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March 31, 2008

Deep Value
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:00 PM * 444 comments

There is a view that modern technology leads to ever more complexity, to increasingly elaborate and advanced products, and furthermore, that this is a good thing. But sometimes, when regarding the creations of our technology, I get very uncomfortable. So many of them depend on the future looking like the present, only more so. Your Kindle can download your newspaper wirelessly and your iPhone geolocates you by cell phone towers because the infrastructure is there to do these things.

We don’t know what the future will look like. But the one thing we do know is it won’t look like the present. (Come to that, a whole lot of the present doesn’t even look like the present; try getting your Kindle to download a paper in London, or your iPhone to do much of anything in rural California.) So all these things we buy will become obsolete, and have to be recycled, or retrofitted, or put into some landfill site somewhere. And if we become attached to them beyond their fashionable lifespan, goodness knows where we’ll get spare parts.

All our shinies are only temporarily so.

Looking at a world where the economy is probably going to be tightening up for a while, I find myself drawn to things with deep value, things a little less dependent on the state of our technology and shipping infrastructure1 to build and repair. Living in a small country with a history of pollution problems, I want to own things I don’t have throw away after one use. And spending much of my time as a crafter, I am attracted to things that I can fix.

It seems to me that there are two classes of technology that fall into this category.

The first is obvious: old technology. A few examples:

Older cars
The first car I had regular use of was a 1966 VW microbus2, which I maintained myself (with tools and assistance from my mother, a skilled mechanic). It had an air-cooled engine and no catalytic converter, so there was—in theory—nothing I could not fix at home. An even better example is the Citroën 2CV, which was originally designed as a light-duty tractor that any French village blacksmith could repair.
Fountain pens
I’m still using the same fountain pen I bought in 1992. The guy sitting next to me isn’t even using the same ballpoint he had in January.
Hand-cranked or treadle-operated sewing machines
The first generation of American sewing machines predates the widespread household availability of electricity by over half a century. Many of those human-powered machines are probably still in use in the Third World. They don’t zig-zag, they don’t embroider, but they are immortal, and they break the dependence on the power grid. Rather a lot of the people in the world are wearing clothes made or repaired on these machines—even people in the First World3.
Basic one or three speed bicycles, built for durability rather than speed, are a staple of human transport from China to the Netherlands, from Africa to Guatemala. They double as harnesses of human muscle power—they can be hacked into water pumps and knife sharpeners, often without damaging their primary purpose. But even a super-modern 27-speed touring bike like mine is user maintainable, and can take me over surfaces and through spaces that a car simply cannot go4. Some of my bike’s utility is due to my geography—not everyone can do the grocery shopping, school run and daily commute on bicycle—but its value as a durable tool is indisputable.
Shopping bags
Grocery stores are beginning to charge for plastic shopping bags in the UK. It’s a nominal sum, but the intention is to get consumers to value their bags. Maybe then they won’t let so many of them blow away, get caught on trees, clutter the landscape, and strangle the wildlife. But a certain proportion of Brits are returning to the string bag and the canvas tote for their weekly shopping. I have even seen relatively young people with wheeled granny carts.

The second category, which interests me more, is technology that has gone through a disposable phase and come out the other side, to a different kind of deep value.

The mooncup and its ilk
These have been quietly adopted by the same demographic that first adopted tampons two generations earlier: university women. The only advertisements I’ve seen for them have been toilet flyers on campus, but the anecdotal evidence is that you can’t borrow a tampon in many dorms any more. Menstrual cups are a vastly improved return to truly reusable solutions5, but they could not have existed without the commercialization of feminine hygiene following the popularization of the pad and the tampon.
The Clockwork Radio
This is, to some extent, the proxy for a whole range of hand-crank technologies, from phone chargers to flashlights (more of which below). The genius of the clockwork radio is that it removes the critical dependence on batteries, which are both expensive to obtain (particularly in the isolated areas where they are most needed) and difficult to dispose of cleanly.
One can regard closed-source operating systems as being, effectively, as disposable as a Bic pen. You can patch and upgrade them so far, but then you need to toss them out and buy a new one. Open source software that can be repaired or upgraded by anyone with the skill is at least theoretically “refillable”.
Has anyone else noticed how many incandescent bulbs are being replaced by clusters of light emitting diodes lately? We have a hand-cranked flashlight that uses a cluster of LEDs. Traffic lights and brake lights are more and more clusters of bright dots rather than a single bulb. They make sense, with low power consumption, light shipping weights, and gradual failure modes (A stoplight with one failed LED can still signal with the others.)
Shopping bags, electric hand-cranked boogaloo
Supermarkets in the Netherlands also charge for shopping bags, but the price is higher and the bags better quality. They are the semi-durable containers of the household, strong enough for true re-use, wearing out after twenty or thirty trips to the supermarket. And then they’re recyclable.

Deep value isn’t everything; sometimes the downsides of these items outweigh their upsides. I prefer a sewing machine that zig-zags, so that I can make buttonholes. Older cars pollute more (my beloved VW took leaded gas…yum!); I drive a car I don’t maintain now. I don’t run Linux because it takes too much tinkering.

Still, given the choice, I like the things I can repair, reuse, and rely on. It feeds my sense of thrift.

  1. Not here is as bad as not anywhere. Will those spare parts manufactured in China be nearly as useful if it costs too much to get them to me?
  2. Shovels and rakes and implements of destruction optional
  3. I don’t know for certain that any of the garments Teresa describes were made on human powered machines, but I wouldn’t bet against it
  4. The Netherlands is one large building site cleverly disguised as a country, but most of the road diversions are effectively optional for cyclists
  5. The Victorian rag clout was reusable. Smelly, unpleasant to launder and activity-restricting, but reusable.
Comments on Deep Value:
#1 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 03:35 PM:

I still truly miss the last car I owned that I could self-maintain,
though its emissions were dirty enough that it's probably just as well
that it's gone. I have a reusable shopping bag which I am disgracefully
bad about remembering to bring shopping. I am still working on
converting all bulbs in my house to fluorescents, let alone LEDs. My
only originally pedal-operated sewing machine (of the four I have in
the house) has an electric motor add-on, but could probably be
unconverted. I would also miss the zigzag stitch, though I already
hand-sew my buttonholes. I suspect a fountain pen in my hands is an
accident waiting to happen given the amount of ink I cover myself with
just using ballpoints. And I'm not sure I'm clueful enough to run
Linux, though I've been thinking about trying.

I do possess and use a hand-cranked flashlight!

When my current car dies I am thinking seriously of giving up car
ownership and shifting to a combination of Zipcar (available through my
day job) and rentals for my weekend trips. I live where I can walk to
work, so on a daily basis I don't need a car, and a little planning
efficiency could reduce my driving to once or twice a month on travel
weekends and once a week for errands. It would be quite a wrench
psychologically to give up the sense of freedom the car gives me,
though. And I love driving.

#2 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 03:39 PM:

Books written on parchment or pre-twentieth century paper
last significantly longer than modern paperbacks written on pulp. I've
handled eight-hundred-year old codices that, rebound and stored
carefully, remain in far better condition than some novels I bought
five years ago.

Then again, sheep died to make those manuscripts.

#3 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 03:40 PM:

"The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed yet." - William Gibson

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 03:50 PM:

Susan @1:

We spent many years without a car, renting as required for big
shopping trips or houseguests (it averaged about once a month) and
taking the bus for everything else.

Thing is, once you have a car, you use it. It's actually
taken some self-discipline to do the Saturday recycling + shopping run
on my bike every week. It's not the travel time, which is roughly
equivalent, nor the weather (it turns out I don't mind biking in snow
and rain*). It's the time it takes to load the recycling onto my bike
that bugs me. I think I need removable panniers.

Next year, when we have both kids in the same school—one I can
shepherd them to en route to work—the car will become an occasional use
item rather than a daily tool. But I don't think we'll get rid of it.

Shorter me: good luck going non-automotive; I know how hard it can be, but how rewarding as well.


* yeah, I'm weirded out about that too

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 03:57 PM:

The supermarkets I go to are now selling reusable bags, and will
give a bag refund if you use your own (including those they sell).

Groceries are easier to carry in cloth and paper bags.

(I'd pay for a treadle sewing machine. I think you should be able to
get a zig-zag attachment for them - my mother had one for her
old-but-electric straight-stitch machine.)

Manual typewriters.

#6 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 03:57 PM:

Pencils. All they need are decent caps to keep them from puncturing
your pocket. (Mechanical pencils are okay, but finding replacement
leads is a non-trivial exercise.)

#7 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 03:57 PM:

Susan --

My husband and I have been carfree since our car died last May.
There was a bit of an adjustment period, but at this point we're both
very, very happy about not having a car. (If I won one in a contest, my
first question would be "um... can I get the cash-value equivalent
instead? Because I really don't want the car, actually.")

I highly recommend getting rid of the car to anyone whose circumstances make it possible.

One thing to be aware of is that doing so seems to have a
significant Red Pill effect that spreads to other things in one's life.
At least, that's how it worked for us: You start by getting rid of the
car, and you wind up examining all kinds of things about how you live.

I do my best to avoid being an obnoxious proselytizer for getting
rid of the personal automobile, but if somebody mentions they're
considering getting rid of theirs, I just can't resist jumping in to
say "yes, it's great!"

#8 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:01 PM:

By the way, did you know that Thoreau "developed for his family's business the finest lead pencil available in mid-19th-century America"?

#9 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:02 PM:

By the way, did you know that Thoreau "developed for his family's business the finest lead pencil available in mid-19th-century America"?

#10 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:02 PM:

#1: I overheard a conversation the captain of a Trader Joe's had
with a customer. Apparently, the first phase is that you leave your
reusable bag at home. The second phase is that you leave it in your
car. The third phase is when the bag finally makes it into the store.

I have a hand-crank flashlight too. It's great. When there's a power
failure, I know that my flashlight will work. It has its downsides, but
I don't ever run into them. (e.g., A hand crank is probably a bad
choice if you need steady, continuous light for hours.)

I haven't gone back to Linux yet, though. I really like handwriting
recognition. If there were a viable Linux based solution, that would
eliminate the only reason I have for using a Microsoft operating system.

As for sewing, I really need to learn how to do that. The extent of
my sewing experience is to repair a few tears with needle and thread,
using instructions I found on the web.

(I should also invest in a bicycle. Some places are just too close
to drive to, but too time consuming to walk to. Currently, I walk
anyway, but a bicycle would save time. I don't think there's always a
place to park the bike though.)

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:08 PM:

Lexica @7:

If I won one in a contest, my first question would be "um... can I
get the cash-value equivalent instead? Because I really don't want the
car, actually."

Right in the middle of our car-free time, we* actually did win a car.

Fuji Film put out a promotional film pack with a number of
giveaways: disposable cameras, iMacs, and four people carriers. We
bought it for the film, of course, but the ticket inside said we'd also
won a car. And it was signed in ballpoint pen (you could feel it on the
underside). That's what made it real for us, so real we had to sit down
for a bit.

There was no cash alternative, so we took delivery and sold it
immediately thereafter. The money paid for a drum kit, a digital
camera†, a wooden floor in our house, and more maternity leave time for
me after our son was born.


* Technically, Martin won it

† irony: we stopped buying film

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:11 PM:

Websites of note:


James Cascio's Open the Future

Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools

* * *

I keep my reusable shopping bags in my car. I remember them maybe 2/3 of the time.

#13 ::: dulcinea47 ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:20 PM:

I love and adore a good Alice's restaurant reference.

#14 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:21 PM:

There are buttonhole-making attachments that work with
straight-stitch sewing machines. My Singer sewing instruction books
refer to them, and if the ones I'm finding on eBay are the right kind,
bidding starts at 99 cents.

I've got a treadle Singer, unconverted, and it does work, although I
confess I use it as a table to hold my electric-powered Bernette 440.

I wish I could go carless, but in my current location it's just not
practical. If I lived in the Boston area, I'd seriously consider it,
what with the T and Zipcar and rentals.

#15 ::: pixelfish ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:24 PM:

I have often thought I'd like to have a Mooncup in case of apocalypse.

#16 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:26 PM:

Oh, duh:

MAKE folks do cool stuff with both new and old technology.

#17 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:30 PM:

pixelfish @15:

There is no requirement to wait for the apocalypse, or even a minor disaster.

Getting one and discovering you don't like it is a bit
expensive—there isn't exactly a brisk secondhand market in them. But
getting one and finding out that you love it and would never go back to
anything else works out very cheap.

It's a gamble, sort of. You have to ask yourself if you feel lucky.

#18 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:30 PM:

It offends me that so many modern things are built to be trashed in
three years. I had a fine digital camera, it stopped turning on, there
was no place to fix it, I opened it up and couldn't figure out how to
fix it myself... Such a waste. I had an inkjet printer, it never worked
well, it was worthless as soon as I took it out of the store... I had a
microwave, it stopped producing microwaves. I had a MP3 player, it
stopped turning on.

I wish companies were required to send out circuit diagrams and
repair manuals with all of their electronics. I wish soldering and
electrical repair were required classes in high school.

#19 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:34 PM:

Heck, we have a perfectly good digital camera (only 2.1 megapixels,
so not quite state of the art, but fully functional) that we may have
to replace because the batteries don't seem to be made anymore. We can
only take 3-4 pictures with the current battery before it fails. I
bought one online, but it was old too (not used, but these things have
a finite shelf life even unused), and we don't get much more life out
of it.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:38 PM:

Digital cameras are an interesting cleft stick.

On the one hand, the sensors on a digital camera go bad after a
while. If enough of them do so, the camera isn't much use any more.
And, as Madeline points out, you can't repair it, nor bring it to
someone local who can do so.

But it's harder and harder to get black and white film, even 35mm
film, without going mail-order. And home darkroom work on color film is
space, equipment and chemical intensive, even more than black and white.

Good thing this is just an ideal, not an ideology we're discussing.

#21 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:39 PM:

Just this morning, I found in a "take me, we're moving" pile a nice
SLR camera with filters, cleaning stuff, a remote plunger and two

A film camera.

Dust in the wind.

I'm going to bring it to Goodwill at lunch.

#22 ::: MamaDeb ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:42 PM:

The Amish have done a lot of adaptations of modern technology to fit
their needs. One of those is taking modern sewing machines - at least
basic models that aren't computer-driven - and fitting them for treadle
or airpower. I would assume those machines do zigzag.

In fact, it's possible to order such a machine, complete with zigzag and buttonhole, here.

#23 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:43 PM:

Rymenhild @2: Then again, sheep died to make those manuscripts.

Yes but the sheep also fed and clothed the scribe who made the
manuscript. An animal that can produce food, clothing, tools and
publishing materials is so useful, you'd think it came form some
genetically engineering laboratory in the future, rather than from a
damp field full of mud in the past.

One of the fascinating aspects of the past is just how much
ingenuity our ancestors had when all they had at hand were a few rocks,
twigs and livestock.

And we wonder that some stone age McGyver was worshiped as a God.
How many of us could figure out, without ever having seen it done
before, how to make fire out of couple of twigs, a flat rock and the
power of our own lungs?

#24 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:47 PM:

I've never had a driver's license, and own no car. Fortunately I now
walk to work. I also walk to the grocery store and take my huge
backpack; I have canvas totes too, but I nearly always forget them.

On the downside, if I have too much stuff to carry home, I have it delivered--and that's done in a bigass van thing.

I have the miniature version of the hand-cranked flashlight, which
is kind of the "jerkoff" flashlight (from the motion used to charge it

#25 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:53 PM:

Xopher @24:

"jerkoff" flashlight (from the motion used to charge it up)

You remind me that I have a pocket calculator that you shake in much the same way to charge up.

I bought it because the packaging told me that it worked without
electricity (though it doesn't look much like an abacus to me) and
without light (I presume it does, but I can't see the results).

How could I resist?

#26 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:54 PM:

MamaDeb @22:

Your link is munged, and I can't retrieve it. Can you put the URL in
plain text, or make sure you use quotes around it if you use the <a
href=... formatting?

#27 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:58 PM:

My mother's hand-cranked Singer sewing machine lasted her about
thirty years (she bought it when I was a small child in the late 50s,
and it travelled from England to Jamaica in the late 60s; it stayed in
Jamaica when she left for good at the end of the 80s).

Some technologies may last even longer, of course. When we lived in
rural Jamaica we cooked using a wood-burning stove rejoicing in the
name 'Caledonia Modern Dover' dating to around 1900 (possibly older)
that was still functional in the 1970s (I certainly had the blisters to
prove it). For all I know, it may be working yet.

#28 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 04:59 PM:

I haven't made the leap over to Linux, but I have switched from word
processor to text editor, so just about everything I write is in future-proof ASCII.

And then there's "Amish computing" and the back-to-paper movement.

#29 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:02 PM:

I've had the same cheap Black&Decker electric drill since
January 1986. It was a parting gift from my co-workers when I left
Québec. That thing has seen a lot of use.

#30 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:02 PM:

Car maintenance is perhaps a bad example. We have a 1997 Saturn that
has 112,000 miles on it, and get 30 MPG even when it's way out of tune.
I figure it's good for another 50-100 thousand miles. My old Fiats and
the like were a lot easier to work on (and in some cases possible to
work on), but the flip side is that they had to be worked on. I
remember distinctly the point at which I stopped working on cars. It
was a Ford Escort that I had inherited from my father (he had won it in
a contest), and it needed its timing belt changed. Rubber timing belt
is routine maintenance, right? (You changed it religiously at 70,000
miles on the Fiat 131 engine, or you ended up with a valve stuck
edge-on in a piston.) Well. I didn't have a garage, and of course it
was 45 degrees (always is when you need to really sink yourself in the
engine). And here we are, trying to figure out how to get at this
thing, and we finally figured out that we had to put a jack under the
engine, and loose one of the motor mounts, and lower the engine a few
inches. And after all that I swore I would never work on my own car,
ever again.

#31 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:04 PM:

Fragano 27:

Thank you for the reminder of stoves; another good example of simple, flexible technology is the Coleman stove. My parents have used the same one at the cabin for over 35 years; it sits there still.

#32 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:11 PM:

Avram @28:

The back-to-paper movement? It's a movement now? In harmony, one hopes, and singing loud.

It's why I became a bookbinder. I realised I was done with my Palm V
and wanted no new gadget in its place. I just wanted really beautiful
blank books, nicer than I could afford any other way.

#33 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:11 PM:

I still use dial phones bought at garage sales long ago. I have a
couple of extras, because they do fail eventually. Western Electric
built good stuff, because way back then, you rented your phone from Ma
Bell, so she didn't want it to fail. I also have an old touch tone
phone for those times you can't access service without one.

And I *like* dial phones. It's how I think of using a phone, and the sound quality is great. I also prefer watches with dials.

I've been trying to use shopping bags for a long time. The local
food co-ops used to pretty much require it, also your own jars and
such. Now they have bags available, but give you a nickel back if
you've brought one.

There was a time in my life I used flannel pads. Cups never worked
for me; gave me cramps. I bought enough pads to get through my period.
When it was over, they were tossed in the wash in cold water with a
long soak. Now that I don't need them, I don't know what to do with
them. But they gave several years of excellent use, much softer and
more comfortable than disposable.

#34 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:13 PM:

Random thoughts on sustainability and technology.

---My uncle has a lovely singing voice. About 25 years ago he gave
us recordings....on 8-tracks. Unfortunately, that was the only format
he recorded. Which leads us to Unfortunately #2: a couple of years ago
someone in the family wanted to convert the recordings to some other
format (ah, but how durable??), but it appears that all of us have
gotten rid of all of our 8-tracks.

---when spinning wheels were first introduced, they were often
vilified as potential job killers. Interesting how perspectives on the
advantages of technology can develop.

---I wonder about tasks that are apparently efficient. Take
cooking. In my experience it really doesn't take that much time to cook
'real' stuff, as opposed to buying things prepackaged and/or
microwavable. Not to mention that my food processor's parts aren't
dishwasher safe; it's less hassle to use other more 'primitive' tools.

---Jen Roth @19, we had the same thing happen to our telephone. We
replaced the phone a few weeks ago before the battery gave up entirely.

---on the other hand, some appliances like washers and dryers have
gotten very energy-efficient. I'll be sad to see my 20-year-old washer
go, but will feel better about saving power and water with a new one.

---My 1910 edition of The Harvard Classics is in fine shape. My
'70's paperbacks (Science Fiction Hall of Fame, waaaah!) are crumbling.

--- re: the Amish. I recently linked to an article describing some of their innovations. Here it is again.

#35 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:16 PM:

My sewing machines are long-lived - the two I use most often
(fraternal twin Singers) are both 40 years old and have never needed
any repair other than a single gear under the bobbin case that seems to
be a chronic weak point on that model. That's about a $30 repair every
couple of years. My serger, which I rarely use and which really ought
to be a candidate for disposal, is about 15 years old. My converted
machine, which I almost never use, is a 1920s model of some sort, and
works just fine provided I only want to do straight stitch. I consider
it a backup in case I manage to munch the gears on both my main ones,
as has happened occasionally, always at the most inconvenient possible
moment relative to some costume deadline.

#36 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:17 PM:

Diva cups -- better than moon cups in that they have no latex! I
think they are not used so much in the US, though. US undergrads seem
to be very squeamish about some things, and not at all about things
that squick me no end.

I think most of those things are really obvious -- I started with
the bags when I lived in Europe, and have lots of lower-tech stuff. But
for a lot of people here in the US, non-car transport is difficult.
There are lots of spots between my home and work, for example, where
there is no pavement and the cars do not look out for bikers and

#37 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:20 PM:

On older books: My 1923 copy of Government of the West Indies
is still in excellent condition for what is, after all, a Wrong book.*
Quite a few of my 60s and 70s paperbacks are, shall we say, very

*I treat it gently, on the other hand I have marked up my first American edition of Froude's Bow of Ulysses.

#38 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:21 PM:

The use of disposable things, or short-lived things, can have its
own complicated ecology. Maybe ecology isn't quite the right word. I
mean a network of processes that depend on each other. I usually have a
reusable (as in luggage) bag with me when I shop. When I need paper or
plastic bags, I get one from the store, and put it inside my reusable
bag, to take it home. Why? Because if a person wants to recycle paper,
the local recyclers require it to be packaged in paper bags and taken
to one of their drop boxes, conveniently located every 1/4 mile or so.
(There's an exception for newspapers, which I don't read on paper at
home.) I use plastic grocery bags for trash. I've seen plastic trash
bags made for the purpose, but they're much thicker plastic, so if the
idea is to minimize use of plastic it doesn't seem like a good use of

#39 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:22 PM:

I overheard a conversation the captain of a Trader Joe's had with
a customer. Apparently, the first phase is that you leave your reusable
bag at home. The second phase is that you leave it in your car. The
third phase is when the bag finally makes it into the store.

If you're walking, you'll make the mistake of forgetting your bag
once or twice, tops. And if you're walking and you forget your bag the
second time, odds are good that you'll buy a second bag rather than
endure another walk with plastic ones.

Cars are very good at enabling some kinds of wasteful behavior.

Giving up the car was a lot easier than I thought. It started when
my partner and I figured out that we could do all (and I do mean *all*)
our grocery shopping on foot. Then he realized he could take the bus to
work and save himself an annoying drive every day. 18 months later, we
moved and decided to get rid of the car as it hadn't been used *once*
in that time.

We now use bikes for quite a lot - we each picked up one when we
moved. Mine is scheduled to be replaced, since I'm better at handling
cargo than it is! I know it's possible to get a bike that works better
than I do, so I'm comparison shopping for the replacement.

#40 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:25 PM:

Pixelfish #15: you don't need an apocalypse to appreciate a mooncup!
I use the Diva cup (silicone, not latex) and I couldn't be happier with
it. It's comfortable, it can be worn all day with no leakage and no
changing, and you never have to worry if you've run out of menstrual
supplies. I've had mine for several YEARS now and it's more than paid
for itself in the supplies I haven't had to buy. Also, I think it was
the only thing that made having my period at Warped Tour a
manageable situation. I would not have wanted to deal with disposables
and Porta-potties -- something I could leave in and ignore until I got
to better facilities was ideal.

I've also used the Keeper (latex, while serviceable, can kinda smell
funny after a while) and the disposable Instead cups. Disposable
doesn't address the environmental or deep-value concerns, but there are
certain situations where the design of the Instead (it's like a
diaphragm, the Keeper and Diva sit lower down) makes it the optimal

Mooncups RULE.

#41 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:27 PM:

Another Damned Medievalist @36:

Several of the cup anecdotes were American; that was when I found out
that they weren't simply a British phenomenon. I suspect many women of
my daughter's generation (she's currently 4) will use them as a default.

I confess, on the biking, that I have an obscenely, viciously unfair advantage. I live in the Netherlands.

When I show American bikers around, it takes me several hours to get them to relax and believe
that the cars are really going to give them the space that they need on
those few stretches of road that don't have a bike lane.

I've only been here eight months, and it still blows my mind. Dutch people don't even see how fantastic it is.

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:29 PM:

Susan @ 35... My serger, which I rarely use and which really ought to be a candidate for disposal

I gave you the best years of my life and this is what I get.

#43 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:35 PM:

I've only taken a cursory look at the thread so far (I should have
left work by now), so I apologize if anyone's already posted this, but
the Group News Blog has this post about "The Real Deal" a couple of months ago that touches on just this topic.

#44 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:35 PM:

I've only taken a cursory look at the thread so far (I should have
left work by now), so I apologize if anyone's already posted this, but
the Group News Blog has this post about "The Real Deal" a couple of months ago that touches on just this topic.

#45 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:37 PM:

Rats! Double posts do not have deep value!

#46 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:37 PM:

I am surely not the only Making Light reader who has a conflict of
values pertaining to reading choices. Too many things in new-book
stores are book-shaped objects, printed on very real paper. Ick! So I
end up reading and enjoying books from second hand shops and libraries.
That is very economical with the book-making energy, but tends to give
the book-makers (authors, editors, designers, publishers, etc.) short

I'm hoping that an economic model will turn up that will make it
possible to pay the makers regardless of the distribution chain I
choose. And while distribution is important, I have no love for
particular distribution chains and no wish to support them; I wish
there were some reasonable way of rewarding/repaying authors and
publishers for their work even when I choose a different distribution

#47 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:41 PM:

Debbie #34, on dishwashers: My parents recently got a new one,
despite my father's skepticism, but he tried handwashing a medium-full
sinkload of dishes and measured how much water he used, versus how much
the dishwasher would have, and apparently the dishwasher won out by
quite a bit. It startled the hell out of him, and me, and won him over
to the dishwasher side of things. Sadly, I don't have a functioning
dishwasher, and judging from the two years I've spent trying to get my landlord to do something about it, I might never.

On mooncups or diva cups or whatever: most of my ladyfriends have
switched over to them over the past few years, and unanimously report
satisfaction. They seem a dramatic improvement.

#48 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:42 PM:

abi @ 41: you may be optimistic about your daughter's generation using mooncups as a default.

My daughter is 12, and although she was eager to try one, she can't
wear it comfortably right now. I advised her to hang onto it and try
again later.

I'm sure she can figure out the likely preconditions for "later," as I've also given her Our Bodies, Ourselves, but if I brought it up directly I'd just hear "Mo-om, you're embarrassing me!"

#49 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:44 PM:

Going meta for a moment, I'd say that -skills- are very much one of
the deep value items. I'm always surprised to find people don't all
have some rough idea of how to weave, or make paper (or ink), or
sew[0], or butcher, (more recent) how electricity works, even in
general terms, or all sorts of remarkably basic ideas that underly
modern technology.

"The magic just happens" is a spectacular form of ignorance.

[0] Sewing... I'm beginning to think that (at 5 sewing machines (one
treadle, one hand-crank, one convertable power/handcrank, and one
powered) and a serger) I might have a problem... (but I've sewn with
all but the most recent of them - and that because the most recent was
found lonely on the curb yesterday, and needs a belt)

#50 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:46 PM:

Rikibeth @48:

Perhaps, if cups gather momentum, they will come in more sizes. Have you fed back to either company?

#51 ::: Nick Kiddle ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:51 PM:

Thing is, once you have a car, you use it.

This is why I resist every suggestion that my life would be easier
with a car (and given the sad state of public transport in small-town
Lincolnshire maybe it would). I enjoy travelling by train, meeting
interesting people and getting to know new stations along the way. But
if I was running a car, I wouldn't be able to justify train journeys
and I'd miss them.

#52 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:52 PM:

abi 50: no, I haven't yet. I probably ought to. I wonder just how
small they could make the things, though, before they started losing
their advantages? I suspect that one made the size of a slender/junior
tampon wouldn't be very effective.

#53 ::: Calluna V. ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:55 PM:

The first "Our Bodies, Ourselves" contained instructions for using a
diaphragm as a menstrual cup, which was my first introduction to the
concept, but which indicates it's been around for a while. Even though
I turned out to be incompatible with them, I love the idea and always
beam with pleasure when I see a new brand name on the market.

As for variations, the Keeper had a 'no child has passed through
this cervix' style and an 'at least one child has passed through this
cervix' size/shape. (I forget how they phrased it, but that was the
gist.) I *think* the Diva cup does too. For more variation yet, one can
return to the diaphragm which (as I understand it) is individually
fitted. More expensive, but it's not like one needs dozens of them.

#54 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 05:57 PM:

Xeger @49 - I second that.

Moreover, skills are fun (well, probably not the butchering): make
tofu from beans & sea water... you may have to fight off the
paparazzi. Or knitting, spinning, crochet, and cooking. Etc.

I've found that not only is cooking fun, it helps keep out
ingredients I'd rather avoid. (I've been known to make muffins,
pancakes, and cakes without any of the following: eggs, wheat flour,
oil, sugar, and milk. Good muffins and pancakes. Ingredient-free
cooking - whee!) But I still find it surprising that cooking is
something that counts as a skill, like all those other ones. I mean,
how do people eat without cooking?

#55 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 06:06 PM:

Instead cups aren't compatible with an IUD-- which is in itself a
Deep Value contraceptive, not requiring daily pills or other small
disposable objects.

(TMI warning for guys who would just as rather not engage with this sort of gynecology)

I've bought and tried all three types of reusable cups. So far, the
Keeper has lasted the longest; this may be an unfair judgement in that
I lost my Divacup within a few months of purchase, although I was not
unhappy to do so-- I had a lot more trouble wrangling it into place,
because of the shorter stem and slightly larger size (the cupmakers'
size recommendation is partially based on age, but this didn't seem to
work for me).

My Mooncup eventually developed some small holes/fissures in its
main body, which may be attributable to a brief but intense interval
when our two then-kittens decided that it was the Best Toy Ever; more
than once, after I'd pitched it into the bathroom sink before settling
down for a good read, I'd looked back up to discover that the Mooncup
had disappeared somewhere in the direction of an ominous set of little
red pawprints. It bounced real good.

I *have* had leaks with the cups due to overflow, even past a backup
flannel pad. But they've still served me better than even the largest
pre-toxic-shock tampons, which IIRC were once described by a comedian
who said that every time she jumped into the pool with one, the water
level went down.

And finally, there is the fabulous site , the online Museum of Menstruation.

#56 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 06:12 PM:

The Keeper and Diva Cup both swear that if you've had a child, you
NEED NEED NEED their larger size to prevent leakage. The Diva Cup even
says you need the larger size if you're over 30, child or no child,
because of natural loss of muscle tone.

I'm here to tell you they're WRONG.

I'm over 30, I have a child, and the larger size was frickin' unwieldy. The smaller size is comfortable and leak-free.

#57 ::: Bronwyn ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 06:15 PM:

I got to play with an old treadle Singer sewing machine when my dad
was fixing it for my aunt. (Inherited from her mother or grandmother.)
Once you get in the rhythm with the treadle, it goes at an impressively
fast clip! It had a box full of attachments that let it do dozens and
dozens of kinds of frills and furbelows. I don't remember if there was
a buttonhole attachment but I would be surprised if there was not.

One of our fundamental problems right now is that we have lots of
ways to put materials together, and very few ways to take them apart
again for reuse. If we can figure out how to make something that does
*that* the green revolution will become immensely easier and more
popular. Plastics, metals, and so on do certain jobs that natural
materials just can't, so people are not going to give them up.

#58 ::: R. Emrys ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 06:25 PM:

For those forgetting their shopping bags at home, a recommendation. I use one of these
that I picked up at a co-op. It folds up wallet-sized and fits in my
purse, so I don't forget it (unlike the five string bags and the big
canvas bag that lives in my back seat). If I didn't have a purse, it
would snap around my belt loop. Since I got it, my disposable bag
consumption is down to what I need for my recycling and my lunch.

On sewing machines: I have an electric sewing machine that's a
couple generations old (human generations, not tech generations) and
much sturdier than the modern ones. I love it, but if I didn't have
electricity I think I'd just go back to needle and thread. Whereas I
would probably have to invent a treadle-powered word processor rather than go back to either manual typewriter or pen & paper.

#59 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 06:27 PM:

This is only a placeholder for what I hope will be longer comments tonight or tomorrow.

I am troubled by how much deep value apparently depends on labor I can't add.
There are presumptions going on about what kinds of disabilities and
limitations apparently don't exist in people who'd like to be good
stewards of their chunk of the world's resources. There's lots I would
do, both physically and mentally, if I could, but it simply isn't going
to happen. It wouldn't happen even if I sacrificed all of my chosen
work and entertainment, in some cases, thanks to learning disabilities
rising from nerve damage.

Some of this, to be sure, is spillover frustration at healthy young
(generally male) bloggers who've done yeoman work analyzing the
screwing over that the working and middle classes have gotten and then
turn right around to enthuse about hiking the price of food and
transportation, knowing damn well that nothing like sufficient aid to
the needy will be forthcoming. And those who have even more trouble
holding onto gainful employment or finding healthy food will...what?
Blow away? Hire themselves out to each other laborers?

It's not that I disapprove of making things both lasting and
repairable. It's that I get leery of too much endorsement of solutions
calling for more physical labor and mental training without a good
sense of what kinds of burden that can be, nor any real sense of what
to do about it.

More later, though; this is not (in my intention) a completed thought.

#60 ::: dana ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 06:28 PM:

I don't use a cup, as it is incompatible with the IUD I currently
have in place, but I do like my cloth pads and sea-sponge tampons
vastly better than their disposable alternatives. Right now, I can just
toss the pads in with my son's cloth diapers, which is very convenient.
Cloth diapers also seem to be making a comeback, and while we don't use
them exclusively, I now look at a disposable diaper and think "I'm
throwing out this big hunk of plastic and chemicals to take care of a
little bit of baby pee that would just wash out?" I guess that's more
of a "sustainability" rather than "deep value" argument, but they're

#61 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 06:49 PM:

abi @41:

In 1990, before and after ConFiction, I spent some time bicycling in
the Netherlands (and Denmark) (including a circumnavigation of the
Ijsselmeer). One of the problems I had, as an American cyclist was that
I was too cautious for the Dutch drivers, I'd slow and check at an
intersection. They were expecting me to fly right through. It didn't
help that I was extra wary since the bike trip was financed by the
settlement from having my collarbone broken when me and my bike were
hit by a car making a turn across traffic (Mass Ave, Arlington, MA).

I wanted a sign saying "Let Op! Amerikaanse Fietser".

Not only was there a bike path from the airport, it went in a separate tunnel from the auto traffic.

At one point on my long ride, a drawbridge started to go up in front of
me. The bridgekeeper saw me and gave me priority over the bridge (I
assume that he didn't actually have to slow the cargo ship down).

#62 ::: pixelfish ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 06:56 PM:

Rikibeth: Thanks for the heads up about the larger/smaller size
issue. I currently am on the Ring, which I adore, and I assume that
inserting a cup will be no more strenuous than inserting the Ring?

#63 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 06:57 PM:

I'm posting this before reading past #20 -

Abi: I prefer a sewing machine that zig-zags, so that I can make buttonholes.


#5 ::: P J Evans :::

...(I'd pay for a treadle sewing machine. I think you should be
able to get a zig-zag attachment for them - my mother had one for her
old-but-electric straight-stitch machine.)


#14 ::: Rikibeth :::

There are buttonhole-making attachments that work with straight-stitch sewing machines.

I use a treadle sewing machine with a late-50's head that can do not
only zig-zag, buttonholes, double-needle, but a wide variety of other
built-in stitches and also takes cams for bigger/more elaborate
patterns. I own two of those heads, both of which came from Canada. The
second treadle cabinet I got from a company whose main business is catering to the Amish.

There are two versions of the clamp-on buttonholer, one for
straight-stitch and one for zig-zag machines. They make an extremely
nice buttonhole.

re: Mooncup

I used a version of these in the early 70's, until they stopped being
made (or, at least, marketed in Kansas, where I was living at the
time). If I were young enough to still need these, I'd buy a Mooncup in
a heartbeat.

Back to reading this thread -

#64 ::: Jim ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:02 PM:

I definitely agree with the sad disposable nature of so much of what
we have, but I find that a lot of truly good choices are
counter-intuitive (ethan @47's story is a good example). Reusing bags
is good, I will agree, but plastic shopping bags are apparently not the
demon that everyone thinks they are, see here,
and the cost of banning/taxing them might actually be counter
productive (leading, for example, to an increased use of trash bags
which, as pointed out above, are much thicker and less eco-friendly
than shopping bags).

I think it's interesting how eager we are to focus on a problem, any
problem, and totally ignore others (like, oh, the end of life as we
know it when the oil runs out)--it's one of the reasons I tend to be
skeptical whenever a people start cheering the latest environment
saving fad (like Nuclear power as the answer to our prayers) .

It is important to think about taking steps to reduce our impact on
the world, but deep meaning calls for deep analysis, I think. It might
be beyond some of us ( though the guys at Freakonomics do a good job of the kinds of analysis I think we need).

#65 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:07 PM:

Tying in with what Bruce said above, there's sometimes an annoying
pain-in-the-ass factor that goes along with these old-timey Deep Value
items. For example, I notice that two of the items in that "Real Deal"
article Chris linked to -- the Pendleton shirt and the Hudson Bay point
blanket -- are dry-clean-only.

#66 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:07 PM:

I am troubled by how much deep value apparently depends on labor I can't add

I have some bone deformities and a rotated hip. I've had arthritis
since I was 16. Exercise helps thankfully. Living 2 miles or less from
everything also helps. If I did things the way the average American
biker does, I'd be in terrible shape. Someone with more severe
disabilities might not be able to bike at all. Or WALK. So I don't tell
people to go car free, and I talk about the problems I've had. I talk
about the solutions too, since someone else might learn from me.

