Monday, November 21, 2011

Android Apps That Are Actually Useful

A couple of months ago my trusty flip phone finally circled the drain after several years of unfaltering service. So I bit the bullet and upgraded to a smartphone. All I really wanted was a phone with a decent camera, but as I soon found out the only option for that was to go with the smartphone. I’d been dragging my feet on the upgrade for a while despite the constant pleas from Her Indoors. I’m not sure what it is about these phones that I dislike so much. I’m a serious tech geek in all other aspects of life, and I’m an early-adopter on most other pieces of technology. However, with regards to phones I tend to lean more into crotchety old man status. I think it is probably the way people constantly rely on them to relay every painfully useless morsel of information about their life to those in their social circle. At the same time they make people more socially inept. I see groups of friends gathered together to have a pint, but rather than being present with their mates they’ve got their faces focused on their mobile device. People are constantly answering messages, checking emails, doing web searches while in the middle of a conversation with no indication of what they are doing. It’s rude. In my mind it’s the same as turning your back on someone that is talking to you mid-sentence and engaging someone else in a conversation. Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a rant against mobile devices. They are amazingly versatile and powerful pieces of technology, and they can be very useful if configured properly. In the end I purchased HTC’s Incredible 2 because it had a great combination of features, and I’m not an Apple fanboy. 
So after a few months of use I thought I’d put together an incomplete list of applications that allow the mobile device to actually be somewhat smart and marginally useful. Of course Android devices come preloaded with a crapload of questionably useful applications. The top preloaded apps on the Droid are: Camera, Flashlight, Kindle, YouTube, Google Maps, Navigation, and Quick Office. To be fair these are the only preloaded apps that I ever use. All of the dozens of other applications that are preloaded are just wasted space and are particularly annoying since you cannot uninstall them. Lame. 

Over the course of a few months I have downloaded and uninstalled dozens of apps that I thought were cool or useful, but here are the ones that remain. These apps are all free, by the way. So here is Daniel P. Daniel’s list of essential free Android apps for your device in no particular order…actually let’s do this in the order that I downloaded them, shall we? 

1. SoundHound:  Ever wonder who the artist is that is singing a song while you’re buzzing down the highway? Want to settle an argument about which album the song was on? What is that song anyway? Identify it with this gem.

2. Google Earth:  This is easily the most powerful free app on the market. You can use Google Earth to fly around the planet with the swipe of a finger. I found this app surprisingly useful on a recent hunting expedition in Routt National Forest. Since this app finds your location via satellite it will work in areas that have no cell service. If you pre-load the maps of the areas you plan on visiting this single free app will replace your compass, GPS, and maps. If you are looking for a more full-bodied GPS/ Topo map application check GAIA GPS (, but it is not free.

3. ConvertPad: ConvertPad is a simple and powerful unit converter. Nothing glamorous here, just a full-featured app that is fast and easy to use.

4. BJCPDroid: This is a must have for any beer snobs in the group. BJCPDroid gives you the beer judge certification program style guidelines in the palm of your hand. Fully searchable by style, and it even comes with a standard reference meter to gauge the color of the beer in your other hand.

5. Gmail: I think we all know what this is.

6. Facebook: Although it takes a bit of getting used to the interface, the Facebook app gives you everything you need to post drunken pictures of yourself online and check in from the stall of your favorite Mexican restaurant’s bathroom.

7. MP3 Ringtone Box: Apparently every smartphone user needs to have the annoying capacity to customize ringtones to every person in their contact list, and the preloaded apps that come with the Droid are surprisingly dismal. This application makes millions of popular mp3 ringtones and sounds available to you for free. The best part of this app is that you can also create your own ringtones from mp3 sound files via their sound editor.

8. Zedge: This has a pretty good list of pre-edited ringtones and notification sounds, but I prefer the Ringtone Box app above for most of my ringtones.

9. Google Goggles:  This is a surprisingly under-marketed piece of software. It allows you to perform a web search by simply taking a picture. Goggles uses image recognition technology to recognize objects and return relevant search results. Identifies products, famous landmarks, storefronts, artwork, and popular images found online. Goggles can translate words in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. You can scan barcodes to get product information, scan QR codes to extract information, add contacts by scanning business cards or QR codes, and even solve Sudoku puzzles. Nice work Google.

10. Google Sky Map:  This is the sister app to Google Earth. Simply point your phone anywhere in the sky, and the Google Sky Map will instantly turn Cousin Billy Bob into Copernicus.

