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April 14, 2013

Last Monday the 28th person since 1982 died near Crabtree Falls

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Below,

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today's Charlottesville Daily Progress front page story about 18-year-old Liberty University student Faith Helbig, who "died after she crossed a barrier to go off the trail, lost her footing, and fell."

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Why would anyone take such a chance, especially with the sign up top?

April 14, 2013 at 08:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Geiger Counter For Kids — How do you spell "Fukushima Daiichi?"

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After the Japanese reactor meltdown it became impossible to believe the government's radiation reports, resulting in a massive run on personal Geiger counters such that they became unavailable in that country.  

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What with the latest round of difficulties the country is having trying to gain control of the enormous amount of radioactive water currently held on the disaster site, looks like you'd be crazy to live there without a Geiger counter whose numbers you could trust on your person 24/7/365.

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From the website:

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Times have changed and we have new worries now, especially when it comes to our kids' future.

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This Peramos (short for "personal radiation monitoring system") Geiger counter has been especially made for children to use.

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Its simple controls and display means that anyone can operate and understand this device, even youngsters.

The LED lights on the counter will give quick alerts: green for normal, yellow for attention, orange for warning, and red for danger.

The alert sounds for each stage are different too, meaning you can leave the counter to one side while the kids play, knowing that if gamma radiation levels change drastically they will hear it straightaway.

With full battery power it can be continuously used for around 18 hours.

Details:

• Weight: 100g (3.5 oz)

• Power: AAA batteries x 2 (not included)

• Measuring range: 0.05-9.99 microsieverts

• Size: 71.5 x 65 x 17.5mm (2.8" x 2.6" x 0.7")

• Instructions: Japanese (but easy to understand)

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$298.

April 14, 2013 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Notes on yesterday's Charlottesville City Market and a remarkable person I met there

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I invoked Woody Allen's 80% rule ("80% of success is just showing up") in deciding to just go and present myself to the market manager and her sidekick at 6:30 a.m. (the market opens at 7) even though they hadn't called me to tell me I could have one of the several spots reserved for Unreserved Vendors, of whom I am one of many this year (I think maybe 50, could be 100, I'm not sure. Only 3 spots are guaranteed each week and a long waiting list is generated within minutes of the 12 noon Saturday call-in time to reserve a space for next week).

Sure enough, after a little investigation it was determined that I could have a narrow space next to the market's longest-serving seller, one Laura Dollard, doyenne of Broomfield Farm, who's been there for over 20 consecutive years.

What a great day. 

First of all the weather was just perfect, cool and breezy and clear and sunny.

There were tons of people there and all of them passed my little spot on the Park Avenue-equivalent I found myself part of, right next to Laura's gold-plated location.

She was offering fresh eggs from her free range chickens (she currently has 170 of them) and she sold a lot of dozens.

In between customers, we chatted from our seats under the market umbrella during the 5 hours we were open, about this, that and the other.

I used my iPad to find information on a couple people she's fond of but had lost track of over the years (she hates computers).

We discussed the origin of the word "basil" and she said I was a winner the first time I pronounced it (correctly, as it turned out — I guess a relative rarity in her experience).

And there were many other things of interest, such as why you should never ever put eggs in clear plastic egg cartons but instead should always use cardboard (so the eggs can transpire as opposed to suffocating in water vapor-impermeable plastic — styrofoam is better than clear plastic but not nearly as good as cardboard).

Laura is 77, one of those rare people whom I instantly find appealing.

I found being in her presence exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyed my good fortune at having crossed paths with her: if I hadn't just decided to appear at the market and put myself in fate's hands, it never would have happened.

I'm hoping against hope the market managers — and Ms. Dollard — deemed me a positive enough externality to site me adjacent to her next Saturday and future Saturdays ad infinitum.

I have much to gain from this association.

But don't take my word for it: have a look at what Kendra Hamilton wrote in a 2009 blog post about this singular woman:

I've actu­ally enjoyed telling Laura's story.

I have, after all, spent a num­ber of hours with Laura's chick­ens. I've got­ten to know the "pets," Rocket and Henny Penny, who live in cat cages in the kitchen when they're not out in the yard scratch­ing in the dirt and eat­ing bugs with their sis­ters. I mourned with Laura and Marc when a preda­tor got into the barn and killed eight of the girls and wounded sev­eral oth­ers nearly to death.

But I don't think I fully under­stood the value of what Laura does, who she is, what Broom­field Farm rep­re­sents, until I sold a dozen extra large eggs to a young man at City Mar­ket on Saturday.

I arrived late, around 11ish, and the day was bright but cold. It wasn't even the City Mar­ket any longer — it was the Hol­i­day Mar­ket, with mostly dif­fer­ent ven­dors, sell­ing wreaths and jew­elry and hand-spun, hand-dyed yarns rather than jams and okra and  dahlias. The shorter days meant Laura’s rooster-less hens were pro­duc­ing fewer eggs, so there were only two dozen left when I assumed the posi­tion at Marc's stand: one dozen extra large at $4 and one dozen double-extra-jumbo eggs at $5.50.

That's when the young man showed up.

I gave him the prices and, auto­mat­i­cally, started to apol­o­gize for the size of the eggs and the prices. These are the thing most peo­ple com­plain about, in my brief expe­ri­ence as the egg lady.  "Gosh, that’s high," some­one will say, even though they're look­ing at eggs graded as "colossal" — twice the size by weight of medium eggs. Or,  "Lord, those eggs are big," they'll say — thinking, no doubt, of cho­les­terol or whether the cake will fall or who knows what.

But before I could even draw a breath to respond to what I imag­ined as his con­cerns, the kid just cut me off.

"I'll take the extra large," he said. I closed my mouth. He handed me four bills, and I handed the eggs over. There was a lit­tle bit of byplay while he fig­ured out how to carry them safely in his backpack.Then, spon­ta­neously, he started respond­ing to what I had not quite said.

"Yeah, they're a lit­tle more expen­sive than gro­cery store eggs. But it's not a prob­lem for me, not  when I think about the con­di­tions on those fac­tory farms."

He kind of gave a lit­tle shud­der that might have been the­atri­cal, except for the seri­ous­ness in his eyes and the set to his youth­ful, bearded chin. "Yeah, I buy my eggs at the mar­ket because it's just impor­tant to me to par­tic­i­pate in this food chain."

He looked around, his eyes tak­ing in the ven­dors, but not smil­ing at all. "You know? It makes a big dif­fer­ence to me... that this is a food chain that’s not, that’s not cruel," he said.

It stopped me cold for a hot sec­ond. My meet-and-greet-the-public smile faded, and I gave him my real smile. And then I said, "I know just what you mean."

Because I did.

I've seen what that food chain looks like. It looks like Rocket:

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Rocket, the house chicken

I've sat at Laura's kitchen table in san­dals and got­ten my toe pecked by that food chain, because Rocket wanted to make sure that my painted toe was not some­thing good to eat. I've stood in Laura's back­yard gorg­ing on juicy just-overripe peaches watch­ing that food chain scram­ble for every morsel I dropped or tossed down. Who knew? Who knew that, in addi­tion to bugs and grass and feed, chick­ens loved peaches? Or that they'd even beg for a bite of your ham sand­wich? Who knew chick­ens had per­son­al­ity? I sure didn't.

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Behold Laura's girls, chow­ing on a lit­tle squash with their feed …

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and scratch­ing (there’s a rea­son they call it chicken scratch) in the dust

Free-range eggs are said to be a joke. I’ve found web­sites defending — seriously, defending — the prac­tice of caging chick­ens and turkeys, cut­ting their beaks off so they won't peck each other, and send­ing them to slaugh­ter the moment their pro­duc­tion falls off.

But I spent my sum­mer vaca­tion singing the Jets' theme  from "West Side Story" to Rocket ("Got a rocket in your pocket/Keep cooly cool boy!") while she gazed quizzi­cally up at me with her golden chicken eyes hop­ing against hope that I'd spare her a bite of bread, so I know sure as cel­ery that free range — at least in Albe­marle County — is for real.

Yeah, you do pay more for free-range eggs. But there are real differences between factory-farmed and organic local eggs. There are dif­fer­ences in grade. In the gro­cery store, you get, for the most part, medium, large, and jumbo. Laura sells pul­let eggs (the equiv­a­lent of medium), and the sizes move up from there to large, extra large, jumbo, extra jumbo, dou­ble extra jumbo and colos­sal (which are roughly twice the weight of pul­let eggs). Why so much larger? Partly because the chick­ens are large — Rhode Island Reds, a healthy-sized breed — who eat well and get lots of sun­light (which encour­ages hens to lay).

grocery store egg vs. Laura\'s

At left, jumbo from the gro­cery store; at right, dou­ble extra jumbo from Laura's girls

But to a large degree, the eggs are big because Laura doesn't slaugh­ter her hens the minute they get older and their pro­duc­tion starts to fall off. Older hens pro­duce larger eggs, fewer in num­ber, rather than more, smaller eggs. It's a raw eco­nomic cal­cu­la­tion on the fac­tory farm that it's cheaper to kill a chicken (and turn her into... say, buf­falo wings) than to feed her once her lay­ing capac­ity falls. Fact is, Laura doesn't even slaugh­ter her hens when they stop lay­ing. They just hang out on the farm and live out their lovely chicken lives — scratching in the dirt and eat­ing bugs and grass and (that increas­ingly expen­sive!) chicken feed.

Yeah, that gro­cery store egg is much cheaper — maybe as lit­tle as $1.99 for a dozen. But that gro­cery store egg is also older, pos­si­bly weeks older depend­ing on the point of ori­gin. The egg weighs less, because an air pocket forms between the egg and the shell as it ages. The egg is tougher, chewier because it's less moist (that whole air pocket thing).

There's also a notice­able dif­fer­ence in the color of the yolk — the gro­cery store egg's yolk is a pale yel­low rather than the deep, rich,  nearly orange color of the Albe­marle County free range egg. That's partly due to the dif­fer­ence in feed: fac­tory-farmed chick­ens eat a diet that's mostly genet­i­cally mod­i­fied, pesticide-doused grain and antibi­otics rather than the mixed diet of organic corn, bugs, grass and the occa­sional fruit or bread treat that Laura's chick­ens enjoy. And of course, there's a big dif­fer­ence in nutri­tion. All eggs are high in choline, B-vitamins, and loads more stuff that's good for you — but you don't get that dose of pes­ti­cides and antibi­otics and hor­mones with your free-range egg.

hmmm, not much color in those yolks

At left, gro­cery store; at right, one of Laura's girls

I've been think­ing about this all sum­mer, par­tic­u­larly as I’ve spent more time in Albe­marle County with peo­ple who live close to the land. Laura has 100 chick­ens rather than the thou­sands in cages it is one's mis­ery to behold (not to men­tion smell) on the fac­tory farm. The kinds of economies of scale that are pos­si­ble on those big oper­a­tions are out of reach for her and the rest of the small farm­ers in our area. When a bag of feed goes from $8 to $14, it hurts — hurts all of them — and it shows up imme­di­ately in the price we pay at the City Mar­ket for those eggs or that meat. But one thing you can be assured of is that the chick­ens and pigs that are the source of all that City Mar­ket good­ness were well fed and well treated. (And you don't have to believe me — you can visit the farms and see with your own eyes).

So yeah, my par­tic­i­pa­tion in City Mar­ket started out being all about hang­ing out — hanging out with the boy, see­ing the world from the ven­dors' angle, run­ning my mouth with my friends, that kind of thing. But what I real­ized on Sat­ur­day was that this endeavor has real mean­ing. We are all part of a food chain in Char­lottesville, in Albe­marle and the sur­round­ing coun­ties. And for those of us who sell or patron­ize the sell­ers at City Mar­ket, for those of us who grow our own, even if it's just a tub of toma­toes on the deck, those few links in the chain we’re able to con­tribute? They have value, because they’re not cruel. I’ll always be grate­ful to that seri­ous young man for remind­ing me of that.

So chew on that with your morn­ing omelet.

a fierce beagle

Tri­fle, the fierce bea­gle who watches over the chicks

April 14, 2013 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Bubble Wrap Oven Mitt

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Unpoppable silicone.

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$17.99.

[via The Green Head]

April 14, 2013 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bach Fugue in G minor ("Little") x Tesla Coil Audio Modulation — XenoSonic minibrute DRSSTC Audio Interface x Yamaha S03 Synthesizer

YouTube caption: "A quick and dirty demonstration of the XenoSonic Audio Interface. A Yamaha S03 Synthesizer is hooked up directly to the miniBrute DRSSTC via the XenoSonic Audio Interface."

"Since the XenoSonic only produces monophonic output, I prerecorded the Bach Fugue in G-minor on my Allen C-6 Classical organ, then added various voices using the Yamaha S03 in real time to the Tesla coil. It's quite a bit sloppy, but that's mostly because I didn't really practice how I was going to play individual voices from the piece and I had a hard time hearing the actual prerecorded music, so it's a bit out of sync."

More information and details can be found at easternvoltageresearch.com.

[via Rob Weaver]

April 14, 2013 at 04:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Munchkin Snack Catcher

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Wrote Kevin Kelly in Cool Tools, "Anyone with small kids knows about snack catchers; new parents should check them out."

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"These ingenious cups let little fingers in to grab cereal bits, crackers, or dried fruit, etc., but won't let food out when the cup tips over."

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"The flexible rubbery (BPA-free) flaps serves as a one-way gate. Keeps the food clean, car seats and floors tidy, and hungry toddlers satisfied."

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Two for $7.40.

April 14, 2013 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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