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  1. Food breakthrough! Double cheese mac & cheese!

    August 14, 2015 by Drew

    Double cheese mac & cheese

    My daughter has made a breakthrough in the fast-moving world of boxed mac & cheese dinners. The main problem with mac & cheese in a box meals is their relative lack of overall cheesiness. Compared to a typical homemade or restaurant mac & cheese, the boxed versions from Annie’s are often lackluster in the flavor department.

    My daughter’s innovation is to use two (2) cheese packets for each meal. This boosts the ratio of mac to cheese to insane levels.

    The process according to her is quite simple – just follow these steps and be sure to eat it while it’s hot:

     

    1. Boil the water

    2. Add the macaroni and cook for about 8 minutes

    3. Strain and add 2 packets of cheese. Set aside the extra box of pasta for another use like pasta salad.

    4. Add a small amount of extra milk, more than you would with a single packet. The right amount of milk is a personal choice – less milk means more intense cheesiness. Do not add the butter unless you want it to be overpowering.

    5. Mix it really well under low heat.

    6. Eat. <Editor’s note: Add ketchup as necessary.>

    That’s all there is too it. Get the word out, people!

     

     


  2. Yurts – Not just for Mongols

    March 4, 2015 by Drew

    yurts - not just for mongols

    Yurts – the traditional domestic abode of the Mongolian menace – aren’t just for bloodthirsty invading horse tribes anymore!

    Yurts are round tent / cabin hybrids. They are constructed with a wood lattice wall held in compression by a top cable ring along the wall / roof line. A domed roof sits on top of the lattice, and fabric wall panel clip onto and hang down from the compression cable, clipping on to a bottom cable that runs along the base of the lattice wall. They are typically built on a wood platform, held in place with screws or hurricane clips and the weight of the structure. They come in kits that fit in a pickup truck.

    Modern yurts – often complete with kitchens, bathrooms, 20′ ceilings, and space age synthetic fabric walls – are popping up everywhere, and not just in the county. Lots of people are introduced to yurts via backcountry skiing or hiking trips, as they are easy shelters to drop into the wilderness and can be moved around.  With a crew of people and a nice base to put it on, the frame of a yurt can be assembled in a day or two.

    buildin a yurt

    Call your friends over for a yurt raising!

    Modern yurt kits cost anywhere from $8-25K depending on the size and features. Some of the big yurt vendors are Pacific Yurts and Blue Ridge Yurts. When evaluating yurts consider the degree of support the company will provide. It is easy to screw up the assembly, so if they offer professional assistance during the construction that is a big plus.

    Yurts require a platform, you can’t just place them on the ground and expect things to work out. This means the deck they sit on may be as expensive as the yurt itself. They are also prone to mold, especially on the shady or cool side that does not get direct sun in areas not right on the equator. Humidity control is a good idea – either via air circulation or via a heat pump or other HVAC system. Radiant heat sources seem to work best, especially radiant floor heat, as it heats from the ground up evenly and controls condensation along the base of the fabric walls.

    Yurts have some pluses and minuses. The pluses are they are a unique and beautiful interior – with high domed ceilings and a round floor plan. They also let sound in (which can be a negative) so you hear the birds, wildlife, streams, rain, everything. It is really like living in a tent. The downsides include shaking and noise during windstorms, mold and condensation issues, and general coldness and heat (they have little insulation). It’s not like living in a house. My personal opinion is that yurts are a blast to stay in for a while, but a bit of a chore to live in full time.

    Given that yurts can be 700+ square feet, there is plenty of room to add in the comforts of home. Most modern yurts have some kind of loft or sleeping room, and a kitchen in the central area. Wood stoves are a great addition both for atmosphere as well as survival.

    luxury yurt interior

    Suck on this, Genghis.

    Ready to jump on the yurt, er, bandwagon? Check out AirBnB for a short term yurt rental first. If you can handle the din of screech owls and cicadas, or alternately sirens and car horns, maybe yurt living is for you.


  3. Julie Roehm on Storytelling for Brands

    July 14, 2014 by Drew

    There is an excellent presentation by Julie Roehm (here on Tumblr, and personal site) on her Slideshare page outlining the art of storytelling for brands. It’s compelling and worth a read.  Julie is ‘Chief Storyteller’ at software giant SAP. She has thought quite a lot about the subject, and it shows.

