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  • Why I’m not afraid of GMOs

    Posted on May 18th, 2019 admin No comments

    People don’t seem to realize that almost everything we eat has been genetically modified for greater yield, better flavor, etc. through centuries of selective breeding. Somebody spots a trait in a plant or animal that seems useful — say, higher milk production in dairy cattle — and that trait is given preference when the organism is reproduced. This is called artificial selection (as opposed to “natural” selection). The history of maize is a good example.

    Genetic editing is a relatively new method of doing the same thing, and it’s human nature to resist change and to fear the new and relatively unknown.

    There is always ignorance, as well, about new products or processes, such as those people who somehow think that GE involves “pumping chemicals into the plants” or that GE is somehow another form of “chemical additive”.

    Gene editing is a natural process done by bacteria as a way of protecting themselves from viruses. We’ve figured out how they do it, and are applying the technique (called Crispr) to replace one gene with another .

    I’m not talking about “frankenfoods” or “frankencritters” where DNA from one species is spliced into that of another. I’m talking about gene editing, where a modified gene from the same species is inserted in place of the original gene. One example is the gene that makes cut apples turn brown. While another few hundred generations of selective breeding might produce a non-browning apple, the GE variant is here already, created by silencing the gene that causes discoloration.

    The aim is to produce plants with higher yield, better insect/disease resistance, better nutrition and taste. It can be done in a thousand years with selective breeding, or it can be done in a generation or two with gene editing.

  • Parts of an Axe

    Posted on April 12th, 2019 admin No comments

    Basic Parts

    Asked to name the parts of an axe, the average person will say, “Uh… the head…and the handle… and, uh…” And that’s a pretty good start, since the head and the haft or handle are in fact the two basic parts.

    Basic Parts of an Axe

    The Head

    The head is the working end of the axe, the entire V-shaped metal (usually steel) cutting portion. There is a wide variety of head styles developed in various locales and for various purposes, and the names of the parts may vary as well.

    • Bit or blade – the tip of the “V”, that cuts into the wood (the sharp part is sometimes called the cutting edge)
    • Toe and Heel – being the top and bottom portions of the blade
    • Cheeks – the two sides of the head between bit and the hole where the handle goes. Each side may also be called a Face.
    • Eye – the hole through the head where the handle passes (or the portion at the top of the head where the handle sticks through or can be seen)
    • Wedge – a smaller V of wood, metal, or plastic driven into the top of the handle to secure it firmly in the eye
    • Butt or poll — the flat end opposite the V of the blade
    • Beard – oddly named, the underside of the blade immediately forward of the haft on the blade side
    • Shoulder – the underside of the blade immediately behind the handle on the butt side.

    The Handle

    Variously called handle, haft, or helve, depending on region, this is the user end of the axe. Traditionally made of wood but today of fibreglass, composite, or steel, the handle can be curved or straight and in various shapes and lengths.

    From axebyp.com
    • Back and Belly refer to the rear and front surfaces of the handle
    • Knob is a swelling on the “bottom” of the handle, furthest from the head, designed to keep the handle from slipping out of the user’s hands
    • Some types of handle have other parts, such as Toe, Heel, and Grip, as shown in the diagrams.
    • Throat – shown in the top diagram as being the highest part of the Back, but sometimes (by comparison with human anatomy), the part of the Belly just below the head.

    Axes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, designed at various times and places for a range of users and purposes. Although the names of the parts may differ from place to place, those shown here are fairly common.

    Further Reading

  • Selecting an Axe by Size

    Posted on April 12th, 2019 admin No comments

    Select an Axe by Size

    It is important to have a tool that’s not to big or too small for the intended user. An axe that has too heavy or too light a head, with a handle that is too long or too short, is an axe that poses a potential danger to the user and to bystanders.

    Weight of the Axe Head

    A light hatchet head might be one to two lbs (0.5 to 1 kg). A typical forest axe is 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 lbs (1 kg to 1.5 kg). A splitting axe is in the same range. A splitting maul might be 4-1/2 to 8 lbs (2 kg to 3.5 kg). An axe that is too light or too heavy will be more work to use, the first because it is uncomfortably heavy and the second because more swing effort will be required to drive the light head.

