My First Stab at the Kale Stemmer

Last year I decided to put what little money I had where my mouth is and try to actually make one of my crazy ideas a reality.  In the next three posts I describe the trials and tribulations of my first product creation attempt, and how the Kale Stemmer never came to be.  Or at least, not yet.

My favorite breakfast–and by favorite I mean I’ve cooked this for myself five days out of the week for the last year–is eggs and greens.  I sauté some onions and peppers, fry an egg on top, and then steam kale/chard/collards/spinach on top of that.  It’s delicious and nutritious, so when I’m a fatty the rest of the day, I can trick myself into feeling good about my eating habits.  The point of all of this is, I eat a lot of kale.

Kale, for those of you familiar with the leafy vegetable, has an almost inedible woody stem growing right up the middle.  It doesn’t taste very good and makes you fart all day if you eat it.  Most people get around this by using chopped up Tuscan or Dino kale, which has the most digestibly negotiable stem.  I’m OCD about it, so I end up spending a half hour slicing the stem out of every single leaf of kale before I chop it up.

My desire to make this process less of a time suck is how I decided to invent the kale stemmer!  Supporting arguments being: it was the most approachable idea to create, i.e. it didn’t require crazy engineering skills I couldn’t wrap my brain around; and more importantly, it’s a silly kitchen tool that only does one thing.  What do American’s like buying more than silly kitchen tools that only do one thing?  How many stores devote entire sections to silly, one-function tools?  And with kale’s popularity on the rise, I was potentially sitting on a goldmine.

Having finally decided on what I wanted to create, now I had to go about actually doing it.  Which proved a little daunting only because I had no idea what I was doing.  I started with what I knew how to do, which was to physically mock something up with similar materials available to me.  I headed over to SCRAP (Scrounger’s Center for Reusable Art Parts), one of my favorite resources in all of SF.  If you do not know of this place, you need to check it out!  It’s hidden away in the industrial triangle part of the Bayview, but you will not be sorry when you finally find it.  After digging around for an hour I found what I figured would do the trick.  By the end of the day, I came up with this:

Kale Stemmer version 1
Kale Stemmer, version 1

You can see from my very first mock up, that I possess the crafting skills of a second grader.  You can also get an idea for the form I was going for.  Two knife blades that can be manipulated like tweezers to adjust to the width of the stem.  In this case I glued two razor blades onto a metal frame and covered it with leather to make it look “nice”.  The problem with this model is I was looking for a metal that would be pliable in order to manipulate it to the shape I desired.  However, what I should have looked for is a firmer material with more shape memory, since this one does not spring back to it’s original shape.  The goal was for the tool to work like tweezers, where you squeeze the blades together and follow the shape of the stem.  That way you can cut out all types of stem shapes and sizes.

After completing my first mock up, I stared at it for about a week.  Now I had a visual for when I explained what my idea was to people, but it wasn’t exactly something I was proud of.  I knew I had to make it more professional looking.  My problem was I kept thinking that it had to be stainless steel, since that was the material I ultimately wanted it to be made out of.  I sunk hours of research into the properties of the material, how I could get my hands on it, how to work with it.  I made a trip to the Crucible to speak with a craftsman there about how to mock up my tool, which ended up being even more daunting since he went on and on about crafting a fine, chef’s quality knife–which was not what I was looking for at all.  I needed it to be simple and cheap, something that could be machine made.

Progress sputtered to a standstill: I had come to my first road block.  I couldn’t get past this barrier because I didn’t know how to manipulate stainless steel and I didn’t have the money to pay somebody who could.  Luckily I have a friend who is going through the same process with his own inventions, so I set up a meeting and picked his brain.  He told me not to get hung up on the manufacturing process before I even have a tool to create.

How could I have been so dense?  How many countless articles had I read about “attacking a problem from all angles” and “pivoting” and all of those other Google keyword catch phrases entrepreneurs love to throw around.  And yet here I was, stuck on my first problem, and my solution was to continue to bang my head on the wall when really, I only had to walk around to the other side and open the door.

Thankfully I did one thing right in talking with my friend.  He was able to turn my problem around for me.  Now that I had found the door, I could walk through and start the next phase: successive iterating.

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The Year to Come

I couldn’t help but feel a little depressed all of December.  The end of the year was upon me and I felt I had nothing to show for it.  I have a blog I barely wrote for, which nobody reads any way.  I had spent all of November and December trying to get a “real job” and failing miserably.  I had to ask my parents for a loan–again.  And it wasn’t helping that someone at Facebook decided to make a stupid, gimmicky, 2014 “Look how much cooler my year was than yours” slideshow nonsense that we could show off to all of our friends.

I’m looking down the barrel to another year working as a glorified cabby, and continually making less and less for it.  I’m 32, living with roommates, no tangible life accomplishments and no job prospectus whatsoever.  While 2014 was still better than 2013, there’s still A LOT of room for improvement.  So instead of looking back at the year that was, I choose to look ahead and–to borrow a phrase from my roommate, friend and EVR1 Institute founder Brandon uses all the time–set my intentions.

