Better TV Choices – LED, LCD or Plasma?

You’ve probably noticed that there are many new television products available in the market place. The marketing hype and tech jargon add many challenges when searching for a new TV. Without being overly technical, let’s try to clear up some of the confusion.

We have enjoyed high definition content for several years now with more programming coming all the time, including the new 3D. While there are no right answers to which type of TV is best, when it comes to getting green and reducing energy consumption, one flat panel technology clearly stands out above the rest. Enter LED TV!

The latest LED TVs are actually two technologies in one. Did you know that LED sets use LCDs to produce the television image, but also require advanced backlighting to provide an incredibly bright picture? In principle, LED TVs are quite similar to LCD TVs, but use much less power and feature state-of-the-art backlighting systems. This makes the newer LED panels very light weight, much thinner while they consume significantly less energy than the older LCDs.

The most common difference between LEDs and LCD TVs is the sidelighting used in most LCDs. This subtle difference accounts for less performance and increase in energy consumption when compared to LEDs. Generally, LCDs most typically use fluorescent tubes to provide their side lighting. On the surface, it may sound like LCD and LED TVs are the same, but this difference in light sources can cause a LCD panel to use 30% more power!

Plasma panels are the third type of flat TV. While they are also flat, similar to LED and LCDs, they are much heavier and use significantly more power. The underlying design principle is also fundamentally different in plasma TVs. You might think of the plasma TV surface as an array of tiny cells, very close one another. The cells are charged with gas, several chemicals, and the entire surface area is covered with glass. When voltage is applied to these cells, it causes them to light up. By controlling electrical energy to the cells, a full color image is formed on the panel. Plasma TVs tend to be the least expensive in up front, but they do come with a hidden cost. Plasmas consume significantly more power than LEDs or LCD flat panel TVs. Of course this higher operational cost will compound over time as utility rates increase.

Plasmas TVs are affordable, but use tons of power. LCDs are the middlemen, providing moderate value with some energy savings. When it comes to getting green, LEDs stand out from the crowd with big energy savings over the TV life cycle. Becoming familiar with the different television technologies helps make better-informed purchasing decisions. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

Dave High is a LEED Green Associate with Karbon Consulting in Pleasant Hill

Stamps in My Passport: Yugoslavia

Stamps in my Passport
Music soothes the soul they say – but it also excites, infuriates, stimulates, or sedates, depending on the tempo. Music is cross-cultural – independent of nationality. One can appreciate the rhythmic view of a composer’s effort completely, without words. Lyrics add to the enjoyment, but the notes must stand on their own.

Looking back to our two enjoyable weeks spent in Yugoslavia many years ago causes me great distress. Then the country appeared so united and filled with potential. The hard and difficult years of World War II and the structured restricted years under Marshal Tito were past. The Olympics held at Sarajevo had highlighted the beauties and delights of this wonderful country, and the future looked bright indeed. Then came the nasty conflict between the Croatians and the Serbians, and all the delight seemed to fade. I hear it is recovering slowly, but I have not seen it first-hand. My memory takes me back to the peaceful times.

Another couple had joined us in Dubrovnik. This ancient city on the Adriatic Sea with a harbor thousands of years old had put us in a mood to experience this vastly diversified country. We had visited other areas of Croatia and were now camped in the InterContinental Hotel near downtown Zagreb. Zagreb was then a prominent city in this united nation and was composed of a number of fascinating sights. We walked a great deal, enjoyed the culinary delights of the marketplace, took the funicular to the upper part of town, and wandered through St. Stephen’s Church.

Stamps-in-my-PassportAs we were on our way back to the hotel we spied the ornate and stately Zagreb Opera House set on a slight rise overlooking the lower portion of the city. It was a magnet we could not resist. We walked around the building admiring the architecture and the decorative yellow façade and soon found the front door.

