Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kiva for Christmas!

I am reluctant to give money directly to a person in need, because I don't know whether it'll go to a good use or be wasted. I give to large, organized endeavours, but don't like the overhead and also miss the personal touch. It's a simple fact that we can do more for others if we get some personal feedback, because we're humans, not robots, and humans thrive on human contact. A third factor is that, frankly, I'm not wealthy and there's a practical limit to what I can give before I start being a charge on others.

kivaToday, my friend Al and I were talking while working at the Mercer Island Thrift Store, suggested I try KIVA, a system that manages microloans. They screen the borrowers so the money is not wasted; their overhead is very low; you can personally picked the persons or projects you wish to help; and best of all, they are loans that are almost always repaid, so you can re-use your money over and over!

I decided to give it a try, and discovered that it's as easy as buying a book on Amazon:
  • Go to
  • Pick a person or a project to whom you want to loan. For my 1st time, I just picked the topmost one, but you can scroll through hundreds of choices, sort by type of enterprise, etc.
  • Click on Loan Now. This takes you to a "Shopping Basket" similar to buying a book on Amazon.
  • When you're done picking loans to fund, you "Check out" - just like online book buying!
  • You need to setup an account on Kiva, but they're willing to use your Facebook account if you let them. What the heck!
  • Pay with a credit card or PayPal
  • Sit back and watch the loan perform on the Portfolio Tracker.
I've risked $25 on a lot sillier things, so I'm really looking forward to see how this turns out! The Portfolio Tracker turns this into not a chore but a game; instead of scoring points in a fantasy investment league, we're changing lives in a real-world microloan enterprise. What could be more fun??

How Kiva Works from Kiva Microfunds on Vimeo.

This Is True = This Is Fun!

I've been reading "This Is True" for years, and can PROMISE YOU that it will make you laugh, and maybe just a little bit smarter. Every week its editor, Randy Cassingham, collects a dozen or so TRUE stories that are stranger than fiction. This is by far the best humor 'zine going -
If you want to follow ONE humor site, THIS IS IT!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dreaming of a White (Center) Christmas

White Center holiday Lighting
Xmas lighting in White Center
at 16th and Roxbury
The Wednesday, we were thoroughly pooped from a day of work; instead of preparing a home-cooked meal, we put in more time insulating the house. So it was easy to justify trotting down to the Triangle for a pitcher and a couple of Bee Sandwiches to share.
(The Bee Sandwisch is a truly magnificent take on the Philly Cheese Steak-and-dip, named after the cheerful waitress Bee who invented it. Or so I am told.  What  I am sure of is that they are very tasty, and really too big for one person.)
As we three (The Lovely Wife, the Mother In Law, and I) relaxed, there was a commotion outside. And behold - the tree and the Dr. Seuss-ian artwork at 16th and Roxbury was lighted!
It's a joint effort of several White Center groups - and much appreciated!
Happy Holidays!

Local Foods are Easy in Seattle

This weeks' Change the World Wednesday Challenge is:

"This month, find and enjoy local foods. Research what items are local in your area and then incorporate them into your family meals. Let us know (through a post or comments on this challenge) how you found local foods, which items are available in your area, and how you used them

We're pretty lucky here in Seattle that we have some good local food options. The most obvious is our county's good network of Farmer's markets so organized that it has its own webpage.
I think the network is supported through King County. You may wish to see if your county would do the same, as a relatively cheap way for county government to stimulate the local economy while improving health and local resilience!
There's a farmer's market close to Kris' Pilates studio, one closer to our friends Ken & Crystal's, one close to our house, and of course the justily famous Pike Place Market! So it's not really an question of whether to buy locally grown food, but when. We also like to dicket a bit for a better deal!
Washington State's climate is diverse enough, thanks to the ocean and the Cascades, that we grown a fairly complete diet. While for variety one might want some foods that don't grow here (e.g. bananas), still you could be perfectly healthy eating only things grown in state.
Seafood is a special case. We love the salmon patties from Costco; they're tasty, economical and relatively healthy, but even better on all three factors are fish right from the Loki, a family-owned vessel that sells right on the docks, and also at several farmer's markets. The fish are not farmed and it's got a great sustainability profile.
We're starting to grow a bit of our own food, which is a lot easier now that we have our own house. Many of our neighbors grow a little food as well, so we can share tips on what works.
Berrypicking is still a possibility. The you-picks even have websites these days, so you know when and where to go. But if you have an eye for blackberries, there are still a lot of street-ends and odd-lots that you can fill a bucket at.
But by far the easiest local food we've enjoyed this year was the wine we bottled at Jim and Charlotte's! If you're going to drink alcohol, why not try something local? And what is more local than something made in house from a neighbor's fruit? Now, wine is a crop that takes years to mature but, as they say with trees: "The best time to start was ten years ago; the second best time is now!" So this summer we're going to be using the generous gift of a wine carboy to lay in wine from local blackberries to be drunk around 2018.
If you're in the area, stop by - we'll share a glass!

