Stephie Nicholls

 A girl I went out with this summer took her life on Monday. She was an amazing person. 24 years old. 

Stephie Nicholls West of Rushville, passed away Oct. 3, 2016. She was 24 years old and had been living with her parents and siblings. Born in Anderson, IN June 13, 1992, she was adopted by Paul and Christin Odum Nicholls August 24, 2009. She attended and graduated from Rush Consolidated High School. She married Adam Joshua West in June 2011 who survives. Stephie was employed by Dungarven in Indianapolis where she was a program director helping individuals with disabilities. She was also enrolled and continuing online studies at Indiana Weslyan University. She loved being around family and especially loved shopping with her siblings and Oce’ane, her grandparent’s exchange student. She is survived by her parents, Paul & Christin Nicholls; siblings Tyce & Kalee Nicholls; grandparents, Al & Susie Odum and Paul & Sandy Nicholls. Several aunts, uncles & cousins also survive. A Celebration of Life for Stephie Nicholls West will be 4 PM Sunday Oct. 9, 2016 at Todd Funeral Centre & Crematory with Rev. Jeremy Gries officiating. Friends may call Sunday from 1 PM until the time of service. Cremation will follow services. Memorials may be made to Todd Funeral Centre & Crematory in her name.

Online condolences at

Suicide is a terrible and unfortunate thing. If you ever feel that life is unbearable, or you even begin to think someone around you needs help. PLEASE REACH OUT FOR HELP OR REACH OUT TO HELP. Some resources:


About a month ago I got an email, a newsletter, from a popular podcast host in his weekly "this is what I'm doing, this is what I'm buying" etc. He linked to a mushroom coffee that he had tried and liked... I was immediately curious. I come from a long line of mushroom hunters, in fact my paternal grandfather paid his way through college delivering 50 and 100lb blocks of ice and mushroom hunting. There's even a morel statue that is a family artifact. The company behind this curious creation is Four Sigmatic and they are some interesting Finns. 


The first product I tried was the Mushroom Coffee Mix in the above photo, pardon the less-than-professional photo but hey I wanted you to see that I really do buy and drink the stuff. Sadly my mug is empty as you can tell by the TARDIS being black instead of white (heat reactive!), but I'll probably make another mug here in a little bit. Mannnnnnn I LOVE this stuff. YES it tastes like mushrooms, it has a very very earthy taste so if you aren't a fan of mushrooms you aren't going to be a fan of this coffee.

The first thing I really like about Four Sigmatic's mushroom products is, some of the mushrooms are WILD CRAFTED! The rest are grown in mushroom farms that imitate natural conditions as much as possible. They then take the harvested fruiting bodies, dry them and then add them to tanks of boiling water for several hours to get a liquid. Once they have the liquid they move to using distilled alcohol to make the beneficial compounds more bioavailable and move along to evaporation tanks to get rid of the bulk of the water content before moving to a spray-dryer. Voila, you have a very pure mushroom extract powder which is then added to flavouring and/or other powders or herbs for their final products!

Yeah yeah, this sounds like an advertorial or something. Yeah yeah, I use an affiliate link when I link to their site. But no bull, I like this stuff. As I type this post I'm debating which products to order today that I haven't tried yet... I'm thinking I'll go for some of the evening/sleep/anti-stress blends. 

Go get your own mushroom coffee or other products at Four Sigmatic's web store!

Humanity's end: the time we waste on virtual lives

Video gaming, it's something that most people have done at least once in their life and many do with regularity. I myself am guilty, in 1984 I received my first video game console, the Nintendo Entertainment System. 

Sure, we'd already had an Atari 2600 in the house from my older half-brother but I never used it much, the NES though was mine. All mine, if it was raining or too cold to go out and play there I sat before this glorious computer tapping my thumbs away to the point of occasional blisters (I'm looking at you Ice Hockey!) and I will admit, as some of my regular readers know, I still play Atari stuff a lot (my daily driver is an 800xl, I also 2600 occasionally). Sadly, I also play freemium games (never pay of course) on my phone and have a Playstation 4 which I fire up every month or so for a weekend. I got to thinking, 'how much time do we waste annually on video games' and I quickly found answers. The average U.S. gamer age 13 or older spent 6.3 hours a week playing video games during 2013. Wow, but what about globally? Could I find an estimate? Wel I did, on TED no less. We spend 3 billion hours a week as a planet playing videogames. Is it worth it? How could it be MORE worth it? Wait, what?! Surely I misread that, let me clean my glasses off. 3 billion hours a week. Pinch me, I'm dreaming! It can't be so.