Apparently there was a performance that evening and the ticket office was open, so we tried. “All sold out,” we were informed. “People from all over Europe come to visit our wonderful productions,” he told us with great pride. As we talked to the ticket seller my companion began folding and refolding a significantly-sized American bill. We explained to the agent that we were in town for just a night or two and perhaps he knew a way to get us seats at the opera. The agent’s eyes became transfixed on the greenback, and, as though hypnotized by it, his memory improved. He remembered a box with four seats and thought perhaps the owners were away, and it might just become available. The negotiations continued. Not any box, but a prime set of seats for the four of us in a choice location. The dialog ended with the agreement that we were to arrive at the ticket counter that evening ten to fifteen minutes prior to the eight o’clock p.m. start and search for him – only him. He would have the desired seats available in exchange for that well-folded American currency. We did just that.

The ushers, upon seeing the tickets, led us to the mezzanine, parted a set of plush, red velvet curtains, and showed us our seats in the elegant, if somewhat worn, mezzanine box. It was in the exact center of the main portion of the Opera House. Several hundred seats on the main floor lay below us, and the exceptionally steep balcony formed the roof of our box. Both to the left and right sides of our central box appeared similar enclosures. Placed in each of these boxes were four comfortable armchairs with a cocktail table properly positioned to receive refreshments. The furniture was elegant and delightful in an old-world way – slightly frayed but certainly hinting at past opulence. The house lights dimmed and in all its majestic glory, the performance began. We were swept up in the overture and the romance of this historic environment. The music itself was very familiar to us all, but the only recognizable words were “cigarillo” and “toreador.” Yes, it was Carmen in all her sultry finest with music by Bizet and the words, of course – the words were in Serbo-Croatian.

I have listened to Carmen many times since, both at home in my living room and at well-staged performances. But each time my thoughts and sadness go back to that wonderful night, and I smile to myself wondering how many people in this world have enjoyed the tale of this gypsy seductress and her soldier hero – in Serbo-Croatian.

Harry Hubinger is a retired engineer who operated his own company for twenty years. He first began traveling outside the United States on business, but these visits escalated upon his retirement. He has now traveled to 115 countries and continues to add several new ones each year. In 1998 he began writing his humorous and insightful articles for a supplement to a local newspaper. These stories, based on experiences most travelers could identify with, soon earned him a wide local following. In 2005 he published his first book, Stamps in My Passport—a collection of travel vignettes. Harry has lived in Danville for almost forty years and has volunteered with the Danville Police Department for the past seven. His wife, Barbara, is the detail chronicler of their trips. Her journals provide the background for Harry’s broader view. You can get his book at:

2010 Dodge Challenger RT: A ‘70’s Muscle Car Reborn!

Passing Lane
Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s I was surrounded by “muscle” cars, with the desire to own or at least drive one. I was fortunate enough to talk my Dad into buying me one for $500 and teaching me how to drive and repair my 1966 hot rod. In later years, my Uncle Tony took me to car shows and hot rod events, introducing me to the one car that always stood out from the crowd; the Dodge Challenger, with its long nose and raised hips. Well, the beast is back and looking sharper than ever!

As of late, the domestics have been drawing on their heritage and brought back some wonderful memories in the form of modern designs and technologies. Dodge took its turn with the launch of the Challenger in 2008. Based off the foundation of its brother, the Dodge Charger, this reincarnated 1970’s performance machine is unmistakably recognizable as a Challenger with all of its design glory, and under-the-hood performance.

The 2010 Dodge Challenger is pretty much a carryover from the 2009 model year with the following exceptions: Uconnect ™ Multimedia packaged with Sound Group I and II (on the SE and RT trims). Steering wheel-mounted audio controls are packaged with Uconnect Multimedia and Uconnect Navigation. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is now standard on the SE trim, and automatic headlamps and LED cup holders are standard and door handle lights are standard on the R/T.

