Thursday, September 15, 2011

Newsflash: You are entitled to softer fabrics as a basic human right

I just got a great bit of news! Downy has somehow worked it out so that having softer clothes is now a basic human right. I imagine that now, the Human Rights Watch will now be on the case of enforcing this, so watch for your government-supplied Downy soon. You might wonder how I found out- after all it's not break in the news yet (what gives?). Well, this popped up just a minute ago:

It's simple logic. If Downy is displaying that ad to everyone on the internet, then that means that everyone deserves softer, fresher clothes. So it can't be that you have to do something to deserve soft, fresh clothes- because not everyone has done the same things. The only accomplishment that everyone in the world shares is that we're all alive- so I guess being alive is the only thing you have to do to deserve softer, fresher clothes. There you have it- every human deserves softer, fresher clothes, so the only thing it can be is a human right. Thanks Downy!

Be advised: If someone is telling you that you deserve something, they are probably trying to use you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


God works through many different ways, and I think one of them is the shuffle playback for music. You never know what's going to come next- maybe God picked it! Yesterday I was doing some homework and listening to some songs on shuffle. A song came on by Five Iron Frenzy, one I've listened to a hundred times before, I'm sure. It's called Dandelions. It could have just gone in one ear and out the other like it had so many times before, but something perked my ears up just then, and I heard something I hadn't heard before.

This isn't the first time this has happened to me- Five Iron Frenzy wrote a lot of deep lyrics for a band with an average fan age of thirteen. In fact, this blog is named for a deep Five Iron song. All these words were in the songs when all of us punk kids were listening to them a decade ago, but they didn't click then. If I keep listening to Five Iron as I get older and older, I wonder if I'll just keep discovering stuff in their songs.

Back to Dandelions- here is the audio from Youtube, and the lyrics below. See if you pick up on what I did.

In a field of yellow flowers,
underneath the sun,
bluest eyes that spark with lightning,
boy with shoes undone.
He is young, so full of hope,
reveling in tiny dreams,
filling up, his arms with flowers,
right for giving any queen.

Running to her beaming bright,
while cradling his prize.
A flickering of yellow light,
within his mother's eyes.
She holds them to her heart,
keeping them where they'll be safe,
clasped within her very marrow,
dandelions in a vase.

She sees love, where anyone else would see weeds.
all hope is found.
Here is everything he needs.

Fathomless your endless mercy,
weight I could not lift.
Where do I fit in this puzzle,
what good are these gifts?
Not a martyr, or a saint,
scarcely can I struggle through.
All that I have ever wanted,
was to give my best to you.

Lord, search my heart,
create in me something clean.
you see flowers in these weeds.

Gently lifting hands to heaven,
softened by the sweetest hush,
a Father sings over his children,
loving them so very much.
More than words could warrant,
deeper than the darkest blue,
more than sacrifice could merit,
Lord, I give my heart to you

There's not some hidden, veiling double meaning here. I just didn't get it until now- probably because I was hearing but not listening. The point that I got from it is that we are very much the little boy with shoes untied, bringing dandelions to his mother. His mother loves those dandelions, she loves them so much- why? Not because dandelions are the most beautiful flower, or that by their own merit they have any value. Really, dandelions are weeds. The dandelions are special to her because they are her young son's expression of love- his very best, with nothing held back. The little boy gave her the dandelions with a pure heart as a gift of love.

How are we like that little boy? In plenty of ways. We are all, in some way, incompetent and backwards- with our shoes untied, you might say. Like the little boy, we are all capable of bringing a gift of love with a pure heart which will be just the very thing that the recipient wants. Finally, just like there was someone for the little boy to give his gift to, there is someone to whom we should give our gift of love- God. Now, God has a lot in common with this proverbial mother as well. She saw love in those weeds, because that's what they were: a gift of love. God also judges your gift not by some rubric or abstract value, but by the heart that presents it. If you offer something to God out of your love for him, it will be greatly pleasing to him, because that's exactly what he wants. What if the little boy had brought his mother a diamond ring, but did it out of obligation and with a sour heart? She wouldn't love that, even though the gift itself was amazing. In the same way, it doesn't matter if all you can give with your life is things that seem small and inconsequential- God is looking for your heart of love. Don't think God will be impressed by your great achievements in your life, either, if you're doing them for your own reasons and not to glorify him. Doesn't this sound an awful lot like a story you might have heard?

And he [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

A lot of the time, when this passage is preached on, the conclusion is "give until it hurts". It'd be easy to conclude that, given the ending- but I don't think that's the message here. I think the message is the same one that we can take from Dandelions. The fact is that God doesn't care how much you give, how much you achieve, what kind of greatness you have to offer him as this world measures it. All that will pass away. God cares about your heart. Nothing pleases God more in an offering than a heart that is giving out of its abundance of love for him. Now don't run away and think "God doesn't care how much I give, so I'm going to give very little, but do it cheerfully". Replace 'give' with whatever you want- 'try', 'accomplish', 'care'. What does that say about your heart? What if the little boy was just wanting to give his mother the easiest flowers to find?

No, what you do isn't what matters- but it is the evidence of the thing that does matter. If your heart is completely focused on God, then you're going to give your whole life to him. That's pleasing to God not because it's your all, but because it was your love for him that compelled you to give it.

Take two things from this. One is this- are you living your life as a pure gift to God? Are you sliding by with however much effort/diligence/contribution everyone else is, or, are you so motivated by your love for God that you want to give him your very best? Look at things the way God sees them.

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

The second thing is this- don't judge your life on the same scale that the world does. The world's scale says that those dandelions were crap, a dozen roses is par. That's just not true. If all you have to give to God doesn't look like much on that scale, who cares? It doesn't matter in the least. You are a child of God, things are different. What matters is the heart that is giving it. Is it with a pure heart of love for God? That's what God wants. Don't aspire to greatness or accomplishment as measured by any earthly scale. Aspire to love God first and best, for that is far better.

He opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Six dozen failed projects

As I was laying in bed last night, I had a realization. I am afraid of failure. Not just a normal fear, like I think most people have, but a paralyzing grip-of-death fear. I realized that I was haunted by my failures in the past- when I let them, they loomed over me like black clouds which followed me wherever I went, and signaled to everyone around me that I was a loser. It actually goes a level deeper- I realized that all these failures in the past, of which I was so afraid, had actually been caused by the fear itself.
Allow me to explain. I’m a tinkerer and a project guy. I love to make stuff, and I’m constantly having ideas for neat-o stuff I could make. Right now it’s an electric bicycle. A few weeks ago it was a go-anywhere miniature portable speaker powered by an old laptop battery. For a long time, the idea of a fast electric go-kart has been in my mind. I’m always thinking of something cool I can make, and I have been since I was a kid. I often dig into these projects with great fervor and excitement. I have a whole bunch of junk to prove it- things I’ve purchased for a project, or little items I’ve found and refused to throw away because of how useful I think it could be for something I could make. I get really excited about how cool my new thing is going to be.
Here’s the problem, though: I don’t follow through. Of all the projects I’ve started, just a handful have been completed. The rest are either abandoned or languishing in various states of incompletion. Combat robotics was my hobby in high school. I successfully built two robots. I think I count three uncompleted ones, plus two more that were ‘done’ but incredibly lame because they were rushed together last-minute.  The three uncompleted ones weren’t just ideas I didn’t follow through on, they were projects I invested large amounts of time and (for a high-schooler) money in. Robotics isn’t the only thing- I bought a diesel vehicle because I thought the concept of biodiesel was incredible cool, and I planned on making my own biodiesel reactor and driving across the country on the cheap. It never happened. Then I got excited about it again after selling the first diesel car and bought another… and sold it. (At least I made a profit on both)
This cycle has happened many times with numerous projects- water-cooled computers, modifications to my car, several potato cannons, a motorcycle that’s now sitting non-running in a garage. Last night before I went to bed, I found out that my electric bike project probably wouldn’t be quite as fast as I had been hoping- only 17 mph. I was feeling like maybe I should give up on the project because it wasn’t quite as cool, not quite as worth it. What would my friends say, whom I’ve told about the project, when it’s not as fast as I made it out to be?
Then I started thinking about how I’ve done that so many times before, and how lame I was for it. I couldn’t make sense of that, though, because I thought I was pretty neat, and so did a lot of other people. God’s word tells me that I’m neat. Why did I feel so bad about giving up so many projects? Sure, giving up projects is bad, but why does it happen so often and why do I feel so bad about it? Then, I put the pieces together that explain why, on so many occasions, the same cycle repeats itself. I have an idea. I get excited about it. I make plans for the project. I start the project and get somewhere between 20% and 95% done- then I give up! Why? Why do I engage in such destructive, irrational behavior over and over again? It’s fear. The same thing that makes our economy run, that gives our political system its shape, that motivates beyond any other emotion.
For me, the fear block is stunningly effective because of just how excited I get for the projects. I have my idea and am convinced it’s just a ludicrously amazing idea and that when my project is finished, it’s going to be amazing. I jump into the project with the enthusiasm of a seven-year-old at his first tee-ball game. I make progress. I do good work. I overcome obstacles. But then, fear creeps in. It enters the space of my enthusiasm and starts replacing it. The expectations I had for greatness in my project turn into requirements or standards I must meet. The hype I built up in my mind is now looming over me as if some panel of judges is just waiting for my project to be complete so they can evaluate it according to the expectation of greatness I set up for it- and the prognosis is grim.
So what do I do when I feel like failure is looking over my shoulder, just waiting for my project to be not quite as great as I anticipated? Or perhaps when I’ve compromised some aspect of my vision for cost, difficulty, or time- did I just break a promise to myself? Now what? I give up. I just lay the project aside and do something else. After all, my track record shows a consistent series of failures, doesn’t it? Better to just give up- it makes more sense to abandon a project and guarantee failure than to end up with something that’s not quite as amazing as I thought it could be. I should just do something else that’s more fun- I’ll come back to it later … and then the terrible feeling comes on- the half-finished project is mocking me from across the room, or the never-attempted plans are calling to me from my computer, telling me I’m a loser for not bringing them to life. There’s always something more appealing to do than coming back to a sheer cliff named ‘Project Completion’ and beginning to climb it. Something easier and seemingly more fulfilling, and I, in the sinful human condition, have historically taken the easy way far more times than I’ve challenged that cliff.
So what is the cure for my problem? Well, it has these two prongs I asked about before: why do I keep doing this, and why does it make me feel irrationally terrible? The latter problem, I think, answers the former. I keep repeating this cycle of giving up because I am so afraid that my project will be a blunder- the fear paralyzes me. Here’s the key- I let all those failures make me feel worthless. Yes, it is true- I’ve failed many times before. The mistake, though, is letting those failures define me. I let my failure identify me, slapping a name badge on my chest that reads “Ned Funnell: Owner of six dozen failed projects”. I won’t say that success doesn’t have value, or that it’s wrong to draw conclusions about someone based on what they’ve done. However, however! Performance never dictates value. My accomplishments or lack thereof can never tell me how much I’m worth. The truth is that I have immense value that nothing and no one can take from me. God created life in me, and despite my inability to do anything good without him, he saw so much value in me that he, the self-existent author of creation, lowered himself to the position of a slave and offered himself as a sacrifice- to pay the very debt I owed and could not pay. God sees that much value in me.
I could believe what my fear is telling me- that I’m worthless because I’ve failed before. On the other hand, I could believe what God says- that I’m so valuable that he would die for me. I could do what the fear compels me to do- just give up and do something else. Or, I could do what God said to do in his book: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men”. God doesn’t judge me according to my successes or failures, he judges my heart. Which heart is more pleasing to God- one that gives up in the midst of difficulty, or one that takes courage from God’s promises and continues on?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Just a thought

If you look for God only in the supernatural, you're going to miss out on a lot. God displays himself in so much of the natural and ordinary; you'd be wise to look for him under every rock. Refusing to see God in every day life doesn't profit you anything.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A post for May 21

This would have been more topical earlier, but I was singing this song today and I thought it would make sense, given the doomsayers (now proven wrong). Here's the song itself and the lyrics:

I wonder if these minutes were my last,
If I should start to feast or start to fast.
Would I pray or would I curse,
Hope for good or something worse?
What emotion would I feel?
Would I run or would I kneel?