Let's look at that for a year... 156 billion hours a year.


That's 17,808,219 man-YEARS spent on video games annually. 17 million years wasted every year playing video games. Seventeen MILLION.

One estimate puts 6,700 workers as required to build Khufu's pyramid.

If we take Herodotus' claim of 20 years being required to construct the pyramid and assume 12 hours of labor from every worker, every day for those 20 years we come up with 613,200 man-hours per year. Multiplying our estimate times the 6,700 workers we get an estimate that 4,108,440,000 man-hours were required to construct the pyramid Khufu's pyramid. Video gamers could provide enough man-hours to build Khufu's pyramid THIRTEEN times every year and still have 295,000 man-YEARS of labor left over every year.

The Hoover Damn had an average of 3,500 workers daily and construction took just shy of 5 years. Again, for ease, let's assume that 3,500 daily workers x 12 hours x 7 days x 5 years. That gives us 536,550,000 man-hours for constructing the Hoover dam. Video gamers could build 290 structures equivalent to the Hoover damn annually. 

Hoover Dam

This is just insanity. I imagine people watch television than those that video game, and likely for longer periods. Just imagine if we took 10% of that time we waste on such pursuits and applied it to service projects in our communities, or furthering our education, or anything remotely productive?!

Let's assume the average bachelor's degree requires 40 hours a week for 4 years. That's 8320 hours over 4 years while we have the average U.S. gamer over 13 dedicating 1310 over the same 4 year period to gaming, that's 15% of time require for a Bachelor's degree spent on video games and really the number is higher as most degree programs do not have you in class 52 weeks a year.

Let some of this sink in next time you turn on your console or tap that app on your phone.

My LEGO MOC of habitat modules for a Mars mission

I originally intended to do any entire Mars mission out of LEGO, I have most of the elements I need for the rocketry, return vehicle, exploration vehicle etc but five months ago I did the habitats and stopped. I'll get around to finishing everything eventually. I had thought I posted this MOC on this blog but it appears I haven't so here it is!

I have about 18.5 m2 of PV panels displayed in the model which would provide about 1415w at high noon on Mars during the Martian winter (1851w in the summer), the tanks have actually been launched and landed ahead of time largely empty containing ISRU units to generate/capture usable things from the atmosphere. Probably WAVAR for one of the ISRU units which upon landing could quickly be used for starting soil washing experiments and/or hydroponics, if near the northern polar region you could take your time harvesting water ice for melting, you could also have some of the water from the WAVAR going to a second ISRU purely to make oxygen and hydrogen, you could also have one making monopropellant hydrogen peroxide for the return mission and/or return samples. In the event of a dust storm, which can last months or more, the PV panels would be largely worthless however the stored oxygen and hydrogen could be used with a fuel cell to provide energy for the habitat modules.

I didn't picture an RTG as I plan to have one of the vehicles using an RTG for processing water ice (the waste heat to melt the ice and warm the passenger cabin), this vehicle could be plugged into the habitat modules to provide heat and emergency energy in the event of a prolonged storm as leaving the habitat modules would be a bad idea due to severely reduced visibility.

Active shooter in the workplace - Grand Blanc Michigan

Everyone always tells me I am crazy for always exercising situational awareness, for sitting in the back row of theaters, for asking to have a corner seat when I go out to eat so I can watch the exits, for owning firearms, for owning personal armor.

My friend "S" works at the Grand Oak Apartments in Grand Blanc, Michigan. Tuesday she is sitting at work, a disgruntled individual walked into her leasing office and began firing shots. At the time of writing this post one of her employees is dead and another, 8 months pregnant, is in critical condition. By some freak chance, my friend was not shot. The active shooter never looked into my friend's office. 

