Category Archives: thinking

Turn the channel to youtube…

All of the interesting stuff I’ve read about Occupy Boston/OWS has been NOT in the mainstream media (msm). I think this means that #OWS is difficult for MSM but also that blogging/etc is really coming into itself. We have a mac mini connected to living room TV with HDMI so we can do youtube via browser. I guess Apple TV has a youtube channel but I’m not sure it’s worth the extra $ for the simplicity since we already have the mac, and sometimes things I want to watch are on Vimeo, PBS, etc. which won’t work with the Apple TV.

Also, this is perhaps rather obvious but there are probably plenty of 30-somethings and 40-somethings who would love to camp out and join the protests but that’s hard when you really have to work to continue to “put food on your family” as I like to say.

See elsewhere:
Embracing the 1 percent
We are the 1 percent. We stand with the 99 percent.

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“College Degree or Equivalent Work Experience”

I am not against college/university degrees per se. But as far as preparation for a career, I think it really just depends.

Wanna be a doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, nurse, mechanical engineer, NFL football player, etc, etc… well, you are of course going to need some undergraduate and usually some graduate school often leading up to a certification exam of some sort. And/or internships.

But what if you want to do something that doesn’t require a degree?

What do some enlightened/practical companies hiring software engineers write in their job descriptions?

  • Google: “Bachelor’s degree in computer science or other technical field. In lieu of degree, 4 years work and/or professional programming experience.”
  • Microsoft: NO MENTION of school whatsoever in their “Basic Qualifications” section for a senior software position.
  • Amazon: “Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or related field, or 4+ years relevant work experience”
  • Turbine: “College Degree or Equivalent Work Experience”

Get the picture? Now maybe I am cherry-picking a career and most other jobs are not so lax on the college requirement. I doubt it.

Now sure, within these companies there are certainly positions that they are looking for degrees for if you want to start right in at a senior level instead of working one’s way up. Google says for example in their “preferred qualifications” section for one more senior position: “Masters or Doctoral degree for senior positions” Microsoft likewise… “Computer Science degree, or Bachelor of Science in an engineering discipline.”

So check out those job offers and go figure out what “Experience building and operating online services and fault-tolerant distributed systems” means. And what “MCTS certification in SQL Server 2005/2008 Database Development” is. Confused? Take some free online courses from MIT or Stanford or somewhere.

You’ll have a job in no time.

(As long as you move to CA, WA, NY, or MA.)

Careers differ in:
– solo enterprise (vs group)
– must learn from an expert craftsman in person (vs “books”) — e.g. in person: therapist, doctor, ferrier, backcountry guide
– requires stamp of approval or certification (vs not) — (e.g. plumber: licence required. carpenter: no license)

Not that it is an either/or… Software lends itself well to allowing one to apprentice oneself initially on one’s own with resources available in books/videos/web/online courses/certification courses/etc and then very quickly jump into a entry-level job where one can learn from “the masters”. There’s not necessarily a huge advantage to a 4-year degree career-wise

Maybe people out there disagree. But that’s been my personal experience.

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Small houses for families or multiple families WITH KIDS

Get real people.

1. It’s a mess out there. I believe I read recently that there has been a substantial percentage increase in the number of families doubling up — Kids (and families) moving in with parents or grandparents. Duh!

2. All the small home books show houses typically designed for a couple. Or maybe one neatnik toddler. And that’s it? The (sole?) exception being Little House on a Small Planet, 2nd: Simple Homes, Cozy Retreats, and Energy Efficient Possibilities
I liked that book.

OK, so what makes a small house design workable when there are 8+ people (especially with kids) living under that one roof? This post will collect my ongoing thoughts on the topic.

Topics to be expanded upon someday, perhaps. Biased toward northern homes:
– design patterns. loops are important with kids. this is counter the idea of getting rid of wasted hallways spaces but I have thoughts on that. (Namely, do it anyway, a little)
– winter months are brutal indoor times
– huge mudrooms. kitchen and bathroom right off main entrance and key.
– laundry area with ample drying space. as in basement. (upstairs closets are no good unless you have giant bedroom spaces wasting away)
– more small rooms is better than 1 bigger room, I think
– noise between bedrooms. cellulose in the walls? separate bedrooms by bathroom?
– get real. There is probably a TV and laptops, game machines, tablets, etc. in your future. Where will it/they go? I am not personally a fan of having this stuff in bedrooms away from action. So where does the action go?
– basically the issue is balancing public and private space. And open space vs some small rooms.

Gotta run. Watch this space.

