Monday, December 24, 2007

Keeping Watch


Watercolor by Loyd Fannin
I NEVER STAYED AWAKE long enough
to view whatever really happened there
in the quietest hour of night,
but I was close to it ...


I knew, in the silence itself --
breathing in, breathing out, keeping watch,
keeping vigil for the Coming.


-- Wendy M. Wright - The Vigil

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Starbucks Saved His Life

Sitting here on this quiet gray Sunday morning with rain drops on the window, listening to the heater gently hum as I enjoy a cup of coffee, thinking how calm my life is these days. I can be slightly perturbed, but things don't upset me like they used to - at least not this week.

I can't even get myself worked up over the fact Comcast decided to delete Cspan-2 from the local cable lineup. I still get lots of shopping channels though - so I can see someone with a countryboy/girl accent tell me I need to call in quick to get a good, no great, make that a once-in-a-lifetime, deal on loose gemstones, a giant collection of low quality pocket knives, or a fantasy sword with a dragon embossed on it.


______________________________



I saw a man, interviewed on the CBS television show Sunday Morning, who at 53 was fired from his advertising job at a firm in New York City. He ended up losing his job, his big house, his wife and his health. Now he works as barista at Starbucks, has his health, lives in an attic apartment - and has never been happier.

He's written a book called "How Starbucks Saved My Life", and Tom Hanks wants to make a movie about him.

It's interesting how getting knocked off balance can be a good thing. Sometimes I wonder if I'm little too balanced these days.

The more I think about it though I know that this is just a phase - no matter how comfortable and cozy I am now, something will come along and knock me off balance. That's the way life works - nothing lasts, things change over time, people grow up, live and die. I can't, and don't want to, do anything right now other than exactly what I'm doing - and that for now, is a wonderful life.

______________________________


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Here Comes The Sun

This is a graph I made that shows the minutes of sunlight in Everett, Washington starting at the Winter Solstice on December 21st to the end of the year on December 31st.

We will be enjoying 4 more minutes of sun by December 31st :-)


The data for this graph comes from this Sun Rise/Set Table For Everett Washington For 2007 compliments of the The United States Naval Observatory which among other services provides sun rise/set tables.

Careful observers, such as the Neolithic people who built Newgrange over 5000 years ago, could detect that the days started to get longer after the Winter Solstice.

Built around 3200 BC, Newgrange predates Stonehenge (initial construction around 3100 BC) and the Great Pyramid of Giza (initial construction around 2580 BC)

The webcast for the Newgrange Winter Solstice 2007 is really good if you want to know more about the structure and see some video of the beautiful Irish countryside.

The people who built Newgrange had astronomy in mind when they built the roof box, passageway and inner chamber that is illuminated at the Winter Solstice. The purpose of Stonehenge on the other hand, although loosely connected to the position of the sun on the Summer Solstice, remains an enigma.

Friday, December 21, 2007

On This Shortest Day of the Year

We celebrate the coming of the light.
Before calendars and clocks
Men wondered what was happening to the sun
Days getting short, shorter, shortest

And then a pause and ever so gradually
A little more light
The beginning of a new year
Another cycle of birth, growth and death

But on a day in Bethlehem
A new light came into this world
A new story came to be
No more eye for an eye

All the old things passed away
To be seen in a new light
We celebrate the son
With love and peace and joy

In anticipation of good things to come
Trusting, we have faith
Watchfully waiting
Listening quietly

Thursday, December 20, 2007

We Can Meet There In Peace


For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.
In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.
To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:
stay together
learn the flowers
go light

~ Gary Snyder ~
(Turtle Island)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Quiet and Peace Go Together

There was a clip on TV last night about a man who records the sounds of silence, or more precisely the sounds of nature.

He had a sophisticated set of equipment with sensitive microphones embedded in the ears of a model of a human head, to capture what we would hear if we were in the forest, on a mountain or at a beach.

He said he is finding it harder and harder to find places where man-made noise is not present - cars, planes, trains, sirens, chatter, machinery, etc.

Quiet and peace go together.

Broadly speaking noise is anything that disturbs our thoughts, meaning noise is not only what we hear, it's what we think and what we see. We are bombarded with a constant barrage of images and sounds, leading to feelings of anxiety and confusion - not at all peaceful.

If we want to be filled with peace the first step is to find a quiet place - both literally and figuratively, external and internal.

It's possible to work from the inside out, finding peace from within and exhibiting that peace in our day to day actions, but it helps to have some moments of solitude and silence to practice - quieting our minds, breathing, focusing and being present.

A person who has practiced, in solitude and silence, can find peace and internal quiet on a busy street corner amidst the traffic noise, sirens, and chatter - in the hustle and bustle of a shopping mall, in a hospital room with people worried and in pain.

Anywhere.

But we need that space to practice first.

Every so often practice quiet and peace - turn off the TV, radio, computer - be with your self, practice your breathing and clearing your mind.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How I Blog

Maybe I should say how I don't blog.

I have to say I'm not particularly pleased with a lot of what I write. I use the excuse that everything is basically first draft, I don't have the time or the inclination to do a lot of rewriting or editing.

I've been having trouble writing anything for awhile and I think I understand at least one of the causes, and a solution which might help other people who are trying to accomplish something that requires thought.

I try to write by turning on my computer and connecting to the internet so I can go to the Blogger edit page. The problem with this is that once I'm online there are too many distractions. I start seeing my email popping up, interesting stories, and a million and one other diversions - for example, the Kung Fu baby on YouTube -



I'm thinking a better way to write is to start Notepad or some sort of text editor and begin writing rather than getting sidetracked looking at funny baby videos, the infamous dramatic prairie dog, or some songs from old musicals

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hen and Bunny Do The Donald

I think this video created by Heather Havrilesky and Kerry Lauerman on Salon.com is really funny.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

How We Roll

How We Roll has some cool videos for people who like riding bicycles. It's a blog from the makers of Clif bars about their 2-Mile challenge tour encouraging people to use bicycles rather than cars for short trips.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Learning

I was watching an interesting show about brain plasticity earlier this week. The gist of it was that we can continue to learn as we age but it also had some interesting points about learning and memory in general.

In the article I linked to above, learning is defined as “the ability to acquire new knowledge or skills through instruction or experience. Memory is the process by which that knowledge is retained over time.”

We need to be excited about what it is we learn. Our brains are wired to remember things that get our adrenaline going.

Noise is counterproductive when it comes to learning. This includes external noise and internal noise. A place with people chattering, email popping up, phones ringing and countless interruptions is not a good place for learning. In other words many office spaces are not good places for learning.

It's important to make a distinction between "noise" and "information" so we don't end up thinking the only way to learn is to be in a sound-proof room. A conversation you are involved in can involve learning, a conversation going on around you most likely does not provide you with much in the way of learning and probably interferes with whatever you were trying to learn to begin with - which is why libraries have those "please be quiet" signs.

Related to noise is the idea that any learning requires focus. If we can't quiet our internal and external noise, our ability to focus suffers. Meditation and relaxation techniques can help.

It's also useful to consider the impact of internal or external noise on simple memory vs. the impact on tasks that require special attention e.g. learning. Noise has very little impact on simple memory, but it does impact our ability to focus and thereby learn.

