Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Back to the Future: Reusing Soda Bottles is not a new idea, and it's about time it came back to the USA

The cola companies are starting to spin a new idea: Reusing bottles. Coke and Pepsi are both jumping to figure out how to do this successfully.

Here's the rub: This isn't new; the USA used to know how to reuse our bottles.

I wish I had a photograph of my mother and I returning our large, glass soda bottles (RC) to the local market in Frederick, MD. Returning soda bottles for cleaning and refilling was the norm in the 1970s in the United States and there was a whole network/system in place to pickup, clean and refill these bottles. 

Then this entire network to reuse bottles was dismantled, leaving us with a throw-away economy.

There are a handful of articles out there, talking about this change, and they just don't capture the tragedy of the situation. We HAD this figured out; the structure was in place to support this. People had jobs doing this important work. Now it all has to be restarted. But I guess better now than never.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Why is the Iowa Caucus so important?

For some reason, Iowa gets to go first when it comes to the United States’ national primary process. And for some other reasons, it didn’t go so well here in 2020. Words like chaos, debacle, and ‘unmitigated disaster’ seem quite popular to describe it. As an ‘Average American,’ with no connection to politics or the campaign industry, here’s my take on it.

Who cares.

As someone who does NOT live in Iowa, or #2 New Hampshire, I have always felt baffled and bitter that these two states - for no rational reason that I can discern - get to narrow the field of candidates before I even have a chance to voice my opinion. 

In some ways, the Iowa issues have leveled the playing field a tiny bit this year. There’s no clear ‘winner’ that the media can then crown with statistics for the next week. This uncertainty is going to - gasp - force people to pay more attention to the entire field of candidates. 

Perhaps this ‘mistake’ is a blessing in disguise. People are talking about this being the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back,’ and I hope it is. I hope this is the end of our ridiculous staggered primary system. Because having my primary vote actually count for something sounds like a step toward a shorter campaign cycle and better democracy. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Shutdown Insanity: Day 32

Twenty-five years ago, I studied at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was young, starry-eyed, politically active, and cartooning for The Daily Tar Heel. Then I graduated and moved on to other pursuits, like … working, commuting, raising a child, etc.

But the events of the past few years, and particularly the Federal shutdown of the past 32 days, have gotten me so upset, so frustrated, and feeling so powerless that I snatched up my pen again and started scribbling away.

It is ironic that our dear elected officials pay themselves to bicker while forcing others to work without compensation. Others like … the protective details who are armed and tasked with maintaining security for these same officials, the TSA screeners who prevent dangerous devices and individuals from infiltrating the planes that these officials travel on, and the air traffic controllers who then prevent these aforementioned planes from crashing into each other.

Can one cartoon make a difference? Perhaps it can.
I’m issuing the ‘Shutdown Cartoon Challenge’ to all the amateur cartoonists and artists out there, no matter how active or inactive they may currently be. Please jump back into the fray, even for a just a few sketches. The pen can be mightier than the sword, and a good picture is still worth 1000 words (and maybe more than 100,000 tweets)

Shutdown Day 32

And when you pick up your drawing pen, also pick up your writing pen. Contact your Representative. Contact your Senators. Contact your President. Tell them how you feel. Make your voice heard.

Personally, I’m  going to contact my elected representatives and request that a bill be introduced that requires that if any part of the government is furloughed or unfunded due to Congress and the Executive branch not being able to agree on a budget, that all elected officials will be required to work without pay and they will NOT receive back pay. The Democrats want Social Equality? The Republicans want to cut government Spending? Here’s a bill they should both agree on.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Craft Stick Collage

I'd been hoping that my son's elementary school would do a full-school art project, and this year my dreams came true. The art teachers decided to do a project using craft sticks. Every child would paint a craft stick, and these sticks would then be put together into an art piece and hung. Sounds easy, huh? Well, it wasn't as easy as we thought, but the result looks great. This post is so that other schools/parents can learn from our trial and error!!

Painting the sticks

The art teachers used craft sticks (aka tongue depressors) for this activity.

The teachers cleverly taped the sticks to paper, so that the kids had a personal work surface that prevented the sticks from sliding, prevented mess, and made the sticks easy to dry on the racks. Each child painted their stick using craft swab(s) -- like a one-ended q-tip with a longer wooden handle.

They used acrylic paint -- specifically Chromacryl --  and the
teachers gave them some tips on color theory, pattern, and texture beforehand. (Mixing of 'muddy' colors was discouraged, but inevitable especially in the younger grades.) Words and images were not allowed as subject matter, to make the sticks more uniform and prevent potential content issues.


Two art teachers and 3 moms gathered to talk about the logistics of assembling the sticks together into a coherent piece of artwork:
  • How many sticks would we have?
  • Should we try to do one big panel of sticks, or several?
  • What should we attach the sticks to ... canvas? wood? foamcore?  The base needed to be strong, but not so heavy that a bunch of moms couldn't handle it. But not so fragile that it could break or bend.
  • Should the colors be randomly arranged, or in color families?
  • Where could we hang the final artwork?
  • How could we protect the sticks from damage?
  • How to hang the artwork on the wall?

Math and Mockups

We needed to 'sell' the idea to school administration, and also to plan our approach. So we started work on 2 pieces: a concept panel and a virtual mockup of the final product.

We decided as a group that plywood might be the way to go as our foundation, so one mom got a small piece of it, made some sample sticks with her kids, and created a proof-of-concept panel.

We then took photos of the proposed space - a bland stairwell - and mocked up what it would look like using pixlr.

Here's the math in a nutshell:
  • 949 sticks painted by students, plus we wanted to add a few 'label' sticks
  • We decided on 4 panels of sticks, so we could divide up the assembly work and also keep the weight of each piece lower
  • To get a number divisible by 4, we rounded up to 960 sticks, which mean 240 sticks per panel. (We filled in with some teacher-made sticks to get those last few.)
  • 8 sticks made a 6" square, so 960 sticks created 120 squares of 8 sticks each, which could be arranged to fill a 30"x 36" panel. Adding a 1" border to the panels made the final size 32" x 38" 

Panel Purchase and Assembly

This was the most time-consuming part.

The Panels

Plywood comes in 2'x4' and 4'x8' panels, so we had to get the bigger size and get it cut to the sizes we needed.  We used 1/4" thickness plywood to keep down the weight.
[It took a long, long time to get help at Home Depot to cut the plywood panels. Plan HOURS for this. If the math works out, it would be ideal to be able to use one of their 'precut' panels of 2'x4', but that size just didn't work for our space and our concept]

The wood panels looked a little rough, so we sanded the edges and then painted them a blue acrylic color, which would look nice on the cement walls. (TIP: put weights on the panels after painting them to prevent warping.)

The sticks

First, lay out the sticks.

My son and a neighbor's daughter did this for my panel. Their 'job' was to make sure that the colors and patterns were randomly distributed. We didn't want one square of all rainbow sticks and one of all greenish-brown sticks.

Then, it was time to glue the sticks on with wood glue.

This process took several days because it was key to line up the sticks properly and then weight them to prevent warping.

I had great success binder-clipping 2 yard sticks to the panel to use as guides in lining up the first squares.

Then I worked on one 8-stick square at a time.

I put the glue on the board, first, but I know that one of the other moms put the glue on the sticks.

Either way, it was critical to make sure that the sticks were lined up and not overlapping.

Then I used a plastic clipboard and weight to weigh down each square. I used plastic so that if a little glue got on it, it was easy to pry it off.

I let each square dry for at least an hour before going to the next square. We worked from top left to bottom right, like a puzzle.

The varnish

We used Mod Podge to create a varnish-like coat. We really poured it on; the goal was to fill up all those holes between the sticks, so they'd be more secure and dust-resistant.

Hanging the Panels

Each panel, with sticks/glue/mod-podge, ended up weighing about 9 lbs. Being below 10 lbs allowed us to use industrial strength Velcro as a hanging option.

The hanging took longer than we thought.
Originally we thought we could easily do this in an hour, but it took 3 of us over 2 hours to measure the wall, mark the wall, double-check the marks, peel Velcro, and stick the panels.

End Result: A Masterpiece of Sticks

We are super proud of how this turned out! Total cost of supplies to make the panels, not including paint/sticks/brushes (which were part of the school's art budget): about $120

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The American Presidential Campaigns are Wasting Money on a Colossal Scale

My dad has dementia, and he can no longer be at home. He needs to be in a facility that can handle his ups and downs. Dementia facilities are expensive. VERY expensive.  And far away. So I have been doing a lot of driving and thinking recently.

I was absently listening to the radio during a recent expedition, when the announcer started talking about the huge amounts of money being spent on the 2016 presidential campaign. Obscene amounts of money. For Ads. Advertisements that do and say nothing more than how much the 'other guy' stinks.

So while these donors and PACs and candidates toss money at consultants and agencies to come up with slick slogans, my family and others like us are burning through our life savings fighting a horrible mental disease that apparently is not sexy enough to have lots of money tossed at it.

And it made me sick. Sick to think of all the suffering and sickness and pain there is all around us and yet these self-proclaimed leaders spend millions on ads and jingles and buttons. Our political system is flawed and our campaign system is completely broken.

How can we stop this nonsense? If this money wasn't going toward campaign waste, how much good could it be doing ...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Creating the perfect Halloween Costume for Tracer of Overwatch (Part 2)

Here it is. Our costume inspired by the Overwatch character Tracer for our 7-year old son. It was quite the creative endeavor, greatly aided by duct tape ...

The core elements of the character: the bomber jacket, the power-pack, and the goggles.

For the power-pack, we took the two battery-powered lights I had acquired and put them inside two white Chinese take-out containers. Tracer's pack is blue, so we experimented with coloring the container with a blue Sharpie and also putting some blue paper inside of it.  Then we duct-taped them onto cardboard, with slots in the back to reach in and turn the lights on/off.  I actually re-cut the cardboard after I took these photos, to make the foundation shape an X rather than a diamond, so it was easier to duct-tape onto the straps ...

For the straps, I criss-crossed 2 lunch box straps and hooked them together on the sides, then duct-taped the power-pack onto the straps. By then moving the hooks on the bottom/sides of it, it became somewhat of a vest that we could unhook and take off for riding in the car.

To create the jacket, I used an old, lined, brown Lands' End jacket (or was it L.L. Bean? Who can really tell the difference, anyways) and turned under the hood to make it look like a collar. Then I sewed on the patches we bought from Serephitic. (If I hadn't found those, I had planned to draw/color the patches, seal them in clear Contact paper, then pin them on.)

For the gloves, we used some of my old colorguard gloves from highschool and binder-clipped sheets of foam to make her bracer-cuff thingies.

And ski goggles to finish it off.

The finished Tracer costume was Awesome.

And the really great part was that once it got dark the power pack was a great combo flashlight and keeping-track-of-child device. My son was totally jazzed.

The two things that made him a little shy were that 1) he was dressed as a girl (to which I responded that no one knows who Tracer is, much less her gender) and 2) answering the question "Who are you dressed as?" It was a mouthful for him to say "I'm a videogame hero named Tracer from a game called Overwatch that is in closed Beta right now." So I think some folks thought he was a WWII bomber with a big Ironman light on his chest.

And that was OK, too.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Creating the perfect Halloween Costume for a Superhero who isn't even released yet: Tracer (Part 1)

Blizzard has created a bunch of new compelling characters for their upcoming superhero game, Overwatch. And to make sure that not only gamers, but the kids of said gamers, love these new Overwatch characters, Blizzard has created this Overwatch teaser movie in the style of 'The Incredibles'. And it worked; my 7-year-old son loves Overwatch. And just like the little boy in the video, he loves Tracer. And he wants to be Tracer for Halloween.

There are sadly no commercially-available costumes for Tracer, for a nice low price of $22.99. The CosPlay crowd has of course already started to create costumes for Tracer and her friends, and even posted some of their step-by-step Tracer costume creation processes, but I don't have that time or cash to spend on a trick or treat Tracer costume for a 7-year old.

So my son's Tracer costume is being built with:

Stay Tuned! I'll post Part 2 of my venture into CosPlay after Halloween ...