Monthly Archives: March 2013

My Bueno y Sano Acton Review

Bueno y Sano in Acton is getting rough treatment by some yelp users in 2012/2013.

Here is my assessment of the situation as an experienced Bueno goer from Amherst and Northampton (in the former Cha-Cha-Cha/Cha^3/bank location). I shook Bob Lowry’s hand as one of the very first customers in Amherst one day when he was demonstrating how to assemble to an employee. Before they even had tables! Back hey still had competition from another burrito place just down the alley… El Acuna.

Acton Bueno Complaints/My responses:

1. “Soft taco!?!”: Yeah, the soft tacos are not tacos. They should probably take those off the menu. It annoys people too much. And they are not a great deal.

2. “Bland”: My guess is that people are not realizing that there is some really tasty sauce (on the side from a pump). Yes, perhaps if one doesn’t realize that, it’s too mild. The hot sauce is hot enough for me. And I haven’t tried the green (very hot).

3. “Too expensive/too small”: I agree that Acton is making them a little too small. Though maybe it’s gotten a little better in recent months. Back in the day at least, the “normal” sized ones at Bueno Amherst would just about not close, and a “grande” would usually literally rip open it was so big. BIG.

That’s about all I have to say. Tastes like classic Bueno to me. Yum!

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It’s payback time…. insulating a 1958 split-level house

We’re moving soon to a “normal house” built in 1958, and that means beginning to ponder what heating-system, insulation and air-sealing projects to embark on.

My go-to blogger will be Marc Rosenbaum:

Here’s what we will be working with. The house is a split-level with 4 different living levels all separated by half-flights.

My first thought is that the way to go is to get a pellet-stove installed in the main living area. There’s a good central spot for one. The house is currently heated with a forced-hot-air (FHA) furnace with smallish “high-velocity” ductwork. But my guess is that in the winter it probably heats up the basement level like crazy, which is a waste since we won’t use that much. So like with our pellet stove in our previous Shutesbury, MA house** (and with Marc in his post above), getting point-source heat (a pellet stove) directly on the living floor will make a lot of sense. It will effectively limit the amount of space we are heating.

(**Our basement in Shutesbury definitely got down to at least 45 if not 40 sometimes. And we still ran the FHA occasionally. Nice.)

Other obvious things will be to improve the insulation on the 3 attic hatches. (as in… add insulation and air sealing. There is none now!)

And generally go nuts with cellulose in the attic.

And ponder what to do about the rooms above the 1 car garage since there is probably no insulation in those floors. Or basically none.

Payback will be an important consideration.

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Filed under about the house, erik-green, green, insulation

A go-to salad

MEDIUM has caught my eye recently. My go-to place for reading quick work-break articles. I haven’t read about it–medium itself–I’ll wait for the rundown in the NYer 🙂 but it seems to be going for the space between blogs and a good magazine. So, somehow a more editorially controlled platform somehow. Right now, it’s a locked-down group who can publish, but presumably at some point it will open up. And then the question will be 1) how will they possibly keep the editorial quality up. And 2) how will it make money.

I suppose it will be sorta doomed eventually (#1 wise), but Ev obviously has some ideas and it will probably succeed for a time with #2. I should read about it. But I can’t stop reading articles like this:

“You must have a go-to salad in your life”
View at

And this!

“Why Coke Exists”
View at

Maybe I like articles like these because they are sorta like NYer articles… jumping back and forth between the historical/big-picture and a personal story, right in the same article. But shorter.

OK, I figured Dave Winer was interested in MEDIUM too and sure enough…

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Filed under new media, platforms, thinking

The Hole-in-the-Wall Project: A Critique

There has been much interest in Sugata Mitra’s TED talks about The Hole-in-the-Wall Project where kids in remote areas learn a bunch of stuff when computers are dropped on them with no instruction but some video or CAI (“Computer Aided Instruction”) multimedia lessons and tools are provided.

But read below and click thru to this researchers (Payal Arora) publications page and you can read her peer-reviewed criticisms from 2012. LINK

My comments:
The results of these experiments are not terribly surprising. In addition to the objections raised by Payal Arora (that the experiment actually failed completely in many locations; that there is only anecdotal evidence of it working, not real empirical statistics; that it ultimately is still tutoring, mentoring, etc.) I would add the following:

1 – Using/learning computers is easy. Toddlers use tablets with ease. My kids figure out complex video games without even reading the instructions. A well-known Computer Science professor (Joseph Weizenbaum) questions the use of an undergraduate degree in CS in a well regarded book. LINK This idea of “Digital Natives” I don’t buy. I’ve seen too many people of all ages adapt easily. A great blog post (among many) from James Hague LINK in which he argues eloquently (as elsewhere) that for most creative uses of computers, the issues are not technical. We effectively have “infinite computing power” (and bandwidth).

2 – Novelty Effect in action. It’s not the whole answer, but probably some.

3 – Also in play is what I would also call “screen seduction”. People are generally more enamored of doing things that are multimedia — moving images and sound — rather than not. This is not news.