Around 3:30pm an active shooter began opening fire. Tamara Johnson, 45, suffered fatal wounds and was pronounced dead at the hospital. 20 year old, 8-month pregnant, Lyric Work is currently on life-support however her baby was successfully delivered and is healthy and well. Sadly Lyric has shown no signs of brain activity and is almost certain to become an organ donor, if she hasn't already at the time of writing this.

You ask: Ryan, why are you telling us about this, what can we do about it? While in this situation there likely wasn't a lot that could be done, it was completely unexpected. I've never been up to Michigan to visit her since she moved there so I have no idea how the office is laid out. For all I know the leasing agents were sitting in an entry room and didn't have a chance to react. However, most places of employment are large enough and spread out enough that you could have a chance to react. I would like to recommend a few things that could increase your chances of surviving a workplace/business shooting

  • Always be aware of where exits are

  • Do not hesitate, you will likely be shocked but you have to move. Move move move.

  • Pay attention to the behavior and demeanor of individuals, whether they are friends or strangers. If something feels off stay calm, collect your thoughts and give the individual your attention. If they do not pose an immediate threat ask if everything is ok, ask if you can help them.

  • At your place of employment communicate with management that a plan should be devised for an emergency evacuation that is NOT a fire, drill. 

  • If an active shooting is occurring and you do not feel you can safely get to an exit, barricade yourself in an office/storage closet/etc. Get as much material between you and the door as you can, get yourself behind as much solid material as you can and fold your body up as if you were in the hall in grade school doing a tornado drill. If you remembered to grab your phone call emergency services, remain as calm as you can and share everything you know about the situation including your location.

These things won't always help and statistically, you'll never be in a situation where it is needed but shootings happen. One just happened in S's office and she's someone I've known for roughly 2/3 of my life. You can bet she didn't go to work Tuesday thinking "hey I might get shot at today!" 

There are other things you can do. Where legal, and where allowed by your employer, you can have the possibility of: concealed carry, less than lethal options like pepper spray, body armor (not practical in an office, practical for some professions though - repo agents, tow truck drivers, roadside assistance persons etc) and even things like backpacks with level IIIA inserts from companies like AR500 Armor that I personally own products from.

The above image is a backpack that for an extra 55$ (at time of writing) comes with a 9.5” x 13” plate that weighs roughly 10lbs which has a Level III rating (designed to defeat rifle threats up to 7.62x51 M80 NATO Ball (.308 Winchester) at velocities up to 2,780 feet per second and all pistol calibers). You could use this as a normal backpack for 134$ before shipping (at time of writing) that in the event of a shooting where you are you can pick up your backpack and run giving you some vital organ coverage. In the event you have to barricade yourself into a room you would scrunch up to create the smallest profile you could and put the backpack between you and the sound. I don't know about you but 134$ for a little peace of mind is well worth it. 

Disclaimer. Check local laws, employer policies etc before carrying any sort of body armor, any type of weapon etc. Be familiar with local self defense laws and receive proper training in any weapon or device you purchase and use. I am in no way responsible for any action you take and the consequences that result because of said action(s). 

The government bricked my phone after calling 911

An alarming feature of Android was recently brought to my attention when I had to place a call to 911 (for those outside of the North American Nmbering Plan area this is the number for emergency services) after witnessing a driver barrel through two red lights and nearly strike a pedestrian. After pulling over to write down as much of the license plate as I could remember I phoned 911 and waited several minutes to get an operator. I read back the partial plate and described what I had witnessed, they confirmed my phone number and asked for my name which I happily gave in the event I was needed as a witness. I ended the call and attempted to make a Facebook post about the experience and found I had no data connection, could not place a call and could not get any SMS or MMS messages to send. Peculiar.

At this point I thought perhaps my phone was being odd and locked the screen with the intention of unlocking it, toggling airplane mode on and off, and attempting to use data or send SMS/MMS messages again and this is when I noticed two messages on my lock screen that I had never seen before. 

