Thursday, December 31, 2009

I feel ya, Snoopy


I actually accomplished something, just in the nick of time. Today I updated my DNS settings on GoDaddy so points here without I'm having a little trouble getting spasmsofaccomodation (sic) to forward to the correct spelling though. I was trying to accommodate bad spellers when I registered the URLs a year or so ago, but now that I'm actually using them I guess bad spellers will just have to wallow in their ignorance without the pleasure of reading my riveting prose. Thanks to hyperlinks there's little chance anybody ever has to type it anyway.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009, The Year Nothing Happened

I feel compelled to write a Top Ten list of 2009 stuff or some predictions for 2010. Everybody's doing it! Peer pressure, peer pressure, be your best friend....

The best thing about 2009 was that I made friends with David Farley on Facebook and now I have 10 years worth of Doctor Fun to read. Prediction -- there will be a lot of Doctor Fun in my blog in 2010.

But 2009 is not remarkable for what happened, it's remarkable for what didn't happen. It was an optimistic year for me, optimistic that I had the ability to wait patiently for things to turn around. I am possibly delusional. It remains to be seen.

Top 10 Things That Didn't Happen in 2009
1. I didn't get a job
2. I didn't get a date
3. I didn't get a mammogram
4. I didn't go to the dentist
5. I didn't go to the eye doctor
6. I didn't buy an iPhone
7. I didn't get the flu
8. I didn't get a sunburn
9. I didn't go to any funerals or weddings
10. I wasn't published in any magazines

Number Three turned out to be prophetic. Back in February I refused to get a mammogram since I just had one last year. The idea you go from no mammograms to one every single year at a certain age just seemed stupid to me, especially without insurance. I got a false positive the first year I had one. I'm already skeptical of the things. So I'm gonna do multiple visits again with no insurance to pay for it? I was worried enough when my first mammogram required a follow up visit. That was just because of the disconcerting notion of having a cancerous tumor in my body. But I had insurance so it didn't even cost me anything. Spending all my savings and having no money to pay for DSL would REALLY be upsetting. And what if I ended up with a diagnosis that turns into being refused insurance coverage later for a pre-existing condition? Screw that.

In November the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force came out with new recommendations that basically said officially what I decided for myself earlier in the year. No more yearly mammograms necessary. Unfortunately your doctor can still do whatever she wants, and if she won't write you a prescription unless you get a mammogram, then too bad. Chances are better now that I could find another doctor that agrees with the new guidelines though, now that they're published and there is a basis for the discussion.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

Jay Shafer's house makes mine look like a freaking MANSION. I saw another longer video tour where he mentions the price to build this house. $17,000 in materials and 500 hours to build it. His is 8' x 12'. That comes to $177/sq ft.

My house is 12'x18', over twice as big. I haven't calculated my material costs but it had to be less than $24,000 because that's all I got paid the year I built it. My cost included a septic tank and new well pump and a lot of other comforts like a full size Subzero refrigerator, 13 SEER mini split air conditioner, and a radiant heat tiled bathroom floor. My cost comes to more like $111/sq ft. I kept all the receipts and stuff. I should really do a cost roll up and figure what it would cost to build one of these without all the stuff I already had. Just guessing I'd say over $200/sq ft.

It also took me over twice as long to build my house as Jay Shafer. Twice as big, stands to reason. I started in February of 2005 and started living here in November. I only worked on it weekends, 8 months x 4 weekends/month x 16 hours/weekend, that's 500 hours right there. But it was far from done when I moved in. There was Tyvek house wrap over the window openings so it looked like a Japanese tea room when it was lit up inside at night. I put in the windows while I lived here, and did the siding, interior walls, ceilings, loft, fixtures and everything on weekends. I would move all my stuff out into the yard on Saturday morning and back in Sunday night.

But for my effort I got a king size loft that's open on two sides down to the living room. I can't see how Jay Shafer got his mattress into his loft. It was one of the few things I had to have help with. But to get to my loft I have a switchback stair arrangement with a ship's ladder that is FAR superior to what Jay has going on. His loft makes me anxious just looking at it. I made mine have an egress window by the head of the bed in case something goes wrong with the front door --like it's on fire or under water or guarded by zombies. I just like to be prepared.

And unlike Jay I vacuum my house a lot. I built a special closet for my Electrolux vacuum cleaner with its ironic 75 foot power cord. And I find it gets EXTREMELY dusty. I blame toilet paper. The amount of lint made airborne from unrolling toilet paper set loose in such a small volume of air constitutes a fairly high concentration of dust that's going to settle out on everything.

Seeing this video sort of motivates me to brag on my house more. I should make a basswood model of the framing to illustrate how to build one. Problem is, I don't have room to do a project like that in here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Justin Fink confirms what I've been saying all along

Prediction 2010: Granite Countertops Are So Last Decade - Fine Homebuilding

When I say this article speaks to me, I mean it calls me out BY NAME!

