Shoe Shining Project

During my vacation, I visited my dad with the goal of making a shoe shining box.  He has one we made together when I was younger, so that is where the idea came from.  I wanted to actually work with him as opposed to when I was younger and I tended to just help out.  I figured that a more active role would allow me to learn much more.

When I came into town, I reviewed my design with him.  We made some changes from his version so that it was lighter weight and to incorporate a handle into the top of the box.  Since I love math, my personal flare was to make each dimension a golden ratio to the other.  I made it out of Maple with Black Walnut dowels.  Here I am tapping a dowel in.

This was my favorite airline carry-on I’ve ever had.

And the reason I wanted a shoe shining box is, of course, to shine shoes on!  After I went to a shoe store to find that they don’t have shoe polish (just buy new ones!), I found Kiwi shoe polish from Target.  I brushed up on how to shine shoes from a blog I recently started reading: The Art of Manliness on How to Shine Shoes.

My goal is to have these shoes last longer than my previous pair which only lasted a mere 13 years!

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New Ride: A Beamer!

Oh yeah, check me out with my Beamer!

I found this abandoned frame* at the library one night.  I was very excited to find it since it is a perfect freestyle BMX frame (for my needs).  I looked around for parts, but I decided the cheapest route would be to buy another bike for parts.  I luckily found a broken bike on craigslist for $15.  I felt bad physically taking a kid’s bike, but they thought $15 was fair and so I took them up on it.

*Technically, it was a frame, handlebars, cranks, pedals, and a front wheel.

The total cost was $62, which isn’t the cheapest rebuild.  I splurged on an expensive tail light ($28) and on a new chain from my local bike shop ($16).  The light is the nicest tail light on the market and the expense of the chain is due to my impatience (or oversight) at almost being complete with the project and needing a 1/2″ chain.  I decided to only put a front brake on, for simplicity since that is most of the braking power.

Mid-project, dre asked me why I swapped the abandoned BMX bike’s handlebar for the broken bike’s handlebar.  I told her, in complete honesty, that I didn’t like the dent in the handlebar from the spray-painted bike.  A nice memory resulting from the ridiculousness of the context.

I really like riding a BMX, or “Beamer,” around town so this was a fun project.  As an added bonus, dre likes riding on the pegs so this will likely be our bar/bus bike.

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2011 Farming

This spring I revisted a farm: Grandpa and I are on the left, and Dre and I are on the right.

This spring I spent a week on a farm in Iowa.  I went to Wendell’s farm; Wendell is my friend Tuna‘s dad.  The farm is in northwest Iowa, near the resort town of Okoboji, Iowa.  Wendell currently farms about 800 acres of corn and soy.  My timing was excellent as the cold 2011 spring pushed planting back exactly to the day I came into town.

There are three major processes I was able to see to prepare the fields for the season.  The first was setting drainage tiles.  The second is field cultivating and rock picking, and the third is planting seeds.

What many people don’t know (including myself before the trip) is that many farms are set up with a lattice of drainage pipes to divert any possible standing water off the field.  In hindsight this makes sense as there are swamps and marshes naturally occurring in preserves and parks near the fertile farmlands.  Wendell put in 11,500 feet of drainage tile this spring in his field.  He tied these polypropylene pipes into existing cement (!) tiles.  Obviously the polypropylene is easier to work with than cement from yesteryear, and it allows the casual observer to gain a better sense of the foresight, hard work, and maintenance required to farm.

This is a machine that sets drainage tile.

I spent most of the time that week field cultivating.  The equivalent of field cultivating in a garden is hoeing.  Here is a picture of the tractor I drove with the field cultivator attached.

Field cultivator set up.

Field cultivating loosens the ground after the winter to plant the seeds.  It also feels nice and comfy to walk on.  Wendell’s set up has GPS steering so it very easy to go straight.  All I did was lift the field cultivator, turn, set the field cultivator back into the ground, and then turn on the auto steering.  The auto steering overlaps the previous 27 ft pass by 6 inches, with a 3 inch tolerance.  It’s really impressive!

During cultivating, I listened to the radio, talked on my cell phone, and occasionally got out to mark a big rock to pick up later.  In usual fashion, I was most excited about the dullest task: picking up rocks since I trained for such tasks with my kettlebell.

