I feel bad," he said. "There's no great back story to it. It's just wrong. I haven't been feeling that well, didn't do the proper training. Now, at the end of the day, what do I have? Nothing."

Cheating in long-distance running events has been going on for decades. Just last autumn there were 258 people found cheating in the Shenzhen Half-Marathon in China. There have been cheaters found at all distances, including cheaters running across the entire country. Why do they do it?

Some want the notoriety that comes with supposedly completing the distance. Gaining attention from family, friends, co-workers and others is often a driving force to cheating. Some cheat to qualify for larger races, such as the Boston Marathon -- which requires a qualified time in a qualifying marathon. They want to run in the Boston Marathon, but know they are not fast enough to qualify. So, some cheat. Then, there are those who cheat because they need a 'victory' in their life... to gain accolades. And then, there are those who cheat simply because they have a self-inflated ego and want to appear better than others. There are many reasons why some runners cheat, but ultimately they find that their cheating only leads to a great sense of personal failure, and ultimately depression can set in.

In my opinion, distance running is a sport of integrity. Those who choose to cheat by not taking every stride needed between the start and finish lines are truly cheating themselves. We live in a world where cheaters will always try to take a short cut to claim a victory at something. Those of us who put in the work to actually achieve our goals will always experience TRUE victory.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Friday, May 17, 2019

Singapore is Helping to Keep Their Disabled and Elderly Safe

According to newly-released estimates by the Governors Highway Safety Association, the number of pedestrian deaths in the United States has reached a 28-year high. The report determined that 6,227 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2018, a 4 percent increase over 2017 and the highest mortality rate since 1990. Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas accounted for almost half (46 percent) of all deaths.

In Singapore, an initiative is underway by the Land Transport Authority to help increase the safety of two categories of pedestrians -- the disabled and elderly. As pedestrians, they can use identification cards to lengthen the time that traffic lights give them to reach the other side of the street. I think this is a great idea and one that other countries should consider implementing.

Disabled citizens use a white card and the elderly use a purple card. Here are the differences:

Elderly Card: The purple card isn't an identity card, it's a concession version of the public transport fare card system (called EZ-Link, used on buses and trains, and some ATM-type facilities also accept them). Senior citizens apply for them, which gets them subsidized fares. The "no $" in the photo is to indicate that it doesn't deduct any fare value to use the pedestrian crossing in such a manner, because that's how the card is used to pay fares on public transport. You just wave it in front of the reader at a crosswalk like a cashless card transaction.

Disabled Card: The white card is indeed a form of ID, called a DDR (Developmental Disability Registry) ID. The DDR is managed by the National Council of Social Service. It's available to vulnerable groups like special needs children, persons with disabilities, and people suffering from mental health issues. It can also be used for public transport concession.

Essentially, these two types of cards extend the time for crossing at junctions that have such readers.

In the United States, 27 percent of pedestrian fatalities (and 42 percent of bicyclist fatalities) occur at intersections. I've seen many disabled people and elderly needing more time to cross a street than a crossing signal typically gives. Singapore's technology is something that should seriously be considered, particularly in areas where there is a significant number of elderly.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Thursday, May 16, 2019

What Happens During One Hour of Riding Your Bicycle?

My wife recently gave me a new bike (see photo) for cruising around the neighborhood with she and my two youngest stepdaughters -- ages 11 and 14, and for short jaunts on the nearby American Discovery Trail.

Biking is an aerobic exercise that can help improve oxygen intake. Aerobic exercises can also provide cardiovascular benefits. I recently read the following online about the benefits that come from a one-hour bike ride:
  • First 10 Minutes: A sense of freedom hits your system. You immediately grin from the overwhelming joy you're feeling as you pedal faster and faster.
  • 20 Minutes: Your enjoyment spikes, causing a burst in activity. Your body is ridding itself of cortisol, the stress hormone that can prevent deep, regenerative sleep.
  • 40 Minutes: Blood flow and oxygen to the brain are boosted. Keep smiling, because if you're riding five days a week for this long you're likely to take half as many sick days as couch potatoes.
  • 45 Minutes: Serotonin and endorphins are released into the blood stream, helping improve your mood.
  • 60 Minutes: With every mile you tick off, you're helping reduce your risk of heart disease to less than half that of those who don't exercise at all.
The exact amount of calories you burn during one hour of biking depends on your starting weight. The more you weigh, the greater the number of calories you expend. A person who weighs 160 pounds will burn about 288 calories in one hour of cycling at a leisurely pace. Mountain biking is more strenuous because of off-road trails and hills. A 160-pound person burns about 614 calories during one hour of mountain biking.