Into the second year of its new life, the 2010 Dodge Challenger is available in three trim levels: SE, RT, and SRT8. The SE is a great choice if you want the hot looks of the Challenger, but with a more economical 3.5-liter HO 250 horsepower V6 that delivers 17 mpg in the City and 25 MPG on the highway. If you need a few more horses under the hood, the RT punches out 372 HP from a 5.7-liter V8 HEMI. True perfection of power is available from the SRT8 that cranks out 425 wild horses out of a tire burning 6.1-liter V8 HEMI engine.

All three engines come standard with a 5-speed automatic transmission. However, if you want to have a little; change that, a lot more fun, the RT and SRT8 both offer an optional 6-speed manual transmission with overdrive. On the RT it’s a $995 option and on the SRT8 is runs $695. Either way, it is worth the money. My weekly test drive vehicle was the RT with manual transmission and it multiplied the fun factor, ten-fold!

When Dodge’s designers began laying lines on paper, their intention was for the new Challenger to have a retro appearance that would tug on the hearts of those who once fell in love with the car. Dodge’s goal was to breathe new life into their icon by delivering a modern profile and high-tech features. The results are the 2010 Challenger with roughly the same posture of its 1970’s brother, yet with softer and cleaner lines. The Challenger offers the big, brawny stance that we connect to the American muscle car.

The Challenger adopted obvious styling cues from the original Challenger; however, with a larger stance than the original model. The Challenger has big, muscular lines that flow into a sea of curves and angles, delivering a sporty profile. One of the advantages it has over its cross town rivals, the Mustang and Camaro, is its larger size providing greater rear passenger space. One negative I have to add, was the visibility out of the rear window. Being quite limited by wide “C” pillars, it is a challenge to see anything out of the sides when exiting a parking spot or other tight area.

The interior of the 2010 Dodge Challenger is living large and comfortable. There is plenty of room for both the front and rear passengers. The dash carries on some touches of the original Challenger; however, but with a current appearance. I feel they could have done a little more to spark up the dash as it was all black. Perhaps a swab of color or two-tone effect would have generated a little flare. The center instrument cluster consisted of two large and two small chrome-ringed gauges with white faces, along with digital information such as outside temperature, direction, and radio station.

The center dash housed controls for the climate control, radio, Uconnect™ Bluetooth, and MP3 connection. The seats were large and comfortable. The center armrest area provided a large storage compartment and two cup holders with ring lights. The pedals on my RT where accented with chrome as were other parts of the interior.

Handling of the RT was surprisingly responsive for a large vehicle. The Challenger is built off of a modified Chrysler LX platform. The overall ride was smooth and confident as the RT rides on a set of 20” 5-spoke aluminum wheels and P245/45R20 BSW all-season performance tires. The performance-tuned suspension was relatively stiff. A bonus to the vehicle coming with the optional manual transmission was that it also came with a limited-slip differential to aid with traction and keep the car stable and in command of the road.
Room for improvement:

  • Wide “C” pillars block your side view

Cool Features:

  • Great exhaust growl
  • Cool retro-design

The 2010 Dodge Challenger earned a five-star rating for driver/passenger frontal crash and front and rear side crash test. Standard safety features including energy absorbing crush zones, reinforced safety cage, and front, head curtain, rear curtain, and side airbags.

In Summary – The 2010 Dodge Challenger is a blast from the past. All three trim levels offer power and performance. It offers a distinctive look that turns heads at every corner. The Challengers large size delivers the benefits of a large trunk and uncompromised rear seat capacity. This rear-wheel drive coupe provides a wealth of fun and the ability to take a step back in time.

For more information and a complete list of features and specifications go to

Passing Lane

Specifications: 2010 Dodge Challenger RT
Base price: $30,860 as driven: $41,160 (including destination and optional equipment)
Engine: 5.7-Liter V8 HEMI
Horsepower: 372 @ 5200
Torque: 400 foot pounds @ 4400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission with overdrive
Drive: Rear Wheel-Drive
Seating: 5-passenger
Turning circle: 38.9 feet
Cargo space: 16.2 cubic feet
Curb weight: 4,041 pounds
Fuel capacity: 19 gallons
EPA mileage: 24 highway, 15 city
Wheel Base: 116 inches
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Also consider: Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro

Market Fresh: Giving Thanks

Market Fresh

Holiday entertaining kicks into high gear this month, as many of us gather for a traditional Thanksgiving feast. Unlike other holidays that drag us into debt, Thanksgiving celebrates the simple basics in life: nourishment, sharing, and gratitude. Preparing a thoughtful meal shows how much you care….about your friends, your family, and California’s bountiful resources.