Time is winding down but only for this life.
I want to be found enjoying the next life.
I see leaves and they are starting to turn brown.
They'll be green and growing when the second season comes around.

The strongest will expire just the same,
The quick will fall exactly like the lame.
I'll do nothing at the most
To keep from giving up the ghost,
Try to make my shoulders broad,
But I am helpless without God.

Time is winding down but only for this life.
I want to be found enjoying the next life.
I see leaves and they are starting to turn brown.
They'll be green and growing when the second season comes around.

I may try to grip control,
But when for me shall this bell toll?
If the answer is to bow,
To him that makes how soon is now?

Time is winding down but only for this life.
I want to be found enjoying the next life.
I see leaves and they are starting to turn brown.
They'll be green and growing when the second season comes aroun

Monday, May 2, 2011



5 pumps cinnamon syrup
1 pump gingerbread syrup
1 pump vanilla syrup
1/4 tsp secret spices, including cayenne pepper.
Fill with milk and serve iced.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Heroes and Zatzeeky

I, like most young bachelors, do not fancy myself to be a master chef. In general, I'd rather bum some leftovers from Jamie Thompson (she's a killer cook) than prepare something for myself. Cooking for one is a drag anyway- you can either spend a lot of time preparing small portions, or cook a normal-sized meal and eat the same thing for a week and a half. Sure, there are ways around this- many turn to Ramen or Easy Mac, or eating out for every meal. I object to those alternatives for health and cost reasons. While it is true that I don't like to cook every night, I do find myself feeling culinarily adventurous from time to time. I've been known to prepare meals from time to time that deviate from the normal bachelor fare. Way back in the summer of 2008 I made fancy chicken parmesan for one just out of boredom- both time-boredom and palate boredom. I was impressed enough with myself that I took a cameraphone picture:

How bad is it that I'm reaching back to 2008 for examples of decent cooking? After all, I am also responsible for this mug-o-oatmeal microwave disaster:

Little cooking anomalies like the chicken do happen from time to time. I find it much more fun to make a dish for a potluck (pitch-in, midwesterners) rather than just cooking for an hour or two and sitting down alone to enjoy it- for me, the return on investment isn't there. If I'm cooking a dish for a group, though, it's much more worth it to me. I've been known to bring a mean pot of chili to a barbecue, and better-than-expected-of-a-bachelor food to gatherings.

The hallmark of my potluck contributions, though, is a recipe for which I can take no credit, but for which I have a great deal of respect- my grandmother Whittingham's cornbread, passed down to me by my father. Many a Saturday morning was spent in the Funnell house eating cornbread made by my dad with whole wheat flour, corn meal, and love. I have lots of memories of spreading molasses or honey on my split-apart slice of cornbread with the rest of my family around our wooden kitchen table. Good times. This cornbread is always made in a cast iron skillet, any other vessel is strictly barred. I made it on a semi-regular basis, and so I found myself creatively borrowing Jamie's skillet to make it, as I had no skillet of my own. Perhaps you'll remember that Jamie got me a skillet of my own for Christmas, and perhaps that is the best testament for my affinity for this cornbread:

I also made a sweet awesome apple pie a few months ago that I almost forgot about:

Alright, alright, Ned makes food sometimes. Big whoop. He has to or he'd die. What's the big deal? And who is Zatzeeky, and why is he hanging out with heroes?

Let me explain- 'hero' is one phonetic pronunciation of the Greek word 'gyro', which is a sick-awesome dish made with pita bread, chicken/pork, and a fantastic sauce called 'tzatziki'. Recently, Sarah and I returned from a two-week trip, which meant we both had to restock our fridges. I was lamenting this task aloud and Sarah convinced me to prepare something called a 'meal plan'. I usually just go to the store, grab some staple foods or whatever is on sale, then come back home and say, with a tone of incredulity, "what the heck am I supposed to make with all this stuff?!"

Well, the meal plan turned out to be a good idea but making it meant I had to decide ahead of time what I wanted to make and eat so I could buy the stuff. (How 'bout that) I was trying to think of things more exciting than spaghetti or various soups, when I remembered a meal I'd had, of all places, at Saga, the official cafeteria  of LeTourneau University. (Okay, it's not official, it's a nickname from the 70's that the administration has been trying to defeat for years) This wasn't the new and vastly improved Saga in the new building, no, this is old-building Saga. Now, if you're a LeTourneau student, you think I'm insane, I'm sure, for wanting to reproduce a Saga dish. This was after the Bon Appetit takeover, though, and that makes a difference. The new chef made gyros with tzatziki sauce, and it was quite good. Intriguing, even, as a foreign dish. I liked it, and when making my meal plan, I remembered it.

So gyros it was. What is a gyro? It's a pita (which is a round flatbread) topped with chicken or pork, vegatables of choice (e.g. tomatoes, onions, lettuce), and often tzatziki sauce. You fold it up and eat it like a taco.The sauce is a cool sauce made of yogurt, cucumber, and seasonings/herbs. Sounds kind of complex, eh? It was, especially considering that I couldn't find pita bread at Walmart. I did have tortillas, but I thought that'd be a travesty of a hybrid- Mexican/Greek? No thanks. So get this- I made my own pita bread. DADGUM! That took a while. I won't bore you with the cooking details, but I'll tell you that it still involved some bachelor moves, like using a crock pot as a mixing bowl and substituting pancake mix for flour when I ran out and the dough was super sticky.