Those of you who know my background are aware that for most of the past 45 years I've been a runner... pounding my body into the ground to the equivalent of a couple of laps of the planet. Bicycling was always my 'supplemental' exercise. However, since retiring from the ultra-running world nearly three years ago, I've aimed to get more into cycling. There are definitely benefits to be found in bicycling rather than running. Running is weight bearing – and therefore injury rates are higher. Cycling, by contrast, is not weight bearing. When scientists compared long distance runners and cyclists, they found the runners suffered up to 144 percent more muscle damage, 256 percent more inflammation, and their delayed onset muscle soreness (the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours to days after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise) was 87 percent higher. However, the lack of weight bearing also means that cycling does not do as much to increase bone density as other sports – so as a cyclist it’s a good idea to add a little strength training into your program.

Happy riding!

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Ultra-endurance Sports: More People Are Going The Distance

In the world of running, an ultramarathon is any distance beyond the traditional 26.2-mile marathon distance. My first ultramarathon distance was accomplished when I was 20 years old (in 1985). I ran 35 miles. That was 34 years ago. Back then, ultrarunning was relatively unknown and few people did it. In fact, just ten years ago (in 2009) about 30,000 runners finished ultramarathons. In 2018, that number reached 110,000. Going beyond the 26.2-mile marathon distance is becoming more popular.

Many ultrarunners believe that the rise in popularity of the ultramarathon is happening because so many people have now completed marathons. Marathons are coming to be seen as something that is achievable by anyone, basically everyone knows someone who has run a marathon. Ultramarathons are the next step up, and now occupy the same place that marathons once occupied in people’s minds. Another factor in their rising popularity is social media. People see posts from friends who have done an ultramarathon and decide that they want to do one too. This increased exposure draws many people who might otherwise believe that an ultramarathon is beyond their ability.

However, ultra-endurance pursuits are not limited to running. Road cyclists, mountain bikers, adventure racers, and even stand-up paddleboarders (SUP) are joining the ultra-endurance world. The distance in each discipline to be considered an 'ultra' varies. For instance, most people consider anything over 100 miles the start of endurance cycling. Ultra-endurance adventure racing can range from eight hours to several weeks. SUP ultra events can go for hundreds of miles.

Several years ago, I read this about the comparison between ultramarathons and marathons:
"Surprisingly, some consider ultramarathons to be easier even than standard marathons, given that they take place on more varied terrain and that the challenge, rather than finishing in as fast a time as possible, is to merely complete the course. Whereas regular marathons demand that participants put themselves through 26 plus miles of unforgiving tarmac, a softer, more irregular ultramarathon track places less stress on your joints. What’s more, whereas walking in a marathon triggers encouragements from the watching crowd to ‘keep going’, walking in an ultramarathon is something everyone competing must come to terms with. Without going into any great depth, ultramarathons are an entirely different kind of beast."
Ultras are truly a different kind of beast! So, there are marathoners, ultramarathoners, and then the category that has very few participants in it -- the solo journey runners (those who run across states and countries... who run to the horizon and keep going). I was a solo journey runner for many years and unlike ultramarathon and marathon races where there are aid stations and support personnel, you have no such assistance in solo running across states/countries. To say it succinctly, it is the ultimate in "cross country" running. You have to be self sufficient in every way. No crew... no crowds... no award at the finish line. Solo journey running is simply one person against all of the elements -- running from one border to another, one ocean to another, one country to another... alone. Very few people in the world do that type of running.

Last year, there were 110,000 people who finished ultramarathon running races. Last year, there were less than 10 people who finished a run across the United States.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"NO SELFIE ZONE" -- Is The 'Perfect' Photo Worth Risking Your Life?

Last week, a woman in Russia climbed onto an electricity transformer to take a selfie. She ended up electrocuted and burned to death. Selfie-related deaths have been in the headlines with some regularity in recent years and they have become "an emerging problem," according to research published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care.