    Storytelling (album)

    Storytelling (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    As brands have fallen in love with performance marketing of all kinds – paid search, programmatic buying, marketing automation – they have seemed to lose interest in the older and deeper art of storytelling.

    Julie makes a strong case that we are entering a new era, driven by new technological trends, that will return storytelling to it’s former place of glory. Brands that adapt to this shift will be well placed to have stronger customer relationships and better brand engagement. Brands that forget the importance of the storyteller ethic will lose relevance to those that incorporate it into their DNA.

    Storytelling is how we learn, and how we express who we are both individually and as a culture. It’s strange to think that brands have either ignored this element of humanity or have chosen to outsource the stories they tell to advertising agencies. Julie is really on to something here by saying that brand narratives need to be a core competency, especially as brands become publishers, content marketers, and social media entities.

    Artists like Belle & Sebastian, for example, live and die by their ability to tell stories that people want to hear. The same will be true for many brands in this new era. Everything that is old is not necessarily new again, but some things are.

    We are gathering around a new technological bonfire, listening to, and telling, stories to each other again.  The medium, the context, and even the kinds of stories we tell may be changing, but the tribal and human element remains the same. It’s what we do as humans. Brands need to take the next step and join us.

     


  4. My adventures with an out-of-network dentist in Long Island

    November 4, 2013 by Drew

    new crowns..paid with cash.

    Paying cash for dental work is Awesome.

    This one has been on my mind for a while. I recently had some work done with an out of network dentist on Long Island who was awesome. Based on many years of experience, it is my considered opinion that dental insurance is worthless. You are better off saving your money spent on premiums and then shopping around for a cash-only dentist who is willing to work out a payment plan.

    Due to the restrictions and paperwork that accepting insurance requires, almost all the good dentists – the ones who really care about their work and will make your teeth look awesome – are opting out of the insurance game or becoming ‘out-of-network’ providers.

    This leaves the dregs of the dental world as the ‘in-network’ options. If you want a bad crown, or crappy dentures, then feel free. In the long run, it will cost you more to keep having work re-done. And in the end, it’s not that much cheaper as you can negotiate with cash-only dentists for a deal.

    After a discussion on the relative benefits of dental insurance, I realized that the premium cost more than paying cash for the cleanings, and the plan forces me to use sub-par dentists. So do yourself a favor. Forget the dental insurance and go over to the free market where all the real dental talent lives. You won’t regret it. In short, dental insurance is not awesome.

    If you don’t believe me, check out the websites of doctors that take insurance versus the ones that don’t. The ones that don’t are full of before and after pictures, testimonials, and have great Yelp reviews. The insurance dentists have sites that look like bad brochures and they inevitably have a slew of mixed or plain negative reviews. This is because taking insurance requires them as a matter of course to provide sub-standard care. They spend more time filling out paperwork and fighting with insurers to get paid than doing dental work. In-network providers rely on getting referrals from insurance providers. Out-of-network dentists rely on word on mouth. Need I say more?

    Do you want a dentist who was to run a dental mill to make a living? No. At least I don’t. Go out of network. Negotiate a price. Get financing. And have a better set of teeth. / End rant.

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  5. Theta Gnaural Preset for Skilled Relaxation

    March 30, 2013 by Drew

    Meditate with Gnaural

    Hello All,

    Following up from my previous post, I decided to post a Gnaural preset that I created using what I learned at the TMShelp forum.  Gnaural is free Mac software (like Brainwave Generator which if PC-only) that uses sound to induce specific mental states.  I say, give it a try.  If it works for you, great.  Some people get the same benefit by just listening to meditation or Reikki music.

    The existing Gnaural preset library is underdeveloped and learning to create files in Gnaural takes time and it tends to crash a lot (for me).  I hope this may help those in pain or suffering from mindbody issues or psychosomatic disorders who have problems getting into a deep relaxed state.

    This preset targets the 4.5 hz frequency (near sleep) and last 40 minutes. The audio track has affirmations: “I am happy, healthy, energetic” that kick in around the 20 minute mark.  It also uses the affirmations-embedded-as-questions technique so beloved by hypnosis and NLP types – i.e ‘What makes it so easy for me to be happy… How is it that I radiate health and energy..” etc.

