Friday, December 14, 2007

American Girl Fashion

Recently, we visited American Girl Place in New York City. My daughter knew exactly what she wanted from her study of their catalog. We grabbed the new Julie doll, some accessories and got out of there.

I was curious what else there was in the store, but my daughter did not want to see anything else. She was done shopping. "Why should I look any more? Since I used all my money, I won't be buying anything else."

I found a beauty salon for dolls with a large crowd waiting for their turn to have their American Girl coiffed.

I hope that you can read the fine print in this sign. Just click on the image to see a larger version. I could not make it out in the store while I was there, which is why I took this picture. The average doll hair-do costs $10 to $20. That's how much I still pay for my real hair (what's left of it) at the barber shop. But then again I'm not 18 inches tall and don't get braids anymore.

On a related note, this doll (pictured below) during a recent fashion show at our home is sporting a hand sewn skirt, hand knit sweater and hat. It was purchased at a craft fair at a nearby senior home. My daughter bargained them down to $15. I'd kill to get such a nice outfit for my real daughter.

Low End Appliances Suck

Unfortunately, most small appliances are not worth researching. They are made in China and are cheap and disposable.

This year while we were renting my wife bought a cheap microwave oven. It was about $50. When I opened the box I could see that the door was bent. I returned it, and I bought a cheaper microwave. It was $40, and actually was a reasonable size for heating leftovers. The next week it was reduced to $30. I got my $10 back from Target. After 92 days (2 days after you could return things to Target w/o going through warranty) it died. It was a ChefMate which might be Target's house brand. I called the manufacturer, ultimately located in China, but undoubtedly with a tiny service office in Canada. I know this, because the Chinese fellow who answered the phone was also the voice on their answering system. He had me cut off the plug and mail it back along with the plastic support for the glass plate which usually revolves inside the unit while it is heating. I eventually got a check back for the full amount.

Now on to toaster ovens. We do not use a traditional pop-up toaster here - just the toaster oven. We use it for toast, melting things covered in cheese, and breaded chicken (or fish) fingers. Years ago, maybe 7 in fact, our old family friends gave us a toaster oven. It was small and standard and it was in their garage and hadn't been used much. It was probably 20 years old at the time, but you'd recognize it. It's the kind with the lever you push down and the mechanical 'ding!' when it was done. Anyway, it was slowing down. Not heating as much. Perhaps one too many a chicken finger had gone through it's maw. My brother had an almost new one, so I took that and free-cycled the old one. My brother's oven was obtained from his neighbor who once sold them online. Whenever something was returned to him, he'd send the plug back to the manufacturer and often would give the working appliance sans plug to my brother. So this one had a hefty plug from a hardware store attached to it. He apparently didn’t use it much at all. Now I'm trying to avoid using brand names in this story, but this one was an Oster. It died about a month into service.

So off I went to Target again. I consulted Consumer Reports, but of course since it's my contention that low end appliances are not worth deep comparison shopping, there were no good top specific models that Consumer Reports (CR) recommended to actually find. Target had 10 models, but I found that almost all models had the same big chunky knobs which were actually quite difficult to turn. Big and chunky is easy to use if you are a handle of an implement like a can or bottle opener, but very hard if you are a knob on an appliance. I take it CR didn't take usability into account. It seems clear to me that they all use the same knobs from the same Chinese knob factory. They don't really care that they are hard to turn - they just want to copy each other. Only one or two had the tapered knobs. So of those which were easy to operate, I found the $29.95 GE toaster oven which was exactly the same as our original one, except with knobs instead of levers. Within a week, it failed to 'bake'. I returned it. We now have another - similar one - a Hamilton Beach from (gulp) Wal-Mart. Our pathetic little Wal-Mart* at least only has 4 types of toaster ovens. I'd have paid up to maybe $70 if they only made toast and melted cheese and baked fried things and didn't have those big chunky knobs which neither me nor my family could turn very easily first thing in the morning.

You think I'm cheaping-out here, eh? Well there were many expensive silly toaster ovens which I skipped for good reason:

Do you want two racks in the oven, so you can toast two layers at once? Nope.
Pizza size, so you can reheat a whole pizza? Nah.
Do you want a rotisserie in your toaster oven? I think not.
Do you want a glass top so you can observe the top of the toast while it's toasting? Nope.
Do you want some scalloped warming trays inset into the top of the oven. Definitely not.

I'm beginning to think that generic appliances - the ones made in China (or Mexico or somewhere far away by people who would never use them) from companies you never heard of - are just as good (or bad) as any lower end name brand. Consumer Reports should note that or just give up. They don't read this, so you can note it if you'd like.

