Saturday, June 27, 2015

What's in a name? The most memorable, hilarious, and questionable street names in the U.S.

Where do our streets get their names? With over 8 million miles of roads in the U.S., so many that even our government can't estimate how many streets, roads, lanes, and courts exist, highlighting the most memorable ones can be an entraining endeavor, but also gives us a glimpse of our history. As America was originally founded and developed, streets were often named after towns in England or Europe where settlers came from, or after prominent family names of those who were important in the new communities.

These days, you’d expect street naming to be a far more democratic process. But in fact, when new subdivisions and communities need street names, the real estate and building developers usually get the privilege of proposing names. The good news it that there is a process to get that named approved, as many of them try to name the streets after themselves, their wives, or children.

 Each city or municipality may have a slightly different process, but usually the developer submits the name request to the city for review. This the building, engineering, and public works departments a chance to comment. Next, the police and fire departments have a chance to weigh in on the name, which is vital because they have to make sure the name isn’t confusing or hard to locate in case they’re trying to reach it during an emergency. Finally, the post office gets a final rule before it goes to a vote.

What’s the most popular street name in the U.S.? That designation goes to Park, with 9,640 street signs across the country donning that name.

After that, the most popular street names in America are inspired by trees and numbers; for instance, Second Street, Fifth Avenue, etc. And while you’d think there would be just as many First Streets, those are actually not as common because they are often renamed “Main Street.”  Oak, Pine, Cedar, Maple, and Elm Streets are present in almost every city.

Local landmarks (Ocean Side Drive, Old Mill Lane, Lake Shore Drive) and the name of Presidents who were born in the area are common.
In Washington, D.C., there are streets named after all 50 states.

After the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy Jr. and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., many cities in the country changed major thoroughfares to their names to honor them.

There are plenty of streets named after Hollywood celbirities adorning the streets in and around Los Angeles: Bob Hope Drive, (Rudolph) Valentino Place, (Charlie) Chaplin Avenue, Will Rogers Street, (Fred) Astaire Avenue, Judy) Garland Drive, and more than one street named after Elvis Presley.

Here are some other interesting, funny, and questionable street names across the country:

Durt Road
Casco, ME

Crummy Road
Clark Fork, ID

Divorce Court
Heather Highlands, Pennsylvania

Psycho Path
Traverse City, Michigan

No Name Street
Turnersville, New Jersey

Wong Way
Riverside, California, named after George Wong

BMW Drive,
Griswold, Ct.

Skunk Misery Road
Lowell, Mass.

Connecticut has some strange street names that maybe channeled their Puritanical fears, including Hell Hollow Road, Satans Kingdom Road, Beelzebub Road and Devils Garden Road.

Quite A Road
Lovell, Maine

Where o Where Drive
Nantucket, Mass.

Pickle Dog Lane
Deer Lodge, Montana

No Name Uno
Gilroy, Calif.

Oh My God Road
Central City, Colo.

Jackass Hill Road
Littleton, Colo.

Upsan Downs Road
Wilmington, Del.

Triple XXX Road
Choctaw, Okla.

Why Worry Lane
Phoenix, Ariz.

Witts End Road
Andover, N.J.

Thata Way and Whicha Way
Hemet, Calif.

Zzyzx Road
San Bernadino County, Calif.

I Dream of Jeannie Way
Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Jot-em-Down Road
Cumming, Ga.

Bimbo Drive
Fayetteville, N.C.

Ice Cream Street
Shreveport, La.

Milky Way
Cupertino, Calif.

Electric Ave.
Westerville, Ohio

And trust me when I tell you, this is a just a small sample, with many more explicit and Rated R street names censored from the list!

Here are the most popular street names in California:

Park, 367
Oak, 344
Pine, 318
Sunset, 306
Cedar, 303
Willow, 289
1st / First, 271
Cypress, 269
2nd / Second, 266
Redwood, 258

In Sacramento, many streets were named after famous inventors from American history:

Whitney Ave. namely Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin.

Marconi Ave., named after Guglielmo Marconi, who helped invent the radio.

Eastern Ave. named after James Eastern, who invented the compass.

Hurley Way after Jonathon Hurley, who invented the hockey puck.

Northrop Ave. after Jack Northrop, co-founder of Northrop-Grumman aviation.

Fair Oaks Blvd., named after Higgins Fairoaks, who introduced the concept of planting trees close to roadways.