Farming rocks!

In 5 days, I cultivated about 500 acres and closely behind me Wendell planted corn in that area, if you’re into numbers and stats.

The experience left me with a few new feelings.

  • Farming, since it is owning a business, consistently takes significantly more financial risk than an engineering job.  I am now a lot more grateful that I only need to buy my clothes, get myself to work, and have enough caloric energy to make it through the 8ish hours.  The commute is better for a farmer, but the equipment capital, raw material finances, variety of skills required, and land acquisitions is on a whole different level than I experience.  (I’m noting the differences which have advantages and disadvantages to each approach.)
  • Farming takes a lot decisions, both split-minute and long-term.  Wendell had me cultivate on one flat tire, a decision that both surprised me but worked out quite favorably.  Determining which seeds to buy, how much and what kind of fertilizer to use, when and what price to sell crops. . . These are just some of the decisions where one can use as much analysis as desired.
  • Down to earth.  I reflected on this saying and have a new perspective after seeing Wendell come back from the field one day covered in a thick layer of dirt from head to toe.

In conclusion, I enjoyed the experience.  I would encourage anyone with the chance to visit a farm, as I think it is much more interesting than I think the society deems it.

I wonder if there is an opportunity available, similar to couchsurfing, but perhaps matching people seeking what I found providing temporary help to those interested.  I think that it is the true power of the internet: linking and networking.

My Facebook album captures a more complete photojournalism of the week.

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Review: Spirulina & Chlorella Superfoods

After  contemplating for a long time, I finally decided to buy some bulk spirulina and chlorella.  They are superfoods.  My understanding of a superfood is a food that is dense in nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, but in general it is a loosely used term gaining steam in marketing.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw Superfood Cheetos.

Spirulina and chlorella also contain a near uniform distribution of carbohydrate, fat, and protein, which I thought was pretty neat.  They are both very small algae (less than 10 microns).  This means it’s a powder, much like flour, but it isn’t modified like ground flour.  Due to the low amount of processing necessary and the quick reproduction cycle, these foods are very sustainable.  If you feel inclined, a simple search will allow you to find more benefits reported about these algae.  However . . .

I don’t recommend these superfoods, based on my experience.


This algae is a cyanobacteria.  The science of cyanobacteria is very neat.  However, in my experience bacterias smell very similar to feces.  Call me Protestant, but I am not excited about acquiring that taste.


Chlorella is a phylum (plant), and it smells like grass.  Acquiring the taste of grass seemed much more reasonable, for the benefits of the superfoods.  However, like others, I slowly developed a chemical sensitivity to chlorella.  What this means is that in two weeks the effect of it started as a headache progressed into satiation then a stomach ache and finally full on food poisoning.

Future Plans

I’m sticking with Michael Pollan’s advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

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Insulin Resistance

Two nutrition books have made their way into my reading list this year.  They are Why We Get Fat and You: On a Diet.  I was impressed by both.  Both share a similar stance that the common calorie energy balance is the incorrect model for human accumulation of fat.  By calorie balance, I mean Calories In – Calories Out = Fat Accumulated.  Instead, the fat accumulation balance may be more complicated and based on types of calories ingested, carbohydrates being a much more significant contributor than ingested plant and animal fat.  The book Why We Get Fat really dives into this subject with amazing clarity and objectivity.

I think we are still in a development phase in the field of nutrition*.  One concept new to me is insulin resistance.  In summary, insulin resistance is different for everyone and how efficiently your body converts carbohydrates into fat.  It would explain why my girlfriend can live on a constant HFCS IV drip and remain nearly single digit body fat, and why a beer and pasta is probably not a good diet for me.

*We as opposed to the ever popular “they.”  When you look at the world as we being the experts, there are a realm of unknowns waiting to be discovered or at least found in the literal definition of the word research.  We are always waiting for answers from “them.”  I don’t know who these “they” people are, but “they” often are the root causes and experts on everything known to man.  What if “they” don’t really care about solving our problems?  </rant>

It’s also interesting to me that I didn’t think much beyond a sideline interest in the Paleo diet trend going around.  People need to hear an agenda tailored for their own audience.  As a Myers-Briggs -NT-, I prefer logic.  Others will prefer convincing historical analysis.  We all tick differently.

