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Technology

It All Started with a Seed

Or a pit.

As winter came and all my outdoor herbs and leafy greens started to die, Kay and I started growing a few plants indoors. At first it involved simple tasks like bringing my basil and oregano plants inside and buying a $40 grow light. But it became a bit more complicated when I decided to take a leftover avocado pit and grow it into a tree. Yes, an avocado tree… Here in New York.

At first, I watched this pit do nothing but sit in a cup of water, so I decided to try it again. Kay and I have been eating avocados in salads and smoothies so we have a lot of pits to spare. I set up 3 cups with pits which eventually became 6 cups with pits because… why not? Just in case some failed I would have backups. Well, pretty much each and every one of them, with a little bit of patience, has turned into a small baby avocado tree.  We even gave both our mothers small 2 foot avocado trees (with fluorescent grow lamps) as Christmas presents.

Now there’s no guarantee these trees will bare fruit, but it got me thinking: if it was that easy to grow a southern fruit plant up here in the north (in a cup of water!), why couldn’t I grow all of my fruits and vegetables indoors? All you need is the right temperature (heated house), light (sunlight or grow lights), and fertilizer for nutrition. So that’s exactly what I did. I started growing a bunch of herbs such as basil, chives, rosemary, oregano, and more indoors. Kay and I started on this “clean food” diet, trying to rid ourselves from the harmful chemicals and pesticides that larger businesses use in their food, and this was the perfect way to do it: grow our own food.

Then came the experiments with garlic, onions, scallions, and more… Most with success (still waiting on the garlic but it’s looking good!) Then it dawned on me, I could use my spare room as a “greenhouse” (or a “greenroom” to be a bit more literal) and provide not just myself but maybe friends, family, or heck even local restaurants and grocery stores with herbs and leafy greens all year round. Next thing you know I’m writing a business plan and registering a new company with the state of New York.

Currently I’m growing over 100 herbs and leafy greens, over a dozen tomato plants, and some garlic, scallions, and onions. Some in soil, and some hydroponically. I just seeded sage, beans, carrots, peas, and sweet peppers.  Most of these plants will be my “safety” crop that is guaranteed to grow. I also have my “experimental” crop like the avocado trees and more recently my new Lemon, Lime, and Pomegranate trees that are being shipped in from California. The other experimental part of this is that I’m slowly testing out and expanding the hydroponic part of the operation. There seems to be many benefits to it including less bugs, diseases, and uncertainty. Studies have shown that the plants grow better and are actually healthier because they get more nutrients through liquid fertilizers.

I’ve even already found a local restaurant who is interested in purchasing my first harvest. I’ve started contacting grocery stores and was approved to sell at the Stormville Flea Market this summer. Who knows, maybe by this time next year I will be selling locally grown avocados and pomegranates from my Greenhouse in New York!

Below are a few pictures from the early stages of development:

Seedlings1

Seedlings in early January

Dutch Bucket System1

Building the bato bucket hydroponic system for tomatoes.

 

Avocado Pits

Different growing stages of the avocado pit.

Avocado Tree

A small avocado tree grown indoors.

 

Hydroponic Towers1

Building the vertical hydroponic growing system.

 

In the next few posts I’ll explain the soil and hydroponic systems I’ve set up, including the vertical tower system (above) which is finished and up and running. It holds up to 80 different herbs and leafy greens!

 

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How to Keep Your Facebook News Feed Set to “Most Recent”

Facebook has this annoying habit of constantly reverting to “Top Stories” instead of “Most Recent Stories”. If you check Facebook using a Desktop computer this trick will help:

Using any web browser, create a Bookmark for Facebook. Instead of having it link to “http://www.facebook.com” set it to: “http://www.facebook.com/?sk=h_chr”.

You can place this Bookmark in your top Toolbar for easy access. This will constantly send you to Facebook with “Most Recent” set instead of “Top Stories”.

Enjoy!

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How to Track Amazon Prices

I recently started glancing at a website called CamelCamelCamel before making certain purchases online. It allows you to search for a product or paste an Amazon URL of the product into the search bar and find the price history of it. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your opinion of the phrase “ignorance is bliss”.

I used this when researching a new running pack with hydration bladder (The Camelback Dart). I noticed the price dropped in the winter and rose again as spring came. I could either buy it now at full price or wait another season.

Dart

Let’s just say I kept myself hydrated on my last jog. ;)

On the other hand you may find a product you want, say, the RIO Glass Water Pitcher which I love and would like another one to take to work, but the price jumped from $22.01 to $29.95 and you’re not sure it’ll ever come back down.

rio

Do I suck it up and buy it, or wait hoping it comes back down? I could be waiting forever…

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Google Maps – Public Transit Mode

The other day I tested out Google Maps’ Public Transit mode. It told me it was going to take 9 minutes to get to Grand Central and that there was a train at 9:31, 9:37, 9:43 and 9:49. Sure enough one showed up at 9:31.

Google Train Time 1

 

And it took exactly :

 

Google Train Time 2

How flippin’ spot-on is that?!

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Ancestry DNA Review : Then and Now

About a year ago I signed up for Ancestry.com’s DNA beta program. At the time there was a waiting list and, if selected, you could send in your DNA via a saliva sample to receive results of where your ancestors came from and potential Family Tree matches from their website. The cost was $99. I had made the list, paid, and received my DNA Kit in October of 2012.

 

Inside the box was a description of the program, a kit to provide your saliva sample, and instructions on how to provide it the cleanest and purest way possible.

Several weeks later I received my results. (Don’t remember how long it was.) They were both interesting and questionable at the time.

In regards to my immediate family I know this:

- My mother’s parents are from Italy and Malta.
- My father’s parents are from Ireland and Scotland. And we believe England before that.

I was intrigued to find that I have West Asian DNA (ie: Persia, Turkey). My grandmother said she doesn’t doubt that as people sailed all across the Mediterranean Sea whether for trade or to relocate. What bothered me though was it said I had no British Isles DNA yet only 2-3 generations back I had people from there. I did a little research online and found several reviews and blogs with people who had this issue too. Ancestry’s official response was that the DNA was reporting roots from the Scandinavia and Northern European areas and that people moved into the British Isles. While this sounds plausible, you would think the science could provide a more in depth response. It turns out a year later, it can:

Due to scientific advancement and more samples coming in, the team at Ancestry is now able to more clearly specify your DNA results. You can see my nonexistent British Isle results before, now show 24% Irish and 10% Great Britain results. The hollow circles on the map are Trace Regions, which are “regions where you seem to have just a trace amount of genetic ethnicity – there is only a small amount of evidence supporting the regions as part of your genetic ethnicity”. These new results seem much more accurate, and make me really interested in finding the Western European and West Asian parts of my Family Tree.

There is another company called 23 And Me who take DNA samples and provide ancestral data, but also concentrate heavily on your health from what I can tell. I would love to try this but I believe they received a warning from the FDA to halt services until they can provide better proof that their results are correct and accurate.

It’s an interesting time we live in when a saliva sample can tell you who your ancestors are and what potential health problems you should look out for in the future.

FitBit Force Review

For my birthday Kay bought me the new Fitbit Force. If any reader is unfamiliar with “Tracking” devices for exercising or health monitoring, most of these you wear clipped on your clothes, as a bracelet, or armband. The Fitbit Force this a very sleek looking bracelet that monitors your movements throughout the day, and even night.

 

When using the phone App, the home screen will look like this:

Within each individual category are more specific stats. Here are a few:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in Sleep Mode it can tell if you’re Awake, Restless, or Asleep.

With the above pictures, each one was assigned a Goal such as taking 10,000 Steps, Burning 2,500 Calories, or being Very Active for 30 Minutes per day. Through the iPhone App (or on the web) you can even input the water or food you eat and the amount of calories you’re ingesting. You can even type in “banana” or “potato chips” and it’ll provide estimates of calories for those items.

The bracelet syncs to your iPhone via Bluetooth fairly seamlessly. Since I keep Bluetooth Off, I’ve noticed I have to have the App closed, turn Bluetooth On, then open the App for it to sync. (The App cannot be opened first.) You can set it to sync every time you open the App, or in the background periodically if you keep Bluetooth On. The overly-cautious person that I am is a little worried about wireless waves and radiation this close to me, so I turned that off. I did a little research online and found that the Fitbit emits radiation 10 times less than that of a cell phone. Unfortunately it does this via Bluetooth every minute (although cell phones do it with stronger wavelengths every few seconds.) One commenter in a forum calmed me a bit by mentioning that the radiation emitted is less than the typical amount of radio waves “floating” through the air everyday anyway.

I’ve contacted costumer support with questions and they’ve been very helpful. I actually wrote them on their Facebook page twice and received detailed responses very quickly.

Overall I really like the Fitbit Force. I’m a little over a week in and very interested in improving the amount of time I’m active and decreasing my restlessness during sleep. Hopefully a device like this can help, and it looks like it will.

UPDATE 07/24/2014:

It seems this page has been getting a lot of hits through Google. I just thought I’d write an update about my experience with the Fitbit Force.

Due to the recall announced by the company I returned it. I thoroughly enjoyed wearing mine from mid December through the end of February, nearly every day. I logged almost 200 miles using it and kept a record of almost everything I ate with the iPhone App that came with it. It was lightweight and I barely noticed it was on half the time. One of my only gripes is that you can not turn the Bluetooth function off. The radiation emitted from it, albeit small and supposedly harmless, scared me. When the next model comes out I will most likely purchase one, although a few considerations come to mind:

1. Will you be able to turn Bluetooth off?
2. Will it connect with the iPhones upcoming Healthkit app?
3. Will Apple release its own smartwatch by then?

But if you are given a Force or come across one on the cheap, I would definitely recommend considering it. It really made me aware of the lack of movement throughout my day, and even the amount of nutritional food I was taking in, and motivated me to do something about it.

Internet Tracking

It’s interesting what information companies on the web are tracking. I always knew Google had an automated system that went through my mail to offer me deals. When I was planning my trip to Vermont I saw deals on flights to Vermont and Tourist Information. What I didn’t know was that even when you leave a website they are still tracking you.

For the past few weeks I’ve been searching for some items for my office at work. I wanted to drastically redecorate it because I was using furniture and an area rug handed down to me from an editor who left the company. So I was researching a bookcase, accent table, and area rug in particular. Most of my research was on Amazon, Google Shopping, and Ikea. Well, several days in these types of ads started popping up in my Facebook Newsfeed:

 


Interesting, huh? Despite not typing any of that information into Facebook’s search bar, or mentioning anything of the like in statuses or messages, it knew I was shopping around the internet for those kinds of items. I guess that’s what those “cookies” are doing. Keeping track of where I go. Kinda creepy…

Oh well. Luckily I’m not an impulsive shopper. I’m constantly adding items to my Amazon Wish List (I love that feature). I made a separate Wish List for my office where I compiled all the furniture I liked and narrowed it down from there. You can even add items to the list not found on Amazon. As for my regular Wish List, I just keep adding items and when I have the extra money laying around (ha!), I’ll hop on over and order myself something nice.

A Pinterest for Travelers

A few weeks ago I was in Skytop PA with my family. It was a beautiful hotel with great food and a superb waitstaff. One night I was up late with my brother playing pool and we got to talking about everything from politics to girls to traveling. During the talk he recommended this iPhone App called “Trover”. It’s basically Pinterest for Travelers.

You can create a profile with “Lists”. Lists are basically albums of your photos or photos from other people’s albums that you’d like to hold on to. I have a List called “Alaska Road Trip” from my trip in 2011, and another list called “Bucket List” which includes other people’s photos. As I scroll through and find photos I like from places I’d like to go I put them on that list. You can also “Follow” people and their photos will show up in a “Discovery Feed”, kind of like Facebook’s News Feed.

Another neat feature is the “Nearby” tab. Whenever you’re in a new location you can open this up and it’ll show photos in a feed listed by distance, the closest being on top.

I’ve already got 61 “Thanks” on my photos, basically a way of people saying they liked my photo and thanks for sharing. One of my photos from a flight-seeing tour of Denali National Park in Alaska was featured on Trover’s “What’s Hot” list.

It’s a fun App for anyone who likes to travel. My only qualm is that you cannot create a List and then add photos to it. You have to go to a photo and then add it to a new List. Not a big deal, but a simple fix that would make using the App a little easier. One feature I do enjoy a lot is the Map that Trover creates for you. This is similar to iPhoto’s Places feature. As you upload a photo with GPS coordinates, it places it on a Google Map with all your other photos.

If you join Trover and would like to link up you can find my profile here: http://www.trover.com/u/theliberaltraveler.

 

Google Versus Bing

In recent months Microsoft’s been making a big marketing push with their search engine Bing. What’s interesting to me is how crappy it is. I actually clicked on a Bing ad on Facebook where you type in a word to search and it shows a side-by-side comparison of Bing versus Google. It’s attempting to show how superior Bing’s results are compared to Google. Funny enough, when it took me to the page it showed an error message.

I decided to check out Bing’s maps and directions site. Below is a side-by-side comparison of driving directions from New York to Utah between Bing and Google.

 

You’ll notice the distance is off by 1.3 miles. No big deal. They may have different center points for cities. But notice the driving time is 1 hour and 13 minutes different (when traffic is added for both).

I’m not sure which one is more accurate, but I find the difference in time very strange. Regardless, I think Google Maps is way easier and more elegant. They did just release an update which I’m still trying to get used to. A few functions are either gone or not as easy to use such as Terrain Mode and Street View. Hopefully they continue tweaking it to make it better.