Archive for December, 2012

Troops Win Legislative Victories With New Defense Budget Deal

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

2013 Defense Authorization BillCongress has struck a tentative deal on the 2013 Defense Authorization Bill, at least at the committee level, and lobbyists for veterans and servicemembers groups seem to have one some important victories, sources say.

According to the Military Officers Association of America – one of the key lobbying organizations in Washington for career military and retirees – the deal contains the following provisions:

A 1.7 percent increase in base pay

The defeat of a drastic increase in TRICARE pharmacy copays proposed by the Obama Administration: Copays are capped at $17 per brand-name medication for 2013, and future increases are pegged to retirement pay increases. The Administration wanted to raise the current copay from $12 to $26, and then to $34 per medication over the next four years.

The Obama Administration also wanted to eliminate access to medications not on the current TRICARE formulary altogether. The Defense deal Congress reached this week ensures they will continue to be available, though for a $44 copay. That is substantially more expensive than the current $25 per medication, but “better than not having them available at all,” say MOAA sources.

The co-pay for mail-order generic medications remains at zero. The Administration wanted to reinstate a $9 copay for generics by 2017, but was unsuccessful in getting this included.

The bill does impose new obligations among TRICARE for Life beneficiaries: They must try using cheaper military pharmacies or mail-order for refills for at least a year, beginning, most likely, in March in 2013. After one year, beneficiaries can opt to revert back to the retail pharmacy system. Congress hopes the savings from this arrangement will offset the cost of the lower copays to the taxpayer.

The law also makes it easier for wounded medically-retired veterans to collect Combat-Related Special Compensation for those with combat-related disabilities. Those affected will see an increase in CRSC payments effective 1 January 2013.

Additionally, active duty service members will be getting a 3.8 percent increase in their housing allowance next year, on average, though allowances at some locations will actually decline.

Active duty servicemembers are also receiving an increase in basic allowance for subsistence. The new rates:

Enlisted: $352.27 per month

Officers: $242.60 per month

In other developments, the new Defense Authorization Bill makes same-sex marriages legal on military bases if they are legal in their respective states. However, military chaplains cannot be required to participate in marrying same-sex couples.

The bill also authorizes TRICARE to pay for abortions, if the patient is a victim of rape or incest.

Furthermore, the law also requires the military to discharge convicted sex offenders, and requires military officials to retain closed reports of sexual assaults for up to 50 years, in order to support disability claims against the government and possible prosecution of perpetrators, subject to the statute of limitations.

Follow-Up: NYPD Cop Who Shot, Killed Guardsman to Face Grand Jury in January

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Polanco shooting in NYCHassan Hamdy, the New York Police Department detective who shot and killed New York National Guardsman Noel Polanco at a traffic stop last October 4th will face a grand jury. The purpose of the grand jury is to determine if there is enough evidence against Hamdy to warrant manslaughter or homicide charges at a criminal trial.

Hamdy pulled over the car that Noel Polanco was driving after he had allegedly been speeding. Polanco was accompanied by a bartender, Diane DeFerrari, and an off-duty police officer, Vanessa Rodriguez, who claims she was asleep in the back seat of the car at the time of the shooting incident.

After pulling the car over, Hamdy approached the vehicle on the passenger side, weapon drawn. At that point, accounts differ. Hamdy claims that he saw Polanco reach beneath the seat. Hamdy asserts that he was in fear of his life, because he thought Polanco was reaching for a weapon, and fired one shot at Polanco, striking him in the stomach. The shot killed him.

Polanco’s passenger, Ms. DeFerrari, stated that Polanco had both hands on the steering wheel at the time of the shooting.

No weapon was found in Polanco’s car.

The NYPD is not commenting on the story. However, they did leak information that Polanco’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit at the time of the shooting, and that police reports indicate that Polanco consumed 2-3 glasses of cognac at the bar where Ms. DeFerrari worked prior to getting in the car in the pre-dawn hours that morning.

The grand jury is expected to begin hearing evidence next month.

We will keep readers posted as the story develops.

