Fighting Dry House Conditions

Anyone who knows me, knows I love my wood stove. It keeps my house toasty warm. The floors, walls, and ceilings are all warmed so that I can walk around barefoot in my 68 degree house if I want. Just try doing that in a house heated by a furnace! So, there is no doubt that I’ll continue to enjoy the benefits that radiant heat can provide.

There are down sides to everything and heating a house tends to produce really dry air. My furnace has an Aprilaire whole house humidifier attached to it. On those rare occasions that I do use the furnace, my Aprilaire adds much needed humidity to my really dry house. Of course, not everyone has such a device, so houses heated with furnaces can suffer from a lack of humidity too.

Horridly dry air has a number of nasty side effects. For example, you might find that you literally can’t breath because your nose is so dry. Petting the cat becomes an experiment in shock therapy (and don’t even think about brushing the dog). You could see damage to your furniture as well. The glue joints tend to fail when the humidity is too low. So, there are both health and monetary issues to consider when it comes to winter heating. The issue that seems to elude most people though is that humid air is able to support more calories than dry air. This means that really dry air actually feels cooler than humid air heated to the same temperature. Humidity that causes you to sweat in summer keeps you warm in winter.

Over the years I’ve come to believe that keeping a house as humid as possible in the winter (within reason, you really don’t want the walls dripping either) is a good idea. When my hygrometer (a humidity measuring device) reports 60 percent, I’m quite happy. Even 50 percent is worthwhile achieving. The problem is that with wood heat, you don’t have an Aprilaire to help out.

Assuming that your wood stove provides a place to put one, the first course of action is to get a couple of inexpensive soup pots—big ones. Actually, you might be able to get one almost free at a thrift store or garage sale, so look around to see what you can find. Fill them with water and put them on the wood stove. The heat will evaporate the water inside and produce humidity for your home. If you want, you can add wood stove simmering spices to make you home smell nice as the water evaporates. The people living with you in your closed up house will appreciate the fragrance. My stove will accommodate two pots, so I have two really large pots going most of the time (one is removed when I want to heat water for tea, heat something up, or make soup).

Sometimes using the pots just doesn’t help enough, unfortunately. It’s during those times that I leave the bathroom door open when I shower and turn off the ceiling fan. The ceiling fan normally takes the humidity outside, which is a really good thing to do in summer when you don’t want things rotting inside the house. During the winter, it seems like a better idea to allow the steam to get out into the house. Of course, you’ll need to exercise more caution to ensure everyone keeps their privacy intact.

Winter is also a dandy time to make soup. It’s possible for me to make soup on my wood stove when it’s completely fired up. However, there are a lot of times where I still need to use the stove. In those cases, I keep the stove’s vent fan off so that the steam from the soup stays in the house. Not only does the house get humidified, but it also helps build a healthy appetite.

I’m sure by now someone is wondering why I haven’t mentioned the obvious—a humidifier. Yes, a humidifier will do the job and yes you could use one, but all of the other techniques I’ve mentioned are free. A humidifier will cost money to purchase, maintain, and operate. In the long run, using every free technique at your disposal first is the best idea. Let me know your ideas on humidifying a home at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

All Cooped Up

I normally let my chickens run free during the entire year. They get outside and play games outside while pecking around for things to eat. They really are quite funny at times. One of their favorite winter games is Queen of the Hill. I put a french fry or other treat on top of a snow hill and the chickens race to see how gets it first. The chickens knock each other off the hill and grab the french fry until it’s gone. Of course, the game continues as long as I have french fries to offer them. The outside time is important because it allows the chickens to exercise properly and to gain access to alternative food sources, such as bugs. In addition, getting out of the coop provides them with fresh air and time to interact with their environment.

After seeing my egg production (and subsequent sales) drop to nearly nothing this past winter, I decided to try something out. On truly cold days, I’ve been keeping the chickens in the coop. I’m not talking about a coop with the door open, but with the door closed so that the coop stays significantly warmer. On the coldest days, I’ve been putting a pot of hot water in the coop to partially heat it. As a result of this change, my chickens are laying more eggs—a lot more eggs. In fact, egg production has increased threefold over egg production last winter at this time. Mind you, I’m getting this increase without disturbing the chicken’s natural light cycle by using a heat lamp or other light source.

The results seem consistent. In addition, the only thing I’ve changed is the time the chickens spend in their coop. I did note that there is no increase after a certain point. Keeping the chickens in their coop six days a week didn’t provide an appreciable increase in production over four days. What seems to be the most important factor is choosing days that are especially cold. Right now I’m keeping the chickens in their coop when the temperature falls below 20. However, I plan to keep playing with the temperature to see what effects I can come up with. The chickens might actually do better if I keep them in the coop anytime it’s below freezing, but something tells me that they’ll begin fighting if I do.

What I’m trying to figure out now is how cold is too cold for the chickens. They survive just fine, even if I let them out in relatively cold weather. The thing that changes is the number of eggs they lay. The cold stresses the chickens just enough to stop laying almost completely. I’m still experimenting to find the trigger temperature for this effect. Figuring out the correct temperature is important because the chickens really do need the outside time to remain healthy.

Like many topics related to chickens, trying to find specific temperature guidelines online has proven impossible. However, there must be others who have experimented in figuring out just the right temperatures for letting chickens go outside to play. Let me know your thoughts on the topic at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Our Borders are Porous

No, I’m not talking physical borders here—I’m talking cyber borders. I’ve talked a number of times about the relative insecurity of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. My biggest personal concern is how leaks in these systems can affect people with special needs. At a minimum, implanted devices used by people today are open to hacking. However, there are some reports that say that hackers could eventually become murderers. I wrote Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements with the idea that implanted devices and other aids should help people, not hurt them.

However, other sorts of devices are leaky. Just about any hacker could attack our water supply, power grid, or any other utility. A hacker could turn off your car engine by remote control, lock you into the car, and then do whatever nefarious deed seemed pleasant at the time. These posts aren’t meant to scare you as much as to inform you that the borders of your devices are wide open to attack in many cases. Yet, despite a huge number of newspaper articles, radio talk shows, government inquiries, and odd assorted other do nothing activities, surprisingly little has been done to secure anything.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that the latest casualty, in a long list of problematic devices, is the gas pump. Yep, your gas pump can turn against you. I hadn’t really thought about a gas pump as being anything particularly worthwhile to hack. Yes, you could possibly turn on the pump and get free gas or deny someone else their gas, but it really didn’t strike me as something that hackers would invest time in learning about. Actually, it turns out that gas pumps are connected to all sorts of monitors and messing with the pump can cause those monitors to go off. It doesn’t seem like alarms are anything to worry about either, but think about someone intent on disrupting the emergency services network in a city so that they can attack in some other way. While everyone is distracted with the gas pump spills that haven’t actually happened, someone could do something that would cause the city to go into overload because emergency services are already overwhelmed.

The thing that gets me about a lot of these deficiencies is that they aren’t caused by systems that are secured, but someone has manged to get into anyway. They’re caused by systems that have no security at all. That’s right—someone connected those gas pumps to the Internet so they could monitor them remotely and didn’t add any security at all. Someone who knows the right information can just walk right in and cause all sorts of mischief.

From direct attacks on our infrastructure, to feints used for distraction, to personal attacks, SCADA systems will let us down at some point. I’m surprised that we haven’t had a major issue so far. Perhaps someone is out there right now planning just the right sort of attack that’s designed to cause a maximum of damage. Until we make security a priority, these open systems will continue to pose a serious risk to everyone, whether you have special needs or not. Let me know your thoughts about insecure SCADA systems at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

A Problem with Short Attention Spans and Getting Only What You Want

I read more articles every day that talk about how content is distributed today. It isn’t just one sort of content; it’s every sort of content, from writing to music to videos. Books are presented electronically without any ads or other content to disrupt your reading, magazines are becoming a thing of the past as readers blithely read just the article they want to see, music is presented as individual song downloads, and video is streamed without any of the extras that come with a DVD.

The idea is to package content items individually, in the smallest container possible. People consuming the content need not bother with anything that doesn’t immediately attract their attention. The smaller size ensures they can consume the content in seconds (even in my books, I’ve made the size of the sections smaller because I noted that readers weren’t making it through the material and missing important information). As a result, consumers are getting used to seeing just the content they want and not having to work at all to get it. Spoon feeding consumers content is probably something that marketers love because they can keep the consumer well fed and not asking too many questions. The content is focuses precisely the way the marketing folks want it. At some point, the quality of the content can decrease without anyone actually noticing. The somnolent mutterings of a few is all that will otherwise detract from the utter quiet of a new age of customized consumerism.

Inferior content is a problem, but it’s not the problem that you should consider immediately. Lack of diversity will cause more problems than content quality ever will. When music was distributed in albums, you counted on getting two or possibly three hit songs. Some of the remaining songs were pretty bad. However, you often encountered two or so additional songs that didn’t get played on the radio for whatever reason are were quite good. Because you were forced (after a fashion) to listen to all the songs on the album, it became common to discover the gems that no one really thought to hype. A few of those songs ended up being hits in their own right simply because people were forced to listen to them as part of listening to the album as a whole. With customized content, you never hear the good songs because no one is hyping them.

The lack of diversity affects your growth as a person. When you listen to something unanticipated or read an article that you didn’t think you’d like, you experience the world in a new way. An idea or concept that didn’t occur to you before is now part of your being. However, with today’s marketing model, you’re being cheated out of that opportunity. The marketers have determined what you’ll read, hear, and see. They control the picture. Think about it for a minute and you’ll see that I’m right.

Magazines are headed in the same direction. It won’t be long and paper magazines will be gone. Electronic magazines will almost certainly follow the current trend at some point. You’ll read only the article that you were interested in seeing in the first place. The supposed boring article that will broaden your horizons will never see the light of day because you won’t be exposed to it. Sometimes it’s necessary for some agent to force you to see content that you might not otherwise review. In the past, it was the added content that came as part of magazines, books, CDs, DVDs, and other distribution techniques that provided this force. There is no such force today. You don’t really see any additional content when viewing a streamed movie.

We view content with fewer interruptions and in purer form, deadening our minds to new ideas. At some point, the lack of growth will cause additional problems. People who get used to thinking only within the box that they draw themselves are less likely to create innovative ideas. As a society, our ability to create something entirely new, entirely different, will be diminished due to a lack of diversity in the input we provide to our brains.

The solution to the problem is uncomfortable and requires a level of determination that our society lacks in large part today. Because alternative content is no longer provided as part of the package, it’s imperative that you look for content that you might not otherwise enjoy. This means making a conscious decision to read, hear, and view content that you may not like at the outset, but will find grows on you with exposure. Let’s hope that there are enough people who don’t mind being uncomfortable to make this a reality. What are your thoughts on the methods used to package content today? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Fun is Where You Find It (Part 7)

The Fun is Where You Find It series of posts is one of the more popular series I’ve created because they all talk about fun things you can do for little or no cost. Of course, the problem that most people are facing right now is some sort of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) mixed with negative feelings about the weather and a general letdown from the holidays. Fortunately, there are a lot of fixes for these issues—all of which hinge on focusing on anything else.

I use a lot of laugh therapy to get past this time of year. Generally speaking, laugh therapy is all about getting a good laugh in every day. You can get the laugh any way that works for you, but I’ll read something funny, view funny videos, or talk with a friend who knows good jokes (not the lame sort that I usually tell). There are even books about laugh therapy if you have problems figuring out how to get a good laugh on your own.