It's important to do what is sensible and maintainable for *you*. It
probably will not be the same as what I do, nor will it be the same as
what Abi does. And it won't be the same as what my sister does (similar
disabilities to me, and very different enviroment).

#67 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:09 PM:

Pixelfish: I've never used the Ring, but seating a DivaCup is
simpler than positioning a diaphragm, at least for me. It's sort of an
intermediate complexity between tampon and diaphragm. It's basically
fold, insert, rotate (to make sure it's unfolded). Very simple.

#68 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:13 PM:

A gadget to carry plastic bags

And if you're not shopping, you can go fly a kite.

#69 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:28 PM:

Hudson Bay Point blankets were invented considerably before dry
cleaning. It's my experience that a wool blanket doesn't need washing
very often -- and it's got to be possible to do it the old-fashioned
way when it's actually necessary.

I wouldn't throw it in a modern washing machine and tumble dryer,
but a washtub, and mild soap, and spreading it flat on the grass to
dry? I'd be willing to risk it.

#70 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:30 PM:

This seems to be today's conversation. I've already had it with two
friends. We all seem to be thinking along the same lines -- if things
go pear-shaped for a while, how can we make sure we can survive?

Having stuff that lasts and can be repaired is a big part of that. A
rumor about a truckers' strike led me to make a shopping list last week
of all the stuff we'd want stocked in case there was a temporary halt
to shipping. We ended up with a lot of dried beans, peas, and lentils,
canned vegetables, rice, and plenty of frozen veggies and meats -- and
also plenty of shampoo, conditioner, soap, toilet paper, and paper
towels. Because I have a Diva Cup, I did not have to put tampons on
that list, and I thought that was pretty cool.

(I will evangelize for menstrual cups to anyone who will listen,
actually. I've found that mine works a good deal better than the
disposable alternatives, and it's darned convenient to never worry
about buying stuff, because I'm always prepared.)

I would like to state for the record that those rumors were just
rumors, and I have no credible source. We figured it was a good excuse
to get a stockpile going, though. Turned out that it didn't cost much
more than a regular shopping trip -- beans and canned goods are cheap.

I really want a sewing machine, so that I can repair, alter, and
rework clothes as necessary. I have, in the past, stretched a pair of
jeans that were a size too small by opening the side seams and adding a
panel of colorful fabric on either side of the leg -- I got compliments
on those in high school. That was with my mother's sewing machine. Not
having to ditch clothes and start over when I go up or down a size
would help a lot.

And I am planning to switch to reusable grocery bags just because I
get extremely annoyed by dealing with the plastic kind. They pile up
and fall out of the closet, and then the cats get hold of them and lick
and bite them, and I have to take them away to prevent damage to the
cats, and then I get fed up and just put them in the trash anyway,
after which I feel guilty. A set of reusable bags is going to save me
so much irritation.

#71 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:41 PM:

Rikibeth, you're not making a good case for those blankets being
easy to care for. Carting a wet blanket out to Prospect Park and
watching it dry for a few hours is hardly less work than just dumping
it in a washing machine and then a dryer. Leaving aside the question of
what to do if I need to clean it in winter.

#72 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:42 PM:

Back when I was on active duty at DLI, I had the usual problems with
strings (the various pockets, flaps, gussets, etc. are prone to
unravelling; this is frowned upon).

The default solution was to burn them. After I'd lost my third, or
fourth, lighter one month, I said screw it, and bought a zippo.

It's been 15 years, and I still have the zippo. It was ten dollars as a lump, vs. a serial expenditure of 99 cents.

I wear the same knife today I bought 21 years ago. I'm planning to
buy a scythe. No more hassling with the mower. It'll be a couple of
hundred dollars, but it's less than a mower costs, has very little in
maintainence costs (maybe the snath gets damaged, or you hit a really
big rock; other than that, a new stone every ten years or so it about
it, that and polishing the hammer and anvil), makes no noise and
impresses the neighbors. One can clear about an acre a day; of wheat.
Grass is a bit quicker.

#73 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:49 PM:

Madeline@18: I wish companies were required to send out circuit
diagrams and repair manuals with all of their electronics. I wish
soldering and electrical repair were required classes in high school.

Moore's law is a pain in the arse. By the time many electronic
devices break, they're also obsolete. And soldering a 200 pin surface
mount chip isn't exactly easy, or cheap.

digital camera: sensors keep improving, storage keeps getting denser. the technology hasn't neared an asymptote yet.

inkjet printer: The cost of new black/white plus color cartridges
for my printer nearly equals the cost of the printer with small
cartridges included. They give printers away at cost or at a loss, and
then make it up selling ink like it was a subscription service.

microwave: Well, I never felt comfortable monkeying around with radiation.

MP3 player: I'm surprised someone hasn't made a generic MP3 player,
with a USB port built in for the actual storage of music. As the price
of storage goes down, you can upgrade the memory, but keep the player.
Then the interface would be almost zero dollars to build, and the cost
of memory would be separated out. Of course, that just makes it more
replacable, not repairable.

The main problem is the economics of electronic products push for
more integration, which obsoletes older parts quickly. Combine that
with ever plummeting costs for chips with more features, and it ends up
costing you more to buy the old chip than to get the new one. I don't
think it's going to settle out for a while yet.

The other problem is that the NRE to make an asic is like a million
dollars, which makes it bloody hard for a mom and pop operation to come
in and make a generic MP3 player that anyone can build or repair.

#74 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 07:52 PM:

Avram, I wasn't exactly saying they'd be EASY to care for. Just that
if dry cleaning disappeared, they wouldn't become entirely unusable. I
have to admit I was thinking with my re-enactor brain -- the blankets
are popular among Colonial re-enactors, and the house museum where I've
volunteered in the past has done laundry demonstrations. Children seem
to find it fun to play with the tub and washboard and the paddles for
stirring the linens -- I'm sure they'd find it less so if they had to
do the washing for a whole family, week after week.

I know that if my cat threw up on MY wool blanket (not a Hudson Bay,
just a common blanket from probably the middle of the last century) in
the wintertime, I'd sponge it off as best I could and drape it over the
shower curtain rod while it dried, rather than trying to wash the whole

#75 ::: MamaDeb ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 08:07 PM:


Sorry. Here.

#76 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 08:11 PM:

Dena@46: Your mileage may vary, but personally I'm not particularly
concerned about using up paper when I'm buying new books. Yes, there's
an environmental cost to paper, but books use so small a portion of the
paper-stream (1/2 to 1/3 of one percent of paper usage, according to
Walt Crawford in the latest _Cites and Insights_) that I'm not that
worried about it. The cost to me, as I see it, for forgoing books in
the name of paper is higher. (We do buy used books more often than new,
actually, but that reflects our interests and budgets more than a
concern for paper.)

Seeing how much junk mail some other houses get, I'm pretty sure we
save far more paper than we use in books just from having put ourselves
years ago on the DMA's junk-mail opt-out lists. (It doesn't completely get rid of junk mail, but it reduces it substantially.)

#77 ::: mk ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 08:20 PM:

Sometimes I think the most sustainable thing I can do is move
elsewhere. Hawai'i, for me, has meant having to own a car (even though
I prefer the bus) and eating mostly food grown in California, among
other things. On the other hand, I don't have to heat my house with gas
or oil.

I'd buy a treadle sewing machine without a zig-zag function - I
prefer to sew buttonholes by hand. It doesn't take me any longer, since
sewing them on the machine usually requires that I redo them.

When I lived in a town that had free recycling pickup (and charged a
fee for trash pickup), I had stopped using plastic shopping bags, and
didn't want to buy small plastic trash bag liners. I took the trash out
of the house more frequently and scrubbed the bins at least once per
week, which worked okay, but was really annoying to have to do during
the winter when I couldn't just use the hose in the yard.

#78 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 08:37 PM:

This reminds me that I ought to order a replacement set of the
replaceable parts for my pressure cooker (see also: fast way to deal
with long-storing grains and beans).

#79 ::: neotoma ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 09:01 PM:

Try finding resole-able shoes. They aren't common at all anymore, especially for women.

I can get my Birkenstock sandals resoled until the cork actually
breaks apart, but I haven't found a way to get my El Naturalista shoes
done. It's frustrating, because they're both good shoe brands, and
expensive, but one lasts up to five years, and the other doesn't.

#80 ::: Jeff Youngstrom ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 09:04 PM:

Second for Chico Bags @58

We're carfree here in our little suburb of Seattle. Three years now.
We walk and bike and take the bus. We rent a car once in a while. More
often we borrow a car from one of our neighbors. Good neighbors are
about as deep value as you can get.

To improve bicycle carrying capacity there's Xtracycle, a bolt-on frame extension that radically increases a regular bike's utility. Here are pictures of the more improbable loads I've carried on mine.

Another old technology that's still wonderfully alive is woodworking
tools. For remarkably little money you can buy vintage human-powered
drills, saws, and planes that surpass anything manufactured today for
quality and utility. A good eggbeater drill is a joy to use--silent,
safe, fast, and the batteries don't run down until supper time.
Outrageous amounts of good information and help on this available on
the Oldtools mailing list.

#81 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 09:06 PM:

Any loss of the machine culture and we all starve.

Sure, some people will survive, but to a first approximation, none of us are them.

Deep value... I think this messily conflates two things.

One is that actual human utility innovates a whole lot slower than
consumer products allege that they do; there are a great many things
that are simpler, less expensive, better for you, and so on. Having
stuff to do that has real, tangible results, of obvious or immediate
value, is a goodness.

The other one is that the machine society runs as an open loop --
there are inputs, stuff, and garbage -- rather than a closed loop --
there are inputs and stuff -- and this has to change to the closed loop
form as a matter of some urgency.

Me, well, no car, and have never owned one. Driver's license, and I
use it occasionally, for 'not the last calendar year' values of
occasionally. Linux since I got a computer that could run it, in 1997
-- I can claim no virtue for this; I learnt to use a computer on a VAX,
and only unixes seem natural -- and heavy reliance on large reusable
bags. (One of them has wheels.)

On the other hand, new digital camera I like very much; some things
are better, more effective, expand the realizable choice space
available to people. The problem isn't that consumer digital cameras
don't last; the problem is that the question "what eats those?" doesn't
have an answer.

(All that lives is food. Technology needs to live, is all.)

#82 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 09:07 PM:

C. Wingate @30: That reminds me of the time I replaced the battery
on my 1998 Dodge Stratus. I figured it'd be a simple operation:
disconnect the leads, pull out the old battery, pop in the new one,
reconnect. Until I realized the battery housing was not in the engine
compartment but in front of the front left wheel. I had to turn the
wheel all the way to the left, squat down, reach under one handed and
unscrew the splash guard, yank that out from the wheel base, disconnect
the battery and then figure out a way to slide it out of the casing
without dropping it (still crouched down, fiddling in the wheel well,
mind). Once the old battery was out then I had to somehow fit the new
battery into the narrow recess with a tire in my face. Ever try lifting
a car battery from a squatting position and holding it out in front of
you? It really works those shoulder muscles, i tell you what.

#83 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 09:07 PM:

In January of this year I moved from Raleigh, NC to Brooklyn, NY
because, in short, I felt like I was stabbing the earth - to live
somewhere sidewalks hardly existed, public transportation likewise,
bicycles had no place on the road, and where I had to drive absolutely
everywhere. Also because, even though my car gets good mileage, I felt
like gas prices were never likely to come back down.

I am astonished by how little I miss having a car; on the other
hand, all the steps up and down to the subway have given me Runner's
Knee. So, in these kinds of threads on certain forums, the discussions
seems to turn to You Could Do It If You'd Only Try Harder. What, it's
ten miles on busy highways after dark? That doesn't mean you can't do
it by bike! Be a man!

A person's willingness to make sacrifices turns into a measure of
their toughness, even their manliness - which I feel is not only
insensitive to older people and disabled people, it also turns the
focus to "who can endure the most sacrifices"... when maybe we should
be looking at how to change the infrastructure and the systems in place
so that you don't have to do those ten miserable miles in the dark to get to work.

#84 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 09:29 PM:

mk @ #77, hey, if our illustrious singing mayor has his way we'll
have heavy steel-on-steel rail here in another ten years. Throw away
that car!

I bought a used GEO Metro with 13K on it in 1998. At last inspection
it had 49K on it, ten years later. It's not that I think about driving
less, it's just that I don't go very far when I drive.

#85 ::: Katherine Mankiller ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 09:54 PM:

My Diva Cup rocks the house, and I write in plain text because that
way I get the benefit of subversion's merge and conflict resolution
features. I wish I could bike to work. I suggest it every time we fill
up the gas tank.

#86 ::: SK-reader ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 10:11 PM:

Deep value - lasting stuff - good technologies...


Cast iron pans - my mom is using her grandma's - still going strong
after about 70 or 80 years. Can be used with flame or electricity - put
in an oven as well.

Foot powered sewing machines (yes!) - I see them in use in Shenzhen and still a a few in Hong Kong.

Carrying poles - some people in HK still have them. I remember
watching the news a few months ago and a water main burst near a big
apartment block and the water trucks came & there were some people
who were out there w/ their carrying poles to take their 2 buckets
home. Good for carrying lots of things, not just water.

Electric trams - still going strong in HK after 100+ years - double-decked!

Hand-carts - very useful for moving big loads of stuff without a
vehicle or a pack animal - seen more in China now rather than here now

Chinese cleaver & whetstone - you don't really need so many
knives for regular kitchen stuff & it can eliminate need for meat

Mortar & pestle - can help eliminate need for food processor

Thermos - keeps hot water hot!

Tankless water heaters - will make hot water when you need it.
Electric is nice because you never run out of gas in the middle of your
shower. Gas is nice because you can still have a hot shower if the
electricity is gone.

LPG Cylinders - for the hot water heater or the cooker

Gas hot-plate (hobs) - two rings are great! very easy to attach and get going. Some are automatic, others you light w/ a match.

#87 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 10:32 PM:

Gas hot plate -- like the Iwatami burners we use in catering that run off of canned butane? I LOVE those.

Of course, they aren't especially sustainable or deep value, as I
see it -- you still need the butane cans. What makes them better than a
regular modern kitchen stove?

#88 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 11:03 PM:

Deep value doesn't necessarily mean buying different stuff.
Sometimes it's just a matter of researching brands (aka "being thrifty,
not cheap.")

Most people I know abhor toaster ovens because they "break sll of
the time." We've had our (Krups) toaster oven for seven years now,
seeing steady use for both toasting and oven duty, and it's still going
strong. And because there's only the two of us, that means we don't
have to heat up the big oven for a meal.

Same thing with just about anything else— do your research and your
purchase will last you for years. Sometimes this is surprising— I still
get good use out of my high school solar calculator, which has decided
our 100W equivalent CFL is a perfectly legitimate light source.

And (looks around) I actually am still pretty happy with my six-year-old computer. Don't tell anyone, mmmkay?

#89 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 11:19 PM:

Let's see -- my van is 21 years old and I drive fewer than 3K miles
a year. I do have to drive. I'm disabled and I can't even get on buses
here, assuming I could walk to the stop. And how would I get the trash
and recycling out and the groceries and such in? I mentioned a
reclining tricycle to my nephrologist and she said "Absolutely not!"

I only recently moved to reusable grocery bags -- my grocery store
lets you recycle their bags and the WashPost bags and I did that for
decades. I bought two of their bags and had to adapt them some (the
weight would be too low and make me wobble and I'm not a Weeble) and I
always ask the cashiers to balance them weight-wise as much as possible
and some do. The one that refused to not only balance them, but
insisted on putting everything in one bag "because it fit" was
reported. I still put the WashPost bags in the reusable bag and that
reminds me to take it with me that day.

After the stroke/coma, I couldn't use tampons, so I used reusable
pads. I still have them even though I'm in menopause. Maybe I should
repurpose them for rags. (This is also where I buy bras and underpants
and my current ones are now uncomfortably large and I need to get more.)

I have three windup flashlight/radios -- one in the van, one in the
bedroom, one in the office (it's a small condo, I think that's enough).

A lot of the hand/strength powered tools mentioned here are things I
can't use anymore. As Bruce Baugh commented, moving everybody to more
of these tools isn't possible. There will always be people who are not
capable of using them.

If I couldn't use a microwave, I'd be eating a lot of cheese and
bread and fruit. I can't cook anymore. I have about two gallons of
trash every week, and most of that is frozen food packaging (the actual
trays can be recycled). I have compact fluorescents in the bathrooms
that are 21 years old. I do the best I can, but I can't meet an ideal.

#90 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 11:31 PM:

Oh, fountain pens. I had one from about freshman year of high school
to senior year of college-- the cap fragmented, and I don't know if
it's the kind of thing that can be replaced-- and a Waterman Phileas
filled with Noodler's, and... okay, I was weak and it was purple,
Noodler's has a purple ink that looks kind of purple and it comes with
a pen. I expect it to show up by Wednesday. If I don't like the pen,
I'll pass it on to someone who does; if I don't like the ink, much the

Speaking of, anyone like Noodler's Nightshade? Too red for me. I wanted *purple*.

This post has reminded me to get a damned helmet. I like biking, and
this is a good town for it... but I have hair. I didn't take the bike
out at all last year because I felt people would hate me more for
riding without a helmet than for driving. Time to see how much I'll
have to spend for a helmet that I'll be willing to wear.*

A related question (I am full of them today): what *is* proper
distance for a bike? I see them all the time, but all I know is that
they're very skinny cars, and it makes me so nervous passing them
because it's rude somehow.

And the Divacup is amazing. Tampons gave me cramps for years, and
not always in logical places. My Divacup has some interesting side
effects, but nothing as bad as pads, and once I figured it out, it was
so much easier.

On the subject of older cars, I have another: old-people cars. You
know the Buick the little old lady bought for her last car and splurged
on because she was finally going to get a car she liked, and never
drove? I have that car. Seriously. Little old lady and everything. If I
get over my bike issues, I'll be driving Milady Buick to the mall once
a month and out of town... whenever necessary. Why do I love this car?
Because it is made for people who a) are not getting a substandard car
for their last one and b) are arthritic or otherwise not fooling around
with discomfort. It is such a good car.

*Please do not lecture me on why I should wear a helmet. I am fairly
certain I will interpret any comment as lecturing. I know I should.
This is why I haven't ridden a bike I love to things I love to do,
because other people will think less of me for not wearing one. I have
issues, yes.

#91 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 11:37 PM:

Speaking of the jerkoff flashlight: my Dad has a wrist watch which
automatically rewinds itself with the normal movements it's subjected
to being worn on your wrist. So whenever you move your arm or walk
around, you wind up your watch.

#92 ::: SK-reader ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 11:43 PM:

Rikibeth at #87,

No, bigger than that (I think)

Like these:

The lasting value is:

1) The LPG cannisters can last for up to a month or more at a time
& are re-fillable & recyclable. You put down a deposit for the

2) The LPG cannisters are reasonably portable - one can carry them
on one's back if need be - no need for infrastructure of gas mains.

3)The gas burners are relatively simple to hook up and move around.
If you move house you could carry one in your arms (or on a hand cart).

4) The gas burners are cleaner & easier to deal with than cooking with coal briquettes, charcoal, or wood.

5) The gas burners can last for quite some time - I've seen some that are at least 30 years old.

#93 ::: joel hanes ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2008, 11:53 PM:

It's hard to believe that this thread is up to 92 comments and no
one has mentioned Wendell Berry's criteria for adoption of a new tool
or technology:

1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.

2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.

3. It should do work that is clearly anddemonstrably better than the one it replaces.

4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.

5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.

6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.

7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.

8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.

9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.


#94 ::: Paul Lalonde ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 12:21 AM:

Dena @54 - As a recent convert to home butchery, well, it's fun! And incredibly educational. I can't recommend Merle Ellis' Cutting Up in the Kitchen
enough; it's a practical introduction to what's in your meat counter,
though you can get yourself up to whole beasts with a bit of effort.
Getting closer to my meat has led to tremendous improvement in the
quality of what I put into myself - if you're going to go through the
effort, it's worth investing in free-range, local, and organic. Happier
animals seem to taste better, too.

Avram @65 - They are only dry-clean only if you're lazy. Cold water
gentle wash (or hand wash), and lay out to dry. Yes, you'll lose the
pristine "I just bought it today" look, but you'll trade it for "I love
it and use it", which I tend to prefer.

Greg @73 - The device you want doesn't doesn't really exist because
memory grows so much faster than your connection bandwidth. In
practice, you'd have a 16gig device that took eight hours to fill.
[OB-related-but-not-really-Tech: while memory grows by the square of
the process feature size, the off-chip connection can only grow by a
linear factor, because it has to come out the edge, pretty much
guaranteeing you won't be able to fill it as fast as you want].

neotoma@79 - You might want to track down a shoemaker and have them
*make* you shoes. I had this done about 6 months ago, and I think this
is the first pair of shoes I've had that actually fits right. They cost
more, but they can be resoled and otherwise repaired. Although all the
little nails in the sole set off the metal detectors at the airport...

#95 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 12:24 AM:

Oh, in the midst of the long comment, I forgot.

I need grocery bags. Not reusable ones, have a couple of those
bought in a fit of bike-optimism before it became apparent that it is
Not Done. I use paper bags for recycling; as far as I can understand
the recycling rules here, items must be sorted into bags and placed in
the bin... where the bags will stay until a paper day. Plastic bags are
for the bathroom trash can, the cat's litter scoops, and a gigantic bag
in the pantry to drive over to the food bank one of these days.

Checkout people keep asking me if I want my milk in a bag. It's a
gallon of milk. It is in a plastic jug with a handle. There is
astonishingly little that can be done to make that more portable.

#96 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 12:31 AM:

Stuff I don't have and seem not to need: microwave, cable tv,
camera, iPod, iron -- none of my clothes need ironing -- food

I don't own anything that needs to be drycleaned.

I have a cell phone, and in 6 months I've used it only once.

I try to remember to bring my cloth bags to the grocery store, but
sometimes I forget. They are wonderful bags, though; huge, strong, much
easier to hold than plastic ones.

I wish I didn't need a car, but I do.

#97 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:01 AM:

One of the best deep value products you can have is your health and doing everything you can to hold onto it.

The better your health the more you can do yourself without fangled
technology, freeing up resources for those that truly need them. We
have become just a bit too delicate to survive without our toys at

#98 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:08 AM:

"If you're walking, you'll make the mistake of forgetting your bag
once or twice, tops. And if you're walking and you forget your bag the
second time, odds are good that you'll buy a second bag rather than
endure another walk with plastic ones."

well, my trick is I have a big Ortlieb compression bag with shoulder
straps so it will function like a backpack in which I carry what I need
during the day, generally my computer, power supply, training clothes.
The size of this can be rolled down to a small backpack, when I go to
the store I unroll it to the size of what I need to buy, since it can
hold 50 liters it's seldom I reach that limit.

#99 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:14 AM:

abi @ 11: That is a story of wonderful improbability.

Bruce Baugh @ 59: "Some of this, to be sure, is spillover
frustration at healthy young (generally male) bloggers who've done
yeoman work analyzing the screwing over that the working and middle
classes have gotten and then turn right around to enthuse about hiking
the price of food and transportation, knowing damn well that nothing
like sufficient aid to the needy will be forthcoming."

It is a real problem, the extent to which confronting the wasteful
nature of our society is seen as an issue of personal morality, rather
than a problem of collective action. To be fair, though, there are
those who are aware of the extent to which being environmentally
conscious has become a luxury item, and are trying to do something
about it. To grab two random examples from my daily blogs, one of Exra Klein's
regular issues is the utterly bass-ackwards government subsidies on
meat and dairy versus fruits and vegetables, which have the perverse
effect of encouraging people to eat less healthily. Amanda Marcotte
takes environmental issues on from the feminist perspective, addressing
the way that coding earth-friendly action as the domain of middle class
women works to trivialize the issue.

At its best, individual action serves as trailblazing, pointing the
direction for society as a whole by saying "See, this works even
without any social support. So let's make it easier for everyone to
do!" At its worst, it prevents collective action from taking place. I
think it's important not to discourage the former while criticizing the

Various @ many: The discussion about sewing machines, manual and
electric ought to remind us that there's nothing about modern
technology that is inherently more prone to failure than old-timey
stuff. My parent's KitchenAid is almost thirty years old and still
going strong. It is arguably easier to design appliances and equipment to last forever than it was then--materials technology has only improved.

The fundamental thing that has changed isn't the nature of the
product*, it's the design philosophy behind it. Producers have been
shortening and shortening the lifespan of consumer items. It's just
more profitable that way, and consumers have become habituated to
it--why not force everyone to buy new stuff every five years, or every
three? What alternatives do consumers have?

I like the idea of buying one really high-quality item and using it
for the rest of my life. Whenever possible, I do. But it's almost never
possible--I am frustrated, every time I buy new glasses, because the
frames I got last time around aren't made any more. How can I buy items
with deep value if no one makes them? /rant

*Cutting-edge tech aside. Greg's point about Moore's Law is well-taken.

#100 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:55 AM:

#70 Caroline: From a tidy roommate in the past I learned this trick
to keep plastic bags in check: stretch them out between your hands,
twist them into loose ropes, and tie them into a loose half bow knot.
Takes less than a second. Suddenly they are tiny and weighty, and you
can fit oodles into the single bag that escaped this treatment, to be
retrieved for wastebasket or "shoes in suitcase" duty, or taken to
Longs Drugs to be recycled.

#73 Greg London: I say short lifecycle stuff sucks, you say short
lifecycle stuff sucks. I think you're distracted by the shiny wrt your
Moore's Law argument, though: it's the Broken Window fallacy.
I had a perfectly good 5 Megapixel camera which reliably did what I
wanted. Now I have an even awesomer 7 Megapixel camera with a wide
aperture and unlimited video. In both cases I have a digital camera I
like just fine; in the second case I'm $280 poorer.

As for my suggestions about making ours less of an economy built
around disposable crap by requiring teaching and knowledge about fixing
it, sounds like you're saying that most of our short lifecycle
electronics are based on chips that are all baked together and pretty
much impossible for a human to replace? I'm not sure I buy that most
electronic failure is a result of something going wrong in these chips.
They sound sturdy. Still sounds like a good idea to have the knowledge
to test the power going to them and the stuff going on downstream.

Of course, if you have an idea about how to encourage fixable
electronic bling, I'm keen on getting suggestions. Electronic bling has
some really excellent applications.

#101 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 02:29 AM:

Avram #65: "I notice that two of the items in that "Real Deal"
article Chris linked to -- the Pendleton shirt and the Hudson Bay point
blanket -- are dry-clean-only."

This is the most bizarre thing I've ever heard. As pointed out above, both articles listed are 100% pure wool and predate
dry-cleaning. The Hudson Bay blankets, in particular, were designed for
trading to indigenous northern peoples, who were not noted for their
laundering technologies (nor, honestly speaking, their laundering --
it's tough to launder a caribou skin, which is the technology the
blanket was replacing.)

I grew up a few miles south of the Arctic circle in a wood-heated
log cabin. My parents slept under Hudson Bay blankets (they were deemed
too expensive for child use, we got old sleeping bags from Salvation
Army) and my father wore Pendleton shirts exclusively, as nobody else
was selling a 100% wool man's button shirt at the time.

Solidly-woven heavy 100% wool fabrics are easy to launder. Hand
wash, cold water, luke-warm if heavily soiled. Gentle soap. Woolite is
great; Ivory works. Gently press out excess water. Hang on clothline.

But, here's the point. The blankets, in particular, never really
need laundering; they're used in a clean environment with a cotton
sheet between them and oily or soiled human skin. After a long winter,
hang them in the sunshine for a day to air out accumulated smells, and
they're as new. Barring kittens or catastrophes, they don't get soiled.
If you've got special soil issues (sick people, children, pets,
smokers, badly-chimneyed wood stoves) you use a russian-style
blanket-cover that encapsulates the blanket like those things that
protect goose down comforters.

Dry-clean only? Maybe in some yuppie universe, but not in the universe where those products were first marketed.

Which I think is a point to keep in mind about "old tech" in the
context of this discussion. Tech cannot always be readily divorced from
its context. In the modern world where you've got an electric washing
machine with a spin cycle and a center spindle, 100% wool fabrics are not
appropriate tech, especially if you live in an urban apartment with no
outside clothesline. But if you're packing a bedroll every day for a
dogsled trip to the next log cabin along the trapline, 100% wool is way
lighter and more compact than furred hides, will keep you alive better
than killer cotton, and will stay "clean enough" until the next time
(spring?) that you do laundry, which realistically is going to be "by
hand and in a tub" at best no matter what fabric you have.

#102 ::: Tom Courtney ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:00 AM:

"Looking at a world where the economy is probably going to be tightening up for a while"

A fairly short while, I think. We're at the cusp of an energy
production shift, and it's going to be huge - the ball is already
rolling. The age of the Douglass-Martin sunscreen is being ushered in
before our eyes. At least three companies I know of are getting the
price of solar down to below that of coal for electricity - one of them
claims (I think correctly) that a Vermont-sized chunk of Arizona would
suffice to power 90% of the US power-grid, including in that
calculation a significant transition to electric cars.

But long or short, I think the right criterion for deep value is not
the stuff we dream of keeping, but the stuff we actually keep. My house
is 125 years old, and with a modicum of care, will last another 125,
easily. I've hung around some of my best friends for over thirty years,
and I don't expect that to end anytime soon. The system of government
I've been fond of all my life has taken some hits recently, but I'm
hopeful it will bounce back.

Perhaps I just find revealed preferences a better guide than stated ones.

#103 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:13 AM:

xeger @49, Dena @54 -- I agree wholeheartedly about skills. Knowing
how to do something, even if you choose not to do it yourself,
empowers. That goes for all sorts of things, including finances,
household and car repairs -- anything you can think of. It means you
can be a better consumer, will stand a chance of not getting cheated,
will get good value for money.

Not that I am a whiz at everything. My husband installed a nifty
rainwater collection system that theoretically will supply the toilets
with water. Also various computer controls for the window shades. Also
the computer system in the house (I think we're up to 16 computers at
the moment, including our own server). I haven't been able to master
these systems, and this sort of thing worries me. If anything happens
to him, I'm screwed. But the skill sets one acquires are a function of
time, personal inclination and talent, and also sometimes (dis)ability,
as others have mentioned.

#104 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:45 AM:

xeger, #49: "The magic just happens" is a spectacular form of ignorance.

Yes, and it's one which has been deliberately encouraged in American
culture for well over a generation. It's difficult to find toys that
encourage tinkering and/or experimentation even for young teenagers
now, and most mechanical and electrical items are marketed as black
boxes -- when they break, it's cheaper to get a new one than to spend
the time to fix it (if fixing it is even possible).

But then, tinkering and experimenting encourage logical thinking and
critical skills -- and there is a large and powerful subset of
authority figures who do not want citizens with the ability to
think logically and analyze critically. (Actually, there are several
partially-overlapping subsets, each of them having somewhat different
reasons.) Because people who can reason and analyze also question...
and that's not good for said authorities. They want drones, who will do
as they're told without bothering to wonder why; smart enough to do the
work, but lacking the habits of independent thought.

R. Emrys, #58: I am SO with you about the word processor! I've never
been a fast writer; my typing is much quicker, plus there are the
tremendous advantages of the backspace key for corrections and the
ability to edit without recopying. Losing those things would be, for
me, a severe hardship -- I could get along, but I wouldn't be happy.

Avram, #71: Wool fabric + washing machine agitation = felting. Not
what you want for your blanket! OTOH, you can buy 2 yards of 60"
acrylic fleece material for a lot less than one of those Hudson Bay
blankets, and the resulting throw is completely washable and doesn't
need any edge treatment. If you need a bigger blanket, buy 2 pieces and
sew them together. Our experience has been that they wear pretty well,

SK-reader, #86: How do those tankless water heaters compare in energy usage? To me, it seems as though you'd use more energy with one in a colder climate, as opposed to storing heated water in an insulated tank. But I could easily be wrong.

B. Durbin, #88: We have a toaster oven as opposed to a toaster; it works just as well for toast, and then also
lets us do a lot of things that a toaster won't, such as bagels and
grilled-cheese sandwiches. We heat leftover pizza with it all the time
-- it doesn't take any longer than the microwave, and the crust stays
firm instead of going limp. Try doing that in a toaster!

Diatryma, #90: I hear you about the helmet issue. I grew up riding
without a helmet -- only bike racers wore them in the 60s and 70s --
and dammit, I don't WANT to wear one, even though I understand
intellectually that it's advisable. Yes, I'm still working thru my issues on this too, so you have my sympathies.

#105 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:51 AM:

Altho' this story might be of general interest to y'all, ('Email archive to immortalise Australian life'), for this particular thread, I would draw attention to the last three pars of this version, in our local paper, the SMH. I'm assuming it's not an April Fools' joke.

#106 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 04:05 AM:

Curses, for my fellow Aussies, I forgot to correct the link that was given in the email archive story; it should be: The one given goes to a main page where I can't find any link to that project.

#107 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 04:11 AM:

Bruce @59:

Coupla things.

First off, if things can be repaired simply, using easily accessible
tools, then they can be repaired by a local craftsman as well as the
owner (like the 2CV designed so that a French village blacksmith can
fix it). Not everyone has the knack, tools, ability and time to repair
things. But there is still a value in something that you can get fixed
locally, rather than having to throw it away or ship it back to the

Also, we all have our own lines and limits. Deep value is one of a
number of factors that I use to make my choices, along with time,
convenience, money, etc, etc. I don't know where other peoples'
priorities lie, but I assume they're all in different places. The issue
is as much stewardship as conservation: using the resources wisely, not
saving them for saving's sake. For instance, one should drive when it's
appropriate (which for some people = always, for others = never, but
for most people somewhere in between). Reducing my car trips leaves
more petroleum available for my disabled neighbor, and clears the road
for her as well; it should not shame her.

The minute this topic, or this thread becomes a stick to beat other
people rather than an exploration of our own values and discoveries, I
am going to go out and buy the cheapest gimcrack piece of junk
manufactured halfway across the world and stick it directly in
landfill. Still in its indestructible plastic wrapping. Unless it has
lead in it, in which case I will open it up and lick it first.


#108 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 04:22 AM:

Note that many wind up torches use the winding to recharge internal
batteries (unlike the Bayliss clockwork radio). And rechargable
batteries do still have a finite life, so if you are relying on it for
emergency use, check it every now and again (and if it has failed,
don't put NiCd rechargeables in regular trash for landfill).

#73: You can get generic MP3 players that take SD memory cards. But the
ones I've seen aren't SDHC, so 2Gb is your limit. (You can still swap
cards with different 2Gb collections though.)

#109 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 06:06 AM:

One of the problems with a lot of modern portable electrical gear
--- including the stuff I'm addicted to, like an Ogg player[1] --- is
that they use lithium ion batteries. While these are really cool and
have lots of advantages, like running, well, *cool*, and being
reshapable into all sorts of strange shapes to fit into confined
spaces, and recharging really fast without a lot of gas being given off
and having no memory effect and not having a noticeable limit on
recharge count and having a fairly hig power density, they do have a
few notable disadvantages:

- if you recharge them too fast you *do* get gas evolution. A lot
of it. And heat. And then the casing breaks open and you get hot liquid
sodium metal. They call this 'venting with flame' because 'nasty
explosion' sounds really bad.

- oxidation eventually raises their internal resistance to the
point that, while they still have lots of power, they won't give you
any of it in a useful fashion

Put those together, and you get batteries which are shaped for the
specific model of hardware they come with, are coupled to specific
charging circuits, and which wear out every three years unless you can
breathe pure nitrogen. My understanding is that the consortium that
holds the patents won't let you build a device using lithium-ion
batteries if the battery is user-replaceable, because sodium burns are
bad PR.

Of course there are perverse incentives here, because it's in the
interests of the consumer electronics companies that you buy a new
device every few years, or at least that you have to send it back to
*them* so they can charge you almost as much to get a new battery

You can't throw it away when you're done, either: the chemicals inside
make a lead-acid battery look environmentally friendly, so in the EU at
least the immortally-titled WEEE Directive applies, so you have to send
them to a special facility for destruction (they're too fiddly to

(Of course, last I heard there *were* no such facilities in the entire EU, and none planned to be built for years. Whoops.)

None of this stuff is conducive to deep value. (Personally I do the
closest I can with my media player, which is to run Rockbox on it and
learn how that works. The hardware may still be mostly-closed and
disposable, but at least I know how the software that does the useful
work functions.)

[1] hey, look, Ogg, not MP3! I'm a *rebel*, I am!

#110 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 07:50 AM:

On shopping bags and "granny carts":

We do a fair bit of our grocery shopping at Aldi, where they do
indeed charge for bags. The bags are plastic, but they're pretty
durable and generally get used multiple times. At a cost of ten cents
each, they're not expensive, but it makes sense to bring them back
again and again on subsequent grocery runs. Another alternative is to
use the cardboard boxes that Aldi receives and stocks many of its items
in, and which they will gladly give you for free.

Another favorite place to buy groceries is Cleveland's West Side Market. Just about everybody
brings a "granny cart" there, because by the time you've hit two or
three stands, it's easy to rack up 15 - 20 lbs of purchases and still
not be done with your shopping. In fact, this place is what prompted me
to go out and buy my cart.

#111 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 07:59 AM:

#100: I think Greg unintentionally defined "obsolete" to mean "not
useful." A device can be nowhere near the state of the art, and still
be useful as long as it still does what the owner needs it to do. I
don't think we get to pin this one on Moore's Law. i.e., if a
necessary, but unserviceable, device breaks after three years, we need
to replace it regardless of whether it is obsolete.

Moore's Law doesn't say that companies have to design products which
the end user can't service for himself. However, it can be a side
effect of end user demands, in much the way Greg said. e.g., they
surface mount chips, or integrate multiple chips into one to save space
and, likely, power. Modern electronic devices often have specialized
parts. Keeping them in stock after the device is no longer being
manufactured is expensive. (This is assuming you can desolder and
resolder surface mounts at home so that you can use it.) Sadly, this is
even true for typically replaceable items like batteries and memory.
Eventually, you hit a point where companies stop making them.

We, as a society, haven't made maintainability a must have feature
in our electronics. I'm sure people still upgrade their desktop
computers, but how many of them do? The trend is moving away from
buying desktops towards laptops. In general, the latter aren't as user
serviceable as the former. (Of course, some desktops aren't user
serviceable any more either.)

Madeline, you wrote:

I'm not sure I buy that most electronic failure is a result of something going wrong in these chips.