* note: It seems my MS Outlook spell-checker actually has the word 'Wal-Mart' in it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Pyromania Update - Strike!

First the Wood Pile:

I must confess now. Last week I was visiting my glorious wood pile, and I noticed that it was listing to one side. It was leaning a bit toward the house. I nudged it. It wiggled. I nudged it again. It wiggled some more. I decided to tie a rope around it and secure it to our deck. I nudged it again. It wobbled. I gave it a shove from the safer side, away from where it was leaning, and down it came. It sounded like pins in a bowling alley. So I was quite thankful that I was the one to discover the problem and that nobody else was around to be surprised by it.

Today I restacked it. A little better, but still not perfect. A little shorter, which will make my wife happy, but shorter mainly because we actually burned some wood.

Now, moving onto pellet stove news:

We did have a recent adventure here at the house. We returned from being away for Thanksgiving to find that our gas furnace had been off for 3 days. It seems that every so often, it would try to start up, but didn't. As it was early evening, we turned on the pellet stoves, moved bedding to the family room, tried to find the source of the problem, and find a heating guy to fix it. We had a toasty time camping out in the family room, but the house which started at 47 degrees inside when we got home was not very hospitable. The pellet stove eventually got it up to 58 degrees. This was with the stove on maximum. By morning the stove had burned up all it's fuel.

BTW, the furnace needed a new ignition element - the thing that lights the gas. The old one had burned out. The gas company had said they couldn't come check it out for at least a week! (Good thing I'm able bodied.) The local repairman, referred to me by my neighbor, came the next day, fixed it, and said he'd send a bill, which I expect won't be very big.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Small Town News

Sometimes our local news just cracks me up. This breaking news is not from The Onion. It's from the local Northampton newspaper Hampshire Gazette.

(Note: one link below added by me for sarcastic effect - like this story even needs it.)

Williamsburg gears up for a new stop sign


WILLIAMSBURG - A new stop sign will soon be installed at the corner of North and North Main streets just east of the village center.

Selectmen approved the move after hearing comments both for and against the sign from a small handful of residents, saying their decision was motivated by concerns for the safety of drivers who attempt to cross the path of drivers coming down North Street.

Selectmen said they also hope a stop sign will slow drivers down as they approach the village center.

"Traffic coming down North Street is going too fast. How to resolve it is what we're discussing," said Denise Banister, chairwoman of the board.

At least one resident, Robin Rosewarne, 89 Ashfield Road, said she is not convinced the sign is necessary. Rosewarne is concerned about an increase in accidents if cars stack up at the sign and are not visible to other drivers heading west into the center.

"We need more than just a stop sign," said Selectman Jeff Ciuffreda. "We'll also need a 'stop ahead' sign." Ciuffreda agreed with Rosewarne that the concern regarding traffic backing up is real and that the sign in its first weeks may create some problems.

Selectmen asked Highway Superintendent Bill Turner to lay out a plan to phase in the new sign. They would like to see some early warning signs go up, alerting drivers that a new stop sign will be installed soon.

Turner mentioned the possibility, too, of posting the area with traffic cones when the sign first goes up.

"The timing is good," said Ciuffreda, "since winter is coming and that may mean slower driving."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fire In the hole

This is a shot of one of our pellet stoves aflame. When the room is cold, it is cozy to sit in front of the stove and enjoy the glow and the radiant heat. The front of the stove, the glass, and the stove pipe are hot, but unlike a wood stove, the rest of it is cool. When the stove is on low, the stove pipe is actually warm - and not hot - because of the high efficiency. Every few seconds, the pellets drop down a chute making a quaint little plinking sound when they land in the little metal box. The only other sounds I hear is the faint roar from the fire, the turn of the auger which delivers the pellets, and blower.

In case you were wondering, this is a Travis pellet stove (Lopi - Heritage Bay). The stove has a switch which can be manual, automatic, or off. Manual means you hit another button to start it, and it will keep running. Automatic means if you hook up an external room thermostat, then it will cycle on and off like any heating device depending upon the room temperature. It also has two knobs one is oddly labeled 'Heat Output' which really means 'heat level' or really 'feed rate of pellets'. If I turn this up to max, then fuel (the pellets) will be fed more frequently into the fire box. The other one reads 'Fan' and this is actually the 'Heat Output' since when the fan is set to high, the stove will output heat (blow hot air) faster.

As promised, I hooked a thermostat to the pellet stove. Just about any thermostat available from your local hardware store will do. I bought some telephone wire and 1/4 inch contacts to hook it up. I even get a rebate from my gas company, because I bought an EnergyStar compliant thermostat which will let me program it. For example, I can set it to heat the room up more in the morning and less at night.

