Category Archives: gadgets

Death of a Hipster?

Hello iPhone.

I unboxed my new Verizon toy/super tool on Monday night. It’s everything I hoped it would be, really. A brilliant and beautiful little thing, that works so painlessly with my Mac. Nearly a week into playing with it (and even using it to make a few phone calls), I’m a very happy Apple fan. Again.

I waited a very long time to jump into the smartphone mess. I’ve been a fan and user of the most simple, sharp tools I can find. For years I hung tightly to a very basic, small, perfect Nokia cell phone. It fit nicely in my pocket, had no extra flippy parts, and only four buttons besides the numbers. I went through three batteries with that little white candy bar. It worked well, and did nothing except help me text and call people, and wake up in the morning. A sharp tool, just what I wanted it to be. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on February 19, 2011 in gadgets, organized


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Falling Apples

Mom and Dad have 2 gazillion apples hanging on two trees in their yard. There were even more, but Dad and the girls rescued the trees from broken branches by catching a whole bunch in sheets on the ground a couple weekends ago. They were so loaded down, a couple of good shakes took care of the problem. Everybody knows that’s not how you harvest apples. But sometimes it is. Just ask Newton.

There is dispute in the family about which tree makes tastier apples, but I’m sure I’m right about the reddish ones. If you want some, it’s a pick-your-own free for all. Dad might even let you use his ladder.

Tonight I finally got around to making some applesauce with the last bag full the kids came home with. We used the fancy shmancy apple peeler Santa brought for Jaimie last year. It slices. It cores. It peels. And it makes the kitchen floor very very sticky. But, it works awesome and it’s fun.

apple peeler in action apple peels in a bucket cooking applesauce finished applesauce

Jaim whipped up some apple crisp too, as you can see in the last pic. Now, what to do with those neatly cut peelings…It’s a good excuse to give you a worm update. I’ve been skimping a bit on the feeding the past week, sending most kitchen scraps to the compost bin outside instead of wormtown. It’s time to harvest the worm poop, so I’m using a trick from Uncle Carl: let them totally clean up the top layer, then only feed them on one small end of the bin for a week so they all congregate in one spot. That way, when I’m sifting through that rich compost by hand, the worms will be easy to pick out. I just tossed this watermelon in yesterday, and they’re hammering it.

compost worms and watermelon

Speaking of apples, last weekend we headed on a road trip for Jon’s bachelor party. Along the way, we stopped by cousin David’s place to check out his newly-built apple cannon. It launches pretty much anything roughly baseball-sized with alarming power. Even baseballs. Trust me.

apple cannon

If you shop at Hy-Vee in Brookings, you might want to throw a bike helmet on in the parking lot. Just saying.

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Posted by on September 13, 2009 in compost, Food, gadgets, worms


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Get Smarter. Way Smarter

Two super kick ass discoveries today that will no doubt eat up unforeseen chunks of my time for the next year:

Academic Earth

One of Time Magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2009. You can watch video lectures from top profs at the nation’s most respected universities like MIT, Stanford and such. Organized nicely, searchable, and best of all–FREE. The other cool part? The site was built by some friends at Electric Pulp.

Scientific Speed Reading

A (kind of golden oldie) blog post by Tim Ferris on “How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes.” Seriously. Haven’t given it a shot yet, but will. Then, look out stack of books sitting on my desk. You. Are. Toast.

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Posted by on September 12, 2009 in gadgets, Tools


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Solar Food and Barrels of Rain

It’s pouring cats and dogs out there, and all the rain is washing away. But not for long.

Grandma Bartmann always had a full barrel of rain water sitting next to the house. I think it was an old wine barrel. She dipped in it to water flowers every day, and it filled up with every new spring and summer shower. I’m going all rain barrel crazy this spring. I picked up two steel drums from a neighbor last weekend–they used to hold ice cream for Dairy Queen, and will soon be storing rain water for my gardens. I also ordered a rain barrel from the Living Green Expo that Jaim and I went to a couple days ago. I was jazzed to pick it up, but was pretty bummed when I picked it up. I thought I was getting a nice big reused barrel converted into a rain catcher. It will catch rain, but it’s brand new plastic. Not a reuse at all. Duped. It was the only thing I can complain about from the whole weekend. I put it together last night, but didn’t get it tapped into the rain spout soon enough to put it into action tonight.  I plan to add one more barrel to my system for the spring, rounding it out at four. Shouldn’t need any pay-for-it water on the gardens all summer.

The bigger news is I bought a solar oven at the expo. Tried it out Monday, and to my surprise, it cooked rice and baked some corn bread in just three hours. I had very low expectations, since it was cloudy and windy, and I was a solar food virgin. I am super excited about this thing.

It’s just a black box with a clear lid, pretty much. And it bakes like a crock pot, at about 200 degrees, with no fuel at all except the sunshine. Brilliant. We got this one from the guys at S.O.S (Solar Oven Society) in Minneapolis. They run a non profit that sells these things in the states and use the profits to take some over to poor countries each year on mission trips. Places where people don’t have clean water (this thing will pasturize the h2o), and a fire in a place where wood is scarce is the only cooking option. Hope you’ll come over and try my next experiment.