Last year I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do and where I was headed.  That has since solidified… some.  My constant problem is that I’m always pulled in five directions at once.  I want to invent something, I want to write, I want to sing, I want to dance, I want a real job.  When I try to divide my attention equally across all of those things, nothing happens.  I either have to give up on some of those things, or get some discipline.  And since I’m no quitter, 2015 will be the year of discipline.

At first I thought I would suck it up stick with Uber, but driving for New Year’s Eve last night was abysmal.  I can take the stress of driving for Uber if I know I’ll be earning a good wage.  But my take-home keeps shrinking the longer I work for them, and it’s becoming harder to justify keeping it up.

It was also a huge bummer to sink the better part of of two months writing cover letters and refiguring resumes; applying to countless jobs and coming up with nothing.  While I will continue the job search, there will be some clear boundaries set so I don’t get my hopes too high.  And this way I’ll still have time left over to work on the writing I want to do.

I was most surprised by how upset I was that my blog was not more developed.  I was proud of myself for actually building it last year, but then I never really committed to making it fly.  I thought of it more as the “hobby” that I would do in the meantime while I worked on figuring out whatever it was I was working towards.  That hobby has become this year’s goal.  By the end of the year, this blog is going to fly.

One of the ways this will happen is with your help–if you feel so inclined that is.  I’ve signed up for an account with Patreon and I’m asking for one dollar per blog post.  You’ll see the link to my Patreon account beneath each post going forth.  This will also help encourage me to commit to posting one article each week.

I’ve set a goal of $1000 dollars per blog post before I take ads down.  I realize that’s A LOT of money.  Patreon wanted a number when I signed up, so I gave them a number.  Shoot for the moon, right?  If your New Year’s resolution was to support the arts, consider starting with me!  I can assure you, 100% of the proceeds will go towards a starving artist…

Time and money permitting, I have a new invention I will be working on developing this year. The goal is to make that be a real thing people can purchase by Thanksgiving–just in time for the holiday rush.  (Of course, my subscribers will get one for free!  If you want one, that is.  You might think it’s a stupid idea.  Or worse yet… don’t drink coffee!  Seriously, how do you people operate?!)  More on what my crazy new idea is in the coming weeks.  I’ll kick this year off with a recap of last year’s invention and what happened… and didn’t happen.  Which will require your participation as well!

I sincerely wish all the best to everyone in 2015.  I’m looking forward to a new year and making this one better than last.  It’s both exciting and daunting to have so much control over my life.  But then again, that’s why I chose this path in the first place.

Happy New Year!


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Poop Pipeline

December 28, 2014

I visited my sister in Oregon for the holidays and needless to say, it’s been a wet Christmas.  We considered ourselves lucky since it only rained about half the days we visited and not all of them, like the weather app predicted.  Whenever I visit the northwest I’m always struck by the abundance of water the region has.  Everything is green and mushy–always.  It doesn’t seem fair that I can hop a plane and fly two hours north where people have more water than they know what to do with.  Why can’t they share?

California has been graced with a good start to our rainy season this winter, but we’re nowhere near to being on the other side of this drought.  A refrain you’ve probably hear more than once said of Californians to friends and family elsewhere in the country: “Send some our way.”  Meteorological difficulties aside, what if they could?

I first used to think about this problem by somehow collecting ground water and siphoning it off to reservoirs.  I thought about installing a grid of small drains all over the countryside that would collect rainwater before it could become run off or seep down into the water table.  Not only would this be completely impracticable to build, it would probably beget other ecological complications, disrupting further the amount of water habitats are used to getting.

poop pipeline
Poop Pipeline

Then it hit me the other day while I was taking a long, hot, guilt-free shower at my sister’s place; how easy it could be to ship water south to California.  Don’t send us your rain… send us your used water!  San Diego just implemented a closed loop system, if they can drink their own poop water, we can certain use Oregon’s to grow everybody’s food!

Used water, which is already conveniently collected through the current infrastructure could then be piped down to California’s reservoirs.  We could either build a massive treatment center on the Califoregon border a la Omniprocesser, the Bill/Melinda Gates backed water processing plant, or simply take over all of the treatment plants in Oregon.

Oregon towns would save money because they would no longer have to pay to process their water, California would.  No body would loose their job, since we would still need people to run the treatment plants.  If anything we would be creating them!  We would need to build new water treatment plants and a giant poop pipeline, plus the folks needed to maintain that infrastructure.  And you can’t tell me Oregonians don’t need jobs–they don’t even let me pump my own gas for crying out loud….

Governor Brown is already set on spending billions of dollars on a water pipeline that hurts our overly taxed San Joaquin delta ecosystem and does not add a new source of water, it just pulls it from further upstream; a terrible idea all around.  Why not instead build a pipeline that I’m willing to bet would be much less expensive than the 6.5 bajillion dollars proposed for Brown’s idiotic delta pipeline.  It will actually generate a new source of water.  It won’t deplete water from either state’s ecosystem.  It will create jobs in both states.  I don’t know how much more win/win/win you can get without throwing kittens into the deal!

Maybe Oregon will finally warm up to it’s warmer neighbor to the south if we offer to buy their dirty water.  Now if only we could somehow send them sun….

