SUI GENERIS punk rock bike shop home-brew art/craft love

KnockMan Family instrument toys

I was at Robot Love today and became enamored with the KnockMan Family, cute little toys that you wind-up to make noise. All the figures are charming, but this one takes the cake: Pololon is a tiny guitar-man with strings you can tune (watch the video)!

I officially have too much useless plastic crap cluttering up my desk. Regardless, KnockMans have been added to my lust list. I could make room in my collection for one more gadget if I got it as a gift. Why, it could even be friends with my solar-powered Sunshine Buddy.

Pok Pok Pok...

Life After _______ (fill in the disaster)

Hybrid Earthship Snow, originally uploaded by Earthship Kirsten.

Wired today has an interesting interview with a couple of controversial environmentalists. From the comments there, I went to a site about Peak Oil (subtitle: Life After the Oil Crash). I really enjoy reading about these apocalypse scenarios--so much so, that I'm using them as fodder for this year's NaNoWriMo.

Regardless of what the future holds, though, it's smart to become more self-sufficient. In the event of a global catastrophe, the only difference that most of us can make is an influence on our own, personal circumstances. So we have bird flu kits and canned food and bottled water. That's interesting for fiction but scary in real life. We stockpile emergency supplies and hope we never have to use them.

But, there are also fun ways to prepare for the collapse of civilization! Raising chickens and bees, growing our own food, and investing in sustainable energy sources, for example. My retirement goal is to structure my life so that if the grid goes down, I'll be so prepared that I don't even notice. Come on, everyone, let's all build earthships and live in a Sui Generis commune!

Zen Habits: Simple Productivity

I recently discovered a wonderful blog on simplicity and productivity called Zen Habits. Aside from containing great advice and wisdom, the writer's style is very straightforward and accessible (good qualities for me strive for).

I find that just reading it makes me feel more serene. Highly recommended if you have ever wanted to find focus, replace bad habits with good ones, and gain control of your life. Check it out.

Stencil a t-shirt with bleach

Stencil Revolution posts a step-by-step tutorial on using spray bottle bleach to "tattoo" images on fabric. The roadblock for me is taking time to cut a proper stencil. If I can tackle that, this looks like an easy application technique with awesome results.

Talk Like a Pirate Day

I don't recommend that you actually talk like a pirate, but there are other ways to celebrate this dubious holiday, based on your level of commitment to living the life:

  1. Slap on an eyepatch, drink some rum, and perch a parrot on your shoulder. That's real ultimate pirate power!
  2. If you're content to play at being a pirate via the magic of videogame entertainment, Sid Meier's Pirates! is a fun facsimile, for a little while. I picked up this game for about a dollar at the local Savers thrift store, and I totally got my money's worth in pirate fun.
  3. One level deeper is the online game Puzzle Pirates (which you can try for free), wherein you pretend to be a pirate who pretends to do piratey things as represented by minigames. Avast! It's meta-tastic!
I played Puzzle Pirates for a couple of months until I got married. It was very fun. They have added a bunch of puzzles since then, enough so that I'm considering giving it another look, just to try out the new content. As you might imagine, I especially enjoy the distilling game.

Nickel Dickel Day

This year was my first time attending Waconia's annual Nickel Dickel Day celebration. It was good times all around. When we arrived, I noticed a sign for a book sale and of course that had to be our first stop. Here's what $3 buys you at the Carver County library:

  • 11 hardcover books
  • 9 paperbacks
  • 1 video cassette tape
  • 3 compact discs
  • 2 LP records
There's a flat price for whatever you can cram into a grocery bag, so some of that is filler. But, I also found some books from my to-read list. It was a great start to a great Nickel Dickel Day! Then there was a car show. Here are two Mustangs and a Thunderbird.

An essay on the disparity of gender roles in Harvest Moon

Lately I've been playing Harvest Moon on the Gameboy Advance. There are two versions of this game; one in which the main character is a boy, and one where it's a girl. In Japan these are appended "for boy" and "for girl." This clear distinction is muddied in the import subtitles, which are "Friends of Mineral Town" and "More Friends of Mineral Town," respectively.

As a series, Harvest Moon has been critiqued for sexism, so I was intrigued by this release. A previous game (Back to Nature) was the first to offer a choice of gender for your on-screen avatar, but the girls' version was dumbed-down in comparison, including a premature ending. The game is over when girls get married, whereas boys can continue to play indefinitely--and their wives dutifully stay at home and have a baby one year after the wedding. So, that's awesome.

