Do you want to volunteer abroad?

Aug 28th, 2012 | Posted by | Filed under Venting, Raging

I recommend to many people to volunteer abroad for at least 3 months, it’s still the best way to learn about the culture and the country. Well, I was recommending until someone came back to me saying that his family of 4 can’t spend $30,000 in program fees plus the air tickets to go volunteer in Ghana.

I was stunt and googled volunteer abroad to discover that spending 3 month abroad and it’s true that $7,000+ per person seems to be a rule of thumb for a family of 4, this doesn’t include the $2,000 air ticket cost for volunteering in Africa. Total cost close to $40,000 for a family of 4 – giving your time to help is now an expensive adventure.

I have been abroad for 10 years in Africa and 5 in Middle East. I can tell that some people are making a lot of money on the American generosity! Over $7,000 per person for lodging and food in Africa is abusing when you see that projects where you’ll volunteer at provide food and lodging and the fine prints of your Volunteer Abroad agency makes sure that the food is safe and the lodging appropriate – a huge costs for checking on your food no? I hear that insurance for volunteers abroad is expensive which is true but I inquired several companies who gave me quotes around $500 for a family of 4 – these policies include medical evacuation and other force of nature evacuations.

Bottom line, if you want to volunteer abroad do a lot of homework, search for sponsored organizations and local organizations that really need your help and not your savings. Nevertheless I still recommend volunteering abroad to anyone who feels that their free time can be put to good use and if you need information on my favorite organizations, contact me and I will be pleased to send you the information.

My wood fired pizza oven is done

Jun 26th, 2012 | Posted by | Filed under Projects

I finished building a wood fired pizza oven. It’s what is called an in-chamber fired oven with a dome design from Chicago Brick. The oven looks like an igloo which is based on the ancient Neapolitan (Italian) wood fired oven design.

I had a wood fired pizza oven when I lived in the Republic of Congo and it was something I wanted in my back yard. I researched pizza ovens for about 5 years before I made a decision, it took time not because I was lazy researching but because there are multiple designs and choices available from DIY, partially DIY to turn key oven. The latter being the most expensive solution – about $7,500 to $10,000.

At first, I favored a 100% DIY wood fired pizza oven but it can be very complex construction made of somewhat hard to find and expensive material like clay, food class firebricks etc… I loved a cob based oven. Cob is a building technique based on the combination of clay, straw and sand. When mixed correctly together, these materials make a terrific, long lasting, heat resistant base to build a wood fired oven. Remember, my African weekend cabin was made of cob exactly as it is built since thousands of years around the world. Unfortunately, clay can be difficult to find and quite expensive if you choose the artistic type. I recommend this book if you want to build a cob based oven:  Build Your Own Earth Oven.

I went then to a different route looking at pre-built wood fired pizza ovens. I prefer the Neapolitan igloo style for their technical particularity that makes the oven more efficient. The chimney intake is several inches lower than the dome itself. Many other designs put the chimney at the top of the vault or the dome throwing a great quantity of heat through the chimney thus reduce the duration of cooking time considerably.

I had three serious brands in mind, Forno Bravo, IsoKern and Chicago Brick Oven – my favorite was Forno Bravo with their Giardino line but when I requested a quote for the Giardino70, I got shocked by the shipping charges – over $900 including the crate. I like the Giardino as I could customize the oven as I wanted. The IsoKern line called ISO’ven has a nice design but I read several times that the dome material doesn’t retain heat too long, the oven can cook and grill fast at high temperature but  it doesn’t have all the specification of a real Italian wood fired oven.

I picked the Chicago Brick Oven Etna Model 750 which comes with $280 freight charge only. The Etna 750 has 8 square feet of cooking surface more than enough for me to explore wood fired cooking. The “kit” comes with a 3 piece oven (dome, hearth, arch), cast iron door, flue adaptor and ring, insulating board, insulating blanket, insulating door, pizza peel and a cleaning brush.

I typed the “kit” as it needs a base, a chimney, an external building and decoration – not very difficult to build but still lots of work and surprises.

I fixed the battery problems of my Motorola Droid RAZR

Jan 6th, 2012 | Posted by | Filed under Technology

I fixed the battery problems of my Motorola Droid RAZR

During my vacation, my Motorola Droid RAZR was a real pain, the battery drained so fast I had to put it on sleep mode to try to maintain enough juice to be able to make calls.

I was quite frustrated and promise myself to return to Verizon to have it checked and changed if needed. I did everything needed to have to smartphone hold a charge for at least 10 hours but nothing worked, 6 hours was the very maximum I could get from the Droid RAZR while I could have the Motorola Droid X running for almost 24hours.

If I forgot to put it on charge at the hotel, the android phone would be off the next day and would take so much time to charge in the car that it would not be useable the next day, yes it was that bad even with Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and data background turned off! What the point of having a very powerful smartphone if the only way to use the features is to have it plugged in?