Letting my mind wander from one tidbit to another (internal noise), or being near people having a loud conversation (external noise), doesn't prevent me from remembering my phone number, name, address etc. (simple memory), but it does interfere with my ability to learn, since we know learning requires focus.

There's a definite "use it or lose it" phenomena associated with the ability to learn. To keep sharp we need to challenge our brains with difficult and new tasks. One of the key points was that as people age they tend to consider themselves as experts - knowing what they need to know, rather than taking on the "beginners mind" and learning something new.

Physical activity is critical to retaining brain function so we can continue to learn, retain our memory and remain vital interesting human beings.

_______________________________


Friday, December 14, 2007

Getting More Done By Doing Less

When we find ourselves immersed in a sea of activities trying to decide what is important the Pareto Principle, also called the 80-20 rule, is a useful tool for sorting through the many trivial things to find the few vital things that are worth spending our time on. It looks something like this -




This is conceptual and the exact numbers are not critical. The point is to pick the right things to spend our time on. If my simple graph had 10 things on the x axis, there would be 2 things that give me about 80% of my bang for a buck....or I could waste my time on the other 8 things and get 20% return on my investment.

Some examples of the type of ideas the 80-20 concept is pointing at;

  • 20% of the people do 80% of the work
  • 80% of sales come from 20% of our customers
  • 20% of our Christmas activities provide 80% of our pleasure

It's a useful concept when we want to understand something about linear vs. non-linear relationships. In general terms a linear relationship means there is a one to one relationship between the independent variable and the dependent variable (the cause and the effect), conversely a non-linear relationship exists when we do not have a one to one relationship for growth, or decay, of some function.

If you want to look into the math part a little more you could start at Demystifying the Natural Logarithm (ln) | BetterExplained and Wikipedia - Natural Logarithm.

Why the heck would I care about that you ask?

Non-linear functions exist all around us, but this isn't a math lesson, it's pointing at things that we know intuitively to be true and can use to our advantage if we spend a little time thinking about them.

For example I might think that if I work twice as hard or twice as long, I'll get twice as much done or that if I study 2 hours I'll learn twice as much as I do in 1 hour or if I make twice as much money I'll be twice as happy, or spend twice as much on Christmas gifts the recipients will be twice as satisfied...etc.

This makes sense to a point but when we start to expand it a bit we can see the non-linearity. If I work 50 times as hard I'm not going to get 50 times as much done and if I study 24 hours cramming for a test I'm not going to learn 24 times as much as I would in 1 hour of study.

If we extend our graph to increase time, effort, or money; we can easily see that it is possible to reach a point of diminishing returns, and get on a slippery slope downward, where we can do more and more and accomplish less and less - missing whatever it was we wanted to do in the first place (be happy, live a healthy life, be a good mother/father, be a productive worker, etc).





This is almost proof that laziness is the key to happiness, but not quite....it's a challenge to find the balance, the right things, and concentrate on those. It's something we all struggle with everyday.

Pareto can help us is in understanding that we can make our working and daily activities much more efficient and pleasant by doing our best to eliminate the trivial many and concentrate on the vital few.

If we can't learn to do this we end up very dissatisfied because we are lost in a sea of triviality, accomplishing little of value, spending our time jumping from one trivial thing to another, and eventually burning out or stressing out.

The key out of this trap is to stop doing whatever we are doing long enough to do some sorting and prioritizing. If we quiet the external and internal noise, take a break, and reflect on what is truly important, we are in a position to learn, grow and ultimately be much happier people.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

We Need Survival Tactics to Help Us Focus

We are exposed to thousands of random pieces of information each day, the vast majority of which we don't need to know, much less remember. As a survival tactic we start to take in little shallow unrelated bits of information which over time shortens our attention span, reduces our ability to listen and learn, and causes us stress.

Information is defined as "the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence."

If we want to learn, we need to be ready and able to receive information, so it's probably more accurate to say we are bombarded by noise, rather than information - which would have to be provided at the right time and in the right context in order for us to gain knowledge.

A simple model of how we process information into knowledge is that knowledge is proportional to the ratio of information to noise. More information means more knowledge. Less noise means more knowledge. Except it isn't that simple, because more information can create more noise (the web is a good example) and a total absence of noise without any information might mean you are dead or at least really good at meditation.

Our intelligence is partially determined not just by our ability to filter out information from noise, but by our ability to shut out extraneous information (noise) so we can focus and learn.

Noise isn't just something that hurts your ears like the sound of a siren, airplane or jackhammer, it can include a television commercial for some drug where we aren't really sure what it's for but are directed to "ask your Doctor if _______ may be right for you", a significant amount of email we receive and possibly send, people talking when you are trying to learn/study/work or a million and one things that attract any of our senses. Noise isn't just external either, we generate noise as our brains jump from one thing to the next and back again.

We need survival tactics to help us focus.

Meditation, breathing practices and exercise can all help us quiet our minds.

Anything we can do to quiet and slow things down internally and externally helps give us the time and energy to put the pieces together to form meaningful thoughts.

Simply slowing down our pace when walking and eating can help.

Once we begin to quiet things down externally and internally we can practice lengthening our attention span by reading or listening for longer periods of time than what we are accustomed to. It's not easy because our culture is not about slowing down, we are encouraged to work, buy and consume, not to stop and think, but it's interesting to think every so often what the world would be like if that wasn't the case.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Steve Job's Stanford Commencement Speech

This YouTube video of Steve Job's commencement speech at Stanford's 2005 graduation ceremony is about 14 minutes.

It's a story about opportunity.

These are the highlights -

Steve Jobs is the son of a young unwed mother and was raised by his adopted parents.

His biological mother wanted him to be adopted by college graduates, but this didn't happen. He was adopted by a mother who didn't graduate from college and a father who didn't graduate from high school.

He never graduated from college, he dropped out of Reed College after 6 months and hung around as a drop-in for another 18 months.

He provides the following advice in his speech -

Trust in something. This will allow you to get off the well worn path.

Don't be afraid to start over - to replace the heaviness of being successful with the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure of everything.

Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that happened to him.

Find what you love

Keep looking

If you live each day as if it were your last, some day you will most certainly be right.

Ask yourself each day if this is what you would do if it was your last day - if the answer is no for too many days in a row - do something else.

Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life.

Stay hungry - stay foolish


Monday, December 10, 2007

Understanding Beyond Your Textbook

BetterExplained is a website created by a young man named Kalid Azad. It provides insights on a wide range of topics from math and numbers, programming and website development, to tips on happiness.

He explains what the website is about here. It's worth checking out for anyone with a curious mind.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What Happened to the R

According to Wikipedia, the R that used to sit on top of the Rainier Beer brewery beside I-5 , is now in Seattle's Museum of History and Industry. I miss the brewery and the beer every so often. Rainier was a pretty decent beer in it's day. It had a long history in the Pacific Northwest, starting in 1878 until the brewery was closed in 1999.

We served it on tap in the New Atlas Bar for 25 cents for a small glass and 35 cents for a large one. When I was a sailor I was glad when our ship docked in Seattle where I could have a cold one. Some of the Rainier beer ads from the 70's were classics. You can find them on YouTube.

Here's an old logo and label from Rainier that I found interesting. The 1907 ad for "...a refreshing beverage that is conducive to health and strength," makes me think I should give up going to the gym and take up drinking brewski's.