Insulating the Mother-in-Law

Now that it's winter, our basement mother-in-law apartment is cold!
insulation installation by ginger
Ginger - the Mother-in-Law -
Installing the bubblewrap-like stuff
that fit in the lower part

Our suspicions that the walls were not well insulated were confirmed when we popped off one piece of panel to see that above waise-high, there were a few places with scraps of old insulation that was slumped down and not really very effectivemostly it was panneling, studding and siding, with the rest of the insulation being "air and a prayer". Up to waste high there was cement foundation, with half-inch thick lathes supporting the panelling.

We trotted down to McLendan's and got a couple rolls of fiberglass insulation (R-13). Because the cement/lathe construction was too thin for the fiberglass, we also got some insulation that looks link bubblewrap with a foil layer. It's only R-5 but that's better than nothing!
We really lucked out on this purchase since we happened to go on on the store's "Friends and Family Sale" night. It's only fair, I suppose, since we spend so much time there!
Taking the panelling off was our biggest problem. While the molding popped off pretty easily, the panelling was locked in at the bottom by the rug and at the top by acoustic tile. I was able to warm a foot-wide piece of pannelling out, but the full-sized sheets were in for good. We had to cut!
The panelling
was the big problem
Our first trywas to get a circular blade for Mother-In-Law's single-speed drill, but holding that unshielding whirling blade above my head, as it grabbed and kicked (and, when power was let off, continued to spin for several seconds) just did not seem like a terribly smart thing to do. I understand why many who work with wood are short or have shortened fingers!
So back we went to McLendan's and talked it over with the guy at the counter. Soon a new, modern saber-saw was mine (...or ours, or something.... Washington's a community property state). As a bonus, the M-I-L lobbyed hard for a modern cordless drill set.

I had resisted the new drill, on the grounds that it was a needless indulgence, but oh baby was I wrong!!! Tools have come a long, long way since the first, feckless cordless drills I'd tried ages ago. This little twister has all the torque power I need and fit in my hand much more naturally than my former favorite (and now lost alas!) drill. It even had a little light that illuminated the work area, the value of which I could not have appreciated until I tried it. Later, when I was drilling guide holes and screwing in window fixtures, I discovered that it being chuckless really speeding up the work.

wall insulation and window
The windows might have had
a better R value than the panelling!

In the end, we have the place insulated pretty thoroughly now. The panelling is not in great shape, but we were going to have to replace it anyway.
We used the metal-coated bubble wrap in a few other areas, such as the back of the closet where we didn't bother removing the panelling; attaching it directly to the back walls actually improved visibility in the closet by reflecting light. We also used the bubblestuff in the cement-walled back entryweay; when summer comes, we plan to panel over that as well.

All in all, this was a successful project.  We spread the work out over several days, but in actual time on project it didn't take nearly as long as I'd feared. It really helped to have two people working on it, and getting the right tools made a biiiig difference!
It'd might be hard calculating with precision how much this will save in the long run, but since the insulation will last almost forever, it's sure to pay off better than money in the bank. And keeping the Mother-In-Law happy is a very important part to keeping The Lovely Wife Happy!

Does Corporate Media Systematically Fool You?

A list of Washington State troops
Killed in our recent wars launched
Through news misinforation
More proof, were any needed, that our major news channels systematically misinforms us:
* Voters Say Election Full of Misleading and False Information by
*The Lies That Fox News Viewers Believe (citing a NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll)
* Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War"
I found these at Alternet but posted each separately so you may avoid Alternet's biases (if any).
You may be asking yourself, "Why would corporate-owned media systematically fool us into believing what the corporations that own them want us to believe?" ... and I'm sure you see the answer right inside the question.