Cottage Lane after Cyrus Cottage, who invented the picture frame.

So if residents don’t care for the name of their street, is it possible to change it? It is possible through a long process of submitting a name change request, but getting it approved is extremely rare. There are just too many logistical problems when a street name is changed, with consideration for businesses, property owners, landlords and renters who would have to change advertising, stationary, business cards, and all of their bills and accounts. Most importantly, it would require a renewal of every mapping software and GPS system in the world. So if you don’t like your street name, you’re probably better off moving!

Monday, June 22, 2015

80 Fun and crazy facts about Las Vegas, (part 2)

Las Vegas is one of the most dazzling cities in the world, a mecca of gambling and entertainment that attracts millions of tourists every year. In this blog, we'll continue our look at fun, crazy, and fascinating facts about Las Vegas. To read the first 35, click on part 1 of this blog. 

46. If one person wanted to stay one night in every hotel in Las Vegas it would take them 288 years.

47. A 2013 study revealed that 15% of people come to Las Vegas with intentions to gamble, but 71% actually gamble during their stay.

48. The Bellagio Hotel has more rooms (3,933) than residents in Bellagio, Italy, for which it’s named.

49. Most of the water features like fountains, waterfalls, and man-made lakes in Vegas use grey water, which is recycled from sinks, tubs, and showers.

50. Plenty of people try to cheat and rob the casinos in Las Vegas, but 34% of those incidents are perpetrated by staff and employees of those establishments, not outsiders.

51. Every day, more than 60,000 pounds of cocktail shrimp are consumed in Las Vegas, which is more than the rest of the U.S. combined.

52. The Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas stands 1,100 feet tall, the highest building west of the Mississippi and the 5th highest in the U.S.

53. A marriage license costs only $60 in Nevada and there is no requirement for a blood test or any waiting period.

54. What happens in Clark County…? Few people realize that the legendary Vegas Strip actually mostly sits in neighboring Clark County, not within the Las Vegas city limits.

55. The Nevada Test Site lies about 65 miles north of Las Vegas, home to more than 100 above-ground nuclear tests our government performed between 1952-1962. 

56. The bomb blasts were made public and spawned Atomic Tourism, where people would watch the show from the rooftops, decorate their bars and restaurants with atomic themes, and dedicate parties to witnessing the atomic blasts.

57. During the era of the nuclear scare, a wealth businessman built a 16,500 square foot mansion underground beneath Las Vegas, with a swimming pool, putting green, and other luxury amenities, along with plenty of stored food and water to keep him alive for decades in case of a nuclear war.

58. The rise of modern-day Las Vegas from a dusty desert town in the 1940s is largely thanks to Mafia gangsters Meyer Lansky and Benjamin Hymen Siegelbaum, known as Bugsy Siegel, who brought together mob families, movie and music stars, and business people to get the Flamingo hotel and casino built.

59. Bugsy Siegel reportedly got inspiration for the name “Flamingo” from the long legs of his showgirl girlfriend.

60. The list of power players who held a tight grip on Vegas business and development reads like a list of kings in any monarchy. Steve Wynn started out as an apprecintice to the incumbant Frank Rosentha, but eventually “dethroned” him.

61. Wynn now serves as chairman of Mirage Resorts, and the MGM Grand, which is the most successful hotel in the world.

62. But not all Vegas legends were auspicious gambling tycoons, gangsters and wheelers and dealers.  A virtual unknown named E. Parry Thomas is given credit for helping Vegas develop into what it is today because he was the only banker in town at the time who would loan money to build casinos.

63. Almost everything is a gamble in Vegas but there’s one sure thing – that a whole lot of people will be hungover every morning. To help them recover, there’s actually a service that comes to their hotel and hooks up an IV with fluids and vitamins!

64. All the fun isn’t in the casinos and clubs in Las Vegas; a heavy equipment playground lets people drive around bulldozers and other heavy machinery just for kicks.

65. Legend has it that there’s an entire secret city buried under Las Vegas and guess what? The legend is true! Nearly 1,000 people inhabit a massive tunnel system that runs under the casinos, most of them living and sleeping under there full time, even with pets and whole families. The city knows about it, of course, and has outreach programs that try to bring them above ground and integrated into shelters or society.

