The true cost of cable

When I asked my friends how much cable costs, I was shocked!. One told me she pays $275 a month for TV and internet, and she’s thinking of cutting out the movie channels so she can save $30 or $40 per month. That’s it? That would still leave her about a $235 bill!

It seems to me that cable is not much more than a vacuum cleaner attached to your wallet.

How many DVDs can a person buy with $200 a month? I deduct $75 because that’s the price for cable internet, in my area at least. That’s all I pay, and I get all the entertainment I can handle.

An Amazon Prime subscription only costs $100 a year. You get unlimited 2 day free shipping plus a huge selection of movies and TV shows.

A Netflix membership doesn’t cost much more.

The library is free, and so is Youtube.

Now, let’s consider the time expense of cable. I used to be completely addicted to it, and watched TV all the time. My grades suffered, I didn’t work on my homework, I learned less. Ultimately, I wasn’t qualified to get as good a job because of this behavior.

I don’t blame cable for this. I did it to myself. I ask this question now: would it have been a good idea for me to pay for the privilege of having poorer earning power?

Yet, isn’t that what we do? We pay a company a lot of money (often thousands a year) for content we can buy for far less elsewhere! Learning is free. Entertainment is free. Even so, the addiction of passive entertainment can be really hard to shake. We don’t think logically when it comes to TV. We think emotionally.

If you are thinking of kicking the cable habit, consider how much more time you’d have if you didn’t watch as much TV. Consider the benefits to your eyesight. Also, tor your waistline. Think about how much you could get done if you freed up three or four hours every day. You could start a side business, read great books, exercise, spend more time with your kids.

Are you too tired at the end of the day to do anything else? Think about that, too. Is that really true, or could it change? Watching TV always made me feel more tired and lethargic, while doing things always made me feel better right away. This blog is about making your life more awesome. It’s hard to be awesome just watching TV all day. It saps your creativity and your energy.

There’s one final benefit to getting rid of cable. You will be exposed to less slick advertising and therefore you won’t feel like you need as much. This can lead to you spending less and being less of a slave to consumer culture.

With all the benefits of getting rid of cable, why keep it? The reason I keep hearing is that somebody else in the house wants it, so it can’t be gotten rid of. I’d say that some persuasiveness is in order here, if you do want to unplug the cable and plug into more money every month.

I’m not telling you to get rid of cable. I’m just asking you if the cost is worth it.

Everything you eat is full of chemicals…

I fell off my chair laughing when I heard a friend talking about chemicals being in their food.

I have some breaking news for them! EVERYTHING is full of chemicals. Chemicals make up everything in the world. Chemistry is the study of how atoms build up into molecules, and how molecules interact. I know when people say “chemicals” they are usually thinking about artificially synthesized or manufactured substances.

That’s why it’s so funny when people say “I don’t want to eat something that’s full of chemicals.”

Here’s another phrase that makes me laugh.

“It’s all natural.”

I certainly agree that foods and products that are closer to their original source are better, and highly processed food is usually terrible for your body. “All natural” is usually just a marketing gimmick and doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is good for you! As most of you have seen, I am interested in health and medicine. And I see the push toward natural medicine all the time.

Natural medicine can be very helpful. That is, if you look at it with a clear mind and ignore the marketing. It just takes a little thought.

Natural herbs can be poisonous. Aminita mushrooms, cyanide, nightshade berries, botulism, scorpion venom are all natural. Conversely, synthesized medicine can save lives. We can take poisons and make wholesome remedies out of them. Like digitalis from foxglove for example. One concentration makes it a poison, but in a lesser amount it can help the heart.

Everything has its good sides and it’s bad. That’s why it’s great that we can take in information, see both sides of everything, take a deep breath, and choose the middle path.

In the meantime, drink your dihydrogen monoxide!

Transgender Truth

Trans folk may not be what, or who, you think they are.

If you have a trans friend, I commend you. If you have a trans family member, I commiserate with you. If you, yourself, are trans, I support you.

However, many people may never have met anyone who is transgendered. There are so many misconceptions out there, so much fear, and so many lies.

For instance, so many many people I know think being transgendered is a lifestyle choice or something you do on a whim.

Did you know it’s actually a medical condition?  Researchers are beginning to see evidence that it is indeed possible to have a brain with the structure of one sex, in the body with the structure of the other sex. Because of biology and hormone balance, it is more common for male babies to be born with a female brain than vice versa. The cause seems to be hormone fluctuations that can sometimes happen during pregnancy.