11. RealCalc: This is a simple to use scientific calculator. ‘Nuff said.

12. Alarm Clock Xtreme: I find it annoying that the Droid doesn’t come preloaded with an alarm clock. I mean, how am I supposed to know when I’ve been sleeping too long at my desk? Anyway, this app is great, and it comes with loads of possibilities for customization.

13. TED Mobile: TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting ideas worth spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The talks are inspiring and enlightening. Much better that scanning YouTube for people getting kicked in the crotch…well, pretty close.

14. Photoshop Express: This app allows you to edit and share photos virtually anywhere. Simply touch to crop, rotate, adjust color, and add artistic effects. Then send them into cyberspace.

15. Spirit Level Plus: Finally! I don’t need to carry my four-foot level around wherever I go. Everybody carries a level around with them, right? Well now you can.

16. IMDb: Handheld access to the international film and movie database. This app is essentially the movie version of SoundHound. I just use it to settle arguments.

17. Baby monitor: Baby Monitor is an app that helps you in watching your baby even when you don’t want to be in the same room with it. If your baby is asleep and you are in another room, the baby monitor will detect if your baby is crying and alert you by a call or a text message to whatever phone number you like.

18. Random Mahjong: Awesome app for killing time while dropping the deuce.

19. Vlingo:  Vlingo combines voice to text technology with its "intent engine" to help you quickly complete your desired action. Simply speak to your phone or type a command through the action bar to get just about anything done while on the go. I find this application immensely useful while driving. However, talking at my phone makes me feel like a weirdass, so I only use this app when I’m alone.

20. GEICO BroStache: Yeah, yeah. I know it’s silly.

21. Google+: G+ is Facebook’s up-and-coming competition, and (like I said before) I’m an early adopter. This app would be a whole lot cooler if it had the “What’s Hot” links that standard G+ has.

22. Pandora: The Droid operating system comes preloaded with Slacker, but I already have all of my stations figured out on Pandora. I can’t be bothered to do the same on Slacker, so here we are.

23. SwiftKey X:  The stock keyboard for the android is OK at predictive text, but the SwiftKey X keyboard steps it up a huge notch and has mastered the art of predictive conversation. It is fast, customizable, and uses swipe gestures, which makes this a necessary addition to the “must have” apps. 

These mobile devices can be customized to be as unique as their owners, and not everyone uses them in the same way. However, I think this is a pretty good starting point for any new Android owners out there. What do you think? Am I missing any big hitters? 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Occupy This...

I know we don’t usually wade too deeply into the political fray here at Daniel P. Daniel’s blog, but there is a movement afoot that at least bears mentioning and discussion.  Amidst the Arab Spring, the recession/depression/banana/whaterverthefuck, the two wars, and the build-up to next year’s elections people are massing by the thousands all across the United States and elsewhere on our fair planet to cry foul against the top 1% of the wage earners.  The Occupy Wall Street movement has gained momentum among the middle class, and those enlisted to “protect and serve” are starting to push back.  The delicate theatrical act that is the dance between protesters and police is being played out on the world’s stage as it has so many times before.  What is this Occupy Wall Street movement, and why are the participants willing to be beat about the neck and face with a police baton to shout at the statistical 1%?  What do they hope to gain?  Let’s take a moment to dig a bit into this, shall we?

According to the web site  Occupy Wall Street is a people-powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. #ows is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.  Shit yeah, stick it to the man!  This is of course a noble goal, but it is one that is entirely unattainable.  People have been fighting against the power of banks and corporations since the day currency was invented.  I think the important question to ask here is: why is this happening when the economy is bad?  Why not rise up when the economy is good?  The answer to these questions should tell us something about the movement itself.

The majority of the participants of the Occupy movement are white, male, independent voters that have college educations and are gainfully employed.  You won’t find too many poor, Mexican immigrant farm workers participating in the movement even though they are the ones that should be shouting the loudest.  The people of the movement are people that feel entitled.  These are people that have had good lives and now, maybe, they are getting a taste of what it feels like for the rest of the world, which is why this movement is happening when times are rough.  There is no reason to complain when the living is easy.  No reason to pick at the fabric that binds them.  Here’s the problem: these guys work for corporations, and the corporate hierarchy is populated by this richest 1% that people are so fond of mentioning.

I don’t really understand this 1% idea.  Statistically, there is always a highest 1%, right?  Why is that number any more significant than any other?  Because it sounds good, and it's easy to keep in mind that we are talking about one in a hundred.  However, it is also important to realize that the lower half of that top 1% has much less than those in the top half; in fact, both wealth and income are super-concentrated in the top 0.1%, which is just one in a thousand.  Basically, the top 1% just sounds good to say, and most Americans don’t understand decimals.  Here’s a good article about some historical trends regarding the 1%:  Wealth will always be concentrated at the top of the scale because money is needed to make money.  It will be and always has been that way regardless of the form of government or currency that is chosen.  It will be that way even if we decide to trade in chicken beaks and shiny rocks.  Does that make the people in the top 1% evil?  Not at all.  They are likely to be out of touch with reality and hardship, but not always evil.