Top Weight Loss Resources for Your New Years’ Resolutions

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

News Years' ResolutionsIt never fails: Every year millions of Americans resolve to lose weight and get fit. So much so that it’s a running joke among fitness professionals – gyms are crowded in January and February with New Years’ resolvers… who become scarcer and scarcer throughout the year.

Well, gym and fitness club memberships are great… but there are lots more resources available on the Web. I’ve selected some of the best – knowing that not everyone wants to be a gym rat.


Weight loss begins with sound nutrition, and the new online calorie counters are becoming an indispensable part of that process. MyNetDiary, and other similar programs,  are web-based calculation programs that help you track your caloric intake, calculate the nutritional content and macronutrient balance of the foods you eat, and help you stay within your per-meal, daily and weekly caloric intake goals.

The USDA has also created a free and useful program as well at Other fine options include MyFoodDiary, CalorieKing and MyFitnessPal. The Wall Street Journal compares and contrasts the big players here.

Each of these sites have souped up their online databases over the last few years. That helps because you won’t have to reinvent the wheel looking for the nutritional content of everything you eat. Type in the first few letters of “almond” and the nutritional information for almonds, almond butter, almond cookies, and everything else you can think of based on almonds will pop up. You just click on the quantity you ate, or plan to eat, and it goes in your counter.

The best thing about these counters, I think, is you can take ownership of your own nutrition. If you take full advantage of the calendar and use it at every meal, it’s easy to track your own calories. That means you don’t need to use Jennie Craig, Weight Watchers or any one else’s nutritional program – which is a moneysaver. You can go to any restaurant you like, and if you can eyeball the portions reasonably accurately, you can manage the whole thing yourself.

There are other online versions, as well. I find that it helps to have something with a mobile phone app. Beyond that, if they have a good database of foods, or if you don’t mind keying in nutritional data on foods you eat regularly, it doesn’t matter much which particular calorie tracker you use. Just use it all the time.

Burn The Fat/Feed the Muscle

First of all, the homepage is marketing crap. I recognize that. But that’s the reality of how this stuff is sold in the modern era.

If you enjoy weightlifting and the gym environment, or if you just want a great primer on fitness, nutrition and bodybuilding, I suggest just scrolling through the marketing garbage and downloading the book.

You will not be disappointed.

The centerpiece of “BFFM,” as its adherents call it, is a book by natural bodybuilder Tom Venuto. The book is one of the few resources available that pays as much attention to nutrition as to the exercises, and helps readers customize their diets for a variety of body types and fitness goals. Want to slim down without adding a lot of bulk? BFFM gives you a road map. Want to gain large amounts of muscle mass while losing body fat? BFFM does that too. Are you naturally ‘big-boned,’ no matter what you do? Or are you one of those d*mned ectomorphs? BFFM is great in that it gives you a roadmap to help you determine your maintenance caloric levels and gives you some guidelines to help you manage your diet and nutrition to stay within the parameters to help you meet your goals.

Venuto’s dedication to avoiding junk science and the debunking bogus nutrition marketing is refreshing. A great deal of space is devoted to the dangers of overdoing your diet as well, accidently putting your metabolism in “starvation mode.” Of all the weight loss/fitness systems I’ve seen, this one has the best combination of intellectual rigor and user-friendliness. The book – which you download in PDF form, is available online. You can also join a club, which has an excellent bulletin board and some very well-informed and helpful participants. This one is highly recommended for the serious novice to intermediate bodybuilder.

I also like it because it does more than any other system I’ve seen in setting you up to learn how to use a calorie tracker. All the tracking in the world doesn’t do squat unless you have done a good job figuring out your basal metabolic weight and your maintenance caloric intake required to maintain your weight at current activity levels. BFFM does a great job at doing that.

The downside: It’s definitely a gym rat’s program. The system is popular among bodybuilders and emphasizes weight-lifting as a way to build mass and reduce your body fat percentage. With diligent adherence, you will lose weight and inches with BFFM. Some may find the gym routine is not for them, though.

