Sunday, January 29, 2012

Poppycakes - Fancy cakes that are actually good

My sister-in-law Jen has started a company called Poppycakes, which makes high-end cakes, cupcakes, & other baked goods. She is based out of DC, but we occasionally get her to make a freebie batch here in Mississippi or at the in-laws in North Carolina. She has always been great with the tail end of a meal. But since 2004 when my first son was born, she has really focused on her craft and built up a set of tools & techniques that would make a mechanic proud. When she began branching out from family birthdays to showers and other larger events with cakes that knock the socks off of anything we can find here in Mississippi, the word started spreading.

If you're in the DC area and have a thousand calories to spare, get in touch with Jen (Poppycakes on Facebook) and let her bake your party into a creative realm that you won't find anywhere else with her quality and prices. Poppycakes makes me kick paleo to the curb quickly, only regaining control once icing and crumbs are all over my face.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hard-to-kill Greens: Chickweed & Malabar Spinach

Yesterday I heard about 2 separate plants that are both edible and grow easily in my regional climate - Chickweed & Malabar Spinach. You don't need a green thumb to get these plants going or keep them producing. Having no doubt I could grow these weeds - I have extensive experience with successful weeds growing in my yard :) - I was curious about how to use these plants before trying out some as ground cover in an empty bed on the side of my house. So in a quick search, here's what I found that makes me want this stuff tonight:

Malabar Spinach - Here's a video (makes me H-U-N-G-R-Y) about malabar followed by a couple of recipes.

Chickweed - I was going to post a cool video of this stuff being used, but the really interesting videos were all hosted by folks who appeared to have accidentally used a different, less legal weed and I couldn't put them up here without laughing (nor could they stop laughing). Just do a google or youtube video search for chickweed recipes. But here is the PBS-style public service announcement version, which actually shows you what it looks like on the ground and explains how to use it. The last one makes my eat crazy stuff bell ring. I LOVE poke. When my little brother was stationed in Hawaii and I stayed with him during my two week Naval Reserve duty at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, we ate almost nothing else. Adding something local, prevalent, and free to something that is a lot more pricey in Mississippi (due to the large amount of saltwater fish) is a great idea to stretch it. Anyway, I'm stoked to try out the malabar this year.

Downward Class Migration: Not Falling Alone, Sliding Together

Jack Spirko has been talking about "Downward Class Migration" for quite a while on The Survival Podcast. I am hearing more and more media reports about people falling in the class structure, but that isn't what Jack has been talking about. His point is that what it means to BE middle class (or any given class) is sliding downward while the actual class structure remains relatively stable. I think of it like an avalanche or landslide in which a shelf of ice (the class structure) slides down a mountain so that everyone remains about the same relative to each other but everyone is actually lower on the mountain. The kicker is that this shift combined with all of the individual cases of falling down to a lower class (due to unemployment, etc) compound each other for those to whom it happens. Below is a video that Jack put together to better explain this concept:

WARNING: This isn't a graduate thesis. It's a discussion from a normal guy to his community. There is some PG-13 language, but nothing rated R.

Here is Jack's blog post at The Survival Podcast, with a growing comment thread.

The bottom line of Jack's entire focus at TSP is that if you become more self sufficient in providing your needs (and wants), you can combat the downward migration of the entire class structure while nothing else is going wrong on a personal, local, regional, or global scale (storms, medical emergencies, financial difficulties, civil unrest). Thus his slogan "Helping you live the life you want if times get tough, or even if they don't." - Jack Spirko

UPDATE - Here is a link to a story from the Wall Street Journal on cultural inequality. Many similar themes, but from a mainstream polished source.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I love Mountain Dew, well Diet Mountain Dew (DMD) to be more precise. I drink enough of it that I keep about 2 gallons (8 liters) in my pantry rotation to make sure that critical resource never runs dry and as an accumulator tank so I can catch sales on it. On top of that, I drink a knock off of DMD from Kroger - "Big K Diet Citrus Drop Soda" out of cans. I drink 1/day as part of my lunch at work. Here is an article comparing the Citrus Drop to Mountain Dew. The prices aren't up to date, but the relative comparison between the 2 options is still accurate, thus my choice. But I stick with the original for the 2 liters.