Emergency Callback Mode. No data connection for 1:17 minute



Call blocking disabled for 48 hours. Disabled because an emergency call was made


Odd. I still could not use my phone for calls or data so I waited for the timer to expire, as soon as it did my ability to call, send SMS/MMS and use data was restored and I fired off messages to a few friends asking if they'd ever seen such, the answer was no. One of these friends is on the same carrier as I, Project Fi which is an MVNO run by Google that uses three different cellular networks (Spring, T-Mobile and US Cellular) for coverage. This friend had needed to call 911 himself a couple weeks before and had not seen this message so I dismissed it as odd.

Two days later I was going through my screenshot album and saw the un-cropped original of the above image and something fired in my brain. This is bad, this is very bad. I began to look into this and finally found that at least as recently as May 13th, 2016 this has been a feature of the Android operating system, I suspect my friend with the same phone on the same carrier as I did does not have this update as he rooted his phone in December and has not updated it since. 

Further research shows this to not be an Android only feature. A user-reported case of this occurring on their Blackberry in May of 2008, a major carrier had this documented on their site in their E911 FAQ, an FCC document from 1996 mentions selective routing of calls and callback capability and the data blocking appears to be explained away as a way to ensure Assisted GPS can function to provide your location to the emergency call center. Reports seem to vary on if you can or cannot make phone calls during this window, I personally could not get calls to go through despite having reception and being in the exact physical location I had talked to the emergency operator at in crystal-clear quality.

There are a lot of things wrong with this feature. In the event of an emergency, once you have terminated your call with emergency services, your phone is effectively a brick for 5 minutes. I can think of many scenarios off the top of my head where this could be an inconvenience: 

  • Your wife has delivered your child at home and you wish to celebrate by sharing the news by firing off a social media post or a few text messages to folks and tell them she is headed to the hospital and you'll be following shortly. But oh, you can't for 5 minutes
  • You were in an automobile accident and for one reason or another an ambulance has been requested, the ambulance has arrived and the injured party is being taken care of and you now want to fire up your insurance provider's application to immediately start a case, upload photos and get a tow truck headed your way as your car can not leave under its own power, oh but you have to wait 5 minutes. 
  • An active shooter is in the area, you and several others have notified emergency services and first responders are on the scene. You do not want to stay on the line as your friend/coworker/colleague/child is also in the building and you want to make sure they are safe and to tell them to stay calm, your texts won't go through nor will your calls. 
  • Your office is on fire and you can hear the fire engines coming 'eeeeeeooooo eeeeeeooooo ahhhhht ahhhht ahhht eeeeeeooooo' and as a manager it is your responsibility to make sure all of your employees are safe, you look around and Steve is nowhere to be found you end the call and call Steve's cell, you can't reach him or your phone simply will not dial out as in my case. You try texting Steve, bah it won't go through! Steve's car is behind you in the car park and you tell the firefighters you can not find him and he might be in the building. In they rush, a firefighter is injured searching for Steve when come to find out he clocked out early because his wife came and got him for lunch. 

These are all nuisances. After thinking up a few of these scenarios I then grew concerned. Wait, this is a software feature in your phone that detects when you have called the emergency services number. Now cellular telephones in the United States can receive emergency alerts from the government via something called Wireless Emergency Alerts which were formerly called Commercial Mobile Alert System and Personal Localized Alerting Network. The Federal Communications Commission came up with this in response to the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act passed by Congress in 2006. This system allows federal agencies to aggregate and send alerts from the President of the United States, the National Weather Service, and emergency operation centers via cell broadcast using a technology similar to that of SMS messaging. So your phone has the ability to receive pushed messages from the government, in my case Android effectively removed my ability to communicate with anyone other than the emergency services call center after having called 911. Interesting.

Now, I am not a programmer nor have I inspected the code that allows the phone to effectively disable itself for 5 minutes following a call to 911. However a fair question to ask is 'could the government, or a sufficiently skilled and motivated hacker, remotely activate this feature without a call being made. Given the fact that the government already has a way to send messages to your phone en masse during emergencies it is quite plausible that they could send a packet of data to your phone that uses this built-in feature to disable your ability to use your telephone. This possibility is terrifying. 