4/20/15 Update: William Shatner proposes a Kickstarter campaign to build a pipeline from the north to CA to transport water.  I can only assume he read this post and was struck by ingenuity of it.  No need to thank me Mr. Shatner, (but I won’t turn down a job….)  While 30 billion might actually be too crazy to work, I wonder how far we could get with 30 million?  The internet says CA has almost 39 million residents, that’s less than a dollar per person; even I can afford that.

Now all we have to do is get Bill Gates on board and we’ll be set!

Eva: the World’s First Smart Shower

YOU GUYS! Someone made it! I wrote about it, and then they made it!! It’s like magic! The internet is magic!

Back in March I wrote about how someone should build a smart shower that would help me save water and time.  Lo and behold, my plea has been answered!  I just discovered Eva on Indiegogo!

It’s everything I could have ever wanted and so much more!  Temperature control, a timer, plus all kinds of things I’ll probably never figure out or use!  That’s not true, I’ll totally track my water usage per shower.  (Maybe I can hold competitions with the roomies to see who pays the water bill….)  Frankly I was just too excited to read past those two features, everything else was eyeball clutter after that.  Just watch the video and see what it does!  It’s magical!!

Everyone should own this technology, especially if you live in California.  You can support them on Indiegogo and be one of the first people to own one–just like me!  Please help fund them so I can play with my new toy!

Modal Priority Streets

My last post was about how self-driving busses would be the saving grace of public transportation.  However when I brought this idea up in person, most people were a little concerned about unmanned busses barreling down the same streets as cars, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians.  Which I guess is a good point.  So how does it all work together?

This is a problem civil engineers and designers have been struggling with for decades.  How do different sized modes of transportation that go differents speeds play well together?  My solution: they don’t.

You might have read about “complete streets”–a concept I support–which means a street should be designed so that the most vulnerable of society feels safe no matter what mode of transportation they use.  That’s all well and good, but in a city like San Francisco where space is at a premium, there’s only so much room you can take away from the road itself for wider sidewalks and bike lanes before there’s no room for cars or busses.  Trying to cram everything in is not a working solution either.

I say stop sharing the streets and divide priority.  For instance, take a neighborhood like the Mission.  It’s longer than it is wide, most major streets run north/south and it’s laid out in grid-like fashion.  Right now, both Mission street and Valencia street are impossible for anyone to get anywhere at a pace faster than a shuffle; because everyone else is trying to do the same across all types of travel.

My vision would be to give each street a different modal priority.  Mission street would be public transportation since they already have at least two bus lines and bart, Valencia would be bikes (because, duh) and Guerrero would be cars/private vehicles.  It’s more or less already worked out that way if you are familiar with the area.  Cars would still be allowed to drive down Mission or Valencia, just not encouraged; say for the instance that you need to drop someone off at a store on a bike priority street.  The ends of blocks could have divots where taxis or private cars could pull in and out of traffic to drop off or pick up passengers without gumming things up, or mowing over cyclists in the process.

If three blocks is a lot to ask for, then maybe only every other block could trade off and cars can be lumped in with transit.  (Since now, SF transit is the eighth wonder of the world remember?  And the demand for private cars has plummeted.)  As a cyclist myself, I don’t really want to share the street with transit whether manned or no, so human powered vehicles will still get a street unto themselves.

This makes most sense for parts of San Francisco that aren’t grid like, or for connecting different neighborhoods by bike thoroughfares.  For example, the wiggle, which is the most well known neighborhood traversing bike way.  It winds it’s way off of Market through the lower haight and out to the panhandle, finding the least steep route from downtown to the panhandle and beyond.  There are many other passes like this through the hills of San Francisco, but not nearly as well known–maybe yet undiscovered!–and if anything not nearly as well marked as the wiggle is.

The point being, if you’re trying to get anywhere fast in a car, you do not want to be driving through the wiggle.  Not only is it residential, but there is now hundreds of cycles that use it everyday.  (Yay!)  You want to use Fell/Oak or Turk/Golden Gate, because they are wide one way streets that will zip you downtown faster than you can roll down your window to yell someone.

The only time this becomes a problem is with streets like Divisadero.  Which, is the flattest route to take between Haight street and California street.  Which by my system would make it a bike priority street, and in real life it’s a car priority street.  No bike lane, no sharrows, nothing.  Just two lanes of traffic with barely a shoulder to squeeze into.  AND a bus line!  To make matters worse, it’s not even a fast street for cars to travel.  Everybody loses.

In order to fix this mess I would double the size of the sidewalk on Divis, (which is pitiful small, once again, everybody losing…), and would make the street one lane on each side, with priority for cyclists.  I would even keep street parking–you’re welcome.  The streets to the left and right of Divis would become one way streets to compensate for the bike thoroughfare.  (For the sake of brevity, we’ll just glance over how much construction that would be…)  Voilá.

Oneway Scott/Broderick
Scott and Broderick as oneway streets

My idea really isn’t all that original, since it seems to be the direction the city is kind of headed in.  Or was headed in at one point before complete streets became in vogue and they decided to  kind of head in another direction.  I suppose I’m just sick of city planners not having strong convictions.