BTW, I'm told that my pellet stove can even burn a mixture of up to 10% corn kernels. I wonder if occasionally some will pop!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pallets of Pellets

We can't figure out exactly how to heat our house. Our house can be heated with forced-air gas heat, electric (in one big room), wood (fireplace in living room), or pellets. As I noted on a previous entry, when faced with too many choices, we humans may not make any choices at all, and ultimately we may feel bad about those we do make. For heating our house, it's too early to tell.

Our home came with 2 pellet stoves. There is one upstairs and one downstairs. The downstairs one is an insert - it lives within the fireplace; the other is free-standing.

Pellet stoves are like wood stoves in appearance and general function - they burn wood to heat homes, but pellet stoves are more modern. They have a button to turn them on, have knobs and switches to adjust their settings, and an electric fan to blow the heat. They run on wood pellets which are fed by a motor into a little firebox to be burned at a regular rate. Because the fuel of the stove is standardized, pellet stoves run automatically and can burn more efficiently than wood stoves or other means of heating. They also have remarkably low amount of emissions.

But pellets don't grown on trees, you know. They have to be manufactured and ordered. Just as wood for heating has to be felled, cut, split, and aged, wood pellets are made from compressed wood waste from sawmills where they are squished into mostly uniform sized pellet resembling rabbit food. The pellets can be poured like grain into sacks which can be easily transported and dumped into the hopper of a pellet stove.

I could give you the hard math here, but I must admit that avoided that myself. I did not want to calculate BTUs and compare fuel prices. I just wanted a rule of thumb to go by. Basically, to heat a generic home you could use a bag of pellets each day. So I figured that I couldn't go wrong if I ordered 150 bags. If I ran out before winter was over, I could just fall back on our gas heat. Late this summer I ordered 3 tons of wood pellets. 3 pallets of pellets. 150 bags of pellets. 6,000 pounds for $750. It took them a month to deliver them.

Once they were left on the driveway, we moved them bag by bag to our secret lair which is an unheated room in our home accessible from only the outside that we simply cannot figure out.

Pellet stoves require some work, although definitely not as much work as wood stoves. We've only been using them a few weeks here, since we only got our first frost a few days ago, so I can't yet rely upon our heating experience.

Some regular tasks for pellet stove owners:
  • turning on and off the stove when needed
  • carrying in pellet bags regularly
  • refilling the stove daily
  • cleaning the stove weekly
If you were wondering why we are going through this. It's because pellet stoves are supposed to be a cheap sustainable way to heat your home. They pollute less, and their fuel is wood waste which is a renewable resource. Also our pellet stoves do deliver that glowy warmth and faint smoky aroma that you come to rely on when you burn something. Quite primeval actually, in a modern sort of way.

On my todo list:
  • figuring out how to best heat the house using the combination of pellets and gas heat
  • adding a thermostat to one of the pellet stoves, so it can go on and off automatically
  • attaching a fresh-air intake, so the stove does not suck any heat out of the room
  • getting a long brush to clean the stove pipe annually
Some links:

Happy Halloween!!

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Halloween Cheney - Impeach the pumpkin

Nods to the recent New Yorker cover drawing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Right Number Of Choices

My buddy Paul reminded me that there are many hours of provocative free video (and audio) of talks at the TED Conferences. TED, if I remember correctly, was organized by Wired Magazine types to celebrate those who make robots, write bleeding edge books on the business best seller lists, or have gone to MIT or started companies with significant number of employees who went to MIT. I'm no expert, I'm not rich, not famous, not a Thinker or Doer, and thus not likely to appear at one of these conferences. I do think and do, but in my own way and usually not in front of an audience.

My buddy Paul told me that he watches an occasional TED Conference at home on the TV, through ITunes, his Mac, and their TV peripheral - a pleasing low-cost experience, if you don't count the cost of the hardware and internet bandwidth. You do not need this hardware or even ITunes to watch them, but it is easy. If you are using ITunes, go to the ITunes Store and search for "TEDTalks", then subscribe to this and download what you want. Otherwise some talks are on YouTube, and they are accessible of course from

I remember watching Theo Jansen talk long ago and show videos of his kinetic sculptures which are very much like large mechanical tumbleweeds crawling along a beach. Fascinating. Paul suggested I check out the brillo-haired Malcolm Gladwell author of "The Tipping Point" and the cartoon reading Barry Schwartz author of "The Paradox of Choice". Both have something compelling to say about our (product) choices.