The result then, is someone who feels, deep inside themselves, that they are one gender – because their brain is built that way – while their body is shaped another way. Some people who are transgendered are also intersex, where their body has both male and female sexual characteristics, but their inner sense of themselves differs from the arbitrary decision their doctor or their parents made at birth.

Bottom line: in many cases, a transgendered person has a valid and measurable medical reason behind their decision to take on a role as the opposite sex. It is a decision that only comes after much soul searching, it is not a whim or a snap decision, it is not a fetish, and it is not a lifestyle choice.


Transsexuals versus crossdressers

A crossdresser is someone who dresses as the opposite sex, for enjoyment or for many other reasons, but who still identifies as their birth sex. A transsexual is someone who was born as one sex but is changing to another. They may or may not have had surgery.


Sex versus Gender

Sex is what your body is shaped like. Gender is how you feel inside.


Problems with restroom access

Something that most people don’t know is that people who are going through gender transition are often required to be on hormones and live exclusively as their desired gender for at least a year before getting surgery.

If we think about this, it’s easy to see that forcing someone to use the bathroom of their birth sex could be quite problematic. This would require someone who is dressed as a woman, is passing quite well, and is doing everything like a woman, to use the men’s room anyway. This is a recipe for beatings and even murders. Meanwhile, if she had quietly used the women’s room, sat in the stall as she always did, By the way, she might have been doing that for months or years – without causing alarm or trouble. She doesn’t want trouble, she just wants to use the bathroom, like any woman.

Surgery is difficult, painful and expensive. Hormones are expensive and can be dangerous if mishandled. Doctors sometimes refuse to treat trans patients. So for those who say “why don’t they just get it over with and finish the process?” please consider that the person in question may want, very badly, to finish – but be unable to. It’s harder to get a job when you are trans, after all, and there are a lot of social roadblocks. Jokes about trans folk are common, there are few legal protections, and people die every day for being trans.

Because of the way she’s routinely treated, I know a trans woman who often says “we are the last niggers in America.”


Are transgendered people dangerous?

No. Nothing about having gender dysphoria makes you any more unstable than any other person. Statistically speaking, heterosexual-identified males are the most likely to predators, whether of children or otherwise. People who are trans may actually have more compassion than others because they are so frequently mistreated.


Can gender dysphoria be cured another way, such as through prayer?

No. It can’t. Gender dysphoria can be suppressed for a period of time as a person denies it and tries to meet societal expectations of who they should be. Many people try to be ultra masculine or ultra feminine in an effort to “be who they should be” before realizing that they truly are the other gender inside, and it’s not just a phase. Methods of treatment that don’t involve a transition usually result in depression at the best, suicide at the worst.
What trans people want

It’s a large subject and impossible to speak for everyone, but in general, trans folk just want the same rights everyone else has. They don’t want special rights, they just want to live normal lives. The goal of most trans women, for example, is to simply be a woman – not to be specially privileged, but deserving of the same respect everyone else gets.


What trans people are not

Trans people are NOT interested in “converting” your kids, and being trans is not contagious. They aren’t dangerous or unstable and many have incredible amounts of self knowledge. In general, they are not perverts. They are also not necessarily gay. They usually aren’t “confused” either.


How to refer to transgendered people

Individual tastes differ. You can say “a transgendered person” or “transgendered,” but never “a transgender.” Similarly, “a transie” can sometimes be an affectionate descriptor, but never “a tranny.” A tranny is a part off a car, not a person, and it’s usually very offensive. “Transsexual” is also usually appropriate.


Ways to support a trans person

First, treat them as the gender they present as. If you are confused about pronouns, just ask. Avoid asking a bunch of intrusive questions unless they have showed they are comfortable about it. Other than that, just talk – enjoy their company, treat them as a person. Most trans folk don’t want to center their life around their transition, they have other interests, skills, loves, dreams. Above all, just treat a trans person like… a person.


How you can help

I know this post has been long, and the people who need to read it probably won’t. Even if you never donate to a trans friendly charity or help a trans person directly, though, you can be educated about the subject and gently correct wrong assumptions and incorrect facts along the way. Also, parents, please teach your children that staring and making inappropriate comments is not polite and can hurt people.

I would truly appreciate it if anyone chooses to share or forward this blog entry, it may be copied and duplicated in excerpt or in part by anyone as long as the original intent of support is maintained. Thank you for caring enough to read this!

Flood Aftermath: She started!

Or, “How to Fix a water flooded engine with paper towels and elbow grease.”

If you’ll recall my post yesterday about being flooded out and having my car stall, and having to be rescued by firefighters and police, I was left in doubt that my poor little car, who has been through so much, would ever start again.