What do you think is the cause of most electronic failure? If you
have schematics, and diagnostic tools, chances are you'll find that the
failure is the result of some chip not behaving as it's supposed to.
They make up the bulk of the device, why wouldn't they be the problem
much of the time? The act of using the device subjects semiconductors
to lots of heat. They don't really like heat. Just because you can't
see them wear out doesn't mean they don't.

(This isn't arguing that we shouldn't be able to check things out
for ourselves, BTW. I don't care if there are "user serviceable parts"
or not, I still want to see what's going on.)

I think what Greg is saying is:

If all electronic devices used only socketed 7400 series ICs, servicing
those devices wouldn't be that big a deal. With some documentation, and
a multimeter, the end user could diagnose the problem, isolate the
errant part(s), and replace it (them). Oh, and the device is also laid
out on a PCB where all traces are exposed somewhere on the top level
(or the device can deal with you wiring pins together directly).

However, we, as consumers, want device smaller and less power hungry
than what a pile of discrete chips gives us. Electronics which meets
modern demands then has specialized parts difficult to keep in stock
once the device goes out of manufacture. It connects those parts
together in ways that are difficult to disconnect then reconnect. And,
we're apparently willing to give up on serviceability to get smaller,
less power hungry, and more functional.

Do we have to build devices what aren't end user serviceable? No, of
course not. However, as consumers, we have to see the ability to
service it ourselves as a feature we're willing to pay money for. (The
Linksys WRT54GL is an example of this, albeit in terms of software, not
hardware. There is a reason why open source hardware hasn't had nearly
the level of success as open source software.)

However, we may have to wait for the day when we can all fab our own
chips at home, not to mention deal with surface mount, before we can
even start to consider servicing modern, highly integrated designs.
Either we retreat back to manufacturing techniques the end user can
already deal with, or we push ahead and find ways for the end user to
deal with the techniques the manufacturer is using.

#112 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 08:37 AM:

Lizzy L @ 96... none of my clothes need ironing

Are you implying that there are clothes that do need ironing?

#113 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 09:00 AM:

Lee @ 104: "We heat leftover pizza with it all the time -- it
doesn't take any longer than the microwave, and the crust stays firm
instead of going limp. Try doing that in a toaster!"

Ah, I see you have indepedently re-created Heresiarch's Highly
Excellent Pizza Rejuvenation Method. It is one of those rare instances
when leftovers are sometimes even better than the fresh stuff.

abi @ 107: "The minute this topic, or this thread becomes a stick
to beat other people rather than an exploration of our own values and
discoveries, I am going to go out and buy the cheapest gimcrack piece
of junk manufactured halfway across the world and stick it directly in
landfill. Still in its indestructible plastic wrapping. Unless it has
lead in it, in which case I will open it up and lick it first."

Hee! And seconded.

#114 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 09:20 AM:

Emily H. @ 83: typing from here in the Triangle, I completely get
you. I had a choice between here and Boston for grad school; I chose to
come here because of the program, the research, and the advisors, but
some days I wish I'd chosen Boston because of the lifestyle. I have to
get in my car to do anything. (I grew up here. Instead of making me used to it, it's just made me more fed up.)

I had one friend, well-intentioned, comment that maybe real
commitment to environmentalism meant taking the bus even if it was
inconvenient. I appreciate the thought, but I'm inclined to think that
the better thing to do is to work to make public transportation an
actually viable option. (Also, "inconvenient" here means something
quite different than it does in a city with a functioning transit
program. Here, it means "get to work late if at all, stand on the side
of a busy highway with no bench or shelter because bus stops are signs
stuck in the ground, and walk half a mile in the dark along a curvy,
hilly road with no sidewalk or shoulder to reach the stop." The walking
in the dark is also a problem because no one else walks anywhere, which
leaves me vulnerable to assault when I'm a lone female on an empty,
dark road. Yes, as you say, I've been told You Can Do It If You Just
Try Harder. Argh.)

#115 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 09:45 AM:

Regarding mp3 players...I have a Treo 700p. Takes 4Gb SD cards full
of music and I have two programs installed that will play any format
I've ever come across. It also doubles as a phone and personal
organizer so I don't have to buy/carry around several different
gadgets. Solar chargers aren't in my price range yet, but they're
getting there.

My grandmother had a treadle machine. It was given to her nurse when
she passed away and while I would have liked it, I think she probably
made better use of it. I've got my mother's sewing machine, that's
currently being serviced because I want to start sewing again. It's
electric and older than me, but could probably be operated manually in
a pinch.

I bought a granny cart when I moved to this apartment. Mostly I use
it to move stuff from my apartment to the garage and vice versa, but I
have in a pinch walked to the supermarket with it. It's not an ideal
walk - there's a rather steep hill in the way - and I usually do the
grocery shopping on my way home from work or I'd do it more often.

I've attended a number of book and library conferences, and have an
amazing number of bags I got as giveaways which I use for grocery
shopping. Sometimes I'll forget to bring them back down to the car, but
I'm getting better at that.

I had a bicycle when I first moved here, but it's very hilly (and
I'm not in great shape) and my route to work is along a street with
heavy traffic that I don't feel comfortable biking. I should walk more
often but that's a time thing rather than a lack of desire. I'm
terrible about getting out of the house in the morning.

#116 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 09:55 AM:

Anyone who talks to me for a while knows that a great many barriers
between what I want to do and what I do are in my head. I think that
user-serviceable appliances are wonderful, but it takes a certain
amount of daring to open up the first one. When my printer stopped
pulling pages in, it took me a while to stop being angry, look up what
the problem might be, and then spend an afternoon taking it apart, over
and over and over. It took some Krazy Glue, some rubber cement, and a
hairpin, and I have one screw I forgot to put back, but it works now.

The only way I could do it was by saying, "I bought a printer six years
ago. I have not gotten a hundred dollars out of the printer. The
printer has turned into a doorstop. There is nothing I can do that can
make it less useful. Let's see if I can turn a doorstop into a printer."

#117 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 09:55 AM:

Apparently, the first phase is that you leave your reusable bag
at home. The second phase is that you leave it in your car. The third
phase is when the bag finally makes it into the store.

My string bags make it into the car about two times out of three,
with the ratio going up as I get used to having them. (The hurdle there
was deciding that no, I didn't really need to net the damn things
myself and could just buy a couple.) But once they're in the car, they get used even if someone has to go back out for them.

They don’t zig-zag, they don’t embroider, but they are immortal, and they break the dependence on the power grid.

It seems to me that there's no reason a treadle-powered machine
couldn't zig-zag; the switch on many older electric machines (my
mother's, for instance) is purely mechanical. Plus, I'll bet you could
retrofit a normally electric machine to treadle power, in that there's
that wheel on the side that you can hand-crank for extra precision.

The mooncup and its ilk

There's someone out there making reusable natural-sponge tampons.
They're not immortal, but they last for 20 or 30 uses, so I'm told,
which is vastly better than the one-use cotton tampon.

I also prefer watches with dials.

My current watch has a face that was designed in approximately 1911,
and I didn't wear a watch for years because I couldn't find one with
the face I liked. And it's all mechanical, albeit self-winding; if the Change hits, I'll at least know what time it is...

My serger, which I rarely use and which really ought to be a candidate for disposal

If you're really looking to get rid of it and it still functions,
I'll happily pay for shipping. At the moment I have three sewing
machines in my house and none of them work; the theoretically most
easily fixable is only missing a presser foot, but it's a very old
machine and the feet aren't made anymore. And I've got all this fabric
sitting around wanting to be my summer wardrobe. The one skirt I did by
hand for winter was more than enough.

Going meta for a moment, I'd say that -skills- are very much one
of the deep value items. I'm always surprised to find people don't all
have some rough idea of how to weave, or make paper (or ink), or
sew[0], or butcher, (more recent) how electricity works, even in
general terms, or all sorts of remarkably basic ideas that underly
modern technology.

That's one of the things about hanging out with SCAdians--if The End
Of Civilization happens in a reasonably survivable way (e.g. not by
nuclear exchange), we're gonna be useful to have around. I can take a
sheep and end up with clothes; they might not be great at first, but
they'll be warm. And I have friends with similar skills down to "I can
take iron ore and end up with a knife". Handy.

#118 ::: James Davis Nicoll ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 09:55 AM:

Looking at a world where the economy is probably going to be
tightening up for a while, I find myself drawn to things with deep
value, things a little less dependent on the state of our technology
and shipping infrastructure1 to build and repair.

Won't that make the economic crisis that much worse? It's all well
and fine to say "Well, I won't buy a new car every time I run out of
gas" but what of the unfortunates languishing on the assembly lines?

#119 ::: John Hawkes-Reed ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 09:56 AM:

Abi @ 107: Absolutely. Thirded.

It seems to me that a lot of this stuff is sold in some quarters as
a quasi-religion: Consume less and smell more! Sackcloth and ashes are
good for the skin! Your car kills kittens!

On the other hand, keeping your kit working for longer than it
should can be fine fun and a route into finding out how it all works.
My own excuse is growing up on a farm with parents/grandparents for
whom 'make do and mend' and 'dig for victory' were still maxims to live

(Which doesn't quite explain how I got into the toxic and ephemeral
computing industry, but there you go. Or maybe it does. Anyway.)

Heresiarch @ 99: I think what has happened is that the tech used for
designing objects has got a lot better. There was the old Colin Chapman
line 'If it doesn't break it wasn't light enough, if it breaks it was
too light'. Which is fine for Lotus drivers but NBG for the rest of us.

If some careful simulation and/or finite element analysis can make a
VW Golf lighter and stiffer, then it'll use less fuel and less steel.
At the expense of any road accident worth the name wrecking the car,
but rather that than it all going a bit pea-in-a-bucket for the poor
passengers. Old Land-Rovers are tough, but you wouldn't want to shunt
one properly.

I can't help thinking 'Foundation and Empire' here.

#120 ::: Jen B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:13 AM:

I switched to the reusable grocery bags a few months ago. I love
them, but forget to bring them about half the time. I have taken to
just buying more of the reusables when I forget my own and then giving
them away to friends.

I really like my Divacup but can only use it around the home. I just
can't get the knack of emptying and replacing in a public restroom. I
got mine from lunapads,
but use their reusable pads (and panties! With protection all built
in!) much more often. Incredibly comfortable. They have a nice little
program where you can also send menstrual products to girls in Africa
so they don't miss school.

Carrie S.: I believe these are the sponges you were referring to. Lunapads used to sell them through their site but don't any longer. Not sure why.

Any suggestions on beginner fountain pens?

#121 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:37 AM:

#101 ::: Daniel Boone [on wool blankets/dry cleaning]

Beautifully put. I have a similar ongoing battle with people who
claim silk must be dry-cleaned. Tell that to several thousand years of
Mandarins. The solution, as you've mentioned, is to put an easily
washed baffle (often cotton) between the oil-or-grime producing
skin/environment and the wool or silk.

This is one of the points of underwear. My grandmother's generation
wore cotton underwear, and slips, and would hang clothes to "air" after
a day's wearing. Heavily-constructed items like wool suits would
receive a gentle but thorough brushing. Laundry was tedious enough,
even with a good well close to hand. Dry cleaning not an option.

The other factor is that we've conditioned ourselves not to have
smelly bodies, and go to great lengths not to "cause offense". The U.S.
has plenty of water (not to mention deodorants and questionable
antiperspirants). Or at least we think we do. This is a major component
of culture shock with travel to third-world countries.

#122 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:39 AM:

#117 ::: Carrie S.

It seems to me that there's no reason a treadle-powered machine
couldn't zig-zag; the switch on many older electric machines (my
mother's, for instance) is purely mechanical. Plus, I'll bet you could
retrofit a normally electric machine to treadle power, in that there's
that wheel on the side that you can hand-crank for extra precision.

Unfortunately not. There has to be a groove beside the hand wheel
(which usually has a rounded edge) for the belt to nestle in, and the
machine head has to be cast with channels for the belt. Adding an
exposed belt with enough tension to cup around the exterior of the hand
wheel would be dangerous, even if you religiously wore a cap or hair

#123 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:39 AM:

Re: natural sponge tampons

You can also cut cheap manufactured sponges into chunky cylinders that
work quite well. I soaked mine in vinegar between times and never had
problems in a couple decades' worth of use. They lasted considerably
longer than the sea sponges, and no one saw the garish colors they came

#124 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:50 AM:

Unfortunately not. There has to be a groove beside the hand
wheel (which usually has a rounded edge) for the belt to nestle in, and
the machine head has to be cast with channels for the belt. Adding an
exposed belt with enough tension to cup around the exterior of the hand
wheel would be dangerous, even if you religiously wore a cap or hair

I was thinking along the lines of replacing that wheel entirely with
one that had spokes (for a more chain-like belt) or the appropriate
groove. It'd be a pain, but once done it might work.

#125 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 11:09 AM:

A related question (I am full of them today): what *is* proper
distance for a bike? I see them all the time, but all I know is that
they're very skinny cars, and it makes me so nervous passing them
because it's rude somehow.

Proper passing distance is "do not squash the biker" or 3 feet. Some
localities have a law for the 3 feet. I find it very unnerving when
it's safe for a driver to pass me and they don't. If it's not safe to
pass me, and I think that cars ought to, I'll pull over. I've got a
right to use the road, not a right to *block* the road.

Proper biking distance is "one that means *you* do not collapse in a
heap at the end of the day". For some people, this is 1 mile. For
randonneurs, it tends to be in the 200-400km range, but most
randonneurs will cheerfully tell you they're crazy (and if you let
them, will then tell you *all* about the last bike part they broke,
their favorite toys, their favorite food, and the best way to make your
bike do silly distances). I am pretty ordinary, with my daily bike
trips being 2 miles or less. Running a loop route usually means I go
6-8 miles.

Yes, as you say, I've been told You Can Do It If You Just Try Harder.

No. You can do it if you are in an appropriate enviroment, know what
tools are needed, and have good support. I *can* get around by bike in
Central PA... and I'm not willing to indulge in the level of try harder
required to be without a car there. No sidewalks, which means if a hill
is too steep for me to manage I can't bail and walk safely. Often,
major bridges are motor vehicle only. Limited route selection. Very few
roads have a shoulder. Lanes are narrow. And the road layout is
challenging - very fun for low traffic and unholy hell given the normal
traffic levels. Bike shops mostly think that bikes are for racing, not
for getting groceries.

Instead, I live in Madison where things are far more manageable.
There are sidewalks, and the roads are mostly wide enough that a car
can pass me safely even if there's not a bike lane. I can *walk* to a
bike shop if I have a problem I don't know how to fix or if I need a
doohickey Right Now. And there will be a bike shop within walking
distance of any place I go normally.

I tend to class the Just Try Harder group as misogynistic clowns and
ignore them (and IME, if you present as female, there *will* be much
rougher treatment than if you present as male). Their contact with
reality tends to be tenuous. If you must deal with one, I find a strong
dose of reality tends to make them be quiet.

#126 ::: John Hawkes-Reed ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 11:36 AM:

Emily @ 125: Yikes. No wonder US bikers think us Euros have it easy.

Here (the UK) drivers are supposed to give a cyclist as much room as a small car.

Personally, I tend to ride about a third of the way out into the
carriageway. Then the driver has to make a positive decision to avoid
me when overtaking. If you ride tucked into the side of the road, yon
car-driver won't get over and you'll feel a wing-mirror brushing your

Long hair, riding w/o a helmet and throwing in the odd wobble will also make the average car-pilot carefully avoid you.

I'm aware that such (Highway Code mandated) behaviour will get me killed in short order in the US.

#127 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 11:58 AM:

I'm so glad it's getting warm enough that I can ride my bike again
(as soon as I have the back wheel looked at); I lost a good two months
of biking weather last fall to an unfortunate encounter with a woman
who either didn't see me, thought I had a Stop sign too, or assumed I
had to yield to her because I was on a bike. I sprained my back, which
pretty much put an end to biking for four months or so, and then it was
winter--and having given myself bronchitis biking when it was too cold
once, I'm not anxious to repeat the experience.

Pittsburgh is not a very bike-friendly city*, what with the hills
and the narrow windy streets and the bad weather in winter; I can get
to work and back because it's one of the few long stretches of
relatively flat in the city, but I don't blame anyone who doesn't want
to try it, even if they're reasonably able-bodied.

I've got a right to use the road, not a right to *block* the road.

One of the few times I've been yelled at was when a driver refused
to pass me despite my doing everything possible to safely allow him to;
the guy behind him, who had perforce been traveling at bike pace,
called me something that our respective vectors thankfully rendered

* This problem is not made better by the many bikers who seem to
assume they are fast-moving pedestrians: going up on the sidewalk when
it's convenient (or riding on the sidewalk most of the time), ignoring
traffic lights, failing to signal turns, etc etc. If they don't want to
wear helmets, that is not my problem; their skulls, their skills, their
issue. But it'd be nice if they didn't make it so that drivers assume a
person on a bike is a dangerous loose cannon.

#128 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 12:32 PM:

#120--Most of the large pen manufacturers have lines that they
usually refer to as student or school pens. Pelikan has the Pelikano
and Future, Lamy the Safari, Waterman the Reflex and Phileas, Caran
d'Ache the Primo, Parker the Vector, Frontier, and 45, Cross the ATX
and Century. There are others as well--Rotring's great strength and
fame is pens for drafting work, but they make good writing pens as
well, and if you're willing to go from the under-$30 range to the
under-$60 range there's an even wider number of good basic pens.

I haven't tried all of these, but I have tried several of them, and
they seem to be good, functional pens that don't leak* easily. It's
possible to use many of them with cartridges, or with the appropriate
(for that model) refilling mechanisms (I happen to be allergic to the
bladder type--we just can't seem to get along--but the piston styles
seem to be pretty good). it's also possible to refill the (supposedly)
disposable cartridges, but you need something like an eyedropper or a
syringe to so it, and I'd advise working over the sink.

My favorite place to shop is Montgomery Pens, the online arm of the Montgomery Stationery Store of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Other good places are Colorado Pen Direct, Fountain Pen Hospital, Pendemonium, and Swisher Pens.

Student pens tend to be fairly durable, since their expected
environments include places like book bags and backpacks. They just
aren't made with the exotic materials and fanciful details you see in
the high-end models. My own philosphy is that company that can't make a
good basic pen probably can't make a good one, period.

*Cheap Shaeffer cartridge pens, I'm looking at you. If these people can do it, what's stopping you?

#129 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 12:34 PM:

OK, Colorado Pen Direct. Sorry about that.

#130 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:08 PM:

Rather than fountain pens, I ended up using drafting pens, until I stopped being able to write for more than a minute-or-so.

#131 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:08 PM:

neotoma @79: Try finding resole-able shoes. They aren't common at all anymore, especially for women.

Yes and no-- if small local shoe-repair shops can be found, they can
attempt to resole anything you bring them, although they may not always
be successful and the new sole may have a very different texture than
the old one... my one attempt in that direction was disappointing (they
replaced a worn-out rubberized moccasin-style sole with a slippery
rigid leather one), but I mention it anyway out of
support-small-local-businesses principle.

IME true resoleability is mostly brand-dependent, wrt whether the
shoe manufacturer has made some of their own original parts available.
I've had excellent results from mailing various Clarks and Rockports to
this place, both my husband's and my own; the one exception has been a pair of cork-based Clark's sandals.

For the truly intrepid, there's the possibility of learning to make
one's own shoes. There are various books and websites on the subject;
many of the latter are SCA-based, but I mostly figure that shoes is
shoes. An astonishing array of leather scraps can be found on eBay,
such as the square yard or so of waterproof Timberland which (to my
shame) has been languishing in my closet for the past few years since I
bought it. At the least, however, such references also contain info
which could be adapted for DIY shoe repair ("Barge Cement" at your
local hardware store seems to be the glue of choice).

Diatryma @90: Oh, fountain pens. I had one from about freshman
year of high school to senior year of college-- the cap fragmented, and
I don't know if it's the kind of thing that can be replaced

Contact the manufacturer and ask if you can buy a new one from them;
even if it's not a model in current production, they may still have
spare parts in stock. If you're not sure what the model is, you may
have to mail the pen to them for identification, but the worst that can
happen is that you'll have spent the postage. (Or, I suppose, your
mathom drawer will have divested an unused/unusable pen.)

Speaking of, anyone like Noodler's Nightshade? Too red for me. I wanted *purple*.

Haven't tried it, but based on the samples here, it doesn't look particularly purple to me either-- which is the new "purple" you've just ordered?

Private Reserve's "Tanzanite" is rather nice, imho-- it's been a
while since I've refilled a fresh pen with it, but iitc it's slightly
redder than the sample shown here. This multibrand chart may also be of interest.

#132 ::: Madison Guy ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:29 PM:

I’m still using the same fountain pen I bought in 1992. The guy
sitting next to me isn’t even using the same ballpoint he had in

Me too, exactly -- a next-to-the-top-of-the-line Pelikan bought at
Pearl Paint in New York in 1992, when the brand still offered good
lifetime value at fair prices. Now they're out and out luxury products.
I hate disposables. To get me to switch, you'd have to pry my beloved
Pelikan from my cold, dead hand.

Also dislike disposable computers, which is what these necessary evils all are these days. My handheld Psion Series 5
and I have been inseparable for more than 10 years. (The screen cable
-- hard to fix -- went bad on the first one after three years, and I
bought a replacement Psion on eBay. Since then I've opened and closed
it very gently, and no problem.)

I take it everywhere, it has a cramped but real and very usable
keyboard, it's instant-on because all the software is in ROM,
rechargeable AA batteries last far longer than any laptop. Has a full
MS Office-compatible software suite, but I no longer have a Windows 98
machine to sync to for the conversion. These days I just use it to
capture keystrokes when I don't want to lug a laptop around. Upload as
text files via a card reader to my Mac. Simply one of the most elegant
computers ever made.

#133 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:35 PM:

Caroline, #114: I had one friend, well-intentioned, comment that
maybe real commitment to environmentalism meant taking the bus even if
it was inconvenient.

First off, as you point out, "inconvenient" is one thing, while "dangerous" is quite another.

Secondly, my response to that comment would have been that a real commitment to environmentalism involves working to make greener behavior easy enough that it doesn't have
to be inconvenient, because as long as it's inconvenient the only
people who will do it are the ones you don't need to convince... and
how many letters have you* written to the City Council about the need for viable bus service in the last year?

* That is, the person who made the original statement.

Carrie, #117: If the Change hits, knowing what time it is will become a lot less important. ;-)

James, #118: What we're probably looking at here, in the long run,
might be called the Anti-Industrial Revolution. Whether that's the most
accurate description or not, it's fairly clear that there is
going to be some significant economic disruption, no matter whether
it's the result of people moving back toward longer-usage items or of
people simply no longer being able to afford the throwaway consumerist
culture and not buying things at all. Eventually things will shake out
-- but the shape of the culture we end up with will probably be as
different from what we're used to today as the shape of Western
European culture in 1850 differed from that of 1750.

#134 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:37 PM:

I haven't finished reading, but to drop in a thought before it gets any further from the source...

#30, C Wingate -

I'm currently saving to pay for a timing belt replacement on my
current Toyota (a 1996 model). I've participated in the changing of the
timing chain on a 76 Toyota, and done a lot of wrenching myself on that
same car. Heck, I replaced the rear brakes on the current car the last
time it needed doing. But an engine task that starts with removing the
passenger side wheel and proceeds to removing an engine mount, with
potentially catastrophic consequences if you get it wrong?* I'm paying

We did buy a 1976 Celica, the car both drove while we were dating in
the 90s** to rebuild. If we can make it reliable enough, there's a good
chance it will become my daily driver.

*My memory says that getting a timing chain right is easier than
getting the belt right sounds. I could be misremembering, though.

**He had a 75 Celica when I met him, and I ended up buying a 76 in
exactly the same color. It was disgustingly cute, though it was a
practical choice as much as anything.

#135 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:41 PM:

General announcement: I am not planning to get rid of my serger
anytime soon. Thanks to everyone who's emailed to ask for it, but
"candidate for disposal" does not imply "this week" or even "this
month" or any other very-near-future timeframe.

Even after yesterday's discussion here I managed to forget to take
my recyclable bag to the grocery store to shop. I feel like such an
idiot about this.

#136 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:47 PM:

Regarding bicycling -

I'm currently a bit frustrated by it because I live five miles from
my work. Only five miles! In metro Atlanta! I could bicycle. But the
first half-mile is a winding road full of blind curves, with no
shoulder much of the time, much less a sidewalk, and I'm just plain too
chicken to ride in the road.

This isn't helped by the fact that there is a large segment of
pro-bicycle bloggers who seem to think that this is a good argument to
convince people to bicycle in the roadways*:

Bicycles are vehicular traffic and have a right to be on the
roadway. In point of fact, they should be on the roadway, not on the
sidwalks. Sidewalks are for pedestrians.
(I buy that.)

Auto drivers don't know how to drive safely around bicyclists in most of the U.S. (I agree.)

Therefore, more bicyclists should ride on the roadway to educate drivers on how to not kill bicyclists.

I just can't see how that doesn't amount to a segment of bicyclists martyring themselves for the cause. So I drive.

*"This" is my made up summary of the arguments as I see them, not a direct quote of anyone, heaven forbid.

#137 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 01:50 PM:

John Chu@111: We, as a society, haven't made maintainability a must have feature in our electronics.

I'm not sure that's a decision we could have made. The way I
understood it was that Moore's Law itself pretty much requires planned
obsolescence to operate - if a fair number of us don't replace all our
shiny at regular intervals there just won't be the money to keep the
whole thing moving forward.

#138 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 02:03 PM:

Susan #135: Even after yesterday's discussion here I managed to
forget to take my recyclable bag to the grocery store to shop. I feel
like such an idiot about this.

You and me both.

#139 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 02:13 PM:

Jen B 120: best method I've found for emptying/replacing the Diva in
a public restroom: dampen a paper towel before entering the stall and
bring it in with you.

Of course, if you're in one of those restrooms with only hot air
dryers, best method is to hope you haven't reached capacity yet. Even
on my heaviest days I can go 8 hours before having to worry about
overflow, but I'm aware that there are people for whom this won't work.

#140 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 02:16 PM:

Jen B. at 120: Many of my friends swear by the Waterman Phileas as a
good starter fountain pen. Do you like heavy pens, or light ones? If
heavy, I would recommend a Sheaffer Prelude or Javelin; for lighter
ones... hmmm. I migh suggest a vintage Esterbrook. They're light,
durable, and have interchangeable nibs.

Abi: I've still got the second Pelikan M200 that I bought in 1993,
but the oldest pen in my collection is close to sixty years old. It's
had its sac replaced once, and its nib customized for me, but other
than that, it's the same pen it was when Virginia Siegler bought it
(that's the name engraved on it). I suspect my niece will inherit it,
and it will still be in working order.

#141 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 02:22 PM:

This is something that we've been discussing at my house recently.
We moved from Portland, where public transit is easy, grocery stores
were within walking distance, and it was possible to eat a diet that
was fresh and (fairly) local. Now we live in Central Illinois, where
public transit is non-existant, the nearest grocery store is 10 miles
away, and if we want fresh local food, we best start a garden
(broccoli, tomato and pepper seeds already started, actually). In
addition, we're starting a family, and getting to hear "You'll be
amazed how much stuff you'll need for a baby!" Well, we NEED a car
seat, some way to carry the baby, clothes and diapers. Everything else
just makes life easier (and more expensive and more crowded). We're
currently in the middle of clearing out my dad's house, as mentioned
previously, so I'm not really interested in bringing more stuff into
the house. Moreover, I'm tired of feeling pressured to buy more
disposable stuff all the time.

I quit my previous job in retail because I was tired of selling people
useless gadgets. You know the sort of thing that makes people go "Ooh,
that's handy!" and then never take it out of the drawer once they get
it home? I wanted to be doing something that was actually worthwhile,
or better yet, actually creating something that people could use. So
I'm trying to learn to sew, I'm starting my first ever vegetable
garden, and I'm debating whether I'm willing to invest the time
necessary to have chickens. I don't know that I want to move off the
grid entirely, but I would like to stop being driven to consume endless
quantities of lackluster goods.

Oh, and tankless water heaters won't work if you have a lot of natural
gas in your well water. I pushed for one, but apparently, being able to
light your tap water on fire makes it incompatible with the high
pressure heating? Who knew?

#142 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 02:36 PM:

While I am 100% on board with the idea of buying durable goods that
are actually, you know, *durable,* as someone professionally involved
in the renewable energy sector, I would argue for the fact that
electricity use in and of itself is not unsustainable. If an electrical
appliance can be designed to be as durable as a manually operated
version of the same thing without an undue load associated with it, I'm
generally onboard. At the same time, though, when a design tweak can
offer better results than the application of electricity- passive
solar, skylighting, etc- then obviously I'd take that tack first.

#143 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 02:45 PM:

Graydon: I might be among the first approximation, but I'm strange.
I have seed corn, animals (horses, dogs and chickens), some access to
acreage; know where there's permanent water and a place to hie me to
until things settle down.

I have firearms, so meat is findable while food grows.

And I have a whole lot of those skills someone upthread (ethan?) was
amazed everyone doesn't. My thought when watching "Castaway" was, "he
didn't read the right books as a kid."

If we move back to SLO, no problem. We have farmer friends (and old
farmers too, Webb is in his early seventies; he knows how to make do
without the most modern of trappings.

Since I don't think the machine culture will just end, but break
down in bits and pieces, I figure those of us who have skills/knowledge
can trade them in for food.

I can tinker, do some smithing, reap corn, preserve foods, refine
salt, cure meats, tan hides, work wood, maintain weapons, sharpen
tools, plan sanitation, milk cows, grow crops, build walls, and I don't
know what all else.

So, barring a Lucifer's Hammer sort of end to civilization, I think
I'll come through it all right. Add the skills my extended
family/friends have, and it might even be a reasonably comfortable one.

Now I have to catch up with all the posts I know have been made
since I wrote this last night (our net was down, so I have been unable
to post it).

#144 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 02:46 PM:

Slowly making my way through the comments...

#91, Daniel Klein -

Oh, I had an old model "selfwinding" watch that I loved until it
died. It was a Timex, so it wasn't repairable. I'm terrible about
getting a battery replaced when it goes dead in a watch - I much prefer
something that is self-sustaining or at least stemwound. I am
definitely tempted by the new quartz watches that apparently charge a
capacitor based on your movement, but the manufacturers seem to be
aware that this is possibly the last watch you'll buy, and price them
accordingly. I haven't convinced myself that I need a watch badly
enough for the initial outlay of a long-term investment.

A related pet-peeve is the apparent fascination with
battery-operated clocks that have (battery-driven) pendulums. I went
into a clock/watch shop (one of those annoying ones at the mall) and
while I waited for the battery in my watch to be changed, I noticed
that all of the pendulum clocks on the wall were silent. As I paid my
bill, I asked, "Why don't the clocks tick?"

The look I got suggested I'd asked why they didn't sing and dance. "Tick?"

"Yes, tick. Why don't the clocks tick?"

"They're quartz," came the answer, as if I were a bit slow.

I was so flabbergasted all I could say was, "Oh, okay."

#116, Diatryma -

"I bought a printer six years ago. I have not gotten a hundred
dollars out of the printer. The printer has turned into a doorstop.
There is nothing I can do that can make it less useful. Let's see if I
can turn a doorstop into a printer."

Brilliant. And a train of thought I should try more often myself.

#145 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:01 PM:

#122, Carol Kimball -

I don't quite understand what you're saying about the belts in
regard to converting an electric machine to treadle. I wouldn't bother
with the conversion with many of the new machines, and the older ones
that are worth converting often are belt-driven, with an external motor
and exposed belt. I'd expect converting them would be a matter of
setting it into a treadle table and finding the right belt. Am I not
thinking of it correctly?

You're definitely right about belts being a hazard to hair, though
it was my fingers that were most in danger around the belt-driven
industrial sewing machines* I used. If you cupped your hand too far
around the wheel, it was possible to get between the belt and the
wheel. I managed to only give myself a good scare a few times before I
learned how to do it right, but it's a risk.

*Speaking only of durability, these are the best candidates for
conversion, though I don't know how hard they are to drive - a treadle
might not be enough power to make one run even through light material.

#146 ::: R. Emrys ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:17 PM:

Paul Lalonde @ 94: We've been considering getting a real shoemaker
for a while. Do you have any advice about how to find/identify a good

Lee @ 104: My parents are late adopters; I typed papers on a
typewriter for most of my childhood, and finally an electric typewriter
for the latter half of high school. I have not a shred of nostalgia for
either of these devices.

Another good source of deep value items is Amish furniture stores.
We discovered these when we went bed shopping last year. Our new
four-poster is made of solid oak, and we know the name of the guy who
built it. If our hypothetical grandkids snap one of the posts in 40
years, someone will come to our house and fix it for free. The only way
we'll ever need to replace it (for certain definitions of need) is if
we actually save up the money for the canopy bed from the same store
with secret compartments in the footboard. Apparently the Amish are
very fond of secret compartments; who knew? Not that I blame them. If I
can't have a bookcase that swings out to reveal a hidden layer, secret
compartments in the bed are the next best thing.

#147 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:33 PM:

#124 ::: Carrie S.

I was thinking along the lines of replacing that wheel entirely
with one that had spokes (for a more chain-like belt) or the
appropriate groove. It'd be a pain, but once done it might work.

If you're getting into machining, it'd be better to use a rat-tail
file and make a groove for the belt on the left side (inside) of the
hand wheel, and open up the head casing where the belt needs to pass.
That runs the belt in the channel that was meant for it, directly
around the flywheel for the treadle.

Far less tricky work, and most of the path of the belt is out of
harm's way. Even with the 7-8" of "standard" exposed belt at the front
right of the machine, any bit of thread, fabric, hair (!) that wafts
over that way will get grabbed by the belt.

#148 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:38 PM:

Adrian Smith@137:The way I understood it was that Moore's Law itself pretty much requires planned obsolescence to operate

Moore's Law says that transistor density doubles approximately every
two years, period. (It's really Moore's Rule of Thumb.) It says nothing
about how we should use those extra transistors per unit area. It
doesn't even say that we should make use of those extra transistors per
unit area.

Planned obsolescence is one way of getting people to replace what
they already have. Coming up with something irresistably shiny is
another way. Those are hardly the only two ways.

There's nothing about Moore's Law that prevents companies from
making user serviceable products. e.g., give a useful user serviceable
product, a company might make money selling upgrades.

However, if we, as a society, choose tightly integrated, sealed up
packages over bulkier, more user accessible packages, then the products
that sell will be ones that are harder to service.

#149 ::: harthad ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:48 PM:

Incidentally, the project for African schoolgirls that Jen. B refers to in #120 is

They offer a variety of links to make-it-yourself reusable menstrual pad instructions (under "Patterns").

#150 ::: Jen B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:48 PM:

Rikibeth: It is more a problem of, um, re-insertion. There just
isn’t enough room in the stalls where I work to be doing anything other
than sitting or standing. And once you’ve dropped one in the toilet
once or twice… I suppose the only answer is, “practice”.

Velma: I always use Pilot pens, so I suppose I would write with
something light. I think what has kept me from fountain pens up until
now has been the great variety: weight, materials, nibs, etc. I’ve just
never known where to start. Of course, there is also the fear that I
will break nibs left and right.

All the talk about the trend towards products which customers cannot fix themselves has put The Magnetic Fields’ Epitaph For My Heart in my head.

#151 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 03:58 PM:

#145 ::: R. M. Koske

I don't quite understand what you're saying about the belts in
regard to converting an electric machine to treadle. I wouldn't bother
with the conversion with many of the new machines, and the older ones
that are worth converting often are belt-driven, with an external motor
and exposed belt. I'd expect converting them would be a matter of
setting it into a treadle table and finding the right belt.

I messed around trying to do a conversion for some time before
finding the proper head, hence all the minutiae. The problem is that
when a head is cast to accommodate an electrical motor (we're in the
home versions here), things don't line up properly to run a belt down
to the flywheel.

The old Singers I have that were made for either treadle or
electricity are model 411G. The 401 (+) gear-drive series was an
attempt to make an industrial machine that would appeal to the home
market, and almost every home ec teacher in the country bought one. I
can set the timing in about twenty minutes as perfectly as when it came
from the factory.

An industrial is far more finely machined, has a more powerful motor
set apart from the sewing business for greater torque, and is noisy and
(to a dainty 50's housewife) ugly.

The 401s were almost as finely machined, but limited to the size of
motor that could be put into the right side of the conventionally
home-pretty case.

One of the advantages of using the treadle is that I no longer have
thunder thighs. Though only about 110#, I can generate plenty of power
with my quads, so I'd guess an industrial conversion would be fine.

Both my machines were electric set in a convertible head. The first
arrived without those guts, so I immediately ordered and installed a
wiring harness to get the light working again. In a power outage of
several hours, I propped a mirror up and worked by ample reflected

#152 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 04:07 PM:

On fountain pens: I have a Waterman Phileas and the first time I
used it... oh, yeah, not buying anything else. My handwriting has
adapted to fountain pens; I am even less legible in ballpoint, and I
once described a particularly bothersome professor as 'worse than

Your handwriting may change as you get better at it; there are little
weirdnesses to fountain pens. My mother can't write with one at all.

The Noodler's Violet Vote ink, formerly Iraqi Indigo, is an appropriate
shade of purple, not as dark as I'd like (I'm waiting for the color
that came out of purple Pilot Varsity disposables), and the pen feels
flimsly after my darling Phileas, but it's good to have options. It's
not perfect, but it's better than I was prepared for.

RM Koske, stupid brain tricks make me happy. Like I said, most of
the problems I have with lifestyle changes are in my own brain. And I
did manage to turn a doorstop into a printer! It works so well now, and
every time I use it, I am happy because I fixed it. Yay go me!

I do have a thing with kitchen gadgets. Not a very big thing, but a
thing. I bought a microplane zester to make Teresa's limeade (zester
worked, alcohol didn't) and a food chopper to make heroin truffles (I
am not hand-grinding an entire package of Oreos, no I am not). What
I've learned from that is not to buy the cheapest appliance available.
The five-dollar difference between the cheapest hand mixer and the
second-cheapest is wide enough to burn out a motor on truffle filling.

I second the suggestion of fleecie blankets. My bed has flannel
sheets, a cheap comforter, an afghan, and three layers of fleecies. Two
and a half yards covers a double bed adequately.

#153 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 04:14 PM:

Diatryma @152:

What I've learned from that is not to buy the cheapest appliance
available. The five-dollar difference between the cheapest hand mixer
and the second-cheapest is wide enough to burn out a motor on truffle

My mother, in her aspect as a car mechanic, taught me to always buy the best tool that you can afford.

I haven't always followed her advice, and I haven't always regretted not following it, but I've never regretted following it, if you see what I mean.