66.Outside the Paris hotel in Vegas stands a monumental replica of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was originally slated to be a full size rendition, but because it was near an airport and might interfere with the flight path of planes, it was shrunk to a ½ size scale during construntion.

67.Pop icon Michael Jackson had plans to build a robot likeness in Las Vegas in 2007 as a tourist attraction. The robot was reportedly to be 50-feet high and able to moon walk through the desert.

68. In 2007, Michael Jackson had plans to build a 50-foot tall moon walking robot, a replica of himself to roam the desert sands of Las Vegas.

69. A lot of people don’t know that the majority of casinos in Las Vegas will cash in chips from their competitors.

70. Las Vegas may be known for great eatieries and fine dining, but no one accused them of being health conscious. For instance, at the the Heart Attack Grill in that city, any patron weighing over 350 pounds eats for free and a popular item on the menu is called the “Quadruple Bypass Burger,” which is more than 8,000 calories!

71. Thanks to their close relationship from encouraging tourism, Las Vegas holds the unofficial designation of being Hawaii’s 9th island.

72. Vegas is so brightly lit at night that you can actually see the lights from outer space.

73. The Great Recession hit Las Vegas particularly hard, as most people opted to stay home and financially conservative as the economy faltered. But now, Las Vegas tourism is back and just as big as ever.

74. In fact, construction was under way on the Harmon Hotel, the largest private funded construction project in U.S. history. Once completed, it would have 400 hotel rooms, 207 condo suites, casinos, and a full shopping mall. But that will never happen because the project’s developers and contractors were accused of falsifying 62 reports and compromising the safety of the structure to pocket money. So the ill-fated hotel was demolished in 2012 before it ever opened its doors.

75. Casinos employ all sorts of subtle tactics to keep customers inside their establishments gambling away. In fact, the casinos in Vegas have no clocks, keeping people disconnected from reality so they’ll keep spending money instead of leaving.

76. There are also no windows in casinos so people can’t tell the passing of time by day or night.

77. Casinos design their interior floor plans like mazes so people can’t exit easily.

78. And the best tactic of all, casinos give free alcohol to patrons who are gambling, which encourages them to stay and “helps” them make bad decisions and fosters sloppy play. The House always wins!

79. They’ll bet on just about anything in Vegas, though sometimes it crosses the line. In 1980, a hospital there suspended workers who were betting on when patients would die. One nurse was even accused of killing patients to help win bets.

80. Other than casinos and nightlife on the Strip, the Hoover Dam is the largest tourist attraction in or around Las Vegas. The Dam was competed in 1935 after The Hoover Dam was completed in 1935 after 21,000 men worked on it for 5 years, and regulates water to make the region habitable.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

50 Jaw-dropping facts about planet Earth.

1. The earth is about 4.53 billion years old.

2. The Earth orbits the sun at about 67,000 miles per hour.

3. That means when you or I are standing still, we’re actually moving at 1,000 miles per hour!

4. The earth’s rotation is gradually slowing at an imperceptible rate of 17 milliseconds per hundred years, which means that if human beings are still around in 140 million years, the length of each of their days will be 25 hours. 

5. It takes only 8 minutes and 20 seconds for sunlight to reach the earth, a rate that distinguished the speed of light.

6. Every planet in our solar system is named after a Greco-Roman mythological god except for ours. 

7. In fact, no one really knows who first named our planet “earth.” The name comes from the Old English word “eorthe” (ground) and Old High Germanic word “erda” (soil).

8. The deepest point on the earth is the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, which lies on the ocean floor, 35,813 feet (bigger than Mount Everest) below sea level, or around 7 miles. Only three people have ever been there. 

9. The biggest mountain range on earth (that’s not underwater) is the Andes, which extends 4,300 miles, at 420 miles wide, through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

10. But the longest mountain range of all is the mid ocean range system, which lies underwater and is about 20 times bigger than the Andes Mountains. Almost all of it is volcanic. 

11. The hottest place on earth is El Azizia, Libya, where NASA recorded temperatures of 136 degrees Fahrenheit. 

12. The place with the lowest consistent temperatures on earth is Antarctica, where it’s often minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

13. But the coldest temperature recorded on earth was at Vostok Station in northern Russia, where the thermostat fell to minus 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

14. 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. 