Fortunately, we don't have to stick with the corporate media anymore. Turn off your TV, go find information for yourself!

As Frank Zappa put it:

"I am gross and perverted
I'm obsessed 'n deranged
I have existed for years
But very little has changed
I'm the tool of the Government
And industry too
For I am destined to rule
And regulate you
I may be vile and pernicious
But you can't look away
I make you think I'm delicious
With the stuff that I say
I'm the best you can get
Have you guessed me yet?
I'm the slime oozin' out
From your TV set
You will obey me while I lead you
And eat the garbage that I feed you
Until the day that we don't need you
Don't go for help . . . no one will heed you
Your mind is totally controlled
It has been stuffed into my mold
And you will do as you are told
Until the rights to you are sold
That's right, folks
Don't touch that dial
Well, I am the slime from your video
Oozin' along on your livin' room floor
I am the slime from your video
Can't stop the slime, people, lookit me go
I am the slime from your video
Oozin' along on your livin' room floor
I am the slime from your video
Can't stop the slime, people, lookit me go"
--- lyrics by Frank Zappa

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rebooting the American Dream - 11 Ways to Rebuild Our Country: Back to the Future

I'm reading Thom Hartmann's latest book, which is for available for reading on It seems to be a very thoughtful guide for the way forward, based on our history and human nature. Here's how it starts....
"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Charles Jarvis, September 28, 1820
On April 14, 1789, George Washington was out walking through the fields at Mount Vernon, his home in Virginia, when Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress, showed up on horseback. Thomson had a letter for Washington from the president pro tempore of the new, constitutionally created United States Senate, telling Washington that he’d just been elected president and the inauguration was set for April 30 in the nation’s capital, New York City.
This created two problems for Washington.
The first was saying goodbye to his 82-year-old mother, which the 57-year-old Washington did that night. She gave him her blessing and told him it was the last time he’d see her alive, as she was gravely ill; and, indeed, she died before he returned from New York.
The second problem was finding a suit of clothes made in America. For that he sent a courier to his old friend and fellow general from the American Revolutionary War, Henry Knox.
Washington couldn’t find a suit made in America because in the years prior to the American Revolution, the British East India Company (whose tea was thrown into Boston Harbor by outraged colonists after the Tea Act of 1773 gave the world’s largest transnational corporation a giant tax break) controlled the manufacture and the transportation of a whole range of goods, including fine clothing. Cotton and wool could be grown and sheared in the colonies, but it had to be sent to England to be turned into clothes.
This was a routine policy for England, and it is why until India achieved its independence in 1947 Mahatma Gandhi (who was assassinated a year later) sat with his spinning wheel for his lectures and spun daily in his own home. It was, like his Salt March, a protest against the colonial practices of England and an entreaty to his fellow Indians to make their own clothes to gain independence from British companies and institutions.
Fortunately for George Washington, an American clothing company had been established on April 28, 1783, in Hartford, Connecticut, by a man named Daniel Hinsdale, and it produced high-quality woolen and cotton clothing as well as items made from imported silk. It was to Hinsdale’s company that Knox turned, and he helped Washington get—in time for his inauguration two weeks later—a nice, but not excessively elegant, brown American-made suit. (He wore British black later for the celebrations and the most famous painting.)
When Washington became president in 1789, most of America’s personal and industrial products of any significance were manufactured in England or in its colonies. Washington asked his first Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, what could be done about that, and Hamilton came up with an 11-point plan to foster American manufacturing, which he presented to Congress in 1791. By 1793 most of its points had either been made into law by Congress or formulated into policy by either President Washington or the various states, which put the country on a path of developing its industrial base and generating the largest source of federal revenue for more than a hundred years.
Those strategic proposals built the greatest industrial powerhouse the world had ever seen and, after more than 200 successful years, were abandoned only during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton (and remain abandoned to this day). Modern-day China, however, implemented most of Hamilton’s plan and has brought about a remarkable transformation of its nation in a single generation.
Hamilton’s 11-point plan for “American manufactures” is a primary inspiration for this book. It was part of a larger work titled Alexander Hamilton’s Report on the Subject of Manufactures: Made in His Capacity of Secretary of the Treasury...."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Dirt Crop is Doing Nicely!