As an increasing number of people die due to selfie-related accidents, researchers are calling for "no-selfie zones" at tourist locations across the globe to prevent people from partaking in risky behavior for the sake of a perfect photo.

According to a new study in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, at least 259 people died from October 2011 to November 2017 while snapping selfies, with the highest number occurring amongst 20 to 29-year-olds (with 72 percent being male). But that number is "just the tip of the iceberg," say the study’s authors, because such deaths are underreported and often attributed to other causes. The study also found that selfie deaths are becoming more common, increasing from just three in 2011 to 93 in 2017. Researchers attribute the jump in selfie fatalities to increased cell phone usage, enhanced selfie features, and more widespread use of selfie sticks.

Of the 259 selfie-related deaths the researchers identified, more than half (a total of 159) occurred in India, followed by Russia (16), the United States (14) and Pakistan (11). The most common type of death was drowning (70 deaths), which often occurred after the selfie-taker was washed away by waves on a beach or capsized a boat. Next were "transport" deaths (51), which most frequently happened when someone was taking a selfie too close to a moving train. Those were followed by deaths from falls (48), fires (48), firearms (11), animals (8), and "other" (7). Most of the firearm-related selfie deaths occurred in the United States -- most often people posing with a gun to their head and accidentally shooting themselves. The study also found that the people who died while taking selfies were overwhelmingly male (about 72 percent) and under the age of 30 (86 percent).

As a result, "No Selfie Zones" are being declared at some tourist areas globally, especially such places as bodies of water; canyon rims; mountain peaks; and, on tall buildings -- all in an effort to decrease the incidence of selfie-related deaths.

Some experts are suggesting that smartphone technology that uses global positioning system location, or measures altitude, could potentially be harnessed to try and help prevent selfie deaths. In a letter published in the journal Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, doctors from the National University of Ireland Galway, explain how cell phones could potentially be used to transmit verbal safety warnings to users who are about to take photographs in dangerous locations. The letter states:
"Based on the GPS location or altitude of the tourist, we propose that there may be scope for providing verbal safety messages to individuals with their phone in camera mode, warning them that they are too close to a vertical drop. In such cases, the camera function may be disabled until the person moves away from the dangerous no selfie zone."
Yes, locations around the world could post "No Selfie Zone" signs to try and encourage people to avoid dangerous situations with their smartphones, but is that really going to have an impact? I do believe there is some merit to the idea of having a phone's camera function disabled based on GPS location or altitude. Sadly, even with such disabling I don't believe that deaths from foolish 'selfie' taking will ever be completely eliminated.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Monday, May 13, 2019

Playing 6-String and 12-String Guitars Since 1975... And Still Loving It

When I was 10 years of age, in 1975, my parents gave me my first guitar. At that time, John Denver was soaring in popularity and was the musical artist I listened to the most. In fact, his music was the first that I learned to play on guitar.

I'm self taught, never having taken guitar lessons. As a boy, I would sit in my bedroom and listen to the radio, trying to play along with the songs I heard while studying a piece of paper that had basic guitar chords written on it. I literally learned the guitar by ear, listening to notes in songs and working at identifying which notes they were and then trying to recreate the sound on my guitar. That was 44 years ago. Since then, I've played my guitar at church, for weddings, and other events -- but have still not taken any guitar lessons. In fact, last year I enjoyed playing a 12-string guitar at my own wedding.

When I was a senior in high school, I was in a 'garage band' called Tempest. I and three other guys made our best attempt at playing some popular songs of the time (1982-1983). Once we graduated, we went our separate ways and the sounds of Tempest were silenced forever. Since then, I've played guitar with two other 'bands' -- as a part of a small group of musicians who played weekly at a college Christian gathering (mid-1980's), and on a church worship team for many years in the 1990's. Currently, two of my children are teaching themselves how to play the guitar... my 21-year-old son, Kyler, and my 25-year-old daughter, Jenna. It's wonderful to know that they're working toward learning the guitar.

Did you know that there are only two guitar chords needed to play Bruce Springsteen's song "Born In The U.S.A.?" Yep, that's it. Two chords... repeated throughout the song. However, Springsteen is not the only musician with a two-chord song. Other artists have released songs that only require two chords to play, such as Billy Ray Cyrus' Achy Breaky Heart; The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby; and, Fleetwood Mac's Dreams. So, those who think that they can't teach themselves how to play the guitar are wrong! Learn some basic chords and strum out some tunes!

