Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

I just finished reading "Cheap," by Ellen Shell and while it was a good book I found it lacking in some aspects. The book was well written, researched and pointed out a number of flaws that I have noted in my own life.

It lacked, like a good number of similar books, a definitive call to action. Shell touts two stores, Wegman's and Costco, that are better than the competition but outside of shopping there does not address any practical advice for turning our obsession with cheap around. Some subtle advice can be gleaned however. Shop locally. Direct from the grower or manufacturer if possible. Buy less.

I love books like this that speak to deficiencies in our culture but really wish that they would just drop in a simple plan for breaking the 'broken' cycle. It seems that with the research the author must have done it would be a simple task to outline at least that. Perhaps it is not that simple.

What am I overlooking? I'd love to know...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Burns Park and Indian Mounds


My brother and I were playing disc golf at Burns Park in North Little Rock and were cursing a interesting geographic hazard. A long mound extending from near a playground to the fence line of the park blocked our shot. This developed into a conversation about the mound building societies in early Arkansas history. We attributed the mound to the Toltecs and had some fun imagining them building it just to spite us playing disc golf generations later.

Burns Park is an amazing place. It is one of the nation's largest municipal parks. It boasts a 36 hole golf course as well as the aforementioned disc golf course, boating, hiking, tennis, BMX biking, camping, picnicking and amusement park. From the disc golf course the Arkansas River is not visible but the evidence of it is everywhere. In the distance you can see mountains that the river skirted as it made its way to the Mississippi River.

Dr. William Burns practiced medicine in the area and was mayor of North Little Rock from 1919-1925. He pushed hard for the funding and the creation of the park and later it was named for him. The original acreage for the park was purchased from Camp Robinson after World War II.

Oh and the mound? The park was used as training grounds during WWI as Camp Pike before it was absorbed into Camp Robinson. The mound was probably built for training maneuvers during this time. Not nearly as romantic as being built by Native Americans but quite cool nonetheless.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

dog training part 2 and stupidity

So in the thrall of dog training, I dash to a pet supply house to see if they have anything to help in my endeavor. Spying a bag of dog treats (mmm! bacon!) I decide this is just what I need. No price on the 1 lb. bag but the half lb. bag is only $6.99. Surely, it can't be 2 times the price of the half pounder.

I can buy 3 lbs. of good bacon for $10. I mean good bacon. Thick cut, perfect fat and perfect lean. I mean really good bacon.

Plus I'd feel better feeding my dog real, honest, artery clogging stuff. So real bacon it is. It is pretty sad commentary that fake bacon flavored gunk costs more than the real stuff.

raspberry crazy ants

There was a good article on raspberry crazy ants and their effect on honey bees in today's paper. Unfortunately, it is pay only so I'll link to other free-er sources.

Like the fire ant the raspberry crazy ant was discovered in Houston. It was probably imported in soil, wood or other lawn type material.

The ant is prolific and voracious. It will eat and out compete fire ants. I'm glad of that. There was a time you could spread a blanket on the ground where I grew up and not concern yourself with being eaten by fire ants. No longer. I watched fire ants move through Little Rock in the 90s.

Raspberry crazy ants are problematic though. They eat bee larvae and infest electronics. The have been known, like fire ants, to short out electric motors. They are immune to over the counter ant poisons. They will be a problem for lots of people as they are spreading.

There is a simple solution to the beekeeping problem though. When I first started keeping bees I was worried about fire ants eating my bees. I constructed hive stands out of 2x4s and mounted them on heavy duty galvanized pipe. At each leg I put a small metal coffee can half filled with water and a layer of oil (vegetable or motor oil) so that the legs of the stand sat in the water/oil filled can. No problems.

Monday, August 03, 2009

nicely designed bike

but poorly designed page...

This bike is almost everything a bike should be. I love the integrated blinkers. I wish they were powered by a dynamo though. And the pedal cages. Beautiful!

I'm not sure why you would design a bike this cool and then put it on a flash based page. I'm not sure what flash is supposed to offer here. It doesn't make it easier to navigate. In fact it replicates the old medium of paper.