"Oh Barbara, you've GOT to get granite countertops for your kitchen...." Justin writes, illustrating how granite was a peer-pressure induced trend perpetrated on people who don't know any better. Hopefully a trend drawing to a close.

I've been anti-granite this whole time. When high end kitchens started using it, that was one thing. People don't USE high end kitchens. It's just for looks. I predicted it would become a prestigious thing, which smacks of new money (or worse, high limit credit) and no taste. This is my main objection to it. I had a good friend replace the perfectly good dark gray formica counters in his 3 yr old house with granite against my VEHEMENT objections. I hate to insult him all over again, but I already told him this right to his face a year ago.... His kitchen has laminate FLOORS! To add granite countertops to that is just trashy. It's like women going in Walmart wearing $4 flip flops carrying a giant handbag with designer logos printed all over it.

Now after I explained my objections to my friend and he wanted granite anyway I agreed to be nice and help him choose the slabs he would use. He got a good price on the materials and was doing the work himself so the expense wasn't really a big issue. I based my color recommendation on his cats, figuring if cat hair is going to get on the counter it might as well blend. I even helped him pick out paint for the kitchen to match the new counters and painted it for him. He gave me all the old counters and sinks from the kitchen and two bathrooms since I have a big shed. I didn't store it very long before I had an aunt that needed a new kitchen counter and sink and she took that part. Then another friend was attempting to convert shipping containers into camp lodgings, so I gave him a bathroom counter and sink. I still have more if anybody wants it! I can't actually use it myself because I'm sensitive to the particleboard backing.

I have solid surface counter in my kitchen around the sink, and some pine counters made from trees I played under as a child. I bought the Corian for $40 from a surplus and salvage place that was covered up with the stuff when everybody started switching to granite.

What will the granite be used for when everybody decides it's passé? It might be useful as thermally massive floors next to a south facing window. I might keep that in mind and start stockpiling dark color granite for my next building project.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Oh, Avatar, where did you go wrong?

I went to see Avatar last night. I heard so many great things about it I had high hopes. My brother did warn me that if it weren't so real and beautiful it would be dorky. Well unfortunately I got hung up on the dorky bits before they even got into the beautiful parts. First of all I was griped by the casual use of the respirators and the needless insertion of one character smoking. I hated it in Battlestar Galactica and I still hate it. How likely is it that 148 years in the future, 5 light years out in space they will still be bothering with TOBACCO PRODUCTS? And why would the BOTANIST be a smoker and not the soldier types? Is she really there to sample the exotic plants of this new world to see if any of them are good rolled up and set on fire?

Then they had to go and refer to this valuable mineral resource as "unobtainium." Now after the movie I discussed this with three other people who weren't engineers and they had never heard that word before so it didn't bother them. Well those of us who have had the misfortune to have to design a product for somebody with unrealistic expectations, we know all about unobtainium. To use the word the way they did is just ignorant of the context and proper use. Since it's a word only used in situations dripping with sarcasm it is simply no good to use that word in normal conversation that isn't a direct insult to somebody.

I was thrown off by the avatars that came through the space trip in the cylinders of blue juice with their hair already in a braid. Who swam in there and braided it? Or is it supposed to just grow that way? And when I saw that there is a central strand of communicative material in this three part braid I got even more irked because you can't make a braid like that with something running down the middle unless you make the braid and then jab the other part through it threaded on a needle. Have none of the people that worked on this movie ever braided hair or done macrame or put connectors on coax? I would believe that it just grows like that if all of them had that same hair do, but they had all kinds of different looks going on. They clearly had to do their own braids. Having those as three strand is just a fail. It wouldn't work. If I had a network cable growing out of my head I would definitely use a braided strain relief of hair, but it would be more like a 12 part basketweave braid like coax cable. And if I lived on Pandora there would probably be some specialized forest creature that could do that for me, too.

And finally I have to shake my head at the Papyrus font subtitles. It just caught my attention because it is an overused font and subtitles aren't supposed to grab your attention at all. It was just a bad choice in my opinion. And I am not alone in this. I Googled it and it is all over the blogosphere and twitter already.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Seen on a truck bumper on the way to town yesterday:


I'm gonna go ahead and come out against haterphernalia. Now this message isn't as bad as some I've seen, but something about it irks me. I don't happen to object to logging altogether, although I do seriously dislike planted pines for pulpwood. I feel like the issue is too complex to sum up on a bumper sticker. I suppose it bothers me because it seems confrontational and negative. I don't like it. We have enough problems with bad drivers causing road rage, we don't need people getting pissed off at the car in front of them just for their bumper sticker.

