Tuesday, 1 October 2013

What services are affected when the US government shuts down

Because Congress failed to avert a shutdown, 800,000 federal employees have been told to stay home. What else is affected?

Well, they did it. The US government is officially on a partial shutdown, with Congress having failed to reach an agreement by midnight on Monday.
The shutdown will have far-reaching effects throughout the US. Though some services – mail delivery, Social Security and Medicare benefits – are affected, others, like national parks and routine safety inspections of food, are curtailed as the majority of federal employees tasked with their operation have been ordered not to report to work on Tuesday.
A look at how a shutdown will affect other services across the federal government:

Federal workers

About 800,000 federal employees are not furloughed and will not be paid. Already hit hard by several unpaid furlough days caused by sequestration this year some workers have begun lobbying to receive back pay in the event of a shutdown. While Congress agreed to retroactively pay them during previous shutdowns, the fractured nature of this Congress makes such a step unlikely.

US military

The military's 1.4 million active-duty personnel will stay on duty, but their paychecks initially faced a threat of delay. Amid the division, the House passed – and Obama signed – a bill to ensure their checks would still be delivered on time. "You and your families deserve better than the dysfunction we're seeing in Congress," Obama said.
About half of the Defense Department's civilian employees are furloughed.

Food programs

The Wic program, which provides low-income pregnant women, new mothers and children up to the age of five with healthy food, is not funded as of Tuesday morning. "No additional federal funds would be available," says the Department of Agriculture, though it suggests that some states – some, not all – may have a state-run fund that can fill in the gaps for women who need help purchasing things like formula. They estimate the state funds would last about a week.
School lunches for low-income students are not affected. Food stamps are not affected.

Public health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are facing a reduced ability to detect and investigate disease outbreaks. The annual influenza program – the one that tracks the flu and helps people get flu shots – has been shut down. The CDC has also stopped offering its usual assistance to state and local authorities, who rely on the agency for help in tracking unusual outbreaks.
The National Institutes of Health will continue to treat patients at its hospital center, but no new clinical trials will begin.


The animals at the National Zoo are being cared for, but the zoo, like all Smithsonian museums, is closed to the public. The live animal cams have been shut down. That's right, Congress' inability to reach a deal means no more panda cam, America.


Nasa will furlough almost all of its employees, though it will continue to keep workers at Mission Control in Houston and elsewhere to support the International Space Station, where two Americans and four others are deployed. The National Weather Service will keep forecasting weather and issuing warnings, and the National Hurricane Center will continue to track storms.

Travel and tourism

National parks and monuments are closed, including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the National Mall and the Statue of Liberty. Park rangers spent Tuesday morning erecting barricades to prevent people from accessing these public spaces.
Federal air traffic controllers will remain on the job and airport screeners will keep funneling passengers through security checkpoints, though some airports have warned of delays at security. Federal inspectors will continue enforcing safety rules.
The State Department will continue processing foreign applications for visas and US applications for passports, since fees are collected to finance those services. Embassies and consulates overseas will continue to provide services to American citizens.
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Federal courts will continue operating normally for about 10 business days after the start of a shutdown, roughly until the middle of October. If the shutdown continues, the judiciary would have to begin furloughs of employees whose work is not considered essential. But cases will continue to be heard.
The US supreme court is scheduled to begin its new term on October 7. In previous government shutdowns, it continued to operate as normal.


Deliveries will continue as usual because the US Postal Service receives no tax dollars for day-to-day operations. It relies on income from stamps and other postal fees to keep running.

District of Columbia

The city, which does not have autonomy over its own budget, briefly flirted with the idea of using the potential shutdown to make a stand when mayor Vince Gray moved to designate all city employees "essential," thereby avoiding the cuts in services like libraries that were expected. Some District politicians were willing to go so far as to get arrested over the show of defiance, but on Friday the city's lawyers approved using a $144m contingency fund to make up the difference when the federal government funds dry up.
Weddings, however, are on hold in the city.

