Project Fi referral code ( XA136C ) and my 14 months of experience

UPDATE September 11th, 2017: I've now been using Project Fi for 22 months and am still quite happy!!!

(For a 20$ credit that goes toward your bill use the referral code XA136C

I've been using Google's Project Fi for 14 months now. 


Project Fi is a wireless MVNO service from Google that currently uses 3 different cellular networks to provide 4G LTE service to its customers. Your phone will automatically connect to the network that offers the best signal in the area you are in. 

I've been using Project Fi for 14 months now and overall am very very happy with it, I left my AT&T grandfathered Unlimited plan after only a few weeks of testing Google's Project Fi. The catch with Fi is you pay for the data you use. You pay a flat 20$ for unlimited texting and calling in the U.S. and then you pay 1 penny per megabyte for the data you use. While it isn't great if you do a lot of streaming I found that I dropped from using 8-9gb a month to using 1.5-2gb a month in my first month of full-time usage which makes it considerably cheaper than my AT&T plan. 

I've had no major complaints in my 14 months of using Project Fi and am quite happy with the service. Fi will use WiFi to handle calls and texts when you are on WiFi so if you have a poor signal at your house you'll still get good calls and get texts if you have WiFI at your house. 

I'm very happy with having switched to Project Fi over a year ago! 

Overall it's a great service and I give it my two thumbs up!

My Project Fi Referral code: EA33MY

The code will earn you a 20$ credit on your Project Fi bill if you remain a customer for the first month! Sign up on !

Testing the Lixada Stainless Steel Wood Stove

I saw the Lixada Portable Stainless Steel Lightweight Wood Stove recently and given the price (18.99$ at time of writing this) I decided to take a chance on it and picked one up

At a little less than 14 ounces this thing is fantastic for tossing in your pack, but does it work? Oh yes it does, it works quite well. First the stove comes apart and nests inside itself, it comes with a stowing bag to help keep everything together.

While the stove comes with no instructions I correctly assembled it within 10 seconds, it seemed pretty intuitive and the only thing that threw me off was the ash/ember catcher which I figured out easily enough. At first I had it sitting under the stove but looked at it and decided it probably inserted during one stage, it does.

So, we've had some terribly wet weather the past few weeks and any wood I had was absolutely water logged (pardon the pun) so I looked around for a bit and decided to just use one of my tomato stakes for testing the stove. Got out my handy dandy ESEE 5 knife and set to work batonning some the stake into smaller pieces.

I am very happy with this stove and look forward to using it when I don't want to cook on a camp fire. It will fit in one of the side pockets of my pack and adds negligible weight. With a decent fire starter I was even able to get quite wet wood to ignite and burn! This Lixada wood gas stove is definitely worth checking out!

After I got some, still quite wet, wood into small enough pieces I went Jenga on them inside the stove and stuffed a Vaseline cotton ball down the center. One quick spark and we were going!

lixada stainless steel wood stove 2

As the wood was still pretty wet I thought the fire was going to die as soon as the cotton ball had exhausted itself but I was pleasantly surprised. Eventually the wood got going and I knew the stove was working when I could HEAR the jets hissing. The jets did not photograph well but they were very much there and the stove was performing as it should.

lixada stainless steel wood stove 3

Sadly this was not a good wood for actual use and within 5 minutes it had exhausted itself. I plan to test the stove again with better wood soon when I use the stove to make some char cloth!

lixada stainless steel wood stove 4
The stove disassembled in its stow bag

The stove disassembled in its stow bag

Cabaret the Musical

Last night I had the occasion to catch Cabaret: The Musical on the wonderfully intimate Studio Theater stage at The Center for the Performing Arts. The musical is described as:

Welcome to the infamous Kit Kat Klub in 1929, where the Emcee, Sally Bowles, and a raucous ensemble take the stage nightly to tantalize the crowd—and to leave their troubles outside. But as life in pre-WWII Germany grows more and more uncertain, will the decadent allure of Berlin nightlife be enough to get them through their dangerous times? Featuring the well known hits, Willkommen, Cabaret, Mein Herr, Maybe This Time, The Money Song and Two Ladies.