A morning of cooking gets you this for lunch:

And these are the pitas, which I thought I could make without a rolling pin:

Sarah enjoys pitas.

What does this mean for my future? Will this progress in culinary skill and interest continue until I'm an accomplished chef, and turn out to be one of my life's defining features?

Hmmm.... nope. Gyros are good though.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Apparently, hard drives can survive a trip through the washing machine

Last Christmas, I was toting a laptop hard drive around with me during the Very Thompson Christmas. I had just got my laptop back from the repair center and installed an upgraded hard drive, so the stock one was out of the machine. I had it in a protective anti-static back, a little bit of foam, and just because, I put the whole shebang in a sock. Well, during the Christmas visit, all my stuff was sort of piled in a corner because there were so many people all in one house. I had the opportunity to wash clothes, and scooped up all my laundry... including an errant sock containing the hard drive. When I got my laundry out of the washer and heard the distinctive crinkle sound of antistatic, I immediately knew my error. I was SURE that the drive was ruined. Just in case, I stuck it in some rice. Four months later, I pull it out just for giggles to see if it works. Sure enough, when I plugged it into a machine, Windows recognized the drive. It's running a drive integrity test now. If that passes, we'll know that there's something miraculous about this drive.

Edit: it made it for sure.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hold the presses. I forgot about induction.

In my last post, I lambasted electric stoves as the worst cooking device in the history of the western world. This is true- but only for electric resistance stoves. That is- the normal kind with the coils that get red hot. There is another kind of electric stove that is actually pretty sweet- the electric induction stove. It uses the principle of electromagnetic induction to make the pan itself get hot instead of having a burner. Neat, right? Here's how it works- skip this part if you hate me.

There are two basic kinds of electricity- direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). The stuff coming out of your house's outlets is AC, the kind from batteries is DC. AC is called alternating because the polarity- the plus and minus- of the electricity is actually switching back and forth. In household electricity, this happens 60 times per second- 60 Hertz. However, when you boost the frequency up a lot, an interesting phenomenon exhibits itself- electromagnetic induction. A changing magnet field will induce (hence induction) electricity to flow in nearby conductors. This is how generators work- a magnet spinning inside of some carefully-placed coils of wire makes electricity flow in the wires. The back-and-forth changing of the polarity of the AC electricity in the induction cooktop does the same thing! It's switching makes the magnetic field's north and south reverse every time it changes. Now, if you bring something electrically conductive near- like the bottom of your steel pot- it will make electricity flow in it. What happens when you have electricity flowing in the bottom of your pot, though? It's the same thing as goes on in your toaster. In your toaster, electricity is flowing through the wires inside- the ones that glow red in there- and it makes them get hot because the wire's resistance to the flow of electricity is having to absorb all that power- it gets converted to heat. So the bottom of your pot is having this electricity induced to flow in the bottom of it, but it's not a complex set of wires- it's just a piece of metal. The electricity then is essentially just a short circuit through the bottom of the pot- but because the pot has resistance, the power gets converted to heat for you to cook with.

(Haters, you can start reading here) The beauty of this is that electromagnetic waves travel across distance. So instead of your pot needing to be perfectly flat on the bottom, it only needs to be reasonably flat enough to stay close to the induction surface and it will still heat up. Now, it can't be inches away- in fact, magnetic waves lose power with distance to a factor cubed (or to the fourth power, I can't remember)- so if you get your pot too far away it won't work. That's fine, though, and good- because your pot is sitting right on the thing, and your metal spoons sitting next to the cooktop are far enough away to stay cool.

So all that means that induction cooktops are incredibly slick. They don't have the primary disadvantage of electric resistance stoves, which is that pots that aren't perfectly flat only heat up in the one spot they make contact. They still have one of the advantages, which is that it's a lot easier to install an electric wire for your stove in your house than it is to run a pipe for a natural gas stove. They also can pump a whole lot more power into your pot, which means you can boil water so quickly that it creates problems with making hard boiled eggs because it heats too fast. However, the primary benefit of electric stoves is lost- initial cost. Electric resistance stoves are cheap, but induction cooktops can't be had for under two grand. That's just the cooktop too- no stove involved.

Another factor though is safety. If your four-year-old flips on the induction cooktop, there won't be an element getting hot for little Bobby to burn himself on, because the stove itself doesn't get hot- the bottom of the pot does. No pot, no hot. It's all metal, though, not just pots- so if little Bobby wears a ring on his finger and sticks it on the turned-on cooktop, that ring's going to heat up something fierce. Check this out:

That's in induction cooktop, and notice the egg in the bottom left. It's half on the skillet and half off- the half on the skillet is cooking, but the half on the cooktop stays perfectly cold because it's only the metal skillet that gets hot.

Now, you have to beware of fakers. There are a lot of glass/ceramic surface cooktops out there, but that doesn't mean they're all sweet, sweet induction cooking power. A lot are just electric resistance cooktops in disguise. That's not to say that it's not an improvement- the ceramic top is always going to stay flat, and that will help your pots and pans from distorting as well. Ceramic cooktops are also about a thousand times easier to clean than a coil-based electric stove. I'd take a ceramic surface electric cooktop over a coil-based one any day- but I still wouldn't prefer either to gas. Ceramic cooktops tend to scratch like a son of a gun, and I'd be constantly petrified that I'd drop my cast iron pan on it and break it. How are you supposed to make Real Popcorn on a ceramic surface cooktop? You have to be shaking that pot back and forth like crazy to keep the popcorn moving, and what is that going to to do to your pretty ceramic surface? It's going to kick its trash, that's what its going to do.

So, gas is cheaper to operate, better for cooking on all counts, cheaper than induction, and you can make popcorn. Electric resistance is cheap but bad in all other respects. Electric induction is neat but way expensive and scratch-prone. I'll take the gas stove, please.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cheese. Stoves. Saunas and rally racing.