I prefer to do as much of my Thanksgiving shopping as possible at the farmers’ market—where the food is fresh, healthy, and locally grown. I also know that my money goes directly to the people who grow the food we eat.

I’ll look for hot little radishes to munch as I cook; freshly-harvested walnuts and almonds to enhance everything from appetizers to desserts; plump raisins, dried apricots, and other dried fruits; just-picked lettuce; pure fruit juices; sugar pumpkins and crisp apples for pies; acorn and other traditional winter squash; artisan breads to serve as is, or to cut into cubes for homemade turkey stuffing; aromatic extra-virgin olive oil, sweet onions, celery, parsley, and garlic to accent that delicious dressing; tender young carrots; broccoli; Brussels sprouts; sweet potatoes; locally-produced honey; russet potatoes and Yukon Golds for mashing; beeswax candles and all other matter of fall flora, fauna, fruits, and veggies to make a spectacular yet affordable still-life centerpiece for my table.

While I’m at the market picking through a big pile of sweet potatoes, inevitably a perfect stranger will timidly ask me the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. Seriously—this happens to me every year. So here’s the answer for one and all.

Real yams are starchy, tropical vegetables—often a foot or two long—rarely seen outside of obscure Latin markets in the U.S. Forget about them; you’ll probably never see one.

What we see labeled as “yams” are actually a red-skinned variety of sweet potato. Sweet potatoes ordinaire have a gold-ish-color skin and flesh, and a drier texture inside, similar to a russet potato. The yam variety of sweet potato (such as the Red Garnet Yam) has dark, reddish-purple skin and bright orange flesh. All varieties of sweet potatoes are interchangeable in recipes, though most prefer the vibrant color and moist, creamy texture of the yam. So there it is. Spread the word.

Like so many modern families, there will be more than a few vegetarians at my table; and they will no doubt shun that perfectly roasted turkey. Rather than drowning my sorrows in a pitcher of pomegranate martinis, I’ll simply offer plenty of interesting seasonal sides and desserts that everyone can enjoy. No tofurkey here.

These are a couple of road-tested recipes that please vegetarians and carnivores alike. The ingredients can also be multiplied to feed a small army, if needed.

And as we give thanks for the bounty before us, let’s remember all the farmers who travel to Danville before sunrise every Saturday, rain or shine, to bring us the freshest and the best.

Market Fresh Mashed Sweet PotatoesMashed Sweet Potatoes with Orange & Ginger

This recipe adapted from chef and cookbook author Rozanne Gold contains no added fat—so you shouldn’t feel guilty if you mix in a couple of tablespoons of butter, a splash of cream, or a drizzle of honey. (Marshmallows are a whole other story.)

  • 6 red-skinned medium sweet potatoes/yams (about 3 pounds), scrubbed but not peeled
  • 2 California oranges
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons grated fresh ginger, to taste
  • Salt
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  1. Place the sweet potatoes in a large pot with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until very soft, about 50 minutes.
  2. Finely grate about 1 teaspoon of zest from an orange; chop finely. Halve and juice both oranges, straining out any seeds. (You should have about 2/3 cup of juice.)
  3. Drain the potatoes in a colander and rinse with cold water; drain again. Peel and cut into large chunks.
  4. Combine the sweet potato chunks, orange zest, orange juice, and ginger. Using a hand-held blender, puree until smooth. (Alternatively, let cool slightly and puree in batches in a food processor or blender.) Season to taste with salt and cayenne. Serve at once, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Just before serving, reheat gently in a microwave or in a saucepan or double-boiler. Makes about 5 1/2 cups, to serve 6.