Imagine if you will, an event takes place that causes civil unrest. A militaristic police action, marshall law, little green men landing in the middle of a sporting event, a peaceful protest, take your pick. Via the Wireless Emergency Alerts a geographical location can be targeted to send alerts relevant to that area. Something happens they want to put a lid on, instead of needing to disable cell networks of multiple carriers and/or jam cellular frequencies a few keystrokes mass message everyone in the area, it tells their phones to disable for the 5 minutes, or 60 minutes, or days. You have photos and video of the event but try as you might you cannot send them to YouTube or Facebook Live, you cannot email them or MMS them to your friends, you try and call the local media to tell them of what is going on but you cannot call out. 

While I can see why this feature may have been thought up so that emergency services can contact you immediately following a call for any number of reasons, this Orwellian restriction the software places on your phone gives this author the chills. In a world were revolts and coups are something that are regularly in the news, with one coup just a few weeks old, this 'feature' on my phone does not sit well with me. Whether or not the government has the ability to remotely trigger this 'feature' is unclear, but take note in the event of an emergency your phone might be temporarily crippled when you reach out for help.

LEGO 71013 Minifigure Series 16

Well, these originalyl weren't supposed to be released until September, however looks like for one reason or another LEGO has started shipping these to stores. They first appeared in the wild about six days ago for sale. My LEGO 71013 Minifigure Series 16 is now complete! Allow me to introduce you to them: Babysitter with Baby Boy, Scalawag Pirate, Female Cyborg, Ice Queen, Penguin Guy, Banana Guy, Arabian Knight Archer, Serenader, Imp (Boy in Devil Costume), Spy, Hiker, Rogue, Wildlife Photographer, Dog Show Judge, Female Kickboxer and Spooky Boy


LEGO 71013 Minifigure Series 16

Environmental impact of textile manufacturing


WOW! I started looking into the cost/environmental impact for producing textiles and all I can say is I am absolutely dumbfounded! I looked at both cotton and polyester. In this blog post I will look at the resources required to produce 1kg of cotton fiber and 1kg of polyester fiber. 



Depending on the growing area 1-3 bales of cotton can be produced per acre of land, a bale weighs approximately 500lbs. One bale of cotton can make approximately 1200 men's t-shirts (you can see more bale to item conversions here). Cotton is harvested with modern cotton picking machines, these machines use rotating spindle to harvest cotton and then pass it along via a conveying system to a second machine that then remove the open bolls from the plant and finally a third machine receives the separated seed cotton and stores it until it is transferred to a separate storage container or vehicle.

Growing cotton uses a LOT of water. 20,000 liters (approximately 5300 gallons) or more is used to produce (from seed) 1kg of cotton fiber as well as approximately 450g of fertilizers, 16g of pesticides  and approx 60MJ (16.67kWh approx.) of energy to create. You also have to consider the fuel used sowing and harvesting the cotton as well as transporting the cotton to a factory and the kWh used to process and spin the cotton into fibers. You then have to take the fiber and manufacture a finished textile which will likely involve more water (dyeing) and electricity in several steps of the process (automated cutting, automated sewing, conveyance between these processes etc) and the shipping costs to get the good from a factory -> shipper -> warehouse -> store -> you. Just creating 1kg of cotton fiber generates 10-15kg of carbon dioxide emissions.


Polyester requires far fewer resources but is still mind boggling. Polyester is synthetic, it's produced from fossil fuels. Forgetting the amount of energy required to get oil out of the ground and refine it for use: 1kg of polyester requires approximately 1.5kg of oil, 17 liters of water and just shy of 100MJ (27.75kWh approx.) of energy to create. Creating 1kg of polyester generates approximately 2.3kg of carbon dioxide emissions.


Guys! This is insane! I love cotton clothes but WOW I'm going to focus on mostly synthetic fiber clothing going forward and even then the resource usage is just mind boggling to produce a synthetic textile garment! I like 100% cotton because when a garment is no longer wearable I could cut it up and compost it but my research shows me most cotton growing operations use absurd amounts of irrigation which is just disruptive to the local environment as well as wherever the water is being trucked or piped in from. 



Some of my sources: