Archive for category Misc.

The Driveway Strawberry Patch

Edible landscaping is the way to go. I turned a patch of full sun nothing alongside the driveway into a strawberry patch. Not only does it look great, but my girls get organic strawberries all summer long!

edible landscaping driveway strawberry patch

edible landscaping driveway strawberries

A $9,000 water bill

“When I have a dollar to blow on a bottle of water, I buy Perrier!” quipped Robin Williams in his late ’70s stand-up days.

It killed. The audience howled at Williams’ derision of paying a lot of money for something we get nearly for free from the tap, especially when the EPA does a very good job enforcing water quality standards in the country.

Today, bottled water is a $50 billion business globally. We consume copious amounts of energy and fossil fuels to produce, fill, and ship plastic bottles of water while 1/6 of the world’s population (over a billion people) do not have access to reliable potable water.

The math from a recent Fast Company article is particularly illuminating:

If the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000.


The White Roof — Steven Chu is right!

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has advocated painting roofs white as a cost saving measure that also reduces the impact of climate change.  The theory is that more heat would be reflected, thereby lowering a building’s cooling costs, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions because we’re using less power to cool the building.

An article (blog entry) on Time magazine’s website says studies have concluded that whitening a roof actually works and can make it 20% more cost effective to cool your house on hot days.  I’d love to see links to the studies, but the physics makes enough sense that I believe it.

You can read the article here:

Here in sunny South Carolina, I spend more on air conditioning in summer than I do on heating in winter.  When my roof is due for an overhaul (and those shingles are getting pretty old), I will be looking into a light colored rooftop.

Compost Toilets the “in” thing

And I thought writing about composting in a Victory Garden was a good thing to do, but I’ve been easily bested by people in Fiji who created composting toilets because they found their sewage was seeping into the sea and affecting their coral reefs.

The toilets separate liquids and solids, with the liquids becoming a fertilizer after some filtration (it’s sterile, afterall).  The solids are mixed with dry stuff like sawdust and then packed away for several months.  The solids compost over time and become fertilizer, too.

I’ve read before that nitrogen-rich urine makes good fertilizer and also helps a compost pile break down faster, but this is the first I’ve read about people using good ol’ #2 for their garden.

Drivin’ like Gandhi

Did you know Americans drive 3 trillion miles annually?  We drove 250 billion miles just in April ‘09.  Pretty amazing.

The article Drive Like Gandhi shows how much we could save nearly 700 million barrels of oil and $34 billion by applying a few simple, conservative, and thrifty tips.

Safety 1st made the worst plug protector ever

To any parents using this brand of outlet cover:  They suck.  Safety 1st apparently does not test their products with real babies, because my nine month old bested their plug protector with ease.  Turns out, she’s not gifted or special.  There is another video on YouTube of a baby crawling across the floor and easily pulling this plug from the outlet.

Do not buy plug protector / outlet covers from Safety 1st.  Needless to say, we are replacing ours. Now here is the entertaining video:

And here is the other baby I mentioned:

Early Childhood Education

Sesame Street is 40 years old and struggling (ratings-wise) against Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants.  What little bit of Spanish Dora teaches my little daughter is not the same as the impact Sesame Street has had on the world.

Newsweek has a retrospective new article that talks about the importance of Sesame Street.  I can corroborate the facts stated in the article:

“Before Sesame Street, kindergartens taught very little,” says [Joan Ganz Cooney, Sesame Street co-founder and TV producer], “and suddenly masses of children were coming in knowing letters and numbers.” Independent research found that children who regularly watch Sesame Street gained more than nonviewers on tests of letter and number recognition, vocabulary and early math skills.

My daughter isn’t 4 yet, but she’s reading her bedtime books to us now. She turns 4 next month, and for this past month she’s taken over all nighttime reading. I simply help with the hard words and encourage her to sound out the rest.