Brussel Sprouts
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts & Pomegranate Seeds
One of Thanksgiving’s most lingering memories is all the intoxicating aromas that emanate from the kitchen. Brussels sprouts smell divine when roasted in the oven—a welcome contrast to boiling them on top of the stove. This brilliant combination of colors, textures, and flavors was inspired by renowned restaurateur and cookbook author Donatella Arpaia.

  • 3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) California walnut halves and pieces
  • 1 1/2 pounds farm-fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
  • 3 tablespoons California olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Seeds from 1 medium pomegranate* (about 1/3 cup)
  • A small chunk of dry Monterey Jack or Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts in a pan and bake, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  2. On a large baking sheet, combine the Brussels sprouts, oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Toss gently to coat evenly, then spread the sprouts into an even layer.
  3. Roast in the oven, shaking the pan to stir 2 or 3 times, until the sprouts are nicely browned on the outside and tender within, 35 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the top and toss to mix. Taste, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl. If desired, use a vegetable peeler to shave strips of cheese over the top. Serves 6.

* Fresh pomegranates can make a mess when not handled properly; and airborne seeds can stain everything in sight. Cooking pro Paula Wolfert came up with this life-changing solution:

  1. Make a slit in the center of the pomegranate, large enough to insert both of your thumbs.
  2. Submerge the pomegranate in a bowl of cold water.
  3. Working underwater, insert your thumbs into the slit and pull the fruit apart into 2 pieces. Use your fingers to loosen the seeds from the white membrane within. The seeds will float to the surface—rinsed and ready to be drained and used.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM or visit their web site at

Trivial Matters

While doing this I am watching game two of the NLDS between the Giants and Braves, Giants are ahead one game to zero, but you will know how they did when you read this. So, let us delve into Giants postseason foibles as we know them.

  1. When Willie McCovey hit the line drive to end the 1962 World Series, our heart broke. Who caught the line drive?
  2. The Yankee pitcher that day pitched a complete game and was named the MVP of that series. Who was he?
  3. The Giants missed a chance to go to the World Series in 1987 when the Giant right fielder muffed a line drive in the eighth inning of the deciding game. Who was he?
  4. The Giants made the World Series in 1989 when Will Clark hit a line drive single in the 8th inning of the final game. Who was the Cub pitcher that day?
  5. Heartbreak of heartbreaks occurred in 2002 when a singles hitter for the Angels hit a three-run homer in the 8th inning of game six of the World Series and started the downhill slide to lose that key game after a 5-0 lead. Who hit the Homerun?
  6. The Angels’ catcher in that series went on to become a Giant and a real fan favorite. Who was he?


  1. Cliff Robertson
  2. Errol Garner
  3. Pittsburgh and Boston
  4. “Autumn in New York”
  5. Edward Gibbon
  6. Nick Nolte

Mr. Nobody!!!!!

The first person to email or mail, no calls please, the correct answers to all of the above questions will win a $25 gift certificate at The Uptown Cafe in downtown Danville, compliments of Ben Fernandez! Entries must be received by Nov 25, 2010. In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn at random. Please email your answers to, or mail to ALIVE East Bay, 199 East Linda Mesa Avenue, Suite 10, Danville, CA 94526. Employees and family members of employees of ALIVE East Bay are not eligible. Restaurant may be changed without notice.

The Dirt Gardener: Thanks for Asking

Dirt Gardener

Q. When we bought our house, we inherited a dozen older rose bushes. They had been ignored for years and look stringy at best. We are considering pulling them up and starting over. Are the plants worth saving?