Gladwell spoke at TED in 2004 about choices and why there are many permutations of different kinds of food products produced by a given company.

Gladwell says that as far as products go, there is no one best choice as far as human preference goes. If I make my own pesto, as I was doing while watching the video podcast, I am hopefully making what I think is the best pesto. But others may have their own best tasting or optimal version. (Note, audio-only is sufficient for this podcast, as there are no pertinent visuals, so you can make pesto for about 20 minutes while you listen.)

You see, if we simply average together all our preferences, then we'll end up with average tasting pesto. Nobody is truly happy with what they get. It might not have the right amount of basil, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, pine nuts, or Romano or Parmesan cheeses. But if we allow perhaps 3 or 4 varieties of pesto, then perhaps people will have the best dining experience meeting their preferences, provided of course they purchase and are served the one best suited for them.

This is not obvious, but makes sense to me. It also explains why you can get a Subaru Outback, which I have, which has a very high SUV-like suspension and a Subaru Legacy which is virtually the same car with a lower sedan-like suspension. Those who are used to driving at what I consider a normal altitude, low to the ground, could never consider high suspension, would never buy it, and might never be happy with it if they do. I took a chance, and am glad I did.

Barry Schwartz who gave a TED Conference in 2005 has an alternate but not opposite point of view. (His talk requires the video, although, if one existed, a Power Point presentation would do.) Through some thought provoking provoking thoughts (the proceeding was not a typo, but more of a tongue twister, so you might consider going back to the beginning of this containing sentence and read it again. Apologies for this digression.) and well chosen New Yorker-ish cartoons, Schwartz points out that too many choices give us paralysis and also leave us disappointed with the choices we eventually make.

Schwarts' ideas are not incompatible with Gladwell's thesis. Together the problems with too few and problems with too many choices explain the variety, the size, and the overwhelming and unpleasant experience at visiting the cereal aisle at your local supermarket.

Conclusion: most of us might be happy with just a few good choices. For me, a tea drinker who rarely has a coffee, a company like Starbucks has it wrong with their coffee menu, but of course they have too successful for this to be true. Dell may be a better example. They have dozens of product lines and under each you can get many options. Even the number sale items in their paper catalogs of their stock models number at two dozen. If you shop with them online where you can configure your system yourself, and you add in all the options, you easily get millions of permutations. Many times have I put together a system and abandoned my electronic shopping cart. Some of this is the nature of the PC industry, which allows you to put almost any components in a system. But Apple Computer got it right as far as choice and satisfaction goes, since for example their computers (here I simplify things) and even IPods usually come in three varieties: small, medium, and large. By the way, it is also clear that several best sellers and doctoral theses are probably hidden in the New Yorker cartoon archives.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Stacking Firewood

A cord of wood is a volume which measures 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet. Typically one makes a stack of firewood with split logs about 16" long, so a 6 foot high cord of that would be 16 feet long.

Last night I had our first firewood delivered here for burning. A few calls found someone who would deliver the amount we need. Since it's getting late in the wood season, we want wood that is dry and not green. Dry wood you can burn. They dumped it in the driveway and the pile smells like ... wood. This is more like lifestyle firewood, since we do not have a wood burning stove - we have pellet stoves (more on that another time). We do have a fireplace in which to burn the wood, but it's supposed to be woefully inefficient way of burning wood and actually rumored to draw heat out of a house because of the draft up the chimney. This is rather like the factoid that a person actually uses more calories chewing celery than one gets out of eating the celery. In the case of wood we're talking major Calories, which if you did not know is just energy like heat. I suspect we will indeed get some heat out of it, but mainly we will get warmth - the warm feeling, smell, sound, and light of a winter fire.

I just stacked 3/4 of the wood nice and neatly this morning. I feel like the president on vacation or something... clearing brush, stacking wood. There are a great many ways in which to stack firewood and rules to govern location of a wood pile. Rule of thumb is to stack it far away from your home, off the ground, with a small amount of shelter over it. This sounds like a pain, particularly when one is going for cozy on a cold snowy February day. I chose to put it to one side of our house under our deck. The deck will give it some shelter, thus keep it dry and let it continue to dry out. That side of the house is made of cinderblocks, so there shouldn't be a termite problem. I also made sure that the pile was elevated to keep the bottom from getting damp and rotting or attracting insects. The entire pile makes no contact with the deck or the house. On the cinderblock base I laid two old fallen limbs which made for a sturdy base. The ends are each stacks of criss-crossed relatively square logs which add stability. Having done this, I feel like the sculptor Andy Goldsworthy who uses natural material like stone, ice, leaves, petals and wood to create order - or sculpture. I actually have two of his books which I received as gifts from my good friend Dave. Goldsworthy's appreciation of nature in his works, I'm sure, added some inspiration for my move from New York City to this place.

