Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Three Ss

A perfectly ordinary Jeep in mid-Michigan.

And you never know when you might need a shovel.
According to the owner, the clamps are cam-shaft bearing caps from a 2.4 liter Ecotech engine.

The rack itself started life as shelving in a beverage cooler that the owner welded together.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Indian Corn

Corwin Davis of Bellevue, Michigan was an old-style truck farmer.  He sold sweetcorn, melons, squash, nuts...and "Indian Corn".

He sold directly to customers so he had constant and concrete feedback about what his customers found appealing.

Corwin said that the "magic" mix for Indian Corn, now known by the more politically correct term of "Ornamental Maize" was between 60%-and-80% yellow kernels followed by white, red and blue in decreasing amounts.

For example, 70% yellow, 15% white, 10% red and 5% blue would meet his formula.

Indian Corn is a "flint" corn.  It is primarily a hard, horny starch with a tiny nugget of puffy, opaque starch in the middle.  The horny starch is pearly/translucent.  The opaque starch is white and reflects light back through the pearly layer.

Blogging will be light this weekend due to family commitments

Friday, October 20, 2017

Another Thursday in Production

We were flying along producing about 400 units an hour when, after four uneventful hours of production, the system started faulting out.

The closest maintenance person went through the usual procedures.  He laboriously unloaded the work-in-process, lowered operating parameters to process initiation values, re-instructed the operator (me) to slow down.  After four or five minutes of effort, he got the machine fired back up.  And it promptly faulted out again.

The process was repeated and the machine faulted out AGAIN.  The old timer was at lunch.  He was called.

Over-load vs Over-temp
If you are like most folks you are going "Ah-ha! They overworked the machine.  They kept focusing on increasing throughput and broke the machine."

There are two pieces of evidence that make that root-cause unlikely.  The machine worked fine for four hours!  Why didn't the machine fault out in the 14,400 seconds that we were pouring the coal to it?

 Modern machinery measure load as current.  Approaching stall causes "in-rush" current because the inductive component of the load disappears.  In-rush currents are typically two or three times operating current.

The other piece of evidence was that the machine did not take off under zero load.  All the material had been pulled off the system.  All start-up parameters were set to zero.  And the maintenance guy still had to fiddle with it another four or five minutes.

The other possibility was an over-temperature condition in the motor.  The reason the maintenance guy's routine worked is because it gave the motor some time to cool off.

How to check it out

Well, for one thing the case of the motor was hotter than a popcorn fart.
This is a typical industrial, electric motor.  Notice that the cooling air does percolate through the stator and rotor.  Rather, it cools from the one end and through the case.  Also typical of high duty-cycle, industrial motors, this motor has cooling fins cast into the motor casing.

Another thing was that it was kicking out almost no cooling air.

The motor is in an inaccessible position.  It is difficult to see this end of the motor.
The motor in question is not in an optimal position.  Organic mud collected on the air intake and probably gummed up the fan blades.  Air flow was still weak, even after the air intake screen had been cleaned.

A couple of longer term fixes would be to clean out the cooling end of the motor, re-orient the motor so the cooling end was farther way from the cruddy mist.  A nice touch would be to find a collar of clamp-on, extruded heat sink material.  I did not measure the OD of the motor can but it looked like about 8".  Any leads from my readers will be much appreciated.

The final part of the puzzle is "Why did it run four hours?"  The probable answer is that the organic mud shrank when it dried out.  Four hours of soaking up mist caused it to swell enough to drive the final nail in the coffin.

This motor is plenty of motor, it just needs some TLC and to be spun away from the dirt.

Fake News Friday: Part II

Links found between athletic ability and poor academic performance.

A small study in France found a link between eye dominance and dyslexia.  Lack of a dominant eye was associated with dyslexia.  The researches speculate that dominance is important in discerning similar letters like "b" and "d".

Lack of eye dominance is similar to being ambidextrous, where there is no clear "handedness".  That is, the person who is ambidextrous can dribble, shoot, pass or "juke" with equal facility with either hand.  A player who can only dribble or shoot with one hand is much, much easier to defend than a player who can do so with either hand.

