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Hydroponics Abound
4/23/2007 7:45:00 PM

Good news for us... Our new hydroponic gear has arrived.  We spent most of the weekend getting it up and running; but we're pretty pleased with the results.


Some of you may remember the MegaGarden from the previous posts.  It's the red square on the right side of the picture.  The MegaGarden is a compact ebb-and-flow system.  We've been very happy with it, especially for wheatgrass.

The new addition is the TurboGarden.  It's the larger white unit, on the left side of the picture.  The TurboGarden is an aeroponic unit.  Aeroponics is a really unique method for growing.  The plants sit in net pots (which rather resemble pool skimmer parts).  Rather than being "flooded" like the ebb-and-flow, the roots of the plant are continuously sprayed with nutrient solution.  The spray is fired from small jets underneath the pots.  Although I haven't yet proven the theory, the idea is highly oxygenated nutrient gives far superior results.  We'll have to find out with a few trials.

If you notice a large difference in color across the picture, you're very right.  Nothing is wrong with the camera.  The D80 is just fine.  We're running two very different lights over the two units, with very different appearances.  We run a 125W Compact Fluorescent over the MegaGarden.  It's particularly well suited for vegetative growth.  We're using a new Hortilux 400W HPS (High Pressure Sodium) bulb over the TurboGarden.  The HPS bulb has a very yellow light, as it's meant to support fruiting and flowering plants.  We hope to grow the wheatgrass and sproutlings in the MegaGarden, and grow the mature plants in the TurboGarden.

It took a long time, but I'm really pleased with the PVC frame that we built for the TurboGarden. I didn't want to put any holes in the ceiling, as this is a new endeavor.  The PVC light stand worked so well on the MegaGarden, that we decided to build a bigger and better one for the new unit.  It's all done with 1" PVC, no glue necessary.  We wanted it to be stable, be able to support the light, and be able to support plants as they grow.  If you notice the frame at the top... We'll be dropping plant supports from those as the plants grow.


This closer shot of the TurboGarden shows that it's still mostly empty.  We moved our baby tomato plants into the new aero.  They're the small green fellows.  I'll admit that we bought some strawberry plants from Home Depot (the dark green leafy ones).  I wanted to see some fruit in the near future, and it looked like an idea setup.  We removed them from their soil and washed their roots.  They seem happy in the substrate.  In theory, the warmer light of the HPS bulb should cause them to flower and fruit.  Only time will tell.  The 15 strawberry plants in the back yard are already flowering.  We ought to get a large crop from the outside bed alone.


This picture is a much closer view of the strawberry plants (foreground) and the baby tomato plants (background).  I hope the tomato plants are old enough for the aero.  We should know soon.  They seem happy at the moment.

We're still working through the aeroponic thing.  I'm still experimenting with the best methods for water change and fill.  The TurboGarden holds much more water than the MegaGarden, so it's going to be quite the learning experience. 

Wheatgrass Experiment Update
4/17/2007 6:33:00 PM

The wheatgrass experiments continue...

We're using the baskets we made to facilitate staggered growing, so that we will always have a fresh batch.  They aren't ready yet, but here's what the MegaGarden looks like at the moment:


The sprouting fellows in the front corner aren't wheatgrass at all, they're baby tomatoes, lettuce, and eggplants.  Once they're ready, we'll be moving them to a new home in an aeroponic system.  We've ordered it, but it's not here yet.

We've ordered a TurboGarden made by American Agritech.  We decided to give our (new) local shop a try.  It's the Newark branch of Healthy Gardens.  In addition to the new aeroponic unit, we've got some new lighting on the way (that's more suitable for fruiting plants, such as tomatoes).  Our existing lighting is great for vegetative things like wheatgrass, but not suitable for fruiting and production.  I'll post updates once the gear arrives, and we have more details.

I Said The DST Switch Was A Bad Idea...
4/17/2007 8:05:00 AM

Take a look at this little morsel, reprinted from Passably News:

A fifteen-year old boy in America was incarcerated for twelve days, wrongly accused of making a hoax bomb threat - because his school had forgotten that the clocks had gone forward.