Homeland security

The majority of the Department of Homeland Security's employees will stay on the job, including uniformed agents and officers at the country's borders and ports of entry, members of the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration officers, Secret Service personnel and other law enforcement agents and officers. US Citizenship and Immigration Services employees will continue to process green card applications.

Veterans services

Most services offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue because lawmakers approve money one year in advance for the VA's health programs. Veterans will still be able to visit hospitals for inpatient care, get mental health counseling at vet centers or get prescriptions filled at VA health clinics. Operators will still staff the crisis hotline and claims workers will still process payments to cover disability and pension benefits.
But those veterans appealing the denial of disability benefits to the Board of Veterans Appeals will have to wait longer for a decision because the board will not issue any decisions during a shutdown.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Some top tips to travel right

A careful planning has required in travelling abroad. Unless, of course, you are one of those carefree backpackers who can head out at a moment's notice. If not, then brush up on these helpful tips to travel right...

1. While on long flights, make sure that you walk in the aisle at regular intervals. This prevents your feet from swelling up.

2. Figure out the requirements for various security checks in the place you are travelling to. There are some places with specific restrictions that you need to know before actually landing there.

3. If you are prone to air sickness, pop an anti-sickness pill before the flight. Otherwise you can be in for a rather rough ride.

4. Before you head to a place, do enough research over the Net and pour over travel guides to make the most of your vacation.

5. Always ask locals about the great places to visit. They can be of much greater help as compared to tourist guides.

6. Put your name and the phone number of your destination on the inside and outside of your bags.

7. Travel light, as far as possible. Try bringing one carry bag that will fit underneath your airplane seat.

8. Make sure your bags don't have any straps or hooks sticking out that could get caught on something and damage your bag.

9. Take out appropriate travel insurance to cover hospital treatment, medical evacuation and any activities, including adventure sports, which you plan to take on.

10. Check to see if you require visas for the country or countries you are visiting or transiting. Also, a visa does not guarantee entry.

11. Leave a copy of your travel itinerary with someone at home. Keep in touch with friends and relatives while overseas. When travelling abroad, make sure you have copies of your passport details, insurance policy, travellers' cheques, visa and credit card numbers. Carry a copy in addition to the originals and also leave one at home.

12. Carry your valuables as well as all your important travel documents in your hand luggage.

13. Reduce stress by keeping aside plenty of time to check in and reach your departure gate.

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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Some safety tips for travel tech!

Just like the destination itself, logging onto a foreign free wifi hotspot can be a journey into the unknown and one that could be full of unpleasant surprises. 

There's no doubt about that smartphones and tablets have revolutionized the way we live and that's why when it comes to taking a holiday with them, rather than from them, there appears to be no debate: the phone and the slate and often even a notebook are as high on the list as packing clean underwear.
And because of this, holidaymakers need to keep in mind their digital as well as their personal safety if taking a vacation this summer.
Public wifiYou may feel it's fine to use a hotspot at an airport or a renowned hotel but in general a public hotspot is just that: the opposite of private. As Sean Sullivan, Security Advisor at F-Secure Labs, says: "It may feel private because you're using your personal device, but it's not." He advises against using a public hotspot for anything personal or for anything that requires you to enter a password or user details. Stick to browsing.