I've been told stories of people being cheated on wood deliveries. You order 3 cords, get 2. The only way to tell is to actually stack the wood and measure the volume. My stack is about 9 feet long, 6 feet high, and 16 inches wide. This is just over 71 cubic feet, plus I have about a quarter extra wood. This means that my 1/2 a cord was actually a little more than 1/2 a cord. Not bad at all.

One last note, in a crate next to the pile is a tiny pile of petrified wood which I have been dragging around for years. My family got it 30 years ago outside The Petrified Forest in Arizona. Petrified wood is actually fossilized wood. It is rock. It is millions of years old and will never burn. I gave a small log to the carpenters who last worked on our house, perhaps I should have given a log of it to the guys who own the firewood service.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Gluten Free Eating

My buddy David's blog Gluten-Free NYC was mentioned in the Times today!


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How to Cook Asparagus

The Pioneer Valley is famous for it's asparagus. Sasha, Lily & I have been eating very fresh asparagus the past month and a half, sometimes three times a week. It's a good thing at her age Lily gets habitual about food, so she doesn't complain about having the same thing every day. If it were pasta, she wouldn’t mind either. For those who haven't been so lucky, this is just like having fresh corn and tomatoes in August or fresh strawberries in June. And we will get the strawberries in a few weeks. I have to admit that I do prefer corn, tomatoes, and strawberries to asparagus, but who wouldn't? Meanwhile we pick it up at one of five places I have staked out in Hadley, The Asparagus Capital of the World, which it was called until disease wiped out most of the crop in the 1950s. New varieties were planted and some smaller farms continued the tradition, so the "grass" can be still be had for a mere $3 to a whopping $4.75 a bunch depending upon where you find it. Hadley is the town between Amherst and Northampton where the farms and the malls are and which we often pass through on our way to somewhere else. Often at the side of the road, near a house, near a farm, there is an asparagus stand selling bunches sitting in a pan of water with an unmanned box for the money. We prefer what we hear are the less desirous slender stalks instead of the stockier shoots. If you cook your own "grass" you probably break off the bottom segment or two to get rid of the dry bit of the stalk. Here, it's so fresh that you can eat the whole thing if you want, but instead I snap off the bottom 1/2 inch or anything that looks at all imperfect.

Yesterday I stopped to buy a bunch on East Street in Hadley. I had no small bills, so was forced to use the quarters and dimes we save for parking meters. As I was counting the coins, a small old man literally appeared smoking a cigar. He said that since there were two bunches left, I might as well take them both. I told him that I only had the coins for one. That's not what I mean, he said. Take them both. Last night we ate one bunch, and now I have another bunch in the fridge I must admit perhaps now not quite as fresh as the first.

I made some Asparagus soup two weeks ago and am making some now using leftovers. This is today's recipe for the soup and our family instructions for cooking "grass".

How to Cook Asparagus
  • 1 bunch or 1 lb. asparagus
  1. Snap off bottom most segment of each asparagus. It's fun and makes a nice noise. Discard.
  2. Rinse asparagus thoroughly and lay in a wide frying pan or sauté pay with 1/4 inch of water
  3. Put on stove, cover, and cook on high flame for 1-3 minutes depending upon the thickness of stalks and whether you like them crunchy or soft. I poke them with a sharp knife after a minute to see if they are done.

Asparagus Soup
  • 1/2 to 1 lb. steamed asparagus from last night, coarsely chopped
  • 1 to 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil or both, too much is OK, since this is soup
  • 3 to 4 cups chicken broth
  • 6 ounces grated cheddar cheese (optional)
  • Salt pepper to taste
  1. Sauté onions in butter on med-low heat for as long as you can stand, about 20 minutes. They get sweeter the more you cook them, but don't burn them. Stir occasionally.
  2. Add carrots about 10 minutes into the cooking of the onions. Stir.
  3. Add asparagus and 1/2 teaspoon salt and some pepper, cook for another 15 minutes, stir some more.
  4. Add 1/4 of chicken broth and buzz in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add more broth to the blender if it seems too thick to blend.
  5. Return to pot, add rest of the chicken broth. If you want to do the compulsive French thing and impress people, then pour it through a fine strainer. It's probably worth it, since it will impress yourself. Tip: use a bit of chicken broth to clean off the blender blades and dump this liquid into the pot.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve hot with grated cheddar in each bowl or if you need to put grated cheddar directly in the pot, remember the cheese will make your pot harder to clean, but the dishwasher, if you have one, won't complain about cleaning the bowl.
Author's note: I wrote this entry now while I was cooking. It was so good that I had to eat a bowl, even though it's 10am.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How Sweet Is My Valley

Yesterday afternoon I got out of the car in the driveway and I was puzzled. I thought, our driveway here smells so good. What is it? I paused for a while trying to figure it out. Was it the Lilac bush with only two clumps of flowers?
Nah, that's not enough to perfume a big area. Aha, it must be the Lily-of-the-Valley!