If possible, so much as it depends on me, I will never buy American cheese. It is an abomination to mankind as a  processed food product, and it is a crying shame that America wasted our one shot that we got as a nation at naming cheese on a half-plastic 'processed cheese food product'. The Swiss have a good cheese. The French have like twenty. We wasted our cheese name on something that I wonder doesn't come out of an oil well.

If possible, so much as it depends on me, I will never buy an electric stove. Thermal transfer between the heating element and your pan depends on the two surfaces remaining perfectly flat. Of course, the two things that need to remain perfectly flat are two pieces of metal that have a high coefficient of thermal expansion, are likely to see disproportionate heating, and go through several cycles of heating/cooling a day through a delta-T of several hundred degrees. GENIUS! If it doesn't stay flat (every aluminum non-stick pan in the world), then one spot on the pan makes honest-to-goodness contact with the element and the rest has to try and conduct that heat through several millimeters or more of air through radiant and convection heating. Bad news.

If possible, so much as it depends on me, I will spend at least 75% of the rest of my life in a sauna. The Finns are, as a race, the most brilliant people in the world. They're number 1 in sauna use- in fact, in WWII, if you left Finnish troops alone for as little as sixteen hours, they would have cut down some trees, made a sauna, heated it, and all had a steambath by the time you came back. Sixteen hours in the forest. The Finns also produce more winning auto race drivers than any other country in the world. Why wasn't I born finnish? Sauna and rally cars? Who can't love that? Oh, and they check out more library books per capita than any other country and they have sisu.

In conclusion, here is Kimi Räikkönen blasting a Citroën through a rally course.

Image credit:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Okay, so I just installed an electronically-checkable mousetrap

I've got a little critter living in my ceiling. For the past couple days, I've heard him skitter around up there at night. Kim mentioned it after hearing it in the floor of the bathroom upstairs, which is over the same space. It was time for a mouse hunt. The problem, though, is that the mouse is in the ceiling, which is an inconvenient place to have to check a mouse trap frequently. (If you've ever failed to check a mouse trap for a day or two and had a mouse in it, you know why it's important to check. BARF.) This brought to mind a project I'd seen on The Internet- a guy wired up a mousetrap so that he could check the status by a light. It's not hard, actually- it took me less than an hour to replicate. The basics are this- when the mouse trap is set and ready for a mouse- that is, not tripped- the bait holder and the little bar that holds back mouse death are touching. When a mouse springs the trap, these two break contact. They are also copper-coated metal, so they are electrically conductive and solderable. One can wire these two pieces as a switch between a power source and a little light, and then when the mousetrap is set off, the light will turn off. Ta-da!

I decided to do this, and hunted around for some parts. Two LEDs were harvested from an over-designed computer case. A few months ago I combined two broken aquarium lights into two working ones, and harvested a 5-volt power supply from that, as well as some wire I used. That got wire-nutted to a 110v power plug and after some trial-and-error soldering, an electronically-checkable mousetrap was born. Here's how I originally soldered the mousetrap up:

 The red wire seen at the back is soldered to the trip bar (I'll call it) and as you can see, black to the bait holder. The wire color is insignificant here, as really it's just a switch, and therefore, monopolar.

 Hey look, my camera takes good macro shots. This is a bad place to solder to, as the presence of the wire causes the bait holder to shift and not hold the trip bar in place at all. I removed it from here and soldered it onto the staple that holds it down, which works a treat.

Here it is installed. Argus the ever-watchful deer is playing stand for the power supply. The wires going up into the ceiling are connected to the mousetrap, and the power supply is made up of the transformer hanging behind Argus' ear and a rectifier/capacitor package shrinkwrapped inline downstream of the transformer. From there, it's just an LED/resistor package wired in series with the mousetrap. When the mouse trap is tripped, then Argus will no longer glow blue. The wires coming down from inside his ears are earbuds, not part of the project.

Now, as soon as some unfortunate mouse covets the delicious peanut butter in the trap, I will know because the blue LEDs will go out. All I have to do to check the trap is look at Argus once in a while.

I'm not sure if this even qualifies as 'electronic' rather than just plain electric- the only semiconductors in the whole thing are the diodes in the rectifier and the LEDs, and those aren't the heart of the mini-project. Maybe I can integrate the MSP430 microcontroller I just got courtesy of Texas Instruments into this somehow to make it twitter when a mouse is caught or something. (Not likely with 2k of memory)

Update: Hello hack-a-day-ers! When I got up this morning, the lights were out, and sure enough, I found a little mouse interloper in the trap. And yes, the deer head looked like that before I did this project.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I was wrong about the cracker conspiracy. Whoops.

Faithful readers, you will recall that two weeks ago I posted a scathing exposé about a cracker scandal of epic proportions. Sadly, I must report that I was mistaken. I based my understanding of the cracker situation on a single piece of evidence which I did not verify. Although name-brand cracker prices are ridiculous at $2.25+ per box, the last piece of the puzzle- a jump in generic cracker prices- turns out to be absent. You see, I was in Walmart and saw that one of the pallet-in-the-aisle items was saltine crackers. The accompanying large-letter price sign did in fact read "2.28". However, when I was at Walmart on Tuesday, I spotted this:

Hmm... crackers for $1.28. That blows my whole theory out of the water, doesn't it? Theoretically, the cracker conspiracy could still be true, and just not deployed in its final stage yet- but I'm not going to hold my breath. What I think happened is that Walmart raised the price from $0.88 or $0.98 or whatever to $1.28- and then advertised it as if they were on sale. McDonalds did the same thing for their apple pies years ago. After they established the dollar menu, they didn't put the pies on the dollar menu because they were already much less than a dollar. They sold like stale potatoes. Later, McDonalds put them on the dollar menu- actually an increase in price, and advertised them like crazy, and they sold like hot apple pies. I speculate that Walmart did the same. So these crackers were piled up in the aisle being promoted, with the big flip-chart style price sign. Either employee error of vandal intervention changed the $1.28 to $2.28, hence my confusion. There's nothing stopping anyone from taking the sign down and changing it- in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if my mischievous younger self had done so at some point in history.