A. Roses are very resilient plants. They can be ignored and or abused for years but with nutrients and moisture, the bushes can be revived. With inherited roses, it’s always a personal choice on which ones, if any, to keep. Their fate is usually determined by their color and how disease free they are. Often sentimental reasons are why poorly growing varieties are kept. Personally, I’d replaced them all. I suspect that many of the original varieties have died and have been replaced by the vegetative growth from the rootstock. These are shoots from below the bud union or from the surface roots. The bud union is the large knot located near at the bottom of the plant where the desirable variety was budded on to the rootstock. The majority of the older plants are not growing on their own roots. Starting over allows you to layout the area with a selection of varieties that suits you. Bare root or package roses will be arriving shortly at your favorite garden center so you can replant the area quickly. You could also wait until spring when the container roses are available in bud and bloom.

If you decide to keep them, I’d prune them back severely during the winter to about two feet from the bud union and eliminate the rubbing and crossing branches as well as those from below the bud union. Next, thin out the canes so the space between them is the diameter of your pruning shears or fist. In late February or early March, you start applying Rose Food monthly to encourage the new growth. Roses are watered frequently after the rainy season concludes. This is usually twice a week and then daily with warm temperatures.
Note: The following websites contain photos and descriptions of the new roses for 2011 plus many old favorites.
All-American Rose Selections
Jackson & Perkins
Weeks Roses

Q. Could you tell me what I need to do in order to keep my Poinsettia plants from dying? They seem to wither away so quickly each year.

A. Poinsettia leaves turn yellow, curl and shrivel quickly because of warm temperatures. Poinsettia plants like to be kept in a cool room, preferably under seventy degrees. They need to be kept away from heater vents, operating fireplaces and drafts, especially inside doorways as the sudden change in temperature causes problems. The flower and leaves of the Poinsettia plant collapses when the plant is excessively wet. They like to be kept uniformly moist. Before watering, stick your finger down an inch in the soil. If it feels moist to the touch then skip the watering. After watering, always dump the excess water that collects in the saucer and punch a hole in the decorative foil so the water can drain away.

Buzz Bertolero is Executive Vice President of Navlet’s Garden Centers and a California Certified Nursery Professional. His web address is and you can send questions by email at or to 360 Civic Drive Ste. ‘D’, Pleasant Hill, Calif. 94523

What to Do and When to Do It

Q. Tom, I have decided to sell my home; should I place it on the market now during the holiday season (mid-November to mid-January)? I am getting differing opinions with the prevalent advice being to wait until the springtime 2011 market. Does this mean I should wait until March or April?
You actually have a couple of good options here. First of all, please allow me to dispel the real estate myth that houses don’t sell during the holidays … they do! And the main reason houses sell during what is traditionally viewed as a ‘slow period’ is that so many other sellers temporarily take their homes off the market over the holidays thereby creating less competition. Keep in mind that motivated buyers typically stop looking for homes only during the four day Thanksgiving break and from late December through very early January. Every other day those buyers & their agents are actually shopping for the right home. So, here are your two options: 1) place or keep your home on the market now and through the holidays and keep the holiday decorating to a minimum or 2) hold off until after the holiday season but don’t wait too long. The springtime real estate season starts as early as mid-to-late January and is typically robust until about the end of May. In either scenario, I strongly recommend pricing your home accordingly for current market conditions as the one constant that everyone agrees on is that the 2011 market will remain price-sensitive. In other words, price your home to be a GREAT value.

Q. My spouse and I disagree regarding what we should do to get our home ready for the market … more specifically the importance of curb appeal. I think we should invest our limited improvement funds on the interior and she thinks we should spend more money on the exterior because curb appeal is critical to getting prospective buyers in the door. Who’s right?
She’s right hands down! As we say in the business, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” And no matter how many pictures or virtual tours of a home are posted to the internet, the reality is that upon personally visiting a home a potential buyer feels an ‘emotional hook’ within about 10 seconds based on its physical appearance—or not! So it is in your best interest to consider touch-up paint, new door/lock hardware, clean doormat, refreshed landscaping (grass and scrubs), power-washed walkways and sparkling light fixtures. Everything leading up to and including the front door shows to the prospective buyer the seller’s pride of ownership and is usually an excellent indicator of the overall condition of the rest of the home. Unsolicited advice … don’t look at the improvements as an expense, look at it as an investment that you’ll get a return on. Remember if the buyer never gets out of the car and through the front door, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the house and backyard look like.

