Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yard Sales

The lowly yard sale; it goes by many names: tag sale, rummage sale, garage sale, moving sale, flea market, attic sale. What do they all have in common? At the base level, they consist of a group of people selling junk and a group buying junk. The yin and yang of used crap. But, why should you care, you say?

First and foremost, the yard sale is a great opportunity to find bargains. One can find items that are much cheaper than new, sometimes downright free. Most of the stuff you will see is unwanted by the owner...they are motivated to sell and the price should reflect this.

Secondly, these sales are a great way to help short circuit the rampant consumerism that is so pervasive today. By purchasing second-hand goods, you lessen the demand for new items and prevent these same items from an early grave in your nearest landfill. Don't forget the first 2 of the 3 "R's"...reduce and reuse.

So you're now interested, but you have no idea where to begin. When and where can you find these magical and wondrous sales? This may take some research on your part, since every area is unique. In my neighborhood, all one would need to do is drive around on a Saturday morning and look for the home made signs. These signs normally go up on Thursday or Friday, so you can get a feel for the prospects of the upcoming week. This may not work for your particular area, so here are some tips:

1. Newspaper
-Check the Classifieds

2. Internet
- or just google 'how to find yard sales'...there are tons of sites

So you've located a few sales, now it's show time. It is a good idea to have some semblance of a plan to maximize your experience. As a rookie, you might get outmaneuvered by the pros; but keep your head on a swivel and your resolve will do just fine. Here are some tips and observations to help you out:

- It is a great idea to have a short list of items that you are focusing on. A strong focus will help you eliminate wasted time and missed deals. For instance, if you are only looking for kid's stuff and you see an old couple with a small amount of faded memories out front...just keep driving.

- Get up early and move quickly. The best deals will go first, so if you want'll have to sacrifice a bit of sleep.

- Don't have too high expectations. Remember, this is mostly crap that people don't want, and you probably don't either. I have yet to find an iPod touch.

- Certain neighborhoods seem to have different offerings. New vs. old, townhouse vs. single family, etc. It will be up to you to discover the feel of your surroundings.

- While you can always generalize, the truth is that you'll never know what you may find. There is really some random stuff out there.

- Some folks you encounter will be truly 'salt of the earth'. This is not a fashion show, people are here to find deals. I've noticed bathing is optional.

-Some hunters will pull up as close as possible to the driveway, nearly hitting other scavengers; normally double-parking several other people in. They will leave the vehicle running, often with an obese matriarch-lookout riding shotgun. The driver will dismount with the remainder of the family and relay information back to the vehicle. Do not be these people. Thanks.

In summary, yard sales can be a great way to save money and help out the environment. I've found the following items to be the best bets: books, tools, kid's clothing, toys, and sports/workout equipment. In good condition, these things can be great bargains. I steer clear of underwear and toothbrushes.

I would love to hear other tips, or funny anecdotes, so let 'er rip.


Friday, August 29, 2008

The New Kitchen Garden

The New Kitchen Garden. Anna Pavord. Recommended.

Another book review for your perusal...

This book is a fairly good reference to start or expand your garden. Its main focus is a small garden for the average household, surprisingly enough known as a "kitchen garden".

The first chapter highlights various garden styles and features. Being from the DK Press, the book has a definite British feel to it. (I have enjoyed all the books from this publisher, and will select books from them on name alone.) For those unfamiliar with the term "kitchen garden" (like me), it is a rather formal style, normally walled in, with a large variety of food plants for consumption by the household.

After the description and layout of the traditional kitchen garden, many other styles and features are shown; formal fruit garden, hedges, salad & herb garden, cottage garden, patio & balcony gardens, and a formal herb garden. These styles are each given rather extensive treatment.

The second section gives a biography of nearly every type of vegetable and fruit that one would care to plant. Each specimen is given at least two full pages, listing vital stats; large photographs, a basic history, how to optimally cultivate, and specific recommended cultivars. Many entries also have recipes as a suggestion on how to use your harvest.

The final section is all about improving your gardening skills - planning & cultivating techniques. Plot design, soil preparation, crop rotation, starting seeds, and a plethora of growing methods are covered, just to name a few. There are many good tips to be found here.

