Been awhile.

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The alarm clock blinked its amber eyes before emitting the high pitched whine that woke John Stohlman from sleep before being choked off by a calloused hand. Shuddering, he sat up, flipped the TV on and clicked on the window air conditioner. CNN filled the screen as he stumbled to the bathroom, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and the sweat from his brow. Summer had so far not been kind to the Minnesota north woods, plunging the region into a soaking humidity.

Outside, the morning sun filtered through the pines in the forest behind his cabin. Heavy trucks rumbled down the dirt road a half mile down his driveway, making their way to the work site that had heavy security, or at least enough to keep the citizens of Kent, MN guessing. A coffeepot clicked on in the kitchen, filling the house with the scent of hot coffee.

John emerged from the master bedroom having showered and dressed. His heavy flannel shirt and worn jeans had seen better days, making an odd juxtaposition with the granite counter, stainless steel kitchen appliances and giant flat screen in the living room. He lumbered towards the refrigerator, pulled out a beer and sat heavily on a chair. Cracking the top, he tilted his head back to take a deep draught, stopping only when a sound outside caught his attention. It sounded like the crushing of a soda can, only amplified and it seemed to last for an interminable length of time.

He set the beer on the counter as he walked past, making a beeline for his boots which rested on a rack near the back door. Opening the door, he looked out and saw the source of the noise. An unladen flatbed semi had collided with what looked vaguely like a small passenger car.

John walked to his truck, got in and reversed, turning it around to head towards the road. As he bumped down the rutted driveway towards the accident, his eyes flicked briefly towards the dirt road to the north, seeing a plume of dust that registered in his mind but was disregarded as he arrived at the accident. Pulling up alongside to park beyond the wreck, he peered through the splintered glass of what he now could tell was a late model compact. He saw the Asian driver cast nervous glances at him while speaking into a cell phone. A noise from around the curve up the road made him automatically turn his head, which probably saved his life. John threw his vehicle into reverse, his tires spitting gravel as they propelled his truck into the ditch just as a black Suburban, all four wheels locked up, slid past his front bumper. Two more black Suburbans slid to similar stops on the other side of the accident as a man in a suit stepped confidently from the passenger door and stood in front of his truck.

“Sir, we’re all set here. Go ahead and take off; is this your home?” He motioned towards the cabin.

“Yeah, it’s mine. You guys need to call 911, that woman looks bad.”

The suited man took a menacing step towards John’s side of the truck. Pulling aside his suit coat, he displayed a blacked out handgun holstered at his waist. “Best move on.”

“Hey, you got it.” John reached down and grabbed the shift lever to put the truck in four wheel drive. He pulled out of the ditch and lit a cigarette as he drove back up to his house. As he entered, he locked the door behind him. Pulling his .45 from his concealed holster, he set it on the table next to him as he sat down to finish his beer, debating whether to call 911 to report the accident. Reason won out. John pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“Yeah, I need to report an accident, happened out front of my place about five minutes ago. I’m on the old Ridge Road north of Elk River.” John cast a glance towards the clock.

“Sir, I need you to stay on the line until emergency vehicles arrive – what is your name, sir?” The dispatcher was trembling with excitement – being new at his job gave him the jitters which, combined with the caffeine in half a pot of coffee had his nerves at a fever pitch.

“No name.” John flipped his phone shut, got up and started making a light breakfast. As he sat down to eat, there was a heavy pounding on his door. Grimacing, he holstered his pistol, muted his TV and walked towards the door, opening it to find two cruisers idling outside and two officers standing on his deck.

The younger officer spoke first.

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The Daily Writer by Fred White

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Z1983_DailyWriterI like to review books. I recently saw this book in Barnes and Nobel and thought it looked interesting, but not quite $17.99 interesting. I bought a used, like-new copy on Amazon.com for 99 cents + shipping and checked it out.

Most of the time when I review a book, I write a few lines about it, what I thought about it etc and then it goes on my shelf – to be picked up in a year or so when I desire to read it again.

That approach wouldn’t work so well with this one, as it is “366 meditations to cultivate a productive and meaningful writing life.”

So I present to you a 366-part book review. This time next year, I’ll be done. It’ll be like one of those book reviews that is probably too long, except this one will take you a year to read.

Best Ad Ever.

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Eco-driving

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Posted by Andy

Occasionally the need arises to conserve every last drop of fuel remaining in your fuel tank. Whether this is caused by negligence resulting in necessity or simply a newfound environmental consciousness, there are many ways to reduce the amount of fuel your vehicle uses to carry you over the road.

  1. Don’t step on the gas pedal as much.
    Seriously, this is probably the most important adjustment you can make to your driving style. Keep the pressure light. If you’re driving a stick, shift to the next gear sooner than you normally would. Don’t lug your engine, just shift sooner. If you’re in an automatic, use light pedal pressure. Don’t rev your engine above 2000 rpm – you’ll accelerate slower but use less fuel. Occasionally, letting off the gas for a moment will kick the transmission into a higher gear, cutting your revs and using less fuel.
  2. Coast.
    Modern fuel-injected vehicles will cut the fuel to the injectors during a prolonged period of coasting. Utilize every downward slope – take your foot off the gas and coast up to that stoplight. If you have to use your brakes, you’re wasting fuel! If you’re comfortable with the following technique, use it – but do not attempt this if you don’t feel safe. When you’re coasting down a longer stretch; say more than thirty seconds of coasting, shift into neutral and kill the engine. Be sure to immediately turn the key back to the ‘ON’ position so you’re still able to use your turn signals. Your vehicle will retain enough vacuum assist for your power brakes to function for a couple of pumps at most, so make sure you use them sparingly. Also, your power steering will not give you any assist when you’re coasting with the engine off – so be prepared for HEAVY steering. Coasting is the most fuel-efficient way to drive – if your engine is off, you’re using no fuel. Note that this will place more wear and tear on your engine’s starter (or clutch, if you’re in a stick – you are bump-starting your vehicle, I’m sure).
  3. Use Your Momentum
    This goes right along with #2. Don’t accelerate during turns – it wastes fuel. Coast through the turns and gently accelerate afterwards. Don’t slow way down for off-ramps or other turns, if you can help it. Yeah, you might get shoved up against your door, but you’ll exit the turn/ramp with enough speed to coast quite a long distance if you time everything right.
  4. Ride the Ridges
    You’ve probably noticed that roads wear more where everybody drives on them, forming ruts that gather standing water and bumps that steal momentum from your vehicle. Put your right wheel next to the solid white line on your right – it’s smoother, you’ll save your vehicle from having to expend energy plowing through standing water, and you’ll save fuel.
  5. Park Wisely
    This one’s simple. If you back into a space that faces downhill, you can simply shift your car into neutral with the engine off and coast out of the space without using fuel.

These techniques added together can stretch your next tank of fuel incredibly far. Try ‘em out and post your results in the comments.

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Vista Minimalist Desktop

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I used Rainmeter to create this minimalist Vista desktop. Clock, time/date, location, sunset/sunrise times, percent chance of rain, five common apps, PC stats and an iTunes now playing screen.

/geek

 

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SC Journal Letter

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Saw this in my RSS reader. Liked it.

SIOUX CITY — A sudden, unexpected flu epidemic begins less than a year ago in Mexico. Now we DEMAND the government develop and produce a vaccine against it, we DEMAND that it be so safe that not one in tens of millions who receive it have a reaction that can even possibly be traced to it, we DEMAND it be produced and distributed in quantities of tens of millions of doses. And , oh , while we’re at it we DEMAND they do it with "less government" (less funding for staff and salaries). And when this doesn’t happen perfectly … we criticize, we condemn, we threaten …

The American public needs to have the vaccination protect against schizophrenia as well as H1N1. It’s a much more prevalent disorder here. — Larry Johns

From mnmlist.com’s Leo Babauta

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The True Cost of Stuff

Often we think about cutting down on what we buy because we’d like to be frugal, and save money. And I’m all for that.

But there’s more to buying less. Way more.

The cost of purchasing an item just scratches the surface. When we buy something, we are taking it into our homes, our lives, and we are taking on the life of another object in this world.

The life of an object? But surely you’ve gone mad, Leo.

It’s entirely possible I have — I’m talking to myself in this post, after all. But hear me out, O hypothetical reader in my mind.

An object isn’t born in the store. It is born in the woods (if it is wood), in the mines (if it’s metal), in the depths of the world (in the case of petroleum-based products such as plastics, synthetic textiles and such), or perhaps all three places and more if it’s a combination of materials. It’s born when those natural resources are mined or harvested (at great cost and great cost to the environment), and then hauled to a factory somewhere, a factory that pollutes, inevitably. It’s shaped and shifted into its final form (often in various factories), then shipped to various distribution systems and finally to the retailer.

I say finally, but it’s far from final. The life of this object has just begun to enter our lives, even though we’ve already paid for the destruction of our Earth just to own it.

Now we must transport it home, further polluting and consuming and paying — paying for the cost of fuel and maintenance of our transportation, unless it’s human-powered, as well as the cost of time, precious seconds of our lives that we’ll never get back).

All of that spent, it now occupies valuable real estate in our homes (or offices), real estate that could go to living space, or real estate that we could give up if we had less stuff and a smaller home. This is real estate that’s really expensive, btw: we pay exorbitant prices to own or rent a home, and every square foot of that home costs us more precious time that we spend working to earn the money to pay for that real estate. And that’s just for rent or mortgage. Add in the cost of power or gas to heat or cool that home, the cost of maintaining the home, and the time we spend maintaining and cleaning and decluttering and organizing that home and the stuff in it.

And yet, we’ve still only scratched the surface. The item, if it’s electronic, requires power. All the time. The item needs to be maintained. Switched on and off, cleaned, oiled, and caution taken not to break it. These are more precious seconds, precious dollars. If it’s wood or metal or glass, it might need to be polished. It might break a bit and need repairing. We have to store its warranty somewhere, and not forget about that (more mental cycles spent). We might have special tools for it, cleaning products, accessories. All of those require space and care and money.

And yet, we’re not even halfway there. I’ll spare you the rest of the narrative and just make a list.

And this is only a partial list. Some costs of owning stuff:

  • It clutters our space, causing distractions and stress.
  • We must constantly move it to get to other stuff, to clean, to organize, to paint walls or decorate or remodel.
  • We must take it with us if we move, and often if we travel. That’s a ton of trouble and costs.
  • Often we pay for extra storage, outside in our yards or in storage facilities.
  • If it breaks, we will often take it to be repaired.
  • If we have kids or pets, we have to worry about it getting broken, or scold them for not being careful with it.
  • If we get used to it, and it breaks, we’ll replace it because we think we need it.
  • If it gets old and crotchety, we have the headache of putting up with a less-than-functioning tool.
  • If we have too much stuff, it weighs us down, emotionally.
  • We get attached to our stuff, creating an emotional battle when we consider giving it up (whether we actually give it up or not).
  • If we have too much stuff, we live in a cramped space, and don’t have room for our other stuff.
  • Too much stuff causes more messes and is harder to clean.
  • We might trip over stuff and hurt ourselves.
  • If we don’t trip over it, we must worry about that each time we pass by the item.
  • If we went into debt buying the stuff, we must deal with all the pain and worry of that debt, added to other debt.
  • Even if we don’t go into debt, there’s the added burden of dealing with the financial transaction in our checking registers or financial software, or reconciling it with the bank statement. If we even bother, because sometimes it’s just too much.
  • It gives us a false sense of security.
  • It reduces the time we have to spend doing things, instead of worrying about, cleaning, maintaining, using, and working to pay for stuff.
  • It reduces the quality of the time we do have.
  • At some point, we must worry about (and spend time and money on) getting rid of the item. This means time and money spent on Ebay, Craiglist, a yardsale, giving it to a charity or friend or relative (and the driving required to do that), taking out a classified ad, dealing with buyers, and so on. A real headache.
  • If you die and leave your stuff, your relatives will have to deal with all of it. A real headache indeed.
  • If, goodness forbid, a natural disaster happens, or your home gets burgled, you’ll have to deal with the emotional loss of stuff.

I could go on, as you can probably tell. There is no way to calculate the true cost of stuff, as it’s way too complicated to put numbers on.

Just remember all of that, when you consider getting an item — even if it’s supposedly free. Nothing is free, when you consider all of the above. Are you ready to deal with the life of that item, and the life you’re going to give up to own it?

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