BFFM does have a close cousin in Body For Life, which has been popular for years. In some ways, BFFM is similar to BFL, with its emphasis on weight training. However, BFFM’s nutritional information is more detailed and adaptable, in my view, with more intellectual rigor. BFL is also largely a marketing plan to sell Myoplex fitness bars and shakes, which gets tiresome. The only thing Venuto tries to sell is an upgrade to his “Inner Circle” club, which is the online bulletin board. However, in my view, it’s inexpensive and worth it anyway. However, both programs can yield excellent results if you rigorously adhere to them properly.

This popular Web resource is a great place for those of you who want to work out at home. Originally started by Czech fitness model “Zuzana Light” and her boyfriend, early BodyRock videos simply feature Zuzana’s lithe and stunning frame going through a series of innovative stationary interval training exercises, in a park, their living room, or on the roof of her Prague apartment. Well, Zuzana and her boyfriend broke up, so they stopped featuring Zuzana, alas. But their thousands of loyal viewers picked up where she left off, and now lead most of the workouts on camera.

The best thing about BodyRock: You need little or no equipment. All of the workouts can be done at home, on your porch, your basement, or at a park. All you need is a stopwatch or interval timer – or a friend to count out times for you. A few of the exercises use simple, cheap tools like a jump rope, a weighted bag, or other similar toys that can easily be improvised at home or purchased near you, cheap.

There’s no excuses, no expensive gym memberships, no commute times to the gym to worry about, and no having to go out in the rain, ice and snow.

There’s a new bunch of exercises posted nearly every day. They are usually short but intense interval exercises, between 5 and 15 minutes total, using your own bodyweight, primarily. Emphasis is on core strength and balance as well as strength.

And they will kick your ass. (In the best possible way.)

The nutritional information, where they present it at all, is sound, though those with weight loss goals will need to bone up with other sources of information, as BodyRock does not devote a lot of space to it.

You’ll probably want to invest 20 bucks in a specialized interval timer or download one of the many available on smartphones for free or a couple of bills. The site seems pretty much designed to sell those interval timers, but it’s worth it. And because the site is otherwise free, there are no worries.

Some people just gotta run. Nothing else shakes off the cobwebs like running (or biking), and helps them relax. If that’s the case, try MapMyRun. If there’s a run you like, you can bring up a map and point and click your way through the route. The program will calculate the distance for you down to the 1/100th of a mile, if you’re that careful about entering the data. It will also bring up elevation information on the run as well. A handy Facebook app makes it easy to share your workout and route with your buddies. You can also share good runs with other users. If you’re new in town, MapMyRun can help you find local running trails and other resources. And if you’re not new in town, MapMyRun can help you find ones you didn’t know about.


What other resources have you used to get your backside back in gear? Tell us about your favorites in the comments.

VA Makes it Easier for Native American Veterans to Access Care

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Indian Health Services and VAEarlier this month, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced an agreement with Indian Health Affairs that will make it easier for Native American veterans to access VA-sponsored health care.

The two organizations signed an agreement that will allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to directly reimburse IHS clinics and staff for services provided to qualifying veterans who are Native American or Native Alaskan.

Under the agreement, VA copays do not apply to treatments received from the IHS.

Until this point, veterans in very remote, rural areas had difficulty accessing VA care, because they were far from established VA hospitals and clinics. The agreement will make it possible for Native Americans to receive care from clinics already established on and near Indian reservations.

A listing of Indian Health Service medical services and resources is here.

This is not the first agreement between the IHS and the Department of Veterans Affairs. They also reached agreements in Memorandums of Understanding in 2003 and 2010. But this is the first time that IHS clinics were authorized direct reimbursement for services — essentially creating mini VA clinics out of them.

Indian officials believe that not only will treatment be accessible closer to home for these veterans, but also enable them to receive treatment in a more culturally sensitive setting and milieu, according to their 2003 Memorandum of Understanding.

Congress Revokes Administration Discretionary Authority Over TRICARE Pharma Fees

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

TRICARE pharmacy co-paysFor years, Congress has granted the Secretary of Defense broad authority to unilaterally set TRICARE premiums and fees itself, rather than seek Congressional approval.

This worked fine for a long time, because previous Administrations did not seek to make major changes and blindside Congress with sudden fee hikes.

No more.

The Obama Administration has repeatedly moved to hike TRICARE premiums – by substantial amounts. For example, last year, TRICARE Pharmacy co-pays increased $2 to $3 dollars. The Obama Administration turned around and attempted to double or triple pharmacy co-pays – to the tune of $21 to $31 per medication.

This is a big deal to those who rely on these medications – particularly TRICARE-For-Life beneficiaries.

Naturally, the prospect of major, sudden TRICARE fee hikes causes angry phone calls and letters to Congressional representatives from veterans, military families, and their powerful lobbying organizations.

This year, Congress said ‘enough,’ and finally tied the Administration’s hands. According to Steve Strobridge, a retired Air Force colonel and Director of Government Relations for the Military Officers Association of America, the Administration had crossed a line and abused its discretional authority.

“In effect, Congress told the Pentagon, “You’ve repeatedly abused the adjustment authority we gave you and show no signs of changing that behavior, so we’re taking your authority away,” explains Strobridge. “Instead, we’re putting a formula in law that will ensure future adjustments are more appropriate and predictable.”

Government Exec magazine describes the proposals, counterproposals, and legislative sponsors in more detail here.

Provisions in the new Defense Authorization Act now tie increases in pharmacy co-payment to increases in retirement pay. Since Congress controls this expense, rather than the Secretary of Defense, Congress therefore took substantial control of the TRICARE fee structure back from the Secretary and put it back with electoral representatives, accountable to the public. 

Seven Things to do Before the World Ends

Posted by Kelli McKinney

So, now, about that impending apocalypse… I realize I’m a little late to the Mayan Doomsday party, but holy smokes, do I have a lot left to do on my bucket list. I’d better get cracking. I’m not sure if I can get these all in, but hey, I’ll give it a shot.

1) Eat jalapenos straight from the jar.

2) Play the violin for a US President.

3) Visit Carhenge with my husband and son. Done. Why yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds. See photo.












4) Engage son in all-out plastic army man/Jenga blocks/Angry Birds battle of superheroic proportions. Lose said battle graciously. Done. Yes, it was awesome too. See photo.

AngryBirds battle









5) Eat fried butter on a stick. In progress. You don’t want to see this photo. Trust me.

6) See a baby bison. Done. And it was super cute.

baby bison








7) Earn a degree.

Numbers three and four are good, and in hindsight I should have tackled number one before I attempted number five. Number two was a total planted question so I could feel somewhat accomplished in my life. Sorry about that. Please don’t judge me. I performed with a youth orchestra for President Ronald Reagan when I was a kid. It totally still counts.

But anyway, I’m thinking, for argument’s sake, that if the world doesn’t actually end on Friday I can still achieve number seven. It’s not impossible, right? There are plenty of online programs that would accommodate this working mom‘s wacky schedule. I may even be able to work out a class schedule that leaves me enough time to take that zumba class I’ve been anxious to try. (Note to self: #8 – give zumba a whirl.) And if you are in the military or are a veteran or dependent, you can achieve this, too, especially with all of the education benefits available to you.

Here’s wishing everyone a happy doomsday and (if we’re lucky), a wondrous holiday season and an adventurous new year!

Gifts to Inspire Lifelong Learning

Posted by Kelli McKinney

smart gift ideasNo matter where you are in life, having a natural curiosity about the world around you will take you far.

So what better gift to give this holiday season than one that sparks the imagination?


Inspirational Gift Idea #1: Memberships to a Zoo, Museum or Park

Pardon the cliché, but this truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Every major metropolitan area (and a ton of not-so-metropolitan ‘burgs) has at least one museum, park, or zoo. These magical places pay tribute to history, music, art, nature, or science and bring the very world to your doorstep. They’re appropriate for all ages (usually) and memberships often include admission to any traveling or special exhibits – check with your organization to find out. As a military service member, you can also qualify for discounted membership rates, which is an added bonus.


Inspirational Gift Idea #2: Educational Games

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are familiar with the universal appeal of the video game. Whether your family’s system of choice is the freestanding system like Wii, Playstation or Xbox or the  handheld tablets like the iPad, iPod, and Android , or you prefer the PC-based games, there’s a huge array of educational, intellectually-challenging games that are fun for the whole family.


Inspirational Gift Idea #3: Magazine Subscriptions

Magazine subscriptions are great. Who doesn’t love getting something special in the mail?  Not only do magazine subscriptions encourage reading, they increase the readers’ knowledge about a subject they are interested in and provide hours of fun.


These fun and imaginative gift suggestions can appeal to recipients of all ages and backgrounds.

Happy Holidays!

Newtown School Massacre Raises Issues for Veterans, Mental Health and Law Enforcement

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

veterans mental healthLast Friday, America was forced to confront the problem of evil. And we may yet again fail to recognize it where it exists.

I do not use the word ‘tragic’ or tragedy when referring to the outrage that took the lives of 20 schoolchildren and seven adults. The word applies where those who fell died because of some fault of their own – the tragic flaw of Greek and Shakespearian drama. Tragedies are, by definition, self-inflicted at some level.

This was not the case in Newtown, nor Clackamas, nor at Columbine, the Aurora Theater or Tuscon.

Tragedy has logic. This was simply murder.

The shooting has naturally resulted in calls for increased restrictions on legal gun ownership – and gun rights advocates have also resorted to the usual arguments in favor of 2nd Amendment rights.

The Newtown incident has also resulted in more calls for reforms in mental health care – a welcome development, and certainly one of interest to veterans in the VA system as well as to the general population.

But large swathes of the mental health care advocates likewise miss the target – the problem of evil.

The mental health industry – including families struggling with mental illness or personality disorders within their own homes – would argue that we need better access to mental health treatment, early intervention, up to and including involuntary commitment for individuals who have not yet committed a crime.

The mental health industry is part of the health care complex in the United States, and has adapted itself to define mental health issues in such a way as to maximize reimbursement from health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid. In order to do this, it has adopted a medical treatment, documentation and financing model for mental illnesses of all stripes.

In many cases, this is absolutely appropriate. Some mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and some forms of depression respond very well to medication. The mental health industry has also adopted a medical model to treat drug and alcohol addiction – though with less success.

And then there are the so-called personality disorders: Borderline personality disorder, narcissism and sadism – a cluster of sociopathologies that the medical model continues to have trouble addressing. This is because the medical model has trouble identifying the difference between genuine mental illness and evil. If the system cannot identify evil, it cannot address it.

Public discourse on the shooting centers on keeping guns out of the hands of the “deranged,” but we fail to define our terms beyond that.

Meanwhile, we run the risk of eroding valuable constitutional freedoms.

We are already seeing that within our own community of veterans – a recent bill before Congress sought to strip veterans under VA care of their 2nd amendment rights simply on the say-so of a mental health professional, without any kind of a priori judicial review.

A VA bureaucrat social worker, under the proposed law, could refer a veteran to the FBI simply because he was bad with money.

And history is replete with state abuse of the mental health system to warehouse those who were perfectly sane, but whose ideas were considered a threat to the power structure. Imperial Japan had the Tokkō – quite literally referred to as the “thought police” between 1925 and 1945. Its function was to stamp out and suppress “dangerous thought.” Among the dangerous thoughts it suppressed: Opposition to the simultaneous war with China, the United States and Great Britain which ultimately resulted in the country’s utter devastation.

If mental health workers have a reputation for referring struggling patients to law enforcement – or committing them involuntarily to mental institutions, the potential for perverse effects is obvious: Those with enough cognizance to be extremely deadly criminals will avoid seeking care, or will say what they think the shrink wants them to say, and therefore fall outside the system’s grasp, even as the constitutional rights of less maladjusted people are eroded.

Meanwhile, the mental health field will continue to struggle with the problem of evil that cannot be medically addressed. There was nothing insane nor irrational about men like Timothy McVeigh, or MAJ Nidal Hassan. They knew exactly what they were doing. They had a goal and set about to kill to achieve it. They knew full well the devastating impact their actions would have on their victims and their victims’ families. They just did not care.

No amount of medication, nor cognitive ‘talk therapy,’ nor any number of billable hours, will correct that, no matter how skilled the practitioner.

Hassan’s case is particularly revealing: As an Army psychologist himself, Hassan was routinely in contact with many other military health care professionals – yet despite tipping his hand several times in formal presentations as an adherent of radical and violent Islam, the Army mental health care system could not identify an evil right under their noses.

In the case of the Tuscon, Arizona shootings and the Aurora. Colorado Theater shooting, we have a more ambiguous case. Clearly, neither shooter was playing with a full deck of cards. In these cases, perhaps some early intervention could have prevented the problem. The warning signs were there – and recognized by people around them at the time. James Holmes, the shooter in Aurora, was actually regularly seeing a mental health professional at the time. So access to mental health care was not the problem.

Holmes himself had actually received a degree in neuroscience, with highest honors, and had been described as a “very effective group leader” as an undergraduate. He would have had access to counseling and health care as an undergraduate student, and as a graduate student at the University of Colorado, where he was still technically enrolled at the time of the shooting. His psychological decompensation seems to have been rapid, though.

Jared Lee Loughner, the Tuscon murderer, had a long history of borderline psychosis, perhaps as a result of the chronic use of hallucinogenic drugs. Loughner had already been identified as a criminal risk, and was barred from reenrolling at Pima Community College until he received a clearance from a mental health professional stating he was not a risk for violent behavior.

Seung Hui-Cho, the murderer in the Virginia Tech Shootings who took the lives of 32 people and wounded 17 in 2007, was identified as a danger as young as 15, when he was transfixed by the Columbine murders and wrote that he wanted to repeat them. In this case, mental health care officials intervened early, and he was placed in special education with an emotional disorder and excused from a number of routine events in high school, such as group presentations. He eventually began to refuse treatment.

Privacy laws, such as HIPAA, prohibited his mental health care professionals from notifying Virginia Tech officials of his violent tendencies.

A professor of his at Virginia Tech had already removed him from her class because of menacing behavior. He was also involved in at least three incidents of stalking while enrolled at Virginia Tech, but was allowed to remain a student. Professors had already alerted the dean and campus police that Cho was a problem, but were informed that there was nothing they could do until Cho committed a crime.

In 2005, Cho was actually found by a magistrate to be a danger to himself and others around him. But the magistrate in question, Special Justice Paul Barnett, sentenced him to outpatient treatment, rather than committing him full time to an institution.

In each of these cases, mental health professionals were already involved, and clearly there was plenty of early warning in most of them. In each case, the mental health professionals and court apparatuses could not or would not take decisive action to remove these individuals from society. Access to mental health care was not an issue. The issue was the recognition of evil.

The medical model has no structural incentive to attribute to evil what it can attribute to something billable.

But that brings us back to veterans: If we adopt a system in which we are quicker to involuntarily commit those we suspect of being psychotic, or with severe personality disorders, to mental institutions, bias and prejudice against combat veterans and ignorance about PTSD will ensure that we are first in line for detention.

There are certainly reforms that can be made, both to the system that regulates firearm distribution and ownership, as well as mental health reforms.  But is the 2nd amendment that guarantees the government can never have the power to create a Tokkō of its own, and allows the weak and good to defend themselves against criminals who are strong, armed, evil and/or crazy.

There are constitutional concerns in strengthening the mental health industry’s pull – and they have powerful financial incentives to commit more and more patients to their care. Meanwhile, for every Cho, there are thousands of people who enter the system who would be harmless, yet have their freedoms abridged all the same.

We should be very cautious of broad, ham-handed measures in either field to prevent future shootings. Evil has always been among us, and while you can regulate away the ability of law abiding citizens to defend themselves against people like Cho – and more run-of-the-mill criminals – you cannot treat away nor regulate away the presence of evil.

Five Gifts for Five Bucks or Less

Posted by Kelli McKinney

There’s nothing quite like Christmas to tempt even the most frugal among us to go bananas and blow up our budget. But who says you have to spend a lot of money on a gift to make someone’s holiday extraordinary? 

Here are a few ideas to bring big smiles without leaving big holes in your wallet.


For your forgetful-and-creative sister-in-law: The Origami Sticky Note

sticky noteYou can jot down your grocery list, and then fold it into the shape of a potbellied pig!  Fun for everyone and good for the earth.




For your stressed out cousin: The Bubble-Wrap Keychain

bubblewrapSqueeze each and every one of the eight rubbery “bubbles” and delight in the satisfying popping noises. Then, do it again. Bonus:  Every 100 “pops,” you hear a random surprise sound.



For the coworker who constantly tangles themselves up in their corded desk phone: The Bobino

bobinoAn easy, stylish way to avoid the dreaded cord tangle. Works on anything with a cord: earbuds, phone chargers, even corded phones.





For your quirky niece: Snow-in-a-Can

snow canPerfect for “Christmas in July” parties or whenever you feel like making a little wintry mischief. Comes with a pair of googly eyes and red scarf for potential snowman accessorizing. Snow is non-toxic and reusable.





For your favorite smartphone fan: Phoney Owl

phoneyWhoo’s calling, please? Perch the Phoney Owl in the headphone jack of your smartphone and you’ve got a steadfast companion.






Gift Ideas for the Geek Chic

Posted by Kelli McKinney

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, that joyful time of panic-induced trips to the ER finding the perfect gifts for the beloved servicemembers in your life. And let’s face it, some military members are easier to find gifts for than others.

In the spirit of the giving season, we have scoured the malls and surfed the web to compile a collection of gift ideas for those of you needing a little spark of inspiration.

If you have someone in your life who can recite every line from every Star Trek movie, chances are good that you can find a gift for them from this composition:


The Elements Calendar

elementsMarry a stunningly beautiful image of every known element in the universe with every month in the calendar year and voila.





Grow Your Own Carnivorous Plant Set

plantCreate your own gauntlet of doom for the insect world with this little gem. The set comes with ten carnivorous plant seeds, plastic terrarium and potting mix plus plant decals, “bog buddies” and “swamp rocks.” 






R2-D2 Lego Kit

r2d2If you’re looking for a way to really wow your favorite Star Wars fan, look no further than the plucky little droid R2-D2.





Hi-Fun Gloves

hi funIf your friend is as attached to their smartphone as they are their own fingers, make them happy this year with this pair of high-tech, capacitive gloves. The gloves keep digits nice and toasty while operating sensitive touch screen gadgets. Plus, the left glove has a speaker and a microphone sewed into the thumb and little finger for talking on the go.





tankbotThis micro-robotic tank can navigate mazes, battle opponents, and offer a nice little distraction during an otherwise busy day. Even better – it’s fully controllable from your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Android device.

From $25,





joystick itPerfect for the game-loving tablet owner, this safe, removable joystick adds an element of real arcade action to your tablet.







Mustache Tree Ornament

mustacheGet a handle on your gift-giving with this quirky ornament. Ideal for those to whom you mustache to have a very merry Christmas. There’s not much else to add to this one.

Starting at $6, various retailers




Mac Tank

mac tankThis is a fully-functional 3-gallon fish tank inside what once contained an astounding 4 megabytes of RAM. It’s a conversation piece and a forever home for your finny friends. Each one is custom built, so contact the designer for cost.




Space Invaders Playing Cards

space invadersThe original vertical alien shooting game is memorialized on a deck of playing cards, which can be used in a recreational, alien-violence-free game of poker, Old Maid, or Canasta.








Xbox 360 Limited Edition Kinect Star Wars Bundle

SW xboxComplete your favorite person’s home gaming system with this Microsoft gaming bundle that would make the rebels proud. And don’t forget to let the Wookie win.