I recommend this book for any gardener's library. I have already used some of the tips for strawberries in my own patch. As my garden expands, this will be a good reference.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

No Farms, No Food

I just received my snazzy "No Farms, No Food" bumper sticker in the mail today. You can get yours at

Every year there are 1.2 million acres of farmland lost in America, mostly those that are closest to population centers. Farmland is one of America's greatest national treasures. The American Farmland Trust works to preserve these lands...the land that sustains us all. Please check out their site, and maybe get yourself a bumper sticker or environmentally friendly tote bag for your next trip to the farmer's market.

Please see the blog contest, as well.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hypermiling: The ECO Pedal

This article from highlights some new technology that could improve your gas mileage significantly. As I noted in this post, instant feedback is a great way to quickly improve your fuel economy. The ECO Pedal seems to be a novel way to give the driver that instant feedback. From the Nissan website:

The ECO Pedal system is fed data on the rate of fuel consumption and transmission efficiency during acceleration and cruising, and then calculates the optimum acceleration rate. When the driver exerts excess pressure on the accelerator, the system counteracts with the pedal push-back control mechanism.
Not only does the computer system calculate optimum acceleration, but it gives both visual and tactile feedback. The fuel savings are estimated at 5-10%. I think that this might even be an understatement as I have shown fuel economy improvements of around 30% by hypermiling, using the ScanGaugeII. Adding the fact that it can be enabled and disabled, I think this feature would be very desirable on any car.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Basic Country Skills

Storey's Basic Country Skills. A Practical Guide to Self-Reliance. Highly Recommended.

As I noted in this post, self-sufficiency may become increasingly necessary in the future. In that same post, I reviewed a very good primer on self-sufficiency. This one, dear reader, gives it a run for its money.

The book is divided into four simple categories: home, garden/orchard, cooking/preserving, and your barn/stable/fields. Each section has a wide range of skills that it describes in fairly extensive detail. Since one person cannot possibly be an expert on every single discipline that is examined, the author has compiled excerpts from other books and articles from authors who are experts.

I feel that this gives the book even more utility, since if you find a section interesting, you can head down to your local library and have a name of a useful resource at your fingertips. There are literally hundreds of sources for this book. I noticed that several sections were drawn from books that I have already featured, Dirt Cheap Gardening, for instance.


This section, as you may have surmised, deals with your homestead. First selecting a good site, and then improving and maintaining it. There are many home improvement skills covered (which probably should only be used as a starting point). It also covers water, plumbing, electricity, and other utilities.

Garden & Orchard

This is the most extensive section of the book. There are tips to improve your ability to grow just about any type of plant; from vegetables to flowers to your lawn. Both pests and beneficial animals are highlighted in separate sections. Greenhouses, sheds and other structures are illustrated; and rock and water gardens are given a small treatment, as well.

Cooking & Preserving

This section has many recipes and techniques to preserve food and create new taste sensations. Even cheese and yogurt recipes are included (which I most likely will not be attempting). There are sections for butchering and preserving meat, but once again, I will most likely not be trying. It seems like butchering animals might be something you learn from somewhere other than a book. What could possibly go wrong?

Barn, Stables and Fields

Care of farm animals of all types are highlighted here; such as cows, swine, goats and rabbits. Even country pets - the outdoor dog and cat - are examined. There is also an extensive section on small scale farming which I found to be quite interesting. High value, labor intensive crops are suggested; pumpkins, bees, Christmas trees and many other cash crops are covered in detail. There are also chapters for farm structures, tools and implements.

As I have said before, there is no complete self-sufficiency guide. However, this book has a very wide range of subjects and is the best overall self-sufficiency book I have reviewed to date. It has applications for nearly anyone; from an apartment dwelling urbanite, to the most rugged independent homesteader. I recommend it for anyone's home library.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cash Value Life Insurance

Northwest Mutual Life Insurance Pushers

I have recently been accosted by several of these Life Insurance salesman posing as financial advisers.

Correct me if I am wrong but it seems that you pay for a life insurance policy that you probably will not need, especially since my only dependent is one princely pup named Oscar. While your life insurance policy gains value you can take loans out against the policy.

Would it not be better to just invest your money in similar vehicles that they utilize and purchase a life insurance policy when you actually need one?

Can anyone comment on the cash value life insurance vehicle?


Lemond Poprad Review

Lemond Poprad 2008

I purchased the Poprad after riding several different Cyclocross bicycles. I preferred the Poprad over the Specialized Tricross and Surly Crosscheck.

Some highlights quotes from the Lemond website:
Poprad is a city in Slovakia where Matt Kelly won the first American World Championship in Cyclocross—on a LeMond.