#154 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 04:34 PM:

#151 - Carol Kimball -

Ah, yes, I understand now. Thank you.

*goes to look up Singer 401+. Drools a bit.* Wow, those are really
affordable on ebay! Wouldn't I love something like that! My current
machine is one I picked up from the dumpster at my apartment complex.
It has all-metal parts inside and oiling points that look a great deal
like the industrial machines did. It's a brand that didn't survive
("Good Housekeeper") but it looks to be incredibly durable and I'll be
using it for a long time, I hope.

Your talk of setting the timing yourself makes me wonder about the
cost of a sewing machine repair class. (Speaking of skills with deep

#155 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 05:04 PM:

#154 ::: R. M. Koske

*goes to look up Singer 401+. Drools a bit.* Wow, those are really affordable on ebay!

Over the years, I've owned maybe six or seven* of the 401 series and
checked over a dozen or so, and never found one that didn't justify
paying $200-250, and I see the current crop is substantially less than
that. None of these appear to be convertible to treadle, no surprise -
what to look for is the bobbin winder on top of the machine, and a
rectangular hole (or maybe just knock out) at the base of the motor

* I currently own one 401A electric and two 411G treadles. The prices on ebay make me want to buy ALL OF THEM (calms down a little)
for the next crop of begging students/interns/clients. Okay, I can send
them there. The heirs of those Home Ec teachers of yesteryear don't
know what they've got.

Your talk of setting the timing yourself makes me wonder about
the cost of a sewing machine repair class. (Speaking of skills with
deep value.)

In a heartbeat! The old Singers have built-in guides that make
setting the hook quick and easy. I took classes for timing both sewing
machines and sergers a decade or so ago and have never regretted it,
though I'll pay someone to do the serger. Other sewing machines are a
little more fiddly to set, but still, no big deal.

#156 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 05:43 PM:

I'm just plain too chicken to ride in the road.

Sensible given what you describe. If the roads are laid out so that
it's safe to walk and you've demonstrated to yourself by *doing* it...
then you can probably ride a bike on them. With practice. I use
pedestrians as a rough guideline: if a road isn't safe for pedestrians,
it's not safe on a bike either.

I say probably because a clever department of transportation can
manage to munge things up so that a sidewalk isn't bad, but the roads
are downright terrifying still. Large chunks of Los Angeles are like
that. I was quite happy to walk everywhere there, but I don't think
there's enough money in the world to get me to ride a bike on a typical
LA street. (and I'm scared witless of riding on a sidewalk... I wasn't
allowed to do it as a child, and LA sidewalks can be extra specially
exciting even as a pedestrian)

There are League of American Bicyclist classes in riding bikes on
the road. I was taught by my parents, and the material they taught
matches the PA Bike Driver's Manual (which didn't exist when they
started teaching me, but is related to the LAB course material). This
means I'm not very motivated to check out the classes, as PA law
matches CA and WI law (for once)... but I know people who have taken
them, and they seem to find them helpful. There's a substantial
practical component of riding your bike on the road, and that seems to
be what makes the classes work. The supervised practice can't hurt, and
it might cut down on what road conditions you find terrifying.

And yes, I find the activist types annoying too. IME people who do
not ride their bikes have sound reasons for their choice. Maybe they're
more disabled than I am. Maybe they weren't taught. Maybe they have
kids and don't want to turn their kids' lives upside down. Some of
those reasons are fixable, others aren't. But if I'm not willing to
help with the fixable ones and be kind about the permanent ones, I'm a
pretty poor excuse for a human being.

#157 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 06:08 PM:

Treadle-convertible Singer

It would need to have a groove machined in the hand wheel. You'd do
this by taking the top section off, before disconnecting and pulling
the motor.

Note the transverse fin across the top of the machine. This is to
create turbulence, so that when you're stitching at great speed,
nothing catches fire.

#158 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 06:12 PM:

Oops, it's straight stitch only. Still a better deal for a treadle
conversion than trying to refurbish one of the "granny style" spindly
black ones of days of yore.

All the parts for this one are still available, and not expensive.

No, I have no connection with the seller.

#159 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 06:15 PM:

Carol Kimball @ 155... The old Singers have built-in guides

"And over here, on the right, is Mark Singer, start of Beastmaster..."

#160 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 06:19 PM:

#156, Emily -

Truthfully, it probably is perfectly possible to ride on the road that
frightens me. I see cyclists doing it all the time. But they're sport
cyclists, not commuters, so they do it early on Sunday morning most of
the time, in a pack. Occasionally there'll be someone alone on a
weekday afternoon. Even so, I wouldn't walk that street.

I'll have to see if there are any LAB classes in my area. A class
might help, because if I went the other way (the long way around,
really), I could be on the frightening road for the last, straight
stretch instead. The difficulty with that route is that it is a much,
much larger and more heavily trafficked road that I'd be turning on to.
That does scare me, but not as much, and a class might be enough to
make a difference there.

The activists...I'm probably exaggerating the situation. My most
recent spotting of the problem was on a comment thread
where someone pointed out that

(Sharing bike lanes with traffic depends on...)1. The ability of the bike rider to understand how to ride in traffic, and that means to not be afraid of these metal monsters.

2. The understanding by the drivers of these cars that bikes belong on the road too.

The problem is that 2 can only happen when there are enough 1s, but most 1s want to wait until there are enough 2s. Catch-22.

My fear and guilt makes that read as an accusation that it probably isn't.

#161 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 06:35 PM:

Things I love, which persist in usefulness.

Cast iron (hard to kill, easy to clean; purported to add iron to the diet).

Manual utenstils (mortar and pestle, madeline, pasta machine, planes, chisels).

Old machinery (the south bend lathe, drill press, etc. In a pinch we
could convert them to lots of batteries fed from the solar panels).
It's fixable. With the lathes, we can make every other tool we need.
The shaper makes it easier (because that will make gears a lot more
easily than hand filing them from turned wheels)

Heck, with some work, we could use the horses to drive things. Not the best, but a generator isn't that hard to build.

re helmets: I grew up without them. I can't really concieve of not
wearing them now. I feel naked without one (be it horse, bike, or
motorcycle; though those have always been a helmet item). Sort of like
seat belt. I am not comfortable in a car without one.

Then again, I've probably spent more time in a helmet than most people.

re pizza (having worked in a pizzeria). Reheat them with a hot oven.
(450-475). Arrange for some airspace below the crust (crumpling tinfoil
will do it), this keeps the crust from getting soggy. That's also a
good trick for baking them at home (though somethig like my baking
stone will also work). Places like Domino's have a woven screen they
use; even in the industrial ovens (small airspace, high head) they use.

re watches: I dislike things around my wrist (this may be a result
of my having small wrists, tight enough to stay on = binding). So I use
a pocket watch, except that my windup ones are all in need of new
mainsprings (and the one I like best needs to have a competent
watchsmith to repair the catch; the previous owner had the habit of
pressing it shut). The electric one I bought when I shipped to Iraq
works fine, but I forget to go and replace the battery.

So right now it's sitting on my dresser, useless.

Carrie s. I recall taking a class on the history of England. We got
to changes in spinning, and I took a drop spindle and some wool with
me. I think I'd spun about ten feet before the instructor noticed and
then made me do a demo.

John Hawkes-Reed: I recall, when I was riding everywhere, the number
of drivers who enjoyed being rude to cyclists (the honking, the
swerving, the yelling out the window). Then the people who don't look
when the open doors, or make turns without noticing, etc.

That I did this all without a helmet is why I ended up with a couple
of concussions (the kid who shot out of the alley at 25 miles an
hour... I am so glad I looked to my right, because I was started
hauling as much ass as I could crank. Had I been a trifle slower it
wouldn't have been my rear wheel he hit, it would have been my leg).

Then there was the time the guy just swung into the parking lot in
front of me. Couldn't turn tight enough; wasn't able to lay it down
before I hit the door. Trashed my front wheel, and left rubber marks on
the rear window.

Then again, bicycles (here in Calif.) can second class pedestrians;
they are allowed to use the sidewalks, so long as they yeild to foot
traffic and dismount at intersections.

This was done so that children didn't have to ride in lanes.

#162 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 06:42 PM:

Regarding bicycling -

I normally cycle if: it's under 5-6 miles and I'm not
carrying/expecting to carry anything very heavy (I carry 10 kg in my
backpack on a too-regular basis) or too large.

We still have a car; it doesn't get used very often (less than once
a week on average) but it's the convenience when it is needed, whether
to get two people, two cats and assorted luggage from London to
Manchester via the workplace, or to take a neighbour to Accident &

As a cyclist, I consider it important to be aware (including being
aware that bus and lorry drivers can't see you while you're alongside
them) and to obey the Highway Code (UK) - for example stopping at
traffic lights, including pedestrian lights. I just wish powered
vehicle drivers would be aware of that their airstream can make
cyclists wobble, cyclists want to go around, not through, that
pothole/large puddle ahead, and (for drivers of long vehicles in
particular), cyclists are not stationary, so cutting back in when the
back of your vehicle passes where the cyclist was when you started overtaking is a bad idea...

The canvas bags we've been using for shopping are still fine after
about five years, and we very rarely forget them. We're finally running
out of plastic supermarket bags to use as trash bags in the kitchen bin.

#163 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 06:53 PM:

Emily: The San Fernando Valley (which is in Los Angeles, for those
as don't know) is where I learned to use a bike for primary transport.

I think, actually, it made me a better driver. Looking out for
traffic patterns (lest I be smeared by a truck) made me aggressively

#164 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 07:12 PM:

I have what I will dub the "battleship" theory of mechanical
appliances and devices. This theory holds that all such tools pass
through a stage where they are built like a tank. For woodworking
tools, this is epitomized by the Stanley 9 1/2 block plane
(they don't make this particular model anymore, but the current model
12-920 is close). For sewing machines, it's the Singer 401.

#165 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 07:36 PM:

I think there's some misunderstanding about Moore's Law. Moore's Law
doesn't force any electronics company to do anything at all. Moore's
Law is like a natural law, like.. the law of gravity. And there are
plenty of ways to move around with gravity as a constraining factor.
But if you happen to be a rocket ship that's about 2000 feet above a
launch pad, you pretty much have to accelerate your ass off until you
hit orbital velocity, or you're dead meat.

What Moore's Law ends up doing is this: Any chip I build today will
have maybe four times the features as a chip I built maybe two years
ago, and today's chip with more features will cost less than the chip
from a couple years ago. That's because I can fit that many more
transistors in a fixed space, and can do it for less money.

The other thing is that the chip I build today will have a fabrication NRE that's way
more expensive than it was a couple years ago. This means I have to
design a chip to be much more generic, much more able to be used in
different systems. More flexible. And more generic at the same time.

Now, combine that with the most fickle human beings on the planet:
i.e. customers, and what you'll find is customers have this really,
seriously, annoying habit of choosing more features for less money when
comparing that against less features for more money, or even compared
to same features for less money.

We've lost big chunks of revenue because a competitor had a chip
that reduced the board to two layers. Our chip took four layers. The
savings per unit was a couple of dollars. The OEM decided to go with
the competitor. You can't stand still in this business.

If anyone is interested in game theory concepts, this is an "arms race" scenario.

Now, if Moore's Law ever hits its limit, some very interesting
things will happen. The biggest thing will be that those rocket ships
will hit a ceiling and have to park in orbit.

This same outcome has been produced by other means. When CD Burners
hit 52x, speeds, there really wasn't any more improvements you could do
to the design, as far as features go. Spin a Disc any faster, and it is
likely to go all 'splodey inside your drive. The only way to
distinguish yourself from the competitor was to have the same features
as everyone else, but at a lower price. When that happened, we got out
of the business of selling CD Burner chips.

Thing is, have you ever open a CD Burner drive? Not a lot of user servicable parts in there.

Which brings us to the third law of nature that affects electronics
economics: component failures. Think vacuum tube TV's. Not a lot of
"gates" on those designs. We had one when I was a kid. Thing had a
whole bunch of individual tubes. Each one had a mean time between
failure. Add those together, and you tube TV could easily crap out
quite soon after you bought it. A whole new TV was a lot of money. So,
it was cheaper to replace the tube that didn't work.

Nowadays, you've got most of all your logic on a single chip. Rather
than having high voltage circuits operating in a vacuum contained in a
rather fragile physical medium (glass), you've got relatively more
sturdy components made out of various metals and plastics. solid state
electronics is inherently more sturdy than vacuum state electronics.
Your transistor based television didn't have sockets for the
transistors because the mean time between failure for transistors was a
hella lot better than for tubes, which means your transistor TV is
likely to last a lot longer than your Vacuum TV before it fails. Which
means putting everything in sockets just adds more to the cost of the
TV without any benefit to most customers.

Nowadays, the overall mean time between failures for most
electronics is approximately equal to the mean time before obsolences
and voluntary user upgrade. At which point, if you make it easier to
repair by adding things that will raise the cost of the device, it is
wasting most consumer's money. And the time between upgrades is
partially an outcome of that harsh mistress called Moore's Law.

I bought one of the first 5MP digital cameras when digital cameras
were really catching on and 2MP was standard. I still have it. It still
works. But the wife hates it because it's the size of a box of frozen
peas, and has an LCD that's like only an inch diagonal. When it dies,
or when a thin, 5MP, digital camera is available with a 4 inch screen,
for cheap money, I'll be upgrading.

assuming they don't have 5MP cameras integrated into cell phones by
then. Everything is getting integrated into your cell phone, if
anyone's noticed. The cost of cell phone hardware can be subsidized by
a two-year contract of monthly fees, which means cell phone economics
are controlled by Moore's Law on steroids.

Computers are generally converting over to either fully integrated
laptops and/or component systems connected by USB and/or ethernet. No
one crack's open their PC case anymore. That last bit of "repair"
capability has been replaced with plug 'n play interoperability. If a
box dies, replace the box and just plug it into where the old one way.
USB will find it. and you're up and runnign again.

But when you combine the economic laws of Moore's Law, fickle
customers who will always choose more features for less money, and mean
time between failure versus mean time before upgrade, you get the
current state of consumer electronics that you see now.

Is it "good"? Is it "deep value"? I dunno. But I've been working in
consumer electronics, specifically in asic design, for the last decade
or so. And it's just the way the current market operates.

Can it be changed? I don't know that either. I've been a big fan of
Open Source for a few years now. I'm currently helping a group come up
with an Open Source license that would actually provide hardware design
with some Copyleft protection. (GNU-GPL, due to some quirks, provides
no copyleft protection to hardware.) And as big of a fan as I am of
open source and hardware design, I can't figure out a way to get out of
the gravity well that is moore's law. The big hit right now is that the
fabrication NRE for a chip can cost you a million dollars. Not
something some hackers and a few PC's can pull together. FPGA's will
allow some folks to play, but they will always be outpriced by someone
who can afford to pony up the money to convert it into an ASIC.

ah well.

#166 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 07:46 PM:

Re digital cameras --

I think that digital cameras, especially dslrs, are run a lot harder
than the snapshot cameras that they replaced due to the whole 'each
click is free' thing.

I'd be stunned if your entry level slr from 20 years ago would have
it's shutter die. It just didn't happen, even though the shutters were
only good for ~ 10k clicks.

I know someone who's worn out a Nikon D70. Killed the shutter from
over use. I've run my Original Digital Rebel to about 40k images, and
it's rated at 50k. That would be something like $15k worth of film, and
would just never happen.

And now, If I need to replace the body, I have three choices:
replacement in kind, original dollar value, or what I really want. Used
300Ds are ~$225, a new/refurb 30d is about $650 (same price as I paid,
but one level up and 2 generations newer), or the 40d is more like
$1200 (what I want).

It's somewhat freeing to know that even through this was originally expensive, its replacement cost is not that bad.

As for durability, the camera that the dslr replaced, a digital
elph, also $600 new, is now my preschoolers camera. It just went
through the washing machine in his pocket, and after drying, it still

#167 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 07:53 PM:

Greg's summary is right on the dot. Kudos for putting it so clearly.

#168 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 07:57 PM:

C@164: I have what I will dub the "battleship" theory of mechanical appliances and devices.

I have a vague (and totally would not bet so much as a dime that I'm
remembering any of this correctly) memory of reading about some general
during WW2 who was in charge of procurring a new artillery design. He
had some companies build prototypes, and then he had each prototype
thrown off a cliff. The one that fired the best after the cliff-drop
was the design he approved and ordered manufactured in quantity.

Now that is what I call deep value.


#169 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 08:20 PM:

Greg @168: That reminds me of a friend of mine who used to work in
the hard-drive industry, telling about a set of special
extra-shock-resistant drives they made for some particular application
that was willing to pay quite a lot for custom drives.

As he told the story, after the fellow running the tests on the
prototype finished with the basic "not a brick" tests, he hooked up
some long cables to it, set it on the edge of the lab bench, started up
a read/write test, and swatted it off onto the floor.

It may have missed a beat or two, but it corrected for that and kept going.

#170 ::: Distraxi ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 08:49 PM:

Matt @ 142: "electricity use in and of itself is not unsustainable".

Absolutely: muscle power's still energy which as to come from
somewhere, and in terms of minimising our use of resources I'd have
thought that generate electricity -> transmit electricity -> use
electricity was a more efficient cycle than grow food -> harvest and
transport -> cook -> eat & convert to muscle power.

Providing, of course, that the generate electricity bit doesn't
involve growing trees, compressing them for a few million years, and
burning the resulting goo.

#171 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 09:29 PM:

Distraxi at 170 wrote: [I]n terms of minimising our use of
resources I'd have thought that generate electricity -> transmit
electricity -> use electricity was a more efficient cycle than grow
food -> harvest and transport -> cook -> eat & convert to
muscle power.

It is more efficient if you a) have an application that absolutely
needs electricity to work (eg. computers), b) can only get your power
from something that won't cook your food or heat your house on its own
(eg. hydro), and c) don't have to transmit it over long distances. The
loss to the grid is something fierce.

The ground rule is not to change the form of any energy (chemical,
kinetic, electrical, heat) unless you absolutely have to, because
you'll always lose some down the thermodynamic cracks.

The second cycle you quote can be multipurpose too - growing food
helps condition your land for more food, and preserves a friendly local
ecosystem, while cooking also helps keep you warm. It's also far less
vulnerable to problems outside your control than the electricity one is.

#172 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:04 PM:

My Deep Value status:

Bicycling: Back when I lived in Cambridge (MA) and before that, I
was an avid cyclist. When I moved down to NYC, I found the roads simply
too threatening, and gave up on trying to bike them. Now that I've
moved down to Charlottesville, I got a new bike, but discovered a
couple or three problems:

(1) After 10 years in NYC, half of them sunk in depression, my leg
strength is shot. That's gonna take a while to recover, especially as
I'm 10 years older!

(2) There are quite a lot of bike-friendly roads around, but they don't include the roads I actually live
near! (Despite being a non-driver, I seem to have a karmic attraction
to big, dangerous, highways.) This leaves me in the peculiar position
of having to take my bike on the bus to get someplace where I can ride

(3) This place is a heckuvalot hillier than Cambridge ever was, and more spread out too.

On the other hand, there are some advantages:

(1) I actually can take my bike on the bus -- they all have racks on the front. There's a lot of public support for biking too.

(2) The weather is much more clement than either Cambridge or NYC.
In retrospect, I could have gotten a fair bit of riding in during the
winter, but I was still adjusting to everything.

(3) My new bike is much more flexible, and lighter, than the
Frankenstein Special (built from parts, thank you Broadway Bikes) I was
riding up in Cambridge.

Other stuff:

I'm still using the canvas bags I accumulated back in Cambridge;
they stuff nicely into my backpack, and one has handles long enough to
sling it over my shoulder. I also get some plastic grocery bags, but
those are good for litter-box maintenance.

I'm using a bunch of old cast-off computers, PCs ranging from 400 to
1200 MHz, running Linux and BSD. (The 400s are almost useless these
days, but I am using one for a BSD firewall). I've been maxing out the
memory on the faster machines, and generally upgrading peripherals and
components. (Already my systems are doing a lot better than they were a
year ago.) At this point I won't bother salvaging boxes under a
gigahertz or so (except to strip them.

My digital camera (An Olympus FE-170) takes AA batteries. It drains
them pretty quickly (2 at a time), but I got rechargeables first thing,
and keep a spare set handy. I also have a flashlight that charges with
a squeeze "trigger", but for some reason K-mart stopped stocking them
since I bought mine.

Most of my furniture is gifts or salvage, some of it quite old. My
bookshelves are steel-frame, I bought those back when a rabbit was
vandalizing all my stuff, and undermined my prior set to the point of
collapse. My book collection adds up as the most massive of all my
possessions, and a goodly amount of it comes from used-book stores or
sales. (The local library is doing their booksales this month, the SF
part starts next week. I need another bookshelf.... ;-) )

#173 ::: Paul Lalonde ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:06 PM:

R. Emrys @ 146 - I found my shoemaker by asking at upmarket shoe
stores. The recommendations all agreed, so I went to visit Gaudio who
turned out to be an elderly Italian man who has been operating in the
same location for over 40 years. Nowadays he does more repair than
fabrication, but he loves the new work when he can get it. His
collection of lasts is astounding.

Yes, I've made my share of medieval leather shoes. Modern shoes
don't look too much more difficult, but there are more fit and finish
issues to deal with if you want to wear the shoes to anything nearing

#174 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:14 PM:

Sam@171: The loss to the grid is something fierce

I'm a digital guy, and I only took one power distribution course in
college, most of which I can't remember other than vague-ities like
"current, bad. voltage, pretty." But according to wikipedia, the loss
on the grid for the US for 1995 was only about 7 percent.

The grid has a bunch of problems, mainly relating to the fact that
anyone with a pessimistic streak, or with some experience in fail-safe
design, would look at the grid and whimper uncontrollably.

But as far as efficiency goes, I think it's relatively decent.

#175 ::: SK-reader ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:20 PM:

Lee @ 104

You asked about energy usage of tankless water heaters.

From what I've read:

"For homes that use 41 gallons or less of hot water daily, demand water
heaters can be 24%–34% more energy efficient than conventional storage
tank water heaters. They can be 8%–14% more energy efficient for homes
that use a lot of hot water—around 86 gallons per day. You can achieve
even greater energy savings of 27%–50% if you install a demand water
heater at each hot water outlet."


I think they're popular here in Hong Kong because of the energy
savings and because most flats are very small and there's no room for a
"conventional" water tank hot water heater.

The electric ones are nice, because you don't have to worry about
ventilation issues. The problem is that you have to have robust wiring
in your house. So the gas ones (that run off of the big LPG cylinders)
are better for places that have weaker or intermittent electricity or
no electricity at all.

The retail prices for one of the big companies in HK is between
US$150 (for a single point, small heater) to ~ US$ 650 for a large
multi-point heater.

In our flat we have one water heater for each bathroom (2) and one
for the kitchen. That way if someone wants to take a shower while
another person is washing dishes, it's not a problem.

#176 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:23 PM:

abi @ 107

Not only did that sentiment make me huzzah in agreement, I also laugh really hard every time I get to the last sentence. :)

I've been unemployed since mid-Decmeber, when my non-profit job was
no longer able to fund my position. It was a bit of an extra sadness
when on Christmas Day one of my tires decided to die. I'd known I
needed new tires, but had been waiting till financial stability to get
new ones. Now I had no choice, but I am trying to avoid digging myself
into debt while looking for a job. So I've been going carless since

As I am yet another Madisonian (rather a lot of us on this thread,
aren't there) this has been both easy and difficult. I have asthma and
a hard time dealing with cold and won't bike if there is ice, so it
meant a lot a lot of long, slow trudges to the store or the bus stop
(often in snow). It was especially inconvenient that the buses only run
till around midnight (and sooner on weekends) and most of my friends
live across town from me.

Yet I realize that not having a car has really saved me money these
past few months. No money going into the gas tank and fewer impulse
buys. I need to plan what I am going to buy, when I am going to buy it,
and how I am going to get it home. This has helped me to get by in my
unemployment insurance.

It has also prompted me to start considering going carless once I
have a job again. I'd love to get by on foot, bike, and public transit.
Maybe make occasional use of Community Car.
But so much of that depends on where I find work and what I do. It
might be that a car remains essential. Madison has some areas that are
very bike and ped friendly and others that are sprawling and impossible
without a car.

(Of course the housing costs in the bike/ped friendly areas are
shockingly high and the areas of town with my affordable rents are the
ones that require a car. Six of one, half dozen of the other, I guess.)

#177 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:28 PM:

R. Emrys @ 146 There are also some folk on how custom make
shoes. I can't vouch for their work personally, since it is out of my
price range, but it all looks pretty good.

#178 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:41 PM:

I don't know if this qualifies as "deep" value, but I just received
an 8 gig USB 2.0 drive dongle that I bought for $35. you can get one here.

I finally replaced the stereo in my car (last one was stolen a
couple years ago, had a big gaping hole there for a long time). It is a
nice unit that plays MP3 CD's, has a USB port connector, an aux input
connector, and bluetooth for my cell phone. It was a clearance item
that I got for $40. The wire harness was $7 from walmart. The mounting
bracket I had to get from the toyota dealer cost $50 (fricken dealer

So, I got the USB drive today, and I'm dragging and dropping all my music so I can play it in my car, and damn but 8 gig is a lot of space.

#179 ::: Tangurena ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 10:46 PM:

What do you think is the cause of most electronic failure?

Due to EU and Calif regulations, lead in solder is being phased out.
Lead-free solders are far less reliable than 63-37 solders, and at a
first approximation, electronic reliability went backwards at least 2
decades (which means that it will take at least 2 more decades for
electronics to get to the reliability of those made in the early to mid
90s). As for fountain pens, I got a Namiki with a retractable tip for
writing Japanese (ok, so I fell for the advertising blurb at Levengers)
about 15 years ago and I'm still using it. It gets a lot of looks from
strangers, because it sits in my shirt pocket (gah! nerd alert!) and
people continually hold it wrong to play with it. I've noticed that a
lot of people try to hold a pen with attached pocket clip downwards
(opposite the gap between thumb and index finger), which for this pen
puts the writing nib upside down.

#180 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2008, 11:57 PM:

Cameras: I have different expectations of them. I know people who
wore out the shutters in Nikon FE2s (mostly because they didn't know
that the titanium shutters don't do well with motor drives.

I wore out the shutter on my entry level SLR (N2000). The shutter,
per se, didn't fail, but the stop on which it rested between uses
degraded and started to cause sticking. I'd put, oh, I don't know,
15,000 frames through it.

But I'm not the typical user. The shutter on the D2/3 cameras (and I
believe that's for the 200/300 as well) is the same as in F5/6, which
is, so far as one can tell, the best Nikon shutter since the F3 (for
which the record is, IIRC, something in in the insane 100s of
thousands, before it needed to be worked on).

My D2H has, though I am not more than approximate, I'll dig out the
actual numbers if anyone cares), about 100,000 frames in the past 2 1/2

#181 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 12:59 AM:

R.M. Koske, #160: Back in the late 60s and early 70s (for me, age
11-16), I rode all over my neighborhood -- including several busy main
arteries -- in the street. All the older kids did; it was sort of a
rite of passage to move from riding on the sidewalk to riding in the
street. And I didn't particularly worry about the cars, because I'd
seen how drivers responded to other bikes; there was a general
expectation that yes, there were going to be kids on bikes in the street, and you just dealt with it.

Where I live now, it's a very different story. Houston is overall a
fairly bike-friendly city, but there are a lot of streets that aren't
wide enough for a bike to share safely with traffic (the prevalence of
huge SUVs and monster pickups has a lot to do with this), and the
sidewalks (where there are sidewalks at all) tend to be... poorly
maintained, which makes them a challenge to ride. Even where the city
has added bike lanes to the streets, there often isn't room for a bike
if there's heavy traffic in both directions (see again, ultra-wide
vehicles) -- and frankly, I don't trust the drivers to give a shit.
This is doubtless unfair to a lot of them, but it doesn't take many bad
apples to spoil the whole barrel.

So yes, it's the catch-22 that you describe; however, I also feel
that there's been a general cultural shift in the attitudes of drivers
about bikes since I was a young teen. There was a high-profile case a
few years back where a popular "drive time" comedy team was making
JOKES about running down bike riders, and then some cretin actually did
hit a biker on purpose and said that the DJs had been his inspiration.
Of course there was a very large settlement, but IMO that doesn't make
up for the level of injuries suffered by the biker, and the DJs lost
their jobs at that station but probably just went to another city.
Let's face it, in an altercation between a car and a bike, the bike is
going to lose... badly. That's not a matter of opinion, and it's
definitely a factor to take into account.

#182 ::: Spacetime for Springers ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 01:03 AM:

Re shopping carts on wheels, I've just started using one that folds
up into a small "bag" when not in use, excellent for taking to work to
use for your shopping on the way home.

#183 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 01:17 AM:

Emily, #125, in Virginia, you do have the right to block the
road. Bikes have the same right to use the road that a car does, and if
a car can't pass safely, they're supposed to stay behind the bike. Of
course, the instant a biker crosses on a red because nobody's coming,
I'm going to feel more comfortable passing in a tight area.

fidelio, #128, I have the Pelikano Junior,
but I have an older one. Mine has the yellow barrel (with the port) but
a purple cap and the part right above the nib is purple. It has a flat
side on the cap and around the port so it won't roll down your desk. I
have really lousy handwriting, so I only use it for really important

Madison Guy, #132, I have a Kensington trackball
with ten programmable buttons that isn't made anymore and it's
particularly valuable to me because my hands shake (it can take a
minute to manage to double-click on a link with a mouse). I bought a
backup from eBay so when this one dies, I'll have one for a while. I'm
wondering if I should buy another backup.

Diatryma, #152, I have a down duvet and duvet cover on my bed
because they're very light and I have gout. I made a plastic pipe thing
to hold them up when even that's too much.

#184 ::: Distraxi ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 01:18 AM:

Sam Kelly @ 171:

"It is more efficient if you a) have an application that absolutely needs electricity to work".

If you absolutely need electricity, what's it more efficient than?

"b) can only get your power from something that won't cook your food or heat your house on its own"

Sorry, I fail to follow the logic here

"c) don't have to transmit it over long distances"

What Greg London said. Grid transmission is pretty efficient - thats
why they use stupendous voltages. Transporting food in trucks, on the
other hand, is not. Particularly when as in the real world it goes from
farm to storage to processor to warehouse to supermarket to your home.

"The ground rule is not to change the form of any energy "

Which is precisely my point - there's more mode changes in the food
chain than the electrical one, and while I'm not a biochemist I'd
hazard a guess that some of them are pretty inefficient.

"growing food helps condition your land for more food, and preserves a friendly local ecosystem"

Dubiously true for the high-intensity farming practiced in most of the developed world.

"while cooking also helps keep you warm"

And doing so is an additional energy wastage. Most cooking processes
have lousy efficiency and heat you whether you need it or not. The
waste heat from your stove is using exactly the same amount of energy
as if you turned the stove off and turned your electric heater on.
Probably more because your heater's not wasting half of it up a

"It's also far less vulnerable to problems outside your control than the electricity one is"

Now that one I'll buy.

#185 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 03:36 AM:


Probably more because your heater's not wasting half of it up a rangehood.

well, without a good rangehood, a hoodrange can't range good.

(sorry! it could not be resisted.)

#186 ::: Distraxi ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 05:37 AM:

miriam beetle,

How much good could a rangehood range if a rangehood could range good?

#187 ::: Christian Severin ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 05:52 AM:

Re: bicycles:

I didn't want to post this on the First of April, to make sure it
retains at least a shred of credibility in the eyes of the poor USians
reading here:

Münster, "Bicycle Capital of the World", has about 270.000 inhabitants and about half a million bicycles.

Every street wide enough for a line down the middle also has at least one bicycle lane on the side.

Every traffic light at a street with bicycle lanes has separate bike traffic lights, often with separate green times.

There often are special bike lanes for turning left, where cars stop somewhat behind the bikes, so that the drivers have the bikes well in sight when the light turns green.

There are several hundred kilometers of bike lanes in the city, and
a total of eleven streets where cars are tolerated, but bikes have the
right of way -- kind of like pedestrian streets for bikes.

There are two big bicycle parking garages, one in the middle of the city (for shoppers, mostly), the other at the railroad station.
Commuters arrive by train, check out their bikes to ride to work, and
return in the afternoon to check in their bikes and take the train home.

Within the city, 35% to 40% of all trips are by bike.

In my eyes, there's a lot to be said for old cities with narrow,
crooked streets that never were adapted to the kind of traffic you get
in a modern US city.

#188 ::: Distraxi ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 05:54 AM:

Make that "how much hood could"

Bah, who needs to proofread properly anyway? Mutters off back into lurkspace....

#189 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 06:11 AM:

Distraxi at 184:

Re getting your power from something that won't cook/heat on its own
- sorry, I skipped a few steps. My background for this is much more in
microgeneration, so I was implicitly thinking about different ways of
generating your own electricity. You want hot food and a warm house,
it's smart to burn something in a good stove rather than burn something
to generate electricity and then spend that on heating elements.

Good point about the high-intensity farming. I suppose I was trying to compare best practices there, rather than current ones.

Greg at 174: Looks like my informant was wrong. I don't know where
Wikipedia are getting their figures or how they calculate them, since
the link for the UK figures is suffering from VBScript rot, but this official National Grid plan
claims that the total losses are consistently between 2 and 3%. Note
that those are projected figures, but naturally they'll be projected
from the real ones.

So I'm delighted to be able to retract that claim!

#190 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 06:35 AM:

Sam Kelly @189, et al.: I'm curious -- are there any figures for the
equivalent to "line loss" of natural gas pipelines? I can't find the
right bit of jargon to include in my Google search.

I'd always thought that using gas for cooking rather than
electricity made sense, exactly because the energy only changes form
once, right under your pan, but if the inefficiencies in transport or
in combustion are large enough, they might outweigh the benefits in
terms of energy-efficiency. (Cooking over gas is still nicer and more
controllable than cooking over an electric burner, IMHO.)

#191 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 07:17 AM:

#170 electricity vs food (PDF) is a paper comparing the energy cost of electric and human powered bicycles.

Food production typically uses a lot of fossil fuels (in fertiliser,
in farm machinery, in transport). If you eat a typical diet and live
somewhere with significant renewable electricity (e.g. hydroelectric),
the electric bike can be "better"/more sustainable. This ignores the
fact that you are generally healthier with exercise, and if you use an
electric bike to go to the gym to burn off just as much food as cycling
would have, you would be better off just cycling.

(On the other hand, if you already have more exercise than you can
cope with, an electric bike might be better even if its recharged from
fossil fuel power stations while you only eat locally grown organic

#192 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 07:18 AM:

The hand-cranked torch sounds a nice idea; on the other hand, the
hand-cranked torch I've actually used was really not much good for what
we were trying to do, namely finding small telescope parts dropped in
mud on a dark night.

It doesn't shine uniformly for very long, and the fading light is
very distracting; you can't hold it usably still while cranking, and
the wobbly light is unusably distracting.

#193 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 08:35 AM:

Kevin Riggle at 190: [A]re there any figures for the equivalent to "line loss" of natural gas pipelines?

I've found a case study of Russian pipelines that quotes 0.6% as the "maximum allowable loss as

established by the Russian government (Federal Tariff Service, 2005)"
and then goes on to cite the "IEA average leakage figure" of 3.2%.

US figures are scarce, but this EPA estimate of methane emissions from the US natural gas industry shows that most studies assume leakage rates of 1-3%.

I suspect it varies a lot, because the loss is a function of actual
mechanical failure, and of different kinds of technology, rather than
electrical heating and yer basic entropy.

(For reference, I found those using google: "natural gas pipeline" "leakage rate".)

#194 ::: Suzette Haden Elgin ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 08:53 AM:

And let's not forget the crochet hook. I don't go anywhere without a
crochet hook, which means that I can whip up all sorts of necessities
and luxuries at a moment's notice, out of anything remotely threadlike.

#195 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 09:11 AM:

#189, Sam Kelly -

It's a minor quibble, but "you want a warm house" isn't true all the
time, and some places it is not-true most of the time. I'm in Atlanta,
and I'm already struggling to keep the house cool without resorting to
air conditioning.

I have a top-floor apartment with all the windows on one side, so
there's no possibility of a crossbreeze. It is very easy for my
apartment to be warmer than the outside temp. In the winter that's
nice, but it isn't winter here very long. Last week it was warm enough
outside to make it uncomfortably hot in my apartment.

Methods of cooking that generate the least waste heat are of great interest to me.

#196 ::: Phil Armstrong ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 09:11 AM:

R.M. Koske:
A Catch-22 doesn't imply blame on any of the parties involved (in my
world at least): the whole point is that all involved are acting
rationally given the current state of the system.

In this particular case, it might be perfectly rational for cyclists
to avoid the roads, since they fear being run over by drivers whilst in
the meantime drivers don't think about cyclists because they never see
them on the roads!

#197 ::: Wendy ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 09:19 AM:

About mooncups... As a former user of the diaphragm for birth
control, I thought this was an excellent alternative to tampons. I
tried a US product "Instead" for one cycle, and had some "diffuculty"
in the removal - it looked rather like a murder scene in the bathroom,
and was a lot more difficult to use than a custom-fitted birth control
appliance. Other than that, it was very nice. These products are not
widely promoted in the US, and I am not even sure the local stores
carry such things anymore.

#198 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 09:57 AM:

R.M. Koske #136: I understand your plight. Consider that of the
transit-dependent (i.e., poor) Atlantan who lives just outside the
range of bus service (MARTA or CCT or GCT or C-TRAN). I've known people
who've had to walk two miles to the nearest bus stop, with no sidewalk.
When I lived in Gwinnett Cou nty, I had a half-mile walk to the nearest
bus stop in DeKalb County.

#199 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 10:00 AM:

I have a really old Singer (made of cast iron, with a crank
on one side), and while it would be nice to be able to serge, I'm
pretty happy with it (plus in the extremely unlikely event of my being
attacked while sewing, I could probably use it as a weapon). My concern
is needle replacement. Anyone know if interchangeability is an issue
with old/new sewing-machine needles?

#200 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 10:04 AM:

Sarah: if you can get me your machine's model information, or a
picture of the machine if there isn't any, I can ask my Singer Guy.
He's quite amazing.

#201 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 10:38 AM:

Wendy @ 197 -- Instead cups are a whole different animal from
Mooncups or Divacups. I've heard many people report that Instead cups
didn't work for them when a Mooncup-type cup did.

While the Divacup, Keeper, and Mooncup aren't promoted much in the
U.S., they can often be found at health-food stores (like Whole Foods
or Earth Fare) -- that's where I got mine.

Just to note, they can be had even in the U.S.!

#202 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 10:45 AM:

EClaire @ #141: congrats on the gardening! Here
is the online text of a gardening-in-the-schools guide a friend and I
wrote for the Square Foot Gardening Foundation a long while back; might
include some info of use. Gardening also virtually guarantees that your
offspring will (a) know where food comes from and (b) not regard fresh
vegetables as the enemy.

Belated comment on treadle-powered sewing machines: I bet they cut
down on the incidence of DVTs (deep vein thromboses, or blood clots) in
the legs of those who use them.

#203 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 10:59 AM:

In our definitions of Deep Value, we've included skills and things which can be repaired. So I've got a question -

Anyone know about repairing staplers? I've got a nice, heavy stapler
on my desk. Not especially old, but not a cheap plastic number, either.
It is showing it's age by not bending the prongs of the staples
reliably. One side gets mashed wrong and doesn't go through the pages
in at least one use out of three.

I can't fathom why it is doing that in the first place - it ought to
be simple leverage, how can it go wrong? - so I can't figure out if it
is fixable or how to start.

#204 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 11:05 AM:

Greg London @ 165: "Can it be changed? I don't know that either.
I've been a big fan of Open Source for a few years now. I'm currently
helping a group come up with an Open Source license that would actually
provide hardware design with some Copyleft protection. (GNU-GPL, due to
some quirks, provides no copyleft protection to hardware.) And as big
of a fan as I am of open source and hardware design, I can't figure out
a way to get out of the gravity well that is moore's law. The big hit
right now is that the fabrication NRE for a chip can cost you a million
dollars. Not something some hackers and a few PC's can pull together.
FPGA's will allow some folks to play, but they will always be outpriced
by someone who can afford to pony up the money to convert it into an

sound fascinating, especially the ones that are basically an entire
computer on a single chip. I can imagine a point in the near future
where FPGA's are good enough, small enough, that they can be used for
almost any non-miniturized application: cars, TVs, household
appliances, etc. If a generic, Good Enough FPGA became standard in such
applications it would massively increase user- (or friendly local
technician-) servicability--just pop out the fried one, and pop in a
freshly-programmed generic. If the initial design costs to fabricate
custom chips are so high, and rising, this might become economically
feasible rather quickly. Then, if there was wide industry adoption of
FPGA's, that would drive the price per chip down. Does that sound at
all reasonable to someone who actually knows anything about the subject?

#205 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 11:14 AM:

Ugh, Fragano, yes. The transit in Atlanta is possibly the best in the state, but that isn't saying much.

I once waited an hour and a half to catch a bus that runs every
forty-five minutes, and I used to pass on taking the bus to do errands
when I lived in the areas Marta serves because I just didn't have time
to make an hour-each-way trip. And that's speaking of Marta
specifically. Non-marta transit isn't as good, and as you say, living
outside the transit areas it is even harder.

Sidewalks are fast becoming a pet peeve of mine. They're apparently
only for the wealthy, who don't use them (or only use them to walk
their dogs). Buford Highway has a high immigrant/poor population and no
sidewalks. There are stretches of a mile between traffic lights (and
therefore, between safe street-crossings). People just cross when and
where they can, and I personally saw at least one pedestrian fatality
being loaded into the ambulance in the time I lived there. I don't
doubt there are far more there than there should be.

On the other hand, the really wealthy sections of Buckhead, where
the houses are stunning, have sidewalks. The only people I ever see on
them are (judging by appearances) household workers, waiting to catch
the bus. They are building new condos in a poor section of town I used
to pass through regularly, and the first thing they did, before the
started tearing down houses, was install sidewalks. Grrr.

One small thing that gives me a little hope is the situation in
Smyrna. They're adding wide bike/pedestrian sidewalks in a lot of the
area around Atlanta road, and near the Smyrna municipal complex I do
see a lot of local people (mostly middle and upper-middle class, but
not all) walking and biking apparently to the restaurants and
buisinesses in that area. There's also a lot of mixed-use construction
(businesses with condos above) going up. Mostly pricy stuff right now,
but eventually those buildings will age and hopefully become more

#206 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 11:17 AM:

I should have said for the non-Atlantans - Buford Highway is a
seven-lane road. It is not something I'd care to cross without a light.
But if you are on the wrong side of the road and need to catch the bus
going the other way, you cross without a light or walk a mile out of
your way. Most folks cross without a light.

#207 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 11:27 AM:

Wendy @ 197:

The reusable cups are entirely different from the disposable
"Instead." The instead has that awful wide floppy bowl, which tends to
loose it's shape as your remove it, causing the bloodbath you mentioned.

The reusable cups are firmer. They will fold for insertion/removal,
but the bowl of the cup stays down in relation to the edge. Much, much
tidier. Plus, capacity is enough that I've found I can leave the cup
for up to 12 hours, allowing me to empty at home, where the sink is by
the toilet.

As far as shape goes, the Diva has a U shaped bowl, while the
Keeper, Keeper brand Moon Cup, and UK Mooncup have a more V shaped
bowl. I find the latter to be far more comfortable.

(There is a UK company that has been making the "Mooncup" for years.
Now the company that makes the Keeper makes a "Moon Cup" from silicone,
in the same style as the latex keeper.)

Best comparison I've seen of the different cups here:

I've tried a Keeper, but it began to itch after a few years use
(developed a mild latex allergy?), so I got a Diva, which I returned
because I found the shape uncomfortable, and I've settled on a UK

#208 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 11:49 AM:

Oh all right, I can't resist posting my whine about local transit
after all.... Buses? Prescott AZ ain't got no stinking buses! (Or clean
ones either.) Our "Tri-City Area" has finally started *discussing*
plans for a transit system, but I won't be counting on any swift,
efficient results.

It's also hilly where I live, and I never learned to ride a bike
(poor vision and crummy balance, as a kid), so I'm just lucky they have
now built a shopping complex with a grocery store, bank, and mailing
center within walking distance -- about half a mile. My husband takes
me and my mother shopping once a week, but I rarely see the older, more
touristy section of our downtown. (Touristy, but there *are* a few neat
shops and restaurants there.) And at times I feel nostalgiac about the
good old days in both Berkeley and Emeryville, when I was in easy
walking distance from a movie theater.

Are the current rising gas prices likely to turn more attention
toward public transit or to cripple it? Depends on where you live, I

(end of whine)

#209 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 12:15 PM:

Musing on the idea of sustainability and gasoline use from driving, I came up with a rather evil plan.

Standardize all automobile gas tanks to the same size. Say, ten gallons (the size of the tank on my Echo.)

As it is, right now, if a vehicle is less efficient, car makers put
in a larger gas tank. You pay more for gas, but otherwise, you suffer
no inconvenience.

But, if every car has the same size gas tank, from the most
efficient subcompact to the most gas-guzzling SUV, the SUV drivers
would have to stop and fill gas far more often.

This would provide, I suspect, a much stronger incentive to buy a more efficient car.

Plus, it would address the problem that financial incentives for
fuel efficiency are less pressing for the more wealthy, which means
that auto makers have less pressure to make higher end cars efficient.
If you can afford the luxury car, you can afford the gas. So there is
little incentive to develop improvements that will be brought in with
the high end cars, as improvements often are. The improvement of having
to be less frequently inconvenienced by filling the tank is something
people might pay for.

#210 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 12:33 PM:

FPGAs are very nifty, but I don't think there are very many problems to which they're the right answer.

They gain their flexibility by using something like twenty times as
many transistors as a custom solution which can simply lay down wires
does, so they're unavoidably expensive: fifty dollars for a chip that
does what a custom chip you could get ten million of from TSMC for five
million dollars would do.

You've still got all the soldering problems that are unavoidable
from putting eight hundred connectors on the bottom of something the
size of a quarter - it's a black art to get the chip onto a board
without destroying chip and board alike, a blacker art still to remove
it - so you'll be in big trouble replacing the FPGA in your
sewing-machine whose FPGA broke with the one from your TV whose screen

(Though there is a little hope. I have been to malls in Thailand
filled with little booths containing quite elaborate surface-mount
rework kit, where you can bring in your broken mobile phone and have it
repaired. It's a couple of thousands of dollars of equipment and quite
a lot of training, and I think probably a bad sign for Thailand that
they don't have higher-margin work for electronics assemblers - I
assume that the people in the booths worked on electronics assembly
lines and then left to work more for themselves)

You can't stick everything on the FPGA - you still often need
external memory, you still usually need external analogue devices to
for-example turn the digital signals from your MP3 decoder into
something that can drive headphones.

FPGAs have cropped up in some kinds of consumer goods - the earlier
LCD TVs used them, because it meant that they could use any kind of LCD
panel available on the surplus market and program the video controller
to drive it. They're ubiquitous in prototypes, they're ubiquitous in
Weird Custom Military Things of which only a thousand will ever be made.

But that fifty-dollar versus fifty-cent thing means they're almost by definition used in niche applications.

#211 ::: Katherine Mankiller ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 01:18 PM:

@136:R. M. Koske - I hear you. I live in Atlanta, too. I'd love to
bike to work, but my route takes me down a very narrow, very busy two
lane road without sidewalks where people drive 50mph, and onto a
limited access road that says "No bikes." I also live in the MARTAless

Oh, and I forgot to mention (@anyone in general)--linux is also very
forgiving of old hardware, if you use the right distribution.

#212 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 01:51 PM:

Marilee: In Calif. bicycles (which are in lanes) are vehicles, just
as cars are. Then again, as a pedestrian I have an absolute right of
way (even when I am not legally allowed to be in the street).

But, on a bicycle, I am really vulnerable if the drivers of
automobiles don't want to yield to me the right of way to which I am
entitled. Worse, I am not seen by them (in the main) as equal, or even
notable; except as a nuisance.

I've been hit by two cars, and cut off so badly I've hit two cars.
I've been pushed off the road (occaisionally to places where I was
toppled) more than that.

That was in a five year period.

In the 21 years I've been driving, I've been in zero automobile accidents.

re gardening: I have grapes in half barrels. In those same pots I
also have rue (to keep the damned cat from digging) some poppies (I'm a
sucker for pretty flowers), onions (attracts bees), dill, carrots (also
attracts bees), shallots and garlic.

I let the vetch grow, because it's a legume.

This year, I'm going to have to thin "The Cutting Grape" (they all
have names) because it's got not less than 40, large, bunches of

#213 ::: hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 01:58 PM:

Jen B at #120

Pelikan makes some very good entry-level pens. Most of them are
piston-fills, so they hold a lot of ink. And all of the M-series pens
have interchangeable nibs. The M200 is the most reasonably priced of
the M-series pens, I believe. If you have big hands or like heavy pens,
it probably won't be suitable for you. Personally, I love the M200.
It's the perfect size for me, and is light enough that it doesn't cause
fatigue or pain. The M400 is the same size, but has a gold nib, and
possibly better plastics. Generally, for the M-series pens, the higher
the number, the bigger/heavier/more expensive the pen. The largest is
the M1000.

Oscar Braun pens usually has a nice selection and really excellent
prices. Pam also does special orders.

If you want to get more advice about fountain pens, you could also
check out The Fountain Pen Network. They're always happy to find more
people to lure over to the dark side.

#214 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 03:03 PM:

If anyone wants to try the Instead thingy, please contact me (email
my livejournal name (visible in the link) at and I will ship
the ones I have and didn't use off to you.

Jen B. at 150,

I would suggest a Parker Vector - the nib is steel, and very hard to
bend. You'll give you the springyness of a fountain pen, but won't have
to worry about the nib. They're inexpensive, and make a nice, light
starter fountain pen.

I finally bought one to replace the one from my childhood I lost.

#215 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 03:04 PM:

I'm very leery of Linux for two reasons.

1. My husband is an IT professional who prefers Windows. He hates
Linux, so my in-house tech support would evaporate if I switched.

2. My experiences with Linux have been pretty poor. I spent a long
time once (forty five minutes?) trying to get an existing Linux setup
to tell me what kind of Linux it was so I could see if a program I
wanted to install would be compatible. I never succeeded. I had to get
my husband to tell me (he'd built the box, so he knew.) Even armed with
this information, I couldn't figure out what programs would be
compatible because I had something like Red Hat 3*, but all the
information I had gave compatibility answers in terms of "Fedora Core."
I can tell that it is related, but I couldn't make the conversion to
figure out if it was actually compatible.

I got hubby on the job, and he determined that it was compatible
once we updated some files...which then persistently refused to update
properly. He spent an hour telling it to update, waiting for it to do
so, and then being told the update failed, without getting a helpful
reason why. He gave up in disgust.

My impression of the Linux-education sites is that there are two
types - the ones that want to teach you how to install and use a
particular flavor, at which point they tell you that it is "just like
Windows" and effectively teach you how to use Windows, or the type that
thing that you're extremely familiar with *nix in general and only need
to know the differences.

I like the idea of future-proofing my hardware by my choice of OS,
but Linux is in a box in my mind labeled "hard." My impression is you
learn it by apprenticeship, not by independant study. Can anyone
recommend a site to begin learning about it? Is it actually helpful to
pretend it is Windows for a while? Or should I put this off until I
know a guru?

*I made these "version names" up. I don't recall what I had.

#216 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 03:21 PM:

RMK, your stapler problem might be a simple misalignment.

You have a plunger which should press evenly across the top of each
staple, shearing it off the strip, and forcing it donw through the
paper against the anvil which bends the ends over.

The feed-spring should be pushing the strip of staples against a
nice flat surface. But that's often the sides of the carrier assembly
bent over to close the end.

If the bends don't quite match, you have feeding problems.

The detailed construction varies quite a bit, but this sort of misalignment can cause the fault yoiu describe.

#217 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 03:22 PM:

Thinking something else with deep value: Cloth diapers. When the kid outgrows them, they are wonderful rags, quilting, etc.

#218 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 03:44 PM:

Terry @217 -- re cloth diapers. I used them for my two children. I'd
agree that overall they're less wasteful, and probably less
energy-intensive in their production. I did wash them with much hotter
water than the rest of the laundry, but I'm very proud of how little
garbage we produced. We never filled our bin, while our neighbors' were

#219 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 04:09 PM:

On the versatility of toaster ovens (re #88, #104):

The frozen-food-in-a-paper-dish that says "Conventional Oven
Directions" / "Microwave Oven Directions" / "Do not use a toaster
oven"? Don't believe it.

Put it inside a baking pan that fits in your toaster oven and is
taller than the frozen dish; place another (shallow) pan on top as a
lid. Ideally both pans should be dark rather than shiny, to absorb the
radiant heat from the oven efficiently. This way, you make a metal box
which acts more like a regular oven with respect to the food inside.

We use this technique all the time and the worst trouble we've had
is things coming out a bit undercooked, which can be adjusted for.
Doing this also saves the preheating time and energy of a full-sized

#220 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 05:02 PM:

linux is also very forgiving of old hardware, if you use the right distribution.

I generally agree, but if you want to run X, watch movies, and
browse with multiple tabs, you still need certain resources and
hardware capabilities. Of course, with Linux, you can (and I do) get by
with a lot less, than with Micro$oft bloatware!

#221 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 05:22 PM:

R.M. Koske #205: Buford Highway contains stretches that are just
plain insanely planned -- high density, no sidewalks, inadequate
transit -- though both MARTA and GCT now provide some service at least.
Jimmy Carter Boulevard is even worse. I get the feeling that nothing is
going to be done since the population in both areas is largely Hispanic
and has therefore been defined by the powers that be as 'alien'. I have
a feeling that somewhere down the road, no pun intended, someone is in
for a big surprise.

In Buckhead, on the other hand, they do want to make it easy for the
servants to get from the bus to the houses that they clean. And they do
want to make it easy to walk from the condo to the supermarket (which
is what the new urbanism seems to be about).

There are a lot of condos springing up in the area where I work,
which is one of the poorer sections of town -- or used to be (the
public housing has now been totally emptied and fenced off, and there's
a lot less derelict private housing left east of Joseph Lowery now than
there was nine years ago). Of course, the current economic crunch has
slowed gentrification down. But we do have sidewalks, and I'm
increasing likely to have to dodge idiots driving Jags, Bentleys and

#222 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 05:27 PM:

R. M. Koske @#215:

I've generally been frustrated (and sometimes infuriated) by Red Hat's products, and by their successor Fedora as well.

The Debian-based distributions are generally much better, and the
Ubuntu varieties are currently the best by far. (Knoppix is pretty good
too.) Ubuntu now has a "try me" Live-CD mode, and Knoppix is primarily
a Live-CD distribution.

Also, the distributions have gotten much better over the past few
years, so these days you rarely need to go "under the hood", much less
reboot the system.

And the "dmesg" output (repeats what zipped by at system startup)
starts right off with both the linux and distribution names and version

#223 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 05:39 PM:

About biking and disabilities - not everyone can ride a bike.
However, you don't have to be in tip-top shape to ride, either. I have
a bursitic hip, wonky lower back, bad knees, and I ride my bike to work
in summer dressed like a girl - skirt, flats, little purse, the whole

It took a few different bikes and a lot of bad attitude from bike shop
workers (No, I will not use clipless pedals. Yes, I want a
step-through. I understand that the other frame would be faster, but it
would cripple me.) But standing up for myself and getting over being
embarrassed (it's not uncommon for me to get off the bike and walk up
hills) made it possible for me to be a regular biker, which has saved
me a ton of money and given me the exercise I need to maintain the
abilities I do have.

#224 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 05:50 PM:

R. M. Koske @ 215: Well, it's usually easier to learn by
apprenticeship than by self study, regardless of the topic, but giving
up local technical support is a big inconvenience.

Have you played with the vmware images at all? They let you run
linux in a virtual box inside your normal environment. That can be a
good way to learn, and you can reverse the roles later if you decide
you like Linux but don't want to give up your old system entirely.
There are some instructions here and more images here,
which are also not german by default. Of course, running two operating
systems at once does use more memory and storage, so it will be slower.
Running linux inside windows is free with the vmware player, but doing
the reverse costs money.

As to whether Linux is "hard", it's definitely been improving for
people with a GUI (Windows) instead a Unix background, and recent
vintages are completely usable without resort to the command line. Some
things are different, of course, just like with switching to MacOS, and
that can take some getting used to.

There is an argument that people who love words should prefer the
command line interface because it is so much more expressive. The
visual metaphors used in graphical user interfaces are great for some
things, but mostly they're about limiting what you can tell the
computer to do. That makes them easy to learn, but it's also like
filing out forms instead just saying what want to do.

#225 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 06:38 PM:

Sarah @ 199 ...

I have a really old Singer (made of cast iron, with a crank on one
side), and while it would be nice to be able to serge, I'm pretty happy
with it (plus in the extremely unlikely event of my being attacked
while sewing, I could probably use it as a weapon). My concern is
needle replacement. Anyone know if interchangeability is an issue with
old/new sewing-machine needles?

I've had no major issues[0] using modern sewing machine (flat on one
side) needles with any of my singers -- the industrial singers take
needles that have a round shank, though, so that can be an issue.

This page
shows a number of handcrank machines -- I have a 27K Sphinx that's very
similar to the second one pictured... the serial number[1] dates it to

[0] I have had to futz a bit with how deeply the needle is set, as
far as the length to be sure it picks up the bobbin thread correctly,
but only by tiny futzes.

[1] If you're curious, Singer finally posted their list of serial numbers to years/locations made.
They also have (only for the single-letter-prefix group, as far as I
can tell), a serial number-to-model set of PDFs for some of the serial

#226 ::: Carolyn I ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 07:11 PM:

I've never had a car! So I don't know what I am missing. I've been using the same bike that I bought in 1991.


#227 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 08:20 PM:

heresiarch@204: FPGA's sound fascinating

The problem with FPGA's is they will always, by design, be more
expensive and fewer usable gates than an ASIC. The ability to reprogram
an FPGA adds a phenomenal amount of overhead, which leaves only
a fraction of the total chip to be used for the logic that the user
actually wants to implement. We recently purchased an FPGA to implement
a single core on one of our ASICs. The core was rather large and
required high frequencies, and the FPGA ended up costing $1,500. For
one FPGA. Our ASIC, when finally implemented, included this core and
probably two dozen other cores. Our chip, in quantity, sold for $15.
Two orders of magnatude difference in price. maybe one order of
magnatude difference in functionality.

If one were to continue the "gravity" analogy, with ASIC's being the
rockets capable of lifting heavy satelites to geosynchronous orbits,
then FPGA's are more like amateur rocket enthusiasts who can throw a
digital camera just above the atmosphere. Whatever an FPGA can do, an
ASIC can do better and cheaper, because of all that reprogrammability
overhead. And the only way to improve FPGAs is to improve ASICs, which
means ASICs will always be above an FPGA.

If there is going to be a shift anytime soon, it will probably be in
the realm of generic embedded processors getting fast enough and cheap
enough that you could buy a generic embedded processor chip with some
programable IO pins and some internal logic, and then implement all
your specific functionality in software.

This is how your remote controls pretty much all work now. Some
generic embedded processor that is just smart enough and just fast
enough to toggle your infrared LED to change channels or control the
volume. The problem then is getting generic hardware to do the
application specific stuff. Digital camera needs an image sensor. Not
going to find that on a generic processor chip. MP3 players are
probably at the point where you could implement one with a generic
processor chip.

The requirement for this is that whatever application you have in
mind, there needs to be a generic embedded processor that's fast enough
to do it. I think more and more applications are falling into this

If you need to toggle a couple bits in a semi-smart fashion, you can
buy a little PIC. They're available in as small a package as 8 pins and
can cost less than a buck.

ANother alternative is Asic On Demand. This has been the holy grail
of professors getting research grants to look into what it would take
to make some sort of generic "box" that you could download a design
into, and the box would fabricate the asic one semiconductor layer at a
time. (ignoring the hazardous chemicals you'd be messing with for the
moment.) I've seen blurbs about these things for as long as I can
remember. So far, they're all turned out to be pipedreams. Building an
ASIC is hard. There are timing issues and placement issues and
RF issues and crosstalk issues and power issues that are complicated
enough that people can specilize their entire career into dealing with
one of these specific issues. The software tools that they use cost
millions of dollars, and for all that money, are extremely dumb. If you
can build a 3-d printer that can build an asic, you need something that
can lay down a beam of material that's only nanometers wide. ASIC
fabrication plants can churn out thousands of chips every day. A
fabricator would have to be able to maintain this level of
manufacturing, otherwise, ASIC's still win the gravity well race.

as a counter example, we've had automobiles for about a century.
They're complicated machines. They require a lot of design work.
Manufacturing is a massive undertaking. And yet most people don't
entertain the idea of poeple being able to have a "car manufacturing
plant in a box" thingy. The only way people can even entertain such an
idea is if you get into a Star Trek world and make it something like a
transporter, replicator, holodeck combination of handwavium.

I'm not sure why people are so much more predisposed to entertaining
the idea of asics that build other asics, or an asic-on-demand box. I
can only assume its because the sheer complexity of ASIC design and
fabrication is so concealed from the average user that folks can
imagine it being far, far easier than it really is.

#228 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 08:30 PM:

#209, Ursula L -

I love it.

#216, Dave Bell -

Wow, thanks! My first look at the thing suggests that if that is the
problem, it is unfixable - the ends of the carriage assembly are bent
and then the whole thing was chromed*. I don't think I'll be able to
bend them any more. I don't think I see a misalignment, but I'll look
again when I have more time.

*Or made shiny, anyway.

#221, Fragano - Yes, exactly. To pretty much all of it.

#222, David Harmon -

That's very helpful, thanks. I've got a memory stick with a Live-CD
version of something-or-other. Ubuntu, if I had to guess. Maybe I'll
try that.

I don't really feel like I'm trying to go under the hood so much -
all I wanted to do was to be able to install programs and that was
where I got thwarted. I haven't given up. (dmesg at the command line, I

#229 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 08:50 PM:

#224 - Ralph Giles -

Vmware images? No. As I mentioned somewhere above, I've got a memory
stick that I can put into the computer and boot to Linux, but that and
the pre-existing box are all I've got.

Is running it inside Windows inherently better or worse than doing
the Live-CD thing? I think I'd just as soon dual-boot (that's the right
term, yes?) because I keep a ridiculous number of tabs open in Firefox.
That's both likely to impair the performance of the computer when it is
under a heavy computing load and to make a crash more costly than I

The interface thing is interesting. I use a non-GUI interface for a
program at work, but I haven't ever used a command line for anything
else. Using the command line at work puts me in a weird mental place
with regard to my opinion of the supposed expressiveness of the command
line. I've learned a lot of the shortcuts in our program and use them
instead of working my way through menus (which is what most of my
co-workers do.) I'd much rather type

"avdm" than "F3, F3, 27 (enter) 11 (enter)", so I think I see the
distinction between "filling out forms" and just saying what you want.
Even so, I'm not sure that I can see myself choosing a command line
when there's a GUI available. Maybe partially because the actions I can
imagine myself doing most often would require me to know filenames and
type them in accurately. That's unlikely.

#230 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 09:23 PM:

#204: Tom@210 and Greg@227 are on the mark about FPGAs. I think your scenario is only plausible if

1. we've run out of process improvements, but haven't replaced CMOS with some other technology. (i.e., Moore's Law breaks down)

2. we value reconfiguration, field upgrade, and repair over
continued miniaturization and integration. (i.e., exactly the opposite
of how consumers behave now)

FPGAs are like the POD (the printing technology, not the so-called
business model) of electronics. For some niche applications, they're
the perfect thing to use. So far, they don't lend themselves to high
volume general application. They have to get much cheaper, and the NRE
costs of a new ASIC have to get yet higher. I think it's plausible if
densities have gotten so high, that we don't have anything better to do
than to use extra transistors to allow for reconfiguration. Right now,
a decrease in feature size often means we fit more dies on a wafer. The
chip, ideally, becomes cheaper to produce. (So, your scenario has to be
one where making chips smaller does not make the chip noticeably

The other thing that occurred to me that you're suggesting, in a nutshell:

Lots of interchangeable elements which you can reprogram and reconnect on demand to suit any application.

You've just described the technology in any SF story about The
Singularity. (Hey, maybe The Singularity happens when high volume FPGAs
are practical...)

#231 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 09:55 PM:

GUIs are not inherently equivalent.

Linux, any unix, makes a whole bunch of different fundamental
assumptions than Windows does, and just because the GUIs can be similar
doesn't mean it actually works like Windows.

People get into serious trouble equating the GUIs, because what they
think what they are doing means and what it actually means tend to

Installing programs in any modern linux is a question of getting
them from a package repository; there is very likely a GUI app, but
without some idea which distribution you're using, guessing which GUI
app isn't going to be very effective.

Terry, way back up in 143 --

I can do a lot of stuff like that, too; have used 19th century farm
tools and tech for real, have lots of general woodworking skills, etc.

I don't think it actually matters, as a survival strategy; general
loss of the machine culture leaves effectively everybody dead, because
most regions with dense populations are two orders of magnitude over
their non-machine carrying capacity.

For coping with a stutter, yes; have water on hand, have water
filters, have kerosene lanterns, food, shovels, and so on. But a real
collapse? To a first approximation, there won't be anything like enough
food, and there aren't any social systems for selecting who goes off
and politely and quietly starves to death. There are also vicious nasty
questions of timing about things like putting in crops and getting in

While I think being part of the machine culture is an excellent
thing, as well as a present necessity, I think not being part of the consumer
culture as a matter of default expectation is a very good thing, but
that's in many ways because the consumer culture is trying its dead
level best to make you really really insecure.

Being able to do real stuff, and making to a greater extent own
personal choices about wants and desires, I think that's an excellent
good thing as a way to stay out of the consumer culture; as a way to
replace the machine culture? I don't think it's in the running.

#232 ::: affreca ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 10:16 PM:

My favorite bit of underused old tech is a clothes line. A bit of
coated wire hanging between the garage and the house, and I can use
solar energy without a collector. It doesn't work in all weather, but
the benefit of the midcontinent's changing weather is that I usually
have one day a week warm and dry enough.

#233 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2008, 10:36 PM:

We got a couple of the crank-powered LED flashlights from LL Bean and they work great. They have two settings using one or three LEDs and have even light that lasts a fair while.

#234 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 12:06 AM:

It turns out that my first lasting fountain pen was a Parker Vector.
I dropped it a lot, taped the cap back together a couple times and the
barrel once, and the nib was bent to be... idiosyncratic, let us say,
but boy did that pen do its job. I dropped it in the woods once, nearly
cried, and then my lab teacher chanced upon it a couple days later.
Loved that pen and felt guilty for switching to the more-right-feeling

#235 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 12:29 AM:

There's been so much said about bicycle power here that I now find myself thinking of Edward G.Robinson in Soylent Green.

#236 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 12:38 AM:

Graydon: Well, I happen to live close enough to wilderness that I
have, tolerable, expectations of being able to hie me to the hills
(with some extra people) and enough gear to get by for 1-3 years.

Pack animals are wonderful things, and we can be in the hills, absent riding them, in about four hours.

If we're ponying, it's an hour.

#237 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 01:27 AM:

Tom Womack, #192. The wind-up flashlight I have has three
LEDs (and you can cycle through 1, 3, and off) and winding 30 seconds
gives you 15 minutes of light. Mine also has a radio. I think we may be
speaking of different types of wind-up flashlights.

Terry, #212, I haven't ridden a bike as an adult, so I don't
know about that, but my van has been hit three times -- twice by people
not paying attention who don't brake soon enough, and once by a woman
who was sure I was going to turn into the shopping center she
wanted to come out of, and I had planned to pass by the entrance. All
three times there wasn't any damage to the van. I haven't run into

R.M. Koske, #228, I was going to suggest what Dave said about
the stapler, but there can also be something stuck in the stapler that
is bending the staple wrong. Is this a new batch of staples, by any
chance? Not all staples fit in all staplers, even when they say they do.

#238 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 02:10 AM:

R. M. Koske @ 229: It's not better or worse, just different.
Running them in parallel lets you switch more quickly, without closing
your 11 browser tabs. It lets you cut and paste between the two, which
can be handy. That sort of thing. But dual booting (or separate
hardware) works too.

Re the command line, I guess I do keep more of the directory
structure in my head on machines where I use the terminal. One has to
understand the filing system, as it were. But auto-completion (try
hitting tab after the first few letters) means not having to
always type things correctly, or even having more than a vague idea
what they are, and it's not like you can't search for things.

But, I don't use a terminal-window for web browsing. There are definitely places where point-and-click is better.

There is a deeper sense in which the unix tradition is more amenable
to the current topic. Traditionally, configuration is stored in text
files, which can be directly edited by humans. The scriptability of
things is more obvious and accessible. The system contains its own
documentation, so it's easy to learn and explore, rather than being
dependent on experts whether you want to be or not. When combined with
complete source code like the Linux distributions provide, you really
have something that can be maintained by anyone with the proper skill,
and that makes acquiring that skill possible within itself.

#239 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 02:47 AM:

Tom Womack @ 210: "But that fifty-dollar versus fifty-cent thing means they're almost by definition used in niche applications."

How big of a time gap does that money gap translate into? Like, how
many years back do you have to go before an ASIC chip with the same
capabilities as your modern $50 FPGA also cost fifty dollars? Are we
talking a year, or a decade?

Greg London @ 227: "If there is going to be a shift
anytime soon, it will probably be in the realm of generic embedded
processors getting fast enough and cheap enough that you could buy a
generic embedded processor chip with some programable IO pins and some
internal logic, and then implement all your specific functionality in

Ah, that's much more like what I had in mind. I can imagine a
generic interface being built to connect and parallel process however
many of Cheap Enough Processor you need for application X, along with
connecting it to whatever specialized chips you need (camera sensor,

How do processors compare with ASICs financially?

"If you can build a 3-d printer that can build an asic, you need
something that can lay down a beam of material that's only nanometers
wide. ASIC fabrication plants can churn out thousands of chips every
day. A fabricator would have to be able to maintain this level of
manufacturing, otherwise, ASIC's still win the gravity well race."

Yeah, as neat and exciting as the recent progress of fabrication
technology is, using it to make chips in your basement seems to involve
ridiculously high amounts of hand-wavium. It'll happen if/when nanotech
happens, I think.

#240 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 08:45 AM:

#237 different types of wind-up torch: yes, ones with rechargeable
batteries will die as the batteries eventually die and fail to hold a
charge (and cheap ones won't let you easily change the batteries),
cheap ones without batteries and with a relatively small capacitor will
slowly fade immediately you stop winding them (or shaking them), ones
with clockwork-like mainsprings or with high quality supercapacitors
and current regulation circuits will give an even light for some time
after winding with indefinite shelf life, but will cost more to start

Crossing LED technology with bicycles, modern dynamo[1] lights are a huge
improvement on old ones, and anyone with a utility city bike should
seriously consider a hub dynamo. Modern dynamo lights generally (at
least as an option) have standlight functionality that means they don't
just go out as soon as you stop moving.

[1] a word here meaning "permanent magnet alternator without field
coils", not "direct current generator" (though of course the LEDs need
DC, unlike the old bulbs, the rectifying is done outside).

#241 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 08:53 AM:

#231, Graydon -

So that's a definite argument in favor of playing with a pre-set
version of Linux* to get accustomed to the GUI quirks. I sort of feel
I'm better prepared for those than I used to be - instead of being just
a Windows person, I now use OSX on the Mac regularly too, so I have a
vague idea of the kinds of differences you mean.

Installing programs in any modern linux is a question of getting
them from a package repository; there is very likely a GUI app, but
without some idea which distribution you're using...

I followed that part of your statement. But "...guessing which GUI
app isn't going to be very effective," doesn't make any sense in
context for me. I didn't think you needed to know which GUI app you had
to install a program. That was part of my frustration when I fought
with it. I could get the GUI to tell me what it was, but not the
distro. Or you just pointing out something that I pretty much
understand, assuming I might not understand it? I do appreciate that.

#238, Ralph Giles -

I'm not as worried about remembering the filing system as I am
simply remembering what I named the darn things. But I imagine there'd
be a great deal of incentive in a command-line system to use consistent
and logical file/folder names. And you can make it cough up a list,
though if you have to do that often, the command line loses some of its

I think I might have observed my husband using the "tab to complete
the line" trick, but I'd completely forgotten it existed. That helps a

I definitely like the "configuration stored in text files" bit, but
I must say that "the system contains its own documentation, so it is
easy to learn and explore" seems a bit off to me. I'm not disputing you
- I believe you. With the right knowledge going in, I bet it is
amazing. But my experience makes it hard to believe. I'm guessing you
mean that the documentation is inline with the code, and all I have to
do is open it with a text editor to read it? Interesting. No one told
me that before, and it is very very deep value. Logical (once
explained.) Possibly easy. (Once explained.) But the explanation is
mandatory, or it isn't either one.

I'm gonna drop it now - I don't wanna make this any more "Teach me
Linux!" than it already has been. Plus I'm still a bit resentful of the
number of times I've been told it is easy (no offense to anyone who's
said it here) and found it impenetrable. The new info you guys have
given me may very well help with that, but I'm afraid that if I don't
go play with it a bit first, my resentment will sour the conversation.

I'm deeply grateful for the help and info, and I will definitely play with Linux some more. Thanks to everyone.

*I don't think I've managed to type "Linux"[1] yet without first typing "Linus" and correcting.

[1] Okay, I succeeded that time. But I had to go really slow to do it.

#242 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 08:54 AM:

heresiarch@239: How do processors compare with ASICs financially?

processors are ASICs. The issue becomes more of a matter of
whether or not the application can be handled by a processor or whether
you need special hardware logic to deal with it. And that is more a
matter of whether your application hits some sort of orbital limit that
makes Moore's Law no longer apply for some reason.

TV remote controls are handled by extremely cheap embedded
processors. Even the smart, universal, programmable ones. The job is
just so simple that you don't need special hardware to keep up.

Other limits would be like the CD Burner issue. Except CD burners
were always made out of dedicated hardware because no processor could
keep up.

But your TIVO box is a Linux machine, mostly with generic hardware
and specific software written to do it's job. So the bandwidth and
processing power to do that job is low enough that a general processor
and software can keep up.

But that doesn't help much for your portable MP3 player, since you
won't want a linux box strapped to your hip. Same goes for a digital

portable electronics have features that include "small" and "long
battery life" that often makes them more suited for ASICs. you put in
just the hardware you need, and you can design it so that you can shut
down pieces that you don't need.

#243 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 09:34 AM:

#232, affreca - I've never used an outdoor clothesline, but I want
one. Whether they're allowed will definitely be something I'll be
considering when/if we buy a house. Right now I'm using an indoor
drying rack with pretty good success.

#244 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 10:39 AM:

R.M. Koske @# 228,229

(dmesg at the command line, I assume?)

Yeah. I find a few major cases where having a command line is critically important:

1) Finding programs you surely have on the system, but rarely use,
or haven't had occasion to use before. Commands like "apropos",
"which", and so on, let you "poke around" to find things, without
having to dig through umpteen windows and cascaded menus. The "See
Also" section of manpages is helpful as well. Command line is also good
for quick information, like "how much disk do I have free?" (df), and
"What just filled up my home partition?" (du | sort -n | tail)

2) Impromptu logic and stream processing. For example, suppose I've
got a huge pile of downloaded files, which I can see by the filenames
fall into natural groups, but the downloader dumped them into a flat
directory, and maybe the names aren't quite regular....

Feeding the output of "ls" to tools such as "grep", "tr", and so on,
lets me rapidly select subsets of the files, fix the case of filenames,
sort them into directories, and so forth. (Nowadays, the BSD-style
filters "cut", "paste", and "colrm" simplify much of what I would once
have done with the intimidating "sed".)

Using "for" and "while" loops lets me chain together a bunch of
tools and run them over a group of files, maybe with some &&
chaining to back off when something fails.

For example: "par2" verifies checksums on downloaded files, and uses
.par2 and .PAR2 checksum files to correct damage. In less than a
minute, I can write, test, and run a "for" loop to run through a bunch
of .par2 files, verifying each set of files. If and only if "par2"
succeeds, delete the (now-redundant) checksum files, and go on to
"unrar" to unpack the archive. If and only if "unrar" succeeds, delete
that archive, and so on. Then while that's running, I can go make a
sandwich, and come back to verified and unpacked files.

Just try doing that with a GUI, any GUI!