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Posted by on May 4, 2009 in Food, gadgets, garden, going green, rants


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Surprise Wii (plus snowman treats)

the tipoff

the tipoff

So my wonderful wife and I, like last year, agreed to go the no-christmas-gift -for-each-other route in 2008. That usually means we help the girls find a very little something or two to give Mom and Dad, and we might do something nice for eachother, but no consumerism-supporting gifts.

We’ve been talking off and on about a Wii for our house for a while. For me, it’s a strategy of sorts. I regularly loose the no-TV battle, so I figure the kids bowling and boxing in the living room is better than couch potato city. But (and that’s a big but), we decided not now. Afterall, we were already in cahoots with Santa to spoil our kids much more than normal this year (Mesa and Zo got thier bunkbed, and Santa brought Hope a new computer).

So, it was odd and curious that on Christmas morning, after the floor under hte tree was pretty much clear, Jaim seemed excited adn nervous to give the girls one last gift. She asked them and me to guess. Sure looked like a couple of DVDs to me. The girls thought so to, until Hope examined them a bit closer after tearing the paper off. They were Wii games. What the!…

jenna and hope trying it out

jenna and hope trying it out

Jaim had been secretly stashing some cash away each month for a while to buy the bos she then handed to me. I was totally surprised–that she bought the Wii and that she kept the secret for so long. So, after a week, I can almost beat Jaimie at bowling. Knocking off my 7 or 5 year old daughters? No chance. And Zoey is the meanest, quickest boxer on the planet–just don’t plan on her going longer than one round. (Uncle Paul has some good video of Zoey knocking the crap out of someone on the Wii–maybe he’ll post it on his blog…)

UPDATE: Here’s Paul’s video on YouTube.

Snowman Treats

Kind of old news, but thought I’d show you the holiday party treats Mesa brought to Kindergarten on the lastday of school before break. She has the coolest Mom.

snowman treats

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Posted by on January 2, 2009 in Celebrations, Family, gadgets


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Amana Refrigerator Blues

fridgeLet’s clear something up: we do not heart Amana/Whirlpool. We bought an Amana side-by-side fridge when we moved into our newly-built house in 2004. We had trouble with the water spout thingy within a few months, but that was nothing.

In the past 3 months, the service guy has been at our house three times to fix a fridge that quit working. (I posted about the first time we lived from a cooler for a week.) We’ve been relying on Mother Nature this tiem instead of a cooler filled with ice. The garage is OK, but a bit of an issue when we’ve had temps in the 40’s one day and below zero today. From kind-of-cool milk to milk poscicle.

So, word is our Amana has been leaking freon. Quickly. I’ve dug into the possible health nastiness this could mean for us, but sounds like we should be OK. The biggest thing is the wait. Waiting a week-plus each time we scheduel teh service guy to come back. Waiting now for over two weeks on a new fridge.

Yes–the only good news here is we are supposedly getting a brand new refrigerator out of this. We have a month left on our warranty. Once in a while we catch a break. You can bet we won’t be buying an Amana or Whirlpool (Amana’s parent company) with our replacement bucks…

The green word is, no more side-by-side and no water dispenser. Each of those features adds about 20% to electric bill. We’re eyeing a pull out freezer on the bottom.  One more good thing: I’m pretty sure I could survive just fine without a fridge if I needed to. My lovely wife is not in this camp with me, though…

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Posted by on December 13, 2008 in gadgets, rants


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XO Laptop out of the box

xo-box.jpg xo-out-of-the-box.jpg xo-vs-thinkpad.jpg hope-and-xo.jpg

Is it still Christmas? We participated in the One Laptop Per Child “Give One Get One” program in November. So basically we bought a new XO Laptop for a child in a developing country and paid for an extra one for us–intending to give it to Hope for christmas. The little box finally showed up on our front porch on Saturday.

First impression: that thing is little! I guess it makes all kinds of sense to build a kid laptop in kid size, but I just wasn’t expecting it. It uses a new operating system called ‘Sugar,’ which takes some getting used to. We’ve been figuring out the different applications and programs, and how to do some cool things.

I am happy and impressed with the packaging–or lack thereof. Just a little cardboard box with two pieces of protective cardboard inside. They didn’t even kill a bunch of trees printing a user manual. Just one sheet with a thank you letter from creator Nicholas Negraponte letting you know the manual is online at the XO wiki.

It’s a very snazzy little machine. And it would be 100 times better if there were other kids around here who have one. (If you live in the Sioux Falls area and know another XO owner–please let me know so we could get our kids together to connect on the XO’s built in ‘mesh’ network.) The machines are all about collaborative learning. Very cool stuff.

Nice work, Nicholas. Now let’s get these things into American grade schools too.


Posted by on March 11, 2008 in gadgets