Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mom, this one's for you

Republic Wireless gets lots of press (like from MMM), which is well and good.  But for those out there who just want a simple breakdown and instructions (like maybe one's parent(s)), here we go.

If you own a basic Verizon plan, no data, you are locked into a 24-month contract at around, say, $40/month.  Your phone was free!!!!!!!!!! (so what? - that's like free needles).  Your total cost of ownership for that phone/contract pair is $960. 

If you own a Republic Wireless Moto G (linked above), you pay $149 up front, and can choose your plan.  Say you stick with no data, and pay $10/month for unlimited talk and text.  There are no contracts, so a 24-month period is only chosen for comparison.  Your total cost of ownership is $389.

Add data ($30/mo for Verizon, $15/mo from Republic), and it just becomes more obvious ($1440 vs. $749). 

So, mom, if you're convinced, click on the "Republic Wireless" link at the top and (as of today's website format) click on the green "Buy Now" button next to the Moto G ad.  Add one to your cart (8GB version), go to checkout, enter your zip (see, yes, they have coverage where you live, my phone works when we visit), pick the $25/mo plan option, and go from there.  They'll send it to you in a nice box ready to boot and use, you get the credit card set up for autopay, and you no longer have to think about phones - you'll just have one that works.

With Republic, there are no family phone arrangements with the potential for awkwardness as times change and users may move on.  You get phones one at a time, and they are cheap.  The service is good, the phones are reliable (if uninspired) Motorolas that will do what you want them to do.  It's just a good product (as my past year with them has demonstrated to me). 

You can get phone service cheaper than Republic.  I'm not sure if you can get phone service better than Republic.

Love you Mom.

PS - If you are reading this and are addicted to iPhones, sorry.  You can't use Republic.  If you have a Verizon iPhone, I'm really, really, sorry - you can't take it with you when you leave them (and you still should leave them).  But, even Verizon-locked phones get decent bids on ebay (we sold our old Droids for decent money).  You will want to get an unlocked iPhone, and then go to one of the cheap GSM providers like AirVoice (the Mrs. uses them - satisfied, if not as slick as Republic). There are more competitors in the cheap-GSM-sim-card phone world, and I can't make a discriminating recommendation.  Even a $700 unlocked iPhone plus $10/mo service (again, what Mrs. uses) beats the majors pretty fast.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fascinating Farms

The Economist has an interesting article about data-driven farming.  Tuning crop planting by nanoclimate seems, at first blush, to be an obvious admission that the land must determine the crop.  However, it is very likely that the practical constraints of harvesting require single-species planting, if not single-variety anymore.

Perhaps we are beginning to bring the machines to the milpas.  Or perhaps we will find this merely another step towards the grave of modern farming.  It seemed from the article that the only variable of interest is still yield per acre.  But we are not Japan or Taiwan.  We have lots of acreage.  Maybe we should start looking for a better metric.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


"According to Steve Savage, a Stanford- trained biologist and organic critic who consults for the agriculture industry, “There’s nothing wrong in principal [with the organic production findings] but in general there are the practical aspects of this being scaled up.” He sites issues such as attaining enough cow manure and that many farmers rent their land, which disincentives efforts to build up the soil."  (From

This is the fundamentally anti-Mustachian ethos in agriculture.  It's too hard to do things right.  The long view is hard, so don't take it.  The startup phase of this process daunts me, so I'm not interested.

I'm reminded of the Simpsons episode where Marge finds Bart and Lisa watching TV after she told them to clean the yard.

Marge: What are you doing inside?
Bart: Work was hard, so we quit.
Marge: What?
Lisa: (slowly) Hard work made us quit.

The results of this attitude?
(From, with credit to

In case you aren't familiar with this picture, it's the turbidity of water, red being highly turbid, and turbid being the opposite of clear.  The turbidity is largely caused by massive blooms of phytoplankton, which suck up the excess nutrients washed out of the Midwest by the Mississippi river.  Then, like yeast in beer, they overeat and die off, in this case rendering the water hypoxic.  Fish don't like hypoxic water.  Fishermen don't like water without fish.  The booming agrochem industry of the Midwest has severely damaged the fishing industry of the Gulf.

Isn't it a definition of addiction when you recognize that an action is harming yourself but refuse to stop doing it?  Like eating Jelly Belly beans, or using high-chemical-intervention farming methods?