This morning we started trying to get the water out of the cylinders. We did this by taking out all four spark plugs, then using a socket wrench and cheater bar to turn the flywheel. We got a couple big squirts out of the first cylinder and found that luckily the others were dry.  Apparently, a safety feature stopped the engine before water could get into all cylinders.  And the water had gotten in, most likely, from an improperly secured air filter cover.

The holes into the engine block were so deep we were at a loss as to how to get the rest of the water out. There was about a soda can’s worth in there. I recalled what I’d read yesterday on the internet, and said “we can use paper towels, roll them up and stick them down in there to wick the moisture out.”

We did that for a good while and got a bunch of water out. Then we went back to the auto parts store to turn in my old battery for the core credit, and at the same time I picked up new platinum plugs – the old ones were from the factory and going strong at 160,000 miles but I figured I should put new ones in anyway since we had it open. (You read that right, Hyundai builds quality.) We got back and shone a light in and found more water.

Then I said “Maybe if we shove the towel in with a thin stick…” so we did that, and stuck and pulled wet paper towels for what seemed like forever.  A metal shish kebab skewer worked great.  Finally we had everything out. Then we tried her. The starter was strong, and so was the battery, and she tried to crank.  The whole engine shook as the car tried to start.

Out comes the partner with a suggestion of starter fluid. My neighbor rummaged around and found a can – a few more tries with that and she started! Things were rough at first but she settled down after that and now sounds better than she did before the flood, because of the new plugs. I drove her around the block to make sure nothing was fouled. Tried the brakes, lights, signals, radio, everything works. So now, I have wheels again!

This faithful little Hyundai is a little more scratched and dented, but she runs, and I’m so unbelievably happy right now. What strikes me about this whole experience is that between myself, my neighbor, and my partner, each of us had a critical part to play – with one of us missing, this whole thing wouldn’t have worked. I researched and figured out what the problem probably was and how to fix it, my neighbor Charlie provided the tools and some of the know-how, and my partner provided support, some truly excellent suggestions, and more know-how. Oh, and I also handed over many power towels to my hard working neighbor.


I was prompted to write this post because the symptoms I had were more those of a seized engine or a broken starter than anything.  The first time we tried to crank the engine with a fully charged battery, the engine made a big lurch and we heard a loud clunk.  So it sounded like something was fatally wrong with the engine.  Meanwhile all that was required was removal of the spark plugs, much careful hand cranking of the engine, many, many, many power towels rolled up to fit in the cylinder and a light to look for water, and eventually a can of starter fluid.

The Sneakernet of Things



You’ve probably heard of the Internet of Things.  Refrigerators that detect when you are out of groceries and order more.  Remotely operated home security systems, thermostats, nanny cams.  Home appliances that communicate with each other.

Amazon has a service called Amazon Dash.  You attach an electronic tag to your items that you buy frequently, like dish soap, zip-lock bags, moisturizer, etc.  You push the button when you run low, and it sends a signal to an app on your phone that orders the item.  This seems a little excessive to me.

Recently I developed a new, fresh, cutting edge way to handle my errands and household chores.  I call it “The Sneakernet of Things.”

It’s revolutionary.  Here’s how the system works for getting groceries, for example.  At the beginning of the week, I lay out a unit of this flattened, dried wood pulp product I have a large stock of.  I like to call it a “sheet of paper.”  As I use up each food item during the week, I enter the data using a tubular, refillable item called a PEN.  At the end of the week, when I go out of my house, I take along this very sheet of paper (foldable for easy storage) and I use it at the grocery store to make sure I get all my items.  It’s instant access, no shipping charges, no waiting time.  See?  Told you it was amazing.

I also do something called “airgapping my appliances.”  None of my household appliances talk to each other or have a data connection.  My house is completely proof against hacking, in fact.  The microwave won’t talk to the fridge, the thermostat doesn’t try to call my phone, my can opener has no cache files about what cans I’ve opened, and nobody on the internet knows exactly how bananas I eat.

The benefits of this Sneakernet of Things extends even to my vehicle.  It has no GPS, no hands free phone system, no ONSTAR, no tracking device, and no internet access of any kind.  It’s also a manual so I even shift my gears myself.  It won’t brake unless I press the pedal, it won’t accelerate unless I tell it to.  It won’t auto start either.  It won’t beep in my ear when I change lanes.  It can’t be hacked unless you plug something into the OBD port.  I use it to bring my groceries home.

