Joplin, MO (exactly one year ago today)

This can be the most challenging, and concurrently the most rewarding experience of your life. Ever wonder what it’s like to kick the dirt and walk along the street in a neighborhood that was completely erased by an EF+5 Tornado?
It’ll make you think in ways that reduce your fears and concerns in this present time to an almost deafening inner pulse; a heart-throbbing trance of inner dialogue, a concert of voices, all your past emotions and experiences, trying to comprehend the fact that something IS greater than yourself — you don’t run this show at all, sir. Something IS greater than yourself, but:

When will I meet it, or see it? …
When will it meet me, or will it see me first? …
Who will be walking on my empty streets when I’m gone?
What will be left on these streets after I’m gone that can remain; what should remain?

"It is truly breath-taking, what is possible for those who look defeat in the face and smile."

Hopefully, like me, you will ask these questions.

I have been finding answers, and they’re not quite what I expected.

This blog will explore the ever-unfolding chain of events of opportunity that have captured my attention.
Welcome to my empty streets. I hope you discover something you weren’t expecting!

Picture: Joplin, MO (exactly one year ago today)


I love me some green manure! Specifically, I love nitrogen fixing plants like alfalfa. Do you think your only choice is to grow plants for harvest, or cover crops? Why not both?

I built a new garden space this year to add to the Liberty Garden. I use the term Liberty Garden to refer to all the outdoor space devoted to growing useful plants at my home. The new garden zone is a small raised patch surrounded by a wooden frame. It is only about twelve by six feet1, so space is precious. The plan was to completely fill up the frame as is done with square foot gardening. Well, things do not always go according to plan. When it became time to plant, I was not ready with enough plants to fill the space. In fact as I write this I still have Amaranth2 and other babies in the windowsill nursery.

Since I did not have enough plants, and because I like to experiment with things like this, I planted what I could and filled the remaining space with alfalfa. Experiment is not the right word here as there was nothing scientific about this process, a gamble would be a better term. I selected alfalfa because it has deep, robust roots to really work the soil, it is a nitrogen fixer so a nice organic nitrogen source, is non-toxic (actually rather nutritious), has flowers that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, and other nice qualities. The following is a picture showing part of the patch.


The results have greatly exceeded my expectations. The alfalfa has crowed out weeds, improved the soil and attracted pollinators as I hoped, but it has also attracted other beneficial insects such as lady bugs. You may see one or two if you look closely in the following picture.


What I did not expect was a beautiful herd/swarm/crowd/abundance of really impressive spiders. I do not have any pictures of them but they could be what is pictured at the following link. They must be a hunting spider of some kind as I have not seen any web. They are bigger than the wolf spiders I typically see; these measure about the size of a silver dollar. The garden patch has been nearly pest free with these babies patrolling. The spiders must need a little cover from birds as the population has been richer when the alfalfa is not trimmed lower than one foot.

Another pleasant surprise has been how the alfalfa has provided a wind brake for the tender young plants. Once the plants get to be about ten inches tall they are able to handle the sometimes brisk wind. Until that time, they have alfalfa to protect them. The following is a picture of some sage happily thriving surrounded by alfalfa.


The net is that I am really pleased with the alfalfa test. Filling the available space with alfalfa provided all the benefits I hoped for and more.

  1. That is about four by two meters 
  2. This is the second attempt at getting hardy Amaranth babies. 

Everybody needs food. It is a fundamental requirement for human existence. What skills could be more valuable than those that help address basic needs?

  • Air
  • Water
  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Security

In modern times most of us focus our energies on developing specialized skills and applying them to trade for the things we need to survive. This works well when these things, such as food are readily available. When there is a stress on the supply of these things, such as on the public food supply during war, then we recall the value of more practical skills that permit us to provide for ourselves. During WWI and WWII “victory gardens” became popular because the public food supply was stressed by the war efforts.

Growing food is a skill. I would argue that it is better to refine this skill at a time when mistakes are not likely to result in starvation. This way one may be free to take more risks and experiment with different techniques without fear of dire consequences.

If you are reading this article chances are high that you can grow something where you live. Not everybody has space for walnut trees, but might have space to grow mushrooms, a pot of strawberries, or a small garden.

Growing food is also rewarding. It is truly astounding how much better fruits and vegetables taste when grown and ripened in one’s own garden. There are many reasons for this including things such as being able to select varieties based on tastiness rather than on storage life and transport hardiness. One may also take advantage of polyculture, permaculture, hugelkultur, and many other growing techniques that would simply be economically out of reach for a large scale commercial farmer.

Many plants we use for food are really beautiful in their own right. Our nectarine tree not only produces the best nectarines I have ever tasted, but it is a really beautiful tree.


I will share my experiences in future articles as my family and I improve our food growing skills. I hope that you will do the same so we may learn together. Are you growing a Liberty Garden?


I believe that at least a small amount of organization is empowering. It is frustrating to spend time and effort finding or creating a document only to have to do it again next time it is needed because it gets lost or is otherwise unavailable.

I have many files that I like to have readily available on whatever computer I am using. These items are manuals, technical references, web links, notes, audio files and other things.

What they have in common is that they are:

  • Small, typically less than 10MB
  • Do not contain sensitive data
  • Useful for quick retrieval
  • Things that I, at times, need to share with one or more people
  • Revised over time, such as a notes and other personal documents
  • The result of an investment to create or otherwise obtain

I have experimented with various ways of managing the types of files described above and have found a free tool that works well for me. It is called 1. It is both piece of software and a service. It permits one to use cloud storage to safely manage files. One can interact with Wuala using the Wuala web portal and or the Java based Wuala client application. There are many alternatives to Wuala such as iDisk, Dropbox, GoogleDrive, even a USB thumb drive.

The following are the features that I find most useful. More information about Wuala can be found on the web site.

I do not store sensitive documents using Waula, or any other service that employs cloud storage. It is my belief that one must maintain physical control, or fully understand and accept the physical stewardship of the data. These criteria can not be achieved with cloud storage. That being said, the most attractive feature of Wuala is in the way it implements privacy and security. My files even though they are not sensitive, are my property to share as I see fit. Files stored with Wuala are broken into fragments and stored using strong encryption. The details of how this done, can be found here. The pass-phrase is not kept with the managed files and the encryption/decryption process is performed on one’s local computer. This means that the file fragments are secure both during transmission to and from remote storage as well as on the remote servers/cloud storage. The data are thus protected even from Wuala employees.
Revision management
Wuala manages revisions of files. It seems reliable and is extremely simple to use. This is perfect for files that do not need a more elaborate revision control system like git.
Synchronization across multiple computers
It is useful to be able to have a folder of files synchronized across multiple computers. This way one may access files locally without network connectivity, then have revisions shared across participating computers when connectivity is restored. This is one of those features that is surprisingly nice.
It is possible to define access controls for folders such that one may make some content public, some private and some shared with particular Wuala users. It is also possible to provide a non-wuala user a private2 URL link to content. This private link feature is great for one-off sharing.
All of these features are available for a free account. A free account makes 5GB of storage available. More storage can be purchased for a reasonable price. You would surprised how many small files can be stored in 5GB. If you need to backup and entire disk or store large files then a different solution may be better suited to your needs.

I know this article sounds a bit like an advertisement, but I am not an affiliate for Wuala, though based on my experience with the product, I would surely consider it if such a program existed. I have tried so many solutions, it is exciting to finally find one that works so well!

  1. Likely a play on the French word VoilĂ . 
  2. It is not exactly private but so long as you control access to the URL fewer people will find the content than one would expect for a public folder. This is not security but rather a handy way to make the content more difficult to find for anybody but the intended recipient. It may not be a secure solution, but it is often all that is needed. 

I love books, but find it can be difficult to read more than one at a time. This means that there are many books that I make a mental note to read; a kind of book interest queue. I work the queue when I next get a chance. One challenge is that my mental book queue often exceeds my capacity for good recall. There are also many books that I have read that have made some positive contribution to my life. These special books drive me to share the experience with others. Please see the following prior article “Three things you can do today to change the world” This just means that I need another book queue, a “wow that was a really great read” queue. As you might guess this creates an additional strain on the mental queue capacity.

I have tried many ways to track my books, movies and more with varying success. If you do the same, you have likely encountered some of the same challenges to each method. Paper for example can become quite large, onerous to update and slow to search. I have experimented with various software solutions and databases, each sported its pros and cons.

The solution that has worked best for me is Data Crow. Among other reasons, I like it because it is simple to use, works on various computing platforms and is free. I find it easy to insert new content, search and edit. The following is an example screen for browsing books in a category of read1.

Scale conversation

When you see a book, movie or other media described on this site, chances are high that I have details about it stored in my Data Crow library. Most will also have a page of their own2 on this site (as I get the pages added). You should be able to find them listed at the reviews page linked at the top of the site. I will include a simple export of the the Data Crow catalog card on the page as well, for those items defined in my own library.

The export will be in the form of a zip archive. One can download the archive, expand the zip file3 and import it into one’s own Data Crow library using the import wizard. I am adding new cards all the time for media that I “want to have”. Once I experience the item I update the entry while my reactions are still fresh.

I find it quite nice that Data Crow can produce reports. I find a “want to have” report to be handy when shopping or browsing the local library. Does anybody use mobile phones for making phone calls anymore?

I hope you will try Data Crow and share your thoughts about the experience, or share your experience with an alternate method. Read any good books lately?

  1. Why not some fun books for the example. :-) 
  2. Here is an example for a book about inflation. 
  3. Even though this archive does not contain any executable code, you should scan it for viruses just like you scan all content you download from the Internet. You do scan your downloads don’t you?