I apologize, faithful readers, for my obvious failure to do due diligence in my research before wildly flinging accusations around. I endeavor to produce only accurate and meaningful posts on this blog, and I have failed you in that regard. While crackers may not be the most earth-shattering subject on the planet, it is no small thing to be starting rumors of grand-level wrongdoing- it is tantamount to libel. Once again, I am sorry for my previous post, and I will strive not to repeat this mistake.

Please, accept this picture of me on stilts as a token of my appreciation for your continued readership.

(and no, I can't walk on the stilts. To let go of the wall is to invite death)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Thompson Christmas, some cars, and Zach eating a flaming marshmallow

Here's some pics and video from the past month or so that haven't fit into other posts.

I spent Christmas with the Thompson extended family in Phoenix, and took a bunch of pictures.

The second half of that slideshow is where all the cars are- Gareth and I went and checked out a drive-in car show.

We had an all-day staff meeting that someone chose to call a "Staff Retreat" before it happened. I came prepared to make a pie, but that had to wait, as making a pie during a meeting is challenging. Nevertheless, pie happened that evening. It came out pretty well. Here's how it looked:

Last week a mission team from Biola University came to Ephraim. I never know whether I ought to write it as BIOLA- the school started out as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, hence the name, but has since then changed it to drop the acronym to just be 'Biola University', but it sounds funny to me since Biola isn't a name really, but formerly an acryonym. During their stay, we had an event at the cafe called Scarf your Smores, for which I made this coolio poster:

Please ignore that my attempt to write 'free scarves' in lowercase at the bottom ended up looking like a four year old wrote it.

Here's the full set of pictures from when the Biola team was here, including the event.

During Scarf Your Smores, Zach ate a flaming marshmallow, which is recorded for your enjoyment here:


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cholula bandit, I will find you.

Cholula hot sauce is great. I love it. I keep some around, but I use it sparingly because it's not inexpensive. However, my bottle seems to just empty itself. No, it's not a case of failure to realize how I'm using. The stuff just disappears. I noticed it a few months ago and I've been watching. I just went to go use some and got a little bit out of the bottle and suddenly it was empty. I know I had at least a third of a bottle left. I am the only one that uses my kitchen. Cholula bandit: I don't know who you are, where you come from, or why you keep stealing my hot sauce- but I do know that I take this hot sauce business very seriously. While I do appreciate your taste in hot sauce, that will not save you if I ever find you in my kitchen stealing my Cholula. There is no measure for how hard and how fast I will bring this fight to your doorstep.

Cholula Hot Sauce I only got to use like a quarter of

You will be missed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The ones who walk away from California

Surprise! I just got back from California! Kim (the TGM Assistant Director) and I went out this past weekend. Why, you ask? Well, for the past several years, the Solid Rock ministry has had contact with a young lady I'll call "Peggy". Peggy got into trouble with drugs during high school and ended up dropping out. For a couple years she lived the life of a drug addict, but about two months ago, there was a serious change in her. She decided she didn't want the drugs or the life that she was living anymore, and had a real desire to turn her life around. Before when she was around the college house, she would be manipulative and looking for a handout, she now was seeking support and counsel. It wasn't an overnight transformation from addict to someone who has it all together, but we could tell that her attitude had changed. She was making progress in Alcoholics Anonymous (she had tried before but never completed step 1) and we saw her turning down her old friends' requests to go party.

At the same time, her life got difficult- she lived with her mother (who was not a positive influence in her life) who was about to move far away to a town where she would have no support whatsoever, and where drugs were rampant. Through a connection with a pastor in California, we found out that there was a potential opening at a Teen Challenge program. Teen Challenge is an organization that helps recovering addicts by healing the emotional, mental, and spiritual effects of addiction as well as teaching them practical life skills that they will need to get out on their own. It's a Christian program where God is definitely at work. It has many success stories and a 92% success rate. It's a national organization and my dad knew some people who were graduates of the Teen Challenge program in New England.

Kim has been Peggy's main confidante in our ministry and has been helping her every step of the way (which is not an easy task). Kim offered to take Peggy to California if this opportunity turned into a reality. Peggy still needed to interview by phone with the program's director and the open bed needed to be confirmed. This all developed relatively quickly- it was last Tuesday that we heard about this possibility for the first time, and we left Friday afternoon. For a little while, though, we thought things were off- Peggy had doubts about her ability to succeed in the program, no doubt the enemy attacking her in an attempt to maintain the stranglehold he's had on her life for the past several years. The pastor in California, Tristan, was able to help her, though- he has met her before when he came out to Utah to witness during Manti Pageant. He is also a former drug addict himself. At first glance you wouldn't suspect that he's a pastor, as most pastors are not covered in tattoos and sporting a shaved head with goatee. Despite what outside appearance might suggest to a prejudiced observer, Tristan is a very legit man of God and His vessel in this situation. Tristan talked to Peggy and got her back on the track towards recovery.

Because this all developed so quickly, we didn't actually know for certain that the plan was a go until the car was packed and we were preparing to leave. There was a mission team from Biola University here with the ministry for three days, which made things quite busy as well. The team went up to a Fundamentalist LDS colony near Santaquin, UT to witness, and we went with them because we were going to pick up Peggy from Delta, which is where her mom moved to. We had planned on spending some of the time with the team in Santaquin, but a late start prevented us from doing so.

We picked up Peggy from her mom's house from Delta. This had the potential to be a major battle- Tristan warned us, based on his previous experience, that there would be severe spiritual warfare from the time she decided to go until she got in the car. Kim made a lot of calls and got a lot of people praying during that time, which helped a lot- we had no trouble during the pickup. We set out for California later than one might usually depart on a long road trip; around 3PM.