There is a huge patch near the entrance to our driveway about 20 feet from where I was sniffing, and a tiny patch in the back of the house. I thanked the plants and went into the house.

It was warm, so I opened the kitchen window when I got in. A few minutes later, as I was indoors I almost thought I was smelling Yankee (scented) Candle stuff. This time I had a shorter period of contemplation when I realized I now smelled the honey scent of the flowers outside wafting in.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

NPR Misses Story: Gluten-Free Fad

I'm not sure what's in the air, must be radio broadcasts today, but NPR this morning had a piece on the "fad" of going wheat-free. They basically discounted (my take) the "less than 1%" of the country who are celiacs. And they went on about the amazing trend of people to forgo wheat. Periodically they would return to a chef who was in the process of making the most amazing glutenous pizza dough.

Of course they missed that real story that people take many years to be diagnosed and their number at 2.5 million people is not an insignificant number, more than the number of blind people and about the same as the number of epileptics. Sheesh!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

File under: making good use of your dead father's ashes

My, cremation has been a hot topic lately. Especially the disposition of remains. This lack of respect just burns me up. And rumor has it that there may be other news about Keith Richard's father's ashes. I'll tell you if I learn anything new.

Here are the recent stories:

What Keith told his cancer-hit mum about snorting his father's ashes

Father's ashes refused as art

No Diamond for Dad's Ashes

Friday, March 30, 2007

Oldest Woman Veteran

Charlotte Winters, the last surviving female World War I veteran, has died at age 109.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

You can go into Microfinance

I lent $50 to a shoe salesman in Mexico. Leobardo Camacho will use the money to buy more merchandise and will pay it back in 12 to 18 months. After which I may lend it to someone in Kenya or Somoa.

The organization Kiva has partnered with local lenders in this case and several other countries to make these loans. Kiva charges (and pays) no interest and has a 100% repayment rate.

Do you have any PayPal money lying around collecting dust and benefiting nobody but PayPal? Then try lending some of it to someone who can use it. It takes minutes to set up.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Bowhead Whales Are the Oldest Mammals

Scientists recently discovered that Bowhead Whales live to be over 200 years old making them the oldest mammals on earth. Some have been recently found (and killed) with 100 year old ivory spear points still in their blubber. They can live longer than us humans who, if they are American, live to almost 80 years old. This is more than elephants which can live over 70 years.

Bear in mind that our other mammal and animal friends (except the very few in captivity) take no vitamins or medicine. None go to the gym, have annual checkups or modern medical care.

See this for information on the lifespans on some other critters.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Newest oldest person is older than last oldest person

A Vietnamese woman is reportedly 120 years old.

Bhling Talah is an ethnic minority resident of Tr’Hy commune in Quang Nam province’s Tay Giang district

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Happy birthday to the world's oldest man!

The world's oldest man is 116 today!

Hryhory Nestor lives in the Ukraine and "attributes his long life to healthy outdoor living, and recommends a diet of potatoes, milk and cheese."

Sounds easy enough.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Newer and older World's Oldest Woman has died - age 128!

A Salvadoran woman believed to have been 128 years old and possibly the world's oldest person, has died. Cruz Hernandez gave birth to 13 children and ended up with at least 60 grandchildren, 80 great-grandchildren and 25 great-great grandchildren.

Guinness said the longest any woman has lived is 122 years.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Good news for oldest people

Two wonderful ancient women had good news this week. Each are 113, which means they have lived in 3 of our earth centuries and are almost 800 in dog years.

Chen Aixiang, the oldest resident in Zhejiang Province, China, was happy at Spring Festival to see all 230 of her family members together celebrating her oldest daughter's 90th birthday.

Saraswati Rai of Ghatana village of Myagdi district in western Nepal acquired a citizenship certificate for the first time in her life.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Newest old original Star Trek episode!

Pardon the exclamation points, but tonight I saw the newest episode of old Star Trek!

