This is the place for my rants, raves, reviews and just general "stuff". May you be amused, enlightened, and perhaps even a little pissed off.


Depression Plant

My Mom, having recently retired, has been going through different bits of her life and organizing things. She has gotten as far as her recipes and its taking the lifetimes worth of accumulated recipes and making it orderly. One of the things that she ran across was the recipe for a "Depression Plant". The recipe is as follows,

1 piece of coal or coke
Place in shallow dish
Pour the following over the coal or coke:

1. 2 Tablespoons clear ammonia (not the sudsy ammonia)
2. 5 Tablespoons water
3. 6 Tablespoons of bluing
4. 6 Tablespoons of nonidodized salt
5. 2 drops red food coloring

Place dish in window or other convenient place.
Add water to keep moist and watch this grow resembling a coral plant.

She was suggesting that it might be an interesting science experiment for our 11 yr old son, which it would. However, thinking about it a bit, I had several observations, as I do about most everything.
  1. Nothing says childhood experiment like ammonia and bluing. Next week will be the 'tequila and handgun' experiment. That is just the new age father in me, protecting my child against all dangers. Well back in my day we drank ammonia for fun and laughed at pain. Okay, that didn't really happen, but I am certain that its true for generations previous to me. To prove that, my maternal Grandfather ate a jar of vaseline with a spoon, when he was very little. He wasn't forced to eat it, nor was it a bet or anything, he just sat down and ate it. Being the classy guy that I am, I will avoid any Marmite (tm) comments at this point. Anyways, perhaps it was early precursor to a happy meal.
  2. When referring to coke, I was wondering if Diet Coke would work. Ah, no, thats probably not it. Are Depression Plants big in Colombia? Probably not that either. Yes, it is likely something to do with coal. I don't think I have ever been around a house that was coal fired. Closest approximation would be various renditions of Dickens' "Christmas Carol" and maybe the movie "A Christmas Story".
  3. What about bluing? Does anybody under 35 years old have a clue what 'bluing' is? While I am fairly certain that every grocery store probably has it, I do know with some certainty that it is futile to ask a grocery store clerk where the bluing is. Its the same futility that I had quite a number of year ago when I went around to all the stores in town that sold computer gear, looking for a 'SCSI terminator'. I needed one right away and went on a walkabout to get one. Mostly I got bewildered stares with a periodic 'that some kinda software or sumthun?". I eventually found a friend that I could bum one off of until I could order one through the mail.
With those observations in mind, I started wondering where in the hell I would find coal in this day and age. My Mom held the obvious answer. The local power generation plant uses mountains of the stuff. I hadn't been in that part of town for a while, so I am pleading that as my excuse for not recalling that. Those 50 ft mountains of coal aren't all that memorable, are they? Now with a source, how do I go about getting some? My thought was to deftly walk along the railroad tracks by the power plant and pick up any stragglers, in an effort to avoid going up and simply asking for a piece. Can't be having the direct approach, can we? Do that a couple of times and before you you know it, the slippery slope would consume me and I would be stopping for directions when lost. I ruminated on my plan for a bit, but it occurred to me that a mistake could have tragic consequences to the depression plant. Somehow I suspect that the outcome would be different if I accidently selected a frozen chunk of dogshit or something. In principle I can guess what real coal looks like, but i've never seen it to be sure. I guess I will have to do the unthinkable and just ask. To show you just how repugnant the prospect of asking is, I went and checked for 'coal'. After all, is the principal place to find random items that you desire, right? Well, I was shut out there. Only faux coal and candy coal, neither of which are likely to be sufficient for this experiment.

As my friend Bruce says, this experiment will be a "teachable moment". I am going out on a limb here, but I think that my internet-attached, videogame-obsessed, 24-hr-cartoon-availability-appreciating son will regard it as a 'ho-hum' and likely say something on the order of "thats what you consider entertainment?". I'll happily fend off the attack with "No, thats what Grandma considered entertainment when she was a little girl". After all, we had the benefit of things like Gilligans Island to avoid the appearance of an entertainment wasteland.

We'll see how the experiment goes...


Americans Grow To Fit Their Environment

What started as a humorous observation got me thinking about the veracity of the statement. I thought "people are getting bigger" and "houses are getting bigger", how do they relate? In this environment of Googleified immediate access to random data, I had the opportunity to go figure that out, in my own non-scientific way. Very quickly I was able to locate the data that I required to figure out whether Americans did have the tendency to grow to fit their environment. I am not picking specifically on Americans, its just that housing is typically constrained in many other places around the world. If one were motivated, they could put a finer point on this amusement by looking at regional trends in both datasets.