#245 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 10:44 AM:

OK, I wrote that last comment before I saw #241. I'll release the hijacked thread now. ;-)

#246 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 10:51 AM:

R.M Koske in 241 --

The different distros have different package managers, so, for
instance, a Debian derived distro (such as Ubuntu or Kubuntu) will use
the Debian package management system, which is called "apt", and one or
another apt GUI front ends, such as "synaptic". A Redhat/Fedora distro
will have a different package management system -- in the current
Fedora case, yum, and I have no idea what the GUI is called because I
never use it.

So you do need to know the name of the package manager to know the
name of the command to set it off; synaptic won't work on a Fedora
system (in the simple case, anyway) and yum won't work on a Debian or
Debian-derived system.

The actual package source can probably be compiled on both without issues, but you almost certainly don't want to do that.

Two essential, essential things about Unixes and names -- "strong
minds, weak typing", and puns. So there are rarely vowels if there
don't have to be vowels, and you get things like yacc ("yet another
compiler compiler", really a parser generator) having a GNU
version/clone/functional equivalent called "bison", because a bison is
kinda like a yak...

#247 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 11:50 AM:

Graydon: I thought the plural of 'Unix' was 'Unices'. And of course
you know that the name 'Unix' is itself a pun, right? There was an
older operating system called Multix of which Unix was supposedly a
(wait for it) castrated version.

#248 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 11:54 AM:

#239:I can imagine a generic interface being built to connect
and parallel process however many of Cheap Enough Processor you need
for application X

As a side note, one of the discussions during ISCA 2006 walked
through the important, difficult problems in computer architecture. One
of them is that we don't have an easy, general, paradigm for writing
efficient parallel programs. (This is not the same as saying we don't
have paradigms for writing parallel programs. We do. We're just not
happy with them, in general.)

So, yes, there is the hardware problem of having lots of cheap
powerful computational units in the first place. However, there is also
the software problem of figuring out how to get all of those units to
cooperate with each other usefully. We do well with embarrassingly
parallelizable problems. (e.g, go off to do X, then come back to me
with your answer.) We do less well if the various computational units
actually need to talk to each other in the course of doing their task.

#247: I've always used "unixes." Wikipedia also lists "unices" and
"unixen." However, I have a natural aversion to treating English words
as if they were Latin. (Don't get me started on "virus," which,
according to my Latin dictionary, means "bog", and is defective, having
no natural plural forms anyway.) I haven't decided how I feel about
treating English words as Anglo-Saxon.

#249 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 12:07 PM:

The Economist ran a story recently describing portable light,
i.e. a fabric which combines solar cells and LED's. The fabric is sewn
into a bag form, which one carries around all day, and in the evening
you have light -- 10 hrs of light for 3 hrs of sunshine, according to
the article. Pretty nifty idea, at least on the surface (and I claim NO
expertise). But one thing that amazed me is the cost -- about $50 for
one of these bags, less than the yearly cost for batteries, candles,
etc. in developing countries. That price seems insanely low somehow --
I wonder why the manufacturing costs are so low?

#250 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 12:33 PM:

heresiarch at 239: [Basement chip fab will] happen if/when nanotech happens, I think.

Nanotech is fast becoming a meaningless word - the field of "stuff
controlled on the molecular level" is still at the stage where there
are a lot of incredibly varied possibilities, and some of them even
work. We've got MIT-style cogwheels (cogwheels, I ask you... they're
practically steampunk), really cool zeolites, functionalisable
sputtered sulphur-on-gold fields, and utterly smooth and regular
Langmuir-Blodgett films.

Going by the strictest definition, recent chip designs are about as
nanotechnological as it gets. The thingy itself is large enough to see
& hold, but the working parts inside it are very much on the
molecular scale. (For a quick reference, 1 nanometre == 10 ångströms ==
about 10 atoms.)

Being able to deposit single atoms exactly where we want them in a
reliably repeatable manner would be really nice, but we can't yet.
It'll be a few years before it gets to the point of industrial use, and
given the prerequisites (hard and Extremely Cold vacuum, mostly) we
might never see a desktop version.

R. M. Koske at 241: some Unixen, not all, do make it easy. I started
running Kubuntu recently, and their start-menu equivalent has a
prominent Add/Remove Programs option - that automatically runs a GUI
package manager which gives you a menu of things it knows about and can
retrieve from the internet. It doesn't know about all of them, but it
makes most things easy.

#251 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 12:39 PM:

R.M. Koske @241: but I must say that "the system contains its own
documentation, so it is easy to learn and explore" seems a bit off to
me. I'm not disputing you - I believe you. With the right knowledge
going in, I bet it is amazing. But my experience makes it hard to
believe. I'm guessing you mean that the documentation is inline with
the code, and all I have to do is open it with a text editor to read it?

Not quite.[1] At least with command-line tools, all the widely-used
ones install what are called man pages (short for manual pages), which
can be accessed by typing "man command-name" at the prompt, eg.
"man df", which give you a lot of information about how to use the
programs. ("Program" and "command" are more-or-less synonymous.) All
the major GUI desktop environments (Gnome, KDE) provide their own help
systems, much like Windows does, but I personally find I rarely have to
consult it. You're right, though, that the existence of man pages is
not intuitively obvious -- it's one of the two or three pieces of
knowledge that are essential to bootstrapping a working knowledge of
the command line. I bet Linux distributions could do a better job
disseminating that information.

Graydon @246 in re: R.M. Koske: So you do need to know the name
of the package manager to know the name of the command to set it off;
synaptic won't work on a Fedora system (in the simple case, anyway) and
yum won't work on a Debian or Debian-derived system.

Err, in these halcyon days of Linux usability, if you're running
from the GUI, you don't even have to know what the package manager is
called. (You don't even have to know what a "package manager", or a
"package", is.) In Ubuntu, you should be able to find it in two minutes
of playing around with a fresh install -- it's literally two clicks
away, under Applications->Add/Remove... (The problem with asking us
old-time Linux grognards for help is that we'll tell you how *we* do
whatever you're asking, which may no longer be the easiest or most
logical way to do it. :-)

In this, as in a number of things, I personally find that, much like
with Mac OS X, once you've learned the simple visual language of
Ubuntu's GUI, it's substantially easier to use, more intuitive, and
more consistent than the Windows GUI. (I punted Fedora Core in favor of
Ubuntu a year ago and haven't looked back. Think of Fedora as "Linux
Corporate Edition" and Ubuntu as... not "Linux Home Edition", more
"Linux Not-Corporate Edition", and not any less powerful either.)
Getting used to Linux still takes some work, but it takes a lot less
than it used to, and if you're a tinkerer or an explorer it may even be
*fun* work. I heartily encourage you to play around with a Ubuntu
LiveCD and see if you like it. And if not, that's fine -- if Windows
works for you, it works. :-)

[1] Documentation for programmers *is* usually inlined with the code, but that's waaaay beyond the scope of this post.

#252 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 12:39 PM:

John 248: Please consider the source on this. I'm the guy who BOTH
refers to a single Kleenex™ tissue as "a Kleenek" AND calls more than
one of the things "Kleenices."

I wasn't being remotely serious, in other words.

But being a bit more serious, I do think that '-ices' has become a
standard English plural for words ending in '-ex'. Please note that I
said A standard, not THE standard. I'm still being silly when I say, as
I did yesterday, "Most dominatrices seem to be called 'Mistress'

As for the Anglo-Saxon...well, we do have plurals with '-en' in
standard English: 'oxen', 'children'. And we already have some words
that are distinguished only in the plural: one dwarf, two dwarves if
you're talking about another species, or dwarfs if you're talking about
humans afflicted with genetic dwarfism. So I don't object to calling
more than one box "boxen" when they're computers, and "boxes" when
they're the boxes the boxen came in!

That said, 'unixen' does seem kinda stoopid.

#253 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 12:41 PM:

Ooop, Sam, no offense meant.

#254 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 01:02 PM:

#245, David Harmon -

No worries (at least from me) - I think answering questions already
asked allows for nicely-tied ends on a conversation, even if it is cut

And wow, that is definitely elegant use of the command line. Intimidating, but nice.

#246 - Graydon -

I believe the Gnome is one of the redhat/fedora GUIs. That was what was on the system I fought with.

And I'm sorry. I follow what you're saying, but I'm not sure how it
relates to #241. Or maybe I only think I follow what you're saying.

One thing I'm not clear on - is the package manager system like the
GUI - a separate choice made by the OS installer, and you have
different ones that work with different distros, or is it more like
"Macs use stuffed files and Windows use zipped files" (in other words,
an OS choice that is "hardwired")?

And I'm terrible at cutting off a conversation, apparently, because
I also want to know - why wouldn't I want to compile a Fedora source on
a Debian system if it will work without issues?

#251 - Kevin Riggle - Ah. Okay. That's extremely useful. (I think
I'll be scraping this thread into a text file for future reference!)

This is the sort of thing that I find so weird about my previous
attempts to learn Linux from online sources, alone. I've never heard of
this. Maybe I tuned out on the more techy pages too easily, but...

#255 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 01:03 PM:

Debbie (249): That is immensely cool. I wonder if the fabric would
be any good for clothes. Quilts? Rag dolls? The crafter in me is

#256 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 01:10 PM:

#237, Marilee -

The staper is new-to-me (and better than my previous one) and has
done this as long as I've had it, so I don't know if brand matters here
or not. The stapler is a Swingline and the staples Bostitch, so there's
a good possibility it's a problem. It might be worth buying my own box
of staples to see if it makes a difference.

And for a little new non-Linux content:

Here's a trivial thing (staying with office-supplies theme) that I think may potentially have deep value. Dahle pencil sharpeners.

In a "fall of civilization" scenario, of course, we'd sharpen our
pencils with knives and call ourselves lucky to have pencils and
knives. But most of the time that's unsatisfactory and impractical.

I don't like using an electric device if I'm capable of doing the
same job with minimal effort non-electrically, so I don't want an
electric pencil sharpener.

I've never found the little single-blade sharpeners to be very
useful. They're portable and non-electric, but they dull (and I'm not
capable of sharpening one, even if I thought it was worth the trouble)
and even when they're sharp, they don't seem to work well if the lead
is off-center in the pencil.

What I want is a hand-crank rotary sharpener that isn't
wall-mounted. (I'm an apartment dweller.) My grandmother had a
wall-mount sharpener mounted on a chunk of 2x4, but it wasn't stable
enough and it was unwieldy. Random googling in frustration turned up

Their sharpeners include a clamp to hold the pencil so that you
don't have to mount the sharpener on anything. You can adjust the
sharpness of the point. Mine came with an item number on the blade
mechanism and the Dahle site says they sell replacement parts, though
prices aren't listed.

I've only had it a couple of years, so I can't speak of durability, but I'm very pleased.

#257 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 01:14 PM:

R.M. Koske @203: My guess is that it's a matter of the staple not
having pressure applied evenly so that both sides meet the paper at
once. Either the pusher-plate isn't square to the receiver plate (I'm
making these terms up; I hope you can figure out what I mean) or to the
staple itself; or the receiver plate is uneven; or there's drag on one
side of the channel the stapler goes down.

Try tightening up or oiling everything you can as a first step. Does
the stapler produce neatly-folded staples when there's no paper? Also,
try watching the staple (if you can) while producing just enough
pressure on the handle to break it off its companions. That might give
you some clues.

#258 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 01:17 PM:

Re: the Unix discussion:

I am a 25 year old engineering Ph.D student, which means two things:
1) I have reason and inclination to learn, understand and appreciate
*nixes, and 2) I grew up using Windows and am therefore not fluent in
*nix, learning only what I need to do the parts of my work that
absolutely must be done there.

No, I couldn't bootstrap knowledge of the OS. I did have to learn it
through apprenticeship. It is hard to find things you don't know you
have -- David Harmon @ 244, I know about "apropos" but you still have
to pick the right search terms, and those aren't necessarily intuitive.
I find that GUIs make exploration and discovery considerably easier.

Also, man, while useful for some things, is just confounding for
others. I had to buy a book and lean heavily on the internet, coworkers
and supervisors.

*nix has always struck me as being designed by and for engineers,
which means it has very different design priorities than something like
Mac OS X. Linux and Unix expect users to be willing to bend to the
system and its quirks, rather than being designed to bend to the user's
quirks. This is not necessarily bad, just different.

It is extremely powerful for certain things, as David Harmon noted.
Certain things are just a million times more efficient with a command
line. I can do things with a short shell script that are a pain in the
butt to do using Mac OS X's Automator, or indeed impossible (Automator
doesn't have if-then), and an even more major pain in the butt to do
manually. It depends entirely on how much you need to do those things
whether this is a useful feature for you.

(Since I switched to Mac, I now have both worlds, and I think it's great.)

Now if I can just find out why the backspace key on this machine is
mapped to ` and how to change it back, I'll be a truly happy camper.
(Am using the work Linux box today, not the Mac.) It's been a thorn in
my side for the duration of typing this comment. Have learned that I am
a fast but inaccurate typist.

#259 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 01:34 PM:

#253: None taken, Xopher! 'Unixen' is a hacker's shibboleth, derived
from Vax->Vaxen (and 'boxen' is an example of the same formation) -
yet another example of the same tendency to extrapolate linguistic
rules beyond all boundaries of sanity, common sense, and everyday

I quite agree that it sounds silly, but then I think all attempts to pluralize 'Unix' sound silly.

#260 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 01:39 PM:

Caroline: try "stty erase [hit the backspace key]". Failing that,
"stty erase ^h" (spell out the ^h by actually using the carat, not
hitting control-h) might work.

#261 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 01:40 PM:

Mary Aileen @255 -- I think it sounds neat, too, on all sorts of levels. Quilts? Good for reading in bed (under the covers)!

I was reading this article in the context of an ESL class with a
group of power plant engineers. They brought up the question of the
(seemingly) low manufacturing costs, and also noted that the fabric was
made into bags and not, say, jackets. I suspect that you probably
*could* make garments out of the material, but that would greatly
increase the costs of mass production.

More info here:

It sounds like they're certainly trying hard to go for deep value.

#262 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 01:51 PM:

R. M. Koske @256 -- pencil sharpeners. I hatehatehate those tiny
single-blade sharpeners, and we didn't want an electric one either.
Couldn't find a rotary one here in Germany*, so we brought back two
when we were in the States a couple of years ago. (Weird vacation
souvenirs, but -- well, that sort of thing is par for our course.) One
is wall-mounted, the other has a suction cup for the table top. That
doesn't work particularly well; a clamp would be better.

*at least when I went to school, every classroom in the US had a
pencil sharpener mounted next to the door. Here, each kid has his/her
own little sharpener that he/she manages to lose at least once during
each school year.

#263 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 02:16 PM:

Caroline --

I have CAPS LOCK mapped to escape. This often causes interesting
side effects when other people try to use my computer. (Most of the
habitual unix users now know what my default text editor is, and what
it would be if I had CAPS LOCK mapped to control, instead.)

I think the best way to think about unixes in general is that they are the product of two processes.

One is frustrated geniuses, unable to solve a problem of concern to
them, produce a solution and have it reach a stage where it is of
general utility. (This starts with the C programming language, and TeX
is one of the purer examples, but an enormous amount of this goes on.)

Two is different frustrated people, often of similar mental
capacity, trying to make the product of the frustrated genius in item
one usable in the general case, as distinct from applicable to the
general case.

These are both iterative processes, and they chain.

So it's more that the quirks are tolerated until they become either
sacred tradition or someone gets mad and comes up with a better
mousetrap which incidentally better reflects their quirks.

R. M. Koske --

There are four layers.

One layer is the flavour of unix -- Solaris, OpenBSD, NetBSD, the Mac BSD, Linux, etc.

Next layer is the distribution; this is the specific collection of
programs that have been tested to work together. This is the level at
which the package repositories -- the collection of individual programs
-- exist. The programs that manage the repositories are different, and
are different choices by different distributions.

(Many people will call this the operating system; I think it's more
like the species epithet, we know what the genus is (and thus the type
of OS) already.)

Next layer is X11, which is the common window manager system used on
(most but not all; Apple has a different one, frex) Unixes. The open
X11 project forked some years back so there are now two different code
trees implementing the behavior of the X11 standard.

Next layer is the window manager/desktop, which is where Gnome, KDE,
AfterStep, Blackbox, XFCE, et multi cetera come into things.

Since I'm old and somewhat command line focused, I think of things
not in terms of 'oh, well, there's an Add/Remove programs in the right
click', but in terms of "what is the wretched thing called so that I
may invoke it directly?"

And that's where it matters what distro you're using, because the
package management programs will be different, so if you just want to
invoke the wretched thing, you need to know.

Generally distros tell you what they are when they boot, and
otherwise there's a file in /etc with the version in it. (eg,

#264 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 02:46 PM:

R. M. Koske @#254: One thing I'm not clear on - is the package
manager system like the GUI - a separate choice made by the OS
installer, and you have different ones that work with different
distros, or is it more like "Macs use stuffed files and Windows use
zipped files" (in other words, an OS choice that is "hardwired")?

Well, since you're still asking questions.... It's somewhere in
between those. There are two basic sorts of packages: compiled
binaries, and

source code, each with their own issues:

The binaries have compiled-in assumptions about what's already on
the computer, where files are meant to go, and other subtle issues
about the system they're meant for. So if you try to install one on the
wrong system, its chance of actually working is poor, and there's some
chance of disaster (breaking the system). For a while, this was a major
problem, that made precompiling UNIX programs pretty much impractical.
Thankfully, over the past few years, the major "families" (Debian, Red
Hat, Mandrake, etc) have gotten their standards pretty well sorted out
-- and more to the point, they now provide central repositories of
compiled programs, that usually "plug in and work" for systems of their
type. These go along with matching package-management systems that know
where to find the right repositories and how to install the programs
correctly -- for their host system, specifically.

why wouldn't I want to compile a Fedora source on a Debian system if it will work without issues?

Mostly because that's likely to involve "going under the hood" and dealing with operating system esoterica. I have dealt with such issues, and I find them frustrating enough that even as an experienced Linux user (and erstwhile programmer), I will avoid them if at all possible.

The source code packages are theoretically adaptable to any
system... but there's a fair gap between theory and practice, because
many of the differences among systems are things that do in fact affect
compilation, even when you (or I) wouldn't think they ought to. There
are worse problems when it comes to taking your newly compiled program
and installing its various pieces into the proper parts of your system.
So in practice, you still need (a different part of) the package
management system that knows where things are supposed to go. For the
very simplest programs, you may be able to just compile to a single
binary and drop it into one of the .../bin directories, but these days
a lot of programs include libraries, configuration files, datasets, and
other chunks, all of which they need to be able to find after

The upshot is, that "work without issues" part depends on just how
well the program's author(s) did in terms of making their program
portable. If they messed up anywhere, you get to deal with some really
hairy details about how both the program, and your system, work behind
the scenes. A lot of the "simplicity" up front depends on shoving those
details behind a simpler interface, but that only works if you stay in front of that interface.

#265 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 02:52 PM:

Kevin @ 251: Actually, one of the things about Linux that drives me
mad is that the man pages are very poor. Often they're missing, even
for important programs and drivers, or named according to some odd
scheme that makes them difficult to find. Contrast that with any of the
*BSD family of open source systems (FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, et al.)
where everything from command line programs to configuration files to
system calls to device drivers really does have its own man page.

This is part of the difference in philosophy between Linux and the
BSD operating systems - Linux is a operating system kernel, and so
Linux distributions may end up packaged with very different sets of
programs and organized very differently. The BSD systems are complete
operating systems, so if you install FreeBSD (for example) you are
guaranteed that a large number of base commands and functionality, and
their associated documentation, will always be there and always in the
same place.

#266 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 02:57 PM:

Oh, and Xopher, "Unices" is an equally canonical silly plural for
"Unix". In fact, the mid-80s DEC Posix-compatibility suite for VMS was
called "Eunice".

#267 ::: Adam Ek ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 03:01 PM:

My father recently had my great-great-grandfather's clock fixed
(built in Sweden in 1872). It's still on the wall and needs winding
once a week.

I think some people in this thread may be interested in the Maker
Bill of Rights

I'm still envious of my coworker who got an old belt-drive
Bridgeport milling machine for the cost of hauling it out of a basement.

I'm really mad at my employer for closing down the only mass-transit
accessible buildings in the company. I now have a 42 mile commute each
way until I can manage to sell my house. On the other hand I got rid of
the 22mpg minivan in favor of a 42mpg diesel Beetle. The TDI diesel
should be good for 250,000 miles and can run on biodiesel (way better
energy balance than ethanol).

re post #166: I saw an engineering review in the 90's that stated
that most consumer point and shoots sold and even most low level SLR's
were used for less than 12 rolls of film, 360 shots.

re post #168: I've got an Old Town Tripper canoe. One of the old ads
involved the canoe being thrown off the tall factory roof and then
paddled away. My canoe is still in good condition after 32 years of
hard use. Another testimonial was from one falling off a float plane,
falling 1500 feet and still being usable when they hiked back and found

#268 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 03:15 PM:

#258, Caroline - Thanks for the confirmation that I wasn't
necessarily just failing to try hard enough. I won't rule it out, but
it feels better to know that someone else found it a non-trivial

#262 - Debbie -

We had those wall-mount sharpeners in school when I was a kid, too.
Lots of people claimed to hate them with all the passion a person under
twenty can muster, but I tended to like them. There were bad apples,
but most of them were excellent.

And I'm not sure I was clear about the sharpener and the clamp. The
clamp holds the pencil into the sharpener. Since you don't need to hold
the pencil in place, you have a hand free and can hold the whole
sharpener in one hand while operating the crank with the other. It
doesn't need to be fastened down at all.

#263, Graydon - Okay, that makes sense. Thanks.

#264 - David Harmon -

Hey! I followed the paragraph that begins "The binaries..." under my
own steam! Not by assembling definitions and unpacking it carefully,
but by knowing most of the concepts at the beginning. That's a good
feeling, and makes me feel better about my chances of eventually
learning this.

As for the why not compile Fedora source on a Debian system, yes, that is perfectly clear. Thank you.

#269 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 04:34 PM:

Hamadryad @ 213: I actually love the vintage Sheaffer Balances more,
but I have several Pelikan M200s (including the Telekom
magenta-and-grey marbled ones, which are rare), and a 215 -- which is
lovely if you want something the 200 size, but prefer a heavier pen.

(A useful guide for Pelikan sizes is on Richard Binder's site: I mention Richard a lot when I talk about
fountain pens, not just because he's one of the best at modifying and
repairing pens, but because he has the same sort of cheerful,
passionate enthusiasm for things that many of the people who comment
here do.)

#270 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 04:54 PM:

Linux being one of those subjects that tends to expand to fill all
online discussion space, kudos to the commentariat here for not doing

(signed, guy who currently runs OSX, XP, and Ubuntu on his home desktop...)

#271 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 05:17 PM:

My engineering building has wall-mounted pencil sharpeners. I've
never seen one used-- they are a bit noisy for mid-lecture sharpening.

#272 ::: Jason B ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 07:21 PM:

This just in: My wife and I went to Target in Norman, Oklahoma last
week. Be bought twenty-three items. We had forgotten our sturdy
reusable bags.

We got home with 9 plastic bags--fewer than 3 items per bag.

We will not forget the bags again.

#273 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 07:25 PM:

I was recently very pleased to discover one of the desk mount,
multiple-pencil-size sharpeners at my local thrift shop. Noisy as all
get out, sure... but now I'm back to using sharp pencils, instead of
trying to remember the last place I saw my pencil-case sharpener, or
tracking down 0.5mm leads...

#274 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 07:31 PM:

Clifton @ 265: No kidding. It doesn't help that most Linux
distributions get a good chunk of their utilities from the GNU project
(hence GNU/Linux) which is allergic to man pages.

Contrariwise the new shiny stuff is all for the GUI desktop, which
isn't supposed to need much of a manual. And, "Developers hate writing
documentation." I wish I understood why open source doesn't attract
more technical writers.

Caroline @ 258: I agree *nix systems are designed for
engineers, but I don't agree that MacOS X doesn't expect users to bend
to it. We're a long way from any software that doesn't. It's just
designed to easier for more people to (learn to) use, and concentrates
on enabling certain forms of creative expression instead. Which, as you
said, is fine.

Jen Roth: While we're not turning this into a 'teach me
linux' thread, can you offer any advice about getting the delete key on
MacOS X to work simultaneously in native terminal applications and with
remote applications on a Linux machine? (Some of them do work without
'delete sends backspace' but e.g. nano does not.)

#275 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 07:49 PM:

Reusable bags - I didn't remember them routinely until I mentally
tied carrying them into picking up the grocery list. Now I pick up the
list and I pick up the bags. I don't know why it suddenly worked.
Possibly it worked as soon as I really committed to it. (Not suggesting
that is the problem for others, just thinking out loud.)

For list-less trips I have a bit more trouble remembering, but I've
got at least one bag stashed in the car most of the time. I have
trouble resisting the temptation to acquire more bags.

#267 - Adam Ek

Ooh, I'm so jealous of the clock. Clocks and watches are one of
those things that you have to go up an order of magnitude at least in
price to get real quality, and it is hard (mentally) for me to do that.

I did have a keywound clock for a short time - it was one of two my
father brought back from Korea in the mid-70s. My granny gave me hers
when she moved into assisted living. It ran a few months for me and
quit. It had run every day from the day in the seventies when she got
it until a month or two before when it got put away for me. The
clock-repair guy said those clocks were "a 15-day mechanism with a
30-day spring" and when they died, they were unrepairable*. I think
resting breaks things before their time.

*I could have bought a new mechanism and had it put into the case,
but at the time I didn't think the case had enough sentimental value to
bother. I'm not sure now that was the right choice.

#276 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 08:18 PM:

Ralph@274: "Developers hate writing documentation." I wish I understood why open source doesn't attract more technical writers.


I am currently on a two-week hiatus from my current asic project.
I've been reassigned to go back over my documentation for our previous
project, and make it readable.

You work on something, design it from the ground up, deal with every
little nook and cranny that you created, spend months, maybe a year
sweating over it, and the most natural answer to questions about how it
works seems to be "Isn't it obvious?"

I know. I know. Back to documentation...

#277 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 09:14 PM:

I wish I understood why open source doesn't attract more technical writers.

Because in order to document a program, you first have to figure it out... without documentation.

#278 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 09:27 PM:

RM Koske #256 -- You have (ahem) a point about little single-bladed pencil sharpeners, but still, the Alvin Brass Bullet is a very satisfying-to-hold hunk o' metal, the sort of thing that feels like it'd survive a global apocalypse.

#279 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 09:29 PM:

Ok, I'll bite. What documentation do technical writers usually use to figure out a program?

#280 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 09:53 PM:

Greg London @ 242: This conversation has been very
interesting and educational. Thanks! However, I've finally realized I
don't even know enough about this to even handwave usefully, and will
now shut up.

Sam Kelly @ 250: "Nanotech is fast becoming a meaningless
word - the field of "stuff controlled on the molecular level" is still
at the stage where there are a lot of incredibly varied possibilities,
and some of them even work. We've got MIT-style cogwheels (cogwheels, I
ask you... they're practically steampunk), really cool zeolites,
functionalisable sputtered sulphur-on-gold fields, and utterly smooth
and regular Langmuir-Blodgett films."

That's a really good point. What I meant to say was "nano-level manufacturing."

#281 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 10:01 PM:

Ralph Giles #279:

Usually you team with the engineers & developers who create the
project. They explain it to you, then you put it into user-speak. If
you don't know the developers, or don't work with them, that's a good
deal harder.

As for why open source isn't attractive to technical writers, I
think it's because tech writing, while it has its pleasures, isn't a
great outlet for creative expression. If I want to pay the rent, I'll
write a manual; if I want to be creative, I'll write a story. The
middle ground consists of writing free tutorials for art programs or
how-to's for craft projects. That's fun, because the core project or
program I'm writing about is fun. So in order to attract technical
writers, I would think open source projects would either have to (1)
pay money or (2) be fun to write about (like GIMP).

#282 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 10:01 PM:

Oh dear Ghu, I have to spend some time documenting How to Read the
Maps, part 2, for the newbies (we get three next Monday), and the
people who've been around longer but still can't get it without help.
Not that they're likely to read it - they didn't read part 1 - but I
may tell them that the pop quiz on it is called QC, and getting the
package back for corrections is Not Passing.

#283 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 10:22 PM:

Ralph Giles @#279:

In a conventional company, the technical writer would usually be in
the same building as the programmer. They'd start with the programmer's
notes, which might not be complete and usually wouldn't be written in a
style suitable for end-users. (Some will be handwritten!) Hopefully,
they will also have the specifications and feature lists which were
written as part of the company's decision to write the program. And
then they can deal with the gaps in those, by going over to the
programmer (or at least phoning them) and asking questions. And if the
programmer doesn't cooperate, they can complain to his manager, who has
a natural interest in getting the company product documented.

The problem with open source programs, is that you instead have one
or more programmers who publish the program with minimal or no
user-accessible documentation, or something intended for highly
technical users. There may well be more information buried in the
source code, but that's not even provided with binary distributions,
which (for reasons I discussed above) are becoming more common.

And then either the programmer, or else someone whose role is
limited to packaging and/or "marketing", puts a note somewhere: "Hey,
somebody want to write a manual for this thing?"

From that point, anybody out "in the field" who hopes to actually answer that appeal, needs to do some or all of:

(1) Learn the program "cold", including exploring just what it can
or can't do, how to accomplish an assortment of user-useful tasks, and
what messages it presents in response to various user errors.

(2) Read through the source code for the programmer's comments and other notes.

(3) Read through the version history to note bugfixes and new features.

(4) Squeeze more information out of the same programmer who didn't
have time, interest, or communication ability to write proper
documentation in the first place. This of course would usually be done
by E-mail, since the programmer can be anywhere on the planet and
probably has a "day job".

(5) Possibly translate any of the above from geek-slang, a foreign language, or both at once.

And that's why Open Source doesn't get too much work from technical writers....

#284 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 10:40 PM:

Re: Documentation -

The joke(?) I heard once was that a developer was asked how they
handled security in their systems. He paused for a minute, then said,
"No documentation".

#285 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 10:48 PM:

Ralph Giles (#274): Experiment with 'stty dec' on the command line
(which will set the terminal to use the DEL (127) character as backward
delete) and/or adding 'set rebinddelete' to your .nanorc.

(My practice is to have the key-in-the-upper-right send DEL, and
have DEL act as backward delete. This is an artifact of being a
long-time Emacs user who started out using it on actual DEC terminals.)

#286 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 11:30 PM:

The family's 18thC grandfather clock is still ticking as is the
similar age mantel clock. The hour & half past gongs take getting
use to but the clicks of the pendulum, chain weights and gears is

#287 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 11:40 PM:

Steve C. @ 284...

The joke(?) I heard once was that a developer was asked how they
handled security in their systems. He paused for a minute, then said,
"No documentation".

I deeply and wholeheartedly wish that was a joke. Security through obscurity... isn't.

#288 ::: threespeed ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 11:46 PM:

I feel compelled to post a comment since the the quest for "deep value" seems eerily familiar. You see, I also have a VW Bus (a beat-up '67 -- though I use it only rarely), treadle sewing machine,
manual typewriter, 3-speed utility bicycle as my principle
transportation, and of course reusable shopping bags. I love fountain
pens too but lose pens too often to risk carrying one.

Self-reliance is very satisfying. You can get a lifetime of
wood-cutting out of a good handsaw, a triangular file, and some
knowledge of how to keep it sharp, without any other infrastructure.
This could be important if you're trying to survive after a global
apocalypse, yet another advantage of the deep value lifestyle.

Carbide lamps are like the fountain pens of lighting. Cave explorers
still use them, because they are durable and easy to fix in the field
(and in the dark), though finicky and messy. They work by dripping
water on calcium carbide to produce acetylene which is burned from a
jet. The lamp needs frequent adjustment and occasional recharging or
clearing out of clogs, but the problems are usually easy and quick to
fix. Electric caving lamps are indisputably cleaner and more
trouble-free, but if something other than a battery or bulb dies, it is
usually impossible to fix in the cave.

#289 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 12:38 AM:

Okay, I was going to stick with things I know about myself (like
biking when you're out of shape), but this question really struck me:

#277 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2008, 09:14 PM:

I wish I understood why open source doesn't attract more technical writers.

My partner is a fulltime, paid Linux developer, a coder since he was
in his teens, so I know an awful lot of coders & open source
people. The culture is even more macho and workaholic/masochistic than
other macho and masochistic subcultures (ecovillage building, bike
courier, BMX) I've been on the fringes of, despite the niceness of most
of the people in it.

An awful lot of coders in general seem to think that documentation is
for the weak, and open source coders display this attitude even more

#290 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 12:52 AM:

Regarding rag clouts - my mother (born 1924) taught me how to fold a
cloth and pin it into my underwear. I found it vastly more comfortable
(and secure) than the belt-and-napkin arrangement common at the time.
It was also more comfortable than the peel-and-stick pads that came
later. Disposability was the only drawback, and that only when I was
away from home.


#291 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 01:02 AM:

Adam@267: I'm still envious of my coworker who got an old
belt-drive Bridgeport milling machine for the cost of hauling it out of
a basement.

Holy crap. I might have considered volunteering to "help" move the
thing, only to have said coworker become involved in an "accident". His
dying words were that I take the damn thing myself.

Yes, officer, that's what he said, why do you ask?

I'd like to find some kind of training school that would show me how
to run the dang things, and then maybe I could do a class project or
something. Either it'd cure me of my desire to get a machine, or it'd
solidify it. Either way, it seems like a win.


#292 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 01:03 AM:

Okay, one too many comments about grandfather clocks. Now you ALL get to share the earworm! Bwahahaha...

My Grandfather's clock was too big for the shelf,

So it stood ninety years on the floor.

It was taller by half than the old man himself,

Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.

And though years would congeal Grandpa's brain to Malt-O-Meal,

He'd one wish that would not be denied;

For his will said to bury him in the clock

When the old man died.

Now, Grandfather's grandfather built him the clock,

And he built it like no clock before --

But the old so-and-so built it so high and wide

That we can't get it out through the door!

So when Gramma'd been calmed and Grandpa had been embalmed,

We discovered the clock was too wide,

But the god-damned cadaver had gotten jammed;

It was stuck inside.

So old Grandpapa's standing there in the hall-

Way at Nine Seventeen Cherry Lane,

And he stands, the old cuss, making faces at us,

Which we try to ignore just the same.

But we still think of him as we, haggard, pale and grim,

Stagger into the cold morning's light;

For at odd times he's ringing the blasted chimes

Every god-damned night!

So at 3:22 AM (ding-dong! ding-dong!)

"Oh ghod, there goes Gramps again." (ding-dong! ding-dong!)

At odd times he's ringing the blasted chimes

Every god-damned night!

- "Grandfather's Clock" by Frank Hayes, to the traditional tune

#293 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 02:24 AM:

Faren @ #208, the other day my mother, sister and I were discussing
what we'd do with this house when it came time to sell (after Mom's
passing, which doesn't look to happen anytime soon, thanks be). I said
I'd take my half and move to Prescott.

But if there's no bus service...

#294 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 06:00 AM:

Talk of delete/backspace is giving me nasty flashbacks. The HP User
Group Emacs (the aptly named HUGE) had, IIRC, five different layers just within emacs
swapping the meaning of the two keys over compared with the level
below. And we were using xmodmap to do the swap for all X applications,
so every layer was wrong in its assumption about the layer below. In
addition, although emacs supported X input at that time, it did it by
mapping X events into the codes it would have got running as a terminal
application with a keyboard of the type it was expecting for the
machine it was built on - which didn't work properly if your X display
was on a different machine type. Horribleness. But at least I had the
source, and could clean some of that up myself, and put in workarounds
that worked the way I wanted on the systems I was using for the rest.

(Things have improved a lot since, and at the time Windows was a single
user system with no remote GUI capability at all, so this isn't really
a "you can see why normal people prefer Windows" story. But
occasionally legacy stuff can still bite you in odd ways.)

#295 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:06 AM:

Rosa @#282: Hey, don't blame me for Ralph's question! ;-)

I learned my lesson dealing with the output of the guys you're describing! And as Mary Dell described much
more succinctly, the real problem is not having technical writers at
the programmer's shoulder. (Ghod, I ramble when I post late at night!)

#296 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:18 AM:

Mary Dell @ 281... if I want to be creative, I'll write a story

...while I'll write a blog entry. Documentation isn't an issue for
our group because our users are so smart that their very thorough specs
actually wind up being the documentation. And if, in the course of the
project, I ask them to clarify this or that part of their specs,
they'll actually go back and update the specs's copy that is kept in a
centralized location. That way, even years later, they can tell what
the heck our stuff does, and this in a language that they understand,
and they can build on that for the next round of specs.

#297 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:47 AM:

R.M. Koske @ #275: I think resting breaks things before their time.

Definitely true of human bodies (if you take "resting" to mean
"being put on a shelf for a couple of months"). I want to know how
bears hibernate without deconditioning to the point of becoming

#298 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:39 AM:

#278 - Avram

Oh, yes, that's lovely.

#286, T.W. - Once you get accustomed to the gongs, you almost
completely stop hearing them. It's kind of freaky. I once spent a
couple of hours reading in the room with a clock that chimed
half-hours. I'd lived with that clock since I was six or seven, and it
startled me when I realized that I hadn't heard a single chime during
my reading. I looked up to confirm that the clock was actually running
and discovered that though I could see the pendulum move, I couldn't
hear it tick. It's incredibly disorienting to be able to really see
your brain filter out the stuff that it's decided is irrelevant.

#299 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:54 AM:

Lee @#292:

Thanks a lot, now I have an earworm:

My Grandfather's Watch was the best ever made

by the Timex company.

Just like that watch John Cameron Swayze displayed

Last night on the old TV.

Oh it works underwater so perfectly

and it still makes a ticking sound

Which my Grandfather tried only this afternoon

and that's how the old man drowned.

--Allan Sherman

p.s. oh dear, the earworm, like the song, has segued into "Don't Buy the Liverwurst." It's going to be a long day.

#300 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 09:01 AM:

#290, Barbara Gordon -

It may sound silly, but I'm wishing I knew a site to point you to,
where you could share the details of that knowledge. That's the kind of
thing that gets lost as tech changes, and there's a large community of
women moving back to cloth pads who would be interested as a practical
matter. Plus it is historically interesting.

#301 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 10:29 AM:

Jason B., are you a fellow Normanite?

Here's another neglected low-maintenence technology -- slide rules
and their ilk. Though in these days of solar power, calculators don't
gobble batteries they way they used to. But slide rules are easy to
care for and maintain, where a broken calculator is unrepairable trash.
You can do an awful lot of math with a slide rule (and the recommended
peripheral, a pad of paper and a pencil),or an abacus or addiator.
There's one company in Japan (Concise) that still makes slide rules,
and lots are available on Ebay. It takes a bit of work to learn to use
them effectively, but it reinforces mathematical concepts instead of
isolating you from them the way a calculator does -- another deep value
right there.