15. Yet mankind has only explored 5% of the Earth’s oceans. 

16. The Pacific Basin holds half of all water on earth, and is so big it could contain all seven continents. 

17. 97% of the water on earth is contained in the ocean, with the remaining 3% in lakes, rivers, and the fresh water supply.

18. And the Antarctic ice gap holds 70% of our total freshwater supply and 90% of all the ice on earth. 

19. But not all water is good water; there are actually three “deadly” lakes on earth, Lakes Nyos, Monoun and Kivu. Located in the African nation of Cameroon and then o the border between The Congo and Rawanda, respectively, these bodies of water lie above pockets of magma that leak dangerous levels of carbon dioxide that form carbonic acid, poisoning the water and killing any wildlife. Tragically, in 1986, Lake Nyos emitted a CO2 explosion that killed thousands of people and livestock in surrounding villages. 

20. The largest earthquake in recorded U.S. history occurred in Prince William Sound in Alaska in 2011, with a magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter Scale.

21. Of course scientific methods to measure earthquakes didn’t exist before around 1900, but the largest recorded earthquake in the world since then took place in Chile in 1960. 

22. The 9.5 magnitude quake left 2,000,000 people homeless in that country, and caused a tsunami so big that it slammed into Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines, and the west coast of the U.S. simultaneously.

23. All of our planet’s earthquakes, volcanoes, and mountain ranges were formed by the movement (expansion or squeezing) of the tectonic plates.

24. Earth is the only planet in the entire Milky Way with tectonic plates.

25. Our earth’s surface is constantly moving, as the tectonic plates shift. However, they move at uneven rates. The Pacific plates move at 4cm per year but the North Atlantic plate moves at only 1cm every annually.

26. There are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes around the world, spanning 80% of the surface of the globe. 500 or so of these have erupted in our recorded history.

27. The most active volcano on earth is the Stromboli Volcano in southern Italy, which has been erupting almost continuously for 2,000 years, earning it the nickname "Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.”

28. There are about 8.74 million species of animals and plans on earth. 

29. That includes 6,199 amphibian, 9,956 bird, 30,000 fish, and 950,000 insect species. 

30. Each year, about 10,000 new species are discovered.

31. The natural extinction rate for species is about 1-5 lost per year. However, we’re losing (or killing off) thousands or even tens of thousands of species every year, at an average rate of a dozen per day!

32. The Amazon rainforest contains one third of the Earth’s total land species.

33. Human beings really made no negative environmental impact on the world until the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, little more than 100 years ago. 

34. Since then, we’ve depleted resources, polluted our environment, and killed off species at a catastrophic rate.

35. We call our planet “the globe,” but it’s actually not round. The official shape of the earth is an obate spheroid, which means it’s spherical but somewhat flattened at the poles.

36. The largest living structures on earth are the ocean’s coral reefs, which are made of countless tiny living polyp organisms, hosting the highest density of life forms on the planet. You can actually see many coral reefs from outer space.

37. Aside from the reefs, the largest living organism ever discovered is a mushroom fungus found in Oregon that grew to 2,200 acres!

38. The oldest tree on earth is called Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree in the White Mountains of California that is almost 5,000 years old. 

39. The biggest tree on earth is also located in California, this one in the Sequoia National Park. Named General Sherman, the massive tree is a giant sequoia that ‘s the largest tree in the world by volume, reaching 275 feet high with a 25-foot diameter.

40. But the tallest tree on earth is the Hyperion Tree, a coast redwood in Northern California that stands more than 379 feet tall.

41. About 200 million years ago, all of the earth’s continents were smashed together into a single landmass or supercontinent called Pangaea, though it gradually broke up and drifted apart as the plates shifted. 

42. Our planet’s magnetic north pole is creeping further north at a significant rate of about 10 miles every year.

43. The earth’s magnetic poles actually have reversed every 200,000 to 300,000 year throughout the last 20 million years. However, it currently hasn’t done so in about that twice that time.

44. The earth’s outer crust is composed mostly of lightweight granite. The crust that makes up the continents and landmasses is about 18 to 30 miles thick, while the denser basalt crust at the bottom of the oceans is only 5 to 6 miles thick.

45. The core of the earth is about 3,700 miles below the crust and is made up of solid iron-nickel allow. It’s no wonder that the earth has the greatest density of any planet we’ve been able to measure, at 5.52 grams per cubic centimeter. 