It's free and available for download and worth the price.
Tech and media savy fans have pooled resources and made new episodes.
The most recent one even stars Chekov as Chekov and was written by D.C. Fontana!!

Think I'm kidding? Check it out!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

World's youngest person is born!

This time the news is more upbeat, at least on the surface.

A 21-week six-day old baby was born. Amillia Taylor, who weighed just 10 ounces, beat the previous record by more than a week.

Meanwhile there is a huge list of complications that can affect babies just born before 37 weeks. This miracle baby will undoubtedly will have some major problems.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

World's oldest person dies again!

This time it's a 130 year old woman from Malaysia !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(That's 130 !s for Safiah Yusof)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Cheap Bullets

I feel so naive. Here I am, an avowed anti-gun guy, and I had no idea that one could just purchase ammunition online. And not only that, but one cheap bullet costs less than 3 cents.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Cows play

OK, here's a new experience. We finally got our snow. The Valentine's Day storm. 8 inches or so. 20 degrees. Not quite weather or snow good for snowmen. After a while, I'm itching to get outside. As I have no takers for company from my family, I prepare for cross country skiing. This is something I'm used to doing once or twice a winter over in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Here in Amherst, given normal weather, one could do it every week. But, alas, as we all know, the weather is not normal nowadays.

I head out to the fields of our farm neighbors. I check in with them to make sure the electric fence is turned off. Not only is it off, but I'm told that it doesn't work when snow is on the ground. Meanwhile I still duck extra low when I go under it. I've got the gear: snow pants, gloves, baklava (the hat, not the Greek pastry), boots, skis, poles.

In the fields, there are the cows. They are usually friendly and sometimes come up to the fence for a visit. But here I am on the 30 acres or so of white with ice falling from the sky within the fenced in stomping grounds of the 7 cows. I think they are ignoring me, so I start for a loop around the fields. After a little bit I turn back, and I see there is one cow way back headed my way. A little while later I turn around, and there are two cows and now they seem to be trotting. A few seconds later, I look back and they are running and now there are 4 cows. They are about to catch up with me. They look and act just like puppies running gleefully with their giant tongues wagging playfully and their usually sturdy, stiff bodies are now graceful. The drag of the snow and makes their approach look just like slow motion. But unfortunately, my motion is slower. So now they are upon me. They look cute, one licks my glove, there are 6 of them. They are big. Way bigger than me. I make a sudden motion and one jumps back like a labrador expecting me to throw a ball. This is too much for me. If one of them gets a bit too frisky, I might get knocked over by accident or worse. I head back for the fence. The second I turn back, they all turn around ahead of me and trot back to their shelter.

I wonder, were they just very bored out here in the snow? Did they need some exercise to warm up? Have I just been herded by cows?

A little while later, I enter the field again, but far from the cows. They eye me, but this time I'm too far away for them to make any effort.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Warts and all that duct tape

We have the cure for warts. Yuck! OK, for me the subject and discussion of warts is disgusting. Yes, I'm a father and as all parents do, I have dealt with many unappealing substances: diaper changing, vomit, blood, scabs, pus, baby food, you name it. But when it comes to warts, I'd rather not think about it.

Last summer my daughter got three huge warts on her feet. These were big, like pads. Yuck! We spent a lot of time putting over-the-counter acid drops (and the accompanying foul smelling solvent) on her feet nightly. When this failed to work, we visited her (now former) pediatrician who said it might go away itself within a year. But now that winter is here and we've been trying to squeeze into winter boots, ski boots, and skates, we needed a solution and a second opinion. This time her (current) pediatrician recommended duct tape.

Here's what you do. First, use an emory board to file down the top (dead skin) on the wart. You do this aggressively until the filing gets annoying. Discard the used emory board. Then apply any over-the-counter wart stuff. Then place a small square of duct tape (the grey stuff will do, although I did find clear duct tape) over this. You leave it on until it falls off. Several days if it possible. If it falls off, you repeat all this until the wart is gone. For us this took all of a week!

Apparently, a study showed that duct tape occlusion was more effective, safer, and cheaper than freezing the suckers as is commonly done.

A quick web search even shows that the wart-remover isn't even needed, but if you want to ue it, we found it is now available as a stick (looks just like lip balm). But as my daughter says, it's best not to get the two confused.

Friday, February 02, 2007

World's oldest person dies again!