I heard a short discussion as part of The Survival Podcast feedback show yesterday regarding the use of a chemical called brominated vegetable oil in MD, DMD, and other citrus sodas. This chemical is pretty much like it sounds, vegetable oil bound with bromine/bromide salts. What is this chemical used as outside my DMD... a fire retardant. That is not enough in and of itself to make me shy away. After all, I regularly intake chemicals that are standard fire retardants/extinguishers (water, carbon dioxide). But a quick google search for "BVO" or "brominated vegetable oil" leads you to sites like:
Not a single one of these sources, or any other source I could find, has anything positive to say about BVO and everything I read says this stuff could be pretty nasty. In fact, it is banned for use in sodas in many countries (~100). Now I recognize that many of these sites are a bit on the alternative side of the media spectrum. But Scientific American is certainly mainstream scientific media. I have to do some digging into the actual impact and the data behind it and I think I may have to go to offshore data for impacts specifically in food/soda. But I sense that for my DMD habit there may be a quiet death knell looming in the distance.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Extreme Races: Warrior Dash & GORUCK Challenge

UPDATE: Run For Your Lives is another extreme race... basically a 5k with obstacles and, more importantly, zombies!!! This looks like a fun, less serious alternative to the GORUCK challenge and perhaps a little less physically challenging than the Warrior Dash. If anyone has participated in any of these and would like to leave a comment with some more info, please do.

Two different extreme races have come to my attention via completely separate ways in the last 4 days:

  • The GORUCK Challenge - This weekend while researching a discount on a highly recommended pack (GORUCK) I ran across the GORUCK Challenge put on by a high-speed cadre of former operators from the special operations world. I was immediately intrigued by the challenge and started thinking of who I could recruit as the core of a team to do a custom event later this year or, more likely, next year since their schedule is pretty chockablock until then. The list of people who would think it is cool is relatively long. The list of people on my short list who would actually commit to do something that won't be fun but will be extremely rewarding... let's just say I didn't need my toes. I am scared of this thing and exhilarated at the same time. Can't wait to get down to brass tacks on this one.

  • The Warrior Dash - A colleague is participating in Warrior Dash Mississippi which will raise funds for St Jude Children's Hospital. I can't think of a better reason to run myself into the ground regardless of how crazy or painful it might appear. The kids for whom the funds are being raised run headlong into the unknown every day and don't have a choice. But they keep fighting until they can't. If that isn't a warrior spirit, what is? I'll be working shift work, so can't participate this year. But the event organizers tell me they often do repeats as their events are very successful. I'm IN for 2012.
I can run a few miles without "having to" and I can push myself through some pretty hard work. I'm no hard core terminator cyborg like my little brother, but I think either of these two events would be awesome to participate in.

New toy for my 22? Elftmann Tactical

I have been looking for a solution to make my "old faithful" Marlin Model 75C (which is really the old version of the current Model 60) into a rifle with a shorter length of pull and generally much smaller. Mount a holographic red dot on top (very inexpensive alternatives are available that can handle the non-existent recoil of a 22) and you have a very capable little rifle to plink or hunt small game. I love the idea of a 22 that can be carried with negligible impact to your weight and could even be strapped onto the side of a 3-day pack.

The guys at Elftmann Tactical have put together the product pictured above, which appears to be of significantly higher quality than the bolt-together plastic alternatives previously available. They offer it for both the Marlin and the Ruger 10/22, which covers an a amazing amount of the 22 market share. If I can get my hands on one, I will follow up with a review. Here is a link to the Elftmann site.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Interesting Fruit Resource from Whole Foods

Via Twitter: @Cooking_Light: Great resource! RT @wholefoods From apples to strawberries, find out how to select, store and prepare favorite fruits:

A feature that would be a great add is how to propagate the fruits from store-bought product. I suppose that's a bit much to ask from a retailer who would lose sales for every fruit tree grown.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Financial Bogeyman

