August 29, 2011

You ever wonder what that u-shaped pipe under your sink is for? Yeah, me neither. But while  researching how plumbing works (disappointing) I came across its purpose. The U “traps” water that acts as a seal to prevent sewer gas from moving into our bathrooms and kitchens. Without the trap out homes would be quite stinky. The U also has the side benefit of catching heavy objects (like rings) that fall in the drain so that they can be (relatively) easily retrieved. Unfortunately, this water trap is not a barrier to centipedes. In fact, it can be an attractive hang-out for them. So if you have any rarely used sinks (or if you have a drain in your basement floor) and you don’t like centipedes, you should pour a small amount of bleach into the drain to keep them away.



August 25, 2011

Recently I’ve undertaken a Herculean task – organizing ALL of my photos. I had to merge two large iPhoto collections as well as organize and select the best prints from “the old days” for scanning. It’s taken quite a bit of time, but I’ve finally finished. One thing that really stands out to me is the massive increase in the number of “normal” photos taken in the digital era. While I ended up scanning about 200 photos for the entire decade of the 90s, some individual years after 2005 have well over 1,000. And that’s after paring them down to eliminate similar pics. It got me thinking that we’re really not far from the day when every single moment of our lives will be recorded by a micro video cameras for recall.  We’ll be able to “remember” things digitally, and exaggerating events will be a risky endeavor indeed. We will probably even have thought-triggered video available via wireless (I refuse to use the term “cloud”). It would be great to instantly watch the coolest moments of my life, but I bet we’ll find them just a little bit disappointing when they don’t quite match the version we will have saved in our minds.

School Daze

August 23, 2011

Today I learned something about myself while learning some good literacy strategies. We were talking about annotating, which is something I’ve never done in any book. I dug a bit into my own psyche to figure out why, because it’s certainly a useful tool. It would be very interesting to re-read a book and see what I was thinking way back on my first read. And it would certainly help me remember important parts better. And yet I don’t do it, and I think it’s because I was drilled to take care of my schoolbooks as a child. We covered them with paper grocery bags cut, folded and taped to fit, or with purpose made and colorfully patterned ones you could buy. We were expected to keep them pristine, and it’s a message that apparently sunk in (some I kept perfect by not even reading them). But it really doesn’t make sense when it comes to my own books. Interestingly, the article we read lamented how the digital book transition is a threat to annotation. For me, however, it’s likely the opposite. I just might have to try adding some notes while reading on my Kindle.


August 20, 2011

I’ve been learning too much in the past couple of days! Yesterday I read about the Philippines (named after King Philip II of Spain), the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Scientific Revolution (these three things tie together somewhat), and the Lymphatic system (did you know lymph is a fluid that moves through your body?). But the more intense learning I’m doing has to do with a project I’m working on, which I’m going to keep shrouded in mystery a bit longer. Suffice it to say that it involves a series of logic problems to solve and a development environment to explore and master. Oh, and it sort of involves the “sport” at which I am terrible.

Goodbye Newman!

August 17, 2011

I was helping a friend try to find a post office by phone today and directed her to a location that I found on Google Maps. There wasn’t a post office there (though she did find one of those old blue mail boxes nearby). It got me thinking about how infrequently we physically mail things these days. It’s so much easier to send a letter by email or send a link to photos online that the amount of mail flowing through the USPS system must be declining. As you can see from the above graph, it’s dropping off very quickly. Imagine how little of that is actual letters being exchanged between actual people and not just a bunch of junk mail we immediately dump in the recycling bin.

Naturally, the USPS is badly hurting. Their net loss  $8.5 billion during the last fiscal year is more than double what it was the previous year. And it’s not like they’re much hope of people deciding to mail stuff all of a sudden. So they have to continue downsizing, since they run on their own revenue and not tax dollars. The Postmaster General (not Wilford Brimley – it’s some guy named Patrick Donahoe) has proposed laying off 120,000 workers, closing 3,700 post offices and delivering mail only five days a week by 2015 to compensate. It’s unlikely to be quite that drastic in reality, but it’s not going to be pretty.

The land of cumbers

August 16, 2011

I’ve lived in Cumberland for two years now. Today, after I got home from the doctor’s office I turned on the Red Sox game just in time to see a shot of the big Cumberland Farms sign at Fenway between innings. At that moment I finally put two and two together and wondered whether Cumberland Farms had anything to do with Cumberland, Rhode Island. After a quick trip online I found out that the company originated at an actual farm here in Cumberland! Vasilios and Aphrodite Haseotes bought a single-cow farm here in 1938, which grew into the largest dairy farm in Southern New England. The first convenience store was opened in 1958, and the still-family owned business now consists of over 600 locations today. They also own Gulf Oil LP after buying the rights to the Gulf Oil brand from Chevron in 1986. That one cow sure was a good investment.

As I got up to let Jazzy out last night, I watched her tail as she realized what we were doing. After a quick stretch and shake her tail was wagging fast and wide and even did the “loop” thing that it does when she’s happily searching for a ball in the field. Apparently she was very happy to go outdoors at that moment. Most dog owners can read at least the basics of what different tail wags mean, but I looked it up anyway to get a bit more detail. A tail between the legs means fear or submission, and conversely a high tail usually means confidence and control. A slow or short tail wag usually means the dog is unsure or still trying to figure out what she’s supposed to do. And the one everyone should know is that a bristled, stiff tail held high and wagging fast is a dog that is agitated and possibly aggressive. Just because the tail is wagging doesn’t mean you’re safe – most dog bites occur when a dogs tail is wagging in this way.

In my research I also learned that the head of a dog is thermally isolated from its body to give it an advantage when hunting. This protects the brain from overheating while chasing prey in a hot environment – a dog chasing a rabbit in a desert probably won’t be able to catch it right away, but this heat protection will allow it to withstand the heat longer and catch the rabbit once it’s forced to slow down.


August 11, 2011

I was chatting with a neighbor the other day and he mentioned that he saw a wild turkey earlier that day while driving. Amazingly, we talked about turkeys for a few minutes and didn’t once mention how tasty they are and not a bit about Thanksgiving. He mentioned that they sleep in trees, which makes sense but is something I’dnever considered before.

I’ve encountered while turkeys in the woods before – Jasmine chased them and they took off and flew a bit to easily get away from her (an impressive feat as young Jazzy was crazy fast). Watching a 20 pound bird take flight is very interesting; they simply don’t look like they can fly. They prefer open wooded areas (not much brush) so that they can gather up some speed by running to enable a takeoff.  Native Americans used to burn brush to create these “runway” habitats that would attract turkeys, which also created the benefit of a clear shot for the hunters. It seems like it would be easier to try to find tree with all the sleeping turkeys at night, but maybe that wasn’t as easy as it sounds. The largest wild turkey ever recorded was 38 pounds, but there was no mention as to whether it was still capable of flight.

I’ve been dreaming a lot more lately. Well, I’ve at least been remembering my dreams more lately. Last night I had a dream that I had a full beard for some reason. I’ve not really one for facial hair, though I once sported a goatee for a few months. I used to regularly sport a bit of stubble, but whether that was a leftover byproduct of the Miami Vice era or simply being too lazy to shave everyday is anyone’s guess. These days the beard is a bit more gray than I’d like for that look. Anyway, it got me thinking about the whole shaving thing  and when it became common. I found out that many Bronze Age (roughly 3000-500 B.C.) cultures made oval-shaped razors out of, you guessed it, bronze. The urge to shave predates even those ancient civilizations though. Way back in prehistoric times people used clam shells, flint and even shark teeth to look “the best a man can get.”

Explosive discovery

August 8, 2011

I caught just a glimpse of a show about ancient Chinese fireworks this morning before I got to meet a brand new human being (well, he’s 30 days old). I remember from that brief glimpse of the show that gunpowder is made of sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter (potassium nitrate). Ironically enough, it was developed by alchemists in the 9th century trying to create an elixir of immortality (though it wasn’t use to do the opposite until hundreds of years later). Gunpowder is one of the Four Great Inventions of Ancient China, along with paper, printing, and the compass.