But, man, I love this bike.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

speed reading mark 2

I have always been a fast reader but want to improve my reading skills as well. I stumbled upon an article by Tim Ferriss that purported to do just that. So after reading it and practicing the methodology described I was able to increase my reading speed dramatically. It also feels as though my retention has improved as well.

The gist of the program is this: our eyes often reread lines we have read already in an involuntary reaction. Train your eyes to not go reread by following a marker; your finger or a pencil.

The next step is to train your eyes to make better use of your peripheral vision by starting with your marker up to four words into the line and finishing with your marker four words from the end. During these exercises I realized I had taught myself how to do this naturally.

I still saw significant improvement in my words-per-minute count after 20 minutes of practicing these techniques.

Original WPM Count:
408 WPM

Post practice (using my finger as a marker):
720 WPM

Post practice (using no marker):
684 WPM

I don't think that I will use a marker as the sound of my finger sliding across the page is somewhat disturbing. And I don't think I'll always read at this speed. I find reading to be a very sensual experience; from the smell of the pages to my gaze sliding over the shapes of the letters. Reading can (and in some cases I'd argue should be) a slow, almost lazy process. One that is full of expectation and surprise. One that builds slowly to a crescendo. Heaving, tossed with passion until torrents of words, thoughts and ideas come gushing forth in waves...

Wait, where was I?

It is nice to have the option to accelerate the process if needed though.

record labels and money making

Here is a novel concept: Record companies making money by allowing youtube users to use their songs in videos.

Everyone has seen the "JK Wedding entrance" dance but did you know that according to several metrics, Chris Brown's single is being bought frequently by viewers of the dance intro. Rather than squelching the use of the song (which lots of labels do, ahem, Universal) Zomba is using the video to actually sell its music! Amazing!

Not only does this show good sense on the part of Zomba's executives but implies a revitalization of an dying industry. Stockholders in Zomba should be very, very pleased.

dog training part 1 continued

Basically the way I understand Andrea Arden is this.

Pick a simple behavior that you want to reinforce.
1. When the dog does the behavior reward the dog. Often.
2. After you are sure the dog will do the behavior without prompting then name it e.g. sit, lay, come etc.
3. Keep rewarding.
4. Taper off the reward by switching hands. Then random hands (even other people's hands). Then completely quit.

It is a simple system and it is definitely working for Preston thus far.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

speed reading

I was reading Tim Ferris' post on speed reading today. I can't wait to try this technique out. I already read quickly but I don't know exactly how fast.

This exercise should should me how fast I am currently reading and, hopefully, improve my ability. We shall see.

dog training part 1


I recently checked out Dog Friendly Dog Training by Andrea Arden at the local library. I wanted to harness my full grown dogs energy and turn it into something useful for both of us. He is, by nature, a dog that wants to please and he seems to have taken to his training really well.

The gist of this book is to reward good behavior not punish bad behavior. So we started with sit. The idea is to have treats ready and when the dog inadvertently does the behavior you want then you reward him. So after a few minutes Preston got bored and sat. He gets a treat followed by a 'yes' voiced response. I step away and he gets up to do the process again. We worked through the handful of treats I had in short order.

The next day I started to add a voice command of 'sit.' Now he sits on command. The day following I started to make him wait for his treat until I give the 'okay' verbal release.

I am probably going a bit fast and will grow to regret it but he was sitting on command, to some extent, before I started this training regimen. But now, and this is the kicker, he sits on command and I can walk away and then give him the 'okay' release and he comes running.

I think as I do this I'm going to write down kind of a recipe book for this process. For me it is easier to follow a list of instructions and then gather the meaning behind the instructions later. Let me know what you think in the comments below...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

cesspools and Amsterdam

This is pretty amazing. Fox News compares Amsterdam to a cesspool. The statistics prove otherwise.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

This is NPR...

I used to listen to NPR constantly. This reminded me of those heady days...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

stop! thief!

On registering my boys for school In Arkansas, I had to retrieve their social security cards and their birth certificates. No problem as they are stored not too far away so I head over to the storage facility. I get to my bay and notice a different lock on the door. The facility requires a circular lock and this one was a standard Masterlock.

I get the attendant to cut the lock off and sure enough around $7000 worth of stuff is gone. A list follows...