    I prefer to lie down in bed, with a light blanket covering me, and use full earphones to block out sound.  I use a single pillow and have my head slightly inclined towards the ceiling.

    Here is the download link:

    Gnaural Theta Preset With Affirmations

    How to use it:

    Unzip the file into your Gnaural folder and then open the file in Gnaural.  Gnaural is a bit odd and the file may not appear in the folder view unless you set it to show ‘all files’.  I included the audio .wav track.

    Regarding the comment on the TMS forum about needing to be a monk to spend this much time mediating (busy lives).  I agree it’s hard, but even doing it once a day or whenever you can helps.  If you are really in pain I’d think you’d do it more initially.  I try to meditate after getting home from work but do not often get a chance to really go deep as my family arrives  and my dog immediately jumps on me.  Any time getting into the deep meditative state is better than nothing.

    I am also one of the types that really has a hard time getting into a relaxed state, so I rely on this software when I am especially wound-up.  After you get the hang of relaxing you do not need it – you just learn over time how to calm yourself down into a near-sleep state.

    One more thing which may be controversial… If you really really cannot relax try taking 10 mg of valium 15 minutes before the session.  If you are on tramadol or another pain killer (as many of us are or were) it’s ok to take them together.

    Don’t rely on this tactic consistently, in my opinion, it’s better to learn how to do it yourself.  That being the case, it can help you to get an initial idea of what it’s supposed to feel like.

    Have you ever watched ‘Little House on the Prairie?’  No family is that perfect, but what Michael Landon was trying to do was to show us what a perfect family would look like – that way we have something to aspire to – a vision and a destination to guide us.  If you need to use the software and a mild sedative to initially experience the deep relaxation experience (which is very pleasant, by the way, not boring) then give it a shot.  Just my two cents.

    Best,

    Drew.

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  6. Meditation for pain, allergies & GERD. Skilled relaxation is awesome.

    March 2, 2013 by Drew

    meditation tips

    This is a personal blog, so I am going to write about a personal topic this time around.  Specifically, how learning meditation – or in the more scientific parlance ‘skilled relaxation‘ – helped cure me of 1) crippling sciatic pain 2) seasonal allergies and 3) chronic sinus infections and 4) GERD or acid-reflux.

    Many people are introduced to meditation via Yoga, but it deserves it’s own focus independent of the spiritual and physical elements of Yoga.

    Too good to be true, you say?  Well, it is.  In fact, after my adventure through the bowels of chronic incurable health conditions (at least from a western perspective) I learned that all these hard-to-diagnose, impossible-to-treat health complexes are all inter-related and ultimately caused by psychological states.

    In other words, these are fundamentally psychosomatic disorders.  This does not mean that the pain and suffering is not real, it just means that it is triggered by psychological states, and can only be treated by addressing these psychological states.  Treatment with medicine or other physical approaches will fail or at best cause ‘symptom substitution’ whereby the first problem goes away but another takes it’s place.

    Without boring you on the details, I first learned that my horrible leg pain – diagnosed at age 30 as a ‘ruptured disk’ – may not be the result of a physical abnormality after a friend referred me to the writing of Dr. John Sarno.  He is most famous for writing ‘Healing Back Pain‘, but his best book in my opinion – invaluable for people with chronic conditions – is ‘The Mindbody Prescription“.  Please buy and read this book if you have back pain, allergies, GERD, carpal-tunnel, fibromyalgia, or any of the other chronic conditions doctors seem helpless to treat.

    A true genius and healer

    Dr. Sarno (now retired) – A true healer, genius, and under-appreciated man

    Dr. Sarno focused his attention on proving the these conditions are not triggered by physical causes, and recommends therapy and a conscious effort to uncover the sources of rage and anger that are most likely at the root of the pain or health complex.  He also mentions the benefit of mediation.  In my opinion, both go hand in hand.  First, go to a therapist who understands psychosomatic disorders, then, once you have better a understanding of your mind, start a relaxation program for at least 30 minutes twice a day.