I get that people have different beliefs from me, but at least I try to be polite about it. I will bow my head and wait when people say grace. (But in my head I'm replaying that scene from Firefly where the shepherd asks, "Would you mind if I say grace?" and the Captain says, "Only if you say it out loud.") But that's when they've invited me to dinner in their house. The road is public, governed by traffic laws that depend on people treating each car with the respect it deserves as a potentially deadly weapon. If you stick something on there that basically says, "I hate you," that's a pretty serious threat. I went kayaking with a friend who decided to peel his Obama "Yes We Did" sticker off his car when he parked at a State Park with big trucks sporting a lot of conservative haterphernalia.

Now I'm pretty sure haterphernalia constitutes free speech, so I'm certainly not saying negative bumper stickers should be banned. I just think if we aren't supposed to be reading messages on our cell phones while we drive we shouldn't be peppered with other emotionally involving messages either.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Ideal Vehicle

xkcd 677

There just isn't one perfect vehicle these days. You do need a hybrid for driving around Suburbia. You need an SUV for when you need to haul a trailer and a lot of people. And many a day have I thought, "If I just had an excavator...."

I went through a lot of cars when I first started driving. I started out buying Acura Integras, starting with the base model and working my way up to power windows and door locks and cruise control. At the time used Integras were scarce and the market was good so I made money changing up. Then I switched to the Acura Legend for a job with a car allowance and a requirement to take people to lunch. That spoiled me for a great ride. But it took premium gas and got only 22 mpg. I finally got a Honda Accord Wagon in 1996 because I wanted to get my uncle to build a boat to fit on the roof. It got 26 to 28 mpg then, and still does over 13 years later. It has a ride comparable to the Legend and reliability and affordable parts that have made me very happy with my choice. It wasn't a particularly cheap car at the time. Cost more than Accords now. But it was worth every penny of it. My car is comfortable on a long trip and will carry my boats and lumber very well.

It's actually pretty bad at carrying people though, but I hardly ever do that so it doesn't matter to me. I expect that's why this wagon was discontinued here. EVERYBODY wants to TAKE PEOPLE somewhere. Long legged, big headed people apparently. They still sell the Accord wagon in Europe, where I suppose petite people are more accustomed to folding themselves into the back seat instead of setting up a whole office cubicle's worth of gear around them to go anywhere.

Why don't people LOOK OUT THE WINDOW when they go on a trip? I can't imagine having a DVD player in the car. I like to see the scenery. It's like kids today have no appreciation for the places between destinations. Maybe they wouldn't be so self-centered if they understood the vastness and variability of our country.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Answer Me These Questions Three!

I didn't get to write a blog entry yesterday because I was busy filling out an online job application. Not the one that expresses interest in a job, I already filled that one out, plus talked to the recruiter and sent a real properly formatted resume. This was the one asking for addresses and phone numbers of all my universities and employers and three references. The one giving them permission to investigate my credit report and mode of life.

It's worse than crossing the damn bridge of death!

Bridgekeeper: WHAT is your NAME?

Me: Barbara, Princess of the Pinecones!

Bridgekeeper: WHO is your favorite REFERENCE?

Me: Doctor Patronis!

Bridgekeeper: WHAT is your expected SALARY?!

Me: $50,000! No! $65,000! AAAAAAAAaaaaaaa!

Then I respawned and tried again.

Bridgekeeper: WHAT is your NAME?

Me: Barbara the Brave!

Bridgekeeper: WHAT is your undergraduate UNIVERSITY? (Pick from this pull down list)

Me: What do you mean? Georgia Institute of Technology (GAINST) or Georgia Tech (GATECH)?

Bridgekeeper: What? It says that?! Those are the same school! AAAAAAAAaaaaaaa!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Car mice and pine trees

I have longleaf pine seedlings popping up all over my yard. Some grow in places where they really don't belong, like this one between the bricks of my patio. These trees throw off way more seeds than they need to for proper forest maintenance though, so I'm not that worried about a few not making it.

The woods is just teaming with life. It doesn't care if I'm here or not. In fact a lot of plants and animals prefer my house to their usual haunts. And my car. I am frustrated beyond belief by mice in my car. I found four live baby mice in my car last week and saw the mama get away under my seat. Today I found two dead baby mice in a nest on top of my lug wrench in the spare tire well. A nest of what looked like stuffing pulled out of my back seat. STOP TEARING UP MY STUFF!

The trap door style mouse trap I set had been pushed up against the carpeted side so the door wouldn't close and the mouse went in there and ate ALL the peanut butter. Son of a BITCH! I set four freshly baited traps in there tonight. Mice better watch out. I'll "set them free" alright, you're darn tootin'.

Meanwhile in the engine compartment of the car mice are saving up the same seeds that are sprouting up all over my yard. MY INTAKE MANIFOLD IS NOT YOUR PANTRY! Goddamn little fuckers!