46. In fact, the planet’s largest source of heat other than the sun is the interior core, which emits one hundred billion billion calories of heat/energy to the surface every year. That’s so much heat that if we could find a way to harness it, it would provide enough energy for everyone on earth three times over.

47. Our moon isn’t just nice to look at; its mass actually stabilizes the Earth’s orbit and without it, the swings in temperature and climate would render our world uninhabitable.

48. Did you know that our Earth had a twin at “birth?” When it was first formed after the Big Bang, there was a second planet in our orbit about the size of Mars, called Theia. 

49. They coexisted in orbit for several hundred million years until they collided and the Earth absorbed most of the planet’s mass, helping to establish the perfect gravity to establish our atmosphere.

50. Every year, about 30,00 particles of space dust enter our planet’s atmosphere. Thankfully, most of them burn up upon entry, resulting in shooting stars instead of burning comets that smash our surface and cause giant craters. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The crazy and competitive world of trademarks and copyrights. (Part 1 of 2)

In our Internet and digital age, intellectual property is a contentious and vital frontier, establishing true legal ownership for words, phrases, concepts, designs, and symbols. But the concept of copyrights and trademarks is nothing new to the United States, the land of invention and ingenuity. In fact, the right to legally copyright your work has been part of our Constitution since 1787.

However, just because that venerable right is written into the fabric of our law, it doesn’t mean people don’t try to abuse it. Every year, there are countless millions of applications submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, many of which are quickly denied for frivolity or because they’re just trying to cash in on someone else’s hard work or good name.

Jaia Thomas, an attorney in New York City who specializes in intellectual property rights for athletes and celebrities, weighs in on the necessity to protect a phrase, nickname, or likeness:

“It’s extremely important. One of the main reasons is for economic reasons. You don’t want other companies, other individuals, making a profit off of your name or your logo or your brand, so it’s extremely important for athletes to rush to secure all the IP [intellectual property] rights so others don’t make a profit off of them. It’s also good just in terms of brand building. As athletes start to build their brand it’s good to start to protect their individual property rights as soon as possible.”

Here are some of the craziest, most interesting, and downright bizarre copyrights and trademarks. In part 1 of this series we’ll highlight those that were approved, and part 2 will share the ones that are pending or have already been denied.

A few notable approved copyrights and trademarks:

The happy birthday song.
In the late 19th century, a little song with only six words started being sung to celebrate birthdays. Believe it or not, a subsidiary of Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. now holds the protected copyright on that song, raking in about $2 million a year in licensing fees off of ‘Happy Birthday to You.’ But they own the copyright until the year 2030, so don’t wait to sing it and blow out your candles.

The word “yup.”
Dave Hester, personality from A&E’s show, Storage Wars, trademarked his signature phrase, “Yuuup!” However, Hester’s Yup sounds a lot like rapper Trey Songz’s “Yuup!” which he uses in songs. The two improbably adversaries are locked up in a legal battle over their yups.

Let’s get ready to rumble!
Michael Buffer, the man who became a boxing announcing franchise based on his one phrase, “Let’s get read to rumble!” trademarked the term long ago. Reportedly, he’s made over $400 million worldwide on royalties and licensing.

Super Bowl.
The NFL wants you to watch a big game in February that rhymes with “Uper Troll,” they just don’t want you to say it. Actually, they don’t want businesses to use the name of their big game to advertise and cash in, so they trademarked it. They also want to fiercely protect the value of anything tied to the Super Bowl so companies will keep shelling out millions for commercial spots. Apparently, they really do enforce it, sending out thousands of preemptive cease and desist letters every season.

Living species.
An American corporation actually successfully trademarked a rare ayahuasca vine, a plant native to the Amazon rain forest and used for medical purposes. I’m pretty sure the people native to that area weren’t consulted or paid royalties.

Our DNA!
Incredibly, companies have already slapped copyright claims on about 20 percent of the gene sequencing we share as human beings. Some firms, like Myriad Genetics Inc., control the market by holding the trademark on genes that are linked to certain types of cancer, and make big bucks manufacturing drugs to treat it. The American Civil Liberties Union took issue, challenging  the copyright in 2010, with the backing of 150,000 scientists, but was shot down.

Law enforcement agencies.
A few police departments have sued for copyright infringement when outside companies were making money off their likeness. As any tourist can see in New York City, the NYPD logo and brand adorns t-shirts, mugs, and all sorts of other merchandise, none of which is sanctioned by the actual police department. But in 2005, the NYPD sued a pizza chain that was using their name and logo, and won.