__________________________________



1906 Rainier Logo - Photo Source - State of Oregon Archives



1907 Rainier Ad - Photo Source - Wikipedia

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Vintage Cigarette Commercials

It's really not surprising that so many people smoked cigarettes when you consider these old commercials.

These three samples look funny and bizarre today, but it's interesting to consider the impact advertising has on society in more general terms and think about how some of the things we get "sold" today may look in 50 years.

According to the advertisers - Doctor's smoked Camels, Chesterfield's had no adverse effects and in 1948 you could get a job as a professional smoker.

There's a lot of these commercials on YouTube, just search for "vintage cigarette commercials".







Thursday, December 06, 2007

Oregon State Archives - Trademark Exhibit

The Oregon State Archives has over 10,000 cancelled and expired trademark registrations. They have selected 174 to display on a Web exhibit.

These are a few of my favs.

From 1870 -



______________________________

From 1899 -



______________________________


From 1908 -




______________________________


From 1910 -


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Eat a Little Dirt Every Day

George Carlin has a comedy bit about our obsession with germs. He talks about swimming in raw sewage as a kid, eating food that's dropped on the floor, not taking any special precautions to avoid germs and how healthy he is. He says "your immune system needs germs to practice on." Note - this YouTube video contains language that may be offensive to some.

There are scientific studies that show some merit in the idea that our immune systems need practice.

In this PBS series Pediatrician Erika Von Mutius says that exposure to some level of microbes may allow our immune system to learn how to tolerate allergens as well as fight infections, bacteria and viruses.

In a similar vein this Healthlink article from the Medical College of Wisconsin, asks the question Are We Too "Clean" for Our Own Good?

The Dirt on Germs | Orion magazine talks about the studies by Dr. Von Mutius and others and states,

"Children who had lots of siblings, who lived on farms, had cats, or went to daycare in their first year were discovered to do best at avoiding allergic diseases. Even children whose mothers had lived on farms during their pregnancies were less likely to become allergic. The children most likely to develop allergies and asthma were children who lived in cities, did not go to daycare, had no pets, washed their hands more than five times a day, and bathed more than once a day."


This article in the "American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine has a different point of view, declaring that The Increase in Asthma Cannot Be Ascribed to Cleanliness.

The authors point out that overeating and lack of physical activity are not good for people. George Carlin already covered that idea too...you can find the video on YouTube.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Google and Renewable Energy

Earlier this year Google, with the help of EI Solutions, installed solar panels that cover the rooftops of eight buildings and two carports at their Mountain View campus. The panels are capable of producing 1.6 megawatts of electricity.

The project is described in the Official Google Blog -

"This project will be the largest solar installation on any corporate campus in the U.S., and we think it's one of the largest on any corporate site in the world. The panels will cover the roofs of the four main buildings of the Googleplex, and also those of two additional buildings across the street. There will also be a portion of this installation on new solar panel support structures in a few parking lots. The amount of electricity that will be generated is equivalent to powering about 1,000 average California homes. We’ll use that electricity to power several of our Mountain View office facilities, offsetting approximately 30% of our peak electricity consumption at those buildings."

Last week Google announced their Renewable Energy Initiative.

The press release says Google.org will be,

"hiring engineers and energy experts to lead its research and development work, which will begin with a significant effort on solar thermal technology, and will also investigate enhanced geothermal systems and other areas. In 2008, Google expects to spend tens of millions on research and development and related investments in renewable energy. As part of its capital planning process, the company also anticipates investing hundreds of millions of dollars in breakthrough renewable energy projects which generate positive returns."
I find this all very positive as opposed to the nightmarish scenario described in Peak Oil: Life After the Oil Crash, which is interesting to read, very one-sided, and extremely depressing. The "solution" offered by the author is to buy a good sleeping bag and get in shape so you can survive in a "Mad Max" sort of world he envisions for the future.

Go Google!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Home Depot and BP Solar For Homeowners

TreeHugger has an interesting article on a collaboration between BP Solar and Home Depot to provide solar installation to home owners.

The comments section has some good info on the economics, reliability and maintenance of solar panels.

According to the comments -

A typical 1 Kw solar system, that will provide 85% of a homes electricity, is around 22,000 dollars before rebates (maybe 1/2 that or less after rebates). Federal rebates are up to 2000 dollars and some states have rebates plans as well (Florida offers up 20 20,000 dollars for a 2Kw or more home system).

Solar panels have a 25 year warranty and may have a useful life of 40 to 50 years.

The inverter used to convert the DC from the panels, to AC for use by the electrical devices in your home has a 10 year warranty.

Note - The comment that 1 Kw solar system would provide 85% of a homes electricity doesn't sound quite right, unless we are talking about a very energy efficient home. I have a small electric space heater that uses 1.5 Kw and a Microwave that uses 1.2 Kw....so I guess I could either stay warm or eat.

It's not really that simple, because I don't run my microwave 24 hours a day and I rarely use that very inefficient space heater - and when I do it doesn't just stay on but rather cycles off and on to maintain a set temperature.

We have to consider the average energy used during the day/night, when we are home/not home, and seasonal variations to come up with a realistic value for a home's electrical energy use.

I've read the average U.S. home uses about 900 kWh a month. Which works out to be about 30 kWh a day and 1.25 kW per hour...so maybe the 1 kW solar system isn't that far off from what we need after all (at least while the sun is shining).

The nice thing about having the type of solar system that is connected to the grid would be that when we turn on the TV, radio, computer, lights, stove, coffee maker, toaster, microwave and a hair dryer in the morning we can use energy from the grid and when no one is home during the day, and the sun is shining bright, we can feed energy back to the grid.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Compact Fluorescent Floodlights

I hadn't seen compact fluorescent floodlights until recently, but Lowe's offers two indoor/outdoor 18 Watt Replacement Bulbs for $3.50.

It's a pretty good deal to replace two 75 watt incandescent lights with these CFL's that have a nominal life of 6000 hours (about 5 to 7 times that of an incandescent) and use 1/4 the electricity that the incandescents use. Assuming these two CFL's are on for 6 hours a day you will save about $18 per year in electricity costs compared to two 75 watt incandescents.

I recently replaced two indoor 65 watt incandescent flood lights with two 15 watt CFL's (the main difference between these and the typical spiral type CFL's is that they take awhile to reach their peak brightness...but that's fine with me considering the energy savings).

In Snohomish County the common spiral type CFL's are $1.99 or less at Bartell's, Walgreens and some local hardware stores with coupons (usually available in the store) from the Snohomish County PUD

Like most people we are gradually replacing all the incandescent lamps we can in our household with the more energy efficient compact fluorescent lamps

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Simple Suggestion for a Good Life

I heard someone say the other day that their goal in life was to help people and have some laughs.

That sounds good to me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Be an Expert on Anything

Is it really true that it's not what you say but how you say it?

The "Wired" article how to Be an Expert on Anything has advice from Stephen Colbert including using lots of acronyms and abbreviations, not being afraid to make things up and speaking with lots of confidence.

I'd have to add that the cadence of speech is important in fooling some of the people some of the time. The two ends of the spectrum are the quick-talking "it sounds good if you say it fast" method and the drawn out "airline pilot talking on the passenger address system" approach.