    A stronger person may be more comfortable with a heavier axe head.

    A variety of sizes of axe (note that the three to the right have identically designed heads)

    Length of the Axe Handle

    Axes come in a range of lengths for each type.

    • A hatchet may range from 8″ (200 mm) to 14″ (400 mm),
    • A forest axe might range from 28″ to 36″ (700 mm to 900 mm)
    • A camp axe will be 20″ to 24″ (500 to 600 mm).
    A variety of head weights and handle lengths

    Generally the shorter handles also have lighter heads. Because an axe is a lever, the force of the head is magnified by the handle. A handle that is too long takes excessive effort to wield and will be dangerous in the hands of a small or unskilled user with insufficient strength (who will choke up on the handle, compounding the danger), while a handle that is too short cannot apply sufficient force and may strike at an awkward angle.  Generally speaking, a taller user might be more comfortable with a longer handle. A smaller user or a youth will find both a lighter head and a shorter handle to be convenient.

    There may also be carrying considerations – backpacking or canoeing may dictate a shorter, lighter axe, for example.

    For efficiency and safety, choose the right axe

    For most efficient cutting and greatest safety, choose an axe that is right for the job, with a head weight and handle length that suits the strength, frame, and skill of the user.

  • A Terrible Teacher

    Posted on April 12th, 2019 admin No comments

    I once had a terrible university prof. Instead of teaching the course, he just listed study after study that we had to memorize. There seemed to be no order; just random studies. Many of his students were failing the course and considering lodging a complaint to the dean. I actually loathed the man.

    A few students were managing passing grades. I approached them and asked what they were doing. Their answer was that they carefully noted the order in which the studies were presented and on exams carefully regurgitated them in that precise order.

    One day, around mid-term, it occurred to me that each study either blocked off a false line of inquiry or led to another approach…which the next study either blocked or clarified. The studies were arranged with an inexorable logic like bricks building a wall.

    It was an innovative and unusual teaching method, with the students left to figure it out or not.

    The professor never explained this (would have made sense to have done so, and certainly helped his class) but once I understood what he was doing, I began to get top marks in the class. Not only could I recite the studies in the proper order, I was able to explain the logic and order and what each study contributed to the growing body of theory.

    Once I had “got it”, we got along a bit better. He turned out to be like Dr. Cooper on “Big Bang Theory”, a brilliant man with quirky social (and teaching) skills who later became my mentor for my Honors Thesis.

  • How Much Does a Good Axe Cost?

    Posted on April 12th, 2019 admin No comments

    What is the cost of a good axe?

    There are several factors that determine the cost of an axe, but the price is not always related directly to the value. Of six apparently identical axes in a rack, one may well be worth more than the others. Here are the factors to consider:

    Axe head considerations

    A well-forged head will not split or crack, but cheaper axes may not be well-forged. A head that is annealed and hard enough to maintain a good edge may also chip if mistreated.

    Most axes in hardware and camping stores are general-purpose splitting axes, with a wide bevel at the bit, and a convex shape towards the eye.

    “If you just casually camp and want to split wood at campsites where chunks are likely to be gritty – stay with a cheap axe: it will be more durable and the less acute bevel will split knotty stuff better.” – James Aston, http://www.oldjimbo.com/survival/iltis.html

    Axe handle material also affects the cost.

    • Wood is the traditional material and remains the most economical, though cheaper axes use poor wood of low strength and questionable grain hidden by paint. While some feel it is the most ecologically friendly (because of the cost and environmental impact of other materials), it does require regular maintenance and care.
    • Fiberglass – stronger and lighter by comparison to wood, but more costly. Because it is relatively impervious to moisture and abuse by porcupines, and because it damps striking vibrations, it is an increasingly popular choice in standard axes and especially on splitting mauls.
    • Steel – Unibody axes, with head and handle forged as a single unit, are high-end models. The striking force transmitted down the handle is damped with a rubber grip. One popular brand that uses steel handles is Estwing. Cheaper versions may have a tubular steel handle brazed into the eye of a standard head.
    • Composite – New plastic/fibreglass composite materials are finding their way into handles for axes and hatchets.The handle is molded around the head, eliminating the eye. Fiskars and Gerber are well-known brands using this design. Other composites include a fiberglass core, a polypropylene sleeve, and an elastomer grip.

    Watch for sales

    Of course, you’ll want to watch your local stores for specials. Sometimes top quality tools are available at discount prices. You might luck out for a good discount at a “scratch and save” event. Manufacturer’s specials also come up from time to time.

    Get the best axe you can afford

    When choosing an axe based on cost, you’ll still want to look for a tool that will be suited for its intended use and user. Your goal is to select the best axe you can get for the price you pay.

  • Select an Axe for a Purpose

    Posted on April 11th, 2019 admin No comments


    Over the centuries, axes have been developed for a wide range of uses, from war to woodwork. While the war-axe has fallen out of use, those used in forestry and camping have continued to evolve, especially in regard to handle materials.

    It is the purpose of this article to assist the user in selecting an Axe by type and purpose.

    Utility Axes

    • Hatchet – a small light utility axe, designed to be portable (worn on a belt or carried in a pack). It will trim branches, split kindling, drive tent pegs, section meat. It usually has a light head with a narrow bit (blade) and a handle with a swell knob to prevent the axe from slipping out of the hand. Easy to use and control with one hand.
    • Limbing Axe or Small Forest Axe – similar to the felling axe (below) but with a lighter, slightly thicker head and a shorter handle, used for limbing (cutting branches off) fallen trees.

    A small forest axe is an excellent utility camp axe and is the type usually sold in sporting goods and hardware stores in a variety of head weights and handle lengths. A 20″ (500 mm) handle and a 1.5 lb (0.7 kg) head is a good choice, long enough for effective two-hand chopping, light enough to choke for one-handed use, and short enough for convenience and portability.

    Felling Axes

    A double-bit axe. The near edge is for felling, the far edge for limbing.
    • Felling Axe or Forest Axe – A felling axe is a professional axe for taking down trees.  This axe will have a longer handle and a slim blade with concave sides so that it cuts deeply and takes out large chips.  It is not intended as a general purpose or camp axe.  It will also have a shaped handle opposite the head.  A small forest axe is used for limbing, as described above.
    • Double-Bit Axe – This is the axe people associate with Paul Bunyan. According to The Axe Book from Swedish axe maker Gransfors Bruks, “Typically one blade was sharpened to a finely-honed, narrow ‘felling edge’, while the second blade was ground slightly blunter.” The blunter blade was used for limbing on the ground, where the sharper blade would be liable to damage.

    Splitting Axes and Splitting Mauls

    A heavy splitting maul — one of the few axes designed to strike with the poll
    • Splitting Axe – Designed for splitting chunks of wood (rounds) into stovewood or firewood, the splitting axe has a concave, thin bit and a thicker eye. This design allows the axe to penetrate deeply then force the wood to split at the thicker part. Various headweights and handle lengths are available.
    • Splitting Maul – This is designed for splitting heavy rounds. The head is heavier and thicker than that of a splitting axe, and the rounded poll is hardened for driving splitting wedges. Generally comes with a straight handle to permit use of both blade and poll.
    • Mechanized Splitting Axe – This design has a couple of cams or rotating levers inset into the head, designed to lever the wood apart. The head is made of cast iron rather than forged steel and is particularly thick to support the pins holding the cams in place.
    A mechanical splitting axe

    A Safety Note: The average axe is not meant to be used to strike with the poll or butt.

    When selecting any axe for a particular purpose, price is an important consideration. Cheaper axes often have handles made from low-grade wood with poor grain (hidden with paint), poorly shaped heads (often too thick for good cutting) and badly forged (again, covered with paint). 

    Choose an axe designed for its intended use, but don’t cut too many corners on cost.  A good axe will hold its edge, cut well, and last for years.

    Further Reading

  • About Axes

    Posted on April 11th, 2019 admin No comments

    In 2005, I began a series about axes on an online writing site, Suite101. I’ve used a variety of axes since adolescence, did a stint of logging with my father and uncles, took some survival courses that involved axe work, and was later involved as an instructor with Scouts Canada, all of which I felt gave me enough knowledge to be a reputable source.

    The series included the following topics:

    The series was popular and drew many comments, which unfortunately I was not able to recover when Suite101 was taken offline. However, I did manage to salvage the original articles, which I hope to re-post in the next few months.

  • Are Expired Foods Dangerous?

    Posted on April 9th, 2019 admin No comments

    What foods are dangerous/toxic after their expiry date?

    We’ve had a hard time convincing our wasteful kids that a “best before” date is a guideline, not a “throw away before” date. Is it really all that dangerous to consume “expired” foods?

    Foods that are fresh, that have been handled frequently, and that are unprocessed are a bad bet. Meat, leafy vegetables and their juices, soft cheeses come readily to mind. They might not even make it to the “expiry” date. On the other hand, you know that things like apples and citrus will last a fair while on the counter, even longer in the fridge.

    Processing and Preservation

    Processed foods, frozen foods, treated foods, dried food, preserved foods — these will last considerably longer if properly stored in undamaged containers/packaging. Mankind has been storing food in various ways throughout our history — drying, salting, freezing, submerging — and mostly it works. The food lasts, and it doesn’t (usually) make us sick.

    Things like beef jerky and freeze-dried food in their original sealed pouches, dry macaroni, unopened crackers, dry cereal and the like can conceivably last months or even years past their recommended date. They don’t have enough moisture for harmful bacteria or molds to grow.

    Even mold on bread or hard cheese does not require discarding the food. Cut away the moldy parts, with a good margin for safety, and the rest is okay.

    Canned food, and sealed foods like jam or pickles, work by keeping nasty microbes out. Canned food is usually dated for two years, but provided the cans are not dented, leaking, rusty, or bulging, they should be good for two or three more years.

    You might have to put up with a stale taste or freezer burn, but those things are not necessarily dangerous.

    A case study: Freeze-dried food

    Tucked up in a cupboard in our cabin, which is unheated in the winter and can get pretty hot if unattended in summer, we had some freeze dried meals that we’d forgotten about. We took them down and found they were five years past their “best by” date, which was 1 year after purchase. So they had sat for six years through numerous freeze/thaw cycles.

    We cooked them according to package directions and they were fine. Well, as fine as dehydrated meals ever are.

    I reported this the the manufacturer, who said they were required by law to put that one-year expiry date. They had been in business for over 10 years and their first products were still okay and as far as they were concerned the things should be good for a century.

    But that’s a special case — a food specifically designed and packaged for longevity, with an artificially low expiry date.

    Food Roulette

    Conventional wisdom is “If in doubt, throw it out.” Millions of dollars of perfectly good food hits the landfills using that principle.

    Generally speaking, if it looks okay, and smells okay, and its package was intact, and it’s not too far past the expiry date, it’s probably okay. That’s a lot of ifs. Here’s one more: If you’re a competent adult, you can make a choice to play food roulette. Chances are pretty high that you’ll survive.

  • Segway Tours

    Posted on April 8th, 2019 admin No comments

    Segway Guided Tours

    Personal Transporter Intuitive, Easy to Use.


    About the Segway personal transport

    The Segway Personal Transporter (Segway PT, originally called Segway Human Transporter or Segway HT) is a self-balancing two-wheeled electric vehicle invented by Dean Kamen. It was first introduced in 2001 and is produced by Segway Inc. of New Hampshire, USA. Although initial sales did not meet expectations, later models found gradual acceptance with police forces, warehouse personnel, and – increasingly – urban tours. My wife and I took one such tour in Yuma, Arizona in 2009

    Tom & Dawn on Yuma Segway tour

    Riding the Segway PT

    Riding a Segway PT, we found, is as intuitive as walking. Users lean forward to go forward, with the forward speed proportional to the amount of lean (up to a limit built into the device). Stand upright to stop or remain in place. Lean back to go backward, again with proportional (and limited) speed. Although the original HT/PT used a twist handlebar to turn, our models turned with a “Lean Steer” handlebar, leaning it left or right to go in the appropriate direction .

    “I was a bit afraid of it, at first,” said my wife Dawn, who was 62 at the time we took the Segway tour in Yuma. “But Kate, the tour guide, was very patient, and it only took a few minutes before I felt confident. It’s really easy to use.”

    “Our oldest rider was 85,” says Kate Cook of SegwaYuma Tours. “He had no trouble at all.”

    Cook and her husband Steve, a retired airline pilot, started their Segway Guided Tour company in 2007. “We were looking for a good business, and recognized a need for this kind of thing in the Yuma area,” Steve explained. The Yuma tour will take a maximum of six visitors. “We offer up to a half hour of training, then a 90-minute tour through historic downtown Yuma, over the Ocean to Ocean Bridge, through Yuma Crossing, along the Colorado River to Pivot Point.”

    Segway Guided Tours

    “Transporters are becoming popular because they allow tourists to cover much more territory than a walking tour while still offering an up-close-and-personal experience, a quality often missing from bus tours and similar excursions….This often results in a tour that is much more fun and lively than a traditional mass-market tour,” claims the Segway Guided Tours Directory.

    We rode around a good-sized chunk of Yuma on our tour

    According to that Directory, the number of Segway Guided Tour companies had grown by 1000% since 2004 to the time of our tour. It now lists 651 tours in 436 cities in 56 countries. Of 319 currently (at time of writing) listed independent tour operators in the United States, sixty-one (61) are in Florida, with California a close second at 48 (48). At the time we did our Yuma tour, those figures were 200 worldwide, 18 in Florica, and 21 in California, which shows how much the activity has grown in the past decade

    In addition to U.S. locations, the directory features tours worldwide in areas as diverse as Lithuania, Turkey, Italy and the United Kingdom; the number of international Segway guided tour operations doubled between 2006 and 2008.

    Environmentally friendly

    Here’s a little green propaganda from the Segway folks.

    Zero emissions are only part of the benefit of using a Segway PT. You’re doing more than just shifting your consumption from petroleum to electric. Everything about the PT was designed to use that electricity as efficiently as possible. When you dig a little deeper, and compare the source fuel (petroleum vs. the fuel mix used to produce electricity), plus the cost of distributing or transporting the power, the Segway PT is eleven times more efficient than the average American car, and over three times more efficient than even the highest-mileage scooters.

    The Segway PT has many benefits for you and the environment: less gas to buy, easier to park, and less wear on your car. It can also help reduce the impact of global warming by reducing our greenhouse gas output and consumption of imported fossil fuels.

    Changes to Segway Tours

    The Cooks retired and sold their business some time ago, and we lost touch. However, there is still a Segway tour in Yuma and I’m sure it’s well worth a visit. Some tours may now use the newer Segway Minipro or its lighter Ninebot cousin.

    If you have a chance to take a Segway tour, we certainly recommend that you give it a try.

    A version of this article was originally posted on Suite101.com

  • The Garbage Truck Philosophy

    Posted on April 6th, 2019 admin No comments
    I didn’t write this. Originally posted to Suite101.com by
    Thomas Alan Gray
    Aug 26, 2009

    The Garbage Truck Philosophy

    One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us.

    My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches!

    The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was really friendly. So I asked,’Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!’

    This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, ‘The Law of the Garbage Truck.’

    He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they’ll dump it on you.

    Don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don’t take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets.

    The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day.

    Life’s too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, so –

    • Love the people who treat you right.
    • Pray for the ones who don’t.

    Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it!

    Have a blessed, garbage-free day!

    * * * * *

    More articles on simple living (These links are dead but will be restored soon)

    The Joy of Cottage Life

    Teardrop Travel Trailers Pros & Cons

    Natural Tinder for Starting Campfires

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