Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Office Desk: A Freecycle Win-Win

Back in early December I mentioned that I had a few things I wanted to get started on prior to the new year. One was earthquake/disaster preparedness, and I think we've made good progress on that front, getting the go bag started, the car bag finished, and the kids up to speed on shutting off the gas and water. We bought a fire extinguisher and we'll show them how to use that soon.

But we didn't make any progress on the desk. We had grand plans of having one built to our specifications, something constructed from recycled materials. Something made local.

Instead, we ended up getting a desk for free off of the local Freecycle. If you don't know about Freecycle, you're missing out. It's simple. If you have something you don't want/need, you offer it up on the email list -- for free. If someone wants or needs it, you work out the handoff. And vice versa.

So we found a desk that fits very well in our space and while it's not made from recycled materials, the whole thing is, in a way, recycled. It's fine for what we need and we kept it out of the land fill.

Over the last several years we've used Freecycle to recycle dozens and dozens of items. You'd be surprised (or, at least, I'm usually surprised) at what people will come get from your front yard. When we pulled up the carpet to refinish the hardwood floors in the office, we had several people offer to come take the 10 year old green carpet.

We don't have a lot of space, which is good because there are often items on Freecycle that are tempting. I've seen large barrels that could be used for rain water collection, used wood pallets, plywood scraps. All sorts of things I could find a use for...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Getting Fit

Back in September of 2011 I, once again, told myself I should get in shape. I remember the day clearly. It was a typical morning, getting ready for work. The kids were getting up, slowly as usual, and I was in the shower. I do my best thinking in the shower, but I sometimes the thinking turns into introspection and this time I was thinking about getting older and the quality of life issues we all face. It's a recurring conversation I have with myself. Having a job where I sit down for 8+ hours a day, I need to get up and move about. I try occasionally. I'll get up early and ride the exercise bike we have in the home office. But that usually lasts a few days. Then I go back to my usual self and crunch noisy foods to drown out that inner, nagging voice.

Around this time I heard about a website called Fitocracy. This website, so it was said, was a trojan horse. It's kind of an online game--you get points and earn levels and do quests. But underneath it all, hidden away in the dark belly of the wooden horse, there was exercise.

I hopped in with both feet (I wonder if I could get points for that hop?) and started tracking my workouts. Riding 20 minutes on the bike was good, but I could get more points if I rode 30 minutes. And then did some crunches. Ooh, and the quests have points too! So I got extra points for doing 50 crunches. Woo!

Then I tricked, or recruited..., a few of my friends into joining Fitocracy and with them came peer pressure. While no, I wouldn't jump off a bridge if all my friends did, I will ride the exercise bike or do some extra dips if it meant an advantage in some friendly competition. I was off to the races. I've exercised 3 to 6 days a week since then. Here are some numbers for the end of the year:

Exercise (and regular) bike: 475 Miles
Crunches: about 6,000 (plus another thousand or two reverse crunches or oblique crunches)

And lots and lots of dips and pushups. I even ran 12 miles.

So, the questions:

Will I continue to work out? I think so. I hope so. I feel almost compelled to do it at this point.

Is Fitocracy just a fad? I don't think so. Since joining I've found a community of supportive like-minded folks. I'm as motivated now as I've ever been. I'll be installing my new chin-up bar this weekend. That said, of the original group of friends I invited, only one still is regularly working out and using Fitocracy.

Is Fitocracy just for muscleheads? Not really, though it's tempting to say yes. Several months ago it seemed the site was aimed squarely at the gorillas in the weight room. But the admins have added lots of "body weight" quests and exercises and achievements for the rest of us. And again, there are so many people there, you're bound to find a group that suits you. And now I'm looking at possibly joining a gym just so I can try some of the weight training I've been missing out on.

Would I recommend Fitocracy? Absolutely! There's so much more to the site than what I've mentioned. I figure I only use about 40 - 50% of the site. I don't do much in the forums and I don't do much in the way of nutrition, challenges, or competitions (though that will change, I'm sure). The admins are constantly adding new features and content. That said, the site is not for everyone. I've seen many folks drop off after getting a cold and missing some workouts, or going on vacation. If you only use it track fitness it will work just fine, but there are lots of (possibly better?) ways to track fitness (online or off). For me it was the social gaming aspect that formed the secret sauce that keeps me coming back.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Out Damn Spot!

I've been really enjoying going for photo walks with one of my daughter's friend's dad. We've been concentrating on the bay here south of San Francisco. It's been even more fun lately because we've both been bringing our younger daughters and they've started to get interested in photography.

Unfortunately, I recently discovered that there's a spot showing up on all of my photos! Some little piece of lint or dust somehow got into my camera and I can't seem to clean it out. I'm going to have to pay someone to dig around in there and clean the sensor -- something I'm not really willing to risk.

Here's a photo that shows the spot:

And here it is online without the arrow/etc.

If you look carefully, you can find that spot on most of the photos I've taken recently.

Hope to get this fixed asap and get back out there soon.

Friday, January 6, 2012


I brought the kids into the garage and showed them the underside of the garage sink. I told them about how eleven years ago,just after we moved in to the house, we got home from vacation and a water line broke while my wife was washing her hands. We had been home all of 10 minutes. (Talk about good timing... Though I wonder if it only broke because of the change in pressure. Maybe it would have stayed intact until the next time the faucet was used...) I asked them what they would do if the water started gushing out.

"I'd go get a tool from the garage. I've seen people on television use a tool under there to stop leaks," said the twelve year old.

"I'd get a towel!" said the 10 year old.

"Oh, I'd get a tool _and_ I'd have my sister hold a towel or a bucket!" added the older sister.

I showed them the standard water shutoff valves that are on all of our sinks. I explained that if the leak was coming from the copper pipes and not the water line, shutting off the valve wouldn't help. Then we went over to the main water shutoff. It's a big yellow lever on the water pipe where it comes into the house via the garage. I explained how to shut it off, which was was off and on, and I even let them move the lever.

Then I explained about the gas. This one was trickier because there's not a shutoff inside the garage for that. Well, actually there are at least 5 red levers on the gas pipes in the garage, but each one only shuts off a single item (hot water heater, dryer, etc.). In order to shut off the gas to the house they would have to shut it off at the meter on the side of the house. I showed them the valve/bolt/whatever they'd have to turn. But we don't have a wrench outside. Some people keep wrenches right by their gas meters for emergencies. Maybe we should. I've always been reluctant to do that, as it just seems like someone would take the wrench or it would get lost somehow. So, anyway, I showed them where I kept a wrench for that in the garage.

Overall, they seemed genuinely interested and they were certainly paying attention. I'm fairly confident that they'll manage to shut off the water in an emergency. Not so sure about the gas though. I didn't have them practice with the gas because I didn't want to have to re-light the pilot lights in the house. Maybe that was a mistake. I don't even know how hard it would be to turn that valve -- maybe they wouldn't be able to...

Next up: Fire Extinguisher!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Earthquake Safety

We decided that we should get a fire extinguisher for the house (kitchen/fireplace) and teach the girls how to use it. When I was younger than my older daughter, my sister and I had a fire going one night before my mom came home from her second job (that was our only source of heat) and one of the logs rolled out of the stove (it managed to push open the doors which, I'm sure, we didn't close properly). It bounced off the bricks and landed on the carpet. I started freaking out and it was my younger sister who said to get the fire extinguisher. I didn't even realize we had one! Oh, the red thing! Once I saw it, I recognized it though it took me a few seconds (maybe, 30?) to figure out how to use it. We were lucky in that all that happened was a patch of carpet in front of the bricks in front of the stove got burned/melted.

So we should teach the girls how/when to use a fire extinguisher. And I know we have an older one out in the garage, but I think that we should leave it out there for the car, and maybe get one dedicated to the house.

Oh, and while we're at it, we should teach them how to shut off the gas to the house. Maybe the water, too.