You could also try mumbling or talking very quietly, so people catch a few words you say and may end up thinking you know a lot more than you do.

You might try a Socratic method (teaching by asking questions) by not offering any answers or opinions of your own but just keep asking questions that may or may not have much of anything to do with the situation at hand but may make people think you are very deep (or dense).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Turtle Island Foods - Home of The Tofurky


Graphic From Turtle Island Foods
With Thanksgiving coming up this week maybe this is the year to check out Turtle Island Foods Tofurky

The Tofurky is becoming more popular every year, as the Washingtonpost.com reported in an article yesterday - Vegetarians, Meat-Eaters Dig In To Send Sales of Tofurky Soaring

The article provides some of the history of Tofurky and says in 1982, the inventor of the Tofurky, Seth Tibbott,"was just an ordinary hippie living in a treehouse when inspiration struck."

It goes on to say,"an early version of Tofurky, made from soy milk, was a mammoth affair with eight tempeh drumsticks. Tibbott said he had visions of families giving thanks over a large Tofurky, only to realize that just a few people at any gathering were likely to eat it. The latest version serves three or four people, and the drumsticks were replaced by cranberry apple potato dumplings."

It also mentions that vegetarian foods were a $1.2 billion industry last year, up 44 percent from 2001.

___________________________


I'm not certain but I'm guessing the name of the company that makes the Tofurky comes from Gary Snyder's book of poetry Turtle Island which contains one of my favorite poems "For The Children".


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Opening Your Own Coffee Shop

Opening a coffee shop may sound like a fun and exciting way to make a living, and I have no doubt it can be for the right person in the right place, but this article from Slate gives one person's perspective on the hard work, thought and dedication it takes to make a profit from a small coffeehouse.

My coffeehouse nightmare. - By Michael Idov - Slate Magazine

I would never want to discourage someone from following their dream, but most (if not all) small businesses require a lot of work and dedication from the owner(s), and small cafes in particular have a very high rate of failure. But you will never know until you try.

I think the main problem with the Slate author's business plan was that he thought most of the work would be done by people he hired, and then was surprised to find that was not economically viable, so he and his wife had to spend a lot of time working at their coffeehouse (eeegads!).

Good, dependable workers are hard to find and keep in any job, but anyone who starts a small business not expecting to spend the majority of their time working at that business, is very naive.

I've had a couple of opportunities to get into the restaurant business as a manager or small cafe business as an owner, years ago. I didn't do that for a variety of reasons including not wanting to spend my life in a small town in Montana and because I had worked in these places I knew how much time the manager/owners spent at work. One of the places included a mobile home behind the place and the other had an apartment upstairs - perfect for literally living at work.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Depending on the situation you might work with your family, meet a lot of interesting customers and end up loving it.

I daydream about opening a small cafe or coffeehouse fairly often...maybe one of these days I'll be in the right place and right time to do that.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

How Many Espresso Stands Near You?

According to Yahoo! Yellow Pages there are 62 coffee houses/espresso stands within 5 miles of my current location.

There would be more but in my case the 5 miles extends into Puget Sound and includes quite a bit of pure residential area.

If I was in downtown Seattle I could find over 200 coffee houses/espresso stands within 5 miles.

I think it's great that espresso stands and coffee houses have become so popular.

I generally only buy expensive coffee drinks as a treat, but I appreciate the fact that these establishments provide a living for many people, as well as a place for people to congregate, relax, read, converse or study.

I like Starbucks, and Peets for the excellent coffee, but I particularly like the funky local sort of coffee shops that have friendly baristas, a neighborhood feel, outdoor seating if possible, vegan food, books, free wireless and music.

__________________________________


The economics of coffee, turning 20 cents worth of beans into a 2 dollar latte, help people who own coffee shops and espresso stands make a living and conversely encourages other people to write articles about saving money by not buying lattes.

I'd argue that buying an expensive cup of coffee every so often is worth the price if we consider the big picture of wanting jobs, and nice neighborhoods with places where people can go to relax, converse, hang out and just enjoy life.

The article I linked to above explains that by not buying a latte and muffin every day you could save 150 dollars a month and if you invest that 150 dollars a month, with a 10% return, for 40 years you will end up with almost a million dollars.

It doesn't make sense for most people to spend 5 dollars a day for a latte and a muffin, but an occasional trip to an espresso stand or coffeehouse where we might treat ourselves to an expensive cup of coffee to go - or stay and have conversations, listen to music, study, have coffee or snacks - might contribute more to what we consider a good life in the long term than pinching our pennies so hard we end up being a wealthy resident in a nursing home who missed out on a lot of fun along the way.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Our Daily Bread - The Movie

I saw the movie Our Daily Bread recently. The movie gives us a chance to think about where our food comes from, the impact food production has on people who work in that industry and humane treatment of animals.

The synopsis from the film's website says,

"Welcome to the world of industrial food production and high-tech farming! To the rhythm of conveyor belts and immense machines, the film looks without commenting into the places where food is produced in Europe: monumental spaces, surreal landscapes and bizarre sounds - a cool, industrial environment which leaves little space for individualism. People, animals, crops and machines play a supporting role in the logistics of this system which provides our society’s standard of living.

Our Daily Bread is a wide-screen tableau of a feast which isn’t always easy to digest - and in which we all take part. A pure, meticulous and high-end film experience that enables the audience to form their own ideas."


For a 90 minute movie with no dialogue "Our Daily Bread" zipped by for me. It's not an in-your-face anti-food movie at all. You can see the hard work people do to bring us food, think about what impact that work has on them and decide for yourself if the mechanized raising and harvesting of animals fits into your personal philosophy.

There are parts of this movie that would not be suitable for young people or those who are at all squeamish, but overall it's a sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrifying, but completely dispassionate look at industrial food production.

The DVD of this movie may be available at your local library.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Payday Loans = Costly Cash

The Federal Trade Commission alerts consumers that Payday Loans = Costly Cash but apparently there is nothing the Federal Government can do to stop exploitation of the working poor, young people starting out, or military people who end up paying the typical 391% APR charged by payday lenders.

A typical scenario is the borrower writes the payday loan provider a check for $115, to be cashed on payday and the loan provider gives the borrower $100 cash.

In the ideal case someone needs money until they get paid and then pays off the loan on payday. It's really not that ideal for the borrower since they are stuck with the 391% APR...but 15 bucks interest on a 100 dollar loan doesn't sound that bad in an emergency situation.

The problem of course is that the people who have to use payday lenders are often not able to cover that $115 check when payday comes up in 14 days and end up with late fees from the payday lender and possibly their bank if the lender attempted to cash the check. They end up in a vicious cycle of extending their 14 day loan for a longer period of time, and that original $100 might end up costing them $390 in interest in a year, plus whatever fees the payday lender charges.

It all depends on how you look at it. Paying 15 dollars to borrow 100 dollars for 2 weeks, sounds okay - but paying 15 dollars every 2 weeks for a year ($390) to borrow that $100 sounds terrible.

It's a lucrative business.

There are 10 of those types of businesses in a 5 mile radius of where I live and they seem to be included as standard features in the new strip malls being built around town.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Last Pepper

This is the last pepper from a plant I grew in a container this summer. They were nice to look at but not nearly as hot as I expected, since the picture on the plant tag showed an exploding firecracker. I don't know what variety they are. They were very colorful ranging from green, yellow, orange, purple to red.