This past weekend, I had the honor of playing my 12-string acoustic guitar during a mother's day luncheon. The greatest honor was playing several songs that my eldest step-daughter, Rachel, sang at the event. She has a beautiful voice and it was an occasion I will always remember.

According to the National Association of Music Merchants, about 2.5 million guitars (electric and acoustic) are sold annually in the United States. Guitar sales are expected to stay on the upswing for at least the next few years. If you're interested in learning the guitar, pick yourself up one that is affordable for a beginner, around the $100 to $150 range. The 12-string guitar I currently play is priced at $450. I was in a music store a few years ago and had an opportunity to play a $5,000 guitar. Let me tell you, I really couldn't hear much difference in the sound of it compared to my $450 guitar. Higher cost doesn't necessarily equate to higher quality. The real 'cost' is in how willing you are to spend the time needed to learn the instrument well. If you put in the time, you can make even a $20 thrift store guitar sound great!

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Friday, May 10, 2019

Photoshop: How Image Manipulation Manipulates Our Perspective

We live in a world where all too often you simply cannot believe what you see.

Today, the altering of photos is so widespread that it's difficult to know for certain if what you're seeing is real.

My experience with photography dates back to 1977 when I was first introduced to a Minolta XG7 35mm SLR Camera for a photography class I took in junior high school. Back then, we took pictures on film and developed the film in a darkroom, where we would then print black and white photos using a Beseler photo enlarger -- the 'old style' technique. It was truly an art to create a quality image, using burning and dodging techniques, and knowing precisely how long to keep the exposed image in the various chemicals needed for processing. Of course, that was 42 years ago and today everyone can see their images instantly on their phones, editing and publishing photos quickly to social media.

In 1990, Photoshop hit the market -- the leading software for image manipulation. The before and after photos accompanying this writing (of the woman in high heels) is an example of what Photoshop can do. Photoshop has changed photography, fashion, and advertising faster than legislation has been able to keep up. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has been enforcing truth-in-advertising laws for over a hundred years, but they've been slow to respond to image retouching. However, that's starting to change.

In countries around the world, legislators and regulators are beginning to take action. Laws are being passed -- like the Photoshop Law in Israel which requires models to be at least an 18.5 BMI (body mass index) and for advertisers to label retouched images. In France, an October 2017 law went into effect requiring a "photographie retouchée" label on photos that have been digitally altered to make a model's silhouette narrower or wider. It also requires an every other year health exam for models, to medically certify that they are healthy enough to work.

As a result of the increasing popularity of photo manipulation, the globally recognized stock photography group called Getty Images banned "any creative content depicting models whose body shapes have been retouched to make them look thinner or larger," according to an email sent out to all customers. Getty stated, "It’s important to be clear that altering a model’s body shape as described by the new French law is quite rare in commercial stock photography (it is time consuming and is also against the increasing trend towards more authentic imagery)."

Lawmakers and enforcers are motivated primarily by unrealistic depictions of the female body, and the potential harm retouched images are causing to the self-esteem of impressionable youth. The American Medical Association released a statement condemning excessive image alteration that included this excerpt:
"The appearance of advertisements with extremely altered models can create unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image. In one image, a model's waist was slimmed so severely, her head appeared to be wider than her waist. We must stop exposing impressionable children and teenagers to advertisements portraying models with body types only attainable with the help of photo editing software."
In October 2015, teen star Zendaya was applauded for calling out Modeliste Magazine for what she felt was heavy-handed Photoshopping of her images. On her Instagram account, she explained that she was was “shocked when I found my 19 year old hips and torso quite manipulated,” and that images edited in this way “create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have.”

In 2013, Beyonce protested against clothing retailer H&M, refusing to allow them to make alterations to her body after a photoshoot for H&M’s swimwear line. That same year Lady Gaga spoke out against her Glamour cover photo because she felt her “skin looked too perfect” and her “hair looked too soft.”

In April 2016, Scandal star Kerry Washington took to her Instagram to respond to Adweek’s heavy Photoshop job of her cover, explaining that “it felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror.”

