An open letter to Elon Musk

Identify 3-10 individuals with diverse backgrounds and interests. Have these individuals on call 24/7 and provide them with modest housing (mostly sleeping/eating quarters) on/near the campus you are at the most. Provide a modest budget with a minimal approval process via someone Mr. Musk trusts and designates. The purpose of this team is to pursue fringe, bizarre, out of the box ideas and compile a brief 1-page daily list that could be read in a minute with more info about each topic available on demand.

This team could also be called on at any time to bounce ideas or problems off of to critique, offer encouragement, offer alternatives or to try and offer a thought-train that might result in a solution or a solution. All notes, all research, all ideas to be property of the company they report directly to which you/the company could license/bill to other companies you are behind. Basically a think-tank with general autonomy unless a specific issue is identified and needs to be worked on. 

A very modest salary of 30-40k would be more than adequate if modest housing and subsidized meals are provided. At least one artist and one engineering major should be part of the team.

A lifetime fan of both 'soft' and 'hard' science fiction and an interest in plethora of topics leaves me feeling humanity needs more groups like this. Armed with time, modest resources and a diverse team I think something like this could benefit humanity both on-world and off-world. I believe a worthwhile team could be started and begin the think tank experiment with: 

  • A conference room sized office with reading chairs, tables, enough workstations for every member of the team, some e-readers and a viewing room for 
  • A budget for reading material for exploring both works of fiction and non-fiction to further pursue ideas as well as seek inspiration
  • A modest budget for pursuing motion pictures and documentaries for inspiration and learning more about specific ideas
  • A small assortment of 'creative' modular toys for visually exploring ideas, e.g. LEGO elements
  • A digital collaboration and organization space not unlike Evernote for cataloging ideas and saving specific research material to for future reference
  • A quick process for requesting purchase approval to further explore an idea (ideally designate someone to approve or deny the request within 30 minutes of the team making a majority vote to pursue the idea)
  • A room with current generation VR gear (e.g. the Vive) and a small budget to buy titles to explore virtual environments for inspiration
  • Regular updates on any projects partner companies are pursuing, including any unsolved problems so any potential ideas can quickly be forwarded to the appropriate teams with any relevant research that has been cataloged to support the idea
  • A room isolated from the office where consumer products like Google Home, Amazon Echo, companion and social robots etc could be explored to possibly foster ideas for use in terrestrial vehicles, manned spacecraft and off-world habitats to improve customer/crew/settler experience and provide social stimulation.. 

I personally have all sorts of ideas and concepts worth exploring more but sorry Elon, you'll have to hire me for that. 

1% of your personal assumed net worth could fund a 10-person team for more than 2 centuries. Pursue this idea, gamble 0.01% on 2-3 years. Hell, want to be fun about it? Build your own self-contained faux spacecraft habitat in a warehouse using your thoughts for ITS and find a handful of volunteers to live in it for 6-8 months while doing the think-tank. 

Making char cloth

So I finally had some cooperative weather today and was able to get some dry wood so I could take a stab at making some char cloth from some cut up old jeans. I started by splitting some wood with my ESEE 5 and then used my Mora Companion to shave and also do a hasty and ugly feathering of one piece to get some kindling since everything is still sopping wet that I could use around the yard.

esee 5 baton
esee 5 batonning

While this isn't the best attempt at kindling for getting a fire started, I'm not trying to practice starting fires so I cheated with a little Vaseline and cotton to catch my spark.

lixada wood stove review

Alright so we have everything ready to get the fire going, Let's go ahead and move the Lixada stove over to a better place and get some fire going!

lixada stove review

I forgot to take photos of cutting the pant leg of an old pair of jeans up and placing it in the can but with a little imagination I think you can get the idea of taking scissors, and cutting jeans ha! While a lot of people prefer to use Altoid tins all I had handy was this can that a brush for my beard came in, since it does seal very well (I actually had a hell of a time getting it open after making the char cloth) I went ahead and punched a hole in the lid with a screw.

make char cloth
making char cloth

The can I was using was rather big and I put quite a bit of denim into it. This was my first time making char cloth and I did go a bit overboard, I had to feed wood into the Lixada for more than 45 minutes until smoke stopped coming out of the char cloth can. Next time I'll use a smaller can and do less material at once.

char cloth

As I said above I just used too large of a can and put too much material in, several pieces were still far from being done, especially where seams were stitched together down the side of the pant leg. Learned a few lessons and will apply them to my next attempt. I grabbed one of the pieces that felt the driest/most charred and put it in a little stainless steel sauce cup, the FIRST spark off of my ferrocerium rod got the char cloth going, VICTORY IS MINE! I'd ask you to forgive the poor photo as it's hard to hold a phone, shield the screen from direct sunlight, blow on the char cloth to keep it bright enough for the image sensor to see in the bright light, keep your long beard out of the way of everything and take the photo haha. As you can see, part of this piece still had denim that was far from being ready attached to it.

lit char cloth

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.

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

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!

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 http://www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org/tickets/production.aspx?PID=4893

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 http://www.toddfuneralhome.com/home/index.cfm/obituaries/view/fh_id/12002/id/3910702

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:

Mushrooms!

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? 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.

ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY SIX 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
— http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/91-percent-of-kids-play-video-games-says-study/
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
— http://time.com/120476/nielsen-video-games/
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.
— https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-high-school-dropout-rates

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.