People like to think that corporations are filled with black-souled, sulfur-smelling evil doers because corporations seem to make questionable deals and they are big targets.  However, corporations are not necessarily evil – they are necessarily apathetic.  Apathy and evil are not the same.  They have to be apathetic in general because they must guard their profits to ensure that their shareholders make money on their investments.  This begs the question: who are the shareholders?  Anyone that owns stock or has a pension plan, a 401k, a retirement plan, life insurance, etc. that invests in the stock market (and reaps benefits) is basically a shareholder.  Do you hold on to mutual funds that lose money or do you drop them down the toilet like yesterday’s lunch burrito?  I thought so.  Fundamentally, corporations must make money to survive.  This generally happens when consumers purchase their goods.  Let’s take your favorite fast food chain as an example.  They want to produce the final greasy product and get it into your fat hands for as low of a price as possible and sell it to your fat face for as high of a price as you’re willing to pay (speaking strictly about money here, not health, self-esteem, happiness, etc.).  How do they accomplish this?  By pushing around their suppliers and demanding that the beef (for example) they buy for their burgers only costs a nanocent per ton.  The small, sometimes local, suppliers agree because the fast food jocks sell so much product that it would kill them to lose the business.  How do the local suppliers (who are not large corporations, by the way) cut costs?  Any way they can regardless of the health and safety of the work force or the quality of the product.  Now, in this example, who is at fault?  Is it Mega-McFood Corp or is it the suppliers that bend to them?  Hold your monitor upside down for the answer.  Actually, it is neither.  The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the chunky consumer that thinks it is OK to cram six ten-cent burgers in his face every day.  In the U.S. (and most of the rest of the developed world) we live in a consumer-driven economy.  If consumers demand products that are produced in a manner that promotes the health and well-being of the planet and the workforce they will get it.  It is up to the consumer to tell the corporations what kind of products to sell.  Consumers can’t yell at corporations for protecting their own bottom line when they field complaints that a gallon of milk is $0.02 more than last year.  We, as consumers, give them power, and essentially force them into action.

Imagine a world where all of our food is produced organically, all of our energy is renewable, all of our clothing is made by consenting adults, everyone has healthcare, and cute baby bunnies ride unicorns over rainbows.  How do you think those organic fair trade sandals are going to be produced, Hippie?  If you guessed “Jesus will provide them” I appreciate your naiveté, but you are wrong on many levels. There will still be corporations that manage the production and sale of these goods.  Unless we pull all of our money out of banks and bury it in the backyard with our dead pets and grow our own clothes from found seeds we will always be beholden to corporations and banks, and it will always be our responsibility to force their actions by the choices we make as consumers.  We can’t keep buying the least expensive option and act surprised when we find out that Chinese three-year olds are making the toys for our five-year olds. 

Take a look at the picture.  It is pretty accurate. The people of the Occupy movement complain about the corporations that they support directly by working for them or indirectly by purchasing their products.  It seems a twee bit hypocritical to complain about the corporations that they do business with on a continual basis.  This hypocrisy was highlighted recently when the protesters became outraged that their personal possessions were taken away by the morons at the NYC police department (admittedly a shitty move by the fucksticks at the PD).  Those possessions that they cling to are made by the corporations that they are railing against.  By the way, banks and corporations have never listened to protests.  I can’t think of one instance in which a carefully worded chant spoken through the people’s megaphone has ever shown a bank the error of their ways.  Protests will not convince politicians to put anti-bank legislation on the ballot, either.  That would be a political death sentence.  And, unless voters say that there should be no professional politicians, no politician is going to willingly give up their job no matter how socially beneficial their choice would be.

