Category: Homestead

Why You Should Never Set Priorities

Every time I open my “Big Box of Stuff” – my instant organiztion system that involves sweeping everything under the rug and declare all problems solved – my head starts spinning with the urgency and cataclysmic busy-ness of everything.

I’m fighting the urge to drag everything out and prioritize it.

But not so fast – the danger of setting priorities is that you set yourself up for endless twiddling.

Also, it turns out that juggling too many priorities takes a huge toll on overall success.

[Photo by Dakota Roos]

NeatDesk or ScanSnap? I Should Have Spent the Extra $50 and Bought the Ugly Scanner

I admit that I bought a NeatDesk scanner instead of the Fujitsu ScanSnap because the NeatDesk is a joy to the eyes and the ScanSnap looks like a discarded toner cartridge.

But after listening to David Sparks and Katie Floyd rattle on about the Fujitsu iX500 as they do, I’m wondering if I made the best choice.

I’ve got two gripes with the NeatDesk. First, it jams too easily. I sometimes have to do a little ninja-origami to get the paper go through the first time. But I’m also concerned about the software. It works well enough but I worry about shoveling all my documents into a system that could vanish at any time.

Deal With It

OK. Well, this is the scanner that I have. And maybe it’s not so bad.

NeatDesk Hacks

Feeding odd sized paper into your NeatDesk

Scan to Dropbox with NeatDesk

Scan to Evernote with NeatDesk

Change the location where NeatDesk stores your data

Turbo-Tune Your Gas Grill

Chevy V-8 Grill

Our gas grill recently reached the point where it was more blowtorch than barbecue. We figured it was time to pony up for a new outdoor cooker. But face it, a barbecue is a pretty simple machine. Not much more than a bucket with fire inside. So why not fix the old one?

The first thing to go on most barbecues is the vaporizer, the tent-shaped piece of steel that protects the burners from drippings and keeps the heat flowing evenly. If you’re handy with sheet metal cutters you can replace a worn vaporizer with a piece of galvanized flashing. Personally I always worried about the possibility of zinc toxicity from using galvanized metal while barbecuing. Apparently zinc poisoning is a matter of debate amongst grilling gurus. While zinc toxicity is unlikely unless your food is in direct contact with galvanized metal, you can put your mind at rest by using a food grade stainless steel replacement vaporizer. The benefit is that the heavy duty stainless steel will outlast galvanized flashing by a long shot.

Other things you can do to restore a perfectly good BBQ are to replace the burners as well as the piezo igniter. You can also get replacement cooking grids for most grills.

If your old grill suited your outdoor cooking needs you can save a bundle by giving it a tune-up instead of pitching it into the landfill.

Image from Wired Blog | Gadget Lab via Mega BBQ, Great BBQ Food, Grills & More

Hone Your Knife Skills

Rules for a Knife Fight

There are no rules in a knife fight

Recently I tried cutting a crusty baguette with a sharp, serrated bread knife. Instead of placing the bread on a cutting board like a reasonable person, I simply held the loaf in one hand and the knife in the other while thinking “this is a bad idea.” Which it was. Ouch.

Make: Online has a great set of tips for using and maintaining knives in your kitchen, including tips for using a sharpening steel, that metal rod that you so often see coyotes and wolves using as they prepare a helpless bunny for dinner.

How to Do Crack

I don’t eat eggs all that often and I find that I make a mess of cracking them when I do. Apparently it is better to crack on the counter than on the side of the bowl, as the video linked below clearly demonstrates.

HANDY HINT: If you do mis-crack your egg, a piece of eggshell makes a dandy scoop to retrieve errant flecks of shell from the egg white. It seems to work by some magic force of attraction.

