Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wethinks about chickens

Jeff and I have been talking a lot lately about chickens. We want chickens. Good, egg-laying chickens. Like a Rhode Island Red. Or maybe a White Leghorn.

We figure on getting four chickens. Four nice egg laying hens will do us good. Omletts, scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, over-easy, over-medium, over-hard, sunny-side-up, sliced egg sandwiches, egg salad, soufles, egg cremes.

Our wives think that we're crazy, that we'll never actually get around to buying our coveted fowl. We did a lot of research on coops. The Catawba Brougham is our favorite. We downloaded the plans and intend to build it ourselves (our wives chuckle when we tell them that too).

So when we tell others our plans for world domination beginning with a humble flock of yard-raised chickens, they usually have a few questions after their hearty belly laughs and snide comments. I will gladly address them here:

1. You can't keep chickens in your town, can you?
I read our town's rule book, and it specifically says you can't keep a specific list of farm animals one of which is NOT chickens!

2. Won't they make a lot of noise?
They're CHICKENS, not roosters! Besides, I'm sure they won't wake me up in the middle of the night like the stupid dog across the street! Chickens might be dumb, but at least they know to go to sleep when it's dark!

3. What will you do with all of the eggs?
Eat them. See deliciously long list above.

4. Won't they smell?
No more that the yard of the beast mentioned in item number 2. Pew.

5. What will you do when they're too old to lay eggs?
Eat them. Mmmmm; fried, roasted, fricassied, poached, baked, cordon blue, pot pies, caccatore, with cashew nuts, salad, monte carlo, croquettes...

6. Where will you keep them?
In their coop. The Catawba Brougham; what a fine piece of capon construction.

And lastly, my wife's favorite:
7. Who's going to feed them every day?
That's what we have kids for!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Cure for Low Prices: Low Prices

Seems that we've been pretty lucky over the past 9 months or so regarding energy prices. Oil's been around $50 per barrel, natural gas was surprisingly inexpensive this winter. Heck, even the electric company sent a friendly flyer with this month's bill that they lowered the price per kilowatt hour.

But an old commodities traders used to say "the cure for low prices is low prices". Last summer, when energy prices were through the roof there was a lot of talk about drilling, searching, conserving and alternativising (my word). That talk has all but been silenced.

When prices fall it just doesn't make sense to keep drilling and searching for energy. It doesn't make as much sense to conserve. And it doesn't make as much sense to put money into an alternative energy source. The payback just isnt there.

But whoa to those who think that the energy prices we pay today are a good foundation to which to base an energy decision. Energy prices will be going up. If you had any doubt of that yesterday, be sure of it today. Geithner just printed up another trillion.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Snap Out Of It!

Last month the Innovation Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF)released its report showing the rankings of 40 countries regarding their capacity for innovation. In that report, the U.S. is shown as ranked #6 out of 40.

Ahead of the United States are: Singapore, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and South Korea. All fair company I suppose.

But perhaps more disturbing are the little tidbits a bit further into the report. For example, when measuring the rate of change in innovation over the past decade, the U.S.A comes in dead last. 40th place. In other words, every other country (countries like China, Poland, Latvia, Malta and even Cyprus for heaven's sake) innovate at a faster clip than we do hear at the good ol' USA.

It seems that we've been telling ourselves that 'we're #1' for so long that we've come to believe that success will simply come naturally to us. Over the last 10 year's we patted each other on the back as we admired our cunning brilliance. "We think, they sweat." we said.

And all the while, our competitors are gaining on us while the politicians keep telling us that "we have the most dynamic economy in the world" and that "Americans work harder than any other people on the planet."

Do we really?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Revolt Against Big Baaa!!

I'll bet the Bush family own a sheep farm too! Planet haters!!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nogginthought About Alternative Energies

Wow, energy is a hot topic these days. It appears that cap and trade is a shoe-in and that our nation's efforts will move more and more toward finding alternative ways to power our buildings.

But despite the hype and the seemingly clear path away from carbon based fuels, there are still some doubters.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Robert Bryce, managing editor of Energy Tribune points out what a small drop in the bucket(or should I say barrel) solar and wind power will make toward reducing our use of fossil fuels.

27.7 million barrels of oil were not consumed during 2008 thanks to the use of solar and wind. Problem is, he points out, that America uses the equivalent of 17,301 million barrels of oil worth of energy per year. That makes solar and wind quite a small contributor to the solution of our energy problems.

His conclusion is that hydrocarbons won't go away anytime soon and that the politicians need to admit that fact.

I'd have to agree with him. Politicians do things for power. And rallying against hydrocarbons is a politically popular thing to do.

Now, I don't propose to have all the answers, frankly I believe all politicians are cut from the same cloth, but I do think about this stuff.

The one thing that stood out in Robert Bryce's opinion piece is that he, in fact, has a solar array on the roof of his home that provides about a third of the power his family uses.

And that's where my Nogginthoughts begin. A Nogginhaus is a thinking house. And just like a thinking person is an independent one, so too will a Nogginhaus be an independent house. Sure, the nation needs to reduce it's dependence on foreign oil, blah, blah, blah. But we also need to reduce our dependence on the government 'doing something' to solve our problems.