They taste like a sweet red bell pepper. I'm guessing that they needed more direct sunlight and warm nights to fully mature - than we have over here in the Pacific Northwest or else I started them late - or they are some variety of a sweet pepper.

I bought plenty of hot peppers this summer from a farmer in the Yakima valley that comes to the local farmer's market. I made some hot sauce by blending habaneros, scotch bonnets, simple sugar, and vinegar and also froze several batches of chopped peppers for use this winter.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Getting Energy From a Star 93 Million Miles From Earth

KCET, Public TV in LA ran this story last summer about two concentrated solar power farms to be constructed in California's Imperial Valley and the Mojave desert by Stirling Energy Systems.




This system uses mirrored solar concentrators and a tracking system to focus the sun's rays to heat a Stirling Engine which turns an electric generator.

The Stirling engine was invented by the Scottish minister (and part time engineer/inventor) Robert Stirling in 1816. It was intended as a safer alternative to steam engines.

In the video the CEO of Stirling Energy Systems says the two future Southern California solar farms will be capable of providing the energy for 1 million homes, which is equivalent to the power produced by Hoover Dam. He also states a "100 mile square" solar farm would provide all the U.S. energy needs.

This article in Wired from November 2005 is talking about the plan for Huge Solar Plants to Bloom in Desert.

____________________________

As technologically exciting as this project sounded from the admittedly somewhat dated Wired article and the relatively recent July 2007 video from KCET, this blogger's story from yesterday Stirling Takes the Fifth brings a different perspective on the current state of this project - which may or may not be moving forward.

The author Elizabeth McCarthy states, "We do know that the CPUC okayed these projects, although Stirling lacked site control of the many thousands of acres required to build out its projects in the Mojave Desert and in Imperial County. We also know the technology has not been applied on a commercial scale to date."

I thought it was odd that there wasn't more information available on how things were progressing, but maybe it's just a matter of getting siting permits and starting to build the farm.

Monday, November 12, 2007

To Those Who Served

To all the brave men and women who have served our country so that we may enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - we remember, honor and thank you.

_________________________



Sunday, November 11, 2007

I Want To Say One Word To You - Just One Word

Solar

If I was a young person interested in getting into a growing field either in the R&D, installation or sales area - solar energy would be my first pick of an industry that is guaranteed to grow in the coming decades.

I am including some interesting facts from a DOE funded study on solar energy utilization and basic research needs, to back up that recommendation.

  • Sunlight provides by far the largest of all carbon-neutral energy sources. More energy from sunlight strikes the Earth in one hour (4.3 × 1020 J) than all the energy consumed on the planet in a year (4.1 × 1020 J). We currently exploit this solar resource through solar electricity — a $7.5 billion industry growing at a rate of 35–40% per annum — and solar-derived fuel from biomass, which provides the primary energy source for over a billion people. Yet, in 2001, solar electricity provided less than 0.1% of the world's electricity, and solar fuel from modern (sustainable) biomass provided less than 1.5% of the world's energy.
  • The world now uses energy at a rate of approximately 4.1 × 1020 joules/yr, equivalent to a continuous power consumption of 13 trillion watts, or 13 terawatts (TW). Even with aggressive conservation and energy efficiency measures, an increase of the Earth’s population to 9 billion people, accompanied by rapid technology development and economic growth world-wide, is projected to produce more than double the demand for energy (to 30 TW) by 2050, and more than triple the demand (to 46 TW) by the end of the century.
  • Covering 0.16% of the land on Earth with 10% efficient solar conversion systems would provide 20 TW of power, nearly twice the world’s consumption rate of fossil energy and the equivalent 20,000 1-GWe nuclear fission plants.
  • Solar fuels in the form of biomass produce electricity and heat at costs that are within range of fossil fuels, but their production capacity is limited. The low efficiency with which they convert sunlight to stored energy means large land areas are required. To produce the full 13 TW of power used by the planet, nearly all the arable land on Earth would need to be planted with switchgrass, the fastest-growing energy crop.
  • To contribute significantly to global primary energy supply, a prospective resource has to be capable of providing at least 1-10 TW of power for an extended period of time.
  • The three prominent options to meet this demand for carbon-neutral energy are fossil fuel use in conjunction with carbon sequestration, nuclear power, and solar power.
  • The challenge for carbon sequestration is finding secure storage for the 25 billion metric tons of CO2 produced annually on Earth. At atmospheric pressure, the yearly global emission of CO2 would occupy 12,500 km3, equal to the volume of Lake Superior.
  • Producing 10 TW of nuclear power would require construction of a new one-gigawatt-electric (1-GWe) nuclear fission plant somewhere in the world every other day for the next 50 years. Once that level of deployment was reached, the terrestrial uranium resource base would be exhausted in 10 years.
  • The third option is to exploit renewable energy sources, of which solar energy is by far the most prominent. United Nations (U.N.) estimates indicate that the remaining global, practically exploitable hydroelectric resource is less than 0.5 TW. The cumulative energy in all the tides and ocean currents in the world amounts to less than 2 TW. The total geothermal energy at the surface of the Earth, integrated over all the land area of the continents, is 12 TW, of which only a small fraction could be practically extracted. The total amount of globally extractable wind power has been estimated by the IPCC and others to be 2-4 TWe. For comparison, the solar constant at the top of the atmosphere is 170,000 TW, of which, on average, 120,000 TW strikes the Earth (the remainder being scattered by the atmosphere and clouds). It is clear that solar energy can be exploited on the needed scale to meet global energy demand in a carbon-neutral fashion without significantly affecting the solar resource.
The next time someone suggests carbon sequestration, switchgrass or nuclear as a viable option for meeting the world's growing energy demands you can whip out some of these factoids.

Carbon sequestration needs a leak-free storage facility with the volume of Lake Superior.

Switchgrass would need to be planted on all arable land in the world.

Nuclear power plants with a 1 GWe capacity would need to built every other day for the next 50 years.

According to the DOE report, covering 0.16% of the land on Earth with 10% efficient solar conversion systems would provide 20 TW of power, nearly twice the world’s consumption rate of fossil energy.

Boeing Spectrolab has developed new technology solar cells that surpass 40% efficiency.

If you take the DOE's estimate for a solar array that covers .16% of the Earth to provide 20 TW, and use 200 million square miles for the earth's landmass - you come up with 320,000 square miles, an area that is approximately 565 miles by 565 miles. Using the 4X greater efficiency of the Boeing-Spectrolab cells brings this down to 80,000 square miles, an area approximately 282 miles by 282 miles.

I've seen estimates that a solar array placed in the U.S. desert that was in the range of 2,500 square miles (50 miles by 50 miles) to 10,000 square miles (100 miles by 100 miles) would provide all the U.S. energy needs. None of these figures are exact, since they require assumptions regarding energy use, solar cell efficiency and available sunlight - but at least they give us an idea of what size a solar array would need to be. Putting a 50x50 mile or even 100x100 mile solar farm in the desert sounds good to me when we consider the alternatives.

The complete DOE report is a 276 page PDF file which you can access at Basic Research Needs for Solar Energy Utilization

I've posted a condensed 10 page PDF file over here.