Canada’s Royal Mounted Police have also trademarked their name and likeness so others don’t cash in without their permission.

“That’s hot!”
Paris Hilton received some great business advice a while ago when she trademarked her signature catchphrase, “That’s hot!” She even sued Hallmark when the greeting card giant started using the expression – and her image – on their cards in 2007.

Sounds on television and movies.
NBC has an approved trademark on the three-tone jingle you can hear to introduce its brand, and the lion’s roar is trademarked by MGM.

Facebook’s “Face” on other products and services.
The social media platform Facebook is so omnipotent that they trademarked the use of “Face” in conjunction with any other telecommunication products or services, stopping imitators from cashing in with putting out “Face-Mail,” “Face-Messaging,” etc. products.

A certain shade of orange.
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups too exception that a competitor, Dove’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Promises, was using the same shade of orange in their packaging. So Reese’s applied to trademark that exact color – and was approved.

When NBA player Jeremey Lin rose to overnight meteoric fame with the New York Kicks in 2010, the popular moniker “Linsanity” was quickly trademarked. The good news is that it was Lin himself who trademarked it, cashing in every time it was used for merchandising. By the way, Lin went to Harvard.

A Russian beard.
A Russian man named Mikhail Verbitsky actually trademarked his beard successfully, as he claimed it was a “racial attribute” specific to certain Russian ethnic groups.

An aroma.
A woman in California, Celia Clarke, had her trademark for a unique scent approved in 1990. Apparently, “a high-impact, fresh floral fragrance reminiscent of plumeria blossoms” is worth preserving from others sniffing around.

The word “Superhero.”
Marvel and DC Comics have co-owned the trademark for the word to describe their supernatural heroes since 1981.

“You cannot be serious.”
Tennis icon and bad boy John McEnroe copyrighted his signature phrase once he retired.

Anything and everything sports related.
Almost every notable athlete holds trademarks these days to try and protect their brand and open up a new revenue stream. Reggie Jackson has Mr. October, Johnny Manziel owns Johnny Football, Wayne Gretzky the Great One 99, Michael Jordan Flight 23 and His Airness, Lebron James holds King James, Tim Tebow holds the copyright on Tebowing and Usain Bolt owns the copyright on his signature lightning bolt pose, to name a few.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The 10 most distinguished castles in the world.

When we think of the luxury real estate in the United States, thoughts of brand new mansions and sprawling modern estates might come to mind, but around the world, the most legendary real estate is actually the oldest: castles that were home to Kings and Queens, Barons and Emperors since the Crusades, midlevel ages and Victorian Era. And while you won't see a For Sale sign posted on any of these architectural treasures, the good news is that most of them are open to tourists to view and enjoy. But until you can see them in person on your next vacation to Europe or overseas, here are the top 10 most distinguished castles in the world:

Mont Saint Michel, France.
Rising about 300 feet in the air above a rocky island off off the coast of Normandy, this historic castle of Mont Saint Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Every year, more than 3 million visitors come to see the castle, swelling the island’s permanent population of 12 residents. To get back to the mainland, one hardly even needs a boat, as the strong tides pull the water out and connect the island with the mainland twice a day.  Thanks to that disappearing natural bridge, the castle went unconquered during the Hundred Years War, many English invaders drowning when the tides rolled in.

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany.
This storybook 19th century palace and castle was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a personal Alpine retreat, translating to “New Swanstone Castle” in German. As a young prince, he would often look upon the mountains above his family palace and sketch a fantastical castle. So once he came to power as king, he had his vision built in the Romanesque Revival architectural style. It was considered one of the most grand and magnificent structures ever built once completed but Ludwig II passed away shortly after. So the castle was opened to the pubic in 1886, and now entertains about 1.3 million visitors a year, over 60 million total.

If the castle looks somewhat familiar there's good reason - Neuschwanstein Castle holds the distinction for being the inspiration and model for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle in America.

Hohensalzburg Castle, Austria.
This sky fortress is one of the oldest and best preserved castles in all of Europe.  Hohensalzburg, which is German for “High Salzburg Fortress”, was actually constructed to huge propotions away back in the 11th century on orders from the Prince-Archibshop of Salzburg, and expanded in the 14th century. Construction was an epic affair, as it’s built on a steep mountain that rises about 1,600 feet above sea level, providing natural protection from enemies and invaders.