Cooks Illustrated Video: The Right Way to Crack an Egg via Lifehacker

Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek Review: Running in My “Bear” Feet

Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek

I’ve been running in Vibram Five Fingers off and on for three years now and they are not the miracle shoes that some would have you believe. For one thing, you won’t win any fashion awards. My college-age daughter won’t be seen with my in public when I’m wearing my Five Fingers. And for another thing, they may not cure everything that ails you. When I finish running I still feel like I’ve been run over by a bulldozer. My knees still hurt – just not as much or for as long as when I’m wearing regular running shoes.

The bottom line is that after three years of use my Classics are starting to wear out and I liked them well enough to cash in my REI dividend and upgrade to a pair of KSO Treks. Here are my first impressions.

Fit and Sizing

I followed Vibram’s sizing recommendations and got size 45 – the same size as my Classics, which are a little too snug. To be clear about this, the KSOs run a little large and a 45 in Treks are like a 46 in Classics.

Because the footbed of Five Fingers cup the heel and toes, these shoes won’t “give” with use. For hiking and running it’s probably better to opt for a little loose rather than a little tight if you’re between sizes.

First Run: On the Dusty Road

The KSOs have a thicker sole and this makes a huge difference on the gravelly trails where I do most of my running. There’s still a chunk of ouch! when you step the wrong way on a stone, but it’s far sight better than the thin soles of the Classics.

Keeping Stuff Out

On their “maiden” run the KSOs lived up to their name – the high cut, firm closure and kangaroo leather uppers really did Keep Stuff Out. The Classics, with their “ballet style” cut and stretchy fabric always ingested a certain amount of dirt. Running in the sand was a good way to grind holes in your feet in a hurry.


I have flat feet and at times tape my arches. The way the KSOs strap up they seem to give a decent amount of arch support.

This is a first impression. So far I’ve put the KSOs through a few miles of trail and a game of Night Ultimate Frisbee, and so far so good. These lightweight runners give you the “barefoot” experience without the pain and suffering of actually going barefoot. The quality and workmanship are excellent.

Order them online from REI:

Cowboy Cooking with a Dutch Oven

Dutch ovens come in all sizes

Not for the ultralight crowd, though I once ran into some guys who hiked into Tassajara with heavy cast iron cookware, a dutch oven lets you prepare gourmet meals you wouldn’t think possible at the campsite. Casseroles, fresh baked bread — it’s all possible with with a humble cast iron pot and some red hot coals. Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchen can get you started with dutch oven cooking.

Dutch Oven Madness is a blog with recipes including Dutch Oven Orange Rolls. This recipe is similar to one of our favorites, only we put the dough inside a hollowed out orange rind. Before your trip you take a dozen or so oranges, cut off the top third, spoon out the pulp (juice it) and then freeze the remaining rind. The frozen orange-shells keep well in a cooler. Then fill the orange-cups with the dough mixture and bake until brown.

Target has a nice selection of dutch ovens. You want one with a loop handle, and the spiral handle grip is a nice touch. The only thing is, as of this writing, none of Target’s dutch ovens have feet and the lids don’t have a lip so you can’t really pile hot coals on top. The Camp Chef oven available through Sports Authority has the better design for true cowboy cooking.

Five Days to Perfect Orderliness

Everything has its place in a rucksack

I used to go backpacking with a friend who was kind of a schlump in daily life but on the trail he was in prefect control. His backpack was amazingly organized – everything had its place. When he needed anything it was instantly at his fingertips.

I made a vow, “someday, somehow, I’m going to get organized like that.” Now, twenty five years later, prompted by a LifeHacker article “The 5S Method Keeps Clean, Lean Order at Your Workspace,” I’m ready to give it a shot.

Last year I tried to implement the Japanese methodology of 5S into my daily life and I failed. I confused 5S with a method for getting things done, which it isn’t. There’s no do stage in 5S. It is primarily a way for organizing your physical space, not your task list. But it can easily be applied to computer files as well.

So here’s my plan, stolen entirely from the Wikipedia definition of 5S, for getting my life in perfect order:

Monday – Seiri, Sorting: Go through all tools, materials, etc., in the plant and work area. Keep only essential items. Everything else is stored or discarded.

