Saturday, February 25, 2012


Recently I have read several articles on whether a college education is worth the cost. I will wholeheartedly agree that tuition has been increasing at a rather impressive rate. Having been around universities a lot, I think part of the problem is that universities spend money like it is burning a hole in their pocket. They are always under construction and a lot of that construction is re-doing perfectly sound buildings. I'm not too worried about it, though. Eventually they will raise prices enough that enrollment will drop because students can't justify the cost. Then the universities will cut costs and reduce prices. In the interim, more high school students may choose to start a career first. I imagine some will discover that they wouldn't have needed college anyway.

That being said, I am all for higher education. I don't think college is for everyone, but lifetime learning certainly is. I for one really like structured learning. While I enjoy reading, there is something about the collaboration and exchange that college courses offer that is stimulating. I also like the feedback of being graded on my work.

I just received my Master of Engineering diploma in the mail today. Was it worth the cost? I would say yes. It will pay for itself in about 2 years. Even if I hadn't seen any financial benefit and all I walked away with was the knowledge and experience, I think it still was worthwhile. It cost as much as a car, but I can't think of anything else I would have wanted to purchase more.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Every year on Valentine's Day I get my co-workers the little cardboard valentines that are marketed for school kids. Those little valentines bring back memories of being a kid and putting a decorated sack or shoe box out to collect cards and candies from your classmates.

It was pretty easy to find valentines made in America. Finding candy made in the USA is getting harder, though. That is a little worrisome to me because of the occasionally lax food safety standards in China and Mexico where a lot of the big name companies are manufacturing their candies (Wonka Brand and Hershey's). Plus the older I get, the more I realize that candy is one area that is definitely worth the splurge. Don't bother with a cheap candy bar when you can get the fair-trade dark chocolate bar instead. Chocolate should have flavor! That being said, I have a nostalgic streak for cheap non-chocolate candies. For my co-workers I went with the Sweethearts conversation hearts made by NECCO. I like the fact that the label says they are "lovingly made in the USA". That just conjures up the image of their competitor as a grumpy old man scowling and grumbling about those stupid kids whilst making candy.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


About 6 months ago I rediscovered Dr. Bronner's liquid soap. Those of you who do primitive camping or affiliate with hippie culture know all about this soap. I used to use it in college, but somewhere along the way stopped buying it. I am not really sure why. It has numerous excellent features:

  • Certified Fair Trade
  • Organic
  • 100% post-consumer recycled material bottle
  • Made in USA
  • Gentle soap that smells awesome
It costs about $7 for a 16 ounce bottle. That seems pricey compared to other liquid soaps, but I've found it lasts a lot longer. The peppermint scent has always been my favorite. It smells good, feels tingly, and leaves the bathroom smelling great.

For those of you who haven't used the soap, a very interesting part of the experience is Dr. Bronner's philosophies that are written on the label. The story of Dr. Bronner's life and philosophies is difficult to sum up here. If you have the time, check out "Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox" on Netflix: <aside> I recently watched it along with another, even better, more life changing documentary, "Which Way Home": If you have Netflix, it is definitely a good use of your time to watch "Which Way Home". It is one of the best "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" type films I have ever seen. <end aside>

Dr. Bronner was either eccentric or insane depending on who you talk to. However, his philosophies are worth reading. He espoused a brotherhood of man religion where we are all one worshipping the same God. Even if you are not of a religious nature at all, some of his points just make sense for living your life in general. Here are just a few of his statements from what he calls the "Moral ABCs":

  • "1st: If I am not for me, who am I?"
  • "2nd: Yet if I am only for me, what am I? Nothing!"
  • "3rd: If not now, when?..."
  • "5th: Whatever unites mankind is better than whatever divides us!..."
  • "7th: Each swallow works hard to be perfect pilot – provider – builder – trainer – teacher – lover – mate, no half-true hate! So, each day like a bird, perfect thyself first! Have courage and smile my friend. Think and act 10 years ahead! And the man without fault? He's dead! Do one thing at a time, work hard! Get done!..."
And it goes on and on. There are a lot of words for a soap label! I have left out the zanier parts, but even with the parts that don't make sense, there are some good points. He advocates hard work and cleanliness throughout and sharing what you know with those around you. So if you are tired of fake-smelling soaps with weird ingredients, embrace your hippie side!

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Whilst researching American manufacturers I came across a nicely done video for a company named Tellason: In the video they allude to not washing the jeans for a better wear pattern. I assumed they meant not pre-washing them as most jeans companies do to make their denim soft. Nope. Check out their website care section: They mean just don’t wash your jeans! Gross! How could you stand it?

Apparently this is not an isolated concept. This article was very interesting: In summary, they asked people to wear a pair of jeans for 3 months without washing them. The results: the jeans weren’t that bad afterward! Stains wore off and they never got that smelly.

Now I don’t think I’m quite ready to stop washing my clothes, but maybe part of being sustainable is evaluating when something really needs to be washed.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I have been a clothing cheapskate since high school. Back in high school it made some sense. I never had a “real” job and just picked up baby-sitting and pet-sitting opportunities from people I knew in my neighborhood. If I recall correctly, I would make $60 at most on a really good week and I put most of it in my college savings (thankfully I had no car to put money into). I bought my own clothes in high school so I did most of my shopping at Ross, thrift stores and the sale rack of Target. If I couldn’t get a shirt for less than $5 or pants for $10, I just wasn’t interested.

This extreme thriftiness has held over until today. You would think that inflation alone would make this impossible, but it is not! Those same three stores as well as sales at the outlet mall make it completely possible to still clothe yourself fairly nicely for $15 or less.

This weekend my challenge was to buy onesies for a work baby shower. My co-worker remembered that at a previous baby shower, they decorated by hanging a variety of onesies from a clothesline. It was cute and practical. Instead of throwing away the decorations, they go home with the new mom to be stained by the baby and then thrown away. You can buy onesies for around $2 each just about everywhere (even the grocery store), but every single one I looked at was made in Asia (as a side note Carter appears to have a majority share of the onesie market).

So I looked online for made in the USA onesies. Most were $15 a piece! I was appalled! That is a ton of money for such a tiny garment that won’t get worn very much. But then I had an epiphany of sorts. What if I was paying one of my friends who knows how to sew to make a onesie? $15 to $20 doesn’t seem so unreasonable anymore. Once you factor in material, snaps, thread, work time and transportation, it is a miracle they can sell them for $2 at all (and leave room for corporate profit). Guess who is getting the short end of the stick? Those who make them and those that make the raw materials. That is a big part of my motivation for trying not to be such a cheapskate.

Now I still won’t pay $15 a pop for what are essentially decorations. I’m planning to drop by American Apparel because, according to the web, they occasionally have good sales on their onesies. While AA’s quality is specious, for a onesie that will be rapidly stained and outgrown, I’m ok with that.