While the above description is accurate, it is wholly lacking as to what this performance actually is. I'll admit, I knew nothing of the musical or its history and the only reason I went last night was the fact that local actor and playwright Ben Asaykwee (check out his Cabaret Poe next year or later this season Prozac the Sad Elf) was listed as the emcee and I absolutely loved the energy he brought to the stage in Cabaret Poe last month. Wow. Just wow. Cabaret: The Musical is a bloody riot!!! 

When Cabaret opens we find ourselves on a train bound for Germany with an American novelist and a German man presenting their documents to enter the country in pre-WWII Germany. The next two hours and change takes us through a riotous journey involving... quirky employees of a local night club, the beginnings of the rise of the Nazi party, the awkward reality of being a Jew in Nazi Germany, love, loss, and just downright hilarious debauchery. 


The wonderful cast of Cabaret: The Musical takes you from one emotion to another. One minute you are laughing hysterically, the scene ends and you find the audience so incredibly quiet a pin could be heard striking the floor and as you process the deep emotion the scene has introduced you to you find yourself positively enchanted by the siren song emanating from the depths of one of the players' souls as they pour so much passion into one song or another.

The Actors Theatre of Indiana delivers a wonderful performance with Cabaret: The Musical that is worth every cent of the ticket price. The show runs November 4 – 20, 2016, and tickets can be found at

If you aren't afraid of spoilers, and have never seen Cabaret before the wikipedia article is well written and gives you a crystal clear idea of what you are in for. While the musical certainly isn't for a younger audience it is well worth seeing and had I children, I would take a 15-16 year old to see the performance.

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 1989 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? Well 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 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?!

Not only is this a massive waste of time, but it is using a considerable amount of electricity at the same time. If we just consider console and computer gaming hours from the figure from the TED talk we need to come up with some average kWh number. If we look at figures on this page, we see that consoles are using 50w to almost 200w and we know that computer gaming rigs can easily use 500w-1000w depending on what kind of GPU (and how many GPU's are present) is being used. We also have to factor in monitor or television power consumption... LCD's can use 20-25w and there are plasma displays that will happily use 400w or more. For our power usage lets take a very conservative figure, 125w for both the system and the display.

125w multiplied by the 1.56 billion hours gives us 1,560,000 kWh of power usage a year. Again, this is a very conservative estimate. The Hoover Dam generates, on average, about 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power each year... the Hoover Dam, that required all of those man hours mentioned above in this post, takes nearly THREE AND A HALF hours to generate that very conservative kWh figure.

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.

According to NPD, 91 percent of U.S. children ages 2-17 play video games (64 million). More interesting, these numbers are up nearly 13 percent from a 2009 study. The number of kids in the U.S. has increased by 1.54 percent in that time, but not nearly enough to make up for the massive increase in game playing. Oct 11, 2011
The good news is that we’ve finally gotten our priorities in order. According to Nielsen, the average U.S. gamer age 13 or older spent 6.3 hours a week playing video games during 2013
Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone. That’s a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day.

So by these figures more than 1 million students are playing video games just shy of 2 weeks a year and dropping out of high school...

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 and how I'd set up the first colony

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.

If I were to establish a Mars colony here are my initial thoughts on how I'd go about doing it.


In the 'early days' I'd start with inflatables as I've shown above in LEGO elements. But Ryan, what about radiation shielding? 

It's not as big of an issue as you'd suspect. You aren't going to be living/temporarily living in clear nylon inflated bubbles. Yes, you'll absolutely pick up more rads if you are living in an unshielded habitat but shielding it is going to be quite easy if you have even modest mechanical means of moving regolith.


Worst case for a non permanent mission, the areas of the habitat you spend most of your time in have the water stored in the walls and ceiling.


Quick shielding for more permanent living you take a strong, but light, material like Nylon 6 with you ultra-light metal poles. You place the poles around the habitat you then weave the material between them (think 'under over') and then spend your first few days using modestly powered Martian wheelbarrow to scoop and move regolith between the material and the habitat with the exception of shielded doors. Again, have some of the water stored in the top of the modules for the hours the sun is overhead. OR make a simple machine that fills sandbags, the sandbags would require more material (fabric/plastic) but would likely be quicker than carting regolith around.

With my example in LEGO I'd have the inflatable modules I have shown then come in with poles spaced out like fence posts, something like Nylon 6 sheeting woven between the poles and then fill the space with regolith. For a more long term shielding, your habitats are largely underground OR you use regolith as a component for making bricks and stack bricks around the hab modules.