Tuesday – Seiton, Straighten or Set in Order: There should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. The place for each item should be clearly labeled or demarcated. Items should be arranged in a manner that promotes efficient work flow. Workers should not have to repetitively bend to access materials. Each tool, part, supply, piece of equipment, etc. should be kept close to where it will be used (i.e. straighten the flow path). Seiton is one of the features that distinguishes 5S from “standardized cleanup”.

Wednesday – Seiso, Sweeping or Shining or Cleanliness (Systematic Cleaning): Keep the workplace clean as well as neat. At the end of each shift, clean the work area and be sure everything is restored to its place. This makes it easy to know what goes where and ensures that everything is where it belongs. A key point is that maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work – not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy.

Thursday – Seiketsu, Standardizing: Work practices should be consistent and standardized. Everyone should know exactly what his or her responsibilities are for adhering to the first 3 S’s.

Friday – Shitsuke, Sustaining the discipline: Maintain and review standards. Once the previous 4 S’s have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain focus on this new way and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways. While thinking about the new way, also be thinking about yet better ways. When an issue arises such as a suggested improvement, a new way of working, a new tool or a new output requirement, review the first 4 S’s and make changes as appropriate.

Resources: Rowdy Kittens social change through simpler living.

5S Related Resources on Amazon

Crazy Thought Question: Why are all the visual resources linked to 5S so unforgivingly horrible?

Photo credit: Joadl

Hot Around the Collar: Tools for Walking Dogs

I’m hoping Moose will be a good trail dog someday. But first I have to figure out how to take him for a walk, without him walking me.

Here’s what happens: Moose is pretty dialed in with having me as his pack leader. But on walks he becomes very focused on what’s ahead. He starts out at a good heel, but slowly picks up the pace. A quick yank on the leash gets his attention well enough, but soon he’s back in front. I’ve heard that constantly tugging on the leash is about as effective as nagging a teenager to clean his room.

Since I’ve been using a harness on Moose (until he chewed it off this afternoon, my bad for leaving it on him) I decided that I need a collar that offers some kind of correction. At first I considered getting a choke-chain collar. In my experience after one or two corrections the dog responds to the sound of the chain and does not need to be “choked.” However, in Moose’s case I’m pretty sure he could quickly escape a conventional choker collar.

There’s also the prong or pinch collar–which supposedly isn’t as horrible as it looks. But prong collars do look evil and so I’m trying a Martingale collar.

The Martingale collar works by applying even pressure around the neck, supposedly bringing to the dog’s mind a top-dog’s mouth-around-the-throat type of correction. The other benefit of a Martingale collar is that it is more difficult for a dog to slip its head out of the collar. Moose has a big neck, meaning it’s pretty easy for him to back out of a collar.

Already I’m having trouble with Moose’s collar slipping too low on neck–the optimal position is up high behind the dog’s ears. It’s virtually impossible to keep the leash slack and the collar high. Which is why Cesar Millan offers the $$$$ Illusion Collar, certainly worth every penny if it works. But spendy if your dog doesn’t respond to it.

On my first day using the Martingale collar it worked as advertised. Meaning that Moose didn’t back out of it when he went bonkers at the sight of a Pomeranian. But it still doesn’t seem to keep him from tugging on the leash.

We’ll see how the next few days go.

Get 32 AA Batteries from a Single 6 Volt Battery? Maybe Not So Much…

No 32 AA batteries in my lantern battery

Before you stock up on 6V lantern batteries to cash in on Lifehacker’s Get 32 AA Batteries from a Single 6 Volt Battery tip, take a gander at the horrifying discovery I made tonight (in a frantic effort to scrounge up enough batteries to power my Pignose amp.)

Inside a 6 volt Heavy Duty Eveready lantern battery you’ll find batteries all right–four useless batteries roughly 3/4″ longer than a D cell.

Guess you can’t believe everything you read on the internets. (Maybe the title Gagfilms should have tipped me off.)