And just general curiosity. If some strange installment appeared in my town/village, I would be curious too!

4 – In various TED talks I actually found Sugata Mitra to be vastly *underestimating* the abilities of kids — being amazed at what “10 year olds” could do on the computer with using google, wikipedia, etc, etc. Come on! (See point 1)

5 – I am sure any gains in learning (if any) are very short-term. Not a meaningful result.

6 – Reliance on volunteer tutors (“SOLEs” acronym in Hole-in-the-wall) via internet/Skype? This is not practical nor sustainable. And it seems to devalue direct experience (vs the “expert” exposure via global telecommunications) though I can’t say whether this perception has empirical backing.

7 – I can’t find the quote now, but somewhere I read an interesting quote from a partner at an architecture firm who was looking for excellent new hires and had no interest in the computer experience they had because he recognized (correctly I would imagine) that teaching someone to use complex CAD and 3D modeling software was not difficult in comparison to the artistic and creative and technical knowledge and experience needed in an architect. Draftsperson, maybe.

The same goes with companies looking for long-term hires in software. Yes, in the short term it is very useful to have someone who is up-to-speed on your programming language of choice, but longer-term there are more important issues.

I guess much of this boils down to the “tyranny of technique” (Jaques Ellul) as well as the concern that the computer is now “deskilling” us mentally now in the Information Age, just as the physical was deskilled in the Industrial Revolution. More on this in the book “Abstracting Craft” LINK.

8 – Has Sugata Mitra heard of Sudbury Valley School? It invariably comes up in the comments section in related videos. He probably wouldn’t like it because there aren’t teachers and curriculum — structures he clearly supports.

9 – The takeaway/the things this project makes me think about are:
– Globalization vs local (internet vs place) and effect on work, school, family, friends, happiness, the environment
– “Limitations of the personal view” (Jerry Mander) — the idea that even if a technology might be personally beneficially, it might be having larger negative impacts on your life via it’s influence in the business, political, military, media worlds.

As usual, education is a window into issues affecting all aspects of society.

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Filed under community, computers, contrarian, globalization, local, screen-time, Sudbury Schools and Sudbury Valley School

Our oil problem

“Our oil problem is not that “we’re running out.” Our oil problem is that we’re producing so much of the stuff that we are changing the planet’s climate.”
— David Frum, ‘Peak oil’ doomsayers proved wrong

True on climate, but the commenters at the article have it right:

“[W]e are extraordinarily blessed with a moment of respite to temporarily postpone the extremely difficult economic environment brought on by the decline of abundant oil….but it is only temporary, and we would be wise to use this moment to prepare ourselves.”

My comments: Keep bringing on the bikes, insulation, and solar. 🙂

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Filed under energy, energy-efficiency, erik-green, green, solar

Programming hours

Interesting thread w/ comments about the hours programmers keep. Differs by person of course. Night-owls, 9-to-5ers, etc.

Personally, I get ideas and fix problems:
– many during 9-to-5 but also
– running
– sleeping/putting kids to bed
– carpooling

Another ObPoint about leaving and coming back and “fixing the problem in 5 minutes”: It also often just works to shift gears and work on another problem. It’s not always just food/sleep/time needed. There is usually plenty of other work to be doing, so choose another problem for a bit and come back to the stuck one later.

But it’s true, like any difficult/creative work: it is quite pointless to code when tired.

see also: Relax! You’ll Be More Productive
– taking time to get adequate food, sleep, exercise, and vacations “boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

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Filed under exercise, programming, sleep, thinking, time, work

Is Facebook a private blog?

What is keeping blogs from becoming an “open-source” replacement for Twitter and Facebook? It’s not much, but they are important usability issues.

To me it is sorta like Apple/Steve Jobs and the iPhone. What did he/they do that was different from what had been done before? Not much, but important stuff. They obsessed over a million little things and put it together in a precise, perfect way that made the experience great vs the other blah stuff.

The comment thread here has a few suggestions
– subscriptions to other blogs should be easier
– the default view for one’s blog should be the aggregator/river view of all the people you are following with the slot for writing a new post at the top

Other things Facebook improvements:
– no subjects (in both posts and private messages/FB emails) Most blogs still use subjects, though they don’t need to.
And a big one they don’t mention in the link above:
– Privacy. Sharing with just friends or friends of friends.
– Drag and drop media sharing. Maybe it’s this easy with some blogs but not in my current WordPress one…

Someone will think of a clever way to improve blog interfaces and do the privacy thing in an open internet-y way outside of Facebook I bet. But on the other hand, Facebook is now a huge company like Microsoft and Google, etc. and so it will adapt quickly to any competition.

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Filed under facebook, google, technology

Busted. Or not!?

from wikipedia:

“The DCSD [Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty] cited The Skeptical Environmentalist (book by Bjorn Lomborg) for:
-Fabrication of data;
-Selective discarding of unwanted results (selective citation);
-Deliberately misleading use of statistical methods;
-Distorted interpretation of conclusions;
-Deliberate misinterpretation of others’ results.”