As a soggy winter closes in, one crop continues to flourish: my compost heap.
Lazy Man's Compost Heap
December 2010
Back in April, I built a composting area out of a neighbor's leftover sod, and seven months later, it's grown to exceed its limits. I'm looking forward to using at least half a cubic yard of new soil come springtime!

I'll be the first to admit that the compost heap does not have a form of beauty that appeals to lovers of rigorously planned gardens. It's outright chaotic in form, but there's an appeal to that. I'm a rather lazy composter (I prefer to think of it as being efficient); I don't obsess about an exact balance of green and brown materials; instead, I check its progress with a shovel now and then, and if it seems to need more of one thing or another, then I make an effort to find what it needs. So far, this efficiency has paid off.
For collecting kitchen waste (plants only - no meats!) we use a stainless steel lidded bucket designed for this purpose. I used to have a similar, cheaper bucket made out of crockery, but it broke; steel is more expensive up front but it will last almost forever so it's a better deal both economically and environmentally.
Adding to the kitchen waste is any yard waste for which we have no other purpose. I simply don't understand why my neighbors pay to have their yard waste hauled away, instead of treating it as a crop to be used on site. While the small yard waste contributes to the compost pile, other stuff contributes to the duff yard or goes on top of the shed to sustain a brush area atop our shed.
To maintain the compost heap, I use a rake and shovel from yard sales and thrift stores. I love to prowl hardware stores but used tools can be a had at a great price if you're willing to buy from neighbors!
The key point: the compost heap is not much work and it's saving me money PLUS helping, in a small way, improve our world. Imagine if every yard in our nation had a heap like this!

I was inspired to write this compost heap update by this week's Change the World Wednesday Challenge
"If you compost, we'd like to know all about it ... in detail. Please give us directions on how to build a bin (if you did so), how to set up a bin and any tips/advice you may have for beginners. We're looking for "how to" information on this challenge.

Or ...

If you don't compost, please do some research about composting in your particular situation (apartment, farm, city neighborhood, etc.). Share what you learn and let us know if the information encourages you and, if so, when you might try it out. Of course, we'd also love it if you would actually start composting this week."

I recommend that you, too, follow CTWW - it's fun and inspiring!

Comics: The Order of the Stick

Perhaps my favorite webcomic is Rich Burlew's The Order of the Stick (OOTS).
I started reading OOTS for its humorous take on fantasy roleplaying and fiction, and that remains its most evident characteristic. However, over time, it has developed strong characters and occasionally very thoughtful momoments, all without crushing its essentially playful nature beneath the burden of literature. It is also interesting that the artwork consists of stick figures; as with XKCD, the OOTS uses simplified graphical representation for amazing effect, stripping away unneeded detail to expose the core of story.
The OOTS website also supports a lively forum discussing all aspects of the comic. This is a great example of a virtual community, including people from several continents, able and happy to get together on a topic that interests them.
My avatar on the OOTS forum

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Photographic Memory

Impromptu McCord
Likes sitting in boxes
In anticipation of, not immortality, but of outliving perfect memory, I've been taking lots of pictures and labelling them electronically (see example). Already it's helped me recall minor things; I'm normally healthy but prior to electronic storage of photos, that included a lot of forgetting ... a lot of loss!
In whatever form immortality, or extended lifespan, may take, the development of artificially enhanced memory storage and retreival regimes may be helpful. Every other body system might work ok if we could just keep it patching it; for example, knees, nerves and digestion may work more-or-less the same if we can replace wornout parts. Even the parts of the brain that are not mostly about long-term memory may work fine if replaced, when worn out, with duplicates (...passing over the great difficulty of doing so....)

But memory is inherently cumulative, and eventually may bump up against some limit inherent to the lack-of-design of the original. That's not necessarily a terrible problem. So long as one retains enough memory to be able to access "extended memory", future immortals may be happy with their condition even though the result may be mental processes radically different from those we enjoy today. I'm sure plenty of SF authors have exploited this concept (I'm thinking of a short story decades ago about a future cop entitled something like "Jorge Changes His Mind") but it amuses me to see my photo collection taking the first primitive steps down that road.