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Recent Inventions in Our Battle With Snow

As you no doubt heard, we had somewhere between 50 and 50 million inches of snow in Washington, D.C., this winter. All a person could do for much was sit around and look at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website for inventions that could make all this snow more bearable next year.

Something like underwear with built-in gloves

Two women from Ohio "“ which had its own share of snow trauma this year - were recently granted a patent for an undershirt with built-in mittens, to protect a person against frostbite by making sure there is no exposed skin in the wrist/hand area, and to protect the same person against losing another pair of gloves. You can hear a mother's lament in the patent application: "Gloves and mittens traditionally have the disadvantages of needing to be carried separately from the coat or jacket, and so frequently are lost." The application then describes other glove-securing devices "“ like strings and grommets "“ and why these devices need to be improved on. They are cumbersome, and "“ worse "“ they don't prevent skin from encountering winter. It is convincing (obviously, since the patent was granted). The one drawback: according to the patent application, the garment is really only meant for children. Luckily, I'm small. It's on sale here.

Battery powered heated eyewear

But wait, my face is still cold, even though my tiny child-like hands are now warm. Four words solve that problem: Battery powered heated eyewear. A man from Michigan was granted a patent for said heated eyewear in 2008. The patent application makes clear the versatility of this invention, establishing that "eyewear" may mean prescription or non-prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses, goggles, helmets, or "any other type of apparatus that may be worn by a wearer for any conceivable purpose such as for skiing, skydiving, hunting, paintball or other entertainment or interactive games, safety, combat, infrared or night-vision, driving or riding vehicles, welding or any other type of construction work, any type of laboratory work, police work, space travel, etc." Space travel? These glasses are not only practical, but exciting!

A motorized snowboard

Since civilian space travel surely won't happen while the airports are shut, it's best to think of staying warm while riding atop a motorized snowboard that functions like a motorized scooter, but it works on snow and it's obviously cooler. An Indiana man was granted the motorized snowboard patent in 2004 "“ and one fails to understand why motorized snowboards have not taken off. Where are the flying motorized snowboards we were promised?

Better shovels

Our needs are closer to the ground right now, though, and with the cars that need to be dug out we look for the most inventive of snow shovels. The patent office database has many promising snow-shovel related patents: this one is for a shovel with a flexible blade that is designed not to scratch cars; another is for a two-handled show shovel; a third has a rough surface and a "foot receiving recess member" that appears to be a place for your foot to go so you don't kick the blade and break the shovel. Which is very useful, considering that pile of broken shovels we've kicked into submission.

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9 Things You Should Keep in Mind Around Someone Observing Ramadan
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To mark the ninth (and most holy) month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims around the world observe Ramadan. Often compared to Lent in Christianity and Yom Kippur in Judaism, Ramadan is all about restraint. For one month, Muslims observing Ramadan fast during the day and then feast at night.

By abstaining from food and water (as well as sex, smoking, fighting, etc.) during daylight, Muslims strive to practice discipline, instill gratitude for what they have, and draw closer to Allah. To be respectful and not annoy observers, here are nine things you should never say or do to someone observing Ramadan.

1. DON'T JOKE ABOUT WEIGHT LOSS.

A traditional iftar meal.
A traditional iftar meal.
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Although it might be tempting to joke about Ramadan being a good excuse to lose weight, it is a time for spiritual reflection and is a serious matter. Observers undertake the challenge of fasting for religious and spiritual reasons rather than aesthetic ones. And, once the sun sets each night, many Muslims prepare a hearty iftar (the meal that breaks the fast) of dates, curries, rice dishes, and other delicious foods. The suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) is often fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and dishes that are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. So the idea of a cleanse is pretty far from their minds.

2. DON'T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.

An Indian Muslim student recites from the Quran in a classroom during the holy month of Ramadan.
NOAH SEELAM, AFP/Getty Images

There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, but not all of them observe Ramadan the same way. Although most observant Muslims fast for Ramadan, don't assume that every Muslim you meet has the same methods, traditions, and attitudes towards fasting. For some, Ramadan is more about prayer, reading the Qur'an, and performing acts of charity than merely about forgoing food and drink. And for those who may be exempted from the daily fasting, such as pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, or those with various health conditions, they might not appreciate the reminder from nosey busy-bodies that they aren't participating in the traditional way.

3. SAY "RAMADAN MUBARAK" INSTEAD OF "HAPPY RAMADAN."

A sign which reads
A sign which reads "Ramadan Kareem" in Arabic is seen pictured in front of the Burj Khalifa in downtown Dubai.
GIUSEPPE CACACE, AFP/Getty Images

Rather than wishing someone a happy Ramadan, being more thoughtful with your choice of words can show that you understand and respect the sanctity of their holy month. Saying "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" are the traditional ways to impart warm wishes—they both convey the generosity and blessings associated with the month. The actual party comes after Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, an up to three-day festival that involves plenty of food, time with family, and gifts.

4. DON'T BE A FOOD PUSHER.

Muslim woman saying no to an apple.
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Even if the idea of not eating or drinking all day might be unfathomable to you, don't push food onto anyone observing Ramadan. While fasting all day for a month can cause mild fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness, don't try to convince participating Muslims to eat or drink something—they are fully aware of any side effects they may feel throughout the day. Instead, be respectful of their decision to fast and offer to lend a hand with something like chores, errands, or anything unrelated to food.

5. ACCEPT THAT WATER ISN'T ON THE MENU.

Dates and a glass of water.
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Muslims who observe Ramadan don't sip any liquids during daytime. No water, coffee, tea, or juice. Zilch. Going without water is even harder than going without food, so be aware of the struggle and accept it. It's all part of the sacrifice and self-discipline inherent in Ramadan.

6. RESPECT PEOPLE'S PRIVACY.

Pregnant woman doing yoga.
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Some Muslims choose not to fast during Ramadan for medical or other personal reasons, and they may not appreciate being badgered with questions about why they may be eating or drinking rather than fasting. Children and the elderly generally don't fast all day, and people who are sick are exempt from fasting. Other conditions that preclude fasting during Ramadan are pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menstruation (although, if possible, people generally make up the days later).

7. BE MINDFUL OF ENERGY LEVELS.

Woman running on the beach.
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Eschewing food and drink for hours at a time can cause lethargy, so be aware that Muslims observing Ramadan may be more tired than usual. Your Muslim friends and coworkers don't stop working for an entire month, but they may tweak their schedules to allow for more rest. They may also stay indoors more (to prevent overheating) and avoid unnecessary physical activity to conserve energy. So, don't be offended if they aren't down for a pick-up game of basketball or soccer. We can't all be elite athletes.

8. DON'T OBSESS OVER FOOD AND HUNGER.

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One of the worst things you can do to someone on a new diet is to obsess over all the cheeseburgers, pizza, and cupcakes they can't have. Similarly, most Muslims observing Ramadan don't want to have in-depth conversations about all the food and beverages they're avoiding. So, be mindful that you don't become the constant reminder of how many hours are left until sundown—just as you shouldn't joke about weight loss, you shouldn't call attention to any hunger pangs.

9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO EAT YOUR OWN FOOD.

Coworkers discussing a project on couches.
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Although it's nice to avoid talking about food in front of a fasting Muslim, don't be afraid to eat your own food as you normally would. Seeing other people eating and drinking isn't offensive—Muslims believe that Ramadan is all about sacrifice and self-discipline, and they're aware that not everyone participates. However, perhaps try to avoid scheduling lunch meetings or afternoon barbecues with your Muslim colleagues and friends. Any of those can surely wait until after Ramadan ends.

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