Category Archives: Career

Therapy animals bring joy and comfort to Maui’s elderly and disabled

Shannon Dominguez works at least 70 hours per week at Upcountry Maui’s Haku Baldwin Center.She directs a popular community program called Animal-Assisted Therapy. Several times per week, she loads up her truck with a menagerie of well-trained animals–including dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, ducks & chickens–and visits people who are elderly, infirmed or disabled. Her therapy animals bring comfort to about 400 people per month on Maui.

I tagged along with Dominguez and her crew, and in about three hours we visited nearly 65 elderly and disabled people. Here’s how a typical animal-assisted therapy visit works. Residents of a skilled nursing facility gather in the activities’ room. Some have just come from physical therapy, dialysis or a visit with their doctor; others have gotten out of bed for the first time that day. Most sit in wheelchairs. I walked with a certified therapy dog around to each resident and asked if he or she would like to meet a nice dog. Some people don’t like dogs, and we moved on. But many love animals and did their best to pet the dog with knotted hands. Faces light up, and for a few moments, pain melts away. Some residents remained focused on the animal for the entire visit, while others after a minute or two started chatting with me. One elderly woman patted the dogs head and then showed me the newspaper she was holding. She was reading her eldest son’s obituary.

There is more demand on Maui for animal-assisted therapy than she can meet, explained Dominguez. For example, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) might benefit from animal-assisted therapy, but in order to serve them, Dominguez would have to double the size of her operation. It’s a problem that many small non-profit organizations face: a larger operation would mean a much greater administrative paperwork burden and less time doing the work. That’s not likely to happen any time soon, given Dominguez’s dedication to the programs she runs matched by existing funding for the Haku Baldwin Center and the AAT program comes from a private endowment. But Dominguez added that private donations are always welcome.

Hale Makua resident enjoys time with therapy rabbit, Koa


Prevent computer crash

Your PC computer crashed. Now you face downtime without a computer while warranty repairs are underway, or worse, repair bills. But your computer isn’t that old. Is the there any way to prevent computer crash?

Computer crashed again
Computer crashed again

Yes, there are many strategies. Each person you talk with will have a different answer. So in this post I’m going to lay out the strategy that I’ve used successfully for years. I was given this advice about five years from a freelance computer repairman, William Sawicki, who was leaving Hawaii to go back to Europe.

Step #1: Pony up for Mcafee

Mcafee security suite is the best available, according to Sawicki. Mcafee offers a range of products, but only three are core “must-have” essentials: anti-virus, anti-spyware, and a personal firewall. It runs quietly in the background all the time and uses less system resources than its competitor, Norton. Another problem with Norton is that because it hogs so much operating memory, it can slow down or even crash you system. It’s also a bear to uninstall.

Two years ago, I scored a free one-year subscription to Mcafee through my local telephone company for renewing my internet service. It’s worth checking around to see if you can land a discount on the products.

Beware when friends offer to give you “free” security software or anti-virus programs, according to Sawicki. You might be tempted to pass on Mcafee to save money.  Understandable, especially in this economy. But in this case $50 worth of prevention saves $500 bucks worth of repairs or down time. Most of those programs are either “leaky”, meaning they allow in spyware and other malicious code, or they just aren’t built to capture all the serious threats going around.

You’ll also need to renew your subscription when it runs out, adding a lifetime operating cost to the original price of your computer. Factor this is when considering buying any new PC. If you don’t want to worry about the added cost of effective security protection, buy a Mac.

Step #2: Stop using Internet Explorer

Despite Microsoft’s claims to the contrary, Internet Explorer (IE) practically invites phishers, spammers and other malware to take up residence on your computer. Sawicki’s best advice on browsers is to use just about anything other than IE. Mozilla Firefox and Safari (now available to PC users in beta version) are both free downloads that have better built-in security features and faster load times.

It’s important to note that when choosing a browser, IE and Mozilla are the primary web browsers targeted and supported by web designers. For example, Bank of America allows users to access their online banking only through IE or Mozilla. So opt for Mozilla. It’s far from perfect, but it’s more secure than IE.

If you try Safari and fall in love with it’s speed and clean looks, but don’t like that you can’t access your bank account with it, send a note to the webmaster at your bank saying so.

Step #3: Manage your files

Download and install a program that allows you to monitor the size of files on your computer. Use TreeSize for PC and WhatSize for Mac. These are simple tools that allow you to see at a glance which are the biggest folders and sub-folders on your machine. The files and folders are automatically sorted by size, with the biggest sizes first. This makes it very easy to see which folders are occupying valuable space on your hard drive and if they’re useless, to simply delete them.

Go ahead and delete useless or outdated personal files and programs you no longer use.

Step #4: Transfer and Backup

For most computer users, their biggest files are photos and music, according to Sawicki. After you run TreeSize or WhatSize, you’ll know if this is true for you, too. Now compare the size of your biggest folder, such as photos, to the total available space on your hard drive.

For example, my old PC laptop has an 80 GB hard drive. My photos occupy 30 GB, nearly half of the available space. Add in all of my other files, and I only had 2 GB of free space! It’s easy to see how files add up fast and overload a system quickly. Ideally, you want to keep at least 10% of your total hard rive space “free” in order to allow the computer ample room to function properly, according to Sawicki.

A quick and easy fix is to move your biggest files, like photos, to an external hard drive. I did this, and my computer responded instantly with a noticeable increase in performance. I took Sawicki’s advice and picked up a 250 GB mobile external drive (meaning no power cord needed and built for bumps in luggage) made by Lacie for about $100. I was able to back up my entire system and transfer all my photos off my computer. I continue to backup my system to this drive every day.

If you’re worried about the drive failing and losing it all, you should be. Consider buying two drives or using an online backup service for your most precious files in addition to your external drive. If you use a web-based email service, like Gmail or Yahoo, you can also email yourself your most critical files. Redundancy is sanity.


I dedicate this post to two dear friends who’s new PC computers have crashed recently. You know who you are.

Discoveries by amateurs set astronomy apart in science

Discoveries by amateurs set the field of astronomy apart from other fields of science in an era where professionally-trained Ph.D.s dominate research. The recent discovery of a dark spot on Jupiter by astronomy enthusiast Anthony Wesley of North Canberra, Australia, is just the latest example.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Wesley spotted the new dark spot on Jupiter early Tuesday morning with his 14.5-inch reflecting telescope, a type of telescope commonly used by backyard observers because of the relatively low cost and high resolution. Wesley’s setup cost about $10,000, a bargain compared to the millions required for smaller professional telescope facilities.

14-inch reflecting telescope

Wesley reported his discovery of the dark spot, possibly the result of a comet striking the planet and leaving behind a dark impact crater, in an observation report that he posted online, according to the New York Times.

Professional astronomers at NASA facility followed up the report with the NASA telescope on Mauna Kea on the Big Island and found his assessment of an impact crater to be likely correct.

In an era where scientific discoveries are generally the domain of highly trained professionals, an important discovery by an amateur serves to remind us that science grew into what it is today because of good old-fashioned curiosity.