Anyway, sorry to post a bummer, but it's something I think about occasionally, and it does tie in to Mustachianism's call to consider unintended consequences and deliberately moderate consumption, especially in light of the gross waste of America's food supply, between 30-40%.  We could farm with conventional methods at 70% of current capacity and still feed everybody (probably more than they need to eat), substantially reducing chemical runoff that causes the dead zone.  Adoption of responsible farming practices, even if less efficient (which I am not granting), could be entirely ameliorated by reducing waste.

Anyway, hooray for Joel Salatin and his ilk.


This poem is in honor of Mr. Brave New Life and his recent retirement.  I commend him, and seek to follow in his footsteps.  I am still inside the glass, for now.

It's just a pane of glass,
a foot or two upon a side,
it stands, immovable, and
you are still inside.

There is a world out there,
beyond the glass
and down the stairs,
with air, and sunshine,
sometimes rain, it's true,
there's nothing wrong with that.
(What's wrong with you?)

How did you get inside that pane of glass?
Who put you there, and fastened it so tight?
I bet there's red-marked Exit signs!
Just follow them - they'll always lead you right.

Outside there is no roof,
no lights except the Sun,
these things called trees
just grow here! One by one!

 This is, my friend, where you and I belong,
where wind and sun can dry our mildew soul,
with God's green earth to till and build upon
as all about us stars forever roll.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Barter and progress

I really don't like money.
I don't like thinking about it.
I don't like keeping track of it.
I don't like paying taxes on it.

So I was really excited that a couple of my piano students were interested in barter.

I have traded a couple of months of lessons for a lot of goat meat, and another student's parent has agreed to bring me a farmer's market style goodie basket from her garden every week.

Here is my first basket... I am especially enjoying the beet kvass that came in the basket.

On another note, we ARE making progress on our new house.
Behold our nearly complete tile job: all that remains is the grout.

It gratifyingly looks just like I imagined.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


One of the rental units I manage for my family had just gotten new tenants in it, when I got a very unsettling message about mold in the shower.  This was two Thursdays ago. 

I went over to investigate, and she expressed her concern that the mold was behind the waterproofing trim (it was a plastic "insert" shower, badly done).  Her concern was justifiable, as it did appear that the trim was really crappy, and when poking at a really fat bead of caulk, it came off in my hand, revealing more black.

Mold is serious business, and it was not my intention to screw around.  I tore out the shower that night, down to studs and block wall, and was able to clean/scrub/disinfect the acrylic shower pan.  The mold had not escaped the shower pan, praise God, so it was not very extensive.  However, once you dig into a plastic insert, you're going all the way.

Unfortunately, she works nights, so I couldn't start work until Saturday afternoon.  After doing all the hardibacker that night, then applying the goop, I was tired and it was 10pm.

Oh, did I mention I had an interview out of town on Thursday, and we were flying at 7am Wednesday morning?  I had a serious fire under me.

Sunday afternoon I cut tile and laid the back wall.  Monday I laid the other two walls.  Tuesday afternoon I grouted, Tuesday night I installed trim and caulked.  At 10pm with my alarm set for 4:50am, I was in no mood to clean grout and thinset out of buckets, and I am afraid I tossed two perfectly good pails and a lot of tile spacers.  Oh well.  I cleaned my tools and rolled into bed. 

With my tile tools still in the back of the van, we made it to the airport and off to the Dakotas on time.  I was rather relieved.

There are a couple of morals of the story.  First, my friend from church who had been teaching me to lay tile at our house is amazing, and let me borrow all his tools on a moment's notice.  Second, a modicum of experience plus urgency can turn into a successful job.  Just being forced to do the job immediately and figure out on the fly how it would work was a most enlightening experience.  I'm an engineer, and I like to know what I'm getting into with a project.  I'll read up, watch stuff, and try to get some experience with a friend before committing on my own.  Not so this time.  I had never worked with thinset (we're using small-format tiles and acryl-pro adhesive at our house).  I had never worked with grout.  I had never cut a tile longer than 6".  I had never tried to put piping holes in 12" tile (cut from the back and rock gently on the saw blade worked for me).

And don't get me wrong, the job is not perfect.  I can see the corners that wouldn't quite align in my mind's eye.  I know where the trim sags a bit.  I still need to do touch-up painting (it's been a busy two weeks).  But it's done.  And I think it should be nice and tight for quite some time. 

Another educational experience.  And I only cracked one tile.