See also:
Here are endless articles on the “move in with parents” theme from recent months/years from the NYTimes

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Filed under contrarian, futuresafe, homesteading, simple, small houses, superinsulation, thinking, zero energy home

Who wrote “Here’s to the crazy ones…” ?

In case you see lots of “Here’s to the crazy ones” quotes today. That’s not Steve Jobs. That’s an Apple ad campaign. Come on people!

Overall story:

Who specifically wrote it? (Ken Segall, of TBWA/Chiat/Day)

His 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford

(Reminder to self: Time to buy a tablet. But probably not an iPad2.)

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Filed under android, apple, ipad, technology, thinking, xoom

Things I would do differently…

Not to be a downer, as the house is really AMAZING, appears to be performing right in line with estimates we made for heat load and UA and the more detailed PHPP workup. But I can’t help it, there are definitely things I would do a little differently if I were to build a house again.

  1. Our property has a 2-bedroom deed restriction, which we knew going in, and it’s totally fine, but if I were to do it again, I would have been in communication with the town’s building inspector (who is also the zoning enforcement person) early on in deciding — show him our rough plans, what we were going to build — instead of waiting until submitting formal plans. Novice mistake. Luckily things turned out fine.
  2. Don’t be afraid of stock plans. I don’t think one necessarily needs custom home plans to build a superinsulated house. Certainly if you are trying to do passivhaus then you probably do since it will mean really messing with window sizes and placement, but otherwise, I would advise that, if you already have a plan that you really like, just go with it, and ask your builder to build 12″ or so double walls, rather than the 2×6 walls shown in the plans. Spend that money you save on something else!
  3. If I were to do it again, I might not be quite so enamored of strict strategies for reaching/approaching passivhaus in New England. A passivhaus would use 2.5x less energy than our house, approximately (assuming the same TFA) but we’re talking maybe $200 in heating PER YEAR vs $600 PER YEAR. I am not at the moment convinced it is worth the substantial extra effort/expense due to slightly unusual methods needed and products. It’s still tricky to do this stuff and so it means having a team — a builder and architect — who are obsessed I would say. Correct me if I’m wrong! So, do all of the items on the passivhaus checklist that are low-hanging fruit, but pass on items that are stretches. Might as well do 6″ of foam under the slab and edge, for instance. But have nice views on the North, East or West of your house? I would say not to feel bad about putting in nice windows there! That’s me. (I would aim for R40 walls including basement, R80 roof, R5 windows, R20 slab)
  4. On the other hand, I would also ENCOURAGE everyone to VERY EARLY in the project to seek out a Certified Passivhaus Consultant (such as ours in the Boston, Massachusetts area: DEAP GROUP) and have them model your house plans in PHPP. Even if you don’t follow all the Passive House advice, you will be very well informed!
  5. On Solar PV panels: I really like the Enphase microinverter approach we took, but I can’t help but think that the grass-is-greener — IOW, a central inverter. I like that a central inverter approach would have 1) been a little cheaper, and 2) allowed for a “hybrid” grid-tie AND small battery approach, and 3) w/ battery, allowed for some degree of “off-grid” use in case the grid goes down during storms and such. Ah well, I probably would be wishing we had microinverters had we gone with a central inverter approach! I am remembering that I think part of my decision for microinverters had to do with worrying about shade. I should have trusted the solar survey more! We are pretty much totally shade free except at the beginning and end of the day. Which microinverters don’t help much with I don’t believe.
  6. I would probably try to use as little foam as possible. Cellulose all the way! And generally, vapor-open envelope assemblies seem like a Good Idea. I now like this thinking better than the Lstiburek “perfect wall” approach which is closer to what we have. Ah well, grass is greener…
  7. I would use bigger windows in some spots and remove them in others. I guess trying to be a bit more site-aware. Where are neighboring houses… where are views, etc. We did this to some extent, but there are a few misses where I wish there was a double bank of windows. That sort of thing.
  8. I would have looked into unusual choices IN PERSON a bit more. I think it would have helped, for instance, to visit a house with had the Thermotech windows we were considered upgrading too. We were feeling stuck on using double hung (which we love) vs casement (which we do not). But maybe we would have been swayed seeing them in person?
  9. Sorta related to that… I would have in some cases gone with the experience of the subcontractors (on paint brand choice) but in other cases, considered using a different contractor who had specific experience using an uncommon but greener product (OSMO Poly-X floor finish). So there are 2 alternate sides to the same issue of trying too hard to use a product that is maybe greener, but if it also gets installed wrong might mean expensive undoing or redoing. And “wasting” green ($) is not green! 🙂
  10. I said not to worry about custom house plans, but on the other hand, I will admit that it is a Very Good Idea to have it worked out ahead of time exactly where the HVAC ductwork will go. I think it is wrong to leave it to the contractors. Better to have it worked out ahead of time.
  11. I might have considered more seriously a “backwards saltbox” approach (we face south, so the long roof would be in front) since it would give more room for panels.
  12. I think everyone who builds a house feels this way, but there are definitely a few spots where I wish a light-switch or outlet was in a different spot. Our electrician did a great job helping us with this, but maybe there is a way to get this even MORE right. Not sure how without living in it first.
  13. OK, that’s a pretty short list actually. More as I think of it…