Now I don't have my wifi password protected so theoretically the mice in my car have free broadband access so they can read this warning. But I don't leave my laptop in the car, plus just because these mice are old enough to breed doesn't mean they're old enough to read. So I think it's up to us humans to make our machinery less appealing to the mice.

I challenge any car maker to design a car with mouse countermeasures. My friends at Enginuity Works have explicit instructions to design lottery ticket dispensing machines so that mice can't get inside them. Surely this is a worthy goal for a car maker as well.

So let's make it happen Honda!
Mouseproof it true, Subaru!
Make a new plan for the sedan.
Keep it mouse-free in the SUV.
I'll be braggin' on my wagon
when when there's no poop on the upholstery.

Monday, December 14, 2009


When I built my little house my friend Chris suggested I get a hand vacuum to suck spiders off the ceiling. (In my loft bed the ceiling is well within arms reach.) We happened to be at the Black and Decker outlet soon after his suggestion. When I saw this product I had to get it immediately. I thought it was hysterical! What was it supposed to be?! I asked Chris and the lady at the store and they both gave me the strangest look. "A cow of course!"

But cows only have 4 teats! They just shrugged like it didn't matter. Based on my analysis of the model number, CHVCOW, I must admit it is indeed meant to be a cow. It is mind-boggling to me that nobody on the design team at Black and Decker or the Chinese factory knew that cows only had four teats. Some big city designer created this in ProEngineer and printed out a rendering, showed it to some higher-ups in a meeting and they all said "Cute as a button! Ship it!" He put the files on the FTP site so the guy in China could download it. They make all these separate parts, two in pink plastic and some in white. They are innocuous looking separately. In my mind I see a new assembly worker with his first factory job off the farm where he grew up. He's snapping the pink nose on this thing going, "What the HELL am I making?" He asks the guy next to him and he shrugs, "It's for America." And the new guy is wondering, "Do cows in America have 6 teats? They have really taken consumerism to the next level!"

Yes, consumerism and ignorance about teats. Why isn't there some handy online reference to show how many teats different animals have? I tried to look up some good information today and it is hard to come by. My aunt wrote a story where the exterminator claimed pack rats and elephants are the only animals with two teats besides humans, but I confirmed that is indeed wrong. Elephants do have two, up by their front legs, same as manatees. But our local pack rats have four. This one reference article I found with a teat table says rats have 12. It's either wrong, or it is some other species than Neotoma floridana. Their litter size is typically 2, which clamp onto the teat and the mother mouse drags the babies around with her while she forages. That's probably why Red the Rat Man thought pack rats had two teats. The others probably become involuted when unsuckled.

Males and females of all mammal species have teats with two exceptions. Male horses and male rats don't have any nipples. Yes, boy dogs have nipples! There seems to be a lot of confusion about this on the internet! Boar hogs have teats! Yes, they are indeed useless as the euphemism goes, but there they are just the same.

Cows have four teats with one mammary gland each. Apparently they can have supernumerary teats that are removed very young for milk cows. Horses have two teats with two mammary glands each. Goats and Sheep have two teats with one mammary gland each. Cats and dogs usually have eight teats, but sometimes they can have more. Pigs are the teat prize winners with usually 12 teats and 24 mammary glands. But however many an individual animal has, they always have THE SAME NUMBER FROM BIRTH TO DEATH! I found this Q&A on a dog fanciers site where the respondents really showed no patience with a person who wondered why her dog had six teats this time she was pregnant and eight the last time. They told her to look harder. And they told her she was too ignorant to be breeding dogs. Please stop. It's kind of comforting that good dog breeders know about teats.

Apparently people just don't like to talk about teats. How old are kids when they become embarrassed by nipples? They are usually so fascinated by all the facets of animal life. Maybe the key is to teach teats in first grade before they become taboo. Maybe start off easy with the monotremes. Duck billed platypusses feed their babies by excreting milk through pores in their skin and the babies just lick it off the mama's fur. Very discrete.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Daily Show Guest Chair

Why don't the wheel's work on the guest's chair on the Daily Show? Jon Stewart's chair rolls just fine. But every day somebody comes on the show, pull out the chair, sits down and tries to move closer to the desk and the chair just tips forward. Some of them just move farther forward in the chair, leaving about a foot of empty chair behind them. I'm waiting for the day when some engineer comes on that show and they sit down, the wheels don't work, and they get up out of the chair, flip it over on the desk and look at the wheels and say "Oh, there's a cap to a ballpoint pen stuck in here." And they'll whip out a pocketknife and pry out the piece of plastic, flip the chair over, sit down and roll right up to the desk.

Meanwhile it makes me wonder how many people notice this besides me. Apparently not any of the guests or they'd be asking to practice with that chair ahead of time.


I was corrected about yesterday's post about dry air in Norway. I pulled up the weather report for yesterday in Tromso, the farthest North city that has information on It's a lot warmer than I thought it would be! Just barely below freezing! And the weather forecast was for rain.