The Magic Color Changing Rock

So I acquired this nice chunk of quartz recently. Lots of small crystals, some pyrite bits, and an intriguing shape. It has tinges of delicate green and very faint purple, with a darker green on the bottom shading into the white.  Difficult to see in a photo, but here it is, modeling this bracelet:


Quartz, right?

Or so I thought.

I took it outside to get a better look, and was startled to find that nearly the whole thing was tinted with purple! Maybe a few light hints of green. The rock looked completely different!

I went back inside.




What the heck?
It’s not unknown for certain minerals to look different under different kinds of light, but this is the most obvious case of it I’ve seen outside a rocks and minerals study lab.

Looking it up online, I found Alexandrite, which does show green under artificial light and turns purplish under natural light – looks like my mystery is solved!

Wait… not so fast there, either.

Alexandrite is actually green under natural light but goes purple under artificial light, which is backwards from my mystery rock. So what exactly do I have anyway? Do I have Etirdnaxela?

After even more research, I was finally able to solve the mystery.  It’s fluorite!  Two things tell me that.  One, the color change works the right way.  And two, there’s a great big cubic structure in the rock – that’s what the big corner in the rock is!

So I tested it with a UV flashlight – and it fluoresced bright pinkish purple!  That clinched it.  The thing is fluorite!

STDs and magical thinking

I have mentioned before that I help out sometimes at advice websites. I’ve noticed something. Some people seem to fixate on STDs and pregnancy almost as if it’s a great “boogeyman” that can defeat the laws of physics. Their concern over the consequences of getting pregnant, or getting a disease (seen by many as about the same thing, by the way) overrides all rationality.

I’ll get questions about HIV, for example, things like “I hugged someone, could I get HIV?” I understand ignorance, but often the questions will come up after they have already been told that HIV is a very delicate virus that doesn’t survive for more than a minute ore two (AT MOST) outside the body, and requires blood to blood contact or sexual fluid to blood contact. Even so, the fear and emotional impact bypasses any kind of logic.

I’ve seen people ask if they could get pregnant if had taken a shower with someone and kissed them in the shower. Sorry! It doesn’t work that way! Though they do know where babies come from, superstition reigns supreme. I’ll keep out of explicit territory of course, but it’s really amazing how many misconceptions I see that persist even after proper education has been given! Instead of thinking of the way things really work, people who are afraid often start thinking symbolically, as if viruses can defeat the laws of physics.

Fear is a powerful emotion but it’s sad when it overcomes people’s reason.

Guest Post: Herbal Preparation Methods

This post is by my friend, Andrew Johnson, who  is an herbalist, craftsman, father, and all around interesting person.

Throughout my herbal studies, I have come across countless methods of preparing herbal remedies (tinctures, decoctions and salves). Though there are some similarities and common do’s and don’ts, the methods vary quite widely. I have tried many of them and found the methods that work best for my purposes, but choosing a method or preparation can be very personal. Ranging from a sacred ritual, to carefree and circumstantial, to perfectly calculated and measured to the gram, to sparse and businesslike for maximum profit, to triple-steeped and jam-packed for maximum strength.

Many herbalists will give out the ingredients of their creations but giving out their method is like a security breach of trade secrets. As for myself, if a beginner asks me “how do I do this?” I often give a range of simple methods and say “whichever you are more comfortable with.” There are differences in strength with each method, but the method you want to use is dependent upon several personal factors:

Are you going to sell them?  If so, you have to consider many different variables, the largest of which is the use of common allergens.
How long do you want it to keep? If you want any sort of shelf life, alcohol (vodka or Everclear) is a common additive.  There are also certain plants that extend shelf life.

What tools are available to you?  Jars, fine strainers, and small scales are must-have tools.

When will you want the preparation to be complete?  Depending on the urgency for the required preparation you may not have the time for 80% of the methods.

What are you comfortable with?  Many recovering alcoholics hate even the thought of alcohol based products, as do some pregnant women.

Regardless of the method, label everything a LOT and be VERY detailed.


sweet sleep


Let us go over a few methods for preparing salves/creams/perfume-rubs:
Oil >> Olive oil is most common as it has a long shelf life and doesn’t clog the skin, though other oil can be used.

Wax >> pure or pharmaceutical-grade beeswax is best although some people also use paraffin wax or petroleum jelly. The common ratio for wax to oil is around 1:4 to 1:10, and some books I’v read even recommend 1:2. It really depends on how had you want it. 1:2 to 1:3 is good for lip balms and perfume rubs but are way too hard for salves. 1:6 to 1:8 is salve range, and anything 1:10 or above is an ointment (semi-liquid).