__________________________


Note: For you young whipper-snappers, the "I want to say one word to you..." quote is from the movie The Graduate (1967).

Back in the 60's the word was "plastics".

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?

Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Benjamin: Yes I will.

Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That's a deal.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

BBC NEWS - Most Ready For 'Green Sacrifices'

In the U.S. four out of five people think it's "definitely" or "probably" necessary to make significant changes in their lifestyle to help prevent global warming or climate change.

It's interesting that one in five think that it's "definitely not" or "probably not" necessary to make any lifestyle changes. Those must be people who can afford five dollars a gallon for gasoline, or maybe they are already as green as they can be.




Source BBC NEWS

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Melty Nutritional Yeast "Cheese" Sauce

Nutritional Yeast is pretty amazing stuff. It's high in protein, low in fat and has lots of B-vitamins and minerals. You can buy it in bulk at most health food stores or larger grocery stores. It's a form of the same yeast, saccharomyces cerevisiae, found in bread, beer and sourdough. It is grown on molasses and pasteurized to kill the yeast before being sold.

I like the idea of the recipe for Melty Nutritional Yeast 'Cheese' Sauce because, besides the nutritional yeast, it calls for ingredients most people would have readily available - cornstarch, flour, salt, garlic powder, water, mustard and vegetable oil.


This is a recipe from the The Nutritional Yeast Cookbook

Friday, October 12, 2007

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World


The cookbook "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World", is written by two cooks from Brooklyn with a cable access show.

The cupcakes look good, and based on the reviews of the cookbook - taste good too.

You can watch some of their cooking shows on Google Video.

From the Amazon description of the book -

"Isa Chandra Moskowitz has been cooking up trouble in Brooklyn since the '80s. The author of Vegan with a Vengeance, she has done vegan cooking demonstrations around the country and has been featured in many print and online publications, including Bust, Herbivore, Gothamist.com, and more. Since 2003, she and Terry Hope Romero have hosted the public access/podcast vegan cooking show Post Punk Kitchen, filmed in Isa's apartment. Along the way, they have baked thousands of cupcakes."


I generally tend to shy away from vegan baked goods that attempt to mimic baked goods made with eggs, butter, cream - because I believe there is simply no way to duplicate those ingredients. I'm pretty sure you won't be able to make a puff pastry or croissant with vegan ingredients - cupcakes maybe - pancakes, brownies, bars and pies certainly. I'm not a big fan of recipes that require buying high priced vegan substitute ingredients in special stores. If the cookbook uses pretty basic ingredients I can buy at a regular grocery store, and maybe a few things from a whole foods store, that would be good.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sourdough Pancake Recipe

This recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Heritage Cookbook makes some tasty sourdough pancakes.

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 beaten egg (or 1/4 cup applesauce)
1 cup starter
1/2 cup milk (or vanilla soy milk)
2 tablespoons cooking oil


Mix the ingredients and fry in a hot frying pan.

I made the starter by mixing 1 part flour and 1 part water in a Mason jar I'd put through the dishwasher to make sure it was sterilized. I punched a hole in the lid so the CO2 given off by the yeast doesn't build up pressure and cause the bottle to explode. I left the jar at room temp for several days, with no cover (you could put a paper towel or cheesecloth on top if you are concerned about bugs or debris falling in your starter). I put the jar in a warm water bath (not too hot) every so often to get the wild yeast worked up. Stir the mixture with a non-metallic utensil of some sort occasionally. Replace the starter you use with an equal amount of the flour water mixture, let it sit at room temp for a few days before refrigerating, and you are all set.

I've read that you can put the starter outside for awhile to capture more wild yeast floating around (not sure about that tip) and also that some starters take a month or more before they get really sour.

This is the Wikipedia article about Yeast and one on Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the type of yeast used in making bread, beer and nutritional yeast supplements.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Computers and Technology In Schools

I recently ran across two thought-provoking articles in Orion magazine on the use of computers and technology in education.

In the article Is It Time to Unplug Our Schools?, Lowell Monke writes,

"Schools would establish life as the measure of value, not machines. They would be dedicated to showing young people how to live as dignified members of an increasingly mediated and fragile world. And they would consciously work to cool down society’s infatuation with technology while heating up our concern for those we live with and the Earth we live on."

In his article Charlotte’s Webpage he goes on to say,


"Technology can provide enormous assistance in figuring out how to do things, but it turns mute when it comes to determining what we should do. Without any such moral grounding, the dependence on computers encourages a manipulative, “whatever works” attitude toward others. It also reinforces the exploitative relationship to the environment that has plagued Western society since Descartes first expressed his desire to “seize nature by the throat.”

____________________________



We need education that teaches people how to think - critically, with knowledge of context, interconnectedness, history, and world views...how to examine things for what they are rather than what someone, or the media, wants us to think they are.

Instead of focusing resources on technology and computers in classrooms, or allowing children to use these devices to excess at home - we need to teach the basics - reading, writing and arithmetic - how to interact with other people, be a good citizen, a member of a team.

Children need to know how to have real conversations, debate ideas, think on their feet - not just sit in front of a screen or a book.

We need shop classes so kids get a chance to use tools, home economics so they can learn to cook and sew - music, art, physical education and philosophy classes - chances to interact with the natural world, time for play.

Anyone - including scientists, engineers and technologists, should be educated in the Humanities and Liberal Arts.

It's a matter of learning how to think, ask questions, communicate and understand how we can make the world a better (or worse) place to live for all people.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

3:10 To Yuma

3:10 to Yuma is a good, maybe great, Western. It's got a great cast and an interesting story line.

Russell Crowe plays the bad (or maybe not all bad?) outlaw Ben Wade. Christian Bale is the struggling rancher, being persecuted by the railroad men who want his land, who volunteers to help take Ben Wade to the train station for a trip to prison and maybe the gallows.

There's some tough guys in this movie.

Peter Fonda is a crusty old Pinkerton guard Byron McElroy who gets shot in the chest, has the bullet removed by a veterinarian with no anesthesia (by request) and is back in action in about an hour.

Ben Wade kills a lot of people before we meet up with him in the movie and kills a couple more while he is under the guard of several men and in handcuffs.

My favorite line is when Ben Wade is being taken on horseback, in handcuffs, to the train station and Byron and him start to trade insults. Byron makes a rude comment about Ben's mother and father. Ben jumps off his horse, onto Byron, starts wailing on him and eventually with superhuman like strength throws Byron up into the air and off a cliff with the comment,

"Even bad men love their mommas."

It's over the top.

All in all though it's a good movie with a good cast and a timeless universal storyline about courage and the nature of good and evil.

__________________________

Side note - I met Peter Fonda many years ago when I was working for Business Data Systems installing/repairing point of sale equipment in retail businesses in Montana. I was in a Mexican fast food place in Livingston, Montana working on their cash register. It was a slack time and there weren't any customers in the place. I looked out the window and saw Peter Fonda pull up in an old pickup. He came in and got some food to go. It was me and one or two employees of the place and a big movie star. Actually it was pretty low-key; he was polite, quiet and just a regular person.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Office Workers, Non-Workers, and Work Stoppers

If I were to categorize office workers in order of best to worst (from an efficiency standpoint) it would go something like this -

1. People who are working, and who are relatively non-invasive when it comes to bothering other people trying to do their work.