The drive was about 10 hours, which is less than I usually drive on a road trip, so it wasn't too bad. Kim worked on some graphic design work she had, I drove, and Peggy talked. Kim also sang to me per request of Sarah, so that I would know what it's like to go on a road trip with other people, which I claimed not to have done before. Now, though, I realize that the several mission trips I've gone on definitely count. I was thinking only of all the cross-country drives I've done over the past several years, which were always solo.

We arrived pretty late and were met by Tristan. We caught up and visited for a little while before we hit the hay. We wanted to get some sleep as we'd be leaving early for the hour drive to the Teen Challenge induction center to get Peggy there before 8AM. In the morning, I had the advantage of being a young man who is not particularly particular about his style, requiring pants, a shirt, some shoes, and the Four Items which must always reside in my pockets: keys, wallet, cell phone, and pocket knife. I had the luxury of breakfast before we headed out.

We took Peggy to the induction center, but it wasn't just a quick dropoff, naturally- this was a huge change in her life, deserving of a morning full of orientation, shopping(she had nothing), errand-running, and goodbyes. While she and Kim picked out clothes in the Teen Challenge-operated thrift store, I grabbed some cheap pants for myself and also scored a commercial grade Bunn coffeemaker for Jamie. Her coffeemaker gave up the ghost around Christmas, only one day after she gave away a spare coffeemaker in a white elephant gift exchange.

We got Peggy situated and left her in the capable hands of the Teen Challenge staff. Although this had the potential to be a sad departure, because it was for a whole year, we were glad that this positive change in her life was now in progress and that it marked a significant step in the God's rescue of Peggy from her old life.

Although this trip was serious business, it was also a bit of a vacation for Kim and I. It's California, after all. We could have driven back that afternoon, but we elected to accept Tristan's invitation to stay an extra day, attend his church, and relax. Kim and I planned before we left to visit the beach at any cost. One hiccup is that Kim's computer broke on the trip out, a serious problem for her graphic design work that had to get done. She had the foresight to save all her work on a flash drive, so she was able to continue work on my laptop for the rest of the trip. Tristan had a connection with a computer guy in the area who owns his own shop, and he fixed Kim's PC at no cost to her. If you're ever in Lake Forest, CA and need a computer problem fixed- check out Coronado Computers.

We were glad for the computer fix, but it took a portion of the day we'd been hoping to spend on the beach. We planned instead for Kim to spend the evening on her graphic design work, and we'd hit the beach the next day after church and before returning to Utah. While Kim worked on her stuff, I finished reading Just Do Something, a very good book that Sarah lent to me about discerning the will of God. I'll break for a moment here to plug this book.

Just Do Something is a short book on a much bigger subject, and the introductory sentence states the premise of the book well: "Hyper-spiritual approaches to finding God's will don't work. It's time to try something new: Give up." I had thought before that God's will was a one-track thing, a narrow path through life that I had to be on, otherwise to be sinning. Furthermore, I though that I had to determine what this path was before taking any step forward. I remember vocalizing this on many occasions in the past while deliberating over some decision. The process I went through while deciding whether to stay in Utah or return to school this past fall was a stepping stone towards this understanding.

To sum up the book very briefly, God doesn't necessarily have one track for your life, and he certainly doesn't expect you to discern it before you act. Although God has given miraculous guidance in the past, it was never the rule, and in the example of the apostles, there's no precedent of any of them waiting anxiously for God to give them a sign before they made some major decision. God gave us the ability to make wise decisions and he expects us to use that when we're walking through life. He gave us the Bible for guidance, so that we can know what is good and what is bad. He gave us fellowship for wise counsel, so that others wisdom can be added to our own. He gave us prayer so that we can bring these things before God and ask for wisdom and discernment, but not so that we can expect to get zapped with the sudden knowledge of God's Will every time we have to decide between paper and plastic. God gives us lots of open doors for us to talk through, but that's not license to take every opportunity we see and have that be God's will.

Essentially, God gave us the tools to figure this stuff out. On moral right-and-wrong decisions, God has given us clear guidance in the Bible. On non-moral decisions, though, he's given us the freedom to make choices- and in the times when he does have a certain plan for us, he doesn't expect us to divine that before we take any action, lest we be sinning. This isn't a permit to go do whatever seems right to you- it's a firm entreaty to get off of your hyper-spiritual butt and just do something instead of feeling all holy because you refuse to move forward unless you're absolutely sure that you're in the center of God's will. If you love God, live for Him, obey the scriptures, put others before yourself, and are holy- you are walking in the will of God. God's will is for your sanctification, not for your trepidation at the appearance of  any decision.

Okay, plug over. I finished that book, Kim did her graphics work, we ate Chinese and went to bed. I made a mistake there. I went to bed tired without setting an alarm, and to phrase it as Kim's internal monologue did when she saw me sleeping on the couch 33 minutes before church began: Ruh Roh. I scrambled to get ready and out the door, but there was nothing to be done for my ridiculous bedhead. Like I said above, I'm not particularly particular about my style, but I at least want to be lookin' good at church. Instead, I looked like I had just rolled out of bed, because I had.

After church we hit the beach. The air was about 75°, but the water was 50°. 50° doesn't sound so bad- you can walk around outside when it's 50° and not die. However, water has a much higher density than air, and thus the thermal mass available to convect your body heat away is much greater. 50° is cold water to swim in. Nobody else was in the water except for some kids, and kids will do anything. Kim was content to read on the sunny beach and tan, but I came to the beach to go to the beach, and going to the beach for me means to swim, darn it. I've never swam in the Pacific ocean from the United States side before, but I have swam in it from the Australian side before (interestingly, both of my Pacific-swimming experiences have been in the winter). My brother Jake met a nice Australian girl and married here there in 2007, and I got to go to the wedding. Thanks Jake! (And thanks also to Ian, who funded my ticket!)

