Archive for personal value

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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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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Car-Free (Mostly)

While I prefer the book, there is an entertaining scene in the movie version of Never Cry Wolf. The bush pilot Rosie responds to his passenger’s concern about the engine quitting during mid-flight, while climbing out of the cabin, with the following quote.

What’s wrong?!  I’ll tell you what’s wrong: Boredom!  And do you know the cure for boredom? Adventure!

–Rosie, in Never Cry Wolf

While nothing interesting comes from the mundane and normal, maybe safety should hold a higher ranking than Rosie is giving it.  Nonetheless, I like the counter-intuitive logic involved.

I sold my car about a month ago.  I sold it because my car felt like more of a liability than a joy.  It has nice environmental implications.  Going car-free has nice financial advantages.  Going car-free means less hassle too.  Those are some nice effects, and they factored into my decision.

I ultimately made the decision based on the fact that I like cycling, as a form of transportation, more than driving; I don’t need a car in my current situation; AND, I have a back-up car I can use, Dre’s.  So, I’m mostly car-free.  I use her car regularly about twice a week.

It took me a month and a half to sell my car (and about 2+ years of mental deliberation and motivation-mustering).  I followed the advice I found on the internet: make sure the car is mechanically sound, clean it, detail it, and then list it for sale using multiple mediums.

  • Mechanically sound: After having a (false) low-tire pressure sensor on my dashboard for about a year, I finally figured out that my full-size spare was setting off this alarm.  (The alarm system works with each tire with RF technology: good to know.)  $0.75* of compressed air fixed the problem.  I also had two dents removed for $150.  To me, watching this guy remove the dents was the equivalent to what others find from watching football or baseball while sitting in the front row.  The artisan, if you will, had such an impressive technique and a depth of knowledge from his years of experience that he made it look simple.
  • Clean it: I spent two weekends in a row cleaning for about 6 hours from each session.  This was the genesis to my recent cleaning as a workout, as it is both gratifying from both an endorphin perspective as well as from a visual accomplishment.
  • Detail it: Even though I cleaned it thoroughly, I had a professional detail my car for $150.  I took the day off work and spectated.  Another artisan full of tricks.  I truly enjoyed this experience too.
  • List it: I used autotrader, craigslist, and parked it with a sign next to a busy street.  I had the most interested buyers from autotrader; the most communication from craigslist; and, a big goose egg from the sign.

*I recently filled up Dre’s tires from 30 psi to 35 psi with 20 cycles from my (bicycle) floor pump.  So going forward, I think it’s easier to pump 4 tires x 20 cycles = 80 times than it is to find 3 quarters and drive to the gas station.

I ended up selling the car to a millwright who needed a new vehicle to get to work.  I like to think he will be more excited about using it than I will.  (I also believe I recouped the $300+ I put into the effort as I pulled in $1000 more than I was expecting for the sale based on Kelly Blue Book information and gut feeling.)

The key learning I had from this experience was that 1) cleaning is a good workout and 2) it’s more fun to drive something clean and mechanically sound.

There’s some coordination involved, for times I want to use a car — using Dre’s, bumming a ride, or renting a car  — but it’s not boring!

In fact to generalize, I think the easiest way to add adventure is to take away comfort (and may I suggest not compromising safety ;)).  One way to do this is to plan “next time” to do it yourself.  There’s lots of areas where you can remove service costs: cooking, repair, entertainment, vacation plans, etc.

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Power Workouts

This week I lifted 3500 pounds within the duration of the Spice Girls’ Wanna Be song.  I’ve been going through a Spice Girls phase recently, but that’s not important.

In 1 set, I lifted 100 repetitions with a 35 pound kettlebell, using the swing.  Here is the kettlebell swing, with the usual electronic background music found in workout videos.

To work myself up to 100 repetitions, I used a density training plan:

Sets Repetitions Total (Sets x Reps)
25 8 200
20 10 200
17 12 ~200
14 14 ~200
13 16 ~200
1 100 100

I started each set on the minute, so the first row workout took 25 minutes, the second row took 20 minutes, etc.  I did this 3 times a week, progressing to more repetitions when it felt relatively easier.  Total, it took me 4 weeks to get through to the final 100 repetitions in 1 set.

The advantages of power workouts using this density path type are both in efficiency and effectiveness:

  • it combines both aerobic and anaerobic exercises
  • it takes very little time to complete the workout
  • it builds strength for doing strenuous work in a short period of time, which is power
  • it requires a minimum of equipment
  • it is versatile; you could do body strength exercises, sprints, throwing cement blocks, lifting bags of sand, …

The disadvantage is that it is relatively boring to do one exercise for a month.  The other disadvantage is that passersby saw me humping the air with a weird object while I was in my garage listening to the Spice Girls, if you consider that a disadvantage and not good advertising!

Overall, I am quite happy with this method.  I think it is a good match for my interests.  I feel stronger and more capable of lifting, carrying, chopping, as well as sitting around in an office chair.

This month I am going to move on to the kettlebell clean, which is a little more challenging.  I don’t know if there is an end.  I think the primary thing I am going after is to increase ability and skill on one or two focused exercises each month, so strength is improved in a more slow, but intense, way.

I should note that I just learned about kettlebells.  I’m surprised about their lack of popularity, as they seem like a good tool to cross train for many different sports.  My main goal is to be capable of doing strenuous, physical work for one 8-hour day at a moment’s notice [for the Zompoc].

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