In January 2018, CVS unveiled a campaign to create new standards for beauty ads in their stores — namely, phasing out airbrushing and other digital alterations. Part of that included the debut of the CVS Beauty Mark, a watermark placed on advertisements confirming to customers that the images weren’t digitally altered or retouched (which CVS defined as "changing or enhancing a person’s shape, size, proportion, skin or eye color, wrinkles or any other individual characteristics"). Additionally, CVS also asked beauty brands sold there to adhere to these new standards by 2020. They increased their efforts a few months later with their new ad campaign, "Beauty in Real Life," for which the company cast a diverse group of real women from all over the U.S. for un-retouched print and video imagery.

Sadly, image manipulation is not something that is reserved only for celebrities. In fact, today anyone can manipulate their images with one of many image manipulation apps or software available. Studies show that an increasing number of teens are manipulating photographs before posting online so that they can appear thinner, have a larger butt, enhanced bust size, or wider hips. Facial makeovers can be done within seconds and flaws/blemishes removed. The before and after images of the teen's face accompanying this writing is the result of a manipulation app for a phone. Notice the enhancement of the lips and eyes, and the narrowing of the jaw structure. Her ears have been slightly narrowed, her eyebrows darkened, and her neck made to appear thinner. There are endless ways of manipulating photographs and many teens are learning and applying these techniques.

No, you cannot always believe what you see in a photograph. The days of waiting to see a photo for the first time in a darkroom environment are long gone, as are the days of being able to trust with greater certainty what your eyes actually see in a photograph.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Can a Strong Woman be a Feminine Woman?

I am blessed to be married to a strong, feminine woman. There is not a day that goes by when I don't see, appreciate and acknowledge the true beauty radiating from my wife in so many ways. I recently read, “Women were created to be strong and powerful and formidable, not in spite of their sex, but because of it. The source of true feminine beauty comes from deep inside a woman’s being and is manifested when their thoughts, words, actions and emotions are in perfect harmony with the purpose of a woman."

Before you read any more, I'm going to give you the answer to the question which headlines today's blog writing. YES! A strong woman can be a feminine woman. How do I know? Because I am fortunate to open my eyes each day to see such a woman at my side. My wife is a shining example of just how beautiful a woman can be when she has complete confidence in who she is, what she wants, and what she's worth. However, her beauty is not wrapped in arrogance, superiority, a demanding demeanor, or insistence on equality in every way. She is my PARTNER in life and we truly compliment one another.

I recently read, "A little known fact that is not spoken about today is that women actually have held power and influenced households, local and global events since the dawn of time... If you’re a woman who understands her true feminine power and uses it to her own advantage, you know exactly what I mean. The look in his eyes. The willingness to please you and do anything to win your attention, time and your presence. His care. His soft touch. His complete surrender to your feminine gifts. The magic that lures him in that he can’t even explain. This is just an example of how a woman can influence or have power over a man -- and "power" over men is a tremendous resource. The trick is to use it wisely and with great care."

I will admit that my wife has true feminine power in our marriage, and she indeed uses it wisely and with great care. In fact, I find everything about my wife attractive -- from her faith to her personality, from the way she cares for our family to her strong work ethic. She is indeed a strong woman in so many of life's arenas, but she also maintains her femininity and the combination is simply intoxicating to me. Unfortunately, some women believe that being 'feminine' equates to a degree of weakness. Personally, I believe that most men find femininity a positive and strong trait in a woman.

Research has shown that men remain, on average, larger and stronger than women, possessing 26 pounds of skeletal muscle, 40 percent more upper-body strength, and 33 percent more lower body strength. From purely a physical standpoint, men tend to have larger frames and possess more strength than women. Yet, there are certainly some women who are stronger than some men! However, this blog post is not about a woman's muscular strength or body build. This is about a woman being strong and confident in who she is; what she believes in; where she's going; and, her worth in a relationship. Such strength, used wisely and with care, is incredibly attractive to men and when joined with femininity, a woman of any age or body type can be both strong and feminine.