When I read a story about the oldest woman in the world last month, I immediately pointed it out to my daughter Lily. The story was actually about how the oldest man in the world had just died. Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico was, at 115, the oldest man, and now the news said that right in the neighboring state of Connecticut was Emma Faust Tillman who was 114. She was born in 1892, a child of former slaves. One of 23 children (although many did not actually survive childhood), she had several centarian siblings. We were excited since 114 is a big almost unimaginable number, and to know that there was a child of slaves living nearby of course reminds us that this nasty part of our history is much more recent that we admit. To give Lily some perspective, I told her that Emma Tillman was 70 when I was a newborn.

Does this type of story get published every month or so? Is there basically a long line to be oldest where the title of oldest person, oldest man, or oldest woman can only be held for so long?

I remember in my youth, there were stories of how the president would call you up on the phone if you turned 100, but now they don't bother. Does the president now call you if you become a supercentarian (110)? I believe that presidents no longer do so, because they are not likely to get any press for recognizing the milestone. In their book Having Our Say, the Sadie and Bessie Delany who were each over 100 recount their lives. They only lived to be 109 and 104 respectively.

Now that Emma Faust Tillman has passed away, Yone Minagawa age 114 of Japan has taken the lead. Since Tillman recently brought the title home (of course Puerto Rico like Connecticut is also part of the United States), there has been a lot of buzz in this area. Elizabeth Stefan of Norwalk, CT is 111 and currently the oldest person in Connecticut and 26th oldest in the world. Nebraska's Helen Stetter, of Valentine, Nebraska turned 113 in November. Edna Parker of Indiana is a little older.

This is litterally like a marathon race? Where each year the achievement gets better? In the case of the oldest person the race never ends. People join every minute and the leader drops out every week or so. And the world record times get longer and longer.

I suppose there will always be someone who will live longer than someone else and of course everyone will eventually die. It's inevitable.

P.S. Here's an update from China Daily (sorry I lack the resources to verify this one) which is obviously trying to get on the oldest person bandwagon (or perhaps they've just been hiding their 132 year old citizen from the press until now).

Oldest person has a huge family

(China Daily)
Updated: 2007-02-06 09:15

Slam Kurban, a resident living in Jiashi County in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in Northwest China, has a big family.

The 132-year-old man has six sons, four daughters, 43 grandchildren, 91 great-grandchildren and 21 great-great-grandchildren.

Born in May 1875, Slam Kurban is still in good health with good memory, eyesight, hearing and appetite, and from 2005, parts of his white hair and beard have turned black.

CD Baby!

My wife just ordered a CD from CD Baby, and she had a most positive shopping experience.

CD Baby professes to be "a little online record store that sells CDs by independent musicians." And it appears to be just that. It's perfect for the current age where major record labels are easily irrelevant and the CD as a medium for playback (as opposed to long term storage) is quickly joining the ranks of cassette tapes and LPs.

This was not intended to be a review of CD Baby - I have not used their service enough. But I can share my enthusiasm for their invoices. See the comforting message below where a CD was purchased for just $10 with a reasonable $2.25 for shipping and arrived in the mail two days later. Take that Jeff Bezos!

-----Original Message-----
From: []
Sent: Monday, January 29, 2007 7:30 PM
Subject: Your CD Baby Order! (#XXXXXX)

Thanks for your order with CD Baby!

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized
contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was
in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the
crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched
down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved
'Bon Voyage!' to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet
on this day, Monday, January 29th.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did.
Your picture is on our wall as 'Customer of the Year'. We're all exhausted
but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you once again,

Derek Sivers, president, CD Baby
the little CD store with the best new independent music
phone: 1-800-448-6369 email:

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Home To Roost

As you may have heard elsewhere, we now get daily visits from six chickens and a rooster who live on the farm next door. They have been quite gregarious lately. Appearing in our rear yard, by our gravel driveway, between the house and the road, and in more obvious spots like right below the bird feeder. It's Rocky the Rooster's job to herd them home and keep them safe, but we have been given permission to ignore them or to herd them back home and to keep any eggs we might find. The prospect of mighty fresh eggs is more than intriguing. And to prevent any snide comments: Yes, these are free-range chickens. Lately their eggs could appear virtually anywhere they roam.

Yesterday, Lily's farm buddy was not home, so instead of social time, she managed to scout out two eggs. She took home the brown one, which she immediately put in a dish towel in a small bowl and brought up to her room. "He's special. I'm going to keep him in my room", she said. She didn't want this egg to get turned into waffle batter. We convinced her (wrongly we later found out) that they were not fertile eggs. It was only destined to be food. This morning I realized we had no other eggs in the house, and I didn't have the heart to eat the special one.

Today, Lily and her farm buddy found many undiscovered eggs, so now we have a literal baker's dozen in the fridge just waiting to be consumed.

Check out Sasha's Blog for other farm adventures.