If change is truly what is wanted, the people of the Occupy movement shouldn’t wait for November to vote anyway.  They should vote with their checkbooks.  They should join the Buy Nothing movement if they want out, or buy products locally if they want to keep their money clean.   Don’t camp in a public park and be surprised when a bunch of remedial, mouth-breathing, lack-witted, ball-washing, douche holes with lizard brains (read: police) spray them in the face with pepper spray (manufactured by Dow Chemical).  Of course that is their right as a U.S. citizen; just don’t tell me it will ever make a difference to the corporate landscape.  And, by the way, comparing this movement to the Arab Spring is particularly offensive considering Wall Street isn’t kidnapping and torturing dissenters or treating women like pets (any more).  Occupy your desk, Whitey, and be the change that you want to see in the world.  Leave the uprisings to the people who are truly repressed.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Top 20 Horror Movies of All Time

Hey there, blogophiles.  The Halloween season is upon us, and as you may have guessed by some of my previous posts I am hopelessly addicted to horror movies.  If horror movies were IV drugs I would have collapsed my jugular vein long ago.  So I thought that I’d spread my addiction a bit further in honor of the season and regale you with my list of the Top 20 Best Horror Movies of All Time.  I could have made a list of the Top 100 Horror Movies of All Time, but usually those lists tend to turn into The Only 100 Horror Movies That the Writer Has Seen and are a tedious waste of time.  However you can be sure that the twenty that have made my list deserve to be there even though they have bumped out some notable selections.  Also, I have composed the list entirely of influential, well-made films that push the boundaries of the genre.  Don’t expect to find any of the beautifully cheesy B movies that we all love, such as: Frankenhooker, Rawhead Rex, The Stuff, and The Giant Spider Invasion.

Without any further ado (or fanfare) I give you Daniel P. Daniel’s list of the Top 20 Horror Movies of All Time.  Read it if you dare {enter Vincent Price laugh track}:

20.          The Hills Have Eyes (2006):  This is the most recently made film to make the list and one of only four that made the cut from this century.  Although Wes Craven’s original was truly demented, Alexandre Aja sees his demented and raises him one disgusting.  This gives new meaning to the term “nuclear family”.  Is it creepily horrifying?  The ayes have it.
19.          The Birds (1963):  No horror movie list can be complete without including at least one film from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.  This is one of his best.  Certainly not as shocking and perverse as “Psycho”, yet this movie somehow leaves you with a feeling dread and helplessness even though the assailants are only birds.  There is never an explanation as to why the birds placed humans on their shit list, but once the onslaught begins there is no turning back.
18.          28 Days Later (2003):  Super-fast, rage-infected, blood-puking zombies.  Need I say more?  Danny Boyle’s dystopic view of the future is both frightening and involving.  This nod to “Dawn of the Dead” quickly devolves into a gore-fest, but, remember, it’s the animal rights activists’ fault.
17.          Hellraiser (1987):  Clive Barker kicks open the door to Hell in this surreal freak show.  Some would argue that the sequel “Hellbound: Hellraiser 2” is a better all-around movie, but I think that the very introduction of Pinhead and the seriously effed-up Cenobites into the world makes “Hellraiser” a better movie despite some of its shortcomings.
16.          Poltergeist (1982):  They’re heeere.  We have been subjected to haunted house movies for nearly 100 years, but Tobe Hopper and Steven Spielberg leave them all in a quivering pool of pink ectoplasmic jelly.  The innocence of the prototypical family in the non-descript suburbs allows the audience to lend credence to even the most impossible situations, and nearly 30 years later I'm betting sales of clown dolls still haven’t recovered.
15.          Saw (2004):  James Wan really came out swinging in his directorial debut.  “Saw” is a snuff film on steroids – gruesome, gory and real.  Jigsaw puts his victims in incredibly intricate controlled environments and forces them to make horrifyingly difficult decisions...much like life in general.  Survive and you’ll appreciate what you have a little more.
14.          Jacob’s Ladder (1990):  If I had to describe this film with one word it would be: unsettling.  Although this movie is unfairly shrugged-off as nothing more than a cult feature, the freakishly nightmare visions straddling reality and hallucination have you continually wondering what is real after all.
13.          Friday the 13th (1980):  Of course this one had to be #13.  I saw this movie at the drive-in with my parents (I know, right?), and thanks to Kevin Bacon getting an arrow shoved through his throat from below a bed I still can’t sleep on bunk beds.  This film spawned an incredible 13-movie franchise that has been the backbone for the horror genre for 30 years.  Jason Voorhees is the ultimate indestructible slasher racking up over 150 kills throughout the entire franchise, yet he somehow walks the line between hero and villain.
12.          Silence of the Lambs (1991):  This film won five Academy Awards, a Golden Globe and numerous other awards which makes it impossible to exclude from any list of the greatest horror movies of all time.  The acting by Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins propel this deeply disturbing and exciting piece of cinematic excellence into the mainstream and truly freaks everyone right the eff out. 
11.          The Shining (1980):  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  Stanley Kubrick truly is an unparalleled weirdass, and it bleeds through in this brilliant adaptation of Stephen King’s book.  This movie is carried by the incredible performance of Jack Nicholson {I’m not gonna hurt ya.  I’m only gonna bash your fucking head in.}, but somehow Shelly Duvall seems a lot creepier to me.
10.          A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984):  If Nancy Doesn’t Wake Up Screaming She Won’t Wake Up At All.  This is really Wes Craven’s coming-of-age film.  With “Nightmare” Craven really comes into his own, and the performance of Robert Englund as Freddy is nothing short of brilliant.  {One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.}  And who can forget the tour de force performance given by Johnny Depp?  Anyone?
9.            Alien (1979): In Space No One Can Hear You Scream.  Ridley Scott tears the roof off of the sci-fi horror genre and blasts us into the 21st century a few decades early with this masterpiece.  Suspenseful and thrilling this movie is aided along the way by brilliant set design, and it set the bar for all sci-fi horror to come.  The alien bursting from the chest of John Hurt is easily one of the scariest moments in movie history.
8.            The Exorcist (1973):   Religion truly is disturbing, and this movie proves it.  {The power of Christ compels you!}  The cast and the storyline draws you in by making every piece of this film seem utterly plausible which makes it an unforgettable movie that doesn't just get under your skin - it stays there.
7.            Dawn of the Dead (2004):  I chose Zack Snyder’s take on George Romero's 1978 horror classic for one reason: Richard Cheese singing “Get Down with theSickness.”  Zombies, shopping malls, gore (the zombie birth scene is particularly hard to take) and celebrity assassinations – what more could you ask for?
6.            The Thing (1982):  John Carpenter takes the gloves off in this remake of the 1951 original.  Along with “Alien”, “The Thing” helped launch a new wave of sci-fi horror films.  Action-packed and visually amazing for its time, this movie is probably why to this day I don’t like huskies…or Norway.
5.            Audition (1999): This movie is so insanely creepy that I had a hard time even writing this paragraph.  Japanese horror at its finest.  Takashi Miike creates a psychological train wreck so compelling that you just can’t look away even though every nerve in your body is begging you to.  This one makes “Fatal Attraction” look like “Mary Poppins”.
4.            Evil Dead II (1987):  Sam Raimi and the ultimate horror movie hero, Bruce Campbell, enter the list with this brilliant horror-comedy sequel.  The joy which the cast and crew take in creating a masterpiece of slapstick gore is obvious.  “Evil Dead 2” is a must-see for all connoisseurs of truly demented films.
3.            Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974):  Supposedly based on a true story, Tobe Hopper's second entry into my list is a landmark low budget horror movie which is absolutely a modern classic.  Grainy, disjointed and frightening, if this movie doesn’t make you want to run from the theater then there is something seriously wrong with you.  Plus, this movie proves that hillbillies are much scarier than zombies.
2.            Jaws (1975):  I had a hard time keeping this out of the Number 1 position.  {Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies…}  Spielberg plays on our ingrained terror of the unknown like no other movie made before or since.  {Farewell and adieu you ladies of Spain…}  The score alone is enough to make you white-knuckle it through the movie.  {We’ve received orders to sail back to Boston…}  To this day I can’t step into a kiddie pool without heart palpitations.  {And so never more will we see you again.}
1.            Halloween (1978):  The Night He Came Home.  This is the movie that launched John Carpenter’s career into superstar territory and set the standard for every horror movie to follow after it.  Scary, suspenseful, thrilling, creepy, and more, but what really sets this movie apart can be summed up in three words:  William Shatner mask {shudder}.  Top marks all around.

Honorable mentions: Trilogy of Terror, Ju-On, Suspira, The Fly, Night of the Living Dead, Psycho, Cujo

So what do you think?  Did any of your favorites make my list?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Meat Highway

A couple of weeks ago my lovely wife and I were watching old episodes of Man VS. Food aghast at how much food some people try to pack away in one sitting. It isn’t just that Adam Richman eating 18 chili dogs or slugging down 5 gallons of milkshake at some random tavern is disturbing. That’s a given. It’s the normal portion sizes that everyone else is eating at the restaurants which he showcases that are equally disturbing. We notice the same phenomenon when we go out to eat, watching the wait staff wheel out a three-inch thick steak and a nine-pound double-baked potato covered in bacon (mmm…bacon) to some guy sitting at the bar by himself. Why do Americans eat so much? Why do we even try? This post isn’t going to attempt to answer these questions which are undoubtedly rooted in our hunter-gatherer genes that still haunt us by urging us to store fat away for the “lean” times. Sometimes our genes are mean to us. A trait that would likely be very useful if we lived life in the wilderness causes us to turn ourselves into sedentary Jabba the Hut protégés in modern times. Anyway, as we sat on the couch spilling Chex Mix and booze all over ourselves at 11:00PM my wife posed the brilliant question: How many animals do we kill for food and then just throw in the trash because our portion sizes are way out of whack? It’s a great question on many levels. We pump massive amounts of energy and human effort into the animal husbandry industry just to throw some portion of it away (which consumes still more energy) because a normal person can’t finish a 40oz. porterhouse without wanting to commit suicide after they force down the last bite. This isn’t something that my wife necessarily worries about since she is a vegetarian because she doesn’t want to support the meat industry. Actually, to be totally correct she is a pescetarian which means that she still eats seafood, just not mammals or poultry. I guess since fish don’t breastfeed it’s OK to drown them and freeze them alive. Anyway, as you may know I don’t eat beef or consume milk (a.k.a. #3) so I have my own suitably arbitrary dietary ethos as well. Still, let’s see what damage we can do to the question at hand - how many animals do Americans throw in the trash every year?

In order to determine how many animals we chuck it’s critical to know how much food we consume and how much food we waste. According to the USDA and other independent research, every year Americans produce somewhere on the order of 356 billion lbs. of edible food. Of that ~96.3 billion lbs. are thrown out, or fully 27% of all of the food that gets produced. Take a look at the chart for a complete breakdown. The main factors that increase the amount of food waste in households include the following: seasonality - more waste occurs in summer months; age of children in the household - younger children waste more food than older children; gender - females waste more than males; racism – if you’re racist you don’t give a damn that people are starving in China; income - higher-income individuals waste more than lower-income individuals; setting - more waste is associated with hospitals and military mess halls than with school and company cafeterias; and size of household - larger households waste more than smaller households because of a greater number of children in the household. I consider this as proof positive that kids and women are destroying the planet. At any rate, fruits, grains and vegetables make up the lion’s share of the waste, but the main focus here is on the roughly 8.2 billion pounds of meat that we waste annually. These numbers are truly staggering especially when you consider that these estimates do not include food wasted on the farm, in fisheries, and during processing. I’ll touch on that a bit later. For now let’s just consider some of the implications of those numbers, other than the fact that we’re a caste of slovenly, overfed, entitled, ignorant, elitist bastards.

On average, each of us consumes about 3-5 pounds of food each day. If even 5 percent of the 96 billion lbs. of wasted food were recovered and redistributed freely, that quantity would represent the equivalent of a year’s food for each of 9.6 million people. Why is 9.6 million an important number? It is roughly the number of people in the U.S. that go to bed every night hungry and/or underfed. If we somehow managed to save 100% that would be enough food to feed the entire population of Germany for a year. Of course they would grind it all into sausage; that goes without saying. Instead, we throw it in the garbage. Speaking of garbage, the EPA reported that food waste accounts for about 8.5 percent of municipal solid waste collected from households and businesses. If 5 percent of retail, food-service, and consumer food losses were recovered rather than chucked into landfills, about $84,262,500 annually could be saved in solid waste disposal costs for landfills alone. These savings would increase to $421,312,500 with a 25-percent recovery rate. At 100% it would be ~$2 billion or $16 per household. OK. That isn’t too impressive, but if anyone has $2 billion dollars lying around that they want to give me…

While we’re on the subject of money, let’s look at this another way. Go to the bank and pull $6362 out of your kid’s college fund. They are never going to use it anyway. Now take $1720 of that and light it on fire. Trust me; this is a well though-out experiment. How’d that make you feel? Crappy? Maybe a little stupid? Admittedly, I probably should have suggested that you leave the bank before committing arson. Now perform this experiment every year until you die or the kids disown you. The average U.S. household spends $6362 per year on food (~12% of annual income) including both groceries and restaurant expenses. 27% of that goes into the trash. That adds up to around $181 billion per year across the nation. Can you think of anything useful to spend $1720 on every year? Nah, me either, might as well throw it out.

Take a look at the chart again. The far right column is an estimate of how much energy was put into the production, transportation and processing of that wasted food. Approximately 2030 trillion BTU of energy were embedded in wasted food in 2007. This energy embedded in wasted food represents approximately 2.78% of annual energy consumption in the United States. Doesn’t seem like that much does it? Well, that’s twice as much power as was produced by wind and solar sources combined last year. Nice work, hippies. Turns out that rather than investing billions of dollars into some renewable energy portfolio and shoehorning infrastructure where it isn’t wanted we could do more for the environment by being more efficient eaters. Typical.