The front and rear derailleurs are the Shimano 105 and Ultegra; so smooth you can not even tell you have shifted. The feel of the ride is smooth but it also seems to handle more like a road bike than the Specialized.

The steel frame is made in the USA, which was a selling point for me. The seat post and front fork are carbon.

Aesthetically, the Poprad is a hands down winner. The white frame with white handlebars is SICK!!

It set me back about $1500, whereas the Surly, my second choice, was a couple hundred less.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Specialized Langster 2007 Update: Part 3

a full two months(see original post) - here's what I think...

On an overall scale, I would say the Langster ranks 8.5 out of 10.

Pros - The Langster is light-weight and fun to ride, a good work out on hills, and a great conversation starter with the ladies. Not to dwell too much on that point, but the chicks dig the Langster. I use the bike 4-5 times per week and at least 5-6 miles per day. I know, not a heavy workout routine by any means, but for someone with a busy schedule and is not in the best shape in the world, I think the mileage and frequency is adequate enough. I feel my leg muscles tightening up and toning by the day.

Cons - While I liked the single-gear aspect initially, it can be a bit of a pain from time to time, especially when going downhill. Not uphill? No no, that's what I enjoy the most. If there is any type of downhill slope, pedaling becomes virtually impossible and you're at the mercy of the bike to "bottom-out", so to speak. The one long ride I did take, roughly 25-30 miles, I wished to have several gears just to switch things up, but in the end, it was not a huge deal.

So why did I rate the Specialized Langster at 8.5 out of 10? For the price range, I would rate it 9.5 out of 10, but I tried out other bikes during the interim since my previous post and more expensive bikes are obviously better. With that being said, I felt my bike at roughly a third of the price of the other bikes I rode is a steal to say the least.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Five Financial Costs of Obesity

Here is a Newsweek article that lists five major costs of American obesity. The results are compiled from several recent studies and other sources.

1. Lower Wages
2. Less Hours Worked
3. Higher Medical Costs
4. Higher Airfare
5. Less Fuel Economy

The last one seems to be a bit of a stretch. Even several hundred pounds will only slightly affect fuel economy. Over the entire country I suppose this would add up, but any small effect will add up if multiplied by 300 million.

There is another angle, however: larger individuals will no doubt opt for larger vehicles, which in turn does have a significant effect. Also, as the average American increases in size, automakers must continually readjust auto size, thus building larger and larger vehicles to keep up with demand.

Can you think of any other areas where obesity would have added, perhaps hidden, costs?

Read more here, here, and here.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Evaporated Cane Juice vs. Sugar, Part II

As I noted in this post, I was skeptical about the differences between Evaporated Cane Juice and regular table sugar. As I found, the difference is negligible, and the price would not seem to justify the small amount of nutrients that might be found in Cane Juice. I found an article that examines the issue a bit more, this time examining the health ramifications of simple carbohydrates.

First, the author lists the plethora of alternate names that "sugar" has picked up in the health food aisle:

Perhaps because it sounds like it fits in with a New Age mentality, a lot of manufacturers are using the word "crystals" in describing their sweetening agents nowadays. But sugar they are. To list just a few, there are: cane juice crystals, dehydrated cane juice crystals, unrefined cane juice crystals, raw cane crystals, washed cane juice crystals, Florida crystals (a trademarked name), unbleached evaporated sugar cane juice crystals, crystallized cane juice, and unbleached crystallized evaporated cane juice. There are also products with such names as organic dehydrated cane juice, unbleached sugar cane, evaporated cane juice, and evaporated cane juice sugar.
There are many supposed benefits to these products that have been processed less; and organic products are most likely better for the environment. But since these products are chemically equivalent to sugar, how will they affect your health? The first expert to weigh in, a nutritionist, laments that folks should not think these products are a healthy substitute for sugar:

VanDien's assessment of sweeteners is pretty rigorous. She thinks virtually every commonly used sweetener is as bad as sugar when it makes up a significant part of the diet, as it does for too many Americans.

"Whether you're talking about cane sugar, honey, barley malt or Sucanat (a tradenamed product), they're all primarily simple sugars, simple carbohydrates," VanDien explains. "People should be concerned that, if they're eating 150 pounds of sugar a year and you change that to 150 pounds of barley malt, you'll have the same problems with your immune system and blood sugar levels you would have if you are eating the sugar."