Malcolm Gladwell, in studying hockey, determined that competitive, team sports stratify athletes at a very young age.  The most promising 8 and 10 year olds go to "camps" and find mentors not available to less gifted 8 and 10 year olds.  While the originally less gifted 8 year old can learn to dribble with equal facility with either hand, the ambidextrous athlete can do so from day one.  The less gifted never have the opportunity to catch up.

It is unclear why "handedness" evolved.  It is clear that it would have become extinct if it did not offer a huge competitive advantage.  Some possibilities include:
  • Hygiene:  Separating the eating hand from the wiping hand.
  • Vestigial origin: Incrementally increasing brain size could only support the increased dexterity on one side of the body
  • Tool use: Tool like spears and bows put enormous demands on one side of the body.  Funneling activities to one side resulted in hypertrophy of one side allowing larger spears, longer range and deeper penetration.

Fake News Friday

Dramatic decline in flying insect biomass linked to decreases of anthropogenic atmospheric sulfur.

Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years.

"This confirms what everybody's been having as a gut feeling - the windscreen phenomenon where you squash fewer bugs as the decades go by," said Caspar Hallmann of Radboud University in The Netherlands.
"This is the first study that looked into the total biomass of flying insects and it confirms our worries.''

Photo credit Jan Smith
The study is based on measurements of the biomass of all insects trapped at 63 nature protection areas in Germany over 27 years since 1989.  The data includes thousands of different insects, such as bees, butterflies and moths.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Winter rye as a cover crop

Back in the 1980s and 1990s there was a huge amount of research into the use of winter rye (aka, cereal rye, rye grain) as a cover crop.  Proponents of using rye claimed it had allopathic activity that reduced weed populations, depressed nematode populations, scavenged leaching nutrients and cured male pattern baldness.

Weed control: TRUE

Cereal rye produces several compounds in its plant tissues and releases root exudates that apparently inhibit germination and growth of weed seeds. These allelopathic effects, together with cereal rye's ability to smother other plants with cool weather growth, make it an ideal choice for weed control.
However, allelopathic compounds may suppress germination of small-seeded vegetable crops as well if they are planted shortly after the incorporation of cereal rye residue. Large-seeded crops and transplants rarely are affected. There is some evidence that the amount of allelopathic compounds in tillering plants is lower than in seedlings.

Depress Nematode Population: True

Most cultivars of rye tested were relatively inhospitable to Root Knot Nematodes as measured by RKN egg production
While this is not a slam-dunk at repressing nematodes, being less hospitable means there is a lower base population for attrition by weather and biotic factors whittle down.  Lower numbers is certainly more favorable than larger numbers of viable eggs.

Other cover crops like annual ryegrass may be even more effective at suppressing nematodes.

Scavenge Leaching Nutrients:  TRUE

Male Pattern Baldness: Unproven

Trials testing rye as a cure for male pattern baldness ran into difficulties in preparing a seed bed deep enough for reliable germination and resistance of women to green hair.

Guest Post: Salamander Scores!!!

Big smiles here!
"It was pretty cool.  Four bruisers were fighting in  the cut bean field (A) east of the  beehive woods (BHW)

Pink is picked soybeans.  Green is woods. Salamander called them in 800 yards!  Mr Big went more feet before piling up.
When they took a break, I rattled as loud as I could to get their attention from  the double ladder stand (DLS) on the clover patch.

Two broke away to the east, 10 minutes later they showed up just east of   the Triangle Woods (TW).  I grunted and they both headed my way. 

They were halfway to me and a car on the road stopped to look.  They stopped and looked at the car twice and then headed toward the swale on the north property line.

I grunted again when they could see my decoy and they headed over my way.  Mr Big was bringing up the rear.

They were trying to figure out the deke when he offered a 15 yard quartering away shot in the pump house.  Headed toward Stormy Kromer's property and made it to within 40' of the road on Harrison's lot.
In the woods

I have been waiting a  long time for this one.

And in better light.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Flags and cover crops

Small town America, corner of Main Street and State Street.  Count them, three American flags and a Red Maple.

Brassica mix is up

Rye grain is up.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

East Lansing Farmer's Market: Part III

Are there some products that defy easy display?