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Filed under about the house, building science, contrarian, erik-green, erik-VS, hindsight is 20-20, passive house, simple, solar, superinsulation, thinking, zero energy home

Picasa Users — use tags and only tags!

I know the people/faces feature in Picasa is seductive, but JUST SAY NO! The data is stored in a specialized Picasa database on your hard drive which doesn’t work perfectly in my experience. (Whereas “tags” are stored *in the images themselves* in a standardized way — IPTC — and cannot be lost/mangled!)

It has been my experience (as well as many others — ask Google) that this Picasa-only method (for labelling faces) is flawed in the following ways:

1. Using one shared photo collection amongst many home computers (say on a NAS) is difficult if you rely on special features of Picasa (or iPhoto I assume). Not impossible, but only for extreme power-users. If you ignore most of the fancy features of Picasa and stick with tags, you should be ok.

2. Many people have experienced problems with picasa losing track of their database (and hence all of their face data). I believe there might be ways to “get it back” — again, ask Google — but you really don’t want to go thru this nightmare!

So.. just stick with hitting “Ctrl-T” and adding tags for the people or other labels you’d like to add. Captions are safe too. Those are stored in the image file too! Or if tags scare you too, add the data to the file name!

Yes, I know you will lose the cool feature where you outline the face allowing you to visually see 100s of your kid’s face in a collage, etc. But I bet you will be able to add that back in in some future year pretty easily — the faces tool in Picasa and other photo apps will only get better and better. And you’ll have already tagged many of your photos so you’ll be half way there.

Wanna test it? Add some tags to a photo, then go look at the image file in Windows Explorer or Mac Finder and view properties. Your tags (and/or caption) will be there! Search works great in Windows too (as well as Picasa). Just click “search file contents” and your tagged images come right up! You can even make the tags visible in the results. It’s an optional column in Windows. And you can of course add tags right in Windows. Picasa just makes it easier.

Cool! Simple! And future safe!

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Just look how people talk about children

“Another translator [at an evening lecture we were attending] prefaced a question about the effectiveness of correcting linguistic “mistakes,” by saying: “If my 15-year-old son had his way, he would spend his whole life lazing in front of the computer and television,” which elicited a room full of nods and sighs of agreement. Perry [14 years old] and I rolled our eyes at each other and clenched our teeth, as if to say: “Just look how people talk about children.”

“From the first grade Perry has been attending Sudbury Jerusalem, where students are not divided by age and mix freely with each other and with the staff. They are free to pursue whatever interests they have at a given time with whatever means available: play, books, the Internet, but primarily conversation with other children or adults. Maybe it is because of this upbringing that Perry has never internalized a hierarchy of subjects of interest and activities, rating them as childish/adult, work/play, serious/frivolous, cool/geeky. He has always flowed with his interests, at times devoting intense attention to one thing and then moving on to another.”
— Shoshana London Sappir


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Interesting places to extract heat from, besides fossil fuels

We all know the standard ways to heat your house and heat water:
– oil
– natural gas
– propane
– wood

And renewables of course: solar/wind/etc
And electricity (could be any of the above plus nukes, but for fossil fuel sourced, comes at a 3x penalty. source-to-site, since power plants generally are only 1/3 efficient vs 95% condensing boilers/furnaces in one’s home)

But have you heard of these? (with some example links…)
1 – septic system pre-heating
2 – compost pre-heating (especially see One Straw link)
3 – waste-water heat recovery — only really works with showers
4 – Leaving the hot-water (from a bath, shower, cooking pasta) or leftover hot food cool off a bit before draining it, or putting it in the refrigerator
5 – negawatts — Think of a CFL, “14 watts replacing 75, as a 61 negawatt power plant.”
6 – brine/water geothermal with a heat pump (still electricity, but with a COP of maybe 2.5 or 3 to undo the source-to-site issue)

Just sayin! Some interesting ideas out there!

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