But a lot of the mechanisms that form fog just go away when the sun never hits the ground. The temperature layer differences are just harder to achieve without some direct solar radiation. I still think my instinct was correct that fog would be unlikely in Northern Norway this time of year.

Tip of the Day: How to make the degree symbol -- Option-Shift-8 or think of it as Option *

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Spinning Out of Control

People in the dark part of Norway got to see something pretty cool this morning. According to this article by CNN there was a strange light in the sky. A blue shaft of light followed by a spiral. I believe the assertion that it was a failed Russian intercontinental ballistic missile. The blue was the exhaust released from the second stage rocket illuminated by the sun, specifically aluminum oxide particles, aka sapphires. The sky was very clear and cold this morning so the sunlight on the very high gases would be easy to see. It's easy for me to visualize the spiral pattern as the third stage rocket going off with some dire issue that causes it to spin rather than go straight, spewing out smoke and gases that would be illuminated by the sun. I would think making a rocket go straight would be very hard, while getting one to spin would be the default.

So I am confused by the comments at the bottom of the New Scientist story about this event. It's like they think the light was the ACTUAL rocket. Light doesn't PERSIST. And they think somebody should have heard a bang? It's an INTERCONTINENTAL missile. It's likely ABOVE the atmosphere. One guy said it could have been a projector shining on fog. It was seen from a HUGE area! It's VERY HIGH! Plus there is no FOG in Northern Norway in the middle of the winter.

I'm not sure if this is the worst or the best -- one guy actually hoped what they saw was a black hole forming. For real, dude? You have no fucking idea what a black hole is, do you? I just don't even know what to say to that. What possible star could collapse into a black hole such that only people would see it in Norway? Do you really think you'd have time to comment on a news article if people could see a black hole form with their naked eye? I think the disruption to our electromagnetic equipment would be pretty serious and quick.

I've never read anything from the New Scientist before but the people commenting on their stuff are REALLY IGNORANT and not afraid to show it off. I suppose the smart people just read the article and go "Yup. That sounds right," and they go on with their day. Or if they have too much free time like me, they go on a rant about it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

If You Got Paid, Then It's Art


I've created some works of art. Several of them even took around an hour to create. I know they were art because they hang on the wall or sit on a table and I got paid for them. I created my art specifically for a space I was hired to decorate. It was intended to appeal specifically to the taste of the occupants. Perhaps the artistic value doesn't carry over to society as a whole, but so what? I know it's art cause I got paid.

I went out for a sandwich with a friend of mine last weekend to a place that's trying so hard to be hip they had framed art all over the place like a gallery. We were discussing the possibility that the acrylic lion was paint by number and the bluebird might be a photograph with some paint embellishment. My friend then revealed that her favorite art was something she saw in Key West. There was a man on the sidewalk spray painting rectangles of hardboard. He would put on several layers then use this spatula to expose the bottom layers. She thought it was fascinating. She said he sold them for $20 and he did them in 30 minutes. You could watch the whole thing then buy it. She thought that was a real work of art.

I happen to not care for the results of that technique myself. I wouldn't hang one of those pictures in my shed. But the fact is the man is making $40 an hour and selling those pictures to people that love the idea that they were able to witness a moment of creativity. I bet if there was a Kia assembly plant next to a daiquiri bar where tourists could watch the robot welders make a shit box car out of pot metal with chrome plating done with spray adhesive and gum wrappers they would buy it before the workers even had a chance to put that release film on the hood and trunk to protect it during shipping.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Blueberry Industrial Complex

I bought a pint of blueberries yesterday for $2.99. When I saw the blueberry display in the grocery store I thought, "Gosh! It's December! How can they afford to ship blueberries from South America and sell them for $2.99? When they went out of season here the local blueberries were up to $5.99 a pint!" I picked them up and read that they were from Argentina. Well, I don't have anything against Argentina. Their farmers deserve to make a living too. Clearly they aren't getting paid what Florida and Michigan blueberry farmers are getting. Poor things. And blueberries can be easily be grown in an environmentally friendly way. Maybe I should encourage these efficient Argentinians. So I bought the blueberries.

This morning I ate some of the blueberries from Argentina on my cereal from Minnesota with Almond Milk from California. They were good blueberries. As much as I'd like to support the slow food movement, the fact is I'm just one of the 97% of Americans who aren't in their target income level. I don't have the luxury of making food choices based on all factors except price. For the average American food accounts for 10% of their income. I spend 25% of my income on food. And I don't buy anything unless it's on sale. I'm a very careful shopper.

So for now the only thing I can do for the slow food movement is avoid fast food and junk food in general. I always buy whole foods when they are the least expensive choice. Fresh ears of corn were 5 for $1. I got some of those too, even though I couldn't tell where they came from. Clearly South America. But corn on the cob one of the few whole foods that comes in a unit that is convenient for a single person.

