Saturday, December 27, 2008

Passive Houses -- Simple Sophistication

I'm always looking for simple systems that work well. Passive houses seem like a great innovation: they are so efficient that they do not need furnaces and are heated by the occupants and other equipment in the house itself. A special heat exchanger allows a steady exchange of air with the outside to keep the house ventilated yet warm.

Unfortunately they are still too cutting edge in the US to make them practical but they are doing well in Germany.

Read more in the Dec 27, 2008 NY Times article: No Furnaces but Heat Aplenty in ‘Passive Houses’

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nutritiondata.com is the Best!

After I created the relatively healthy but still tasty Canola-meal Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, I wanted to find out how it compared to other cookies -- ideally by creating a nutrition label for it like those found on packaged foods in the United States. I started doing this calculation myself by reading labels and assembling all the information in my own spreadsheet. This was very tedious. In looking around the web for nutrition information about vanilla extract, I stumbled on http://www.nutritiondata.com/ and discovered that I could put my own recipe into it and have it calculate the nutritional results for me. Wonderful!

Having found this source, I looked diligently for others and found http://www.nutrientfacts.com/ and a few others. But these others were not nearly as good as http://www.nutritiondata.com/.

http://www.nutritiondata.com/
was by far the best, most thorough, and most accurate. Plus it allowed me to enter my own ingredients, assemble recipes, display the nutritional results of the recipes, and save it all for others to use.

Try it out for yourself! Enjoy!

Canola-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

7/8 cup - Canola Oil (instead of butter)
1 tbsp -Water (instead of butter)
1 1/2 cups - Brown Sugar
2 tsp - Vanilla extract
2 - Large Eggs

1 1/2 cups - Whole Wheat Flour
2 cups - Whole or Quick Oats
1 tsp - Baking Powder, Double-acting, Sodium Aluminum Sulfate
1 tsp - Spices, cinnamon, ground [Cassia]
1/2 tsp - Salt

12 ounce package - Chocolate Chips, Semi-Sweet


Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F. A stand or other electric mixer works best. Otherwise this is very good exercise for your arm. In a large bowl mix oil, water, brown sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs and mix. Add flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon, salt. Mix until well blended. Add chocolate chips and mix until chips are evenly distributed. Drop tablespoons of cookie dough 1.5 inches apart onto baking sheets (greased if necessary). Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cookies will be soft but should firm up some as they cool. Let stand on baking sheets for 2 minutes before transfering to racks to cool. Makes about 48 cookies.

This is the healthiest chocolate chip cookie recipe I could come up with (I created it myself based on numerous other recipes). I've also posted it at: http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts/recipe/792359/2 so everyone can see its resulting nutritional makeup as compared to the nutrition in a more traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe as described at http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts/recipe/792363/2 and http://www.verybestbaking.com/recipes/detail.aspx?ID=18476

(12/7/2009 -- added 1 tbs of water to recipe to better account for lack of butter -- butter contains a bit of water)

Copyright 2008 Tim Oey. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Smoking is a Dead End

Most know this, especially in California, but it bears repeating as many worldwide still smoke and/or tolerate it:
Smoking is a huge waste -- addictive, expensive, smelly, dirty, bad for the environment, bad for everyone's health.

It's amazing yet tragic that tobacco companies have made huge profits from killing others. And yet so many still giving them money to kill themselves.

Save money, save lives, stop smoking.

Read more at:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/hsn/20081015/hl_hsn/smokingmakesyouoldbeforeyourtime

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Prius Reaffirmation

The article 'Which hybrids save you money?" in the October 2008 Consumer Reports compared hybrids with similar all-gas models to see how the each car's 5 year total owner cost compared.

The Toyota Prius was a clear winner with the lowest total 5 year owner cost ($28,250) whereas the Lexus G5 450h Hybrid had the highest (70,250). So just picking a hybrid does not necessarily save money or the environment, but taking the total vehicle into account, can do both.

The Prius is a very nice family sedan with lots of features so it was great to confirm my earlier post that it is very economical as well (just as we would expect) -- useful features at a low total cost.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Reuse Boxes (instead of recycling)

Here is a quick and inexpensive moving and reuse tip: if you cannot find free moving boxes on your local freecycling list (like those listed at http://overcycle.org), look for local businesses that will sell you sturdy boxes and buy them back from you when you are done. The buy back price may not be much but it is something and it puts the boxes in a place where they will be used again. A good moving box can be reused dozens of times. Plus, standard sized moving boxes will hold your stuff better, are easier to move, and stack compactly in a truck whether you do it yourself or hire someone else.

The locally owned and run JDM Packing Supplies store (408-739-2500) at 1328 South Mary, Sunnyvale, CA 94087 is one such business (http://www.jdmpackingsupplies.com/).

JDM is also a great place to recycle styrofoam packing peanuts (you can drop them off in a box or a plastic bag). Finally, it is very well stocked with everything you are ever likely to need when boxing and/or shipping something. And they’ll ship it for you too via UPS or FedEx if you wish.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Digital Photo Frames are Way Cool!

Digital picture frames are an excellent way to see all of your digital photos without needing to get them printed on paper. Printing consumes paper and and chemicals. It's great to keep everything digital and more reusable (as long as the digital frame lasts for a long time).

Here are some I've tried. The number of different frames with skimpy specifications makes picking a frame confusing. And I'm leery of frames with TOO many features as well as ones with external dependencies that may require additional labor and expense.

--------------
The Smartparts SPX8 8-Inch Digital Picture Frame is a very good digital picture frame.

Pros:
- built in motion sensor turns off frame to save power when no one is around
- automatically copies and resizes photos into its own 256MB of memory (can hold about 3000 photos)
- crisp, reasonably large display size
- 800x600 pixels (4x3 ratio matches that of most digital cameras)
- mounts on wall or sits on desk in either portrait or landscape
- reasonable UI
- felt reasonably well constructed
- about $125 is a good price for it as of 8/7/2008 from Amazon.

Cons:
- can take a while to move and resize/optimize photos (other picture frames use photos directly from memory card so may require zero time to start display, but then need to leave card in the frame, yet cards are inexpensive these days).

Price on Amazon seems to go up and down somewhat. I can recommend this product because it works well. (Better than the other 2 digital picture frames I have -- see below). The Smartparts SPX8 was one of the frames recommended by Consumer Reports in their July 2008 issue.

The main remaining features I'm thinking about are an even larger display and possibly a WiFi connection that works easily to get more pictures to the frame automatically -- but I have not found a WiFi frame that works well for this yet.

--------------
The Philips 6.5-Inch Digital Photo Frame is a good picture frame.

Pros
- plug in a card with pictures and go!
- crisp, clear display (720x480 resolution is good match for frame size)
- reasonable UI
- felt reasonably well constructed
- $100 is a good price for it as of 8/14/2008 from Amazon.

Cons
- really requires you to leave a separate memory card in the unit (but at least gigabyte cards are large and cheap).
- to maximize image quality and space use, resize pictures to 720 x 480 ahead of time.
- no auto motion sensor to turn off frame when no one is around

I can recommend the Philips 6.5-Inch Digital Photo Frame because it works well and meets expectations. The cons are really missing features that other higher priced models such as the SPX8 may have.

--------------
Axion AXN-9701 7-Inch Widescreen LCD Digital Picture Frame is a poor picture frame.

Pros
- cheap
- pictures do cycle continuously

Cons
- disappointing resolution at only 480x234, not well matched to screen size
- really needs separate memory card
- must make a manual selection to start picture show

I do not recommend the Axion AXN-9701 at all.
--------------

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Data, Numbers, Knowledge

Numbers are powerful. Unfortunately too much data often obscures meaning and people routinely misuse statistics and numbers in their decision making.

For those who wish to bring clarity and light to numbers, I highly recommend the book “Turning Numbers into Knowledge” by Jonathan Koomey. His book is a useful, practical, and easy-to-read tool to help regular mortals analyze numbers and reach well reasoned conclusions. The ability to deal with numbers, statistics, and data is a skill important to all citizens in a democracy. Please give it a read.

(Disclosure: Jonathan is a friend and college schoolmate).

Be seeing you!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The best Sunnyvale to San Jose bike route

Here is the best (prettiest, lowest traffic, fewest stoplights, most trees & shade) bicycling route I know from Southern Sunnyvale to Adobe Systems headquarters at 345 Park Avenue in downtown San Jose and back again:
Sunnyvale to San Jose Bike Route using Google Maps
San Jose to Sunnyvale Bike Route using Google Maps

Sunnyvale to San Jose using Bikely (click on title of map below for bigger version):




It's about 11 miles and passes many parks and schools. Credit to Roberto Perelman for showing me the bulk of this most excellent biking route. I've been using it periodically since 2001 or so and Roberto rides it daily.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The best way to dispose of dog poop

Based on my research, the best way to handle dog poop is to use a reusable pooper scooper and flush the poop down a toilet.
Pros:
- Sewer systems are designed to handle poop (yours and your pet's) safely and effectively (this was verified by calling the local sewage treatment plant in Sunnyvale, California)
- The poop is treated and recycled fairly quickly and safely back into the environment
Cons:
- Need to carry the poop to a toilet
- Need to purchase or make a reusable pooper scooper


Here are other alternatives generally listed from healthiest for environment to least healthy.

Use a flushable poop bag and flush down a toilet.
Pros:
- Sewer systems are designed to handle poop
- The poop is treated and recycled
- Easy to carry bag around to pick up poop
Cons:
- Flushable bags can "melt" in rain or other very wet conditions
- Flushable bags should be kept sealed in another plastic bag before use
- Flushable bags are a bit expensive and hard to find
- Flushable bags smell a bit


Put the poop in the trash.
Pros:
- Sometimes easier than flushing down a toilet
- Easy for poop picked up in a plastic doogie doo bag
Cons:
- Dangerous to sanitation workers
- Poop is not recycled easily back into our environment in a landfill
- Takes up landfill space
- Uses up plastic bags (which do not decompose very quickly)


Hire a pet waste pickup service.
Pros:
- Someone else does the dirty work
Cons:
- Expensive
- Poop probably just ends up in the trash in which case those cons also apply
- It takes extra energy and causes extra pollution for a service to drive to and from your house


Put it in a "doogie doolie" septic system.
Pros:
- Does attempt to recycle poop and get it safely back into environment
Cons:
- Expensive
- Takes work to set up and maintain
- Have to purchase system
- Can smell
- Can spread disease
- A real septic tank system is much more effective, these smaller septic-like systems are usually too small to work safely and effectively


Bury it.
Pros:
- Cheap
Cons:
- Takes a bit of effort to dig hole
- Can still spread disease and smell
Comments:
- May be the best option when you are very far from civilization


Leave it were it is.
Pros:
- Cheap & easy
Cons:
- Spreads disease to you and your pets
- Greatly increases the local fly population
- Messy to step in
- Smells and is unsightly
- Illegal in many public areas
Comments:
- This is generally the worst option.

---------- October 15, 2008 addition ----------
Additional supporting references can be found at:
http://www.slate.com/id/2200638/
http://www.tappwater.org/what-pet.aspx?a=viewPost&PostID=2242
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/sourcewater/pubs/fs_swpp_petwaste.pdf

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Tastiest Kabobs in Sunnyvale

There are a number of Mediterranean and other restaurants that sell kabobs in Sunnyvale, but the one my family likes most is City Kabob (http://citykabob.com) -- a "hole in the wall" place in the Sunnyvale Tennis Center next to Las Palmas park. The proprietor is very friendly, you can dine outside with dogs or inside without them, and it's easy to bike to. The lamb, chicken, beef, and koobideh kabobs are all tasty as are the roasted tomatoes. For a low carb option you can get the kabobs with salad or 1/2 salad 1/2 rice.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Toyota Prius -- an incredible car

The Toyota Prius is the best car I've yet purchased and owned. Here is why:
- excellent gas mileage (I'm getting about 50 mpg now, my previous car got just 21 mpg)
- it's a family sedan that holds 5 adults (pretty much the same size inside as the Toyota Camry)
- hatchback design allows it to hold lots of stuff too
- excellent product design all around (ergonomics, features, etc)
- networks seamlessly with my cell phone for hands free calling with excellent voice quality both ways
- direct power and audio inputs for iPods and other music devices
- well designed navigation system
- soft touch controls for most operations on center console
- most frequently used controls are right on the steering wheel under your thumbs so your hands rarely need to leave the steering wheel -- including phone controls, climate controls, radio controls, and more -- and they are clear and easy to use too
- lots (!) of places to stash stuff
- sturdy well designed cup holders
- comfortable seats with lots of leg room for rear seat passengers
- it just works correctly and is very reliable.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Consumer Reports

The magazine and web site provide the best independent expert advice for consumers in North America -- from money to health care to cars to consumer products. Their articles are not always perfect but they are far, far better than advice from just about any source (especially better than random anecdotes from friends). And when they make a mistake, they admit it and publish a correction.

read more | digg story

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Effective Charitable Giving

You should "spend" your charity dollars wisely so they are used as effectively and efficiently as possible on what you want to support. The following are a few simple tips to maximize the effectiveness of your charitable giving.


Goals

What are the best ways to help the world? Who do you want to help most? End world hunger? Promote peace? Educate people? Rescue refugees? Help children?

Write down your giving goals or areas first so you have a plan for where your charitable giving will be invested. Rank or weight each category if you wish as well.


Budget

How much do you want to give out in a year? Write down how much you can afford to give or want to give in total. Then divvy it up among your giving areas


Research

What charities do the best job in the areas that you want to support? How effectively and efficiently do they use the money that people give them?

Research your charities to find the ones that best match your objectives, will use your money well, and won't line their own pockets with it. When you have a list, use your budget and goals to determine how much to give to each one.

By far the best charity research sources I've found are:
http://guidestar.org
http://give.org (Better Business Bureau)
http://charitynavigator.org


Maximize

Figure out the most efficient way to transfer your money to your charities so the maximum amount possible goes to the programs you want to support and as little as possible goes to middlemen.

Give enough to each charity so your money is not eaten up in administrative expenses. There is an expense for each transaction. Giving at least $100 to a charity is a reasonable minimum amount as of 2008.

If you keep your charity list short, you will minimize return mail asking for more money. Such mail consumes more of what you give.

NEVER give out money to anyone who calls you. They are most likely a contracted firm that takes a significant cut of the money going to a charity. Or worse a scam artist is simply trying to steal your money.

Giving directly to your charity usually cuts out most middlemen. While a bit more work for the giver, writing a check usually maximizes the funds that the charity actually gets. Note however that the charity does incur some costs in handling checks. If you do online banking then you can often save a few steps and a stamp by having your bank send the charity a check. Plus then the bank helps you keep records of who you gave money to and when.

Giving by credit card is convenient but credit card companies typically take a 5%+ cut from donated funds as a transaction charge. Do you really want to make

One of the most efficient and convenient ways I've found to donate is through the Network for Good (http://networkforgood.org) using their "TeleCheck" option. The Network For Good tells you exactly how much is going to the transaction processor. TeleCheck charges a simple flat fee -- so the larger the donation the smaller the percent that gets diverted. Plus the Network for Good returns a nice compact summary to you of how much you donated to whom.

Both http://guidestar.org and http://charitynavigator.org have "Donate Now" buttons that link directly from their charity reports to http://networkforgood.org for those charities that can receive funds from the Network for Good. This way you can do your research and donate all at the same time.


For more information

If you would like more detailed tips, please read the Better Business Bureau's "Tips on Giving" at http://give.org/tips/ -- they are quite thorough.


You may send a copy of this to your friends!

Copyright 2008 Tim Oey
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A beginning

I'm far from perfect but I usually do a good job of researching what I write and what I do. Like any journalist or writer, I do my best to find the truth. This particular blog is dedicated to best practices for individual consumers -- optimizing economics, ethics and ecology -- at least from my perspective (generally everything is relative).

I'm a college-educated mixed-race male living in California with a wife, 2 sons, and 2 dogs.

My other main blog is http://timoey.blogspot.com. It is dedicated to whatever else I feel like writing; whereas this blog is more focused.

I hope you all enjoy what I have to share.

Cheers,
Tim Oey