The second expert, with a PhD in nutrition, agrees:
"It's a question of economics," says Fuchs. "Health food stores and manufacturers are capturing dollars from products that are not necessarily the best quality or the healthiest. Some of the companies that use things such as evaporated cane juice say they've studied it and find that people metabolize their sugars more slowly than refined sugar. But I find people who have the same problems with evaporated cane juice as they do with regular sugar. And I deal with people all over the country. I find that people who react to sucrose, or refined sugar, are reacting in the same way to evaporated cane juice," says Fuchs.
She does feel that some sweeteners are superior to sugar, however:
Fuchs does feel that some alternative sweeteners are clearly better than sugar, or the so-called lesser refined sugars. "Sugar is 93 percent sucrose. That's different than barley malt, which is maltose and glucose, and different than maple syrup, or fruit juice concentrate. You can't say those are the same things as sugar when their chemical compositions are different."
The main point I gleaned from the article, is that while there is no really 'healthy' substitute for simple sweeteners, a little will not kill you.
But while VanDien faults sugar for not being "nutrient dense," she also says that "almost anything, in moderation, is not bad. I think balance and moderation are the key words.
However, since most Americans eat very large quantities, they could kill you. In the words of St. Augustine, "To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation."

Other Sugar posts:
Evaporated Cane Juice: Part I
Where to Buy
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Caramel Apples
Sugar and the Environment
Alternative Sugar Names
A Look at Agave


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lest We Forget...

Here are two articles that examine our amnesia regarding high gas prices. Even small, short term declines in prices seem to quickly return us to buying large vehicles. But, hey, we're America... large vehicles are our birthright.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

langster update

my latest bike ride

While on my latest bike ride with good friend and actor SHELLEY MALIL, we chatted on and off about a number of different topics. An obvious starting point was the 2008 OLYMPICS, and that over-achieving speedster, MICHAEL PHELPS, his obvious doping allegations (I'm peering into the future), but quickly wandered into off-topic topics, and you know how that goes. CATHERINE KEENER is the unsung love of his life, he loves brograbs and HI-5, short shorts and KERRI WALSH's buttcheeks. His heart goes out to CAYLEE ANTHONY and huffin and puffin (not so much) BERNIE MAC.

I'll just list the rest of the crap we talked about-

14. WWE

Last and certainly not least - the one, the only, MILEY CYRUS

I'm losing weight and my mind, but keeping it LANGSTER.

(the pic is a Chupacabra, from wiki:

Chupacabra (also Chupacabras /tʃupa'kabɾas/, from Spanish chupar: to suck, cabra: goat; goat sucker) is a legendary cryptid rumored to inhabit parts of the Americas. It is associated more recently with sightings of an allegedly unknown animal in Puerto Rico (where these sightings were first reported), Mexico, and the United States, especially in the latter's Latin American communities.[1] The name comes from the animal's reported habit of attacking and drinking the blood of livestock, especially goats. Physical descriptions of the creature vary. Eyewitness sightings have been claimed as early as 1990 in Puerto Rico, and have since been reported as far north as Maine, and as far south as Chile. It is supposedly a heavy creature, the size of a small bear, with a row of spines reaching from the neck to the base of the tail. Most biologists and wildlife management officials view the chupacabra as an urban legend.[2]



Hypermiling Update: 8/11/08

I've had two tanks since my last hypermiling update. They both were near my average; one above, one below. The results are as follows:

Updated overall stats for hypermiling (since 2/4/08):

Fuel price chart:

I have not blogged about the falling gas prices yet...I do not want to jinx it. Maybe if we keep complaining about the high prices, they'll just keep falling.

Seriously, I expect the prices to keep dropping a bit throughout the year. I am not much for predictions, however, since any type of crisis can send oil up again. It is interesting that the recent troubles in the Caucasus are not having a big, immediate effect. Anyway, my view is that the oil prices were mostly run up by the weak dollar, along with other (hopefully semi-temporary) factors. We will see how long the decline lasts.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

As highlighted in this previous post, resources are becoming an increasing strategic and geopolitical tool. The ramifications of this may soon be much more apparent with Russia's recent 'smackdown' of its former republic, Georgia. Today I'd like to feature an article that examines this conflict: Welcome Back to the 19th Century.

Conflict between Georgia and Russia is very old and complex, and I'll readily admit I am no expert. While I knew Georgia was not just the Peach State; a week ago you could have told me South Ossetia was the setting for The Princess Diaries 2 and I would not have argued.