There are so many costs associated with food it's going to be really had to make any real changes. The parts I control are being able to spend as little as possible up front and then not wasting energy cooking it. Sure it took a lot of energy to bring those fresh blueberries from Argentina, but apparently it was balanced by the extremely low price the grower got for them originally. But if they didn't ship them away what would they do with them? Building a big plant to freeze them there would be worse for the environment than the jet fuel to fly them to the food distributor in America. And if I stocked up on local blueberries It would take energy for me to freeze them and save them for a year, too. Not to mention the cost of building a house big enough to hold a large freezer.

I've read that how you cook food isn't as important to your overall energy costs as other factors like heating and air conditioning. But if the cooking method directly affects the comfort level of your house then I say it matters. My house is so tiny I try not to cook in here because it puts too much moisture into the air. If I use the microwave it keeps excess heat and moisture inside itself and the water condenses on the surfaces instead of going into the air. So I say hurrah microwave. My corn on the cob will be cooked in the microwave in 3 minutes. Quick calculation: Power = Volts times Amps (P=VI) V = 115 volts, let's guess I = 10 amps. P = 1150 VA, so we'll assume a resistive load and call it 1.15 kilowatts. 3 minutes is 1/20th of an hour. I pay about $0.13 per kilowatt hour for electricity. So cooking my corn costs less than $0.03. Probably less than it costs to hold other food in the freezer until I eat it. If I was to boil water to cook the corn that would be wasteful, even though my induction hotplate converts 80% of electric energy to cooking heat versus 55% for the microwave. But I would be using electricity to pump the water out of my well and heating all that extra water that I'm just going to throw away. Plus I would probably put the hot plate on the front porch to keep the steam out of the house and I'd open the front door at least 3 times to tend to the pot, and each time I'd be losing heated or cooled air.

But frankly the highest cost for cooking in my mind is the actual appliance. Nobody EVER talks about that. My microwave was a hand-me-down and cost nothing, but my hotplate cost over $100. I've had it about 3 years. I might use it 3 times a week. That means my cost per item cooked for that hotplate is still almost $0.20. And if I count the $75 cast iron pots I got to cook with that makes the cost at least $0.25 per meal. I've spent less than $25 on dishes for cooking in the microwave.

I suppose people don't think of their kitchen appliances as part of their food budget any more than they think of the car they use to go buy groceries. A horribly inefficient Viking range that requires an extra ton of air conditioning to keep the house cool whenever you turn it on and an overweight vehicle that gets 16 mpg are status symbols, not methods to save money. People who can afford those luxuries could be personally subsidizing a local farmer to grow food just for them. Unfortunately I don't think elevating food to a status symbol is the way to save the environment from the Blueberry Industrial Complex.

There has to be some real lifestyle changes to change how people interact with their food. Could local farmers deliver food around a neighborhood and save the trouble of storing it until time to sell it at the Saturday green market? What ever happened to the milk-man? Did people cease to be at home every morning reliably? Perhaps I should invent a climate-controlled lock box for deliveries that could be installed at people's front doors. The trash company provides their own trolleys to collect garbage. Why not have a delivery company have their own containers for dropping stuff off? In fact, if they simply redesigned the garbage trucks they could drop off your locally grown food and pick up garbage in the same trip.

Too bad they would probably just be emptying the exact same unit untouched a week later.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Gross food

Why do some people find certain foods gross just because some of the ingredients aren't common standalone foods? I'm talking about haggis and scrapple. These are foods created by people who were economizing. They both involved boiling up unused part of an animal, grinding up that protein and mixing it with a binding agent and extender and adding seasonings. Haggis is a sheep's heart, lungs and liver mixed up with oatmeal. Scrapple is a pig's brains, ears, nose and meat off the skull mixed up with cornmeal. The ingredients are cooked several times and ground into an innocent looking product. Now I've never tried haggis, but I have had scrapple. It is prepared for eating by thinly slicing the chilled meatloaf and frying each slice so it gets a crispy crust, but it has a hard-to-describe gooey consistency in the middle. If somebody dislikes the texture I will allow that. But just rejecting it out of hand because it uses odd parts seems prejudicial for no reason. Did they not read Little House in the Big Woods? Laura Ingalls was excited to get to eat the pig's tail. Why has our culture made the delicacies of farm life unpopular?

Apparently these gross foods have been controversial for a long time, since 1872 according to this article in the New York Times. They included scanned versions of the entries in the paper, including raves like this one.