OK. Now let’s finally get to the question at hand. How many animals are wasted every year because we don’t know how to order, serve or prepare food properly? Based on the average size of processed cattle, pigs, and poultry it turns out that somewhere in the ballpark of 700 million animals (not counting seafood) are essentially raised and killed for food then transported directly into landfills each year without passing through anyone’s colon first. That’s right, 700 million – more than two for every man, woman and child in the U.S. Approximately 5.5 million cattle and 12 million pigs get chucked into the dumpster with the rest being filled up with chickens and turkeys. That is enough meat to pave a two-lane highway with 1” thick steaks for 8800 miles…over 1/3 the way around the planet. If you take seafood waste into account the road extends to 9600 miles and gets a lot smellier. Remember that’s just consumer and retail waste. These estimates do not include food wasted on the farm, in fisheries, and during processing.

When an animal is killed or dies for whatever reason before it gets sold for slaughter it is considered a “death loss” to the farmer. Death losses can be from any number of causes including weakness, illness, disease, getting squashed by their mother, suffocating in mud, predation, etc. The USDA keeps very good records of these death losses for all major animals used for meat in the U.S. Seems like if we care about the waste we should care about these ones too, right? So how many animals does this turn out to be? The death losses for cattle and calves in 2009 added up to ~4.1 million animals. For pigs that number was 8.9 million. I’ve pretty much ignored waste and losses from sheep and lambs in this post because they are only about 1% of the meat that we consume, but if you’re curious their death losses were ~610,000 animals. For the lowly non-mammals that we eat every day the situation is much worse. Chicken losses added up to a staggering 107 million animals. Oddly, the death loss numbers for turkeys wasn’t immediately available, but they most likely aren’t much better off than chickens. Assuming the same proportion of losses as chickens, that puts the turkey number at around 20 million. Oh, and let’s not forget seafood. There are no solid estimates at the overall number of seafaring critters that we kill, but it is estimated that worldwide approximately 23% of fish landings are by-catch, which are thrown back into the ocean, usually already dead or dying, instead of being sold and consumed. In 2008 Americans consumed over 4 billion pounds of seafood which implies over a billion pounds of seafood was dumped back into the sea. How many fish, shrimp, dolphins, crabs, eels and whateverthefuckelse are there in over a billion pounds? One shitload.

So, all told somewhere in the ballpark of 840 million animals in the U.S. alone (not counting seafood) die every year, basically for no reason. They are raised for food and they either are too sick or weak to make it to the slaughterhouse, or we pitch them in the trash because we are horribly inefficient consumers. What can be done to prevent all of this carnage? I have no idea. However, instead of looking for the magic green pill that will make all of our energy problems disappear perhaps we should start to get real and ask the hard questions regarding our personal efficiencies. Always ask yourself how you could be doing the task at hand more efficiently, and only then will we be able to begin to help other beings and move away from the path we are on today.

Jesus! I feel like "Kum Bah Yah" should be playing in the background. Excuse me while I give myself a grundy...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Master of My Domain

As some of you may know I have been pursuing an advanced degree over the last three years. For those of you that were not aware of this I know what you’re thinking: “Daniel P., you already know everything there is to know about practically every subject imaginable. Why would you possibly need another degree?” Well, my loyal followers, although I like the way you think the world has a funny way of throwing bullshit challenges at you for no reason…especially the business world. Without getting into to many of the gory details suffice it to say that my place of employment required another piece of paper from me in order to get me into the Engineering VIP room. They agreed to pay for it and afforded me time during the day to attend classes, so I am grateful for that. Truly, I am. However, I have serious problems with the way “corporate” America today classifies people based on how large their student loan debt is. Rather than go into some long diatribe about worldwide corporate policy and the exclusionary hoop-jumping, spanking-machine, Fraternal Order of Water Buffaloes nonsense that requires people to obtain more and more pieces of parchment in order to ensure inclusion into a narrow segment of wage-earners let me sum up my feelings on the matter in a single sentence (I know, it’s not very Daniel P. Daniel of me to avoid a long diatribe): Knowledge and experience are not the sole property of academia. What do I mean by that? I believe that I can learn any subject just as well (perhaps better) by purchasing whatever texts I need and reading them. It’s a novel concept, I know. I don’t need to pay some self-centered, socially-inept elitist to stand in front of a white board and mindlessly flip through PowerPoint slides of material contained within said texts in order to master a subject. Why? Because I already know how to learn, Jackass. End of discussion.