Kilkenny Castle, Ireland.
In 1195, William Marshal, the 1st Earl of Pembroke, needed to control a fording point and several junctions of the river Nore. Instead of a dam or a wall, he built an entire castle, defending the town with its four large round towers and deep ditch moat. But in 1967, the castle was sold to the people of Kilkenny for a nominal price of 50 pounds, and visitors to the castle can now also stroll through public gardens and parks, conference facilities and a university.

Prague Castle, Czech Republic.
Prague Castle, standing in the main city of Prague, is one of the most ancient castles in the world, the first stones being laid for its foundation way back in the 9th century. Over time, it was home to the Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman emperors, and presidents of Czechoslovakia. It holds the Guinnes Book world record as being the largest castle in the world, encompassing more than 220,000 square feet.

El Castillo de Coca, Spain
Nestled in the bucolic province of Segovia in central Spain, El Castillo de Coca, was first the property of the ruling House of Alba. It was built in the 15th century by by Don Alonso de Fonseca, a magnate well known for his affinity for luxury. Built from bricks instead of solid blocks of rock because of the lack of stone in the sandy region, the castle was an important defense point, with three circular watch towers and 30-foot deep moat. But these days, a school sits on its grounds and its open every day to eager tourists.

Guaita Castle, San Marino.
Most people don’t even know of the tiny sovereign country of San Marino, landlocked within Italy, but it’s home to one of the most storied castles in the world, Guaita Castle. Named after one of the three mountains that stand watch over the city of San Marino, the castle fortress was constructed in the 11th century and was functioned as a prison during war times. It rises almost impossibly from an inhospitable peak, making it almost impossible to invade.

Hatley Castle, Canada.
Hatley Castle stands regally among the forested region of Colwood, British Columbia in Greater Victoria, Canada. But it’s also well known by many U.S. film buffs, as the castle was the setting for Professor Xavier’s school for mutants in the X-Men series. And while you won't find too many mutants walking around, it was a school in real life, serving as a military college since the 1940s and a royal university from 1995 to present day.

Matsumoto castle, Japan.
Matsumoto Castle is a rare and beautiful castle in the city of Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture an easy train ride from Tokyo. It’s one of the most famous castles in the country and deemed a National Treasure, called the “Crow Castle” because of its midnight-black exterior architecture. Unlike most castles who take advantage of defensive points on mountains or across rivers, the Matsumoto castle sat on a low flood plain, so it was built up on a stone pyramid structure and protected by maze-like inner sanctums, walls, and moats.

Krak des Chevaliers, Syria.
Rising from the barren desert about 20 miles outside of the city of Homs near the Lebanese border, Krak des Chevaliers is a fortress who’s origin goes all the way back to the Crusades. Over the centuries, it was occupied by the Kurds, the Count of Tripoli and his Knights, the Mamluk Sultan Baibars, and rebels during the Syrian civil war. It’s now is surrounded by a village of about 9,000 inhabitants and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The essentials of keeping your home and family safe with an alarm system.

Do you feel safe in your home? According to the FBI’s crime report, there means there are about 2.5 million home intrusions per year in the United States, including burglaries and home invasions. That means that one in every thirty-six homes will be entered unlawfully any given year in the United States, at a rate of every fifteen seconds. And with the average loss for each home burglary reaching $2,230, totaling $4.7 billion every year, it’s more important that ever to protect your home along with your most priceless possessions – your family. Yet, it’s reported that only 17 % of homeowners have a security system or any automated deterrent.

The solution for many diligent homeowners is to install an alarm system to protect their house. Of course there are other effective ways to protect your residence - like having a dog, making sure you close and lock windows and doors, communicating with neighbors, posting plenty of outdoor lighting and always keeping the appearance that someone is home. But when it comes from stopping the bad guys from entering your castle, there is no replacement for a good security system.

So it’s no surprise that the home security sector is a thriving business in the U.S. In fact, NextMarket forecasts the do-it-yourself home security industry will be a $1.5 billion business by 2020, not to mention professional security and alarm services. And now, the home security market is catering to a clientele they never have tried to attract before: renters, who make up about one third of all households, and customers from lower or moderate income neighborhoods.