Back to reality ... While the conflict is obviously rife with cultural and ethnic tensions, I'd like to focus on one feature that could have grave implications for Europe, and by default, the rest of the West. I'm not sure if I agree that the conflict can technically be summed up quite so succinctly, but this passage is key:

The object is pure 19th-century: domination plus winning the resource war. Georgia is the "last of the independents," so to speak, a critical conduit of oil and gas that goes around Russia into the Black Sea and (with a planned gas pipeline) via Turkey into the Mediterranean. It is no accident that Russian planes are bombing throughout the country, and narrowly "missed" pipelines. The message to the West is: "You don't really want to invest in energy here."
The 'critical conduit of oil and gas' is the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which is a newly built passage for vast Caspian sea resources to the West. As you can see from the map, it meanders quite a bit farther than a direct route (bypassing Armenia and Iran), for purely geopolitical reasons.

If/when Georgia is (actually or practically) reabsorbed into Russia's sphere of influence, Europe's access to Eurasian oil and gas will come from two sources: Russia and the Middle East. One can quickly see how this can be a negative outcome. Just ask Ukraine how the Russians approach customer service when they have a natural gas monopoly.

In this specific case, there was little the West could do to help Georgia. Georgia seemingly misplayed their hand and will most likely end up crippled and humiliated. Russia knows that our options are limited and are taking full advantage. The question becomes, Will this be the end of the revisionism? ...Or will the expansion continue?


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Veggie Wash

As highlighted by the recent Salmonella outbreak, fruits and vegetables may harbor a wide range of undesirable substances. Non-organic produce may have a plethora of chemicals applied to it throughout its life. Organic produce may be cost prohibitive or simply not available. Even organic produce may have been handled by dozens of dirty hands on its way to your home.

Since most fruits and veggies travel long distances, the producers use tricks such as waxes to ensure it will arrive with little damage. This wax is not necessarily very good to eat, and if you only rinse with water, it will trap all the chemicals underneath it.

Most soaps and cleaners will remove harmful materials, but they themselves may be toxic and at the very least can leave a bad taste behind. My family has used 'Veggie Wash' to clean all our produce for several years. It is made only of natural ingredients: corn, coconut, citrus oils, sodium citrate, and grapefruit seed extract. The label claims that it is laboratory tested and proven to remove unwanted residues.

I cannot really personally vouch for the effectiveness of the product. It certainly removes the wax coating from supermarket fruit. As for dangerous chemicals or microbes, I have not run any scientific tests. Also, most pathogens, like Salmonella, cannot really be washed off. I'm sure this is better than nothing, but sometimes the only way to get rid of microorganisms is to cook them. The thing that I appreciate is the lack of heavy soapy aftertaste. There is only a slight citrus taste, if anything at all.

What do you use for washing produce?


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Organic Pest & Disease Control

Organic Pest & Disease Control. Taylor's Weekend Gardening Guides. Highly Recommended.

I picked this book up to research the control of tent caterpillars. We had quite an outbreak this year, and I wanted to get a leg up on them. I have a feeling that they will be gunning for my new plum trees. Anyway, on to the review.

The book is divided into five main chapters. The first is Creating a Healthy Garden, and the next four cover each of the following nuisances: pests, diseases, weeds, and animal pests.

As I noted, the first chapter examines the importance of creating your garden from the beginning to be healthy. There will be less pests and weeds to repel if your garden is strong from the start. This seems to be a common theme in nearly all of the books I have read thus far. Some tips (these may sound familiar): good soil, choose the right plants, diversify, and recordkeeping.

Now the real meat of the to identify and eliminate pests. The glossy pages exhibit large pictures and illustrations that seem to come to life. There are full color renderings as well as smaller, life-sized examples. Besides the pests themselves, the damage that they might leave behind is shown as well for forensic comparison. Along with each set of illustrations is text describing the pest, its damage, and organic ways to control it.

I would highly recommend this book for the novice organic gardener. For those with more experience, it may not be as useful, but there are many pests, diseases and weeds featured. It may be a lifesaver if your local garden store does not have the answers you need.

Oh, and for the tent caterpillars? Actually, I had originally thought they were bagworms, but this book straightened me out. So, you learn something new everyday. The book recommends manual removal, burning the nests and sprays of BTK (Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki). I have also heard that pheromone traps in the spring will capture the moths before they can lay eggs.


Friday, August 8, 2008

Fat Future?

According to a new study, if current trends persist, 100% of American adults will be overweight in 40 years :

The figure might sound alarming, or impossible, but researchers say that even if the actual rate never reaches the 100-percent mark, any upward movement is worrying; two-thirds of the population is already overweight.