There definitely are more similarities than differences with Paleo and the concept of insulin resistance.  And perhaps even more importantly in the nutrition subject is to take George Sheenan’s advice that we are each an experiment of one.

There are somethings I am more on board with than others in both books.  However, as a recent couch surfer passionate about nutrition, who we coincidentally had while I was reading one of the books above, said: it’s like saying we digest food the same as fire consumes cardboard.  In that simple example, the calorie balance model seems too simple for our digestion system that relies on multiple biological conversions and side-reactions.

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Miyagi Functional Conditioning

The title is from the Kirate Kid movie.  Mr. Miyagi first starts his apprentice Daniel training in karate with only mundane chores: waxing cars, painting fences, and sanding floors.  Just before the apprentice burns out and gets fed up, Mr. Miyagi shows that the rote chores that are now burned into Daniel’s memory are ways to defend himself.  The waxing and painting motions block punches and the sanding motion blocks kicks.

It’s probably a bunch of BS, but it’s inspirational.  This year, I’ve changed my cross-training workouts from a more traditional weight lifting to also include Miyagi Functional (MF) type.  I really like MFing.

Last week I spent the whole week MFing.  I took a week off my weight training and we moved our stuff from one apartment to another.  This is functional weight lifting.  It’s both cross-training and produces a visualize end result.

More generally this year, I’ve spent a lot of time cleaning.  I’m not sure if I can block punches or kicks.  I bet I can’t run any faster (a more representative physical constant).  However, I think it can be a more rewarding workout than going to the gym.  When you do a workout at the gym, you get the satisfaction of endorphins and (short-term) fatigue.  The only other accomplishments are abstract: traveling 3 miles while not moving, lifting metal up only to bring it right back down, etc.  MFing is more comprehensive.

When you clean, you try to collect as much dirt and dust as possible.  So you scrub, brush, vacuum, and then move stuff so you can scrub, brush, vacuum some more.  This can be as physically as demanding as you feel like.  However, after scrubbing, brushing, and vacuuming you get physical accomplishments: negative entropy!!!

Lately, I’ve been focusing on general cleaning, but trying to specifically detail one area (e.g. shower door, black trim on the car, wood polishing).  I think the general cleaning helps maintain endurance, while detailing might provide instances to improve strength, due to any straining in awkward positions.

Also to appease my appetite for learning, I’ve been formulating my own cleaners: laundry detergent, window cleaner, and wood polish.  (Search DIY ___ for formulations, if you want to make your own.)

I feel in better shape, based on the fact that I have more endurance for a cleaning session.  The added bonus is an organized environment and belongings which promote efficiency.  I find it more exciting using well maintained equipment, in an organized environment.

That’s what I’ve got.  What do you think: Is this lame . . . or, the start of my amazing , MFing path towards enlightenment?

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Practical: Pay Yourself First

Personal finance writing is full of the saying pay yourself first.  This made sense to me theoretically since you need to save, to build wealth.  However, from a practical sense I didn’t know what that meant: How exactly do I pay myself before I pay a bill?

After further inspection, I came to the conclusion that sticking to a budget is a way to pay yourself first.  The idea of a budget is to set an upper limit, the most you will spend for a time period.  The complement of the budget is the minimum saving you will accrue in that period.  In this sense, the budget allows you to pay yourself, with the remainder.

Finally after deliberation and a moment of eureka, I came to the conclusion that you could rearrange your bank accounts so that the only cash flow inlet your expense account sees is the budget.

This flow ensures that you invest a minimum amount, which is the mathematical complement of the budget.  This is a way to ensure that you pay yourself first, at least as I understand the statement.

My pay goes into a high interest savings account, which then gets separated into investing and an expense budget.  With the investment income going to expenses, my flowchart has a Rich Dad, Poor Dad influence.  The arrow doesn’t necessarily need to go there, depending on personal interests.

For setting budgets, my personal favorite book on the topic is Your Money or Your Life.  I like that book because it provides a rational way to set up a budget and ensure that you are not over nor under, on spending.  The method is subject to change, scale, and variation, not a one time recipe.

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