Complementary computersFrom hotel lobbies to cafes and bars, a number of places offer free computer access. Unless you can 100 percent guarantee that they're not brimming with malware or keystroke-registering viruses, use them for checking the weather, following sports or reading the headlines, but nothing else.
Take email precautionsSullivan suggests setting up a special one-off email address specifically for use during a vacation so that if it's an emergency and you have to use a public wifi hotspot or communal PC to get in touch with someone, the damage is minimized. "That way if someone hacks your vacation email account, they might see emails with your mom and the cat sitter, but they won't have access to the other sensitive data that would be in your main email account," he says. Setting up a one-off account will also somewhat minimize the impact of losing or of having a phone or tablet stolen.
Banking away from homeThe simple answer is to stick to physical banks if at all possible. But if using online banking is unavoidable, bite the bullet and accept the data usage roaming fees that come with using a smartphone to access the internet in a foreign country and do it via the dedicated app. But make sure to sign out of it again when the transaction is completed.
Saving your memoriesFor most people the content on their devices is just as important as the devices themselves. So make sure they are totally backed up before the holidays start and if the smartphone is serving as a camera too consider using some form of cloud storage for preserving images -- such as Apple's iCloud if you have an iPhone -- or, for Android users, think about swapping out and storing the SD cards.
If you're using a real, high specification camera, rather than a smartphone for capturing memories, think about the professional photographer's trick of covering the device in duct tape and stickers so that the camera looks like it's falling apart rather than a state-of-the-art imaging unit and therefore avoiding unwanted attention.
Saving the deviceFor a number of years, Apple has offered a free ‘Find My Phone' service and app that enables iPhone and iPad owners to track and locate a missing device and, in the case of theft, remotely erase its contents. Make sure it is set up before you go. For Sony Xperia users, there is a similar Sony-specific service that is currently rolling out globally, while at the beginning of August, Google announced that it will be launching the same type of find-my-phone service currently available to iPhone users to the larger Android device-owning community before the end of the month. 
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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Weirdest celebrations from around the world

People around the world seem to be celebrating funny days throughout the year. Here's a look at some that stand out.

August 23 was celebrated as Vada Pav Day, not that anyone needs a day to celebrate the staple snack of Mumbai. But it was only six years ago — when a food chain registered the vada pav as its main business and corporatized it — that people start celebrating as Vada Pav Day.

While Vada Pav Day might be one of the 'serious' days celebrated during the year, when compared Proof Read Day, Be Late for Something Day, Namesake Day, Middle Child Day or World Rat Day. We bring to you some of the weirdest days celebrated during the year.

World Nude Day (February 6): The day commemorates setting yourself free. It's not about being vulgar. It's about having fun without your clothes. Many celebrities have done photoshoots and ads on World Nude Day over the years, but we wonder how practical it is for regular folks to celebrate it.

Pi Day (March 14): Just when you thought that you were done with Math and left it behind at school, comes March 14 to remind you to celebrate Pi, which is the relationship between the diameter and the circumference of a circle.

World Rat Day (April 4): It's been a decade since April 4 has been declared World Rat Day. Now you have a day in which you can possibly be nice to the usually reviled rodent.

International Pillow Fight Day (April 6): This has to be one of the most popular days to celebrate, as everyone loves a good pillow fight! Perhaps you can commemorate it with a slumber party.

World Naked Gardening Day (May 8): This day is celebrated by horticulturists for nude recreation. "Although the event is associated with the socio-cultural naturist movement, its founders assert the day is intended to be 'lighthearted, and devoid of politics'. One controls weeds, plants flowers and cuts hedges while naked, and this has been said to be a healthy practice. So next time you want to do something different, wait for May 8.

Towel Day (May 25): Towel Day is celebrated as a tribute to Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. On this day, fans of the author carry towels to work or school for their daily activities to celebrate the fact that a towel is the "most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have". The most important point to remember on this day is to not panic. No matter what the day throws at you, you have your towel to protect you — unless you want to go the Ranbir Kapoor way in Saawariya.

World Naked Bike Ride Day (June 13): Similar to the World Naked Gardening Day, people take to the streets on their bicycles, naked. So go ahead and celebrate your free spirit.

World No Panty Day (June 22): This day is meant for women to celebrate a day that gives them freedom from panties. So all the guys out there might want to mark this on their calendars.

Bikini Day (July 5): It is the anniversary of the invention of the bikini and the goal is for people to head to the nearest beach in their itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny two-pieces.

International Kissing Day (July 6): Have you forgotten the simple pleasures of life? Well July 6 is just the day for you to rediscover that. Go ahead and indulge in some kissing, but spare strangers!

Bad Poetry Day (August 18): Always wanted to write poetry but never been great at penning verses? Then this is your day to celebrate your 'work of art'.

World Mosquito Day (August 20): Yes! There is a day to celebrate mosquitoes too! It commemorates the day when Dr Ronald Ross discovered that female mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans. But we are not sure if that means that you can't kill a mosquito on that day and wait to get bitten.