2. People who are not working and who spend large parts of the day surfing the web, texting, or wandering around but not interfering with other people's ability to work.

3. People who spend an inordinate amount of time talking loudly about non-work related things and interfere with the people within hearing distance ability to work. Additional points deducted for highly personal/icky, boring, or whiny conversations/monologues.

4. People who send work-related emails to groups of people with information they don't need or worse - unclear requests for action, that interfere with many peoples ability to do their work. I made the distinction that these are "work-related" emails since employees have an obligation to examine/read/decipher work-related emails. A non-work related email - joke/personal message etc. is not nearly so time consuming.

5. People who schedule meetings with no clear agenda or no purpose or no redeeming value (from a profit standpoint, or mission standpoint for non-profit organizations) and the people who attend these types of meetings. No extra credit for using buzzwords, Powerpoints or a group-think agreement that the meeting is of value.

My sympathy to those who have no other choice, but I don't have much sympathy for people who make a career out of doing things that can't be proven by independent analysis to provide a tangible (or even intangible) benefit for paying customers in for-profit enterprises, or clients of non-profit organizations.

Daily time wasting on a large scale is only possible in an organization big enough, and with sufficient funds, that some people can be non-accountable when it comes to contributing to making the product or providing the services that customers, or donors in the case of non-profits, pay for.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Workplace Distractions - Authorized to Send E-Mail

I found this quote from a 43 Folders piece interesting -

"Companies go to great lengths to set up lists of authorized approvals, meaning who can approve what size of purchase. But you will find that people who are not authorized to spend $100 on their own are authorized to send e-mails to people and waste hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of company time."

I don't think we'll be removing people's e-mail sending privileges in the workplace anytime soon, but it would seem sensible to have a means to pare down mailing lists to those people who need, or want, the information in the e-mail.

I'm not talking about jokes, personal messages, or fyi courtesy-type messages, since those are necessary, and proportionately speaking not real time wasters, compared to some work-related messages.

It's those work-related messages that you skim through asking "what is this?", "is there something here I need to know?", "is this person asking me to do something?", "why did I get this...?", "do I need to send this to someone?", that are time eaters. Generally these e-mails are sent to multiple people...sometimes hundreds of people and come from people you don't work with on a daily basis - making it challenging to understand the context, urgency, or real issue that the email is trying to convey.

I don't think there is any solution to this other than at the receiving end. You have to learn ways to skim information for what's important and move messages out of your inbox, and into folders, quickly to make room for emails you need to be effective at your job.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Old Town Tacoma - Shuballup?

The Seattle Times calls Old Town Tacoma a "hidden gem."

Old Town Tacoma is located on Commencement Bay in an area that was originally known as Shuballup, "the sheltered place". The claim that Old Town Tacoma was first known as Shuballup comes from the Spar Tavern history page and it seems a little iffy to me to believe that name is accurate (see note below).

The Spar, is a historic tavern and cafe, in Old Town, with good things like - Chai made with soymilk, spar chips (thick chips they make in-house), fish and chips, banana bread, mocha smoothies and live local blues on Sunday nights.

Note - the word "shuballup" is a Googlewhackblatt (a single word that results in a single Google result), similar to the Googlewhack, two words that result in a single Google result. I'm guessing "shuballup" is a misspelling, or misunderstanding of some sort, or just made up - but it does sound like an Indian name that would rhyme with the well known Puyallup.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Rachel's Birthday

Rachel, Becca and I had a nice lunch at the Spar in Old Town Tacoma today.

It was really nice to see my two wonderful daughters.

I am very blessed.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Making Other Arrangements

James Howard Kunstler provides some thought provoking visions of what the future may hold as we inevitably deplete what is left of the world's oil and natural gas.

The idea that alternative energy sources, or some technological breakthrough, will allow us to continue business as usual is, in his view - wrong.

He writes, "It is deeply and tragically ironic that the more information that bombards us, the less we seem to understand."

On the other hand there isn't much of a market in the mass media for people who want to tell us as Mr. Kunstler does - that, "We are not going to run Wal-Mart, Walt Disney World, Monsanto, and the Interstate Highway System on any combination of solar or wind energy, hydrogen, ethanol, tar sands, oil shale, methane hydrates, nuclear power, thermal depolymerization, “zero-point” energy, or anything else you can name."

In his world of the future it's not a question of alternative energy sources but rather finding alternatives sources of transportation, food, government and health care.

Somewhat amazing, but not really, that in this year of presidential debates there is no candidate talking about what we do when fuel becomes so scarce that commuting to and from the suburbs let alone flying ourselves and products around the globe becomes impossible on anywhere near the scale we have become accustomed to.

It's possible Mr. Kunstler is completely wrong but it's probable that at least some part of what he says has an element of truth in it, and to ignore that fact is a very risky bet indeed.

We need to renovate and upgrade our rail systems, totally rethink urban and rural planning, reduce dependence on cars, promote local farming, and recognize that quality of life is not dependent on the amount of cheap plastic crap we can buy at Wal-Mart.

It's not going to be easy to admit the infrastructure we have invested so much in, is no longer appropriate, but my prediction, given the ingenuity of humankind is that the world of the future will include true communities, real work and a much closer connection to the earth....which if you think about isn't such a bad deal at all.

_______________________


Postscript 10/11/2007 - I anticipate some form of Biomass will be an important source of energy in the not too distant future as the price of petroleum and natural gas rises. In the coming decades elephant grass, switchgrass, hemp, corn, poplar, willow, or sugarcane will be used for producing ethanol and biodegradeable plastic products.

There will be significant trade-offs to consider - not the least of which will be arable land available for growing food vs. energy crops. One option that will become economically viable, if not ecologically desirable from a habitat standpoint, is growing these crops in the logged-out rain forests (assuming we can find a way to enrich that soil or find crops that can thrive in it).

Ethanol is no panacea since it takes significant amounts of energy to grow, harvest and produce this fuel, and although it works for cars, today's jet engines need fuel with a higher concentration of energy.

This PDF file of a NASA report on Alternative Fuels and Their Potential Impact on Aviation talks about some of the challenges involved. A summary of that paper can be found here

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Off To Colorado

I took B to the airport this afternoon for her flight to Denver and then on to Colorado Springs and Breckenridge.

She's getting together with life-long friends she has known since she was a young girl.

I sometimes wish I was able to maintain friendships over the years, but it just doesn't seem to be in my makeup. I tend to be independent and maybe selfish or at least protective of my time and need for solitude and quiet space.

I've known, and know, many good people, fun people, wonderful people and I am thankful to have that opportunity.

I'm lucky I'm married to an outgoing thoughtful person like B and if the truth be told I think she is equally lucky as well....even with my sometimes hermit-like character.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Inside Out

"Lord, you call us to be more than our own limited view of ourselves. You have told us over and over again that we are loved, we are worthy, and that we are extraordinary. Forgive us when we just don't believe it. Transform our lives, heal our broken views of ourselves so that we can encourage and heal others – in our community and in your world."
Source - Devotional from Covenant Lutheran Church Houston, Texas.

Read more at the Archives.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Fall Is In the Air

Rainy weather and clouds begin to replace the sunny days. Football has started and the regular season of baseball is over. Salmon are returning to their birthplaces. Kids are back in school.