"It is a Pennsylvania dish, originating among the Germans, and is to be met with in Philadelphia in private families, but not in the hotels or restaurants. The best scrapple is made by the farmers, who bring it to the Philadelphia market two days of each week. Some people may object to scrapple because it contains pork, and yet they fill their stomachs with unwholesome dishes fried in hog's lard, which is the worst form of the 'unclean animal.' The use of lard in cooking is an American peculiarity, and is doing much injury to our American stomachs, causing more dyspepsia than will ever be cured by the nostrums of the quacks, or the drugs of the physicians. Give me scrapple every morning for breakfast, in the season of it, and I care not who may have the stead, and chop, and sausage." -- PHYSICIAN

And one dissenter who suggests oatmeal instead of that "abominable mixture scrapple, and there is no danger of an attack of trichina after having partaken of it." BLUE BONNET (Maybe they didn't know yet that cooking kills trichinosis parasites?)

Another guy disparages all people who eat scrapple as being posers who buy fancy clothes instead of good food. "I fear 'scrapple' is the device of someone of that numerous class... who believe that a well-filled table is an extravagance, and deny themselves not only all luxuries, but necessities, in order to put the equivalent on their backs." A GOOD LIVER

Finally another writer speaks up for scrapple and has cruel words for the previous remark. "I felt sure that something was lacking in that good lady's recipe, so wrote at once to my native state to ascertain. If she will at the liver, she will find the dish immeasurably improved. I don't mean 'Good Liver,' though he ought to be boiled and chopped up for giving his opinion so confidently on what he knows nothing about." H.G.

See, this is why I hesitated to start a blog! People are so mean! It's a tradition going as far back as 1872 apparently! Lots of people have ridiculous opinions, but nobody deserves to be boiled and chopped up! I give you all the right to not not eat scrapple, but please don't flame me!

For reference, the recipe for haggis. You'll notice there is a mistake in there that I corrected with a comment. I hate things that are wrong on the internet!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Get a Grip on Physics

There's a story in the news about Tiger Woods that has something to do with him running his Cadillac Escalade into a tree and his wife being mad and a golf club. I only know what I've heard from stories making fun of it for being a story. But today something actually interesting came out of this story. The Wall Street Journal published a photo of the wrecked car and you could see a book in the back seat. And immediately after the photo came out sales of that book spiked on Amazon. (story)

Now if it was just a Tom Clancy novel it wouldn't be interesting to me. But it was Get a Grip on Physics, a book by John Gribbon about modern Physics, the relativistic stuff that is not only hard to understand but largely useless in daily life, like time dilation and length contraction at speeds approaching the speed of light. Why would the kind of people who are interested in a story about Tiger Woods personal life also be interested in relativistic physics? They should really be reading about Newtonian Physics, like how an object in motion tends to stay in motion until acted upon by a tree.

I've read John Gribbon's more popular book In Search of Schrödinger's Cat. I read it when I was taking Quantum Physics in college. My professor only worked out the equations on the board for us and didn't attempt to explain what any of it meant. Any equation that starts with a capital sigma or capital pi is trouble for me. It means you have to sum up or multiply all the stuff that comes after it over a range of values plugged in wherever that little i shows up. I can't possibly visualize where that is going. This including constants with units that establish the relationship between the energy of a photon and the electromagnetic frequency, and then there's the actual energies and angular frequencies and all the 2pi you need to make it come out in Hertz..... I was in a pit of despair already, so reading the extra book intended for an audience of wannabes like myself was my attempt to simply understand the physicists who understand the math, since the math itself was not doing it for me.

All I got out of those equations was a strong memory of how they sounded pronounced with a heavy Austrian accent. Picture Arnold Swarzenegger reading out equations with A and a subscript greek letter psi and the Dirac constant that's Planck's constant h with a line through it. It came out "Ape sigh" and "h stroke."

The other thing I can remember about Quantum Physics is a bit of graffiti in the girl's bathroom in the physics building that said, "Heisenberg was somewhere near here. What time?"

So if Get a Grip on Physics is as thorough as In Search of Schrödinger's Cat then I think most of the people who bought it will not get much out of it. Perhaps it is merely a prop, something to brandish at Starbucks so somebody might come up and ask you what you think of Tiger Woods having a sidechick. If I see anybody with that book I'm pretty sure I'll have to go up and say "Your energy called. It wants your mass back at the speed of light squared."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bicycles are Transportation

In Los Angeles a man was convicted of six felonies, including assault with a deadly weapon, for passing two bicyclists, cutting them off, and slamming on his brakes. On cyclist flew threw the back window of the car, severing his nose and knocking out his teeth. The other cyclist who swerved into the oncoming traffic lane separated his shoulder. Other bicyclists testified against this driver saying he had repeatedly committed acts of violence and shouted at them that he was going to "teach them a lesson." This dirtbag was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In Asheville a man got off with 120 days for a similar act of rage against a bicyclist. His deadly weapon wasn't a car, however, it was a .38 caliber pistol. He was angry with a man for riding with his child on a seat on the back of his bike and his wife on another bike on a busy street. So angry he got out his gun and SHOT THE MAN IN THE HEAD! Fortunately he misjudged the size of the man's melon and the bullet only damaged his helmet and the shockwave from the close range shot damaged his eardrum. (A .38 is a seriously loud weapon. I fired mine once without hearing protection and my ears rang for quite some time, and I was behind it. ) In this case the defense arranged testimony from friends of the shooter to say he was a good guy really, he was just having a bad day. The judge agreed.

