STOP_CISPA_cybersecurity_lockdown_gridWhile most of us were focused on the unfolding events in Boston, the House of Representatives passed a bill whose language would allow government regulators and corporations to, among other things, collect data on your internet usage and determine what kind of content you can and cannot access on the internet. The bill, as currently contrived, is a broad assault on the Bill of Rights, attacking the 4th as well as the 1st, 9th, and 10th amendments. The internet should be free because, without that freedom, the innovation, exchange of information, and entrepreneurship that has defined the last two decades will come to a halt. If you are reading this post on Facebook, you have benefited from the free internet. Contact your Senators today and demand they vote against CISPA.

An Open Letter to the Wizards of Smart

A guest post by Pete Hitzeman


Dear educated so-and-so’s of every stripe,

We need to have a heart-to-heart. I admire the years of work and dedication you’ve put into getting where you are. I know, from my own intellectual and professional pursuits, how difficult, expensive, and time consuming your journey from layman to expert has been. I acknowledge without hesitation that your expertise does now and shall always exceed my own in your chosen field, and I am most often happy to pay you for the use of your advice or services.

That said, I need you to understand that I may know more about my situation and circumstances than you, and I may be far more educated on the topic at hand than you at first assumed. Just because I am a layman does not mean I am illiterate, and we now live in an age of instant, free access to virtually all of the amassed knowledge of mankind, which can be usefully navigated with a healthy dose of common sense and discernment. This recent revolution should be seen and utilized as the boon it is, rather than scorned and disregarded as noise.

I realize that this leads to an obvious problem. How can you tell me, the person who takes the time to know about things, from the other four hundred people you might see each day who simply don’t care? Well, at the risk of sounding trite, ask me. I want you to spend the first five minutes of our professional relationship talking to me, finding out what I know, and filling in what I don’t. You certainly have enough experience on the topic to know, in short order, whether I’m speaking from a point of sound knowledge, or simply blustering. It may seem frustrating and needless at first, but I promise you that it will save both of us time in the long run, since it will make our future communication far more efficient and effective.

In return, I promise to be open and honest with you about what I know and how I came to know it, as well as what I don’t know. There’s an equal chance that I have received bad information, as that you may have made erroneous assumptions. The truth, as they say, is most often in the middle. I would ask that you react to both my knowledge and my source with respect uncolored by your experiences with the customer before me. I am not them, just as I trust that you are not the same as the last professional I engaged, who fancied themselves as the sole arbiter of scientific knowledge.

So when I come to you to help me fix my car, or my computer, or my body, or my diet, or my exercise, I ask that you would do us both the favor of establishing a baseline of mutual respect and knowledge. We will both get more out of our interaction, and our business, that way.

Respectfully yours,


Science and Technology: Curiosity

In case you missed it, the Mars Science Laboratory, dubbed “Curiosity” by its builders, landed safely on Mars last night. Trust me, even if you don’t care, it’s a really big deal, and an important step for NASA after shutting down the Space Shuttle program.

What’s more, compared to a lot of things the government spends money on, Curiosity was cheap and produces a measurable good result in terms of raw science, development of technology, and inspiration.

We should do more of this stuff.


Read more at my Science and Technology weblog…

The razor’s edge

Last January, I started an experiment to see how many times I could use a single disposable razor blade before it was unusable. I discovered several years ago that the thing most likely to cause the blade to become dull was the moisture, oils, and salts left over from the shaving process instead of regular use. Critical to this experiment was the fact that I dried the blade after each shave and stored the blade face down on a tissue to wick away residual moisture.

A year later, I can report that I used the same blade to shave 85 times over twelve months, an average of 7 shaves per month. Granted, I do not shave everyday as some people do, but using this evidence, this blade would have lasted a daily shaver as many as 12 weeks. For a daily shaver, this would be a savings of around $50 over 12 weeks if you used the blades I use and replaced them weekly, or about $215 per year.

Further, even after 85 shaves, the blade I am using now is still usable and probably will be for some time to come. I expect that I may get as many as six more months before it has to be replaced, and it could last another year with proper care.

Now, I grant that I do not shave everyday, so daily shavers may get less performance, but the evidence so far is clear: it is possible to save hundreds of dollars a year on replacing razor blades by simply drying them before you put them away.

Why go to all this trouble to prove something like this? Because I believe frugality is one of the ways we are going to dig ourselves out of the mess we face as individuals and as a nation in the years ahead. I believe spending less, saving more, throwing less away, and reusing whatever we can are critical parts of making our way of life better.

Do you have other frugality tips? Let me know, and I will post them here.


The science of using what we already have

For a very long time, I’ve wondered about a core tenet of our modern, technology driven era: that what we have now is inherently better than what we have before. For example, most people will insist that farming with oil consuming tractors and modern implements is far better than anything we could have achieved continuing to use animal power, and they make that claim based on very little if any evidence.

It is because of that uncertainty that I was fascinated by the story of Bart Weetjens, a man who trains rats to sniff out landmines and tuberculosis. What Weejens has done is taken a modern, technological problem and solved it using an idea based on something that required very little technological development. His TED talk is an extraordinary understatement of the idea I think he has introduced.

And what is that idea? For me, it is the science of using what we already have instead of inventing some new, potentially damaging solution, to solve a problem. What if the problem with, say, using horses to farm isn’t that tractors are more efficient but that we never developed the technology to use horses far enough? Weetjens, I think, takes that approach with finding mines and disease.

What else can we apply this principle to?