You bet there are.

Meat is tough to display in a Farmer's Market venue due to regulations, and common sense guidelines regarding temperature.  The limited electrical power and the cost of coolers makes it difficult to display products that are high risk for food poisoning...foods like meat.

Trillium Wood Farm

The black table coverings called the eye to the oyster and button mushrooms.
The Trillium Wood Farm booth was running a brisk business so I did not take many pictures.  They sold mushrooms, which were displayed, in addition to meats which were sold out of coolers.

They had silhouettes of the animals that produced the meats.  A nice compromise between being graphic and keeping things abstract.

Display related products

One way to work around the issues of displaying meat is to display "related products" like BBQ sauce, marinades, rubs, wood chips for smoking, cooking utensils and the like.

Fresh Lake Whitefish Company
A large, simple sign at the Fresh Lake Whitefish Company

And a very cool apron.
Circle F Ranch: Pasture raised everything...
I really enjoyed my conversations with this young man who runs Circle F Ranch.  He was knowledgeable and not the least bit over-bearing.  In fact, he was downright "laid-back".

His signature products are pasture raised meats.  His displays were of eggs

and stuffed animals.

He also had a bowl of water out for passing dogs.

I asked him if the bowl of water was for "marketing" purposes.  He shook his head "No."  He said, "I just happen to like dogs."

Smelling is, perhaps, the most atavistic of senses.  It bypasses logic and is hardwired into emotion.

In the book Scratch Beginnings the author writes of day laborers working in the South Carolina sun for eight or ten hours and being paid in cash, only to be deprived of that cash when they pass a KFC store as they walk from the bus station to the mission shelter.  Even though they will be fed a filling meal within the hour, they are unable to resist the siren song of the smell of freshly fried chicken wafting across the sidewalk.

One of the more amusing incidents of my work career involved a production worker frying some bacon in the factory.

Management had ruled that cooking food was verboten but this guy was sure he could get away with cooking a little bit of breakfast.  After all, how much smell can a half pound of bacon make.

With the clarity of hindsight I can testify that a half pound of frying bacon can be discerned over a 120,000 square-foot footprint, on two separate floors.  While this was indoors, it was in a well ventilated, industrial building.

While a vendor might not be able to serve prepared foods, I do not believe there are any restrictions on his providing customers with a camp stove and recipes.  Perhaps frying bacon would be inflammatory in an international college town, but what about fried chicken skins (like pork rinds)?  What if they were deep-fat fried in shortening purchased from the local KFC?

A couple of random vendors

The proprietor of Swallowtail Farms was on the verge of hypothermia.  This is the tail end of their sales season.

It is interesting that they are effectively marketing minor fruits as Flavoring.

Rust Belt Roastery (Coffee)

This is where I started my day at the East Lansing Farmer's Market

Rust Belt Roastery is OLD school.  They roast their beans using a wood fire.  Rumor is that they uncovered the recipe, written on clay tablets somewhere in the Nevada dessert.  The recipe was signed by Old NFO.

Closing remarks

"Farmer's Markets" are a keystone component of the business ecosystem because they inhabit the interstice between more simply defined entities.

One facet of Farmer's Markets is that they are extraordinarily accommodating of people challenged by physical, mental and familial burdens.

One of the vendors I interviewed had experienced traumatic brain injury.  He was able to speak clearly and with well formed thoughts.  It simply took him longer to find the words and construct the sentences.  I asked him if he thought he could thrive in a more traditional 40 hour work-week environment.  His response was "No way."

Another vendor has a spouse who is completely disabled.  Being able to host a stall in a Farmer's Market is critical to the family's economic well-being and to their sense of dignity.

Another vendor I know who works at a different Farmer's Market has a spouse who suffers from early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

He works in his garden to remain centered.  He sells at a Farmer's Market so he can have interactions with a wide range of people.  His customers are his therapy.  It is what he needs to do to make things feel "normal" and it is what helps him get through his week.

Monday, October 16, 2017

East Lansing Farmer's Market: Part II

The Wooden Shoe Herb Farm was still selling plants, even on October 15.

Wooden Shoe Herb Farm

The proprietor of the Wooden Shoe Herb Farm was charming and articulate.