By contrast, the gameplay in Friends of Mineral Town for Girls is supposed to be almost identical to the one for boys. They even added improvements, instead of taking features away! Progress! Just for fun, I fired up both games on my emulator to look for differences, and I was in for a treat right away. The opening stories are polar opposites of each other.

If you play as a boy, there's a touching tale about befriending an old farmer and fond memories of a rural vacation. After he dies, you inherit his farm. The game begins as you attempt to continue his legacy. That's nice.

Now here's the introductory sequence if you play as a girl. You dream of escaping the daily grind for a slow-paced life in the country. In the newspaper, you see a farm for sale and decide to buy it, sight unseen. Only when you arrive on the property do you realize that you have been suckered! The fields are littered with detritus and the buildings are in disrepair. Now you're out whatever money you spent, and since you already sold your apartment, you're stuck here. Stupid girl! To top off this heartwarming scenario, the mayor of the town comes out and laughs at you. Way to go, Harvest Moon. Stay classy.

Tomato days

I have fallen behind on my blog posting schedule, and now I'm trying to... ketchup? These tomatoes were plucked from our backyard garden in early September. We got a bountiful harvest this year, and plenty more green fruits are ripening even now. The bulk of last year's crop withered and died on the vine, but this year's plants are huge and super-productive!

Paper Critters papercraft generator

Do you like cute toys? Do you like papercraft? You will want to check out Paper Critters, a web tool for designing little block-head creatures.

They're like collectible mini figures that you make yourself, and just like anything you make yourself, most are not going to turn out very well. I looked through several pages of the user-submitted "colony" and they're are all crap. You can probably do better.

Hard Cider Part IV: The Bottling

It's judgment time for my first batch of homebrewed hard cider. If you need a refresher, the adventure begins here. In late December I did fermentation, and racking about two months after that. I haven't spoken of it since then, because nothing has happened to my cider in the past seven months, other than sitting in secondary (and hypothetically becoming more clear and refined with age).

Recently, I opened up the bucket again and bottled two fifths of my premiere beverage in one-gallon jugs. The tasting was hosted by our friends in their new home. The cider was critically acclaimed. The apple flavor is subdued, but distinctive; slightly tart, somewhat yeasty. We experimented with several additives to hack the taste--including sugar cubes and fresh (regular) apple cider--but the majority opinion seemed to favor drinking it straight.

This process has been a great first homebrew learning experiment. For my next batch, I think I'll try a more complex recipe. But before I can start, I have four gallons of cider I need to drink. Is anyone thirsty?

Along for the ride

I still don't have a motorcycle yet, so I try to get rides as a passenger whenever possible. It's so much fun, that it makes me want one even more, but it's still better than not riding at all! Last weekend we visited Jenna's family and my father-in-law pulled his Road Star out of the garage for me. I got to sit on the back seat while we took a tour of bustling downtown Waconia.

His brother's restored '62 Honda Dream was there. I shared a photo of this bike before, and I took some detail shots this time around since we had brought my wife's fancy new camera with us. Later that night, I got to ride on another motorcycle when John picked me up for the Bike Depot board meeting. Thanks John!

Backyard apiculture: hobby honey

Bohol Bee Farm, originally uploaded by EnDriNa.

I like bees. Not because I'm crazy about the insects themselves--although they do make good subjects for bug photography--but because they produce that sweet, sweet honey. When I was young, one of my neighbors kept bees, and they gave us free honey sometimes. I thought of them during our last trip to the Minneapolis Farmer's Market, where one of the vendors had a very attractive bee frame display.
Fun Fact: Minnesota is one of the top five honey-producing states in the country, and the vast majority of those bees are tended by amateur keepers.
One of the threats facing honeybees today is pesticide-resistant mites (varroa destructor). A researcher at our own University of Minnesota is leading the way in breeding "hygienic" bees that throw out infected larvae from the hive. And if you want to learn more about beekeeping, she also teaches an introductory course for aspiring apiculturalists.

Mushiking is awesome, extinction is not

Japanese kids love bugs, they love arcade games, and they love them some trading cards. Mushiking combines arcade beetle battles with collectible cards that are dispensed by the machine, and swiped to control the on-screen action.

Although this game is only the latest phenomenon to cash in on the beetle craze, it is being blamed for an increase in illegal importation of endangered bugs from Turkey. According to the Times Online article, "[a] million beetles a year are being imported into Japan, where they are sold for as much as 40,000 yen (£170) each on internet auction sites."

Conservation groups are concerned that the stag beetle Lucanus cervus akbesianus could be wiped out entirely. They're in a serious crisis. Let's get to breeding these beautiful creatures, so that our grandchildren can still run away screaming from giant bugs on their doorsteps.