I am starting to get nervous about markets like I was in 2008. I held on a little too long then and wish I had moved to cash a month earlier than I did... it would have saved me almost 10% of my investments. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I feel like one of many financial bogeymen are hiding in the closets just waiting for us to open a door.
The major things going on out there that worry me are: Everybody knows there is a crisis here and lots of nations are doing things in the background and more overtly to fend this one off for a while, but it still makes the market do stupid stuff. I think the impact of this one could potentially be smaller on me us if we are smart about how we react. I also think that there may be some long-term good investments to be had as European companies that are solid get hit at the ticker but less elsewhere. (See also the US market in late 2008) The Brits are saying we might be in trouble, while CNBC is trying to maintain that there's nothing to see, move along. If you sign up with your brokerage to be on the "New Offerings" list, your email will be pelted with multiple listings every day for things like $134M from the NY Dormitory Authority or $282M from the Omaha Public Power District, etc. I could see how you spend almost $300M in a power district. They could be building a new power station and/or upgrading their infrastructure - I know they're dabbling in wind generation, too. But a dormitory project >$100M is ASTOUNDING. You can build a WHOLE LOT of dormitories for that kind of money. Cities around the country are having to cut services to meet their debt obligations, moreso where they are prevented by state law from filing for bankruptcy (see Harrisburg, PA). Yet they continue to drink the spiked kool-aid out of the cooler and party like it's 1999. Eventually, these cities are going to need a bailout from the state or their (formerly apparently rock solid) munis will tank. The states don't have the dough (try figuring out the California budget) and will have to borrow it or be bailed out by Uncle Sam. Now Uncle Sam can do a few things to fix the problem... raise revenue, cut expenses (they don't have the fortitude to do that) borrow more or just have the Fed print more money to give to the states to funnel to the cities. Borrowing more is just kicking the can again. I don't have full faith that our credit can hasn't been kicked all it can stand. Printing more is gradually devaluing the dollars (so they don't have to do it all at once Zimbabwe style). Both of those options pretty much just suck. I don't have a more cogent, mixed company appropriate, professional term.

So what do we do about it? I'm still working that out myself. But I am certainly looking for opportunities to move things to cash where it makes sense and the risk probably isn't worth the reward (European sovereign debt off the top of my head). I'm also trying to position myself to make the really good buys that I believe will be there when things eventually do get bad. I think the market could experience one more super jubilant rally over the next few years, but protecting capital is my primary goal right now and I am beginning to feel like one of the sober people standing around the frat party at 3 in the morning. It's been fun, but there are going to be some serious hangovers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Gulf Coast Tourism - Driven by Staycations?

Not sure about the national market, but here in Mississippi I see a "Come Visit the Gulf Coast" commercial like this one a couple of times a night.

According to this BP-funded piece, 2011 was a heckuva year across the Gulf region of TX, LA, MS, AL, and FL. I'm curious how much of that improved tourism was due to an increase in "staycations" and how much was caused because of BP's "everything is OK" marketing campaign. You can be on the Coast from St. Louis in an easy day of driving and from Chicago in a closer to miserable but not too much worse than dealing with the airlines daylong kinda drive. The number of people within an easy/doable drive coupled with the depressed economy seems to point to more people showing up on the Coast. Don't get me wrong, there are some beautiful sites to be seen down here, like these shots from the Emerald Coast of Florida along 30A near one of my preferred destinations.
But it doesn't have the wow factor of Nevis & St Kitts or the Montserrat mystique (here's to Brian Wilson). I'm hoping for the sake of the folks who depend on the influx of cash into the region that whatever the reason, the tourism spike in the Gulf region levels out higher than in the past and has a moderate long-term growth rate instead of creating a big boom-bust cycle.
PS - I wonder how much BP paid to have that cheeseball sandcastle constructed for their spot.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chef Georgia Pellegrini

I'm completely intrigued by Georgia Pellegrini. She's gone way beyond where I would expect most girls to go in terms of "back to nature", hunting, gathering, etc. But she seems to have proven that you can do that stuff and still stay what would be conventionally described as "girly". Not to mention having some ideas that the guys can learn from. Here's a link to Chef Pellegrini's recipes. You can navigate to the rest of her site from there. Some of the recipes are pretty adventurous - but I will try just about anything once and have found many interesting foods that way over the course of my life and travels. I certainly want to do a couple of the weirder ones on my own before I try to convince my kids that it's even in the realm of possibility to try.

The Girl Hunter - Facebook Fan Page

Finally, here's a link to her book. It looks pretty interesting, but I haven't read it yet and therefore can't endorse it. But I have added it to my wishlist.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dr. Hansen Eats Cocoa Puffs

The video in this post over at Watts Up With That demonstrates once again that Dr. James Hansen with Nasa clearly eats Cocoa Puffs. He's said that "the ocean's will begin to boil..." Under any reasonable scenario that I'm aware of, predicted temperatures (EVEN IF YOU BELIEVE THAT WE'RE DOING IT) change only a couple of degrees. So either Columbia University teaches a different kind of thermodynamics than I learned, or he is pretty much cuckoo...

I would LOVE to see the energy balance calculations showing how the oceans boil.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Opportunity for Hypocricy: Winegate

On the following issue, I intend to be almost 100% hypocritical. Dr. Dipak Das, a UCONN researcher apparently falsified data that showed health benefits of red wine. In discussions on scientific endeavors, I insist that the data be legitimate and the conclusions made from them are based on reasonable assumptions. Aside from no obvious physical evidence confronting me each day, that is the primary reason that I don't buy into all of the global warming (aka global climate change, global weirding, other aliases that fit this year's data). The basic underlying data isn't even easily available and we depend on a couple of clearly motivated (regardless of HOW/WHY they are motivated) nerds that think they are too smart to need to explain themselves to the rest of the world. When their methods of hiding things and making adjustments to UNDERLYING DATA to make it "fit" were exposed, that did it for me. Those guys were doing something for which a 6th grade science teacher would flunk a kid.