I also recently read, "Ironically, a strong woman is not what society tells us it is. No woman is a strong woman because she got a degree. No woman is a strong woman because she got promoted. No woman is a strong woman because of her intellect. No woman is a strong woman because she can do something just as well as a man can or even better than them. No woman is strong because she’s an athlete. No woman is strong because she can lift heavy weights at the gym, or run fast. True strength lies in her ability to embrace her feminine core, and whilst she may be a high achiever, and whilst she may be very intelligent – her real strength is in her true femininity... and in her character. Can she care for others? Can she care not only when it’s easy, but when it’s hard? Can she truly feel, rather than hide her feelings? Can she tell the truth, and influence people for the better? Can she influence without aggression? Can she influence without ego? Can she give without expecting anything back? Can she accept a man, without trying to change him?"

Finally, I came across these words and want to share them with you:

A strong woman is one who feels deeply and loves fiercely.
Her tears flow just as abundantly as her laughter.
A strong woman is both soft and powerful.
She is both Practical and Spiritual.
A strong woman in her essence is a gift to all the world.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Attending My Stepdaughter's College Graduation Was Very Special

I recently had the honor of attending my stepdaughter's graduation from Indiana University. Rachel looked lovely and her smile was beaming. For the past four years, she has diligently pursued her bachelor's degree while working a part-time job and maintaining her own home. In my opinion, Rachel is the epitome of what today's young adult should be doing -- setting goals and achieving them through hard work, perseverance and desire.

At Rachel's graduation ceremony, the Chancellor commended students for their personal commitment to excellence and challenged them to become leaders in their professions and communities, saying: "Hard work, dedication, and commitment have played a role in your success. Now with that success comes responsibility. We will look to you for leadership. Society will look to you to make a difference in all the challenges we’re going to face in this country and in the world."

Those words had me wondering just how many students graduate from college in the United States each year to embark on a life of such responsibility. The Census Bureau has said that 34 percent of Americans have completed a bachelor's degree or higher. The college graduation rate is at around 60% (in other words, 60% of those who start college actually attain their degree -- but only 36% of those students finish within 4 years). There are approximately 19 million college students in the United States (in undergraduate programs) and about 4 million enrolled in graduate or professional programs. So, there are around 23 million students pursuing higher education in the U.S. annually -- which is 7 percent of the U.S. population.

Data in the last twenty years shows the general trend of girls outperforming boys in academic achievement in terms of class grades across all subjects and college graduation rates, but boys scoring higher on standardized tests and being better represented in the higher-paying and more prestigious STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Annually, more American women are earning bachelor's degrees than men, and I'm so proud of my stepdaughter for not only pursuing her degree, but attaining it! Congratulations Rachel!

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Friday, May 3, 2019

What's in a Name? I Decided to Explore my Surname, STASO.

My last name is Staso, pronounced with a long 'A' sound (like STAY-SO). There are 642 immigration records available for the last name Staso, and although it is not a common surname it can most often be found in the U.S. in Pennsylvania. Ukraine is the country where the surname 'Staso' is most common, with the United States coming in second and Russia third. It is said that globally, fewer than 500 people have the surname Staso.

Several popular surname resource websites state that the meaning of "Staso" is unknown. However, I did find one website which had this to say about those bearing the Staso surname: "You are spiritually intense and can sting or charm. Your name brings love and new starts into life and attracts money. You are bold, independent, inquisitive and interested in research. You know what you want and why you want it. You are basically a peacemaker. You understand the law of harmony and desire to balance your life with those around you. You may feel incomplete without someone to share your love, ideals, wealth or work. You have developed intuition, patience and the ability to nurture others. You can achieve the state of happiness if you're willing to accept your needs in a complimentary relationship and go to create them." I also read that the surname Staso conjures benevolence, keenness and diplomacy.

I don't take stock in astrology or numerology, so I won't share what I saw about the surname 'Staso' in those categories.

Perhaps the most humorous thing I've read that includes 'Staso' is the meaning of "Stasophobia," which is a fear of standing or walking (the origin of the word staso is Latin [meaning standing] and phobia is Greek [meaning fear]). It's ironic that my surname appears in a phobia term regarding being on your feet -- especially since I've run across states and countries!

Finally, I used a research database and found out that there are currently two other men in the United States with the name Paul Staso -- one older than I am, and one younger.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Yale/Oxford Research Shows Exercise Makes You Happier Than Money

Are you living at the corner of Health Avenue and Happiness Street? Last month, "The World Happiness Report" was released — which is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness that ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be. The report focuses on happiness and the community: how happiness has evolved over the past dozen years, with a focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and government policies that have driven those changes. The World Happiness Report is produced by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network in partnership with the Ernesto Illy Foundation.