The Katsura tree is bright with yellow, orange and red leaves giving it's last hurrah before winter sets in.

Sometimes I wish I could rake up the leaves and burn them to remind myself of the smell of that fall ritual we performed years ago in Montana. Things are too close together and controlled in the city for that sort of thing. We vacuum up the leaves and put them in the green bin to be composted.

With the exception of the hardy souls who fish or play outside in these chilly rainy days, we begin to retreat indoors - to read, bundle up, cook, study, work, nap and enjoy the small things.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The War - PBS

I've been watching Ken Burn's documentary The War on PBS. It tells a story of World War II through the eyes of people from four American towns - Luverne Minnesota, Mobile Alabama, Sacramento and Waterbury Connecticut. It makes me feel quite small, and forever grateful, to think about what the people who lived in that time in history went through. Watching the series one sees tremendous sacrifices, terrible losses, and ultimately the understanding that freedom isn't free.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sour Dough

I've been playing with some sour dough starter.

The recipe is simple - just mix a cup of flour and a cup of water in a glass container and leave it on the counter until it starts to bubble (a few days or so). It should have a beery/yeasty smell and if it turns a weird color or starts to stink you should throw it out because you've got some kind of funky bacteria rather than yeast growing. Once the yeast takes off it will keep out any other critters that might want to colonize your flour/water/glass jar house.

After the wild yeast starts to grow you can put it in the refrigerator and use it for pancakes, bread, pizza or whatever you like to make with sour dough.

I'm still in the experimental stages and haven't got any dough that is airy, like you would with a commercial yeast (tried pancakes and a loaf of bread).

I need to keep experimenting and read a little bit more about how to use the starter. I think the key to the pancakes is that the batter is primarily the sour dough starter (not something you add to the batter).

I've read that some people use the sour dough as a flavoring agent and use commercial yeast to get the airy texture.

I've also read that you shouldn't let the starter contact anything metallic, and I was stirring mine with a fork or spoon - so I might have to start over.

I'll keep playing around with it and hope to have some tasty pancakes, cakes or bread in the not too distant future.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Decline of The Short Story

I read an interesting article in the New York Times Sunday Book Review by Stephen King this morning about the decline of the short story - What Ails the Short Story

The gist of it is that books or magazines with words don't sell nearly so well as magazines with pictures of Britney Spears on the cover.

Stephen King is the editor of "The Best American Short Stories 2007” and says, based on his in-depth review of what's available this year - that there are still great short stories and encourages people to support writers by buying magazines and books.

Here's a link to best short story collections from Amazon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Northwest Passage - No Ice

This week's Time magazine tells me that for the first time in recorded history the Northwest Passage is ice free.

The upside is that there could be dramatic reduction in shipping distances, the downside is the polar ice is melting much faster than some scientist's predicted.

Ice reflects sunlight, water stores heat from the sun - as the ice melts there is a feedback loop that increases the stored heat and therefore the rate at which the ice melts.

Ice melts opening up Northwest Passage - Telegraph

The Associated Press: Arctic Ice Melt Opens Northwest Passage

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Fresh Road and Fresh Plans!

That quote on Inward/Outward, from Nikos Kazantzakis made me want to pull out my old copy of Zorba the Greek. I read that book over 30 years ago and while I was looking at it, thought it might be good to read it again. It's an interesting story of about Zorba, who finds joy in work, love, food, water, wine and dance and his friend/boss who may think too much (and realizes that fact).

This is Zorba the "free spirit" talking to himself, and his friend/boss the "bookworm" -

"A fresh road, and fresh plans!", he cried.

"I've stopped thinking all the time of what happened yesterday. And stopped asking myself what's going to happen tomorrow. What's happening today, this minute, that's what I care about."

I say: "What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?" "I'm working." "Well, work well." "

What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?" "I'm kissing a woman." "Well, kiss her well, Zorba! And forget all the rest while you're doing it; there's nothing else on earth, only you and her! Get on with it!"


_____________________________________



This is a clip from YouTube of a dance scene from the movie - makes me think we should all dance more.





__________________________________

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Recognizing God in Everyday Moments

Today's quote from inward/outward:

"God changes appearances every second. Blessed is the man who can recognize him in all disguises. One moment he is a glass of fresh water, the next, your son bouncing on your knees or an enchanting woman, or perhaps merely a morning walk. "

Nikos Kazantzakis

Monday, September 24, 2007

Halo 3 Arrives at 12:01 A.M.

Most people buy a video game console in order to play a particular game or games. The launch of Halo 3 at midnight tonight, makes me think it's about time to buy an Xbox 360.

That game sounds fun.

From a Microsoft press release -

More than 10,000 retailers are planning events and opening their doors at midnight to celebrate this third installment in the billion-dollar franchise. In New York, Seattle, Miami and Los Angeles, Microsoft and retail partners are hosting marquee launch events that will feature contests and appearances by local celebrities and celebrities and professional athletes who are fanatical about the “Halo” franchise.

The marquee launch events will be held at the following stores:

  • Seattle area: Best Buy, 457 120th Ave NE, Bellevue
  • New York City: Best Buy, 529 5th Ave, New York, NY
  • Los Angeles: Gamestop, 1000 Universal Studios Blvd, Universal City
  • Miami: Circuit City, 8575 Northwest 13th Terrace, Miami


More information on launch events at Halo 3 Launch Week


Current prices of the Xbox console at Xbox.com | Xbox News

_______________________________________


Speaking of games that might make a person want a particular game system - I heard on NPR this morning that Nintendo's Wii will have a Star Wars dual light saber game out this spring.

More at Gamasutra - Wii Gets Lightsaber Action With The Force Unleashed

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Achieving The Impossible

"The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible -- and achieve it, generation after generation."

- Pearl S. Buck

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Repairs Using Fiberglass or Epoxy

If you are interested in repairing, or maybe even building, objects made of fiberglass, TAP Plastics has a good selection of epoxy resins, gel coat, fiberglass fabrics and polyester resins.

They also have free instructional videos.

You could use their products to repair cars, boats, kayaks, canoes, ATV's, RV's, surfboards, shower stalls, tubs, etc.

One of the challenges of a do-it-yourselfer used to be finding materials that professionals use; not so much of a problem these days with the advent of the internet.

I suspect one of the reasons you can't buy some of these materials at Lowes or Home Depot is they can be very toxic if used incorrectly. I've used fiberglass repair materials outside various times, and epoxy for many small repairs, without wearing any protection, but I repaired a fiberglass shower stall a couple of weeks ago and realized how nasty the fumes and dust are in an enclosed space.

If you are using a fiberglass type resin be sure and have adequate ventilation and wear proper breathing protection. The fumes, and the dust from sanding, are not something you want to inhale. Epoxy may be a better choice for some repairs and doesn't have anywhere near the fumes, although you still have the dust to deal with when sanding.

SWEET COMPOSITES - Tools & Equipment has a respirator, gloves and various other tools for anyone wanting to work with epoxy or fiberglass.

These are some other links I found useful in learning about fiberglass or epoxy repair.

Fiberglass Repair pictures from kayaking photos on webshots

BoatUS BoatTECH Guides: Fiberglass Repair

Fiberglass Repair: TAP Plastics