    Search the web for information on Skilled Relaxation.. The idea is to get you brainwaves into a Theta, or very relaxed but not asleep state,  for 30 minutes twice a day.   Do it in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon, not right before or after sleep.  This way the calm state lasts throughout the day.  When you reach the relaxed state, repeat to yourself ‘I am healthy and happy’.  When you are in this state messages have a chance to seep into your subconscious.

    It’s hard for some people to truly relax during the day (myself included).  One thing that helped me in to use Biaural Beat software.  This is noise that plays through headphones and helps move your brainwaves into a desired state.  Good software to consider includes “Brainwave Generator” for PCs and ‘Gnaural‘ for Macs.  Both are free, and you can download different ‘presets’ to customize the experience.  This really helps people who are not used to meditation get an idea of what it is supposed to feel like.  Once you are used to it, stop using the software and just rely on your own facilities to get into the Theta state.

    The more time you spend in a meditative state, the fast you will heal.  It took me about two years to fully recover from my sciatic pain, and another year to fully cure my chronic allergies and other conditions.  Now, whenever I get twinges of pain or allergic reactions I know I have emotional pain that needs to be addressed and stress I need to treat with meditation.

    So if you’re suffering, take my advice.  Meditation is awesome.  Not only that – it’s the ONLY cure for these conditions.

    Admit to yourself that there is nothing physically wrong with you.  Really believe it at a deep level.  Then start meditating and you will be amazed at the results.  As Sarno says, if you still have some tiny bit of doubt, if some part of you still thinks there is something physically wrong with you, the complex will remain.  The pain complex is intended as a distraction to painful emotions.  Get in touch with your pain, meditate, and ignore what western doctors tell you (my doctor told me I was crippled for life at 30 – and I just carried my six year old daughter for two miles up a mountain -so nuts to you, doc).

    This approach to self-healing may never become mainstream western medicine (Dr. Sarno himself is ostracized and was somewhat bitter about it in our discussions) due to the simple fact that western medicine requires techniques that work whether or not you believe in them.

    In other words, western medicine will never be able to treat psychosomatic disorders because the conscious states that trigger them cannot be tested in a lab.  This is a real tragedy.  It is critically important that we teach children meditation, perhaps via Yoga initially, so they can avoid chronic conditions later in life.

    Any experiences with meditation?  Let me know in the comments.

     


  7. The BMW Toaster

    April 11, 2012 by Drew

    Awesome retro bike

    Ah the BMX /5 series. This is the bike I road all through college in snowy Boulder, CO.  I could often be seen zipping around in snowstorms with a bandana tied around my face, people pointing and laughing.  My girlfriend said I looked like “Snoopy on his doghouse”.  Ridicule aside, the BMW Toaster (so named due to the gas tank that looks like a toaster) is one of the raddest old bikes you can ride.  They were made in 500-750cc engine sizes from 1970-1973.

    The BMW Toaster along with the Honda CB series bikes are among the most iconic early 1970s bikes out there.  They are often seen zooming around in hip neighborhoods with an underfed model on the back or parked in front of cafe sporting low flat bars and new paint jobs.  The rubber accordion fork sleeves make a real statement even if they do wear out a lot and need to be replaced.  A custom paint job helmet is a recommended accessory for this ride.

    Here’s the typical look of a restored 1973 model with cafe-racer style flat bars:

    I rode my Toaster year round and was often seen brushing snow off and trying to get it started on winter mornings.  The engine and mechanics are very robust, at least in the colder weather.  I had occasional problems running the bike in the heat of summer, especially when climbing up mountain roads and passed.  This is a problem for most old bike that have antiquated cooling systems.

    Tons of these bikes are still on the road, many of which have never been substantially rebuilt.  That’s pretty impressive for a bike that was intended for the mass market.  You can find them on craigslist in good running order for under $5K, as you can see here:

     

    So what are you waiting for?  Get riding on this awesome piece of 1970s motorcycle history.

     


  8. Super tasty distilled water

    April 6, 2012 by Drew

    Distill your own water, bro

    We at the big list have recently begun distilling our water.  That’s right, water, not bourbon.  The thing is, there is a ton of crap in the municipal drinking water that is both bad for you and makes it taste like crap.