“On February 13, 2003, Lomborg filed a complaint against the DCSD’s decision with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MSTI), which oversees the group.”

And they overturned it. And then:

“A Dutch think tank, Heidelberg Appeal, published a report in which it claimed 25 out of 27 accusations against Lomborg to be unsubstantiated or not pertinent.[27] A group of related scientists also published an article in 2005 in the Journal of Information Ethics,[28] in which they concluded that most criticism against Lomborg was unjustified, and that the scientific community had misused their authority to suppress the author.”

And now a website with a page-by-page critique of the book.

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Filed under erik-green, green

REVIEW: LEGO CREATOR 3-in-1 brings back the LEGO magic!

OK you lego-loving moms and dads…

In case you were wondering where all the cool lego sets of your youth went and find yourself explaining “when I was a kid” look no further than the LEGO CREATOR 3-in-1 sets. After being unimpressed with the overly branded sets and the overly complicate technic sets, I have found lego nirvana for me and my kids!

My 5 and 8 year olds can typically build these LEGOs together without Ma or Pa. The 5 year old can pretty much to it himself, but likes when the 8 year old helps. But totally depends on the kids. Sometimes I help because I like LEGOS too!

BTW, if you have kids younger than 5 and 8, you should run not walk over to and grab a LEGO DUPLO TRAIN — the one with the electric engine. And buy a load of switches! The advantage being that with a 2 and 5 year old, you and/or the kids can play with this together without the 2-year old choking on anything or biting/tearing all the little yellow-arms off minifigs, etc, etc.

BTW, another aside… our 5 and 8 (and I!) still often have a lot of fun with the duplo train too. DUPLO fun does definitely not stop at age 5 if you buy tons of cool long pieces at or the like.

OK, so back to the 3-in-1 creator sets…

What I find works best is to keep each set in a gallon-sized ziploc/ziplock along with the instructions. One can of course mix sets altogether, and that is of course great for totally free-wheelin’ builidng but makes building from sets a hassle — takes a long time to find individual special pieces.

And speaking of “special pieces”, I think that (along with the 3-in-1 instructions!) makes these sets great. There are very few of what I call “special pieces” — pieces that are made pretty much just for that one set. Most are typical pieces found in many different sets.

OK, here are a few of our favorites (and some wish list items) around here. Most of these should be in the sub-$20 category. There are a lot of them. Here goes!

1. LEGO Creator Construction Hauler 31005 — 18 wheeler with digger/backhoe, cherry picker, offroad transporter with dune buggy

2. LEGO Creator Highway Speedster 31006 — sports car, roadster/hot-rod, tow-truck

3. LEGO Creator Super Racer 31002 — Formula 1/F1 race car, go-kart, quad bike/ATV

4. LEGO Creator Red Rotors 31003 — twin rotor helicopter, propeller plane, twin-rotor hovercraft

5. LEGO Creator Blue Roadster 6913 – -sports car, roadster/hot-rod, jeep/off-roader

6. LEGO Creator Thunder Wings 31008 — robot, car, jet plane

7. LEGO Creator Street Rebel 7291 — motorcycle, moped, chopper

8. LEGO Creator Propeller Adventures 7292 — propeller airplane, jet, hovercraft

9. LEGO Creator Super Soarer 6912 — jet plane, helicopter, dual-hull speed boat

10. LEGO Creator Dune Hopper 5763 — dune bugger, quad bike/ATV, trike/motorcycle

11. LEGO Creator Helicopter 5866 — mountain rescue helicopter, air show bi-plane, speed boat (online instructions for 4th model: high-speed swamp boat)

12. LEGO Creator Fierce Flyer 31004 — animals! eagle, scorpion, beaver

13. LEGO Creator Power Mech 31007 — robot, helicopter, pickup truck

Any I am missing? There are some more expensive ones too, but I prefer these cheaper ones. The more expensive ones get to be a bit much for my kids. And older kids I think would prefer Technic or Mindstorms. Most of these are pretty recent (circa 2012 or 2013) and should be available at Amazon. Just watch for price-gouging. If stock is low, stay away from the sellers looking for prices above MSRP.

You might be asking… how many different sets can LEGO make with a car, helipcopter, plane, ATV, hovercraft. One of every color perhaps? The tricky thing is that they don’t label the sets all that clearly. A helicopter can also just have “Rotor” or “Copter” in the name, or might not mention any of this at all if it is one of the alternate 2 designs.

See also:
REVIEW: Magna-tiles vs magformers

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Filed under lego, reviews, shopping

Dear health insurance company…

Dear health insurance company… Your recent letter indicating that rates are “only” increasing 5% in 2013 is a joke. You realize the math, right? If inflation is ~3% currently/historically, then a 5% annual increase (effectively 2% in current year dollars) means that health insurance prices will DOUBLE in ~36 years (using the “rule of 72”). 1.02^36 ~= 2

Yeah, good luck with that working out everyone!

See also: or google “inflation historical”
– rule of 72 —

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Filed under health, health insurance, math