Archive for post-apocalypse preparation

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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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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Security in the Internet

I recently created a couchsurfing account.  The concept of having a network of strangers to share housing is quite foreign to American culture (this land is my land!).  I think it’s a great use of the internet, leveraging its strength in networking.

Probably the first thought of using is for having a place to stay when you travel.  I’ve now done this once.  However, I really enjoy hosting people in my apartment.  Hosting is a sort of way of traveling vicariously for me.

Hosting strangers also transitions my normal (boring) week night into a more interesting social scene.  I can’t say I’ve learned anything profound through couchsurfing, but it seems to bring about adventurous, down to earth people.

Here are two pictures from my couchsurfing stay in Palm Springs.  The room we stayed in is a casita: literally meaning a little house in Spanish.  Without a question, I would rather couchsurf at this location than stay in an isolated hotel room.

In our host's backyard, overlooking the San Jacinto Peak during a fall sunset.

Our bed for the night in the casita.


In addition to the location, we had great conversations with our hosts.  One was yoga instructor really into the law of attraction and positive thinking.  The other is an economist for a Spanish speaking television station in Palm Springs, where he puts “everything in terms of how many tacos one can buy.”

I concede that up until now I have presented a convincing story advocating couchsurfing.  What lacks is the backstory that my contact is a Palm Spring’s all male, clothing optional, yoga instructor.  Sometimes you need to take a risk though.

I think it’s a low risk to take because of the accountability on the site.  You can rate your past experiences . . . one bad rating and I don’t know how much longer you would be able to use the medium.

For anyone looking to surf, it’s generally expected that you bring something in exchange for the place to stay.  I cooked dinner for our hosts in Palm Springs.  People will often bring a bottle of wine, beer, or something as a token of exchange.

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Worm Harvesting Optimization

I get one of those “the most fun things in life are free” type of euphoric buzzes whenever I’m working in or talking about my worm farm: “I GOT WORMS!”

For a brief background, I built a container to house red wiggler worms.  The worms eat my table scraps and turn it into soil.  Here’s my post on building the structure.

The concept that these worms are turning waste (which half of it is rotting or covered in mold by the time it gets to the worm bin) into lush soil, completely free of smells other than “morning fresh dirt” is simply amazing to me.

To note, the worm bin can take on a nasty, pungent rotting smell from time to time.  This is simply user error, as the eco-system is out of a nitrogen / carbon balance.  To fix this odor, add torn up pieces of newspaper, unbleached cardboard, leaves, mulch, or my personal favorite saw dust from the filter at the Home Depot saw.

The concept of worm farming is that you put food into one bin until it is full then let the worms compost the material.  Once the material is composted, you start another bin stacked on top of the full bin and allow the worms to transfer through holes in the bins.

This gets a lot of the worms out of the soil you want to harvest, but there are still quite a few in the soil.  So, you have to be a sadistic jay-hole and introduce the worms to something they hate: the sun.  The instructions I’ve seen so far recommend making cones of the harvest and iteratively pull from the top of the cones, like in the picture below.

Being the impatient and lazy efficient person that I am, I noticed that the worms were in the shaded, cooler spots of the cones.  So then, I rearranged my piles into awesome non-linear hockey stick looking formations.

Not the best picture, but you can see I built the mounds just out of the shade range from each other.  This still works the same way: pull one inch going across the top.  Then, iteratively repeat as the worms will keep moving downward.  When you reach the bottom of the wall, build another until efforts are futile and/or you are satisfied with the harvesting.

Also to note, the harvested soil is fertilizer for your plants.  And if anyone local wants worms, I can donate some to you.  I can give you a handful and the worms will propagate into an equilibrium population for your container in a relatively short time.

I’m also kind of curious if you could harvest this soil using the other thing worms hate, which is standing water.

For what it’s worth, it’s crazy, to me, after spending years thinking about chemical extractions and separations in terms of abstract concepts like solubility and entropy by adding a living aspect to it, namely the extraction of the worms from their soil via sun.

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How To Make a Box

One thing I like about having roommates is learning from them.  My newest roommate helped me transform a There, I Fixed It submission into something a bit more aesthetically appealing.



Although aesthetics improved, my drive to change the packaging was to reduce the shipping charge from $75 to within my $25 charge (of my selling price for shipping), which I did.  Another victory!

And although I have room for improvement, I can now make a box for $0.25 to pay for tape.  (Cardboard is plentiful in urban and suburban environments.)

There are two key points:

  • to make a crease going across the grains, use a 2×4 or some piece of scrap wood to make a nice straight crease.
  • wherever you want a fold, make a cut in the extended part of box, then  fold the excess to form the sides of the box.
  • (It’s basically like wrapping gifts but with a more rigid material, nbd.)

So easy they should just call it easy.

As an aside, my newest roommate’s name is Jules.   Therefore, any one thing he does is equivalent to 1 Jule.  For teaching me this, I traded 1 Jule for a six pack of his favorite beer.   A 6-pack of beer is equal to 1 Jule, Q.E.D.

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