DIY Tye-dye Shoelaces

I couldn’t find what I was looking for,  so I made my own!

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They are made out of 15 foot of paracord.  I dyed it with rit dye mixed with boiling vinegar,  1:1.  I made a loose wrapping and tied it with some string,  then dipped each side in dye for about 5 min per side.  Then I dried them in the dryer after rinsing them well.  I cut them in half and melted the ends,  then laced them in a “spider-web” lacing design.

The lacing design is from this site.  That’s an awesome site about laces and lacing.   The whole project took me less then half an hour and I was able to do exactly what I wanted with my laces.  I was getting tired of black boots with boring black laces,  now I have awesome laces!

Dosn’t everybody need awesomeness in their life?

-Fin

MOOCs, Coursera, and friends

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) turn the internet back toward education from entertainment. Multiple universities have toyed with the idea of posting classes online. MIT was one of the initial pioneers, publishing multiple lectures online with their “open courseware” initiative. The whole idea of open courseware opened a fairly significant debate with academics denouncing the quality of instruction or impacts to research.

Coursera takes the earlier MOOC initiatives and builds on them. Partnering with University programs, several extension or continuing ed classes have been published. I ran across the site while visiting a forum, with multiple people agreeing to jump in to a single class.

Let’s take a look at a few common questions I’ve seen posed about the MOOC experience.

Is it effective?

I completed the course “Write Like Mozart”, an introduction to classical music theory and composition. While I’ve played piano for a long while, theory has always been my weak point. Overrall, I left the course knowing a lot more about chord progressions, classical composition style guidlines, and an applied knowledge to several terms.

Effective? In this class, definitely. However, I do feel that the MOOC format (being “open”), inherently creates difficulties for those offering the courses. Write Like Mozart was largely INTRODUCTORY material, not a detailed dive into classical theory. This seems a common thread to all of the Coursera offerings. There is a complete lack of a development track for more complicated subjects.

What is the quality?

Courses at Coursera seem to be fairly over the map. Some classes are really awesome, some seem poor at best. The “Write Like Mozart” and Berklee School Of Music series were really well designed and implemented. I visited a few of the engineering classes, and wasn’t all that impressed.

Most courses have some fairly substantial weight behind them. The instructors themselves are qualified. However, some just aren’t really good. I see a mix of extremely active, involved teachers, and completely hands off. Each class has a different feel. I see a significant amount of community around a few. These are the gems. Then, there’s a few that leave me scratching my head.

The ones I’ve been working through or “auditing” have been very much worth the time.

What about interaction with other students?

In college, I joined a sum total of 2 study groups. And one, simply because there was a girl. Funny enough, I think I actually had significantly MORE interaction with other students through the MOOC format. Now, this wasn’t face to face, but through typed messages on a message board. Is that the same quality of idea exchange? I’d say it’s different. Each has some benefits.

College can definitely be significantly more social than the MOOC format.

Won’t Research Funding Die if this takes off!?

I’ve seen this objection from several academics. If MOOCs become popular, will students stop going to real college – instead opting for free online equivalents? Frankly, maybe the university systems NEEDS some house cleaning.

I’d need to drop at least a thousand dollars for the priviledge of taking a single college class. Much less gathering the credits I need to graduate. What horror – that information can be shared online for free!

Really though, I don’t think these sorts of classes provide the full support structure that an actual university does. And if they did, you’d see a bigger dollar figure required to work through them. I hope these sites being pushing full degrees. It’d reveal just how grotesque the current price of education is.

Real life classes still have an edge. There’s nothing that compares to asking a professor questions directly, visiting during office hours, or being able to interact with a full class. Also, there’s something to the idea of a SMALLER class. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd.

Conclusion

I’m a fan of Coursera overall. The site feels well designed, the classes are engaging, and the community is positive and supportive. I don’t think I’d compare it to my time in college. Of course, as an adult my goals are different. I hope more sites like Coursera pop up over time. After all, it’s what the internet was built for.

For those interested, my final project in “Write Like Mozart” is open for listening or viewing Noteflight.com.

— Fate

Chicken Feeder

I built my own chicken feeder out of a 4 foot piece of 5 inch pvc pipe and two end caps.  I had my brother cut all of them in half, then I glued the end caps on with JB weld and sealed it with some silicone to keep the feed from getting caught in between the glued part.  I made an L – shaped holder out of some of the scraps of wood left over from my fodder rack, and some stuff I found laying around.  I always keep scrap wood around, it always ends up coming in handy.

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I used some 2 x 4’s on the outside as well since the wood that is the chicken coop walls is pretty thin:

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Here’s the whole thing:

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It works out really well to feed the chickens.  I put their fermented feed in one side and the fodder in the other.  They always eat the fodder straight away, then come back for the fermented feed over the course of the rest of the day.

It’s a total hack, but I’m extremely happy with how it’s working for me.

-Fin

Some Yard Modifications

I put in the first fence to cross fence the yard in for the animals:

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I even built my own gate!  This basically fences in the yard that is attached to the gate in the garden, so now I have to go through 2 gates to get into the garden.  It’s a bit of a pain, but it’s worth it to give the chickens their own part of the yard, a rather large part, as well as keep the dogs from running up and down the fence line barking at the neighbor dogs on that side.

1 down, 2 to go!

Now If I could only keep the neighbor dogs from barking at me when I’m in the garden….

-Fin

Found in a Chicken

When the dog killed the chickens I got home in time and only one had been eaten, by a totally different dog then the one had killed them.  I went ahead and stuck them in the freezer (waste not, want not) to butcher later when I had time, it was late evening when I found them.  The we’re laying hens, that had just started laying again when the dog killed them.

While I was butchering them I found this inside:

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It was the first time I’d ever seen it and I thought it was super cool.

Damn dog.

-Fin

DIY Laundry Soap

I think every blog out there that has any kind of focus on DIY, frugality, or saving money has a post on making your own laundry detergent.  This one isn't going to be anything life shattering or game changing, just documentation on how I make my particular version. 

I've been really happy with my recipe for some time now, the last couple years I haven't tweaked it at all.  I've been making and using my own laundry detergent for around 8 or 9 years now and I don't ever plan on going back to store bought.  This recipe makes a detergent that has very little smell, and the smell it does have is faint, and tends to disappear the longer it is stored.  My clothes come out smelling like wet cotton, wool, or whatever material they are made out of, not artificial or even natural scents.  I have a real sensitivity to artificial smells and to really heavy natural smells so my main focus with this recipe in the beginning was to get away from the smell of the commercial laundry detergents on the market. 

I'm not really sure how environmentally friendly my detergent is, to be honest.  That is something I am probably going to have to research and tweak in the future when we are able to get on a grey water system.  It's probably something I really should research currently also, since I am concerned with chemicals and sustainability….however, I just haven't.  No excuses there, just something I really hadn't thought about, given I've been making this for so long, far longer then I've been concerned with sustainability. 

Well, here it is:

I start with a big Rubbermaid container, like so:

I add a full box of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda and a full box of Borax:

Next I add a big box of Baking Soda:

Usually the 4lb box.  Sometimes I get the 13lb bag from Costco and just try to guess at about 4lbs.  Real scientific, huh?  Its not really a big deal on getting the amount perfect, this isn't rocket science.  I use the Baking Soda to help remove odors and soften the water a bit more since we have fairly hard water.  Apparently you can make Washing Soda out of Baking Soda by baking it in the oven, however, I've never actually tried it as it's readily available in my neck of the woods and comparable in price to Baking Soda.  

Next I add a medium sized container of Oxyclean:

This probably isn't necessary, however, I do it anyway.  I like the way the soap works better with it, then without it.  I've tried both ways and prefer adding in the Oxyclean.  

I mix up everything I've added so far so its fairly evenly mixed.

Then I add 2 bars of soap, any soap will work.  Usually I use Dr Bronners, or something organic.  If Fate has made soap recently I will use that.  I actually prefer the soap Fate makes, but I make due with whatever I can get when his isn't available.  

I use a microplane:

 

and grate my soap into the container. If you don't have a microplane, no worries, you can use your food processor, I will go into that at the end.  No food processor either? You can use your cheese grater, however, I just don't feel like it breaks the bar soap up enough to really be worth the effort.  If you don't have a microplane or food processor you should really consider making the liquid version.

Again, mix well.  I usually mix in the soap several times as I'm grating it, it helps it to not stick together as much and I feel I get a more even mix that way.  

Now for the fun part.  Grab your pastry cutter:

I strongly prefer the type that has blades and is nice and heavy.  The wire type is fairly useless for cutting anything in to anything else.  If you get a thin bladed or cheaply made one it is just as bad as using the wire type.  The blades bend and are useless.  Invest in a good pastry cutter, not just for laundry detergent, but for general kitchen use.  If you don't have a pastry cutter, and don't want to go out and get one, a food processor will work, its just a whole lot slower.  

So, next I add a bottle of Dawn:

I prefer the citrus scents, however, it honestly doesn't matter what kind you use.  The baking soda will pretty much remove the smell from both the dish soap and the bar soap, so in the end you end up with non scented soap.  I highly recommend using Dawn over pretty much any other dish soap out there.  I've tried quite a few different ones, natural, organic, whatever, and I keep coming back to the Dawn.  It just seems to work a whole lot better at removing random grease and other stains from our clothes.  

I take my pastry cutter and a couple squirts at a time cut the Dawn into my powdered mix.  It really doesn't take much time at all to do this.  I make sure that the Dawn is cut evenly into all the powdered mix.  You should be able to make a ball of soap that holds itself together if you squeeze it in your hand, but shatters easily when you poke it.  As the mix ages it does tend to get a bit clumpy, however, its easy to break the clumps up with my spoon.   

If you don't have a pastry cutter, or want one, then I recommend using your food processor.  You can even grate up the soap with the food processor as well. I recommend using two large containers for this method.  First, mix the baking soda, washing soda, oxyclean, and borax together in one large container.  Take your bar soap and cut it into 1 inch x 1 inch or smaller chunks.  One chunk at a time run it through your food processor with your powdered mixture and dump it into the other container.  Repeat until all chunks are blended in. If you have anything left in the first container dump it into the second and mix everything well.  Next do the same thing with your Dawn.  Fill your food processor with your powdered mixture and drizzle the Dawn in until its ever so slightly sticking together. Empty your food processor into your empty container and run another batch until all the Dawn is gone.  If you have any powder left pour it into the second container and mix everything really well again.  

I really prefer the pastry cutter method to the food processor method.  Using the food processor tends to produce a fair amount of dust from the detergent that is probably not all that great for you to be breathing in.  You should be careful about that if you use that method, a face mask might be a good idea.  I never used one….but probably should have.  With the pastry cutter method there is little to no dust, especially if you are careful when you pour in the dry ingredients.  The food processor method also takes a whole LOT more time.  It always seemed like it would be faster to me, but it always turned into a really slow mess, with a whole lot of extra dishes to clean up.  I can seriously mix in the whole bottle of Dawn with the pastry cutter in less then two minutes.

Next, I jar it up!  I use quart mason jars for this:

Seriously, though, you can use anything.  I just use the mason jars because I have a ton of them….and I use them for practically EVERYTHING.  I tend to buy them at garage and estate sales for $.50 or less each, whenever I see them for that price.  We also recently got severl hundred jars from my Grandmother's basement, so I'm pretty set on jars.  

The last time I made soap this recipe as posted made me 11 quarts.  The cost worked out to a hair under $3.00/qt.  A batch of this will last my household around a year.  I have a front load, high efficiency washer, and I'm doing laundry for just the two of us.  I use about half a teaspoon per load for normal loads, and at most, for really dingy loads, I will use a full teaspoon, but that's rare.  This takes me about 15 minutes to make, including jarring it up.  

I highly recommend checking local prices and shopping around for your ingredients.  I linked to Amazon.com for reference, however, I can find all the ingredients locally for a lot cheaper then the prices online.  I can buy everything listed at my local supermarket, I'd check yours before ordering online.  

My DIY solution to fabric softener?

I buy it in bulk and use it for just about everything.  Its the best bathtub scum remover I've ever used.  Spray it on, let it sit for five minutes or so, and it comes right off with very little scrubbing!  

-Fin