This past Sunday I decided to approach the problem from another angle. I have a number of items that need to be used up, so I decided to use them for a picnic. No, the picnic isn’t outside in the cold. Instead, I put together potato salad, fruit salad, fried chicken, chips, and drinks. I laid a blanket out on the floor in front of my wood stove (which is standing in for the hot summer sun) and watched a summery movie. The whole thing cost me about $5.00, so were not talking a major entertainment expense for several hours of fun.

Of course, the question is whether my little experiment worked. Overall, I felt pretty happy afterward—it was a lot of fun and I plan to do it again. Doing something completely different, something outside the range of normal winter activities, helped me get past some of the usual problems associated with winter by thinking about summer and picnics instead. A lot of the time, how we approach life and what we think about controls our mood, so thinking about summer and picnics in winter is possibly every bit as good as the laugh therapy I normally use. At least, it gives me another alternative.

What sorts of amazing things are you doing to fight the winter blahs? Do you think you might ever try a winter picnic to chase the blues away? Let me know your thoughts about winter fun at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas Eve! I’m actually out of the office today and will be tomorrow as well. Taking time off to visit with family and friends, and to remember the real reason for the holiday, are important for me. I hope that you have an absolutely amazing holiday with family and friends. I’ll see you again the day after Christmas, on the 26th. In the meantime, take time to rest. It’s good for your health and your outlook on life.

More People Noticing that Green Technology Really Isn’t

A lot of people have sent me e-mail about my negative viewpoints on a lot of the supposedly green technology that we use today. The fact is that many of these green technologies simply move pollution to someone else’s backyard and may actually increase the amount of pollution created, rather than reducing it. My latest essays on the topic appear in A Discussion About Green Technology Pollution and A Discussion About Green Technology Pollution (Part 2). I’m most definitely not against technologies that really are green—I’m just against technologies that pose as green when they really aren’t. The consequences of pseudo-green technologies are real. We’ll eventually pay for the pollution we’re creating and spilling into the air, water, and land.

I’ve noticed that more people are starting to see the same things I do when it comes to pollution. The article I like best in this category is Study: Your all-electric car may not be so green from the Associated Press. Although the article doesn’t even begin to discuss the sources of pollution that electric cars generate (such as those rare earth mines in various parts of the world), it does point out that even the electricity is dirty. An electric car powered by electricity from a coal-fueled plant produces 3.6 times the amount of pollution as a gasoline car. If you absolutely must attack the problems created by gasoline fueled cars, use a hybrid instead. No, it doesn’t get rid of the pollution produced by materials used to build the car, but at least it actually does produce less pollution locally.

Some readers have pointed out that there is some speculation that the whole global warming debate is a fraud. There is even some discussion that governments are stepping in and simply telling anyone who works for the government not to tall about global warming at all. Yes, the debate has proven difficult and will remain difficult as some researchers begin to claim that we’re actually going to experience a cooling trend in the near future. The fact is that few people actually have the knowledge required to make a guess and my understanding is that no one has actually accumulated enough information to prove the issue one way or the other. What I do know is that it’s a bad idea to keep spewing contaminants into our environment. You can see the effects of pollution all around you.

This all leads me back to my basic premise about pollution. You need to make it personal. Deciding how pollution affects you personally can help direct your efforts in making our world a cleaner place to live. Doing things like turning off lights you don’t need, driving only when you actually need to, and lowering the thermostat a few degrees will all help. Your personal gain from such efforts is the money you’ll save and the health you’ll keep. Using fewer resources means having more money in your pocket for the things you’d like to have. Less pollution means that you’ll have a longer, healthier life.