Depending on where you land will matter here. If you wanted to land near the northern polar cap you'd find 821,000 cubic kilometers of water ice available for exploitation, elsewhere you'd have to find it in the regolith or get lucky and drill and hope to find a underground water source near a geologically active area that is pumping out geothermal energy (which you might want to do for heating and energy production anyway). 

For this post, I'm going to assume we are setting up camp near the northern cap, farther south than the cap gets during the winter. From here you'd need a vehicle that was capable of week or longer trips. You'd drive all day and park at night, ideally you could make it to ice in 3 days or less, you'd then determine concentrations of water ice and cut/hammer/pick out as much as you can fit into a storage compartment and then drive back. You'd also want a second vehicle at the base so a rescue party could come and get you in the event the vehicle became stuck or otherwise disabled.

Now, you need to melt that ice. With power being a precious commodity on Mars I've had thoughts on how to do this. 

The 'cheapest' method is going to be using the sun directly, basically put the ice in a sealed, transparent, greenhouse and use reflectors to concentrate more sunlight on a given space to raise the temperature. Place ice in, seal, pressurize, open valve in funneled floor, let the sun do it's work. Use a solar tracking system to adjust enough reflectors while it melts, water collects in tank. Melting done, close drain valve and vent pressure. Since no one is in the box you don't even have to use breathable air, simply pump Martian atmosphere into the box in a high enough concentration to assist with the heating of the box.

Second option, so Mars averages 57% the solar irradiance that earth gets. Average temperature on Mars is -55C. Doing some quick math in my head you'd likely need a little less than 0.5KWh to melt 1kg of ice and to get it slightly above freezing so you'll need about 6 square meters of PV panel to thaw 2kg an hour of ice, that's about 2 liters of water an hour assuming it's pure water ice and doesn't contain any dry ice or meteorites of appreciable size.

I'm going to use the potatoes everyone knows about from The Martian for this to give us an idea of how much water migth be needed. Now, it takes about 34 gallons of water to grow a pound of potatoes, that's almost 129 liters. Keep in mind you'll be keeping the water you wash soil with, and growing in a sealed greenhouse losing minimal amounts to air exchange in an air lock. The water content of the potato itself will almost entirely be recaptured as well. So, you'd need 8-10 days to melt enough ice to grow a pound of potatoes if you go the PV route. If you went the solar reflector route you'd be melting a hell of a lot quicker and need about the same weight of materials.

Making a colony make economic sense, funding the effort

Aha, now this is the real key to settling Mars... making money to fund sending more humans and cargo.

If a private company, or more likely consortium of companies from various industries, could cough up 500bn (for reference Apple reported a NET income of 53.39bn in 2015 and has 200bn~ in cash, the fortune 500 top 10 earners reported 210bn in NET profits in 2014) ...

Let's be conservative and pretend a private company would need 20bn per 5 flights. Let's say 1 equipment launch per 4 manned launches. I believe Mars Direct called for 3 people for the early flights but let's pretend 5 per flight.

You get 100 people and a hell of a lot of equipment and habitats to Mars for 500bn over 10-16 years and then BOOM. Declare yourself a nation.

You sell land claims, you license technologies, you tax import but instead of a financial cut you get paid in cargo space or human passage. Screw the various space treaties/agreements, the backing companies spend plenty of money on lobbyists the world around and could get a few countries minimum to exit those agreements and recognize the new government.

You take those human passage spaces taken as tax and use them to hire via employment contracts. You get passage to Mars as well as room, board for working for us for x years and you also earn this many Marsbucks per month. Any mineral deposits, discoveries, inventions etc you make while under your initial contract the Martian Free Government gets 10% royalties on gross profits and may use any technologies or processes for free.

You also work with other companies that want to send people to Mars. "You will be granted access to such and such, an xx year land lease for a nominal amount, in exchange you will give 5% of any profits that arise from your operations on Mars whether or not sold on Mars or not".

Inside of 50 years from the first landing of humans you'd essentially have Mars locked down. If any wildcat colonies tried to land, it'd likely be far from your settlement and they wouldn't be an issue for centuries. If armed forces attempted to come and be a problem, if they were from a Terran government that government would likely find themselves screwed politically as soon as news made its way back to earth.

Recommended reading:

How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet



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).