World Coconut Day (September 2): World Coconut Day was declared in 1998 in Vietnam to generate more awareness on the importance of coconut. So chill out by drinking coconut water through the day.

Boyfriends Day (October 3): Celebrate the day dedicated to your boyfriend by making it special for him or, he can make it special for you.

Mother-in-law Day (October 27): Close on the heels of Boyfriends Day, comes Mother-In-Law Day. Try pamper your moms-in-law on this day.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Riders give Metro overall favorable marks

Even with poorly lit stations, chronically broken escalators, frequently late buses and near daily train delays, a large majority of Washington DC area residents continue to have favorable views of Metro, according to a new  poll.

But riders have growing doubts about the value and reliability of the 37-year-old system, and transit advocates say such concerns could undermine Metro’s efforts to rally support for its plan to modernize the transit system.
An increasing number of people say the subway is becoming too pricey to ride. More people say they are not using Metro because trains are too crowded and more people report that rides take too long. And the system overall is viewed as less reliable than several years ago, as disruptions on Metro’s five rail lines have become routine.

“I think under the circumstances — it’s old and a lot of people use it — it is a pretty good system,” said Ruth Kling of Falls Church, who was a daily rider for 15 years on the Red Line from Union Station to Dupont Circle until she retired. “It’s pretty clean and it seems to run on time. Except for the escalators — that’s a perennial problem.”

Kling’s measured approval was typical among the roughly 1,100 people in the District and close-in suburbs who participated in the survey, which was conducted between June 19 and 23.
Roughly seven in 10 residents, or 71 percent, give Metrorail positive ratings. A 56 percent majority rate Metrorail as good, and 15 percent call it excellent. Few see the system in a negative light, with 16 percent rating the rail system as not so good or poor.

The sampling of public sentiment toward Metro comes at a critical juncture for the subway system, which records about 750,000 trips on a typical weekday. Even as they carry out a massive rehabilitation of the aging rail lines, Metro’s leaders have been rolling out ambitious proposals to expand and modernize the transit system, with plans for redesigned rail stations, simpler fare collection technology and a new tunnel under the Potomac.
But if the riders’ mounting concerns about Metro start to eat into their modest overall satisfaction with the system, it could make it even harder to line up the political and financial support Metro’s leaders will need to carry out their plans, experts say.
“The more you build support by doing a good job every day of carrying passengers, then the more you will have the political support,” said Ben Ross, a local transit advocate.
The Post survey, conducted on cellular and land-line phones, asked a range of questions about Metro and transportation. The Post did a similar survey three years ago and another in 2005.
The overall perception of Metro hasn’t dropped significantly even after several difficult years for the system, including a deadly crash four years ago that killed nine people and injured dozens on the Red Line. More than six in 10 riders continue to give Metro approving ratings in a variety of areas, including value, comfort, safety, operating hours, reliability and general convenience. Convenience to work is where Metro scores lowest, with half of workers saying the system is “excellent” or “good” on this point.
“People are generally much more critical on a day-to-day basis than if they think about their commutes over the long haul,” said Joshua Schank, president of the nonprofit Eno Center for Transportation in the District. “They recognize that most of the time they get to work on Metro on time and safely.”
But the positive marks could turn, Schank said, if Metro doesn’t tend to the concerns that are increasing among riders.

“If the system starts breaking down at a faster rate and if they waste money and don’t keep up a state of good repair, then people will turn,” Schank said. “They’ll say, ‘The system is no longer reliable and I’ll have to change my commuting patterns.’ ”
Increasingly people say they avoid Metrorail because it is too expensive. In a 2005 Washington Post survey, 75 percent of riders gave the subway positive ratings for offering a “good value,” but that has dropped to 67 percent. Metro has had three fare increases in the past five years, and the base rush-hour fare is now $2.10.
Cathy Bernard, who lives in Chevy Chase and mainly takes Metro’s Red and Green lines a few times a week to go to events at Verizon Center or Nationals Park, said she’s seen a decline in Metro as the fares have risen.
“It’s gotten kind of high,” she said of the cost, “and it’s been a steady decline. It’s not as reliable as it used to be and the cars aren’t as clean as they used to be.”
Metro’s reliability ranking has not recovered from a big decline. In the poll, 73 percent gave Metro positive ratings for reliability, similar to the 75 percent in 2010 but down from the 87 percent who expressed this view in 2005.
Kristofer Harrison, 37, who lives in Alexandria, used to ride Metrorail to go downtown a few times a week to meetings but stopped because he became so frustrated.
“It was unbelievable how unreliable Metro was,” he said. “Every time it rained there was a problem.” Now he drives to his meetings.
With more track work and station shutdowns, riders say delays are a factor in whether they use Metro. Fifty-three percent of people who don’t ride regularly say the long travel time is a reason they don’t ride. That is compared to the 46 percent who felt that way in 2010 — before Metro had started its major rebuilding effort.
Mike Miller, 26, of Fairfax said he has been a longtime Metro rider but gave up using the subway on weekends to go into the District because he had to allow up to 45 minutes extra to make sure he was on time.
“With all these delays it is more convenient to drive,” Miller said. “I think service is going down. I’ve lived here my whole life and it hasn’t improved. For a major metropolitan area the service is below average.”
At Metro, General Manager Richard Sarles repeatedly says the agency has worked more aggressively under his three-year-tenure as part of a $5 billion rebuilding effort to repair and upgrade the aging tracks and equipment that have been poorly maintained over the past few decades. But he acknowledges that more needs to be done.
“I don’t want to rest on our laurels,” Sarles said. “The last thing I want to do is say, ‘We’ve done good enough.’ We have to continue to make these improvements or we will slide back in providing reliable service. It will get worse.”

Nicole Chavez and Mark Berman contributed to this report. Clement is a survey research analyst with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media. Capital Insight pollsters Jon Cohen and Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

All Over World! Amazing summer getaways

Tired of the same old destinations? Whether you want a slice of the extravagant culture of Hong Kong and Singapore, or bask in the quite serenity of the white Roman beaches, or swear by the luxurious hill-stations around the world — there is something for everyone's multifarious tastes in this summer holiday planner.

Hong Kong, Macau: Aptly called the 'Vegas of the Orient' Macau offers the most glittering slew of slot machines and gives Vegas a run for its money.

Greece: Whether its through the pulsing night-life of Mykonos , the earthiness of Delphi or the rugged Cretan mountains, Greece is like a breath of fresh air.

Singapore: Get ready to shop till you drop at the Great Singapore Sale going on till July 28. Enjoy dazzling deals on just about everything, everywhere.

Turkey: The land of the delectable Baklava, Turkey has more to it than just a lick-your-plate-clean cuisine. It is a legacy in itself that will leave you asking for more.

Canadian rockies: If traveling is synonymous with mountains, then the Canadian Rockies is just the place for you.

New Zealand: Be it the rich Maori culture or the adrenaline-rush at the Fox glacier, black-water rafting or zorbing, the Kiwis are sure going to up the excitement in your trip.

Australia: The sun-kissed harbour city of Sydney the festive grace of Adelaide or the gamut of art at Brisbane, Australia is a destination you would want to head the summer-planner.

Spain: Spain's diversity stirs the soul. Wherever you go, you'll find yourself reveling with admiration.
Washington DC: Washington DC is a hub for American politics and history. Attracting as many school field trips as it does travelers the district offers a peek into the country’s democratic origin. There are plenty of free museums to take advantage of but the real draw here is the memorials and monuments dedicated to great American leaders. Spend some contemplative time at the Reflecting Pool within the National Mall, among the most patriotic places in the country. 
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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Plane leaving Reagan National veers off runway and gets stuck in mud

A plane leaving Reagan National Airport on Monday afternoon veered off the runway and its wheels got stuck in the mud, airport officials said.

Delta flight 1763, an MD-90, was leaving the airport when the landing gear on the right side of the plane got stuck in the mud.