Until… at the airport waiting for my flight back home I realized that my live wallpaper might be the problem, I was using the very cool Map live wallpaper which show my location in the background – great but something I totally forgot is that live wallpaper is constantly using the GPS for the location and downloading the local map… each time I move around the thing is working hard to keep the wallpaper updated. Nice but very costly.

I replaced this cool live one by regular static wallpaper, et voila! No more battery drainage and after re-adding Wi-Fi, background data and GPS my Droid RAZR holds the charge for at least 12hours. As I write, I’m still on last night charge and I’m still at 60%.

Bottom line, if the battery of your Motorola Droid RAZR is going out fast, check if there is not a cool app running 100% of the time in the background. In my case it was the Maps live wallpaper.

Travel, driving in Los Angeles what technology could do

Jan 4th, 2012 | Posted by | Filed under Technology, Travel

Travel, driving in Los Angeles what technology could do

We spent 10days inLos Angeles and we were stunted by the driving habits of that city! Los Angeles is so large that the only way to go from one point to another is to use the very complex freeway system. These freeways have about 5 lanes in each direction and are ruled by a 65 miles per hour (MPH) speed limit for cars and 55 MPH for trucks and trailers. The first remark is that no one is driving at these speed limits and the traffic flow is more around 80-85 MPH. I drove at speed limit and it was a difficult exercise as cars and trucks were passing me from left and right some honking, throwing fingers and even bottles.

My main issue is that higher the speed, much higher the risk of accidents and the damage caused by those accidents. The risk factor is not linear but exponential and grows much faster than speed – same with accident casualties.

My secondary issue is economical and environmental. A car like the Ford Escape I rented which as a gas mileage of 30 miles per gallon (30 MPG or 7.8 L/100kms) at 65 MPH sees its mileage drops to 22 MPG (10.68 L/100kms) at 85MPH that’s 37% increase in gas consumption! When you know that each car drives 23 miles per day in LA and there are 12 millions cars using the freeway daily for a total of 276,000,000 miles driven daily that 37% increase cost tons of money. If the average consumption of LA cars is 30 MPG at 65 MPH and 22 MPG at 85MPH the cost difference is about $12,000,000 a day! Yes that’s $3.120.000.000 per year at 5 days a week.

When you know that every gallon of gas burnt produces 19.4 lbs of CO2 the 37% increase in speed generates some additional 66 million pounds (33.000 tons) of CO2 per day compared to driving at 65 MPH – that’s just 8.6 million tons of additional CO2 per year…

What is the solution? Enforce speed limits by using technology to catch and fine the offenders then reduce the limit to 55 MPH. Technology could come from fixed radars, self reporting chip installed in cars and why automatic system embedded in the freeway system. Fine collected would pay for the technology and road improvement in LA. Let’s see in another post with which ideas I can come-up with.

Retailers upset at Amazon for its price check app

Dec 11th, 2011 | Posted by | Filed under Technology

Android tablet and phone to save money

I read an article that retailers are furious at Amazon for making the competition more difficult. I understand that because I do it every time I go shopping, even worse I teach my kids to use their android tablet and droid phones to do the same.

For example my oldest loves books, real paper books and when she goes to a B&M store she scans the book or its barcode with her droid phone to check the price on Amazon – very often she gets a better price with free shipping which allow her to save money thus buy more books. It’s easy and simple. Now and where I complain it’s when a sales person tell her that scanning is forbidden even illegal – funny to scare a teenager!

I have nothing against brick and mortar retailers, they generate local employment and sales tax nevertheless when the difference is too important I buy online directly from my android tablet while still shopping in the store. I bought a few weeks back a Brother MFC9970CDW I checked the price at local store and found it in stock at $699 + 7.25% sales tax, I checked on Amazon while in the store and got it at $549, no sales tax and as I’m prime member it got free shipping – I while still in the store I bought the printer and added the overnight shipping for $3.99 – it arrived the next day at a total cost of $552.99 compared to $749.67 – $196.69 saved on that one what would you do if you where in my shoes?

Sometimes the price difference is too small to justify the online purchase or I just need it right away but most of the time I buy it online saving some money here and there. I think that my android tablet paid for itself in a few month of comparing prices.

There is also another android app I use quite often, the Google shopping one which give me price comparison between local stores and online retailers. Many times I went from Best Buy to Wal-Mart because there was over 20% price difference between the 2 retailers. Twenty percent on a $200 item can make a big difference.

It’s true that I would be ok to pay sales tax on online purchase as I do in local store and in fact I report local use sale tax for all my purchase over $700 as it’s mandatory in Minnesota.

Bottom line, I save money with these android apps and I enjoyed it a lot for this holiday season