Her signature products involve Lavender.  Much of what she grows is English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).  English Lavender is the classic smell we associate with "Lavender".

She had about seven different Lavender cultivars for sale on her table.  I asked her for a recommendation.  She quizzed me a little bit to get a feel for my expertise as a gardener, my gardening site and how I intended to use the products.  Then she recommended "Phenomenal" Lavender.

Among the other wisdom she dispensed was that Farmer's markets are great places for people to test their entrepreneurial wings.  Many people are in love with the idea of owning and running a business.  Sometimes the reality comes as a surprise.  You have to wear a lot of hats when you run your own business.

A venue like a Farmer's market allows you to dip a toe into the water without being committed to a long-term lease of $6000 a month to rent  600 square feet of prime, mall location.

She also spoke to the necessity of having a presence on the internet.  I asked her if she meant "Social media" and, to my surprise, she said "No."

In her mind the problem with Social Media as a marketing tool is the lack of control.  Any random person can assassinate your business's reputation and it does not matter if their attacks are warranted or if they are motivated by politics, personal spite or unbalanced brain chemistry.

A major challenge of small business is poking up above the ground-clutter. Lacking deep pockets and a team of dedicated programmers, the small business relies on longevity and repeat customers to build traffic.  Total reliance on Social Media leaves the business vulnerable to having their account suspended for failing the litmus-test-du-jour and leaving your customers with the impression that they went out of business.  That is a quick way to lose three years of traffic building.

Wildlife Eco Farm
Link to Wildflower Eco Farm information

I love potatoes!!!

With the rain it was a bad day to have a leeky tent.

Pen included for size reference.
This proprietor had many good things to say about how East Lansing formatted their Farmer's market.  Primarily, it is a Farmer's market.  Many other markets allow non-growers to participate.  The non-growers can buy wilted vegetables at a wholesale auction for pennies on the dollar, spray them with water, sort out the rotten vegetables and sell them to the public.  They have no risk in the venture, very little sweat and absolutely no investment in muscling-up local food production.

Another thing he like about the East Lansing format is that everybody gets the same width for their booth.  You can go deeper but you cannot go wider.  Every vendor has the same amount of "face" to customers walking by.

A final point was the ample parking and the proximity of the event's timing (Sunday 10:00-till-2:00) to when the nearby churches have services.  They get foot traffic when church services let out.

The Country Mill
Green tagged containers hold organically grown fruit.

Red tagged containers hold conventionally grown fruit.

Tags are enhanced with information that is useful to consumers. 
The proprietor of The Country Mill booth jollied me into trying their mulled cider.

I was a resistant buyer.  Almost invariably mulled cider is mediocre, insipid cider that is steamrollered by gross amounts of spice.  It is a bit like somebody who compensates for mediocre hygiene with the lavish use of cologne.

The Country Mill mulled cider was a completely different animal.  The cider smelled deeply of apples.  The taste was rich: lick-lipping sweetness counterbalanced with the perfect amount of tart.

The spice was VERY deftly done.  The cinnamon walked behind the apple flavor and complemented it.  Holding the brew in my mouth for a couple of seconds and sorting through the layers of flavor allowed me to get a hint of allspice shyly waiting for its turn to be noticed.  No steamroller here.

Sapo de Solis
This is what the soap looked like under cloudy skies.  Flat, pastel, boring.

This is what the soap looked like on a sunny day.
This is a cool product, soap savers.  I know some old guys with diabetes who lack feeling in their hands.  They would appreciate the fact that these porous bags also make the soap less slippery.
These are the kinds of products that make me want to come back on a sunny day just to see what kind of difference lighting makes.

The proprietor of Sapo de Solis's bit of wisdom for me was to get good at crafting signage.  Play around with the signs.

Brush Script MT, Calibri, Euphemia, Verdana, Comic Sans, Castellar, Franklin Gothic Demi Cond
Figure out what kind of font and lettering size works best for your customers and products.  And given the circumstances of Sunday's weather, work out ways to "harden" the signs.  Sandwich them in contact paper, use magnets to hold them in place...whatever works for you.

Index of Small Business Reports