Back to the point... Dr. Das MAY, ALLEGEDLY, POTENTIALLY have messed with the data. However, as a true believer and practician of the "Glass of Red Wine a Day" religion (when I can), I refuse to believe that one of he apostles hadn't been preaching the truth. Unfortunately, there appear to be sufficient sources to prove the legitimacy of this damaging peice of information that I will now resume ignoring. Wine-gate Information Sources:

Dinner with my wife

I think everyone who has been married more than a couple of years has had a dinner like the one Marshall Ramsey relays on his blog today:

The Entree - Marshall Ramsey

It's the things rolling around in your head that don't break the silence that are really interesting. If the marbles rolling around my wife's head are anywhere near in line with the marbles that I haven't lost yet, we'll be OK for a long, long time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Climategate 2.0 - The Crooks Skated Again

How is it that anyone who may have valid questions about scientific data has a tough time getting more than a couple of words in edgewise in a discussion about global warming/climate change/weirding/whatever's next with some political science/history major flunkie who speaks the party line and thinks they understand statistics, but many thousands of emails between the guys who started this whole mess doesn't fully discredit them? Maybe we should have gotten some of the AGW proponents like Michael Mann or Phil Jones to comment on some of their employees height in relation to the height of their wife. Apparently that's all it takes to discredit you from a more important goal of something like running the country (see Herman Cain hackjob at Politico).

Regardless of whether their wives are a similar height to any of their coworkers, it drives be absolutely batty that we let people get away with bunk like the original climategate emails, which at least put a moment of hesitation into major policy makers and the public. But the wonks on the left who are using this as a wedge issue can't let go EVEN WHEN THE PERPS DO IT AGAIN, as evidenced by the utter lack of stories on this in the media and the continued mention of global warming (or appropriate, up-to-the-minute-fits-the-data-now alias):
I believe, based on some data I have seen, that there are in fact strange things happening in the climate. However I don't believe that there are that many catastrophic changes going on at this point. Based on the climate's behavior in the past when concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) & hydrocarbons like methane (CH4) were higher, I do not believe that the carbon dioxide that has been put into the atmosphere by burning fuel over the last couple of hundred years has had any statistically significant measurable affect on the climate (Univ of East Anglia, Penn State, & the IPCC statistics show you can prove anything). That does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that I don't think we should do everything we can to smartly decrease the amount of pollution we spread around the world as well as limit the amount of damage to natural resources. Sustainability is an entirely different focus than climate science, though the two often get commingled. For resources that are finite, we should decrease their usage to extend the quality of life that we have attained. As the lifeblood of all the plant life on the planet, I do not think that CO2 qualifies as pollution. Whatever EPA wonk came up with that one... I can definitively say that they are an idiot. Updated to correct torrent link for Climategate 2.0 as well as add the original emails so they are all in one place.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Measuring Social Media

I am trying to learn about different ways to measure effectiveness in "getting out there" in the world of social media. I am spending a bit of time exploring things like:
  • Empire Avenue, an investment/community game that allows you to monitor statistics of your media
  • Klout, descriptions and metrics of your influence and who you influence
There are some efforts I begin in which I feel WAY over my head. This is one of those efforts. I hope I can change that soon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kiwanis Nuclear Power Speech

I had the opportunity to speak to the Kiwanis International, Vicksburg Chapter today about nuclear power. I am always amazed at the level of interest from folks who don't have a background in the same admittedly nerdy subjects I've studied. I managed to explain that once you get outside the "hot rock box", a nuke isn't really much different than any other power plant.

If anybody out there would like to hear nuclear power explained in terms normal folks can understand, I would be happy to share what I have learned over the years about the technology.

UPDATE: A friend with whom I served in the Navy recommends the children's book Nuclear Power - by Amelia Frahm - to get the basics of nuclear power across to kids without imparting irrational fear. I haven't read it yet, but I trust Chris's judgement so here is a link to it from Amazon:

Rain, Rain Go Away

As much NOT fun as it is commuting in dense fog and later rain, the after effects are certainly welcome. First, the sky does some pretty cool things right as fronts pass through. Clouds just aren't as interesting in the middle of low-gradient weather. Things liven up when the temperature/humidity differences start to show up. Second (and my favorite) is the brilliance of color, specifically the greens and browns of plant life, just seem to pop with a surrealist edge.