Having said that, I’m glad to have the whole process finished so I can hang up my silly square hat, tassel and hood and be done (hopefully) with academia for my foreseeable future. Three years is a long time to juggle kids, wife, work, social life, school, blog, and world domination. Actually, I initially thought that it would be longer than that. Since my first degree was not an engineering degree I assumed that I would have to go through some sort of accelerated undergraduate curricula before jumping into the graduate fray (if at all). So I dutifully went to the office of the undergraduate advisor with my transcript in hand to try to lay out a reasonable path forward. Little did I know how difficult that would turn out to be. Our conversation went something like this:

DPD: In light of the classes that I have on my (ancient) transcript what subset of the undergraduate classes will I be required to take in order to get an engineering degree.

U. Advisor: All of them.

DPD: “All” is not a subset. Perhaps you should sit in on a few classes yourself. Surely I don’t need to take these elective courses.

U. Advisor: We believe that the elective courses are very important to broaden the educational horizons of all of our students.

DPD: Bullshit. Look, Mack. If my horizons get any more broad I’ll be able to see the back of my own head. Plus, I’m qualified to teach several of these classes. Now, let’s take a better look. Shall we? Which of my math/physics/English/other courses can transfer over?

U. Advisor: Well, we might be able to knock a few of these off, but all of OUR physics classes are calculus based. So you’ll still need to take 30 classes.

DPD: First of all, all physics is calculus based unless there is a “Physics for Home Ec” class that I don’t know about. Second, with all my other responsibilities it will take me ~15 years to complete 30 classes. I’m not some 17 year-old kid that you can bully into paying the university for 150 credit hours of time-wasting nonsense just so I can “broaden my horizons”. Now take a look at that transcript again before I shove it…

At this point the noise from our discussion must have disturbed the slumber of the graduate advisor next door, and she barged in before I had a chance to leap across the desk and beat the undergraduate advisor about the ears and face.

G. Advisor: What’s going on in here?!?

DPD: Larry here is totally incapable of doing his job, and he hasn’t looked up from his desk once in a half an hour which makes me believe that he knows it. Either that or he’s undergone a seriously botched cervical fusion operation recently.

G. Advisor: What are you even doing in here? Leave poor Larry alone and come talk to me.

After a brief conversation in her office the graduate advisor agreed to throw me into the Master’s program on the spot to let me sink or swim. No tests. No applications. Sign here and you’re in. Done. Sometimes it pays to be blessed with a silver tongue. This time it knocked 30 classes down to 10 and got me out of the classes with the bugger-eating teenage masses. Here are a few of the highlights:

First Class: The Physics and Chemistry of Materials – Boy, this one was a snoozer. There was some good information there, but it turned into an Idiot’s Guide to Chemistry for Engineers…not very useful when you’ve taken as many chemistry classes as I have in the past.

Hardest Class: Advanced Engineering Mathematics – Great googly moogly! Not only was the last real math class that I took 15 years ago, but this one was taught by an insultingly condescending Russian douchebag. I feel like I may have learned a lot, but I immediately blanked it out of my memory like a Hanoi Hilton survivor.

Easiest Class: Wind Energy – This class had a lot of great information, but it was also my last class. So I couldn’t be bothered to do shit. I literally didn’t even open the book once. Money well-spent.

Best Class: Anatomy and Physiology for Engineers - This class was right in my wheelhouse. It covered a lot of great information, and left me with some actual useful knowledge without the unnecessary busywork and trauma. This was one of those classes that the professor got out of the way and let the students learn the material. Top marks.

Most Bullshit Class: Graduate Seminar – Oh…my…holy…Christ… This may have well been called the Captive Audience class. No homework. No assignments. Mandatory attendance. Bull-effing-shit. I even lobbied the department to allow me to pay more so that I wouldn’t have to be there. Sadly they didn’t go for it.

That’s about it. Now I am done, and I am free. Everybody says, “Well I’ll bet you’re relieved to have that done!” Yes and no. I’m glad that I don’t have to deal with the scheduling nightmare anymore. I’m glad that I have the paper that explains the nuances of the secret handshake. But all that this school experience has left me with in the near term is work. Work to recover things that were put off until this trial was over. I’ve got to work to get back into shape. I’ve got to work to catch up on all of the chores around the house that I’ve been putting off. I’ve got to work at re-cultivating a relationship with my wife and my friends. Work. So, no, I’m not relieved to be done. I'm not proud of my accomplishment. I’m pissed that I had to go through the hazing ritual to begin with, and I probably won’t be relieved until I emerge like a phoenix from the ashes of my life that this experience has left in a pile. Make no mistake, Daniel P. Danielites, I will eventually feel that relief even if I have to crawl out of purgatory to experience it. Then I'm comin' to get ya. Stay tuned.