Q. Tom, what’s the prognosis for the 2011 real estate market … weaker or stronger?
My personal belief is that it will be about the same as 2010 but it really depends on where you’re buying or selling and your general price range. For instance, the $600,000 to $900,000 price range in the San Francisco Bay area is forecasted to be a bright spot in the overall California market. But I remind you that condition, location and price are the key factors in the marketability and desirability of any particular home in a given community. Optimistically, the recently published California Association of Realtors® 2011 economic forecast predicts California homes sales to increase 2% to 502,000 units (over 2010) and the median California home price to climb 2% (over 2010) to $312,500.

Tom Hart

Tom Hart

Tom Hart is a practicing Real Estate Broker and a partner at Empire Realty Associates in Danville. He is a Certified Master Negotiator by the University of San Francisco and a Certified Master Strategist by HSM Harvard Program on Negotiation. He is past president of the Contra Costa Association of Realtors (2005) and past president of the Realtors’ Marketing Association of the San Ramon Valley. Tom is in high demand as a speaker & trainer inside & outside the real estate industry.

You can contact Tom at 925-355-1187 or

Support Those Who Serve

November is special. It just feels good—especially here in California. We get to enjoy a bit of the vibrant colors and crisp morning air that announce the change in seasons, but avoid the ice and frigid temperatures our eastern friends contend with. Where else but in California do you have clear blue skies and seventy degree weather in November?

It’s also special because it includes holidays that have somehow avoided commercialization. On Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving, it’s all about reflection and expressing gratitude. It’s a time to consider the many sacrifices others have made, and continue to make, for us.

In this month’s issue of ALIVE you’ll find two very special articles that remind us of the people who serve—in the military and as first responders—who make sacrifices every day so that we might enjoy life as we know it, here in the United States.

In the first article (page 14) by Anita Venezia, you’ll learn about Fallen Heroes, an incredible organization that works to provide comprehensive support and care for the families of fallen police officers and firefighters. Then, on page 18 you’ll find The Front Lines of Caring, an article about, an organization that collects and delivers much-needed supplies to our front line soldiers in Afghanistan.

In both stories we are reminded that while we have much to be thankful for, we all have the responsibility to do what we can to support those who serve us. In the case of these two extraordinary organizations, it was one, Tom Gallinatti (Fallen Heroes) and Aaron Negherbon ( who chose to “walk the walk” and put real action into helping those who serve, by founding these fine support organizations.

On behalf of the writers and production staff at ALIVE we dedicate this month’s issue to our men and women in uniform, and their families—the soldiers, police officers and firefighters, who, in one way or another, serve all of us by insuring the freedoms, safety and security that we enjoy. We are blessed to live here, in this unique country, only because of the sacrifice of these special people.

Truly, November is special.

Eric Johnson

Your Brain… Investing Friend or Foe?

Recently, I saw some interesting information about how our brain functions. The brain has 3 parts: The Hominid Brain which is responsible for higher thought and reasoning, the Mammalian Brain which is responsible for feelings like love, hate, lust, fear, anger, and hurt. This part is also in charge or our “fight or flight” response, and finally the Reptilian Brain, which takes care of our basic survival functions like breathing, heartbeat, etc. Understanding which part of your brain is doing the thinking can be a big help when making decisions about your portfolio and financial future.1

Most of us assume that all three parts of our brain are always working together. To the contrary, studies have shown that sometimes the different parts of our brain are not all functioning in harmony. During times of extreme stress, such as the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, the logical, reasoning part of our brain (Hominid) actually shuts down completely. Our brain goes into survival mode and all of the blood flows to the parts that keep us alive (Reptilian and Mammalian).1 Unable to look at things logically, we become irrational and emotion takes over. Sadly this leads investors to the destructive habit of selling at market bottoms and buying at market tops.