I accordance with the guidance purveyed in The Life of Brian, always look on the bright side of life.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Local Farmers & Produce

My search for locally grown food just became much easier. Since my wife & I returned from a trip to east Tennessee on a visit to some friends that live outside the rural town of Maryville, we have been looking for farms that raise meat and vegetables to reduce the amount of mass-produced food we eat. We are primarily looking for a source of poultry, eggs, and vegetables.

While searching for something to watch between football Saturday, I ran across Farmweek and didn't blow past it. They ran a piece about a web-based engine to help you find agriculture providers as well as the providers finding customers. It's called Market Maker. Pretty straight forward concept, but it is eeking its way into a market that is not well-known for being super techie - namely small ag. I'm glad to have found it. I looks like it takes proactive effort from the grower, which was the point Farmweek was trying to get across. Here's the list I got within 50 miles of my location:
  • Barr Farms - Mendenhall, Mississippi
  • Cedar Hill Gardens - Brandon, Mississippi
  • Dancing Hooves Stable - Jackson, Mississippi
  • Flying M Farm - Vaughan, Mississippi
  • Le Petite Poulet Farm LLC - Jackson, Mississippi
  • Livingston Springs Farm - Flora, Mississippi
I'm pretty sure Dancing Hooves is live horse sales even though they categorized themselves as meat & poultry. Who knows? Either way, not really my market. But I plan to visit the others over the course of the spring and summer to source some of my food. I'm curious to compare & contrast this clearly government funded effort with the more "organic" AgriTrue effort that Jack Spirko is starting up.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Social Network Prepping

So I am all about prepping for food/water/shelter/energy and am a gung ho fan of people like Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast. But prepping is typically described as what to do to continue on living, surviving. But we all recognize something is going to get us eventually. When it does, what about your Facebook page? In 2011 a high school classmate, Thomas Baggett, succumbed to a unexpected illness. Following his death, his Facebook page lit up with messages of rememberance from his old friends as well as his students in the St Louis area. However, the lack of a reply was palpable. I ran across an article today about a new Facebook app call If I Die that allows you to pre-record messages that can play once the 3 people you assign confirm your death. I am curious how things might have been different if Thomas had been using it.

I also wonder, though. Do you say the things now that you would say to your friends and family after you die if you could? Are you even capable of putting yourself in the right mental frame of reference to speak to them with not only the right perspective to understand how they will receive the message but also the words that you really want to say given that you would now be dead? I spent about 5 minutes thinking about what I would say and I'll tell you... it takes a lot more than that.

I think that you should get as much off your chest while you are alive. If nothing else, it removes the need to have to use this app. I recently reconnected with an old friend after about 3 years of radio silence - attributable to me, by the way. It was eating at me that I hadn't picked up the phone and finally just did it. We had a wonderful conversation, but it was weird that so much of it had to be spent on catching up.

If you read this far, here are a couple of action items for you to bring prepping into your Social Network:
1. Think of someone with whom you haven't spoken in a long time but should have or you are estranged.
2. Figure out how you played a part in it. Note: Even the most 1-sided arguments have 2 sides somewhere. Find it.
3. Reconnect. Use your face, a phone, or a handwritten letter. Save Facebook & email for those who you don't really care to talk to or who you already connect with enough that there's no need.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Lily Price's First Photo Shoot

We were extremely pleased with the work that Olivia Grey Pritchard did for us right when LP was born. Check out her blog

Olivia did an awesome job for us and I would recommend her highly. She took control of our unruly models and made some photographic magic happen.

LP's First Bite

While the family was off work, in-laws in town from DC and Charlotte, and basically enjoying being together with no commitments, LP (my baby girl) passed a few pretty major milestones. Pictured above is her first bite of solid food. We had worked on rice "cereal" a bit. Sidenote: for those of you who don't have kids, before they get to the stuff you may think of as baby food they move from milk to a goopy concoction of ground rice and water that they call "cereal" but it's basically watery goop. LP took the peas and ate them like it was her job. I think it was one of the least messy feedings I've ever seen for a new food eater. She was all decked out with the massive cloth/plastic hybrid bib (think dressed out as a radiation worker) and I fully expected her to take a spoonful or two into her mouth and then redecorate the kitchen with it. But to our surprise and joy, she ate like a super big girl and managed to stay cleaner than our oldest son (7) does during a typical meal.