Cody Webb was arrested last month, after Hempfield Area High School received a bomb threat on their student hotline – which provides a range of information to students about the school - at 3.17am on March 11th. They believed they'd found the culprit when they traced the phone number they thought was responsible to Webb.

Unfortunately, the school forgot that the clocks had switched to Daylight Saving Time that morning. The time stamps left on the hotline were adjusted by an hour after Day Light Savings causing Webb's call to logged as the same time the bomb threat was placed. Webb, who's never even had a detention in his life, had actually made his call an hour before the bomb threat was placed.

Despite the fact that the recording of the call featured a voice that sounded nothing like Webb's, the police arrested Webb and he spent 12 days in a juvenile detention facility before the school eventually realised their mistake.

Webb gave an insight into the school's impressive investigative techniques, saying that he was ushered in to see the principal, Kathy Charlton. She asked him what his phone number was, and , according to Webb, when he replied 'she started waving her hands in the air and saying “we got him, we got him.”'

'They just started flipping out, saying I made a bomb threat to the school,' he told local television station KDKA. After he protested his innocence, Webb says that the principal said: 'Well, why should we believe you? You're a criminal. Criminals lie all the time.'

All charges against Webb have now been dropped.

The most amazing part of the story is the quote from the principle.  Incredible.  I hope his family nails her to the cross as an example. 

Happy Birthday Pica
4/15/2007 10:24:00 AM

It's baby Pica's birthday; today she's turning 18!

That last statement couldn't possibly be more incorrect.  Although we love little Pica; we really don't know her birthday.  Back when we got her (in 2001), she was already an adult.  By our best guess, she was 11 years old at the time.  Since we didn't know her birthday either, we decided that it would be April 15th.  Just because Pica had a hard life before she met us; that doesn't mean she shouldn't have a proper birthday like the other dogs in the family.

Pica's an old little fluffball these days.  Kindly, she allowed me to take some pictures for her birthday.  I even caught her with her tongue out:


Also, there are lots of Pica pictures in the gallery.  Click here for all the ones that feature her. (including some recent ones) 

Hydroponics Followup: Baskets, Tomatoes, & Mold Prevention
4/12/2007 6:19:00 PM

As I've continued to experiment with the hydroponics setup for my wheatgrass; I continue to learn interesting and useful things.

The first crop of wheatgrass has been fully harvested.  Some of it is still in the fridge, awaiting the juicer.  I've done my first full tear-down cleaning of the MegaGarden.  Here's a picture of the MegaGarden at the moment:


I've decided that I don't need the full capacity of the MegaGarden for growing wheatgrass anymore.  I ended up producing more than I could use, and I ended up wasting some of it due to poor planning.  Here's the new idea:  We've made small baskets by using plastic canvas  (that we bought at AC Moore).  Plastic canvas is commonly used by people doing yarn projects, but we had other ideas.

The baskets are made from two pieces of material.  Firstly, we cut a square.  Secondly, we cut a long strip (long enough to wrap all the way around).  We wrap the long one around the square, and sew it with fishing line as we go.  It takes a little time to make them, but they should give us more flexiblity in the future.  We tried it, and yes, they are dishwasher safe.

The baskets will allow us to grow enough grass for one ounce of juice.  Also, since they keep the seed separated, we will be able to stagger the growth cycle in the garden.  Although the picture above doesn't really show it, the seeds were started two days apart.  Hopefully, we can get the grass into a natural cycle that matches our juicing demand.

The odd-looking basket in the top-left doesn't contain wheatgrass; it's filled with Rockwool cubes.  We're starting other plant varieties in the garden.  The Rockwool is the staring point for our tomatoes.  I'm sure they will take a long time to mature, but that's ok.  We've got the extra room, and I'd like to see what happens.  From what I've been told by HydroFarm; I should switch to a 200W Compact Flourescent bulb when the tomato plants begin to flower.  That makes sense.  More light should drive greater growth.

Also, I recently learned something the hard way.  I ended up having to tear down the whole MegaGarden for a cleaning after a mold outbreak.  Mold started to appear on the roots of my mature wheatgrass, then on the seeds.  In retrospect, I was being dumb, and the mold was a normal reaction.  Here's the moral of the story:  Don't run your pump (for flooding the tray) when the lights aren't running.  Ideally, the tray should be dry when you shut down the lights for the night.  I was running my flood cycles at 15 minutes / hour, 24 hours a day.  That meant that the floods were still happening in the dark hours of the night.  Secondarily, I forgot to turn on the lights for a day; so that only made things worse.  No problems now; live and learn.

I should probably set up a timer for the lights, but I've been switching them manually up to this point. 

It's funny how things work out:  I started this because I couldn't find a lot of information about hydroponic wheatgrass.  Now I'm ranked on Google for that very topic.  I admit that I'm not near the top (yet); but I'm sure it will improve over time.

Mazda Goodness
4/10/2007 6:45:00 PM

I did something pretty unexpected last night.  I bought a new car!

Recently, we had lost a lot of faith in my (not so) trusty Ford Focus.  We'd been making continual repairs, and it was getting a bit old.  We've been looking for a while; and Wick was doing some serious investigating for me.  We narrowed the field considerably.  Here were the orginal contenders, and why they were eliminated:

First Round Cuts:

  • All Chrysler Products:  Does this one really need an explanation?  Way to build sucky vehicles, guys.

Final Contenders:

  • Ford Focus ZX5: My existing Focus was nicer than the new ones.  They've really started cutting corners.  I was terribly disappointed in the quality.
  • Toyota Matrix: Canned entirely on advice from my mechanic. He sees lots of then.  Often.
  • Honda Fit: I was too big to drive it comfortably.  It's a shame, I wanted to like it; but it wasn't to be.
  • Nissan Versa: Actually, I liked the Versa a lot.  I almost bought one.  Great interior.  That SmartKey system is sweet. Only criticism: weird seat-folding (not flat).
  • Mazda 3: Winner, and current mode of transportation.

The Mazda really isn't a huge departure for me.  I've been very happy with the five door "short wagon" format for a while now; and I don't expect that to change any time soon.  The Mazda has better internal organization than the Focus.  It's quieter on the road as well.  I can't explain why, but it feels larger, even though the dimensions are pretty close.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't unhappy with the Focus (except that it wasn't reliable).  The Focus basically sucked since the Disney trip.  It's so disappointing to see Ford falling apart. 

Also, I can't mention strongly enough how nice it is to have an integrated AUX input to the car's stereo.  It's nicely integrated into the center console; so you have a convenient place to stick your mp3 player.  I don't use an iPod; I've got a Creative Zen.  I like it, but I liked the previous generation more (when they didn't need a cord to connect, they had a male USB plug integral).  I look forward to giving it a try as soon as I extract my Zen from Jessawick's clutches.

The Mazda also offers a lot more storage than the Focus.  I like the under-the-bed storage trays (for you emergency crap).  It really cleans up the look of the car.  Very nice.  Also, how can you not love having four cup-holders.  Sweet.

I ended up buying it from Martin Mazda, down near the University of Delaware.  I didn't actually play on making a purchase yet; but when they heard I intended to visit the Nissan fellows next (for a second round); they did whatever it took to make a sale.  Each time I went for the door, the price went down and the value of my trade went up.  I suppose they accomplished their mission; I did buy a car before I left the dealership.


I decided to take a picture of it before we left the lot.  I figured it might never look this good again.  Yes, it was late at night.  The deal wasn't done until after 10:00 PM.

Greenery Is Here
4/10/2007 8:51:00 AM

Even though it doesn't feel like spring is here yet, the Greenery theme is in full effect.


Wheatgrass Nutritional Redux
4/6/2007 6:41:00 PM

As you may have noticed, I've been doing a lot of writing about wheatgrass lately.  Although the results have been very favorable, I've decided to take a step back and ponder the results for a moment.

I've noticed that the vast majority of wheatgrass information on the internet is biased; usually from a sales perspective.  I've seen websites claiming that wheatgrass contains every vitamin you'll ever need.  It looks to me like people might just be overselling it a bit.

Lots of things are overrated.  Let's get to the facts.

I've managed to locate a few quantified items about wheatgrass.  Here are a few websites that have lab results posted:

After reading through all the different reports; I've drawn a few conclusions:

  1. Although wheatgrass does contain a number of beneficial compounds, it's by no means a multi-vitamin.  It contains a good quantity of Vitamin A and Vitamin K.  If you're drinking 1-2 ounces of it; you'll get a good daily load (~2000 IU A, ~55mcg K).
  2. The content of Vitamin C has been highly overrated.  Although wheatgrass juice does contain some Vitamin C, the quantities are pretty small. They're not going to add enough to your diet to get you to a good level. (I don't think the normal recommendations for Vitamin C are enough anyway, I like 2500+ mg per day).
  3. Wheatgrass does not contain the secrets of world peace.
  4. The statement "15 pounds of wheat grass is equivalent to 350 pounds of the choicest vegetables." is crap.  Although Ann Wigmore made a lot of solid points about healthy living, she was more of a true believer than a researcher.  Click here to read part of her book, The Wheatgrass Book.
  5. Chlorophyll is really the strongest ingredient in the juice.  Although it's not a supplement in the traditional sense (as the human body doesn't uptake Chlorophyll very well), it does offer powerful effects as an anti-mutagen.  It's good stuff to have rolling around in the digestive system.
So, what's the deal with wheatgrass then?  It's not a magic bullet; but that shouldn't be a big surprise.  It's a good thing to make part of diet, and we could all use some anti-mutagenics.  I'm still undecided on the anti-oxidant properties; I haven't found enough solid research to make a final determination.  I plan to continue growing and juicing it, but remember, it's part of the solution, not the entire solution unto itself.
New Code Released
4/5/2007 6:39:00 PM

Some of you might remember the previous posts about the Content Control.  It's a client-editable content management tool for building websites.  I built it a few months ago, and it's become the foundation for a lot of new work.

I'm proud to announce that I've released both an update to the Content Control AND two totally new projects.  Here's a quick description of the three of them:

  • The Content Control (client-editable regions in a web page, implemented as a control)
  • The Blog Control (a fully validating and CSS based blogging engine, implemented as a control)
  • The Photo Gallery Control (a fully validating and CSS based photo gallery, implemented as a control)

I originally created the Content Control because I wanted the flexibility of a CMS without the overhead and commitment. A CMS isn't part of the site; the site runs inside the CMS.  I didn't want that kind of lock-in.  So I built the Content Control.

The Content Control is meant to be inserted into a page; and it acts as a client-editable region.  It doesn't impose any constraints on the containing page; and it leaves the developer free to format it as they choose.  All said, it's worked very well.

Since the Content Control worked so well; I started looking at other projects that could benefit from the same philsophies...

I've used a number of blogging packages in my time; and to be truthful, none of them really made me happy.  They were typically packages that set up a site, provided blog features, and offered some degree of customization.  Rarely did their code validate.  Usually you could easily tell a blog package at "first sight".

I wanted a blogging package that didn't dominate the site.  I also wanted a blogging package that I could radically restyle using CSS. Additionally, I wanted something that complied with established web standards.  I couldn't find anything like that; so I started building.

It seemed natural to me that it should be implemented as an ASP.Net control.  Controls are like small programs that you can insert into a web page.  By implementing it as a control, this meant that a person could have multiple of them in the same site; and they wouldn't conflict.  The Blog Control uses the same TinyMCE editing interface as the Content Control.  It also offers a number of optional features, that make it quite easy to customize.  If you're reading this, you're probably already looking at the Blog Control.  I use all of my controls on my website.  Wanna guess what runs my blog?

The third control in the series is the new Photo Gallery Control.  I realized that my friends were getting jealous that I had a really sweet photo gallery (and they didn't).  I decided to re-implement a photo gallery similar to that on BarnyardBBS as a re-usable control, so I could share with the group.  While I was working on it; I decided to make some improvements to the original design.  The Gallery Control features automatic image resizing (custom to screen size), automatic thumbnail creation, easy administration, simple categorization, and magic EXIF reading code.  It's all compliant code and CSS-styled.  I switched BarnyardBBS to use the new Gallery Control (from the custom gallery we used to use) last month.  I've been testing and refining.  It's solid now.

I've been busy, and I've got another surprise.  I've built a new complete sample project for the controls.  It contains a complete working website, which demonstrates all three of them in one working package.  It begs to be customized.  Furthermore, I've made an online test drive of the controls.  You can see all the controls in action; including admin mode (where you can make changes).

Try the Test Drive now; or download the code as a package.

Also, here's my page devoted to the controls.  It includes coverage of all three ASP.Net controls, and the PHP version of the Content Control.

Additionally, I've posted the new sample project and source code to SourceForge.  You can visit the SourceForge project here.

I've put a lot of time into creating the three controls, but they're really helping people to create great websites.  You can see the newest controls in real-life action at Ancora Imparo, as it was the pilot site for the new Gallery Control.

Followup: Daylight Saving Time (DST)
4/3/2007 7:12:00 PM

It's nice to know that people agree with you once in a while...

ArsTechnica and Reuters are reporting that the Daylight Saving Time (DST) legislation that I discussed previously has had no measurable effect...

A brief quotation:

Reuters spoke with Jason Cuevas, spokesman for Southern Co. power, who said it plainly: "We haven't seen any measurable impact." New Jersey's Public Service Enterprise Group said the same thing: "no impact" on their business.

So while the US government pats itself on the back for at least looking busy, know that the main goal—energy conservation—has not been met. We can still argue over other supposed benefits, like the supposed reduction in crime (which returns in November?) and the fact that many people seem to simply like the change. As far as the purpose of the move is concerned, that appears to be a total flop.

It's nice to know that all the work was worth it.  Personally, I put about 20 hours into the conversion.  Remember, Microsoft didn't offer a patch for Windows 2000 (and earlier).

Millions of computer systems and electronic devices needed to be patched or upgraded.  That created lots of work.  In many cases, devices were left unpatched; which broke their original functions.  For example, many devices intended to automatically switch for old DST now switch at the "wrong" date, and are inaccurate.

What a waste.  It's a shame nobody told Congress that the DST switch would be a bad idea. In fairness to the reasonable legislators whom were present, I'm going to list those who objected, spoke, or voted against it.

Ron Wyden (D-Oregon):
  • "Our dependence on foreign oil will not be reduced as a result of this legislation. As a result, we have not reduced the prospect of going to war once again in the Persian Gulf in the next decade."
  • "This legislation does virtually nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

Hillary Clinton (D-New York)

  • "I oppose the bill for two reasons. First, it contains a number of highly objectionable provisions. Second, it simply ignores several of our most pressing energy challenges, such as our dependence on foreign oil."

Senator Voting Against (the good guys).  Sadly, it's a short list.  Notice how it's the northeast corner of the country (mostly)?

Thankfully, both Senators from Delaware voted against.  Good job guys.

  • Biden (D-DE)
  • Boxer (D-CA)
  • Carper (D-DE)
  • Chafee (R-RI)
  • Clinton (D-NY)
  • Corzine (D-NJ)
  • Dodd (D-CT)
  • Feingold (D-WI)
  • Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Gregg (R-NH)
  • Jeffords (I-VT)
  • Kennedy (D-MA)
  • Kerry (D-MA)
  • Kyl (R-AZ)
  • Lautenberg (D-NJ)
  • Leahy (D-VT)
  • Martinez (R-FL)
  • McCain (R-AZ)
  • Murray (D-WA)
  • Nelson (D-FL)
  • Reed (D-RI)
  • Reid (D-NV)
  • Sarbanes (D-MD)
  • Schumer (D-NY)
  • Sununu (R-NH)
  • Wyden (D-OR)

The Representatives list is far too long to include, but Delaware's Mike Castle voted against.  Good job, Mike.