I hadn't been to the unit in 2-3 weeks and fortunately the facility does tours every 7-10 days to check for nonstandard locks. They should be able to pinpoint the time to within a few days. The also have cameras that record the gate so if the culprit took the goods out of the front gate we should be able to see them. The detective was quick to point out that they might not have left the facility at all.

The detective has worked a few cases at this location and felt confident that he could catch the culprit. The police responded in a matter of minutes and shortly thereafter 2 detectives showed up and dusted for finger prints and DNA. DNA!? It was very cool as the boys got to watch a real life CSI.

Two things about this situation are awful:

First, I had no insurance. Duh! I made the assumption that storage facilities are safe. They are not. The frequency that crimes occur in storage facilities is pretty staggering.

Second, the storage facility is not (and I do not have a copy of my contract in my hand yet so this is from memory) IS NOT responsible.

Here is the list:
make and model numbers aren't listed because I don't have them. Make that 3 terrible things

Air compressor $300
circular saw $50
corded drill $50
Craftsman router/table $300
Kenmore Washer/dryer (front loading) $3000
Onkyo 717 receiver $700
go cart $300
pocket motorcycle* $300
Specialized Globe Bike $400
Mongoose kids bike $120
Frankenstein motorized bike with 50cc motor* $200
52" Rear projection TV $1000
4' Zap Skimboard* $180
Total so far $6800

* These items should be easy to track. The bike is one of a kind and a skimboard in AR? Please... Pictures/Videos of these items are below. Oh well. No pics of the skimboard.

Don't let this happen to you. Storage facilities are not safe. No matter what the owners tell you. I would venture a guess that none of them have any responsibility for your gear. Check your facility daily. This totally sucks almost negating the need for storage units altogether. And most importantly insure your stuff. Write down all your make/model numbers and serial numbers. Take pictures of everything you can.

Franken motorcycle


Pocket bike


Your comments are like Christmas presents! I love them!

capturing bees

I had gotten some questions on my bee box video on youtube and needed a little more room to answer than they offer. So here they are:

denizaks14 wrote about capturing bees and harvesting the honey. The following is an attempt to address both issues. Please keep in mind I no longer keep bees and NEVER was an expert to begin with so please take all my answers with a block of salt.

The bees aren't actually kept in the bee box, a point I should have made clear in the video. The box is only used to line (or track) the bees back to their original hive. A hive can generally be a kept hive or a feral hive. By kept hive I mean a hive that already has an owner. I'd recommend leaving those alone. ;-) A feral hive is a swarm of bees that have swarmed from a kept hive.

A feral hive can be described as an escaped colony and needs care. Wild bees oftentimes no longer exist because of a variety of ills. Varroroa mites, disease and Colony Collapse Disorder all take their toll on an escaped swarm. These can be controlled (well perhaps not CCD) by an attentive beekeeper.

Here in the southeastern US, bees will often find a hollow Sweetgum tree. To capture the hive the top of the tree would be cut off so that the cut is above the hollow. Then the bottom would be cut below the hollow leaving a log that contains the hollow. This hollow log can then be carried to a convenient location for keeping. An empty hive body can be placed near the tree hive and the bees might move into the new hive making them easier to keep.

Honey can be extracted using a tool called a honey extractor. A honey extractor is basically a steel bucket with a rack inside that is spun by either a motor or by hand slinging the honey out by centrifugal force. The honey then runs down the inside of the bucket to a waiting spigot. Plans for honey extractors can be found here and here or they can be bought outright.

Make a mark! Leave a comment!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

language and spatial awareness

How does language shape our perception of the physical world and thus our psychology? I'm not sure exactly 'how' but this article implies significantly.

So is language ultimately the mechanism responsible for cultural psychology? And thus cultural stereotypes? Or is it that the cultural psychology is the mechanism responsible for language evolving the way it did? The article makes a good case for the former.

scams and how to avoid them

I just read an amazing article on scams with some insight on how to avoid scams of all types. I wonder how much of the current financial debacle could have been avoided by using these tools. Were we, as society, taken in by any of these tricks?

Just at a glance it seems that we were. Take these two instances as an example:

Appeals to trust and authority
Obviously, the fund managers know something we don't. These companies must be sound if they are investing in them.

Visceral triggers
Everyone is trying to get rich as quickly as possible. Everyone is buying housing beyond their means at the behest of unscrupulous mortgage companies who appeal to Trust and authority (see above).

Scarcity cues

You might miss out! Take advantage of this limited time offer now.

Obviously the above examples are sweeping generalizations but it is interesting to see how these principles can be applied to our current financial woes.

I tend to blow off 'amazing' offers without much consideration of the actual offer. I'm not sure why this is but it works for me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rainbow Slide


One cool Rainbow Slide at the SC State Fair.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

bloody noses and silly poses

So I'm trying to catch a predinner nap (sweet sweet sleep. I miss you so much...)and I hear Levi squeal and start crying. Leaping up, I find he has a bloody nose. He tells me that that he hit his nose on the dryer. I figure while trying to climb on top of it. Oh no... not even remotely correct. He opens the dryer to see a pile of clean clothes and thinks it would be a good idea to bash his head into the clothes. Obviously they'll be soft and it'll feel and smell good. Until he actually follows through with his plan and finds the hard plastic of the agitator under the first two layers of shirts. Poor fellow.

I can only picture him with his head stuck in the dryer about to mash his face into a pile of fresh smelling laundry. Then disaster!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Scissor lifts and kinematics

In reading this fantastic post by Ben Hopson, I began thinking of simple things to build with the boys. Simple things with simple components. We have plenty of popsicle sticks and some 1/8" dowels so we decided to build a scissor lift. The video is self explanatory but if you have any questions you can always hit me here.

Also check out this awesome cardboard and paper lamp with an integrated scissor lift built by Instructables user Euphy.




<a href="http://www.linkedtube.com/TlniJGScpc02e29161a079006f46fb817025b6d53e2.htm">LinkedTube</a>

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Rocket Launch!





<a href="http://www.linkedtube.com/Sh_N4oYyNuc45e4de299a4e17a9f4937f4c4977cc24.htm">LinkedTube</a>

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bee Lining

Before bees came packaged via USPS from beekeeping supply houses, beekeepers had to find 'natural' hives. Natural is in quotes because the bee was originally an import from Europe.

The process by which hives were found is very intriguing and sometimes requires one piece of equipment that was difficult to obtain; the bee box. Years ago, I found a book that described the process of lining bees in great detail and gave a great description of the bee box. So I built one. What follows is a description of the bee box and its use.



The bee box is a two chambered box. The main chamber has a flip top door with a large window. The window of the main chamber is covered by a thin piece of wood. The secondary chamber has a window in the end of the box also covered by a thin piece of wood. Access to the second chamber is controlled by a sliding door.

Use of the box is as follows: a bee is caught by sneaking up while it is on the flower. The box is snapped shut and the bee trapped in the first chamber. The thin piece of wood covering the first chamber's window is slide back to verify that a bee has been trapped. Once a bee is trapped then the sliding door to chamber two is opened, the window covered in chamber one and the window exposed in chamber two. Since bees are attracted to light, the opening of the window in chamber two draws the bee through the sliding door where the bee is then closed into chamber two. As many as 10 bees are captured by the same method.

Once all bees are trapped in chamber two, chamber one is opened and a small piece of honey comb filled with sugar syrup is placed inside. Sometimes a small amount of anise flavoring is rubbed on the honeycomb. The main door is closed and the sliding door separating the two chambers is opened.

The bees then collect the sugar water and head back to inform the rest of the hive. Once a steady stream of bees is established between the hive and box, one bee can be marked and timed. Marking the bee is done by scrapping a small amount of blue chalk dust into a small container of water. Then a bit of this water is dabbed onto a bee with a paintbrush. When the water dries the bee will be stained blue. When the bee is timed this will reveal the approximate distance to the hive. The direction to the hive can be determined by watching the line that the bees form as they fly toward the hive. They will fly in almost a straight line pointing to the hive.

Beekeeping is essential to modern life as we know it. Without bees to pollinate our food crops it would be difficult to enjoy many of them. Please support your local beekeeper. They provide more than you may realize.