Will a home security system really keep you safe? It’s definitely best used in conjunction with the above-mentioned safety measures, not to replace them. But nearly 80% of homeowners who have alarms rated their systems as effective in protecting their homes, according to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

That’s why costs for systems have come down and there is more flexibility in piecing together à La carte or customizable security systems, as well as the precipitous rise in DIY home systems that you can easily buy at Home Depot, hardware stores, or order online. Many of these kits, like SimpliSafe, Korner and Canary sell for $200-$500 and are easy to install.

But buyers should beware, because the industry isn’t well regulated and many companies are charged with pressure and scare sales tactics and wild variances in pricing. The same alarm system that one company will install for free (to get a long term contract for monitoring) may cost $2-$3,000 with another provider.

It’s important to understand the components of any home security system so you can determine what’s necessary - and most effective – for your home.

First off, there is an actual physical alarm system. Wires attached to windows and doors trigger an alarm when they are opened (and the alarm is on), notifying you of a break in.

That may include cameras, which are often not hardwired but run on batteries and transmit footage through a Wi-Fi signal. Many of them have night vision features and can record data on a remote DVR for playback if a crime is committed. The nicer systems have audio capabilities (including the ability to broadcast your voice to whom ever is in your house!) and employ facial recognition capabilities.

The next part of that equation is monitoring. Once the alarm is triggered, it will automatically make a distress call to the police department or a security monitoring service. Alarm systems work without the monitoring service, but just because it makes a loud noise, doesn’t mean someone is coming to help. Most alarm installers will install the actual alarm for zero or a nominal cost so they can make money off signing you to a long term monitoring contract, often up to three years at $20 to $50 a month.

There are also higher-end systems that trigger the alarm when the glass on windows or doors is broken, and when motion sensors pick up a potential intruder. Advanced features integrate sensors to detect home fires and carbon monoxide alarms.

These days, home security is high tech, with many systems that allow you to set, disable, and monitor your alarm virtually through your computer or smart phone app. You can also get live feed of your surveillance footage from your phone when you have surveillance cameras, and control other home features like lighting and temperature.

Maybe the DIY option is for you, but for those who want to use a professional security service, we’ve compiled a list of the highest rated nationally recognized companies based on rankings from Of course there are pros and cons to each, so do your own research and assess which alarm system is right for your home and circumstances. Local police forces often will come out to give a free security assessment to help guide you, and you can also check with the Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List.

#1 Frontpoint
Rated 10/10
    Top 5% Angie's list customer service award. Editor's Choice.
    GE wireless hardware - camera, & mobile app options
    Best reputation in Home Security
    30-day free trial then 3-year term
Top quality monitoring, from $34.99/mo

#2 ADT
Rated 10/10
    Most recognizable brand & most popular in US
    Get it installed by a pro for free - save time and don't risk doing it wrong
    High quality hardware with mobile app to stay connected
    3-year term. 2-year term (in California)
Website doesn't show pricing, easy online quotes

#3 Protect America
Rated 9/10
    Low starting prices
    Simple yet effective equipment
    3-year term
Expect to pay $19.99-$42.99/mo

#4 Vivint
Rated 8/10
    Highest quality home security and automation
    Up to $1500 in free equipment
    4-year term
No entry-level pricing, expect to pay at least $12 more per month on average.

#5 Link Interactive
Rated 7/10
    60 years of experience in Home Security
    Big savings in first year after discount
    Wireless System includes home automation!
Expect to pay $29.99/mo

#6 AlarmForce
Rated 7/10
     Popular in Canada, In US only available in NC, OH, GA, FL, MN
    2-way communication
    3-year term
Estimated 1st year total: $300

#7 SimpliSafe
Rated 6/10
    Monitoring $19.99/mo
    Pay more up front to buy your own equipment
    No contract since you own the equipment
Estimated 1st year total: $409.84

Rated 6/10
    $199 installation fee increases cost
    3-year term
Estimated 1st year total: $558.40

#9 AT&T Digital Life
Rated 6/10
    Only available for single homes or townhouses
    Home automation features
    24 month contract
Estimated 1st year total: $629.87

#10 Alarm Relay
Rated 8/10
    Most Complicated: Hardware & monitoring sold separately
    Alarm Relay $8.95/mo
    1-year contract
    Estimated 1st year total: $342.40

Monitoring Only from Alarm Relay