What is your take on the claims to green technology that really isn’t? There currently aren’t any laws that specifically keep a manufacturer from claiming that a technology is green when it really isn’t. I’d like to see laws that place the burden of proof on the manufacturer. Before a product is sold as being green, the manufacturer should have to prove that it’s not only manufactured in ways that will produce less pollution (something that is nearly impossible right now), but that using the item will also produce less pollution and that the product’s eventual disposal will help keep pollution under control as well. Let me know your thoughts on the topic at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Thinking About the Continuing Loss of Privacy

It’s easy to wonder whether there will ever come a time when humans will no longer have any privacy of any sort. In part, the problem is one of our own making. We open ourselves up to all sorts of intrusions for the sake of using technology we really don’t need. I’ve discussed this issue in the past with posts such as Exercising Personal Privacy. As people become more addicted to technology, the thinking process is affected. The technology becomes a sort of narcotic that people feel they can’t do without. Of course, it’s quite possible to do without the technology, but the will to do so is lacking.

A couple of articles that I read recently have served to highlight the consequences of unbridled technology overuse. The first, Getting Hacked Is in Your Future, describes the trend in hacking modern technology. Of course, avoiding getting hacked is simple—just stop using the technology. For example, people have gotten along just fine without remote car starts to heat their cars. Actually, it’s simply a bad idea because the practice wastes a considerable amount of gas. The point of the article is that hackers aren’t ever going to stop. You can count on this group continuing to test technology, finding the holes, and then exploiting the holes to do something horrid.

Wearable technology is also becoming more of a problem. The ComputerWorld article, Data from wearable devices could soon land you in jail, describes how police will eventually use the devices you use to monitor yourself against you. The problem isn’t the wearable technology, but the fact that many people will use it indiscriminately. Even though logic would tell you that wearing the device just during exercise is fine, people will become addicted to wearing them all the time. It won’t be long and you’ll see people monitoring every bodily function 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The use of cameras to view static locations on a street will soon seem tame in light of the intrusions of new technologies.

A reader recently asked whether I think technology is bad based on some of my recent blog posts. Quite the contrary—I see the careful use of technology as a means of freeing people to become more productive. The problem I have is with the misuse and overuse of technology. Technology should be a tool that helps, not hinders, human development of all sorts. I see technology playing a huge role in helping people with special needs become fully productive citizens whose special need all but disappears (or possibly does disappear to the point where even the technology user doesn’t realize there is a special need any longer).

What is your take on the direction that technology is taking? Do you see technology use continuing to increase, despite the problems that it can pose? Let me know your thoughts on the good uses for technology and the means you use to decide when technology has gone too far at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Shoveling It!

There is nothing quite so pretty as the sun glinting on new fallen snow. The landscape is whitewashed. The brown and dying leaves are covered over and hidden from view. There is even a crisp clean scent in the air that is impossible to reproduce at any other time of the year.

When you live in the north, it is important to prepare for less than ideal winter conditions. Because of the threat of ice underfoot and snow overhead, a walk from the house to an unattached garage or barn can be a major challenge. Over the years, we have adapted some tools and developed some strategies to help us stay safe. Here are some suggestions:

  • A good shovel is a good investment. Take the time to handle any shovel that you are going to purchase before you spend money on it. Test it out in the store to make sure that you are comfortable with how it feels and moves in your hands. Slide it along the floor. Lift your coat with it (to mimic the lifting of snow). Try before you buy. There are some great ergonomic shovels out there, but there are also some gimmicky tools as well.
  • Spray the edge of the shovel with a product like Pam cooking spray or dry silicone spray to make the snow slide off easier. Wet silicon lubricants, such as WD40, don’t work for this purpose because they have alcohol or other solvents in them that can actually melt snow, making it stick to the shovel.
  • New fallen snow is easier to shovel. Getting out into the snow before it gets too deep will give you a better result when clearing driveways or sidewalks. Yes, you may have to shovel a couple of times, but for good traction it is best to clear down to the surface. If the snow is removed before the first person steps on it, it clears much better.
  • Be ergonomic when shoveling. Start slowly. Use several different styles for moving the snow, rather that repetitive motions over the whole job. This will exercise different muscle groups. If the snow is wet and heavy, lift smaller loads with each shovelful.
  • If you aren’t able to get clear ground underfoot, install handholds. Adding handrails down the stairs and along the sidewalk can save you from a dangerous fall. Ski poles can be stored by the door and used to help you walk over icy and snowy ground.
  • If you are doing lots of outside chores, there are several styles of boot cleats that grip the icy ground very securely. They can be found in most sporting goods stores, usually in the ice fishing section.
  • Lastly, there are several different types of snow melting products to help with traction on your walks and driveways. Read the instructions carefully and follow instructions. Stay current with local ordinances for their usage in your location.

If the snow is light enough, you can use a leaf blower to remove it from the walks quite quickly and with little strain. Walking upright will also reduce the risk of falls. Always be sure to wear hearing protection when you use a leaf blower. Even if the sound is less noticeable on a snowy day, you can still damage your hearing.

Waking in the morning to a bright shiny day is one of the benefits of living in the snowy north. Staying safe while walking and shoveling will give you the chance to “slide” when you have your sled or toboggan in hand.

If you have any tips or stories about making it through the winter, I would love to hear about them.  Please leave a comment here, or email John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com

Stay Safe and Warm this Winter!

 

 

Hugging Your Animals

Hugs are the universal communication medium for most animals. It may surprise you to discover that I hug all my animals on a regular basis. The reasons for hugging my animals are many, but from the animal’s perspective, it’s a matter of knowing that I’m OK—that I’m not going to hurt them. To keep an animal tame and workable, you need to respect its need for contact with you. Often, people have problems working with their animals because the needed relationship simply isn’t there. Here’s a picture of me hugging one of my chickens, Daisy.

Daisy is an American chicken that loves to be hugged by John.
Daisy the Americana Chicken
Picture Courtesy of Micah Schlobohm

The chickens are actually quite interesting because they curtsey to attract attention and tell me that they want to be picked up. The curtsey is kind of a half bow where they spread their wings slightly as if lifting out a dress. The point is that the hens really do want (and need their hugs).

The rabbits also need hugs and have a different way of demonstrating the need. One of my rabbits, Twilight, will sit on her hind legs and raise her front legs in greeting when I open the cage in the morning. If I don’t pick her up and pet her, she stomps her back feet when I leave to show that she’s really quite unhappy. It doesn’t have to be a long hug, just as long as I tell her that she’s special in her own way.

My two dogs, Reese and Shelby, want their hugs first thing in the morning, when I let them in from going outside. Each dog has her own way of getting petted. Shelby is quite dignified about the whole thing and sits patiently waiting until I pet her. A little nuzzle often tells me that her patience is running out. Reese is quite crazy and runs about in circles until I invite her over for a hug. Of course, it’s not enough to simply pet her back, she wants her belly petted as well.

Every morning Sugar Plum wakes me up by meowing at me and patting my face. If that doesn’t work, she gets Smucker involved (he stomps all over me). Failing that, the two cats get the dogs stirred up. All that howling, baying, and barking is impossible to ignore. Obviously, Sugar Plum wants to be paid for her efforts, and her hug is a required part of the payment. Smucker usually comes in after breakfast, sits on my shoulder for a while, and then sort of slides down into my lap for his hug.

Of course, the hugs don’t just help the animals. Hugs come with serious health benefits for humans too. I’ve noted that my mood improves after my hugs each day. The results are measurable too. Taking my blood pressure before and after a hug shows that it goes down every time. Lower blood pressure and heart rate will help me stay healthy and all it takes is a simple hug.

Some people might question whether my animals really do require hugs, or whether I’m anthropomorphizing natural behaviors that mean something else. At one time, I might have thought that animals really didn’t need the hugs—that their behaviors really did mean something quite different, but time has taught me that they need love too and a hug is one of the best ways to give it to them. Let me know your thoughts on hugging your animals (or hugs in general) at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.