Chris Paolino, an airport spokesman said, the passengers have been off-loaded and crews are working to move the plane’s wheels.

He said there are no reported flight delays because of the incident, since the airport’s main runway is clear and operating normally. Paolino could not say how many passengers were aboard, but there were no reports of injuries.

Michael Thomas, a spokesman for Delta, said the travelers are going to be put on another plane that is scheduled to leave at 7 p.m.

It was not clear whether it was raining at the time of the mishap.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Ultimate 7 places of the world!

With God as the artist, Times Travel explores some of the most awe inspiring natural wonders of the world.

Victoria Falls, Africa
Standing in front of the Victoria Falls in Zambia, there is little to stop you from marvelling at the divine artistry visible around. The same goes for numerous other natural landscapes and phenomenons, from skyscraper dwarfing mountains of the Himalayas to the melody of colour of the Aurora Borealis.

Grand Canyon, USA
The Grand Canyon may very well be the most popular of natural wonders. Spread 446-kms long and 29-kms wide, the canyon was created by continuous erosion of the land by the Colorado River. This area of Arizona is also home to various native American tribes who live in the caves of the canyon or along the banks of the river that winds its way through. With the Colorado river passing through for over 17 million years, the area has also exposed various layers of ancient rock which tell researchers something about geologic history. The Grand Canyon National Park situated here is home to various animals and plants and is a good place to spot the bald eagle. Travelers to the Grand Canyon can explore the area through walking treks with qualified guides or helicopter tours. More adventurous travelers take to the river with their rafts and kayaks.

Lago Carrera, Chile
General Carrera Lake would only be famous as the deepest lake in South America if it wasn't for the banks of marble that border it. The stone here has weathered and corroded under pressure from the water currents, creating a cathedral of marble. The passageways and caverns formed over vast stretches of time are sometimes large enough for small boats to glide through, albeit precariously. It does not take long to get enchanted by Las Cavernas de Marmol as this exquisite labyrinth is known locally.

Mount Roraima, South America
The impressive Mount Roraima is shared between the countries of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. This table top mountain is part of a series that date back over two billions years. With 400 meter-tall cliffs the mountain is home to its very own species of plants and insects. Explorers have also found caves with unique designs made by microbes eating their way into the silica walls. Access to Mount Roraima is difficult by road but helicopter tours are available from Santa Elena de Uairen in Venezuela to give you a majestic view of the Mount top nestled among the clouds.

Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
The world's largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni situated on the Altiplano plateau, in the monsoons, doubles up as the world's largest mirror for most tourists looking to take some quirky pictures. The stretch of flat saline ground gets a mirror like surface from the water that forms a layer over the salt and is able to clearly reflect the sky above. In the middle of the salt flat is the Incahuasi Island — a brown spot on this sheet of white. The arid island is covered in cacti and has a tourist centre for those visiting. The salt flat is also a stop over for arge flocks of pink flamingos and their flight over the reflective surface makes for beautiful photographs.

Tsingy De Bemaraha, Madagascar
This unique stone forest in Madagascar looks like something out of Lord of The Rings. Credit this to the giant limestone structures that look like pine trees from a distance or the various endemic species of flora and fauna that can only be found in Tsingy De Bemaraha and nowhere else in the world. Animals, insects and plants are still being discovered in its dense forests and wet caves, so a visit here is sure to surprise you.

Satffa, Scotland
Many visitors to the island of Staffa in Scotland refuse to believe that the phenomenon of its pillared stone formations are natural. The symmetry and design of the hexagonal basalt columns, created by volcanic activity make the walls of the island's caves look like the interiors of a Gothic cathedral. Similar formations can be found in Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, on the island of Ulva and Ardmeanach on the Isle of Mull.

Pamukkale, Turkey
Turkey has numerous wonders but none can doubt the breath stealing ability of Pamukkale (cotton castle). At first glance the stepped hills look snow blanketed. This is the effect of the hot springs in the area that create a deposit of calcium carbonate making the area around look like it's covered with cotton. Tourists visit Pamukkale to bathe in its mineral springs.