Herb >> The ratio of herb to oil also ranges widely, 1:5 to 1:8 is common though I’ve noted as little as 1:16, and as much as 1:1 (1:1 is rather difficult to pull off and usually requires multiple steeps). When we speak of herbal ratios we are talking about the total herb weight vs the volume of oil, so 1:8 would be one cup oil to one ounce herb. Powdered herb is not required but it makes the herbal oil much stronger.

Steep >> The are two categories of steeping. Heat or Time.  The Heat method, in my opinion, is not as strong as Time, but it does extract some properties/ability from the plant (anywhere from 50 – 100%).  Use a double boiler as to not burn the oil, and let sit in the heat for 2-48 hours (depending on the herb), stirring often and making sure the water doesn’t run out underneath.

Time>> The Time method is tried and true, but obviously takes time. Minimum steep is a week with the most common timeframe being 2 – 3 weeks. A select few steep for up to a year, but that’s rather excessive. A difference of opinion comes up when it comes to WHERE you steep it. Some swear by sun-steeping, gaining the advantages of both methods at once. Others say that the sunlight actually damages some of the chemicals, saying to place the jar in a pitch-black cabinet or closet for the duration of the steep.


I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to herbal preparation methods.  If anyone wishes to see what Andrew can do, or find what kind of products he makes for sale, they can visit Giant Tree Apothecary on Etsy.  There’s a whole section on herbal preparations.  I really love his muscle salve, it works like nothing else I’ve ever tried.  I’ve included a link if you click on the picture at the top of the blog.  By the way, he makes really sweet leather books, purses, dice bags, and even some interesting jewelry too.

How to Train your Memory

I have been a chronic sufferer of CRS. That’s short for “Can’t Remember Shit,” of course! Nothing so serious as early onset Alzheimer’s, or anything like that, just a tricky and fickle brain that doesn’t like to hold information.

I’m tired of that. But there is hope. The human brain is like a muscle (no calling me a musclehead) and you can train it. Research has shown that new neural connections are created throughout life, and we can even grow new neurons, something that was once thought impossible after childhood. With this information in mind, I decided to try my hand at improving my brain. So I set myself the task of memorizing various immortal poems that will help build my character. My method was simple. Read the poem several times, write it down a few times, and keep a piece of paper in your pocket and look at it at odd times all day. Rhyming poems are easier to remember, of course.

I found that I would remember more when I woke up then when I went to sleep, because my brain had been busy sorting information and filing all night. Nice to know the sleep scientists are on to something.

So far I memorized Ozymandias by Shelley in three days, while working and doing all my normal things. That bit of paper in my pocket was probably the most helpful thing I could have done, that and saying as much as I could of it, then checking the paper for corrections.

Next is Ulysses by Tennyson. It’s a much longer work but I can already tell I’m having an easier time with it because of the work I did on Ozymandias. If you want to try it too, start with something you really like. It could be a poem, a set of song lyrics, a scrap of a story or article, anything like that. Try to memorize it. It will take at least a few days to do properly.

Some tips for memorizing things:

You will remember the words better if you hand write them at least once, and preferably several times.  For maximum effect, handwrite it rather than printing.

Start small to build up your confidence.  Maybe even just one line.

Read it out loud, read it silently, glance at the piece throughout the day and especially before sleep.

Get plenty of rest. Sleep helps you remember things. You will often find yourself better able to remember after you’ve slept.

Keep at it. It will be hard at first but as you go on, it will get easier!

“And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.”



Yesterday I posted about feelings and how people often act exclusively based on them, rather than using their reason.

Today I’m thinking about a related subject and that’s interruption during conversations.  I’ve noticed there are two main ways of communication.  Many people will alternate sentences while they are talking, and feel free to interject short ideas or comments while the other person is still making their point.  This is very common.  Some people take it a step further and will even start talking before the other person is done, finishing the other person’s statements or even drowning them out.

In some places, this is considered polite and even normal.

In other places, it’s more of a paragraph based style of communication.  One person makes a point, the other person waits till they are done and then responds, and it goes on like that.  I see this style in older science fiction and adventure novels all the time.

Not only that, but in every book on communication I’ve seen, the advice is always given to listen to the other person till they are done, and then begin to speak.  It’s also usually mentioned that the best way to listen is with an open mind, while not planning what to say in response.

With that being said, isn’t it amazing how a dear friend of mine, who was raised to believe that interrupting was extremely rude and a social sin, was told that she was actually evil (yes, you read that right, evil) for not wanting to be interrupted?  Yet, if she interrupted anyone she was verbally slapped down.

What this tells me is that people in general need to give up interruptions and double standards!