Another note -- we inherited a 1920's cast-iron wall-mounted can
opener when my grandmother-in-law died. It's indestructible, handles
even heavy olive oil cans, and works better than any electric can openr
we've ever owned. Wish they made things to last like that now.

I think the concept of "pre-cycling" could be part of a deep value
philosophy. When I buy something, I try to consider how I might reuse
the packaging, for example. Like plastic grocery bags -- I either use
them to line wastebaskets, or wad them up as packing material, or
recycle them back at the store. Never do they just go straight in the
trash. I was disturbed a few years ago when yogurt containers went to
peel-off foil tops instead of plastic lids -- now the bottoms are
useless, and I find I can hardly bring myself to buy pre-flavored
yogurt anymore because of the waste. I buy my cat litter in large
plastic containers, which I then use as mouse-proof garage storage or
patio gardening pots. Empty dog food bags become large garbage bags,
and so on.

#302 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 10:58 AM:

WRT old-fashioned clocks, especially the striking kind:

My uncle's wife had a good many clocks as gifts over the years from
her father, who was a jeweler who liked tinkering with clockwork, and
she inherited several more when he died, because her mother was not
interested in keeping them going.* Given the difficulty of keeping them
all exactly on the correct time all the time, there were a good many
days when both noon and midnight--or, to be exact, the period between
11:45 and 12:15, when the clock with the Winchester chimes sounded the
quarter-hours--was too noisy to speak, as every clock in the house but
their alarm clock gave its all to sound the hour. Saturday midnights
were worst; then, on Sunday morning, while coffee was brewing, my uncle
and aunt would go through the house, winding and re-setting clocks.

My uncle said his favorite was the 400-day clock, which swung away
quietly under its glass bell, losing very little time and chiming so
quietly that if you weren't in the same room and listening for it, you
wouldn't know it had made any noise.

*It's usually easier to keep old clockwork going than it is to revive
old clockwork that's been allowed to stand still for a long time. Just
in case any old clockwork, whether in a clock or otherwise, comes your

#303 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 11:19 AM:

I was disturbed a few years ago when yogurt containers went to
peel-off foil tops instead of plastic lids -- now the bottoms are
useless, and I find I can hardly bring myself to buy pre-flavored
yogurt anymore because of the waste.

Poke a hole in the bottom for drainage and use them to start seeds
indoors. I've got a row of about ten on a windowsill and they're doing
nicely. This is less effective if you want to eat yogurt every day, but
it's a use for at least some of them.

#304 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 12:04 PM:

I have a Deep Value dilemma at the moment. In going through a
houseful of belongings I've come across lots of things that are
perfectly good, but not necessarily for us. In trying to be a good
steward, I carefully pack these things up to donate them, only to find
that charities don't want them. Goodwill turned down my 3-in-1 printer,
despite the fact that we originally got it from a Goodwill store,
because "computer things have viruses on them" and just today I was
told that Habitat for Humanity isn't taking cast iron tubs for their
ReStore because no one ever buys them. Cast iron tub! Hardly used (for
at least the past 22 years). What on earth am I supposed to do with it
now? Bury it and use it as a koi pond? (Actually, that might work... it
would probably freeze in the winter though.)

#305 ::: Ronit ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 12:12 PM:

Do tea ball/infusers count as old tech? They cost about 2-5$US, and
pay for themselves almost instantly, as loose tea is so much cheaper
than tea bags.

#306 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 12:15 PM:

EClaire -- look for a FreeCycling organization in your area. You can
list your stuff and the people who want it can contact you directly.

#307 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 12:37 PM:

fidelio @302:

It's usually easier to keep old clockwork going than it is to
revive old clockwork that's been allowed to stand still for a long
time. Just in case any old clockwork, whether in a clock or otherwise,
comes your way.

OK, I'll go wind the grandmother clock* downstairs. It's rather
outcompeted by the church clock half a block away, which chimes the
hour and half hour. The grandmother clock does as well, but we let it
run down about six months ago.


* It's a mantel clock, but it really did belong to my maternal grandmother.

#308 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 12:39 PM:

And another vote for freecycling here: we used it to get rid of any number of things that we had no need for before our move.

I even boxed up all those screws, nails, wall plugs, nuts, bolts,
and miscellaneous hardware that I'd collected over the past decade and
gave that away. (There was a lot of interest in that one.)

#309 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 12:40 PM:

Tom Womack @ 210: "But that fifty-dollar versus fifty-cent thing means they're almost by definition used in niche applications."

How big of a time gap does that money gap translate into? Like, how
many years back do you have to go before an ASIC chip with the same
capabilities as your modern $50 FPGA also cost fifty dollars? Are we
talking a year, or a decade?

At least a decade. You can implement a 40MHz RISC processor with a
cache in a Spartan3 FPGA - something like the MIPS R3000 in an original
Sony Playstation, which came out in 1994, but without the weird
external processors that the Playstation has.

The Spartan3 was released in about 2004, and Xilinx has subsequently
focussed on more capable and *much* more expensive chips, with really
elaborate high-speed network interfaces since one of their markets is
the builders of really big network routers.

There are a couple of math problems which I thought would fit nicely
in FPGAs, but the problem turns out to be that an FPGA capable of
holding a memory controller and a 64-bit multiplier, on a board which
can talk to the outside world, costs a good deal more than the
cheapest-available quad-core PC, and that PC has a vastly better memory
controller and four incredibly much faster multipliers.

#310 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 12:44 PM:

#301 - Janet Brennan Croft -

There's an idea that I've seen a few places in environmental circles
that there's no such thing as waste in nature and manufacturing should
be the same. Not "we'll recycle your dead washing machine into a new
washing machine" but "when your washing machine dies, the broken parts
will be recycled and the unbroken parts will be useable for X." I don't
recall what the concept is called, and I don't think anyone has really
succeeded at it yet, but it sounds like an excellent ideal to strive

#311 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 01:00 PM:

Janet #301:

I have to say, I find the modern solar powered calculators an
example of good, long-lasting technology. You can't repair it yourself
if it breaks, but that's not trivial for a sliderule, either. And a
calculator is *way* more powerful for a lot of things, and requires a
lot less knowledge to use. We have a couple old solar powered
calculators from college, which our kids play with. If you can manage
not to pour water in the keys or step on them, they last for a long
time. (I guess either the keys will wear out, or the solar panels will,
eventually.) This doesn't have the feel of disposable stuff to me.

OTOH, I gather that there are some quite sophisticated mechanical
calculators out there. They feature prominently in Gibson's _Pattern
Recognition_, and I recall going to a museum of mechanical computing
devices (the "Arithmeum") in Bonn (I was there for a conference) soon
after reading the book, and saw references to some of the mechanical
calculators described in the book. If you happen to be there, it's
definitely worth seeing....

#312 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 01:45 PM:

RMKoske 298,

Yes you do get used to them if you live with the sounds but we only
visit a couple times a year. They're on a working farm(pasture range
beef) so you do not get the urban background noises either. The silent
strike hand still works but you can only set it for 6 hours. Choose
your 6 hours wisely.

#313 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 01:51 PM:

Enthusiastic third for freecycling. I assure you, people want the strangest
stuff, and normal stuff is just a given. A working 3-in-1 printer will
be gone in ten minutes if your list is active -- or that's the
impression I get from my local freecycle list when others have posted
printers and similar.

#314 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 02:17 PM:

Today I took old newspapers to the recycling container, and saw a
whole whack of *books* in there. Over 20, a real sammelsurium. Some
travel guides, recipe books, also some poetry, history and fiction.
Fortunately they weren't out of reach. I fished them out, found some I
wanted, and stacked the rest on top of the bin. No place to donate the
rest came to mind, unfortunately, and I was in a hurry, so that was the
best I could do on the spur of the moment. Seems a shame, although when
I think realistically, there probably are a lot of books that don't
truly deserve immortality. (writing those words feels like heresy!)

On a brighter note, I just found out that freecycle is alive and well in Germany. Thanks for the tip, Fluorosphere.

#315 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 03:48 PM:

#312, T.W. -

Ugh, yes, merely visiting a clock with loud chimes is a guarantee of being routinely startled.

#316 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:32 PM:

Greg London: Re Bridgeport/Vertical End Mills. Fly me out, I can teach you to use it.

Set ups, and all.

In a lot of ways they are very simple. In subtle ways, they aren't
Oh, wait, you don't have one. That makes it a little tougher.

Community colleges often have machinging courses.

R.M. Koske: re tuning things out. It's a swell trick. The trouble I
have is the sounds which sound like things I need to pay attention to.
Mosty I freeze, while I parse it out, but there have been some dramatic
moments (the first time the fired a volley at the Renassaince Faire I
work, well I was in the path of direct echo. I was flat on the ground,
with my sword swung behind my back [so I'd not land on it: ouch] while
lots of people looked at me funny).

re yogurt containers. All of ours have lids, and foil/plastic seals beneath.

#317 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 04:51 PM:

Ah! Thank you! There is one for our county, so I'll see if I can drum up any interest. This may be a great help.

And if I forgot to say thank you for the link to the garden
instructions, thank you for that as well! The instructions will be
passed on to the official tiller of land here, and hopefully I'll be
able to start transplanting my seeds and seed potatoes soon.

#318 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 05:34 PM:

The people who do Jasper (open source reporting tool) seem to be funding the project by selling the manual at $44 a pop.

I have never found a pencil sharpener to match those old double cutter schoolroom varieties.

The solar-powered calculator is a really permanent technology. I hit
high school exactly on the cusp of the slide rule to calculator change:
the NS and TI scientific calculators came out the year I started. I got
the NS, because it was reverse Polish (my father got an HP 35 when they
were first available), and I kept it going for well over a decade by
opening it up at intervals and soldering a new set of AA Ni-Cads, but
eventually I was reduced to a solar powered 4-plus-percent job which I
used until it disappeared into the chaos of our house. I'm sure it
still works, if I could find it.

#319 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 06:02 PM:

Debbie #314:

I found most of what is now my collection of 19th-c. American
history texts in a pile next to the dumpster outside my apartment house
at the end of a school year. Somebody couldn't be bothered to stand in
line at a bookstore or drop them off for the library sale.

Twice a year, the city runs "heavy trash collection" in which you
are allowed to put out your old appliances, furniture and the like.
With the exception of a broken toilet seat, nothing we've put on the
(nonexistent) curb has *ever* lasted long enough to be collected by the

#320 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 06:38 PM:

Terry@316: Oh, wait, you don't have one. That makes it a little tougher.

You're such a tease.


#321 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:13 PM:

Greg: You were the one who got me thinking you had a Bridgeport.
Honestly, the hardest part about using them is taking backlash into
account (no, I lie: that's the trick to using them once you understand
the ideas of speed and feed).

They are, all in all, very simple devices, and the algorithms are
pretty straightforward (unless you get to some of the odd aluminums,
which do that whole, 10.7 grams of powder cause the cannon to go backwards, while the ball stays still, but I digress. I miss the act of machining; the job, not so much).

#322 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:23 PM:

Terry Karney @ 321... 10.7 grams of powder cause the cannon to go backwards, while the ball stays still

I'd like to see the MythBusters attempt to reproduce that one. Why
wouldn't they? They once tried to find out if shoving your finger in a
pistol's barrel would make the gun blow up.

#323 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:37 PM:

David Harmon @ 283: See, that sounds like an argument against
volunteer open source contribution in general, since a coder has to do
most of that too. Maybe it's that with code changes you can just fix
something that bugs you personally, while documentation is generally
about other people, or at least the relationship a project has with

Mary Dell @ 281: Interesting that tech writing would be a last
resort for people with writing skills too. I've heard the same argument
about open source in general, in that almost no one codes for fun
either. What about the other supposed benefits, like owning something
you've made in way that goes beyond a job role, achieving excellence in
some small corner of the world, or a chance to practice professional
skills while you're still in school?

Rosa @ 289: Sadly, I fear you're closer to the truth. There is
clearly a lot of toxic culture, and not a lot of positive role models
for projects trying to get out of that.

Thanks all for your answers.

Janet Brennan Croft @ 301: Yay slide rules! I don't actually have
one, but I played with my parents' quite a bit when I was a kid. They
were strangely uninterested in passing them on. :)

#324 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 07:47 PM:

Janet @ #301

I was disturbed a few years ago when yogurt containers went to
peel-off foil tops instead of plastic lids -- now the bottoms are
useless, and I find I can hardly bring myself to buy pre-flavored
yogurt anymore because of the waste.

That was what tipped me over the edge into cultivating my own
yogurt. It's not that the yogurt is any better or more nutritious or
anything (although I escape all the silly additives) or even that much
cheaper (about half the price) but simply that it drove me crazy to go
through all those little individual plastic containers, despite their
recyclability. Now my yogurt comes in washable, reusable containers
(some of which came with the yogurt-making equipment and some of which
are recycled from a particular condiment I like that comes in glass
jars of exactly the right size to fit in the yogurt-maker).

I guess the "deep value" angle is that I know I don't actually need
the commercial yogurt incubator -- any sufficiently insulated container
would maintain the original milk temperature long enough for the
culture to work (which is how I managed things back in college in the

#325 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:11 PM:

Heather Rose Jones (324): My mother used to make yogurt using the
pilot light in the oven (iirc). Now she submerges the jar(s) in warm
water in an old styrofoam cooler overnight.

Do you find that you have to start over every so often with a fresh
batch? My mother says the yogurt flavor gets stronger every time she
makes it, so that eventually it's too strong.

Me, I can't stand yogurt. :)

#326 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 08:41 PM:

David Harmon @ 283: See, that sounds like an argument against
volunteer open source contribution in general, since a coder has to do
most of that too. Maybe it's that with code changes you can just fix
something that bugs you personally, while documentation is generally
about other people, or at least the relationship a project has with

You will sometimes get *developers* fixing bugs in the *developer*
documentation that way. But that is *not* the end-user documentation.
End users are an entirely different animal, and need different
documentation, and it's a rare developer who can also write end-user

My hypothesis about the lack of technical writers in open-source is
much along the line of Mary Dell's -- that 1) technical writing isn't,
in the main, very fun; and 2) everyone who finds it fun (and a lot of
people who don't) are all exceedingly well-employed in industry
already, and there aren't enough technical writers to go around even
there, as evidenced by the quantity of bad documentation industry
produces. On the other hand, I know a *lot* of people who code for fun
(and who also, coincidentally, contribute to open-source projects).
Writing documentation just isn't viewed as being very sexy (though
perhaps it should be) -- you only notice documentation when it sucks.
I'm not sure how much of this is inherent and how much is social. But
good documentation (and good QA) is a perfect example of deep value. :-)

#327 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 09:57 PM:

Ralph Giles #323:

Mary Dell @ 281: Interesting that tech writing would be a last
resort for people with writing skills too. I've heard the same argument
about open source in general, in that almost no one codes for fun
either. What about the other supposed benefits, like owning something
you've made in way that goes beyond a job role, achieving excellence in
some small corner of the world, or a chance to practice professional
skills while you're still in school?

The benefits you cite are all real, and valuable, but there are many
other ways to attain them, if you like to write. Back in my college
days you would either start a zine or write for one your friend was
editing, and everyone was doing something for the campus newspaper or
interning at a scholarly journal or somesuch. And writing poetry and
stories, and scripting movies for friends in the film program, and all
that kind of stuff. I don't think open source actually existed back
then, of course. We writing geeks did help out our comp sci friends by
proofreading papers and abstracts for them. But that they had to feed
us in exchange for doing it (they all had stipends and we didn't),
because it was dead boring.

The thing is, if you like to write code, and you do it for a living,
you'll itch to write a program that's cooler than whatever you work on
while you're on the job. And open source can give you that opportunity.
But writing the user manual for someone else's open source program will
pretty much feel exactly like writing the user manual for someone
else's proprietary program. So there's not a lot of reason to do it for

#328 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 10:57 PM:

Susan: According to the booklet with it, it's a "No. 99 - Lock Stitch, for Family Use." I looked the model up, and the jpg shows
a similar machine, except mine doesn't have a treadle. There are three
spare needles in the compartment, so I'm probably ok for another decade.

#329 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 11:17 PM:


Thanks for the list of serial numbers. Mine is 1916 and was manufactured in Scotland, which is neat to know.

#330 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 11:17 PM:

Joann, #319: Our local entertainment paper, the Houston Press, runs
annual "Best of Houston" awards. The first year I was here, the winner
for "best thrift shop" was "Heavy Trash Day in the Heights". (The
Heights is an old, heavily-gentrifying neighborhood not too far from
where we live.)

For that matter, we got the lovely steel futon frame in our living
room (as long as a full-sized sofa, and flattens to queen-size) from
the side of the main road thru the Rice University campus; it had
clearly been abandoned by a student who was moving out. All we had to
do (after getting it home, which required the Big Honkin' Van but was
otherwise no challenge) was buy a new pad for it. I've now got Russ
watching FreeCycle for another one, with which we'll replace the ugly
(and uncomfortable) old sleeper sofa in the den, putting it up on
FreeCycle in return.

#331 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2008, 11:29 PM:

re #301:

A friend of my husband's collects slide rules, and back in high school
got to be very smug during an exam when everyone else's calculator died
(it was a very hot day).

#332 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 03:50 AM:

Kevin Riggle @326:

But good documentation (and good QA) is a perfect example of deep value.

Thank you; good point. I agree entirely.

But then I would, because I'm a tester.

#333 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 05:28 AM:

Random weirdness related to Lee's post at 292. I had never
heard that grandfather clock song in my life until yesterday. Then,
just a few hours later, an episode of 1-800-Missing featured it. Cue "Twilight Zone" theme song.

joann @319 -- We used to have twice-yearly heavy trash
pickups, too. It was fun, because everyone would stroll around and look
at other people's stuff. Then too many people started putting their
general garbage in there, so there's now a pickup-on-demand service. In
practice, you call to say you want something picked up, then you're
notified of the date when the truck will come. They bundle pickups in
the same neighborhood. Not a bad system, but the flair is gone.

#334 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 06:15 AM:

abi @332: Then thank you. No matter how frustrated I get at
the test suite or the bugs QA found in my flawless code, I know that
the situation would be immeasurably worse without either.

This post struck a nerve with me, since I am 1) moving out of the dorm,
and thus need to outfit my first real apartment; and 2) going on a
21-day hiking trip in California this summer, and so needing to think really really hard about the deep value of everything I bring.

I partly justified the purchase of an 85-liter hiking backpack to
myself on the grounds that it would make a great go-bag in the
off-season. A little too big to bring as a carry-on on a plane, though.
And I keep rediscovering that non-cotton fabrics, especially wool, have
deep value in the long-wearing, warm-keeping, and
not-getting-hypothermia senses.

I'm a little less clear on the deep value of other things. I'm
probably going to give away the loft I built (sniff), since it won't
fit in the room I'm moving into without blocking sunlight, and it
doesn't support as large a mattress as I'd like. But is a futon better
than a traditional bed, since I can convert it into a couch if I want
to seat more people in my room, say to watch a movie? Do I really want
to ask my parents to ship my antique hardwood dresser halfway across
the US, and if not how will I store my clothes? What will I do for a
desk? Will I have enough bookcases?[1] Trying to judge value on
multiple axes simultaneously -- usefulness, durability, weight (since
my ideal is that I could move entirely by myself, without a motor
vehicle, in a pinch), not to mention affordability on a student budget
-- is hard. And It's hard to optimize qualitative rather than
quantitative characteristics.

Does Ikea have deep value?[2]

[1] The cooking gear can move into the kitchen -- cast iron, there's
deep value right there; also, the skill of cooking -- thus freeing a
bookshelf, and where that bookshelf is narrower than the dorm bookshelf
I'm giving up, it's also taller. I could also sell some of the
textbooks I'm never going to use again.

[2] I'd go there just for the food, really -- Swedish food is among the
genres I consider comfort food -- but it would be nice if I could pick
up some furniture while I'm at it.

#335 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 06:31 AM:

Julie L @131:

I had quite a good experience getting the heels on my Cabelas light
hiking books replaced at the local shoe repair shop. (These are not
boots designed to have replaceable soles.) I'd worn down the heels
considerably, so I took them in and was going to get the whole sole
replaced, but the guy said since the forefoot was still okay he could
just replace the heel, and he basically cut the old heel off and glued
a new one on, as good as new. It's given me another couple years worth
of wear out of them, since the uppers are still in decent shape.
Probably works better with boots than with other kinds of shoes, though.

As for "shoes is shoes," the friends of mine who do LARPing in the
woods say that their LARP groups require modern shoes, because
apparently period shoes suck for running around and fighting
in. Secondhand, and most of us don't run around in the sticks beating
our friends with foam weapons day-to-day, but something to consider. I
think a shoe would be have to be made pretty carefully to get the right
arch support, ankle support, etc. that properly-fit commercially-made
shoes do. Also, I've discovered that I really want heel
shock-absorption, because walking on concrete all day is a killer in
that way, and I don't know how you'd achieve that in a small-batch
shoe. (I was quite disappointed that my new heavy-duty hiking boots,
purchased for the aforementioned trip, didn't have that and more
easily-replaceable soles, because otherwise they'd be great for
everyday wear -- full-grain leather uppers, the works. Lots of deep
value. I guess that shock absorption matters less on the trail?)

Not saying good small batch shoes are impossible, though, and if you find a good place, please let me know. :-)

#336 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 09:14 AM:

Ralph @#323: Maybe it's that with code changes you can just fix something that bugs you personally,

Well... if you're a programmer, you can often go in and fix
a specific problem, or graft in the feature you want. But if the
original program isn't very readable, that might involve rewriting most
of it, which nearly amounts to "adopting" the thing. If it matters that
much to you, fine. If not, there's probably another program to replace
it, and goodbye.

The problem for docs is that (1) most writers are not programmers, and (2) for end-user docs, you're concerned not with how it's made, but with how it behaves. Even if you are
a programmer, figuring out behavior from source code takes more than
just poking through the logic, you need to really "grok" the whole
thing. Not to mention you also have to cope with the bugs...,

As an example, consider the GUI newsreader I use, Pan2. My ISP
recently reset its newsgroups (restarting the article numbers from 1).
Well, that doesn't happen often, but now it has, and I can't see how to
make the program recognize tt. No docs, no menu option for that, and no
feedback from the program. (I've been editing the newsrc files, but
that's already an "old-timer's trick".)

Another day, the same program semi-hung, refusing to run its task
queue. When I exited, I got a message on the terminal I'd run it from,
something like "Existing Quarks: 1". If I really wanted to dive into
the program, I could probably figure out where that idiocy was printed, but not necessarily the conditions that produced it. If I were just a writer, forget it!

And then there's all the messages and behaviors coming from various
libraries and slave programs, which represent whole new sets of source

#337 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 09:24 AM:

Solar-powered calculators can die from one or another cause - I had
one do that earlier this year. Just quit working, wouldn't turn on even
in bright light. (There may be something broken that can be repaired,
but I haven't opened it up yet for an autopsy. It was so much easier to
walk into an office-supply place and buy another of the same model.) On
the other hand - no batteries required! This one is just about as
powerful as, and a lot less expensive than, my ancient HP45 (which has no remaining source for battery packs).

#338 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 09:35 AM:

abi @ 332... I'm a tester

"Back off, man! I'm a tester."

#339 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:01 AM:

Serge @ 338: You sound a bit testy.

#340 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:03 AM:

Re: sewing machine needles for old machines (Sarah) and other trivia

All current household machine needles should work fine. They'll have
a flat side - be sure you get its orientation when replacing them.
Check the ones you have to be sure they haven't rusted. Remember red
tomato pincushions with an attached strawberry? The strawberry had
emery powder inside, so you could poke a needle back and forth and keep
it clean.

Cheap needles aren't worth their supposed savings.

Friction heats the needles. Inexpensive ones will warp, or worse,
shatter. The bits in the bobbin case can throw off the timing, and
that's either about an hour of your time if you haven't done it a lot,
or a hefty fee to your local repair shop, and there you are with
curtains all over the kitchen table for a week and a half. You can
often pick up machine things at yard sales. They're a great place to
add to your collection of attachments such as feet*, rufflers, binders
and buttonhole makers, but I'd throw away any needles found there.
Among professionals, a new project always starts with a new needle.

*yours will take a short shank.

Get someone local to show you how to clean lint out and oil it - a
few minutes weekly if you sew a lot, or just before or after more
widely spaced stints.

A good brand available most places is Schmetz. The default size is
an 80/12 universal. Sharps/denims are extra pointy, good for firmly
woven fabrics. If you want to sew on t-shirts or lycra, get a stretch
needle. They replaced ball points and were a considerable improvement.

The biggest problem I have with ancient machines is that they have a
tiny spindle bobbin. Kind of like trying to download a movie to those
old 5 1/4" floppies...

#341 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:40 AM:

Ginger @ 339... I protest. With zest.

#342 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:46 AM:

I'd add to Carole @ 340

Don't bother with plastic bobbins if you don't have to. You can usually
find metal ones that will work and won't break so easily. Most machines
use the same kind; recent Singers usually won't.

The less-expensive machines are usually the ones without all the
electronics, and they'll do what you need and last for years. Cleaning
the lint out isn't as difficult as it sounds, and there's not much
under there that will break if you look at it. (It's Victorian high
tech: cams and levers and pushrods. Give it a steam engine and belt
drive, and you're in business.)

#343 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 11:32 AM:

As a reviewer, my recycling problem is galleys. Some years ago, I
used to donate them to libraries, but then I was told that was a no-no.
Now they sit in cardboard boxes all over the bedroom (along with the
"keeper" galleys that also sit in cardboard since I've long run out of
shelf space). To give things to recyclers, I guess I should tear off
every single cover so someone else wouldn't grab and try to resell
them. Argh! Free advance copies are wonderful, but the aftermath not so
much so.

And to that comment about thoughts of moving to Prescott till my
gripe about buses showed up (I'm a day late in getting back to the
thread, rushing, so I forget who wrote it), it would be lovely to have
a fellow Fluorospherean here but yes the transit situation is a pain. I
didn't know about it when we moved here, just months after the
epilepsy-induced car wreck that lost me my license -- which I haven't
tried to get back now that the disease is treated, because I *really*
don't want to drive my husband's clunky old van.

#345 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 11:51 AM:

When the user manual has a line like this:

The Fractal Sum node is a fractal function that returns values between –1 and 1. It has the

following attributes:

You just know the technical writers weren't worth their pay. You don't even get enough to use Google.

(The manual is for Poser. The assumption is that the people using
the program are smart enough to recognise a Phong shader without being
told the name.)

#346 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 12:06 PM:

is my sewing machine. Got it for a present recently. Still haven't sewn
anything with it. Mostly because I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

That seems to happen to me a lot.

#347 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 12:22 PM:

At the library where I work, we've found that the best solution for
getting rid of galleys (of the book rather than ship variety) is to
have a little bin marked "free books" which we periodically refill with
new ones. Some of them disappear surpisingly rapidly, some sit for a

We also save some of the better/more popular ones to use as prizes at our teen programs and giveaways at our critic groups.

#348 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 12:30 PM:

Wow, nice "home" industrial, Greg -note that they've attached the motor behind, rather than in, the right side of the head.

I don' know nuthin' bout Consews. Most sewing machine shops will
teach you basics, assuming they sell parts/servicing. Also check
community colleges or free universities.

Getting started sewing, like learning to knead bread, is easiest and
quickest shown. Haven't you made great strides on the personal
nutrition front in the last several months?

#349 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 01:06 PM:

Serge @341: Sir, your name must truly be Shirley, for you jest.

#350 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 01:14 PM:

Carol@348: note that they've attached the motor behind, rather than in, the right side of the head.

I don't even know what that means. Is that a good thing? Bad? The
manual says something about being able to hook it up to an external
motor on a stand, and run a belt up to a pulley somehow. I figured I'd
deal with that after I knew some more of the basics.

What I have discovered, upon setting the beastie up, is that it
seems to be designed and built only for the heavy duty stuff. The
manual says use #69 bonded nylon thread. I couldn't find any at the
local, chain fabric store. So I tried some of the heaviest thread they
had. It kept breaking in the machine.

Then I found a store that's a bit of a drive away, and bought a
spool of the #69, and sewed through a piece of heavy canvas like a
knife through hot butter.

Hm, that's an odd metaphor, rather messy visual.

I don't know why, but I just assumed that a heavy duty sewing
machine could do light duty sewing too. Apparently not this one. I
wanted to do some heavy duty stuff, but I thought I could also do some
light duty stuff too. Looks like I need a different machine for that.

Anyway, I need to get back to that big store and buy some different
colors of #69 thread and some heavy duty material and find something
that I can do as a first, simple project. maybe a canvas tote bag or
something. I was hoping to eventually be able to make something like a
simple leather fanny pack or a canvas pack for my paintball equipment.

A local friend of mine is a sewing genius, has some amazing
machines, one of which can make lace from a downloaded pattern. I
should probably bug her for a lesson or two.

#351 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 01:19 PM:

Ginger @ 349... Ye pest!

#352 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 01:28 PM:

Kevin Riggle @334

Does IKEA have deep value?

That is an interesting question.

On the one hand, flat pack furniture can be shipped more
efficiently, which is good. Their products are generally of good
quality, and the wooden ones in particular will look good even after a
certain amount of abuse. In comparison to the expensive and
depressingly ugly used furniture that we got for our first flat, IKEA
goods are affordable and attractive.

On the other hand, many of their chipboard or laminate products do
not look good after a few years of hard wear. And they encourage a
high-turnover approach to interior decoration, with a rapid purchase -
use - dispose cycle. Also, they are not a local business for most of us.

We have a lot of IKEA furniture—my bindery is almost entirely from
them, and the additions to my workspace the next house will be (hacked)
IKEA products. We'll probably fit out the bedrooms with IKEA products
in the new house. (We sold our furniture along with our house in
Scotland, rather than move it across the North Sea.)

Basically, I think IKEA is like a tool, that you can use wisely or poorly.

#353 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 01:28 PM:

Greg: Wow, that's quite some sewing machine! There have been times
I've wished for such a heavy-duty one, but with the right needle,
thread and tension I've gotten by all right.

Don't know what you're thinking of when you mention "light sewing",
but that machine may be able to handle things like twill, denim,
fleece, and medium-to-heavy weight cotton OK. You may have to play
around with tension and needles on scraps first. Also, putting tissue
paper under very lightweight material often helps feed the material
through. (But it doesn't sound like you're planning projects with
organza right away.) Go for it!

#354 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 01:48 PM:

Greg @350:

I bet that sews leather something sweet.


#355 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 02:08 PM:

Motor on back GOOD.

69 nylon is commonly used for auto upholstery.

First project: how about a circus tent?!

I've heard* you can pick up leather scraps by the boxcarload,
cheaply, on ebay. That would be a good investment while you're learning
how to use your machine.

* if it was here, sorry for mislaying the attribution.

And you could use the resulting patchwork for the circus tent...

#356 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 02:47 PM:

Faren @ #343, that was me. It was mostly a joke, but I really did
have the conversation and Prescott really did jump into my head for
unknown reasons. I've spent time in Phoenix and Tucson, and I gather
they're so built up now I'd probably go mad. I was back in Tucson after
a 20-year absence in 1993 and discovered they'd built strip malls and
subdivisions all the way to Gates Pass, and that was enough to
disenchant me for a long time to come.

#357 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 03:35 PM:

Ginger #339: Is that the old or new testament?

#358 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 03:57 PM:

Greg London writes in #346:

Still haven't sewn anything with it. Mostly because I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

That seems to happen to me a lot.

Maybe you should seek the services of a life coach.

#359 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 04:34 PM:

Greg London @ 346... Still haven't sewn anything with it.

Reminds me of that line spoken by Rutger Hauer near the end of Bladerunner.

"I've sewn things you people wouldn't believe."
#360 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 05:02 PM:

Fragano @ 357: Fundamentally, it's not the testament of yesteryear,
but instead it's the testudo. And u do test, either slowly like the
tortoise of Maryland or roamin' like the legionnaires.

#361 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 05:41 PM:

Faren Miller@ 343:

Piers Anthony, in one of his Authors Notes, pointed out that a boxed
manuscript fit neatly into the bin of his wood-burning stove. I don't
know if your galleys have the same form factor....

#362 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 05:48 PM:

Ginger #360:

"and don't name me but I think

They catch his wife with two tests up the beach"

(Derek Walcott)

#363 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 06:36 PM:

Dave Bell #345:

The manual is for Poser. The assumption is that the people using
the program are smart enough to recognise a Phong shader without being
told the name.

Really? I always thought the assumption was that we were smart
enough not to read the horrible, horrible manual, and to just go ask
someone at Renderosity instead...

But seriously, Poser is the perfect example of a program that
inspires many, many people to provide free technical writing services,
in the form of tutorials. It's not open source, but it's a creatively
inspired program, so it's fun to write about. At least, I think so.

#364 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 08:11 PM:

#334 ...Is a futon better than a traditional
bed, since I can convert it into a couch if I want to seat more people
in my room, say to watch a movie?

In my experience, a futon can only be slept on for about six months
before it becomes actively harmful to your back, and meanwhile it does
not make a very good couch. A good spring mattress, on the other hand,
should last for decades, with proper care (mattress liners are your

#365 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:22 PM:

I will disagree with Zack. I've slept on a futon for years, my back
is as good as it ever was (which is to say, it doesn't exacerbate my

Then again, I can sleep on an army cot, the plain ground,and piles of rocks.

regarding Ikea: I agree with abi. Maia and I have a futon (queen
sized, ground score; someone put a pair of them on the side of the
road. I had to make two trips). Said futon is in the loft bed we got
from Ikea. That bed has moved 250 miles, twice. It's been completely
dis(and re)assembled.

We did add a sheet of plywood (and to be fair to Zack, Maia has some egg-crate foam on her side of the bed).

re shoes: I've done some serious sparring (with weighted shinai) in
period shoes (Elizabethan). I've done steel work in them too (slow

The live steel in armor in moccs, well; that wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done.

If the shoes fit well, they fit well. I think (honestly) that some
of the reason people have problems with less than modern shoes is they
have weak ankles from wearing nothing but modern shoes.

I spend most of my time barefoot. My default shoes are a loose boot
(skecher) I'd have no problem fighting in them (or dancing).

#366 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:35 PM:

I have to agree with Terry in disagreeing with Zack. I vastly prefer
futon-sleeping to mattress-sleeping, and so does my back. However, I
know people whose backs feel exactly the opposite way about the

This is probably one of those hopeless debates like "New Balance
Sneakers, or Birkenstocks?" that is really about what your particular
body requires.

#367 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:37 PM:

Zack 364,

I have to sleep on a futon. My type of arthritis demands zero give
or jostle beneath me so the solid unyielding surface of a futon is the
only thing that has worked. Even high end brand new spring mattresses
causes things to shift out of alignment and I wind up going snap pop
crack through the night. We have used the same one for 20 years and
annually beat it with my cane, very stress relieving, to even out to
fill. Vacuum once a week with the power head takes care of the common
allergen issues.

#368 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 10:55 PM:

On the matress question. When my Reiter's was near it's worst I took a pass from Walter Reed and went to my uncle's place.

He gave us his bed. It had one of the Swedish Memory Foam mattresses.

Horrid. I was trapped, to roll over (which I had to do, because my
body weight hurt joints; all my joints, even things one tends to not
think of as joints), I had to climb the mattress.

Oh, and I'm for neither birks, or new balance. The one feels like
I'm wearing rocks, and the other as if I am going to fall on my face.

#369 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2008, 11:57 PM:

I'm a no-futon person. I spent last night on one, and the mattress
it came with was less than six inches thick and givey enough that I
could feel the frame of the futon through two blankets beneath me. It
depends on the type of futon and the type of mattress, of course. The
steel futon my parents got years ago has broken, been repaired as much
as possible without welding, and now has no mattress in some places and
no frame in others. Futons are sort of like Ducks to me, too in-between
to function as either.

If you get a twin bed, you can make it up neatly, put some pillows
against the wall, and call it a couch. I've seen it done, and I think
I'd rather have a bed than a bed-and-couch; I'm going to be there every
night, and how often will I have people over? I've also heard of
parties where guests were asked to bring their own seating because the
host hadn't enough.

#370 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 12:06 AM:

Diatryma 369: I'm a no-futon person. I spent last night on one,
and the mattress it came with was less than six inches thick and givey
enough that I could feel the frame of the futon through two blankets
beneath me. It depends on the type of futon and the type of mattress,
of course.

So it wasn't the pea,

It wasn't the pea,

It wasn't the pea at all!

#371 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 01:18 AM:

Debbie@353: that machine may be able to handle things like twill,
denim, fleece, and medium-to-heavy weight cotton OK. You may have to
play around with tension and needles on scraps first

I tried some lightweight cotton. It bunched up when the thread went
through it. Maybe that was just because the tension on the thread was
too high so it sucked up the thread and cinched the cloth? I should
probably just have my sewing friend come over and get some of the
basics out of the way.

abi@354: I bet that sews leather something sweet.

I was thinking one of my projects would be a leather holster for my
paintball gun, or a leather ammo belt. But I recently switched to a
paintball rifle, so I will probably use it to sew together some sort of
webgear sling. If I can figure it out.

Carol@355: Motor on back GOOD.

Oh good. I've been known to make some dumb purchase decisions before, not knowing what I'm doing and all.

First project: how about a circus tent?!

Hm. I'd be happy if I could just get a belt to look right. I'm currently at the level of "macaroni art" as far as skill goes.

Bill@358: Maybe you should seek the services of a life coach.

Not knowing what I'm doing isn't a problem. It's a way to remind
myself of 'beginners mind'. The time it becomes a problem is when I get
too many irons in the fire and can't make any progress in any of them.
Which has happened more than once before.

Serge@359: "I've sewn things you people wouldn't believe."

I sewed zigzag seams in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.

And lemme tell ya something, that wasn't easy.

#372 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 01:24 AM:

Mattresses are a very personal thing. Each body has its needs but it
not something you should ever skimp on. Sleep is too critical so always
get the best you can afford.

Our futon was a gift. Queen size. It was custom made, 10 inches thick,
no foam layers, 100% cotton throughout, hand sewn with sail cloth
cover. After 2 decades it has compressed down to 5 inches but still
works perfectly. Lord do I love the fact that it will not trap moisture
against your body in hot humid summer.