The report shows that the citizens of Finland are the happiest, while the citizens of South Sudan are the least happy. Out of the 156 countries named in the study, the United States is listed as the 19th happiest country — slightly behind the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany and Belgium. The rankings of country happiness are based on the pooled results from Gallup World Poll surveys from 2016-2018.

Recently, researchers at Yale and Oxford collected data about the physical behavior and mental mood of more than 1.2 million Americans. Participants were asked to answer the following question: "How many times have you felt mentally unwell in the past 30 days, for example, due to stress, depression, or emotional problems?" The participants were also asked about their income and physical activities. They were able to choose from 75 types of physical activity — from mowing the lawn, taking care of children, and doing housework to weight lifting, cycling, and running.

The scientists found that while those who exercised regularly tended to feel bad for 35 days a year, nonactive participants felt bad for 18 days more, on average. In addition, the researchers found that physically active people feel just as good as those who don't do sports but who earn about $25,000 more a year. Essentially, you'd have to earn a lot more to get yourself the same happiness-boosting effect that sport has. However, it doesn't mean that the more sport activity you do the happier you are!

The study's author says that the relationship between sport duration and mental load is U-shaped. The study found that physical activity contributes to better mental well-being only when it falls within a certain time frame. According to the study, three to five training sessions, each lasting between 30 to 60 minutes, are ideal per week. The mental health of those participants who exercised for longer than three hours a day suffered more than that of those who weren't particularly physically active.

The researchers also noticed that certain sports that involve socializing (such as team sports) can have more of a positive effect on your mental health than others. Despite the fact that neither cycling nor aerobics and fitness technically counts as team sports, these activities were found to also have a considerable positive effect on mental health.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

My Stepdaughter Made Me Cry While I Was Surrounded By Moms

My 14-year-old stepdaughter, Hannah, is a ballet dancer. She has been taking classes for 10 years and every time I watch her practice, I am in awe of her grace, strength, flexibility and enthusiasm. Earlier this week I was watching her at dance class (being the only man there surrounded by other girls' Moms) and... my eyes welled up with tears. I haven't shared that with Hannah, but I was emotionally moved as I watched her. After driving home she got out of the car and I told her how impressed I am with her abilities. It was then that she said that she's not like some kids at her school -- an "athlete" -- but that she enjoys dance. Her words got me thinking.

I spent over 30 years of my adult life as a long-distance runner. My legs carried me to many finish lines and across states and countries as I pursued extreme ultra-endurance challenges. Being an "athlete" is something I'm very familiar with and I know what it takes to be one. Hannah is truly an athlete in every sense of the word.

What attributes define "athlete?" An athlete is a person trained or gifted in exercises or contests involving physical agility, stamina, or strength (a participant in a sport, exercise, or game requiring physical skill). The physical ability and disciplines expected of a dancer can be easily related to those of an athlete and dance critics are increasingly describing dancers as being athletic.

I recently read this about ballet dancers...
A ballet dancer must certainly achieve physical agility, stamina and strength in their profession and physical skill must be mastered. Daily training involves repetition of exercises to achieve the physical attributes necessary to execute movements required of a dancer, however the focus is not on sport or games. Whilst many dancers will compete in contests and will audition against other dancers for a place in a company, the real emphasis in dance is on the performance itself. There is an element of competition across the dance profession but the reward is a particular role in a company or a promotion from chorus to soloist rather than a gold medal.
Hannah attends dance classes many hours each week throughout the school year and has certainly achieved physical ability, stamina and strength to be one of the best 14-year-old dancers I've ever seen -- and I don't say that out of a bias of being her step-dad. I see an ability in Hannah that could truly take her to some wonderful stages and experiences. Her aim is to be a professional ballerina and I believe she will achieve her goal.

In many respects dancers are athletes, but they are also artists and it is this combination that makes for a stunning emotional and physical performance. Yes, Hannah is indeed an athlete -- a beautiful athlete with strength, flexibility, grace, stamina, rhythm and dedication. It's truly a blessing to see her excel at what she loves and no matter where her abilities take her, her mother and I will be cheering her on... likely with a tear in my eye.

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso