Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Pre-Ignition Catalytic Converter

Well, well... After a bit of research provided from a friend, I have found some of the truth behind the "Pre-Ignition Catalytic Converter," or PICC. What's really interesting, however, is that the PICC is, indeed, a hoax. It doesn't work and what's worse, I nearly fell for it from an ad in Popular Science!

The "Science of Fuel Economy" displayed on the PICC web site is a thing of beauty. It's really, really convincing and I was sucked in! But no more. Yes, that's right - no more.

Here's the scoop on Dennis Lee, the creator of the PICC:

http://www.phact.org/e/z/dennisLeeonstealsanddeals.WMV
http://www.phact.org/e/dennis.html
http://www.nmsr.org/denislee.htm

Read it all for yourself and make your own judgment.

For me, I won't be swapping out my catalytic converter for the ultra-efficient PICC that runs on water, used oil and lots more. No, I won't be havin' that.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Anyone Know the Science Behind This?


For those Popular Science readers in the crowd, perhaps you've seen this ad in your magazine. It's for the Pulstar Plug. Not just 100 times more powerful than your standard spark plug, no. It's 20,000 times more powerful. For added effect, let's repeat that: twenty thousand times more powerful!

I'm not a mechanic nor am I an electrician or a scientist. I don't really even possess an in-depth knowledge of spark plugs. If you are any of these, we welcome your expertise on the matter.

The Pulstar Plug uses some electrical components that I'm familiar with so I understand why it does what it does, I think. But is there some hard evidence to suggest that this kind of plug will really give you the benefits that the web site suggests?

The plug creates a more powerful spark because of the special "pulse circuit" which appears to be a capacitor of sorts. The explanations on the web site indicate that the intensity of the spark is then increased due to this. Because the spark is more powerful the combustion of the gas is faster causing an increase in horsepower and overall efficiency.

Again, I'm no scientist, but I'm open enough to believe this sort of thing. But I'd like to hear from someone more educated than me. What do you think? At $24.95 per unit, is it worth the investment?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pearl Izumi Balaclava - Warm and Good Looking



Balaclava is such a strange word. I must admit that I had no idea what it was when I first came across it. I thought that what I was looking for was a "facemask." You know, like one of those itchy facemasks you wore as a kid that held in your moisture-rich breath until it was soaked through. I wasn't looking for that experience again, but I was looking for something to keep my face and head warm while riding in frigid temperatures.

See, I'm going bald and the temperature I perceive it to be outside has dropped significantly since I have less hair to keep the warmth in. So, when it's cold I must have a hat on or I get instant brain freeze. Combined with my desire to go biking while it's still cold out, I needed something to maintain body temperature and stay comfortable.

Enter the Pearl Izumi Balaclava. This isn't the facemask you're used to. It is a microsensor fabric that feels like a second skin. It's lightweight, stretchable and doesn't have any itchiness or fabric-related side-effects.

The day I received mine from Performance Bicycle via Amazon it was too snowy and icy out to ride my bike. I don't have spikes in my tires (more on that in a future post) or a Pugsley like Up In Alaska (full disclosure: I don't fully know what a Pugsley is anyhow!). I just can't ride on ice and snow. Fortunately for me there was a fresh dusting of snow and a driveway to be cleared, and the temperature was below 20 so I decided to test my new balaclava.

I'm excited to announce that it worked great. I, admittedly, had doubts that the thin fabric would work to keep me warm with no hat. But it did. It was great. My head felt warm. My cheeks, nose, ears all were comfortable for the 1/2 hour I spent shoveling. I can only imagine that under more strenuous activity that I would remain warm indefinitely.

The moisture wicking is great with the PI balaclava. Breathing didn't create a surplus of moisture on the fabric and though I sweat a bit around my neck the microsensor fabric wicked it away quickly enough that it was not noticeable. It didn't leave me with a wet feeling.

The fabric is really thin. It's light, stretches, has seams but they aren't uncomfortable. It's thin enough that it fits great under a helmet with no modification of the straps or pads. That's important for those of us who are lazy and don't want to make helmet modifications between seasons.

I did wonder when putting it on if my "five o'clock shadow" would wind up, over time, degrading the fabric enough that it would break down. If it does I'll certainly report it. Until then, however, there doesn't appear to be any problem with a little stubble. The microsensor fabric slides right over it and doesn't get stuck.

The balaclava is versatile enough that it can stretch below the nose or above it. This is handy as it's not always comfortable to breathe through fabric. During my first and second ventures I tried it both ways. Above the nose and below and both were equally comfortable. It felt less constricted to have the fabric below the nose, but it was warmer to leave my nose covered and didn't present any breathing difficulty.

The other consideration for below/above is when wearing with glasses. Wearing the balaclava above the nose does cause a gap between the skin and fabric that might cause moisture-rich air to fog up glasses. I'll test that out when I have opportunity.

To close, the Pearl Izumi microsensor balaclava is a great addition to my mountain biking hobby. It'll provide me the opportunity to ride at low temperatures so I don't go crazy inside all the time. I'll have more opportunity to use it in action this spring and I'll update if necessary.


View the Pearl Izumi balaclava options on Amazon or the manufacturer.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I do accept free promotional items

It won't sway me one way or another, but I do accept promotional products to test out. If I like it, I'll tell the world. If I don't I'll be quiet about it and no one will be any the wiser.

If you have something cool to test out, I'd like to hear about it.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Bit About Resolution

It's that time of year again: review the resolution you made one month ago and decide whether or not it's really "sticking." Maybe it's time to resolve to resolve your resolution. Stick with it!

No, not that kind of resolution.

I'm talking about monitor resolution. It's a misunderstood concept and I cringe when I hear ramblings about screen size. Here's the basic scoop in my own words and a link to get more info from people smarter than me.

Display resolution means how many pixels there are on a screen
Pixels? Dots, that is. The more dots, the more stuff can be packed on the screen. Suppose you have a matrix nine dots wide and nine dots high. Suppose that same matrix were 1 inch square. Now suppose that you could shrink that matrix down to 1/10 of an inch. Well, you'd get 10 of those 9 x 9 matrices in an inch now. So it is with resolution - the higher the resolution, the more stuff on the screen.

Resolution has nothing to do with screen size
Okay, that's confusing I know. Sure, the larger the screen, the easier (and therefore cheaper to manufacture) it is to fit more pixels on the screen. But, there's no proportion that must be followed. In other words, a 17" monitor can run at 1024 x 768 or at 1280 x 1024 or even 1600 x 1200 if the manufacturers chose to make it so.

TV's run a really low resolutions.
Did you know that standard TV signals are only 320 x 240 pixels? Geez - that's really not much at all considering a "standard" monitor is 1280 x 1024 these days. High definition TV is a lot higher resolution than that, but your 17" LCD flat panel is higher resolution than your 52" LCD TV! By the definitions above, you'll fit less stuff on the TV than on your "tiny" monitor!

In other words, monitors have a specific purpose, as do TV's. Monitors use different signals and such and they're designed to display different types of information than TV's. As such, they have different capabilities.

Now you know a bit more about resolutions.

Why FunWithButter.com ?

That's a great question.
It's actually one that I don't have a good answer for. The simple explanation is that my mind works in weird ways and once in a while I give in to strange impulses such as buying a particularly odd URL.

The long answer is that I was standing in my kitchen one day and I was spreading some butter on a piece of toast. To preface this, however, you must understand that I usually have ideas like little marbles rolling around in my head. The best ideas seem to come when some of these marbles hit each other, which is what happened that fine day. I must have moved suddenly and as these marbles crashed together, I thought of the domain name, "FunWithButter" and frantically ran to my computer to see if it was available. To my great surprise it was - and I purchased it on the spot.

What to do with a domain name like this?
Well, even better was that I had no idea what to do with a domain name like this. But, being an upstanding individual I shunned the potentially bad connotations that arose and decided that it could, perhaps, be a butter related web site.

I'm not so sure anymore...
I have good ideas, I think. I like my ideas and people ask me what I think of certain products, ideas, etc. So, the new concept is that I'll share my ideas - the things I like - the things I dream of - here on FunWithButter.com. You're free to disagree with my ideas, add to them, sculpt them into something great, something butter better. Take them and run with them, make them um.... yours...

If you make it big-time with some of my ideas, or you're just thrilled by what you read, consider donating something to the cause. Help a brother out, eh?

You never know what'll come next. Be assured, though, that it's sufficiently valuable to me and might be to you as well. Don't miss the fun...

Dell 30 inch LCD Monitor - Says it all, doesn't it...

Yes, indeed (new phrase that's been coming up lately)...

In the middle of 2007 I invested in a Dell 30" LCD monitor and a new computer for my home office. This replaced what I had been working on for so long - my 1600x1200 Sony laptop display. Don't get me wrong - the Sony was okay for day-to-day work, but I do a lot of programming and the more stuff you can fit on a screen the better!

So, I broke down and bought it. I couldn't make up my mind at first. At a bit over $1000 (refurbished) it's a lot of money for a monitor. The manufacturers have their own ideas, but I did the math on the true cost of a small monitor. See if this doesn't strike you as truth:

With my smaller monitor at 1600 x 1200 resolution:

  • $55 per hour (you plug your own "value" here) = 1.53 cents per second
  • 300 times per day scrolling up and down @ 5 seconds each = 300 x 7.65 cents = $22.95
  • 100 times per day scrolling side to side @ 3 seconds each = 100 x 4.59 cents = $4.59
  • Total cost of scrolling = $27.54 per day
With my ginormous monitor at 2560 x 1600 resolution:
  • $55 per hour = 1.53 cents per second
  • 200 times per day scrolling up and down @ 5 seconds each = 200 x 7.65 cents = $15.30
  • 10 times per day scrolling side to side @ 3 seconds each = $.46
  • Total cost of scrolling = $15.30
So, my savings per day is $12.24 in productivity cost. Clearly, no one is paying me that... shame... At a cost of $1100 for the monitor, the break-even is only about 90 days.

It seemed reasonable so I took the leap.

When I got the monitor I found that I needed a new video card because the one built into the computer simply couldn't push the resolution that this monitor boasts. $200 later I had my new NVidia GeForce 88xx card and I was ready to go.

How'd it all work out? The investment...
I won't go back. I liked it so much at home that I bought one for work. Why? Well, every Monday through Friday we spend more hours at work than we do sleeping. We spend more hours at work during those days than reading a good book, eating good food or spending quality time with our families. An investment in making those hours more enjoyable and more effective is a good investment. Why make those hours more difficult than need be?

The productivity...
As you can see from my carefully measured success metrics above, an investment in a 30" monitor saves money - money that you'll see magically appear in your pockets. Okay, not really, but the time really is saved. Couple that real time not scrolling to find something with the immeasurable benefit of being able to keep your thoughts together because they aren't broken up by the arbitrary end of a screen, this huge monitor is a huge benefit.

The fame...
No one more important than normal has come to view this hugeness. But, it is bigger than my 27" TV and it has a better picture. Strange, but since I'm a geek trapped in a jock's body, having a big monitor feeds an unconscious need to do and have geeky things. No big screens here to watch the game - just a big monitor to program a Bayesian filter or something. Now doesn't that sound fascinating?

If you spend more than 4 hours a day at a computer screen or you do a lot of word processing, spreadsheets, web site browsing, programming or anything that is typically bleeding off the edges of your screen, check it out. The Dell 30" 3007WFP monitor.


More on what I like...
  • Big, big big
  • High resolution - 2560 x 1600 (more on display resolutions)
  • Built-in media card (CF, xD, SD, etc.) on the side
  • USB hub built-in
  • Can mount an optional speaker system beneath it
  • Looks good
  • Adjustable stand with a basic built-in cord manager
  • Buy refurbished for less at the Dell Outlet
What about you? Have you had a great experience with the Dell 3007WFP monitor or would you swear by another?

ING Direct - Online Banking, Great Rates

I'm an Internet guy. I work on the Internet. I keep my documents on the Internet. I'm heavily connected at home and at work. I like my life to be accessible from the web, the "cloud" as some folks have called it.

I don't have any particular name for it, but one thing that the Internet has done for us is lowered the cost of providing services. Similar to how mail order companies lowered the cost of ordering products because individual retail stores weren't needed, ING Direct has brought us low-cost banking via the Internet. What's even better is that ING Direct's low costs are passed on to the consumer via higher interest rates on checking and savings accounts and lower interest rates on mortgages.

As you know I'm not paid to say any of this, but ING Direct is really something to look into if you like online banking. ING also offers no-load mutual funds for the investment-savvy among us. If that weren't enough, they just bought Sharebuilder.com so you might find yourself loving it more!

Here's some specs:

  • High checking and savings account rates
  • Low interest mortgages (ARM)
  • Low interest home equity
  • High interest CDs
  • Easy online access
  • Online bill pay
  • No-load mutual funds
  • Easily create multiple accounts instantly online
  • Set up automatic transfers to and from accounts on a periodic basis

Here's a downside that bugs me:
  • Online bill pay only allows monthly payments (not a big deal for most people)

Mountain Biking - For fun, fitness and fame

Okay, maybe not for fame unless you're the Fat Cyclist. He's famous.

For the rest of us, mountain biking offers a break from the norm. It provides the chance to get out into nature and explore at high speeds. It's challenging (depending on where you ride) and can be quite a workout. Pop in the headphones, turn on the tunes, clip in the pedals and go!

I started mountain biking two years ago and fell in love. I didn't enjoy running and I didn't particularly like to be cooped up in a gym. I wanted to get outside. I had always enjoyed biking as a kid and hadn't biked anywhere for a number of years. Plus, I wanted to spend time with friends.

Mountain biking is an affordable outdoor adventure. A basic bike, shoes and pedals, biking shorts and the like will cost less than $1000 new. You can score some deals on eBay or at a local bike swap to save a bundle.

I'll recommend a few options you may want to consider. In addition to your bike, buy some clipless pedals. They'll make a world of difference when biking - they're more stable as they bind your feet to the pedals and they're more efficient as you can pedal on the upstroke and the downstroke. There's a bunch of pedal manufacturers out there - Shimano, Crank Brothers, Time and more. I opted for the Time ATAC based on reviews I had seen. I bought them on eBay for a good discount. They've served me well, but it's largely personal preference. I have friends with Shimano and with Crank Brothers. You can read more about clipless pedals at wikipedia.

Pick up some wicking shirts (Target has some affordable ones made by Champion) that will wick away moisture from your skin. That will keep you cooler and more comfortable on your rides.

Also, invest in some wicking socks. Plain old cotton socks are okay, but when you sweat you'll feel wet. I opted for some socks made by Under Armour. They're black so they match better with my black shoes and they don't feel like my feet are soaked. They dry out quickly, but like all good wicking materials, retain the stink in a potent form. Wash thoroughly...

You'll also want to pick up a patch kit and a replacement tube. If you ride often enough it won't be long before you get stranded on the trail needing to replace a tube. You'll need a pack on your bike to put it in - and to hold keys, wallet, etc.

Lastly, buy a Camelback. It so much better to have a lot of water on your back than to run out of water in your water bottle. It's essential to replace your liquids on even short rides (anything over an hour) or you'll reduce your performance due to water loss.

You'll find good trails in pretty much every area of the country. Local parks usually have trails or you can "mountain" bike on a bike path in a pinch. When it's late and the parks are closed, I'll bike along the bike path, through parking lots, just to get out.

For my new mountain biking adventure, I've got some cold weather gear now. My new Pearl Izumi balaclava, Trek cold weather tights and Trek full-finger gloves. I went out once at about 20 degrees before I had my balaclava and learned my lesson. Since receiving my balaclava we've had too much snow to go out.

For a real adventure, there's great riding out in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, and even on the east coast. Here in Illinois there's not much variation in terrain. I'm looking forward to going out. In the coming weeks I'll be posting a comprehensive list of biking trips and links to get your wheels turning.

What about you? Have you already gone biking? Looking to start? What do you consider some basic gear?

Fujitsu ScanSnap - Enter the Paperless World

Oh my! This has got to be one of the best purchases of the year. I really can't say enough about the Fujitsu ScanSnap S510. It's really a fantastic piece of equipment to help you go paperless in your home or office.

Unlike some previous purchases I bought this item for the office in an effort to get some particular types of bills out of the filing cabinets and searchable from the file system. It worked so splendidly well, I bought one for home and have been merrily scanning everything from old portfolio-type papers to insurance papers and receipts and so much more.

Here's how I use this to paperlessly keep track of papers that must be kept, but shouldn't be taking up space.

(1) Find a receipt for a charitable donation (you DO make donations don't you???) - these need to be kept for tax purposes for a couple years, but gee whiz, why in a filing cabinet?
(2) Open up ScanSnap (it is instantly recognized) and put paper in feeder
(3) Press scan button
(4) Wait for a few seconds (18 pages per minute!) while it is scanned
(5) Select from the menu that pops up that you'd like to save it to the ScanSnap Organizer (more on that later)
(6) Move the newly created PDF to the Taxes > 2007 folder (displayed in the organizer)
(7) Close ScanSnap

The hardware and software is dead simple. Plus, it includes some basic software called the ScanSnap Organizer. This is really an interface to a hard drive location with a PDF thumbnail preview. It's simple to use, doesn't have unnecessary bells and whistles and does the job for basic filing needs.

While it saves off the PDF it also places it in a background queue to OCR it and make it searchable. This is really handy because once it is searchable (within a few minutes generally) it can easily be found in Google Desktop. I've found the OCR to be acceptable and it doesn't change the actual look of the document - only the interpretation of the document for searching purposes. That way, even when the OCR is wrong, nothing is lost when viewing the document.

Now anything up to 8.5" wide can be scanned and made searchable on the computer. Then the paper can be thrown out. Nothing is lost except less junk around the house. Use the unit to scan receipts (tag them with a date to delete the PDF for temporary storage), tax statements, cards, letters, tear-outs from a magazine, resumes, business cards, recipes (entire books if you like!), and more.

I highly recommend the Fujitsu ScanSnap to any normal person.

Here's what I like about this piece of equipment:

  • One-touch scan button makes a near-instant PDF
  • Auto-sense color and b&w scans
  • 18-Pages per minute!
  • Removes blank pages
  • PDF OCR in the background so you can quickly scan multiple documents
  • 50-sheet document feeder
  • Folds up for small desktop footprint, but not obnoxious even when not folded up
  • Folding up shuts the unit off and saves scan bulb life
  • USB connectivity
  • Special feeder sheet for feeding business cards and other small document is included
  • Business card manager and viewer is included
  • Mac and PC versions

You can watch a video of the ScanSnap in action at YouTube.

You can purchase the ScanSnap at Amazon.com, TigerDirect.com, Buy.com and probably a bunch of other places as well.