We couldn't tarry too long at the beach, though, because the long drive back to Utah beckoned. Here are some pics, though:

After the beach, I tried to find a public shower to wash the salt and sand off, but I was unsuccessful. Shucks. We changed and embarked for Utah. We stopped at a Q'doba (burrito place, one of Kim's faves) and I made some observations about California. Maybe it's just the palm trees, but the place gives off an air of being a utopia. It's got perfect weather 95 days out of 100, wide well-maintained streets, palm trees everywhere, enough Lamborhinis that I saw several during the two days I was there, and seemed to be permeated with the attitude that life is carefree and everything is just great. The other impression I get is that while it's got a great shell, it's rotten at it's core. Last year, the state of California was literally (literally) writing IOUs to state employees instead of paychecks. There seems to be an attitude of 'anything goes' and with my apologies to the many fine people who reside in California, I'd call the place godless- unless the god of California is pleasure.

If you've ever read Ursula K. LeGuin's short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, you'll probably understand why I titled this posts the way I did. In a nutshell, the story is about a perfect city where everyone is happy all the time, everything is great, and living in Omelas is like a permanent vacation. However, deep in one of the city's buildings, there is a child who is the reason why Omelas is the way it is. The child is feral, uncared for, naked, and miserable. It doesn't speak, it's never been held, and it receives its food through a hole in the wall. The child is a scapegoat for the whole city, and the only reason why the utopia can exist outside of that basement is because that one innocent child suffers. Every resident of Omelas has to go to view that child once they come of age, and some people, once they realize the truth about Omelas, choose to walk away. I think of California in the same way. Everything is wonderful outside, but it comes at a cost. You can say that California's own child-in-the-basement scapegoat is any number of things- morality, acceptance of God, the many who live in poverty while the rich prosper, justice. I can't condemn California, a whole state- but I do observe that within its borders there is a unique environment of man-as-god that I haven't seen elsewhere.

On the way back, Kim and I talked for a good while, but then Kim decided to take a nap and proceeded to sleep the entire way back to the Sanpete County line. She must've been tired! It was a good trip and a mini-vacation for Kim and I. We're blessed that we were able to enjoy a few days off and a little bit of beach during a Utah winter. We're furthermore blessed that God chose to use us to bring Peggy into the next chapter of her life, one that will bring healing and progress towards the rest of her life.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Corporate greed at your local grocery store: Saltine price fixing

Okay world, here's your shocking expose. Moms of the world have probably noticed the same thing I've noticed, but as far as I know, I'm the first to blog about it. Prepare yourself, food industry, because I'm about the blow the lid off of your whole mafia-style corporate malfeasance. It used to be that one would go to their local supermarket and buy a box of saltines for, say 79 cents 10 years ago, 98 cents a few years ago- that's fine, that's inflation. One day when I was reaching for my ol' standby Great Value El-Cheapo saltines, I noticed something. The GV saltines were a normal price, but all the name-brand ones were around $2.29. GV is known for saving you a few dimes, maybe 15-20%, which is good money- but not over half. It's not that GV was so much cheaper, it was that all the other saltine brands leapt up in price suddenly. What happened?

Maybe a saltine factory burned down someplace and that created a ripple in the market. Well, no- for that there'd have to be two or three factories churning out ALL the saltines for the non-GV brands for the entire country, because I noticed this trend in Texas, Iowa, and Utah. Hmph. It couldn't be the price of ingredients, because the GV price would have reacted to that too- and it didn't. I watched for a year and more wondering if Zesta sold ANY of their $2.39 crackers when there was a $0.98 cent box of the exact same thing right next to them. (I'm sure they did, P.T. Barnum's Rule) If some real event took place that would legitimately cause prices to explode, GV wouldn't have taken a year and more to catch up.

So... what happened? Allow me to throw a wild accusation out there, based entirely on a single perspective and conjecture. I think that someone out there realized that saltines were too much of a steal. I always kept a box of saltines around to augment my meals because they're cheap and tasty. You can put waaay too much Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning on something, but tone it down by eating it on a cracker, like chili. It stretches your meal, too. Now, saltines aren't too much of a steal- well, they're not a steal at all. GV saltines at my local walmart just jumped up to $2.28 overnight- and they're advertised in the aisle as being an item of special interest! I agree- but because there's some backdoor saltine-management shadiness going on.

I don't think it's too crazy to think that such a thing might happen. Would this be the first time that prices went up on something because someone wanted to make more money? Of course not. It happened so much in the post-industrial-revolution days that a law was passed to specifically address this problem. It also wouldn't be the first time that corporate bigwigs have thrown the law to the wayside and done what they wanted to do. But crackers? Come on Ned, why would some CEOs meeting in a back alley wearing hats with their collars turns up target crackers as their big money maker? They would do that because it's smart. Crackers are stable, cheap enough to produce that the profit margin is already substantial, and people are not likely to stop buying them- or at least, less likely than if they tried the same thing on LCD TVs- there's competition there and undercutting that wouldn't ever let a scheme like this go over.

Furthermore, crackers are unsuspecting. Who ever links crime with crackers? Barring some weird CSI-esque criminal cases out there, nobody's ever committed a crime with crackers before. (Prove me wrong) Your average person is going to keep grabbing the same color box of crackers whenever he runs out, slide his card at the checkout after making sure the total is the right number of digits, and eat his crackers. All the snack crackers are expensive anyway, so the $2.29 saltines will fit in great with the $2.99 Club crackers and $1.89 Wheat Thins. The buck saltines were an anomaly to begin with.

If someone DID crack the case of the cracker crime ring, who in the world would care enough to actually crack down on these guys under the federal anti-price-fixing statute? Crackers in the media don't sell. It could be true, but they'll probably discover that Michael Jackson recorded a funny-sounding sneeze once and give that all the media coverage while CORPORATE STRATEGISTS ARE TESTING THE LIMITS OF OUR COMPLACENCY BY MESSING WITH CRACKER PRICES. Don't say it couldn't happen. You heard it here first, folks. If the great cracker conspiracy of 2009-2011 blows up soon, you know who to thank for breaking this story.

What do cracker prices look like where you are? Leave it in the comments.

Also, I'm out of crackers and now they're $2.50 a box. Forget you, Nabisco.