Nelson Column: Big numbers hard to see in mind's eye
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Digital Corner By TOM NELSON of the Gazette

The United States spends trillions of dollars. Trillions! I can't really get my brain around a trillion of anything much less dollars. I know what a penny is, and I might even be able imagine the volume that a thousand pennies might occupy. But how about one million pennies… a billion pennies… a trillion pennies?

The "MegaPenny Project" attempts to give us some conception of what we are talking about when we toss huge numbers around as if we understand them. I won't try to tell you how much a trillion pennies are worth or how much space they would occupy. I will leave that to "MegaPenny" at kokogiak.com/megapenny

The site is very nicely done, and surprisingly entertaining. Here is a question posed on the site: Would you rather be paid $1 million today, or would you rather be paid one penny today, twice that tomorrow, twice that the next day, and so on for 30 days? To find out how fast pennies can add up, check out "MegaPenny."Calculating calorie loss There are 3,500 calories in a pound. Therefore, if we were to burn 500 calories more each day than we consume, we would lose about one pound each week (or at least not gain one pound we would have otherwise gained). That's pretty clear. So if our eating habits stayed the same, all we would have to do is increase our physical activity enough to burn up 500 more calories than we usually do each day, and in six months we would lose about 25 pounds. A straight line to mean and lean!

First we need to set up a list of our physical activities for the day and the calorie values attributed to those activities.

For that we need "CaloriesPerHour.com." Lets say you play the accordion every day. Plug in your weight, how long you play the accordion, and then hit the calculate button. If you weigh 190, you burned up 155 calories. Digging in the garden for an hour - 431 calories. Watching TV for an hour - 86. The site keeps a running tally of calories used each day. Print out the list and make one for every day. Now you know how many calories you spend each day. The next list we need to make is of activities that will add the 500 calories each day we need to lose those 25 pounds.

This is a pretty cool site and fun to use. To get a handle on calories go to www.caloriesperhour.com

The site's creator says that Internet Explorer is needed to use all of the site's features.Expanding your mind The greater the number of words rattling around in your mind, the greater your ability to think clearly. A good vocabulary can help you express yourself precisely, and can even help you get a job. So why not learn some new words? For "13 Ways to Increase Your Vocabulary," check out the study skills page on the Niagara University Web site. Included among the tips are 10 other Web sites that deal with learning vocabulary - www.niagara.edu/oas/lc/study_skillsKeeping baby healthy Like most processed foods, baby food in those little jars contains ingredients that some parents prefer not to give their infants. The alternative is for mom and dad to make baby food. "Homemade Baby Food" can get you started with sections like "Homemade Baby Food Basics," "Choosing Your Baby Food Ingredients," "Benefits of Homemade Baby Food" and "Introducing Solids to Your Baby."

There are recipes for cereals, legumes, vegetables, pasta, rice, meats and deserts. To give your baby some fine home cooking, go to www.homemadebabyfood.comFinding the perfect place Most Web sites that select the "best" cities to live in use their own criteria. If you want to choose what's most important to you when selecting the perfect place to live, try "The Lifestyle Optimizer."

You can select the states you prefer, city population ranges, price ranges for houses, temperature ranges, precipitation rates and tax rates. So, if you are fed up with your where you live and the cold is getting you down, go to homefair.com/homefair/calc/ls_basic.htmlLove-hate relationship My back yard lawn is the pits. It is under three huge trees. Lawns like sunshine. The ground is hard packed from years of misuse. Lawns like nice loamy soil to grow great roots. We have tried everything, from sod to seed, but, so far, it is still the pits. I should give up and try a rock garden, but this spring I will no doubt be at it again. Advice abounds on the Internet. Here are some sites that offer lawn tips:

"All About Lawns"- This site has information on renovating your old lawn. Just what I need. It also covers everything from fertilizing to how low you should cut your grass www.allaboutlawns.com

"Organic Lawn Care For the Cheap and Lazy" - This site urges you to mow high, and gives many reasons why - www.richsoil.com/lawn

"DoItYourself.com" has loads of information about lawn care - www.doityourself.com/lawn/index.htm

"BackYardGardenery.com" can help you identify weed, insect and disease problems - backyardgardener.com/lawn

If I can't get enough information from these sites to make my lawn truly appreciated by my neighbors, I'll go back to the Web next year to find out about rock gardens.Bottle collectors' super site If you find some old bottles in your yard, they might have some value. Like almost any item you could name, there are collectors who lust after antique bottles. You can find bottles for sale, lists of bottles wanted to buy, bottle classification categories and tips on where to dig for old bottles at the "Antique Bottle Collectors Haven" - www.antiquebottles.com

Another bottle collecting site focuses on "Antique Soda & Beer Bottles" - www.angelfire.com/pa4/heiss Questions or comments are welcome. E-mail messages included in this column are edited for brevity and clarity. You can e-mail Tom Nelson at tnelson@billingsgazette.com - fax: 406-657-1208. Please put Digital Corner in the subject line.

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