Neuroeconomics is a relatively new discipline that combines psychology, neuroscience and economics to better understand how we make financial decisions. A book by Jason Zweig entitled “Your Money & Your Brain” offers some fascinating findings:

  • A monetary loss or gain is not just a financial or psychological outcome, but a biological change that has profound physical affects on the brain and body.
  • The neural activity of someone whose investments are making money is indistinguishable from that of someone who is high on cocaine or morphine.
  • After two repetitions of a stimulus – like the markets having two big up days in a row – the brain automatically, unconsciously, and uncontrollably expects a third repetition.
  • Once people conclude that an investment’s returns are “predictable,” their brains respond with alarm if that apparent pattern is broken.
  • Financial losses are processed in the same areas of the brain that respond to mortal danger.
  • Anticipating a gain, and actually receiving it, are expressed in entirely different ways in the brain.
  • Expecting both good and bad events is often more intense than experiencing them.

The bottom line to his book is that many of us repeat poor decision making in regard to investments because we do not recognize and understand our own detrimental behavior. To quote Zweig, “…our investing brains often drive us to do things that make no logical sense – but make perfect emotional sense. That does not make us irrational, it makes us human.” Understanding why we do what we do is a good first step to becoming a successful investor.

1. Fighting against physiology, John Hancock Funds, 5-2010

Damien helps individuals invest and manage risk. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and a principal of Walnut Creek Wealth Management. These are the views of Damien Couture, CFP® and should not be construed as investment advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Your comments are welcome. Damien can be reached at 925-280-1800 x101 or

Crazy Heart: ALIVE at the Movies

Crazy Heart

Okay, shoot me—I love Country music. So, when I heard about Crazy Heart my interest was mildly piqued. I watched as Jeff Bridges won the Oscar but I still waited seven months to rent it. I even had the DVD for three days before I put it in the machine.

Crazy Heart is about Bad Blake (no, I didn’t make this up), a broken down, hard living country music singer who’s had way too many marriages and far too many years on the road. But Bad’s real problem is too many drinks along that road.

You may be asking yourself right about now why I’m even reviewing such a clichéd film. One word…Jeff Bridges. Bridges fully inhabits Blake, slowly revealing the bone-weariness of this singer’s life. His very essence is beaten up by life—downtrodden, yet with flashes of arrogance. His “under acting” is brilliant.

Bad meets a journalist along the way. He’s 57 and playing dives. Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal) knows who he was in times past and asks for an interview. This odd pair can’t seem to stay apart as she discovers the real man behind the musician. She has a three-year-old son that Jean wants to shield from Bad’s bad habits (couldn’t resist that one) and he has a twenty eight year old son he hasn’t seen since he was four. Along the way they fall into a semblance of a relationship, him trying to control his drinking around Jean’s son and her encouraging him to reach out to his.

Bad has music in the very core of his being. Even in a drunken stupor in a seedy hotel room, he picks up his guitar and writes the most amazing songs, saying, “the harder the life, the sweeter the song.”

At one of his lowest points, Jean walks away from him and he reaches out for salvation, not necessarily of the religious variety but the utter redemption of a man hanging at the end of his rope looking for the knot.

When I heard about the movie, I guess the real reason I didn’t run right out and rent it was that I intrinsically don’t like downer movies, but I didn’t get that feeling from Crazy Heart when I finally watched it. I somehow knew that this Bad boy (couldn’t resist that one either) was going to redeem himself.

Crazy Heart also went home from the Academy Awards with an Oscar for Best Original Song, The Weary Kind. But if you’re not fond of country music then Crazy Heart may sound like the kind of tear-jerky movie you should avoid. Bridges will change your mind. It took an Oscar chasing role tailored for Bridges to win him the belated respect; the movie is hardly worthy of him. It’s a small movie perfectly scaled to the big performance at its center.

I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention Robert Duvall’s stellar performance as Blake’s best friend and mentor. Let me know what you think, did Bridges deserve the Oscar? The Academy doesn’t always get it right but in one woman’s opinion, this time they did Good! You can email me at