Gas companies, electric companies, and water companies are all utilities that are fingers of the hand of government. And while all this talk revolves around solving the energy problems through various means, it is the individual who will pay for it.

Think now about how your home can be independent and then let the government do what it will do anyway - no matter what you think.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Coming Trade Shortage

"It's going to be hard - and very expensive - to live in a country where only a few know how to fix a broken car engine or faucet, build well-crafted homes or make sure the lights come on when it gets dark," says Katherine Harding of Canada's Globe & Mail.

In the 1940's and 1950's you didn't have too many choices to cool off on a hot day. Many houses only recently began enjoying the comforts of indoor plumbing and indoor electricity powered little more than the light next to your favorite easy chair.

It wasn't Doctorate degrees or professional certifications that brought these things to pass. It was the hard work of a select few who decided to dedicate themselves to learn a trade. A trade passed down, refined and improved upon generation after generation after generation.

Canada is facing a huge skills shortage . Government statisticians say that by 2020 there will be 1 million fewer tradespeople than they need.

"We often forget the value and importance of the skilled trades because we take their work for granted," says Keith Lancastle, Executive Director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF). "Our lights stay on, our water is clean and our cars are on the road. We rarely stop to think of the people who work hard to make things run smoothly."

That we rarely stop to think might make our stuff just stop working.

For decades well-meaning parents in Canada have been encouraging their kids to get a college degree as their ticket to the good life. That's a good idea, of course. Continuing ones education is a defining step in becoming a productive, tax-paying adult.

Soon, however, Canadians became too focused on that nice piece of parchment. It became the do-all end-all. Many technically gifted youngsters may have been encouraged not to explore their passion to fix things, but to get a degree - any degree - so that they could get a 'good' job.

Before they knew it, schools decided 'shop' classes weren't so important anymore. Instead, they were replaced by more computer classes, language classes and art classes. These are important to get into college, they said.

In 1966, 20% of a Canadian high schoolers course credits were in technical subjects. By 1990, only 5% were of a technical nature. Today it's even lower.
Canadians are trying to wrap their arms around the issue. In March 2002, the Conference Board of Canada issued a report entitled "Solving the Skilled Trades Shortage". In it, they talk about many of the issues already mentioned here. They also shed some light on why young people are shying away from the trades.

First, they found that young people find the trades 'relatively unattractive'. In other words, 'they lack the cache of white collar jobs'. The study reports "Other common youth perceptions are cold, dirty, outdoor, seasonal, boom and bust occupations, that involve repetitive work, low job satisfaction, and little imagination for even less compensation."


The report goes on to point out that their adult leaders know no more than their children, "They are frequently misinformed by parents, teacher and guidance counselors, who regard the skilled trades as "dead end" or second best jobs, to be pursued only when other avenues are closed. Teachers and guidance counselors still regard the trades as best suited for students who have difficulty achieving academically and do not recommend them as first choices for students who achieve at relatively higher levels of performance."

And so it's the blind leading the blind up in the Great White North.

The fact is, however, that the time has passed where you could equate a plumber with a ditch digger or a janitor. Today's technicians need high levels of skills in areas people likely don't think about. Subjects such as algebra and calculus, physics and computers are all in the training regimine of today's technicians. The skills technicians need today greatly overshadow those of yesteryear.

But what about here in the good ol' U S of A? Well, we may be trodding the same path...

In January 2005, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis published an article in their FedGazette entitled "The hard hat blues":

"...while good-paying skilled trades careers are available, workers are not putting on the hard hat, picking up the hammer or getting under the hood, so to speak, in numbers proportional to demand."

The reason? "Its good work (for someone else)."

And so it is here as it is north of the border. The Fed goes on to say:
"The word 'apprenticeship' is kind of like the word 'vocational': it's a bad word" said Steven Rounds, project manager for tech prep programs with the South Dakota Department of Education. 'If your kid is in a vocational career, he's looked down on." Jim McKeon, president and CEO of the Rapid City (S.D.) Chamber of Commerce, said he attended a meeting with about 20 community and business leaders, and there was widespread agreement about the future need for skilled trades workers. Then McKeon asked who among them was encouraging their kids to pursue such a path, "and of the 20 people in the room, not a hand went up."

I think the next time the cable guy shows up late I'll just count my blessings.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pot And Speeding

I read an article recently about the somewhat rapid adoption of speeding cameras across our great land. It seems that these cameras can catch you in the act of speeding or running a red light and simply mail you your ticket.

At the same time, California is considering legalizing marijuana so that they can earn some much-needed tax revenue. It could solve their budget crisis, they say. I saw a pro-legalization fella being interviewed on television last night. He said that people are already buying billions of dollars worth of the stuff. The host then pointed out that the stuff is illegal. The guest then quipped, "so is speeding but people do it every day".

In Arizona, the AAA is sending out guides showing where the traffic cams are so that they can help their members avoid a ticket. The politicians say that this isn't fair and that chronic speeders won't get caught if they know where the cameras are.

Ok, these same politicians cried "if we save just one life" or "they make our streets safer for pedestrians" or "but what about the children", when making a case for the traffic cams.

But when push comes to shove the cameras are about the revenue they bring in and not much else.

Just like legalized marijuana.