"Genetically and physiologically, it should be impossible" for all U.S. adults to become overweight, said Dr. Lan Liang of the federal government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, one of the researchers on the study.
I tend to think that extrapolating data out for many years like this is not very accurate, and I would hope there will be a few holdouts from the ranks of the heavy. The overwhelming size of the problem cannot be ignored, however. Our healthcare system and other entitlement benefits are already extremely strained. If everyone is fat...what hope do we have?

More on American Obesity...


Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Story of Stuff

As a fellow member of the 'consumer' culture, you may never stop to think about where our 'stuff' comes from, or where it goes when we are done with it. Most folks only see a small fraction of the process: we go pick things up at a big store and then set them out on the curb for someone to whisk away in a big truck. I found a short movie that examines this life cycle a little deeper in an engaging and sometimes humorous format, The Story of Stuff.

The author delineates the five main sectors of the "Materials Economy", basically the life cycle of "stuff".

  1. Extraction
  2. Production
  3. Distribution
  4. Consumption
  5. Disposal
Each of these sectors is examined in detail, with many statistics peppered throughout to drive points home.

I'll first summarize the positive points I took away from the video, saving my critiques for the end.

Overconsumption - As I have highlighted in other posts, I feel we consume an extreme amount of goods. Americans, on average, consume more of our 'fair share' of the Earth's natural resources. You may argue we also are more affluent than the average world resident, many of us consume far more than we produce and/or afford.

Unsustainability - Obviously our demand for fossil fuels is not sustainable, as they are not renewable resources. However, many of the demands on the world's renewable systems are simply not sustainable, as well. Many agricultural systems are being depleted, as well as fisheries and forests.

External Costs - I have talked about external costs in previous posts as well, these can range from pollution and environmental degradation to suppressed wages and unemployment. The current system does a very good job of pushing these onto anyone but the consumer. The consumer must be given the lowest possible price to keep the goods flowing.

Linear Nature of the Current System - This is another way to depict unsustainability. We currently use resources to create things that we then throw into a pit and cover up with dirt. The linear nature of this system is rather unsustainable...however, this is an extremely simplified depiction. There are many subsections of the process that currently are sustainable and decidedly non-linear...which are not mentioned. This leads me to the negative points of the film...

The video seems to play a little too loose with the facts for my tastes. Many of the claims seemed a bit over the top, but in the creator's defense, an exhaustive list of references is available, allowing for your own review.

Military Spending - They quote the US military budget from a group who suggests that we evade the portion of our taxes that support the military. Not very fair and balanced. These kinds of tricks tend to make me doubt the validity of other claims.

'Toxic' Chemicals - I'm sure there are tons of things that deadly to us that we encounter every day. I'm also sure that it is probably a good idea to limit our exposure to some of them. But just because they haven't been tested does not mean they are necessarily dangerous. Also, almost everything is dangerous at a high enough concentration. So, I'm somewhat on board with searching out new dangerous 'chemicals' (which I've always found to be an interesting term, since technically most everything is made of some type of chemical), but let's be smart about it. That being said, we have a hard enough time keeping lead out of kid's toys, so they might be on to something.

Breast Milk - Highlighting the levels of toxic chemicals in breast milk could have the distinct possibility of discouraging mothers from breastfeeding. While they make the point that breastfeeding is still be best way to feed your baby, I can see how scare tactics such as these would cause folks to think twice. I'm not sure of a good solution on this one, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater does not seem to be helpful.

Role of Government - The creator definitely has a distinct role that they believe the government should play in our lives. Many people might disagree.

Short on Solutions - The many problems with the world are expounded upon, but they leave us quickly without heavily examining the solutions. They mention several ideas at the end, but it is up to us to do more research on our own. Since the solutions will no doubt be wide ranging and complex, this is understandable. The website has a good list to start.

Slickly produced, designed quite well to hook in the hip, iPod generation. Tons of easy to remember facts and stats to impress your friends and shame them for not caring about the world as much as you do. Perhaps this was intentional, as the creators believe that these folks need the message the most; or perhaps more sinisterly, will be the most receptive.

Unfortunately, I think a complete overhaul of our materials and energy intensive consumer-based economy is highly unlikely...unless perhaps it crashes and must be rebuilt from scratch. I believe any wide spread changes to a localized economy will be driven by economic necessity; not altruism or environmentalism.