#373 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 01:52 AM:

I used a futon for 18 months while living in an apartment in Japan,
mostly because the bedroom was three-tatami size, meaning I couldn't
have fit an American-style bed in there for love or money. This was
your basic tri-fold cheapo variety, not the kind with a frame (one of
those is directly behind me right now, folded into couch form). Maybe
it had to do with the tatami matting, but it was pretty comfortable. It
might also have had something to do with being 23 years old and

For the first two weeks or so that I lived in Tucson after moving
back from Japan I used the same futon on a cement floor, and it was
less comfortable and cold as the dickens (January in southern Arizona
is not a warm place).

#374 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 02:19 AM:

Janet Brennan Croft, #301, I buy my cat litter in boxes,
which usually join the other deconstructed boxes in the city's
cardboard recycling dumpster. They do, occasionally, hold paper I've
shredded and then I put them in the transfer station's mixed
paper/books/newspapers/cardboard dumpster (which gets emptied more
often and allows paper). The cat litter, Swheat Scoop, also comes in
bigger bags at a slightly better unit price, but even sitting down, I
have trouble handling the bags and waste litter.

EClaire, #304, Along with Freecycle is Craigslist. My local Freecycle is run by a crazy woman, so I use Craigslist instead.

Sewing - I loved sewing, but had to give my sewing machine
(and thread and feet and bobbins and and and) away some years ago. They
take two hands to use and I need one to stabilize myself at the table.

Futons - it depends on the thickness of the futon and how
tightly it's filled and what it's filled with as well as your own body
situation. I have two futons -- one is the mattress on my
bed-with-drawers-underneath and the other is on the couch/bed frame in
the workroom that used to be part guestroom. I don't have trouble
sleeping on either of them. I do have trouble with the memory foam
topper the rheumatologist made me put on the bed futon. Like Terry, I
have trouble turning over with it, and it doesn't seem to be making
much difference for my bilateral greater trochanter bursitis.

Shoes - I wear slippers most of the time because I have gout
and shoes hurt. I have two pairs of shoes (the same style, one white
and one black) and one pair of sandals because my feet are too long and
narrow and not many shoes are made in my size. I'd like to have red and
green and purple shoes.

(You know one of the things I love Preview for? Words I couldn't
remember before and wrote around frequently turn up as I read the
preview and I can put them in the post. In this one, "both-sided"
turned to "bilateral.")

#375 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 02:32 AM:

Diatryma: The futon is the pad, not the frame. In the states, for
some reason, the standard arrangement is for a wooden frame of some
sort (often adjustable to a couchlike seat).

In Japan, the futon is just flat on the floor, and can be folded (they don't roll well) to make more space, when so desired.

#376 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 02:35 AM:

Terry Karney @#368:

Oh, and I'm for neither birks, or new balance. The one feels like
I'm wearing rocks, and the other as if I am going to fall on my face.

Not so much New Balance as no-balance, hm? I'm sure there are many
people for whom neither shoe type is comfortable--but they both have
that reputation as magically fixing all foot problems.

#377 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 06:56 AM:

Mary, they bought in the Firefly render engine, so maybe they
don't have people who understand it. The dynamic hair and cloth
sections are even worse.

#378 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 09:46 AM:

Thanks, Terry-- I knew that, but wasn't quite up to making the
distinction. I had assumed that the plan was a futon and frame, for
being made couchlike, but I guess it can be couchlike without the
frame. I haven't looked into futon prices more than a glance at Amazon,
but it looks like metal ones, like the one my family's destroyed, are
cheaper in both senses of the word. My experience with futons is
definitely influenced by the reasons they were bought-- not enough
money for both couch and bed and wanting both, saving money for broke
grad school living, et cetera.

Then again, I sleep on a twenty-dollar bed and mattress from a garage sale.

#379 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 10:31 AM:

Dave Bell@377

The Firefly render engine sounds fine. As long as Kaylee comes with it...

#380 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 10:38 AM:

Marilee @#374: bed-with-drawers-underneath

IIRC, the term is a "captain's bed".

A trick I got from Grandpa is to put plywood between a mattress and its box spring.

#381 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 10:41 AM:

Dave Bell @ 377... Dynamic hair?

#382 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 10:43 AM:

Serge @381:

Dynamic hair?

Think Medusa and her fellow Gorgons.

#383 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 10:57 AM:

Greg, if you have a fabric store somewhere in your area, ask them
about sewing classes. They'lll probably be using home-type machines,
but the basics should still apply. (If you're lucky, you'll have an
actual sewing-machine store with classes.)

#384 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 12:04 PM:

abi... I really need to rest if I find myself thinking, not of the Medusa, but of my own chevelure in the morn. True, there isn't much left of it for it to be very dynamic, but it looks dynamic if you pretend it's freeze-framed.

#385 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 12:09 PM:

Linkmeister (#356): Despite my gripes, Prescott is still a beautiful
place. We live on the north side (the nice forested hills to the south
had a big fire a few years after we moved here, so I'm just as glad to
be in a homelike condo unit in a place where the trees and shrubs are
surrounded by gravel and stones of various sizes).

From the window by this computer I can see mountains across a broad
plain, and closer to home there are currently flowering trees, handsome
shrubs (can't bring myself to use the word "bush" these days), and
glimpses of wildlife -- including the occasional cotton tail rabbit,
covey of quail, and roaming lone coyote. Not all *that* far past the
aforementioned shopping center is a lake with a walking trail; just
getting driven past it after some trip to the mall, I can see that it's
nearly full after years of drought. The antelope herd that used to roam
the grasslands near there seems to have moved on, but it sure beats an
endless series of parking lots.

So for anyone fortunate enough to still have their pins, this is a pretty good place to live.

#386 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 01:46 PM:

Terry at 365: it's been my experience as a martial arts instructor that people who wear shoes all the time
tend to develop damaged feet more quickly than people who go barefoot.
(This is assuming no major medical foot conditions. IANAD.) I have had
my share of foot problems as I get older but my feet are quite
serviceable, thank you, and I think it's because at the dojo I'm
barefoot and at home the first thing I do is take off my shoes. I get a
lot of younger students, children, even, with bad feet and also with no
kinesthetic sense in their feet. As a result, they have poor balance,
poor leg stance and posture, and their knees can be damaged very

On the other hand, foot problems can often be avoided by getting
good shoes. By good shoes I mean shoes that support you and fit your
feet, and in which you are comfortable. I prefer EasySpirit brand
shoes, but not all of them work for me. Reebok Classics fit me
perfectly. I haven't worn high heels in 30 years. Dropped heel shoes
(Birkenstocks, etc.) make my feet hurt and can exacerbate plantar

Good shoes have deep value.

#387 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 05:09 PM:

Faren, #343: "As a reviewer, my recycling problem is galleys.
Some years ago, I used to donate them to libraries, but then I was told
that was a no-no. Now they sit in cardboard boxes all over the bedroom
(along with the "keeper" galleys that also sit in cardboard since I've
long run out of shelf space). To give things to recyclers, I guess I
should tear off every single cover so someone else wouldn't grab and
try to resell them."

I really don't get why publishing people are often so hot
to prevent the resale of galleys, a futile task at any rate. The
reviewers to whom galleys are mailed are hardly overpaid. Nobody buys a
bound galley as a substitute for buying the book. (Okay, I'm sure it
happens occasionally, but the actual effect on book sales is
microscopic.) In general, I take a very dim view of the practice of
mailing people something in the hope that they'll review it, then
getting all shirty with them and trying to claim that it's not their
property to do with as they like. I think it's legally dubious and
morally ridiculous.

#388 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 08:37 PM:

Dave Bell @#377: Yeah, I've played around with Firefly and the hair
and cloth, but I haven't wanted to put the effort into learning them
when I have a better tool for the same stuff. Firefly is really slow.
Poser 7 has some cool morph tools, though - not quite up to
Zbrush-level, but good for the price. And the Miki figure is pretty
nice (she's an add-on, but worth it). My next project will be to make
some stuff for her, if I ever finish my current project. I'd like to
write more tutorials, but I have stories to work on, and meshes to
make, so that's not very high on my list. Once you make the jump to
making money from the hobby, it's harder to spend the time to do things
for free.

The bad manual problem is, I think, because they're doing stuff on a
shoestring--certainly P5 was done with the sword of Damocles hanging
over the team. My impression is that the e-frontier buyout really
shored up the product a lot, but that doesn't mean they wanted to go
all crazy and hire something as luxurious as a tech writer. And now
there's been another buyout, so we'll see what happens.

#389 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 10:01 PM:

David Harmon, #380, yeah, I know that's the real name, but
none of my bedroom furniture is particularly nautical. I've been really
pleased with having a drawer I can open while I'm in bed and get things
I need from. The other drawers store things/clothes I don't need often.

Lizzy L, #386, my shoes are Easy Spirit AP1. They're not
quite narrow enough without thick socks, but they're designed to wear
socks with. The sandals I have are from a designer who actually makes a
few shoes in size 10AAAA, 7A heel. Unfortunately, the only flats are
the sandals, but it does give me sandals.

#390 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 10:09 PM:

As someone whose last few years have been plagued with foot pain out
of proportion to the extent to which I'm out of shape and overweight, I
think I need someone to give me a quick clinic in how to find and buy
really good shoes. I have the money, just not the expertise.

#391 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2008, 11:00 PM:

Patrick @390: I went to a podiatrist in my teens when I had a lot of
foot pain, and he did me a world of good. A doctor can x-ray your foot
and see if you've got arthritis, a badly placed nerve cluster, a spur,
or something else. That in turn, will point the way to the right shoes
or orthodic insert thingies. Otherwise you might just end up spending
$150 on a pair of shoes that doesn't fix your particular problem.

If you feel like spending $150, is a good place to buy
shoes--free shipping in both directions, so returns are easy, and they
carry Clarks & Born etc. There's also a store called The Walking
Company (they have a website too) that has several brands, and
locations around the country where you can try stuff on. They carry a
lot of the nerd brands (speaking as a Clarks devotee).

#392 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 01:01 AM:

abi, #352: One very large problem I have with IKEA is that they sell
modular stuff, designed to be adapted to your needs -- but by the time
your needs have changed and you need more of it, or different pieces,
it's gone. That's not "deep value" to me, and it also completely
defeats the concept of modularity because you have to decide right now
which pieces you might need 2 or 5 or 10 years down the road, and store
them against that need. I've been burned 2 or 3 times by this.

On futons: I've slept on some that were quite comfortable, and
others that weren't. A wooden frame and a thin pad are (to my body)
fungible with sleeping on the floor, and I wake up feeling elderly and
needing two Advil in order to move. The steel-framed one in our living
room, with a solid 4" pad, is perfectly acceptable; I sometimes sleep
out there when I'm sick and don't want my partner breathing my germs
all night. IMO they are much more suitable, as convertible sleeping
space, than the common alternatives (daybed, sleeper sofa).

Lizzy, #386: I've always gone barefoot, or worn light
sandals/slippers, around the house; during warmer weather, I also wear
surfer flops for casual wear. About 12 years ago, I suddenly started
having trouble with my littlest toes becoming painful while wearing my
work shoes (mostly low-heeled pumps or flats, and I hadn't just bought
a bunch of new ones either) -- and not recovering quickly even when I
got home and kicked the shoes off. At this point, the only closed-toe
shoes I have are various forms of sneakers and one or two pairs of
loafers. Fortunately, the weather in Houston is clement enough that for
all but a couple of months in the year, I don't need to wear anything
dressy that isn't open-toed. But I still wonder what caused that

#393 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 01:23 AM:

I spent some time in the 1990s searching for sneakers that were all
black and wouldn't wear out in under a year, and I've been loyal to New
Balance ever since I discovered them.

(Katie has a futon, I have a mattress, and while the futon is not impossible for me, I much prefer the mattress.)

#394 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 02:35 AM:

Lizzy L. Yeah, barefoot seems to make a big difference. That and, as
you say, having good shoes. I find that a show which has enough
resilience to let my feet reshape them, with a tolerable ease, will do

When I was running a lot (40-60 miles in a week), I discovered
Reeboks were no good. I'd kill them in about two-weeks, and after
three-four my knees started to complain. When I tried Asics, that
problem went away. That was when I really started to pay attention to
secondary indicators for shoe wear.

I also found that I could sit sieza a lot more easily when I spent less time in shoes.

#395 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 11:23 AM:

Patrick (#387): Thanks for that comment on galleys. (The "no-no"
actually came from my columns' editor, not someone in book publishing.)
I may offer some of them as give-aways after all.

#396 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 11:30 AM:

Terry Karney @ 394... barefoot seems to make a big difference. That and, as you say, having good shoes

Do exercise shoes qualify? They have good soles, don't bind my feet
tightly. And they're all I ever shod my feet with, even to work, a
decision I made after a trip to the main office in San Francisco wound
up involving a lot of walking and my proper shoes caused bloody
blisters that made perambulation unpleasant.

#397 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 01:38 PM:

Patrick — have you considered orthotics? I got fitted for a pair
about a year ago and have been amazed and delighted by the reduction in
foot pain since I've been wearing them.

#398 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 02:22 PM:

Serge: Sadly, good shoes are something odd. What works for one, doesn't work for all.

If you are comfortable in them, and your hips and joints aren't hurting then you are probadly ok.

Do you have irritating callouses? Are certain types of activity (running, etc.) not comfortable in them?

If the answer is no, then I'd not worry about it For some thing,
discomfort in other things (running in dress shoes is never going to be
much fun) isn't a big deal, so take that into consideration.

#399 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 02:33 PM:

Terry Karney @ 398... No calluses. I don't jog (aside from my
memories once in a while), but my workout at the gym involves leg
presses, and my hips, knees and ankles have never protested. Walking in
those shoes is fine too (although my sister-in-law thinks I'm nuts to
walk the many miles from her house in the Oakland Hills all the way
down to the Rockridge BART Station).

#400 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 03:33 PM:

Having recently spent ten days on vacation in Japan, mostly staying
in traditional inns (ryokan/minshuku), I feel compelled to point out
that their futons are very different from the dense wooden-framed
objects typically sold as "futons" in the US (and probably other
elsewheres). At least in their current incarnations, Japanese futons
reminded me more of featherbeds: rather floofy objects that resemble an
extra-thick comforter (or duvet/doona, depending on regional English
dialect). Some places had extra futons to be stacked up, if necessary,
but generally I found a single layer to be adequate on a tatami floor.
(The tatami mats are about an inch thick. Legendarily, they're dense
enough to stop arrows; I'm not sure how the underfoot flexibility of
wall-to-wall carpeting would compare.)

Some of the rooms were small enough that there was barely room to
lay out two futons side by side, so folding them back into the stoage
closet was necessary during the day; the futons were flexible enough
that they could be folded either into letterfold thirds or
perpendicular fourths, although the closets' size tended to dictate the
former. We also saw some households hanging their futons out the window
or over the balcony to air out during the day, which would be both
difficult and futile with Western-style futons. Also, almost everyone
had long poles installed over their balconies for air-drying their
laundry, even in the large cities; in one case, I even saw some sort of
wall-propped laundry rack extending out the window of a balcony-less
apartment. Annoyingly, a lot of "community standards" in the US ban
outdoor laundry racks as unsightly objects.

#401 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 06:07 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 325 (on home-grown yogurt):

Do you find that you have to start over every so often with a
fresh batch? My mother says the yogurt flavor gets stronger every time
she makes it, so that eventually it's too strong.

I have to start over again periodically if I let the culture sit in
the fridge too long between re-culturing and it picks up "undesirable
organisms" (as we say at work). I fudge the sterility/simplicy balance
on the simplicity side (i.e., don't heat the milk to scalding and don't
scald the containers immediately before filling) so there's an
inherent, if small, risk of introducing undesired environmental bugs
into the process, at which point I just pick up a fresh culture. If I
didn't have the supermarket available as a culture source, I'd have to
worry a lot more about contamination issues.

I've never had a problem with the culture changing performance due
to aging, per se. But then, since the culture is bacterial, you don't
have issues with cell-line aging. (You have to understand that my job
involves mammalian cell culture, so my brain tends to go off in odd
directions from this topic.) But there's definitely a potential for a
shift in the culture balance or the introduction of new organisms, with
the likelihood increasing over time, which is most likely what your
mother is observing.

#402 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 08:42 PM:

Mary Dell: Thanks for your the comments on tech writing and open source. That does help me understand.

My interest is somewhat complicated in that I mostly work on
libraries, so while the "end user" is, I believe, still a different
documentation audience than the developers, it's difficult to make a
library shiny enough for random folks to get excited about. Another
lesson about needing to (also) work on an actual application
non-developers can use; that "build it and they will come" doesn't work
with a technology layer, especially in open source.

David Harmon @ 336: I know tech writers both able and willing
to work from source code are rare, but you're right to bring it up in
this context. That I work so much with API documentation for libraries
probably biases me* there, and I do clarify bad docs by reading the
source, or just by experimentation.

The deep value of Linux, and open source software in general, is that you could in theory fix it yourself, or take it to someone who could, if you wanted to.
Not that one generally does. I live with bugs and infelicities in the
software I use every day too. But it comes, as Madeline F (@ 18) said,
with "circuit diagrams and repair manuals". It's not a black box you
just have to throw away when you can't use it any more.

Thanks for your comments too.


* But there is the story of a guy I met in Hermosa Beach once. He
described is job as "every couple of weeks, they mail me a new VCR, and
I mail them back a manual for it." Sounded good like a good setup, if

#403 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 11:26 PM:

Patrick, if your feet don't hurt when you don't wear shoes,
you need to find shoes that fit. A good (expensive) shoe store should
help you with that. If your feet hurt when you're barefoot, see the
podiatrist who will check your feet.

#404 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2008, 11:51 PM:

Something to consider is that all shoes are not the same shape, even
when they're the same official size. I can wear some brands of athletic
shoes, but others are too narrow, enough so that a minute or two tells
me not to buy them.

Buying shoes in the afternoon or evening is something I've seen
recommended, because your feet will be larger then than they are in the

#405 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 03:59 AM:

Libraries have Deep Value.

This deep value permeates the atmosphere like the fragrance of old
books. In time, it seeps into the librarians themselves, through their
very pores. Anyone who knows librarians—or is a librarian— knows this.

#406 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 08:52 AM:


this one is for you.

Also available in t shirt form.


#407 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 02:33 PM:

Also bear in mind that your feet may not actually be the same size
or configuration as each other. In my case, my arches are in
significantly different locations and of differing height. Ghu knows
why it took me until I was in my late forties to have this fact
revealed to me by a Rockport sales guy. Result: I try to have as little
to do as possible with shoes that contain aggressive arch support.
Other result: my left foot/ankle cramps up about half an hour before my

#408 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 04:06 PM:

joann is right that a lot of pairs of feet don't quite match. Pay attention to width as well as length, too.

Also, marilee is right that severe pesistent foot pain should be
mentioned to your doctor; causes can range from the easily fixed, like
shoes that aren't quite right, to the annoying but essentially benign,
like a Morton's neuroma*, to the serious and in need of immediate
treatment, such as neuropathy.

*We run to these in my family; a too-narrow shoe can significantly
exacerbate this problem--and it doesn't have to be significantly too
narow, either.

#409 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2008, 10:42 PM:

abi: I think (looking at our various library things) that a lot of
us here, are librarians. We don't tend to think of it that way, but we
are. Some of my various griefs (and simmerings of less than good blood
with people I otherwise both like, and love) have to do with grave
breaches of trust/faith in regards to books.

#410 ::: Ralph Giles ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 12:18 AM:

Christopher Davis @ 285: Thanks. 'stty dec' doesn't seem to
do anything. 'export TERM=mach-color' fixes the delete vs. backspace
issue, but messes up cursor positioning and color in curses application
on the Linux side. Progress of a sort I guess.

I'm confused why Apple chose TERM=xterm-color when their upper-right
key is delete instead of backspace. Is this a keyboard layout with deep
value and Linux broke?

#411 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 12:37 AM:

Ralph Giles @410: I have better luck with `export TERM=xterm' when
I'm using remote Linux machines from my Mac (it's actually in my
.bashrc), though (of course) it means I don't get some color, eg. with
ls. YMMV.

(Some people get sloppy with grammar or spelling when they're tired.
I get sloppy with parentheticals. Sigh. Bed now, more talk in the

#412 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 08:58 AM:

The key to finding good shoes, in my experience, is finding the right shoe shop, with the right kind of shoe salesperson.

For the record, I have rather odd shaped feet, so that it is quite difficult to find well fitting shoes. And I won't
wear shoes that aren't well-fitting. I also have little patience for
shopping, so I need a store that will quickly get me to the right type
of shoe.

I've lost jobs over this issue, with bosses who considered lace-up
black leather shoes "unprofessional" for women (called them
"sneakers"!), and who demanded a doctor's note if I was to wear them.
Of course, I had no doctors note, since I have no foot problems, since
I only wear shoes that fit properly. And I won't wear bad
fitting shoes to the point where I develop problems enough to get a
note for a genuine foot problem. Or ask a doctor to write a note for
otherwise healthy feet, since if I have problems in the future, I don't
want my insurance company thinking it is a "pre-existing condition."

Good signs:

1. You have to take a number to get helped - they expect you to work
with a salesperson to choose the right shoe. The shoes, except for
display pieces, are stored in the back, and the salesperson will bring
you the shoes to try on. Not a discount store, or a do-it-yourself set

2. The store sells only shoes, and perhaps socks. Not a department store. All they care about is quality shoes.

3. The salesperson assumes they will measure your foot, using those
heavy metal things with sliding bits. They measure both length and
width, and for length they pay attention to the distance from your heel
to the widest point on your foot, as well as the total length of your
foot. (So the shoe doesn't curve in to the toe too soon.)

4. The salesperson asks you to stand as your foot is measured
(because it helps your foot line up more accurately on the measuring

5. The shoes are kept in the back, where the salesperson finds the right size and style for you to try on.

6. The store is set up with displays and lots of comfortable seating
- not sofas, but chairs you can get in and out of easily, as you try
shoes, then get up to walk around in them. Not rows of shelves.

7. The salesperson brings out at least two sizes of the shoe you
want, perhaps as many as six sizes (going up and down in both length
and width) plus they may bring shoes that look similar in a different
style for you to try, based on their knowledge of how the shoe styles
fit different shaped feat.

8. The salesperson will help you into the shoe, lacing it up once it
is on your foot, and perhaps changing how it is laced based on how your
foot is shaped. (You should see the little stools for the salesperson
to sit on, with the angled bit for you to rest your foot on as they
adjust the shoe. There should be several of these, set up so that you
can clearly see that they are routinely used.)

9. The salesperson will want you to wear both shoes of the pair, and walking around a bit with them on.

10. The salesperson will feel the outside of the shoe, with your foot in it, to feel for toe room and tight spots.

11. The salesperson will ask you questions about how the shoe feels,
as you are trying it, and use that information to suggest other
options, if needed.

12. Some stiffness in the shoe is okay, and will be broken in. Tight spots are not okay.

13. The salesperson will know about the various adhesive pads that
can be put in shoes, and suggest them as needed to help improve the
fit. (For example, if you have a wide toe and a narrower heel, a pad at
the back of your heel will help improve the fit, and a pad on the
tongue of the shoe will help keep your foot from sliding forward.)

14. Laces are your very best friend after the lovely salesperson.
They can adjust the fit of a shoe a great deal, allowing snug support
without tight spots.

15. Real leather uppers are your next-best friend. It will take the
shape of your foot, and with a bit of polish and brushing, it will stay
nice for years.

16. When you find the right shoes, take care of them. You want to
polish them regularly. First brush the shoe, to remove any dust and
dirt, and use a damp cloth to wipe off any dried on salt that doesn't
brush off. Then apply paste polish to the leather, working it in very
well. Finally, brush again, to bring some shine to the polished
leather. Finally, buff with a soft, clean cloth. Working the fat of the
polish into the leather on a regular basis will keep the leather from
drying out and cracking, help keep your shoes water-resistant, as well
as keeping the color even and deep, hiding any scuffs.

(My father used to line up all of our shoes on the weekend, giving
them a good polish. We kids never had more than one pair of shoes at a
time, and they lasted until we outgrew them. My parents generally had
two pairs - one brown, one black. Good shoes deserve good maintenance,
and good maintenance will let you enjoy your shoes for a good long

If you find a shoe salesperson that does a good job, get their name,
and ask for them when you go back to the store. Odds are, they are on
commission, and will go the extra mile for the promise of repeat
business. And the right salesperson will change the experience from
painful to easy, and is worth going back to.

#413 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 09:19 AM:

One more specific point on shoes: width can make a big difference,
but a surprising number of salesmen and stores don't pay attention. It
may be worth hunting down manufacturers (New Balance is one) that make
multiple widths, and stores that stock and know how to sell them...

#414 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 09:44 AM:

Persistent foot pain: Check for surface conditions too! It took me
far too long to realize that, after getting orthotics for my
"duckwalking", my remaining pain was from dry skin!

#415 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 09:56 AM:

Due to generally low income and a somewhat scattered disposition, I
tend to compromise by buying things that I'll run through from people
who've gotten tired of them. I pick up thrift store clothing, sorting
out the one or two good items from the dollar sales, and replace my
computer every couple of years with whatever is currently about five
years old and thus cheap. When I run through stuff, it sometimes winds
up back at the thrift store, or garage sale, or curbside with a "FREE"
sign. I think of myself as a sort of vulture in the life cycle of
mass-produced objects, and take pride in acquiring ones that actually
will work better for my purposes than anything new.

But I also grew up with an underlying sense that stuff is transient;
at any point it may suffer damage, or have to be jettisoned quickly in
a lifestyle change. The best bicycle I ever had was stolen a few weeks
after I bought it, and since then I've ridden junk bikes. If I were
rich, I'd buy well-made coats but stick to used shirts, and I might go
for a top-of-the-line desktop, but I wouldn't care to spring for a
pricy laptop -- just based on the likelihood of loss or damage.

And, I'll add, some of my favorite things are diamonds in the rough:
I had a pair of winter-lined work boots, fairly well-worn when I found
them, that had miraculously been broken in by feet somewhat like mine
-- they treated me quite well for three winters, before finally giving
up the ghost this February, and they cost $14 at a vintage shop.

Regarding shoes: the most comfortable pair I've had was by Ecco, but
it only lasted a year, and those things are expensive. Still, I
contemplate buying others -- they were really, really comfortable.

#416 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 10:08 AM:

One more comment on foot pain: if you experience sharp pain in the
sole of your foot with the first few steps in the morning, but then it
gradually feels better--don't ignore it. You may have plantar
fasciitis, which is quite easy to treat in its early stages with
physical therapy (mainly exercises and stretches, which will also
prevent recurrence), but can be a nightmare if left too long, leading
to bone spurs and other permanent nastiness.

(Disclosure: I'm a physical therapist assistant. My husband was one
of those people who ignored his plantar fasciitis for about a year. No
bone spurs, but treatment was longer and more expensive than it had to

#417 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2008, 08:39 PM:

A.J. Luxton, how're you doing? Haven't seen you in a while!

#418 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2008, 08:45 AM:

#412: I've read that if you have decent leather shoes, they will
last much more than twice as long if you have (at least) two pairs and
alternate which day you wear them so they can "breathe" properly on the
day you aren't wearing them.

(This doesn't apply to children's shoes which will be grown out of
whether looked after or not, and it assumes that worn soles and heels
are repairable.)

#419 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2008, 12:32 PM:

418: Each pair should last at least twice as long, since they would be worn half as much :)

I would hope that my shoes would have enough time to catch their breath while I was sleeping (not wearing my shoes to bed).

#420 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2008, 06:23 PM:

abi@4:It's the time it takes to load the recycling onto my bike that bugs me. I think I need removable panniers.

Holy smokes, how on earth have you been managing your grocery/recycling runs until now? Anyway, I have a pair of these, and they're great. They even hook over the side of the shopping cart.

Rikibeth@56:The Diva Cup even says you need the larger size if you're over 30, child or no child, because of natural loss of muscle tone.

I'm here to tell you they're WRONG.

I'm here to second that motion. I'm 30 and can't even wear the
smaller size. :( It's a great pity, because I'd love to ditch the pads.
I've tried the flannel pads, but they didn't work well for me--I'd set
them to soak as I used them, so I ended up having a Bucket O' Yuck in
my bathroom one week out of the month. Guests do not appreciate being
faced with the Bucket O' Yuck.

rikibeth@74:I know that if my cat threw up on MY wool blanket
(not a Hudson Bay, just a common blanket from probably the middle of
the last century) in the wintertime, I'd sponge it off as best I could
and drape it over the shower curtain rod while it dried, rather than
trying to wash the whole thing.

I've got a couple of wool throws, and I've successfully laundered
them many times. (My housemate and I each have a boy cat. Even though
they're neutered, they still feel the need, the need for pee.) Run 'em
through on gentle cycle, COLD WATER for wash and rinse. (It's the heat
that makes wool seize up.) I use this stuff*;
it's bloody marvelous. Set the spin cycle as high as it'll go, then
spread them out to air-dry. It's my opinion that wool is a lot less
fragile than people think. Just keep it out of the dryer, and it's all

*Check out the rest of that site ( for more deep value
and bike awesomeness. *sigh* Ah, if I only had $2500 to spend on a

#421 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 09:36 AM:

It's my opinion that wool is a lot less fragile than people think. Just keep it out of the dryer, and it's all good.

With wool, like silk, it's not that you're going to destroy the fabric; it's just that you're going to change it.

Even in cold water, too much agitation can make the wool felt, but a
little bit of felting is not a horrible problem. It's a bigger deal
with store-bought silk stuff, because often the sizing and stuff that
you take out by water washing is part of what makes the item look like
it does. This is why I avoid buying anything that's dry clean only--I
have better things to do with my time and money.

#422 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 11:16 AM:

abi: I have to second the question on panniers. Maia would go nuts
without removable ones (me, I have a hard time riding with them, but I
can manage a lot of backpack, which Maia says puts her off balance they
panniers seem to throw me off).

#423 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 12:27 PM:

It's my opinion that wool is a lot less fragile than people think. Just keep it out of the dryer, and it's all good.... and

Even in cold water, too much agitation can make the wool felt.

The spin cycle can be a problem for knitted garments. Even
"washable" wool can be stretched considerably. Ask me how I know. :(
Now I'm wondering if a little felting/shrinking action would solve the

#424 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 01:07 PM:

I've just upgraded our pannier infrastructure from the local bike shop. My haul:

- a rack for the one bike lacking it (the one with the tagalong,
which is used to take the 4 year old to school in the mornings.
Shopping on the way home will suddenly become possible.). Because the
bike is American and the parcel shelf Dutch, some of the mounting was
done with zip ties* rather than screws.

- A messenger bag laptop case whose back unzips to reveal rack-mounting hardware. My new work bag.

- 2 very sturdy and beautiful dismountable shopping panniers. They
look to be heavier canvas than the ones Nicole linked to. Although they
don't hook onto the shopping cart, they don't need to. I can wheel it
right to where my bike is parked at the grocery store†.

The old permanently mounted silver panniers will now drop to the
bottom of the queue of valued bags. They're pretty shredded after a
year's commute, because they tended to brush against the chain a lot. I
imagine they'll eventually come to stay one one of the bikes, shabby
but indispensable.


* Zip ties are amazing fasteners. I only started using them for bike
mountings last year, and am smitten. I know they're not reusable like
webbing straps, but they are indestructible and wonderful anyway.

† The bike racks are under the eaves, as I have seen in many
countries. But the eaves are designed to shelter the entire bike, and
the person loading the panniers as well. Wonderful.

#425 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 01:11 PM:

Aw, drat, forgot that I also got panniers for Fiona (4)'s bike.
They're pink and purple and floral; she desperately wanted them.

I don't know that we'll leave them on for the first wee while after
we take the training wheels off this summer, but pannier-bearing is a
necessary skill here. (Sorry, Terry.)

#426 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 02:02 PM:

abi: No need to apologise. The fault is mine. I suspect it's two
things: Too long not on a bike regularly (so that I feel vulnerable)
and too long without them. I tend to like to go quickly, and depend on
gyroscopic stability. That's fine (though I have to work more) for
going quickly with an off-balancing (to my mind) load.

But it's hell when I'm going slowly.

#427 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 11, 2008, 05:52 PM:

Thanks for all the shoe advice. I have in fact had plantar
fasciitis, and used orthotics for a couple of years while getting over
it. And my current shoes are New Balances. But I think I need something

#428 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2008, 10:29 PM:

On the subject of fountain pens...

I've been cleaning out my desk at work in preparation for moving to
temporary quarters, and discovered a fountain pen, sans nib, that I
must have brought in years ago and never used, so I borught it home and
established that some of the nibs I had stashed away (waiting for me to
find the pen they belonged to) fit.

However, the ink cartridges I also had in my desk had dried out. So now I am in need of ink.

The pen brand is Platignum, no model number that I can see. It looks
like a relatively cheap pen form (blue plastic). There's an empty
refillable cartridge in the pen, so I can go with cartridges or
refillables. The cartridges I threw out were Pelikan 4001s in a variety
of colors, and I'm assuming they fit in this pen, though I didn't
experiment. This is not the only fountain pen I've owned, as I've
occasionally dabbled in (very messy) calligraphy.

I don't know much about fountain pens. As a beginner, should I try
bottled ink or cartridges? What brand? Would I be likely to find this
at an art supply store or an office supply store, or would I be better
off ordering online (or is there a good store someone can recommend in
NY - Southern Westchester county).

I want to play around with this pen until I get comfortable with it before moving on to a better one.

#429 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 10:47 AM:

CarrieS@421, Debbie@423: I forgot to mention that I have a
front-loading machine, so there's no agitator to felt things up or
stretch things unnecessarily.

#430 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 03:46 PM:

Hilary @ 428,

I recently went poking through my fountain and dip pens due to this
thread, and came upon the Platinum desk pen I bought in Japan. Worried
that I might not be able to get cartridges for it here in the US, I did
a little googling. I found that Platinum pens are spottily available
here (though not the nicer ones that I would want) and take only their
own proprietary cartridges (feh), but the good news is that the
cartridges are available here, in black, blue, and red, and they also
have a piston converter that is also available in the US. Pendemonium
carries all of the colors of cartridge as well as the converter. I
haven't ever ordered anything from them, so I don't know if it's a good
place to buy from or not, but their prices seem reasonable.

#431 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2008, 07:08 PM:

alsafi @ 430

Except my pen is a Platignum, not a Platinum. They seem to be two different companies.

I do have a refillable cartridge, should it come to that and I've
also found the booklet that came with the pen, which indicates that the
Pelikan 4001 cartridges were the correct ones for this pen. Now I just
need to find a source.

#432 ::: alsafi ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 12:35 PM:

Oh--my bad. I thought it was a typo.

#433 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 07:53 PM:

That's okay. It confused me too when I started searching on the net.

#434 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2008, 08:04 PM:

Pendemonium seems okay. I bought a 4.5 oz Noodler's Violet Vote with
a free cheapy Platinum eyedropper pen-- it's a good color and while I'd
like the pen better were it better-looking, I can't argue with free.
Shipping was prompt and drastically overpacked; I would have preferred
corn starch packing peanuts rather than styrofoam.

I've also discovered that my Good New Shoes, which turned out to
hurt my knees but be correctable, are wearing out. I bought them in
January. Sigh.

#435 ::: Jasper Janssen ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 04:15 PM:

While I do reuse Albert Heijn bags, I don't usually manage to make them last 20 or 30 trips. Of course, I do use them a bit more harshly than cash register to car -- I hang them off the bars of my bike to get home, and they suffer, both from holes and general wear caused by this.

As far as zigzags -- my mother's and grandmother's sewing machine are purely mechanical, and eminently repairable, but both do zigzags. In the case of my mother's machine, it even does elastic stitches. The whole thing is controlled by a program barrel not completely unlike a musical box barrel. It contains, for each program of the 14 or so, 2 analog-encoded tracks, one for the x and one for the y motion. I believe that each normal program repeats identically 3 or so times, and the special programs repeat only once each cylinder but contain 3 sequential downings of the needle (like 3 stitches side by side and then down and the same again, that sort of thing). The y dimension (stitch length) is scaled, again in analog, by the stitch length dial (with a reverse button in the middle, effectively negative stitch lengthing).

It is much more complex than a 1910 machine, and a 1910 technician might wonder how on earth they machined those things (especially that barrel), but there wouldn't be anything he couldn't understand, and probably even duplicate (though not necessarily economically). It could be converted to manual or treadle use fairly simply by hooking onto the drive wheel, that all machines still have for the necessary manual bits. It's a 1970s Husqvarna, looks nothing like any of the pics on google, very rectangular and redbrown/white.

My grandmother's old machine, on the other hand, actually had an external motor with belt drive to the drive wheel. 1950's, east-german make. It only did simple stitches, also purely mechanically, and it had a control for stitch length plus one for zigzag width, no more than that.

If all you want out of a sewing machine is the basics, or even a fair number of complicated stitches, you don't need a microcontroller, is what I'm saying.

#436 ::: Mary Aileen notes an oddity ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 04:15 PM:

(Almost) all of the comments on this thread have very short lines, almost like poetry. Makes them harder to read, at least for me. A carry-over from the reconstruction work after the Great ML Crash of 2008? Anything to be done? (I'm guessing not.)

#437 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 04:21 PM:

Mary Aileen @436:
1. Yes
2. Apart from going through and editing all of the comments individually, not that I can think of.


#438 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 06:31 PM:

Thanks, abi. That's what I thought.

I'm grateful that so many comments were retrieved from the crash, in whatever condition.

#439 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 06:59 PM:

Oh hey, since Mary Aileen bumped the thread, I wanted to mention my latest find. But I see that Chicobags was already mentioned way up at #58.

However, I can add that they've broadened their lineup to include more colors and styles, and larger bags ranging up to tote bags, duffels, and day packs. Many of the bags are from recycled plastic (the keyword is "rePETE"), and all of their bags still stuff into one of their own pockets.

#440 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 07:36 PM:

Also, re: Greg London #165: It seems Moore's Law has ended.

#441 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2015, 08:01 PM:

I got one of the larger ones at the hardware store a couple of weeks back. It was fun unpacking it so the clerk could put the rest of the purchases inside! (Not my first Chicobag, but clearly the clerk hadn't seen one before.)

#442 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2019, 08:14 PM:

Having been linked back here, I'll just note that the first Chicobag I got back in 2015 is still quite usable, though it's smaller and now looks shabbier than the newer ones I've gotten since.

It's surprising how many cashiers are still amazed at them, even at places like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Those guys need more publicity.

#444 ::: Joel Polowin sees virus opportunist spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2020, 07:00 PM:

May they themselves be infected.

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