    For example, here’s what in a typical glass of tap water according to the EPA.  It’s scary reading.  Plus, increasingly there are measurable amounts of pharmaceuticals and bio-active compounds that enter the water system when people flush their medication down the drain or just excrete the compounds in water.  These compounds make their way into rivers where they are taken back up by drinking water systems.  These chemical can be active in very small quantities and our public water systems are not set up to purify our water to the degree necessary to remove them.  In fact, often cities are not even testing for these compounds.

    Add into this mix lead and other chemicals leeching out of old pipes and fixtures and ‘fluoride’-containing chemicals dumped en-mass intentionally into our water (despite being known neurotoxins) and you start to get the picture.  Fluoride is especially hard to get out  – simple filters do not remove it and even reverse-osmosis filtration systems often only remove a portion.

    So if you want to drink clean water, distillation is a good choice.  We distill a gallon about every other day using the MegaHome counter top distiller. It takes 5 hours so we run it overnight and wake up to clean water.  I have noticed that distilled water tastes a bit flat since it has no mineral content, so I add 10-15 drops of trace minerals.  Put the water in the fridge and once it’s cool you’ll think you’re drinking expensive mineral water.  It’s actually better than bottled mineral water as it has no contaminants and tastes great.

    Some people say trace minerals are good for you, so you’ve got that going for you too.  So start distillin’, bro.


  9. Finally a remote controlled helicopter you can actually control remotely

    March 26, 2012 by Drew

    I present to you the Protocol 5852-4A Tiger Jet R/C Mini Helicopter:

    Best remote controlled helicopter for the money

    At the risk of seeming obsessed with remote-controlled objects, I would like to say that I have been buying less-expensive remote-controlled helicopters for several years.  The problem I have had is that most of them are almost impossible to control.  This is due to the lightweight and lower-quality components being unable to cope with minor air currents and hiccups with the control mechanism.

    Several days ago, however, I got to play with the 5852-4A and I was very impressed. It costs around $40.  That’s very inexpensive.  And it blows away the competition in the category.  For example, when it hovers, it hovers at a constant height and bearing.  When you push the throttle forward, it moves forward just the amount you want.  You can also rotate the helicopter in either direction.  I was able to land this helicopter on my cousin’s head on the first try.  I do not recommend you try this.

    The other notable feature of this helicopter is the metal chassis.  This is very unusual for this price point.  Due to the metal components, this is also a very durable helicopter.  Ironically, because it’s so easy to control, it will also end up crashing a lot less.

     


  10. The (hollow) moon.

    March 22, 2012 by Drew

    From the ‘how come nobody told me this’ brand of awesome comes the ‘hollow moon’ theory.  This is pretty much what it sounds like.  The moon is hollow and somebody built it that way.

    In support of this, I give you ‘Who Built the Moon?‘:

    Who built the moon?  Seriously, I want to know.

    Only one left if stock – order soon!

    The Author Christopher Knight describes how the moon does not seem to have a solid core like every other planet and moon we know.  Apparently it’s either hollow or have a low-density core with a concentration of mass located at various points just under the lunar surface.

    This compelling headscratcher of a tome also brings the following facts to light:

    “The Moon is not only extremely odd in its construction; it also behaves in a way that is nothing less than miraculous.

    It is exactly four hundred times smaller than the Sun but four hundred times closer to the Earth so that both the Sun and the Moon appear to be precisely the same size in the sky Ð which gives us the phenomenon we call a total eclipse, called the biggest coincidence in the universe.

    The Moon mirrors the movement of the Sun in the sky by rising and setting at the same point on the horizon as the Sun does at opposite solstices. For example, this means the Moon rises at midwinter at the same place the Sun does at midsummer. There is no logical reason why the Moon mimics the Sun in this way and it is only meaningful to a human standing on the Earth.”

    Adding to the oddness, according to the Daily Mail, when JFK found out that the astronomical data showed that the moon was hollow he demanded an immediate release of all confidential UFO data from NASA and the CIA.  He was killed 10 days later.

    The fact that the moon perfectly matches the sun during a full lunar eclipse has always struck me as odd.  Maybe it was intended that way – by the men who built the moon!

    For more with Christopher Knight, check out this interview in New Dawn Magazine.