Overall, it is a good reminder that we should take our surroundings into account when we make choices. If one wants to induce change, it will most likely be done with a pocketbook. Every purchase of 'stuff' is a vote. We must keep this in mind everyday.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Begin rant...

Why does everything have to be black or white, one or zero, good or evil?

In the infinite wisdom of Forrest Gump contemplating the true meaning of life, "I, I think maybe it's both".

This has manifested itself to me in many current subjects (war in Iraq, any political debate, American Idol). As an example, let's reflect on bio-fuels...

Up until recently, ethanol was good. But not just good, it was our savior. It would save the earth, our pocketbooks and eliminate our reliance on foreign fossil fuels. Now, when we need it most, there has been a small, but vocal up swell of dissidence. Ethanol is not good, it is ungood, it is EVIL! It kills babies, makes your food double in cost, creates unmentionable environmental degradation and actually takes more energy than it produces!!! O.K. Hmmmm. Let's step back a bit and really think a minute. Perhaps there are many shades of gray in the world. Maybe things aren't one or zero. Maybe there are fractions.

I pinpoint this to a 'chicken or egg' scenario, one that I fully do not have a complete explanation for, and certainly do not have a solution.

I can either blame the media...the 24 hour news cycle, the over-sensationalizing nature of delivery, Headline News (who needs the whole story, anyway?), Hollywood, TMZ, Fox News, CNN, everything is a nauseum, ad infinitum...doubleplusgood...doubleplusungood...

Or I could blame us, the American public...perhaps the media is only filling a need, providing a service, trying their damnedest to stimulate the few remaining over-stimulated brain cells we have left...while we muddle through our lives that are continuing to decline in meaning, the great Idiocracy, expecting our problems to be solved by anyone other than ourselves, complaining when they are not immediately remedied at zero personal cost...

So which is it?

"I, I think maybe it's both".

...end rant.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Bad English

Between You and I. A Little Book of Bad English. James Cochrane.

While I certainly enjoy any praise that my writing garners, the hard truth is that I am far from a literary master. I am actually running on the fumes of my high school English classes; which leads me, on occasion, to search out refreshers and supplements for my knowledge of the written word.

Between You and I is a small handbook that outlines many common mistakes committed by users of the English language. If the title causes the hair on the back of your neck to bristle a bit, you are already ahead of the game. If not... then all the more reason to read further.

The book is arranged as a large list in alphabetical order, and is written in an authoritative British tone, yet at many times is very humorous. It has hundreds of incorrect usages; words that sound similar, misused phrases/cliches, and many "half-educated" uses of language. It also highlights 'lost-causes', incorrect bits of language that have become so ingrained that they are now mostly acceptable.

It serves as a guide for those that wish to "salvage the standards of the English language". Personally, I'd just rather not sound like an idiot. Here are some examples:

could of Educated readers will not need to be told that could of represents an illiterate mishearing of the contraction for could have - could've - and can never, in any circumstances, be considered correct English.
decimate ...related to decimal...the ancient Romans dealt with mutiny by selecting one man in ten, chosen by lot, for punishment. Decimated is now often used instead of some such word as devastated, but should not be...

less and fewer Less describes quantity, fewer describes number. For example: "For a healthy diet we should eat less sugar, salt, and animal fat and fewer sweets and chocolates." It is Bad English to write e.g., "There were less accidents on the roads last year than any year since 1958."...
Many of these hints are hard to remember and may even seem rather unnatural, as some have been so ingrained that they are nearly impossible to reverse. I do not think I will become a perfect writer overnight (veritably this post has a few errors), but this book will definitely help me avoid the most egregious blunders. I recommend this to any one who wishes to improve their command of the English language, as well as keep the grammar police at bay.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dirt Cheap Gardening

Dirt Cheap Gardening. Rhonda Massingham Hart. Recommended.

From the title alone, I knew this book was right up my alley. The combination of gardening and frugality is a winning combination in my view. Like any hobby, gardening can become quite a money sink. Despite the best of intentions, an activity that is begun to help the family finances may end up taking more resources than it produces. This book will help you avoid such pitfalls and perhaps make the experience both more productive and enjoyable. While I have begun gardening again to learn new skills rather than completely sustain my family, I do not necessarily think that I will necessarily be making large amounts of money. That being said, whenever possible, I prefer to not squander resources.

The book is divided into ten chapters, each with its own set of tips for saving time and/or cash. I think it is an important point to remember that time is a precious resource as well, many times much more valuable than money.

1. The Absolutes
This chapter is the anchor of the book, describing the basics of gardening. All of the initial decisions you make will affect the results of your garden. Site selection is key, as well as correctly choosing plants for each site. Obviously, putting plants that require full sun into a shady spot will only cause you frustration and end up wasting resources. So working with what you have is an important point. If you are short on space, perhaps containers would be the most effective solution.
Soil quality (a recurring theme in most gardening books I have read) is very important. Compost is a cheap way to increase the productivity of your soil, and this book has several ideas on where and how to get other cheap soil amendments. Testing for nutrients and pH is also covered. Another key point (that I have had to relearn on several occasions) is water. Setting up a system that provides the correct amount of water (either manual or automatic) will save your plants from certain doom. There is no better way to waste a lot of time and money than to let all your plants die when you go away on vacation. My automatic irrigation system should pay for itself quite quickly.

2. Tools vs. Toys
Gardening obviously requires a certain set of tools, but there are a plethora of choices. Many of these are quite expensive and have limited utility. The author attempts to sort the wheat from the chaff. Depending on one’s unique needs, certain tools may be quite necessary, while for others they would only be an expensive toy. It is up to you decide, but this chapter will help you navigate the many choices.

3. Priceless Plants
The plants you (or your neighbors/friends/family) already own have the amazing capability to reproduce and regenerate into new, free plants. This chapter covers the techniques that make this possible. Seed recovery, cuttings, layering, and dividing/transplanting are all examined. Many of these techniques seem to require a large amount of patience and experience, so they may not be very cost effective right away, but considering the costs of plants from the nursery they can be well worth the effort. These skills are very intriguing to me, considering if/when TSHTF, they may be very necessary.

4. Winning Varieties
Picking the correct varieties of plants will save lots of trouble. Native plants are always a good idea, since they have been naturally selected to thrive. Tolerance to your particular climate; temperature, water and specific pests/diseases, will save much time and money. There are many varieties (sometimes thousands) of each type of plant, and some may fair much better than others in your particular area, so a little research can pay large dividends. Another consideration is the value of the crops the plants produce. Berries are very expensive, and thus provide a lot of value in a small area. However, even the most valuable and prolific crops are not worth the effort if you do not like them. Unless you are growing for sale, only grow fruits and vegetables that you like to eat and flowers that you find attractive.

5. Save From the Start
When planning your garden, you can save money by using seeds vice purchased transplants. Starting you own seed takes a bit of planning and expertise, so you must take that into account. I plan on attempting to start seeds for next year’s garden, as I think it will be a valuable skill to learn. If you start a small greenhouse, you can make a side business of selling extra seedlings to friends and neighbors.

6. Plant Wellness Pays
Keeping plants healthy is important to maintain your investment. Proper fertilization is key, remember that more is not always better. Over fertilizing is wasteful, and can be detrimental to the environment. Remember that compost is a cheap and easy way to provide your plants with nutrients. Pest control and crop rotation is also covered in this chapter.

7. Cheap Skills
I’ll just list the skills that the author suggests will improve your gardening: recordkeeping, mulching, raised beds, training/trellising, pruning and pinching. Nothing really earth shattering, but each will definitely save you time and money.

8. Landscape for Less
The next chapter provides some tips for lowering your landscaping bills, while still maintaining the beauty of your yard.

9. Longer Life for your Plant Dollars
Extending the growing season has many advantages, providing for much more productivity. You can harvest both earlier and later, allowing you to maximize your garden’s potential. The author suggests several techniques to achieve this such as hotcaps, row covers, and inexpensive homemade cold frames.

10. Reap Bountiful Harvests
Once you have maximized your output, you must not let it go to waste. If you put all that time and effort into the garden, allowing the vegetables to rot on the vine seems to be very counterproductive. The book provides tips on determination of when to harvest many varieties of plants. Also, if you are blessed with a bumper crop, allowing it to rot in your fridge or countertop is not ideal either. The usual suspects of preservation techniques are covered, as well as giving your harvest away as gifts. For more information on this topic, I recommend Ball’s Blue Book of Food Preservation.

Many of the tips and ideas in this book are common sense or are found in many other gardening texts. There are some unique aspects to it, however, and it provides the information in a concise and easy to read format. I would recommend it for any gardener’s library. You’ll notice in my Amazon widget on the left hand portion of the page that it is a very inexpensive book, so you really don’t have much to lose. I think it will pay for itself in no time at all.