I'll leave the conclusions up to you. Keep in mind that this is pure amusement and not terribly scientific in any way.

The housing data can be found at:
The obesity data can be found at:


Working Out: A 2006 Resolution

In order to inflict upon myself all the mental anguish that I deserve, I have again this year resolved to workout more faithfully than I have in the past. I bought a "Get 18 months for the price of 12 months" deal at the local AnyTime Fitness that had gone in just down the road. It was meant to replace my membership to the YMCA, which I had stopped going to because the most direct route to the YMCA was blocked off for a long time. Yes, it is a feeble attempt at rationalizing not working out, but its the only excuse that I have. I don't want to leave you with the impression that I went a whole lot, but my son and I would go there periodically and he would go play in the Jr. Gym while I went to the weightroom. Another strike against the YMCA is that Burger King was between it and my home, so we would grab dinner there most of the time, an act that is fairly counter-productive. With the bridge out, it required me to go the other way around and that was the straw that broke the camels back. Then I noticed AnyTime Fitness going in at the local stripmall and it was an answer to my prayers. At the YMCA I primarily used the weight machines, but some time I would use the walking track and racquetball courts, but not enough to consider it essential. The AnyTime Fitness had all the machines that I needed, it wasn't a creepy place, and had the added benefit of being open 24x7. One thing that I didn't get with the YMCA is the ability to work out late at night, when I have the most motivation. I also like working out late at night because I don't have to stand around and wait for machines. I have a pattern and a rhythm and other people definitely get in the way. I bought the membership and I was on my way. I went about as frequently as we were going to the YMCA, but that pattern was broken when summer came and our travel schedule filled up. I just got out of the rhythm and my trips there were far and few between. That is until I resolved to do it more faithfully.

That takes me to my new resolution. I started faithfully on January 1st, braving icy streets to get there. I almost waved off because of the icy roads, but decided that I had put it off enough and had made too many excuses. I wasn't about to start that up again, so I went. I commenced my standard workout regime, a set of machines at weights whose sequence I had tuned carefully both in my YMCA days and the few times at AnyTime Fitness. The regime alternates upper and lower body and puts the most strenuous exercises in the beginning, when my energy is the highest. It works for me and my fitness level and is unlikely to fit anybody else. Part of my design process also has to do with speed. While it isn't the most healthy of attitudes, sometimes I am in a hurry to get the workout over with and back on the road. I haven't been as much in a hurry yet this year, but who knows. Anyways, I started my first workout of the year and it went very very well. I had tons of energy, having eaten at just the right time before the work to maximize energy. I went through my entire usual regime and still had energy to spare, so I added some time on the stationary bike and free weights. I realize that this extra energy is the sirens call to serious pain, so I didn't answer the entire call and walked away with energy left over. The two minute drive home finished off my success. Having been down this road before, I dutifully took Advil before bed to handle pain in the morning.

Day two was a different story, I ate too early for my workout and I was dragging, even without any tiredness from my previous days workout. My mind was enthusiastic, but my body didn't share that quality. I did about three-quarters of my usual workout and was happy with that. Its going to take a while to get back into things and pushing it too early would likely mean injury and setbacks. I again took Advil to take care of the aches and pains. After all, if there aint aches and pains, you aint working, or so my Scandanavian work ethic tells me. I woke up in the morning early to get my son on the bus for the first school day of the year. I was met with pain and agony. Unbeknownst to me, the workout fairies had slipped into my bedroom while I was sleeping and beat me from head to toe with baseball bats. I was thoroughly tenderized and ordinary tasks became adventures in pain. The pain would be low and dull, right up until the point that I made some atypical movement, in which case the workout fairies would sneak up behind me and stick me with a shiv. The act of reaching to change a lightbulb was punished with an ice-pick to the Latissimus Dorsi. Having greater than a room temperature IQ, I took this as natures way of saying "you might want to sit out a day, bozo". I listened to my body and skipped a day. It was a day for walking around gingerly and making no sudden movements to be punished for.

I went into the third workout in four days with sagging energy, but once I started my workout the energy returned. That's really good news and bodes well for my resolutions. Stuff that hurt before no longer hurt and I was happy to find that somehow the exercises were using the muscles that they are supposed to use. Let me explain. During the first two workouts, when I would do the benchpress, I would feel real tightness and pain in my lats. While they are clearly involved and important, I hadn't felt that before and thought it a little strange. The third workout, all work was being felt in right places, namely the deltoids, pecs, and triceps. I did a full workout and very nearly added some more components to the workout, be decided not to tempt fate.

As I go through this adventure in fitness I will write about my progress, some stuff about motivations and techniques that I use to help me out.