We’re doing math now, too.  We incorporate fun little games into daily activities that demonstrate addition and subtraction.  For example, we’ll ask her how many strawberries she’ll have left in her bowl if she eats 3 of them.  She gets it.  She understands addition and subtraction.  It’s time to start with multiplication and division.  Maybe I’ll show her how to separate her blocks into groups of 3 and ask her how many groups she has.  It doesn’t matter how I introduce the concepts, so long as it’s fun.

Maria Montessori was right in her approach to learning and her new pedagogical style, but researchers today find there is almost no age requirement to early education.  Maria Montessori originally developed her curriculum for young children aged 3-6, but there are now programs for younger children, too.

My daughter learned sign language as a baby.  The benefits are amazing.  Toddlers can communicate with us long before they can speak.  Knowing their needs are being heard gives them confidence and makes for an easier child.  My daughter once signed “cold” to me in a gas station parking lot during a road trip.  She was only old enough to say a couple of words (”dada”, “mama”, “dog”, and “duck” come to mind), but she knew dozens of signs and this was the first time she used “cold” on her own.  I was stoked! She very clearly communicated her need to me. She wanted to be back in the car!

I read that 18 month old toddlers can only speak 8-10 words but can know up to 75 signs.  We counted my daughter’s vocabulary and the math was spot on.  She knew 8 words and 65 signs, many of which were genuinely useful (others were just fun):  up/down, hot/cold, hungry, sleepy, more, milk, apple, diaper, dog, cat, and many more.

Kids are natural sponges.  They want to learn.  They just need the right environment and encouragement.

How to grow old and happy

I just read a very interesting article in The Atlantic about a seven decade study that followed 268 Harvard undergrads throughout their life with the single question: “What makes us happy?”  (The official study is called the “Harvard Study of Adult Development”).

You can read the full article here:

The study found 7 major criteria for a happy life:

  • Employing mature adaptations *
  • Education
  • Stable marriage
  • Not smoking
  • Not abusing alcohol
  • Moderate exercise
  • Healthy weight

*Psychoanalytic metaphor of “adaptations,” or unconscious responses to pain, conflict, or uncertainty

I found this passage notable:

Of the 106 Harvard men who had five or six of these factors in their favor at age 50, half ended up at 80 as what [the author] called “happy-well” and only 7.5 percent as “sad-sick.” Meanwhile, of the men who had three or fewer of the health factors at age 50, none ended up “happy-well” at 80. Even if they had been in adequate physical shape at 50, the men who had three or fewer protective factors were three times as likely to be dead at 80 as those with four or more factors.

The purpose of the study was to determine who ages well and is happy and well adjusted.  Being unhappy may lead to drinking or drugs.  Drinking may cause a spouse to leave.  Depression can lead to more unhealthy living or unfulfilled aspirations.  On the other hand, having a good education may offer more opportunities in life to perform good works or be actively engaged.  Maintaining a healthy family life may boost self-esteem and cause people to stay healthy or productive.

It is easy to weave these factors together and understand how they interact and compound each other.

So says the author of the study after decades of research: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”





I’m published, and I struck a nerve.

The JavaLobby (now asked to republish my article on human “resources.”  I was happy to oblige!

I think the theme of the article touched on a strong undercurrent in the developer community.  My blog post received more than 6k hits over the weekend, has the highest number of comments of all my articles, was republished on JavaLobby, Reddit, and others, and each of the publishers has received a bunch of comments on their repost.

There’s clearly something to the idea that we’re more than just “resources.”  But this is not a new theme or idea.

Forrester Research published a similar article not long ago:  Similarly, there are several links in the comments of my blog article echoing the same sentiment.

The times they are a-changin’.

This is such an easy concept to grok and an easier one to change.  I suspect that more organizations will begin to rename their “Human Resources Department” to “Human Talent Department.”   It’s definitely more PC and it’s a sign that organizations value the talent their employees provide more than they value the warm body in a cold seat.  That is, unless you’re a government contractor, in which case you really do just want warm bodies.

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