I have been trying to figure out what the HELL is going on out there. One of my friends who rides his bike in Atlanta told me that during an in-town bicycle race a woman rolled down her window and hollered at him "I HOPE YOU DIE!" What the FUCK?! He didn't cut her off or anything. He was going through a green light and she was stopped on the other street on red. Another time a guy in a truck swerved in front of him and forced him to slam on brakes and swerve and nearly crash. His first reaction was to take his U-lock and hammer-throw it through the back window of the truck. I suppose a rush of adrenaline causes this reaction in drivers and cyclists. He didn't do it of course, but just imagining it helped him calm down. Maybe there should be a simulator for helping people learn to cope with surges of adrenaline from close calls. A miss is as good as a mile. Just breathe.

I figured out another aspect of this issue when I heard this quote from Mary Norwood, one of the candidates for Mayor of Atlanta. When asked if she rides a bike she answered, "I don't. I don't do exercise." EXERCISE!? Mary, Mary, Mary. You poor thing. That must be it. Motorists think bicyclists are out for recreation and are flaunting their free time while these busy motorists are in a hurry to get somewhere.

Well that is BULLSHIT! Bicyclists are probably GOING somewhere too! I know a lot of people in Atlanta that ride their bike to the MARTA station and then on to their office. They ride to meet friends out for dinner, to volunteer to plant trees, and yes, to join a bike polo game for recreation. If motorists are going to assume that all bicyclists are just getting exercise and they should just go to the gym and get out of the way then they are fucktards who shouldn't be allowed to take their car anywhere but to their job and back home. If the road is strictly for business then there is a lot of incessant errand-running traffic that needs to stop.

I see cyclists when I go to town -- roadies down in the drops gliding down the highway between Georgia and Florida. They have never enraged me even a little bit. I kind of worry about them riding on the shoulder actually and wish they would move out into the lane a little bit. They're zooming along right where all the dead animals collect. An impact with a roadkill alligator could wreck them and good. I already carry a bike pump in my car and sometimes think of turning around when I see an intrepid cyclist in the high bahia grass working on his wheel. I wonder if I could make a splint out of the camera unipod and nylon rope I carry in my car? I bet I could, so I think I'll leave that stuff in there just in case.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


xkcd 670

Actually PROPER volume knobs have units of -dB. My Yamaha goes from 0 to infinity with regularly marked intervals but they are labeled like this, from quietest to loudest.

infinity 70 60 50 40 34 28 24 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 3 0

The feedback circuit on the amp includes the potentiometer behind the volume knob. Maximum signal gain is achieved with the pot cranked all the way clockwise. As you turn it counterclockwise the feedback circuit changes the transfer function of the amplifier and the amplitude of the output goes down. So labeling it as a decrease from maximum makes good sense to me. There is actually energy burned off in that resistor that could be coming out of your speakers.

But apparently normal people don't think of it like that. They think of it like a speedometer I suppose. They think when they turn that knob clockwise they are giving it some gas. In that case I think it is a great opportunity for a smart engineer to change the silkscreen on that front panel and charge extra! Vive la ignorance!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Friends and Family


I admire Wiley for giving an honest and simple answer to this ridiculous question. People who say Family and Friends are what's most important in life just piss me off. That's similar to one of the questions on okcupid -- "The six things in life I could never do without." If somebody puts "family, friends" in that spot it makes me think less of them. It's a chance to say something about YOURSELF. Why would you put something that we can all CLEARLY do without? I like a person who would be useful stranded on an uncharted island. If they are so devoid of self-sufficiency that they can't do without friends and family then I'm not sure I want to know them. Actually, I'm willing to accept those things as a high priority, but they could still put a more intriguing answer there. Something to spark conversation and reveal something about themself. Some of my friends I met on okcupid put these answers:

pocket knife, some kind of musical instrument, a sense of humor, wikipedia, a steering wheel, movies, shorts, anticipation, good conversation, an edge of discontent, something to think about, something to learn, the flexibility to change this answer at any time

Harry says Rant

On Thanksgiving day my brother Harry told me I should start a blog for my rants. What is he trying to say about me? Are my email messages filled with vitriol? He thinks I'm somehow more emotionally invested in my opinions that other people? And for some reason he thinks people GIVE A SHIT? I can't see how that's possible. Nobody cares about my opinions. People only care about people whose opinions are exactly the same as theirs. It's possible he just thinks it's funny. I have odd little opinions that I take way too seriously and it's a joke to everybody else. Well fine. Let's see how it goes.