Taking Advice as opposed to giving it….

Those of us in the consulting biz give advice for a living. This tendency also bleeds over in regular everyday life – especially as one grows older and presumably wiser. After many decades of making mistakes, it’s fairly simple to look at younger people and see where they might be going wrong…but sometimes the tables get turned…

We recently started using a new plumbing contractor for a remodeling job – a very friendly young man who wears a sincere smile most all of the time. That in itself seems a rare thing these days. I could tell right away that he was the type of fella who doesn’t take advantage of anyone and shows up as promised. My instincts proved correct when he gave a very low price for what I considered a fairly tough job.

He showed up at the agreed upon time and got to work digging up the ground to work on a plumbing connection. He was using guesswork to determine where to dig (hopefully to find the waterline) and I was joking with him about divining for water. He laughed and said what we needed was good luck. I asked him if he was a lucky guy…and he answered most affirmatively YES.  Lo and Behold, he found the waterline quickly so the job cost me less!

As he was finishing up he was talking with me and his helper about how a nearby Casino treats him royally – giving him free transportation (including in their airplane!) and free rooms and food. Knowing that such perks are only given to those who wager fairly large, I asked him how much he gambles on weekend trips…he said it was in the thousands of dollars each trip. I couldn’t help but think – here he was standing with a shovel in this hand and working hard for a few hundred dollars – and then pissing it away at the tables! And so – I couldn’t help it – I dispensed my advice. I said “someday you will remember how hard you worked for all of that money and think to yourself that you could REALLY use those extra bucks in your account”.

At that he explained “Ah, I really enjoy it. I bring the wife up there and we have a couple drinks and I’ve only lost about $10,000 total in the 7 years I’ve been going to the Casino. I work hard and I also like to relax and play hard when I have some down time”……well, once I heard it was less than $1500 (probably 3 days pay for him) which he was losing per year, I remarked that it wasn’t so bad – habits like a boat or a motorcycle or going to fancy concerts would cost as much or more…

“You have to enjoy life – because you never know what tomorrow brings” he said. It wasn’t with the usual defeatist attitude, but with the conviction of someone who knows. After he said that, he lifted up his T-Shirt and showed me the vast scars down his side and his front. He told me he had congenital heart defects which required multiple open heart surgeries….as well as some other surgeries. A generation or two ago he would probably never have made past childhood – but here he was at 35 (approx.) with a his own business and a loving family – and a life which he has decided to make the most of.

He left with the same smile he came with – after charging me on the very low end of his estimate range.

He was right. He has good luck. But he gave some of that to me with his presence and outlook on life…and I suspect he gives the same to all the people he comes in contact with.

The Wrecking Crew

The link below will download the PDF story of The Farm Wrecking Crew. A short part of the introduction is copied below that link.

Note – in terms of the timeline of Farm history, most of this story ties in with or follows Cliff’s blog entries below:


Photos in here are taken by various Farm photogs and non-photogs including D. Frohman, D. Stevenson and other – used with permission when possible.

Martha and I started out as members of the West Virginia Farm, a small satellite operation with approx. 40 brave souls hacking basic survival out of the hollows of the Mountain State. A good friend from Philadelphia, Andrew Stein, had also come out to WV and joined with our efforts.

In early 1972, it was decided that the main Farm (TN. Farm) would purchase an additional 750 acres next to the existing 1,000 and that the WV Farm residents would move south in an attempt to consolidate a larger workforce and better connected community. In April of 1972, we packed up a few buses, cars, pickups and a U-Haul and headed down to the Motherland.

Upon settling in, various job offerings were made available via a bulletin board. I chose to start working at the Soy Dairy, which fit well with my introverted character, as our crew consisted of only 3 full time milkmen. This turned out to be an enjoyable gig and, of course, I was able to stay well nourished on soy milk and eventually other products which we created such as soy ice cream, soy yogurt, soy shakes and soysage (upset stomachs aside!). The job had other benefits such as being able to listen to the Farm Band practices, which took place in a tent adjacent to the Soy Dairy.

After a few months at the Dairy, Andrew approached me and asked if I wanted to join a new crew he had just become the “crew chief” of. Although there had formerly been a Salvage Crew, Andrew had the energy to take the effort to a much higher level, so I was excited to become a part of the newly christened Wrecking Crew. The idea was simple – we needed vast amounts of materials for tent floors, community buildings and houses and the best way for us to get them was by recycling old houses, barn and commercial buildings. We did this by taking them apart from the top down – piece by piece.

You and your IP Address…

Well, my wife asked me to explain this to her, so I figured maybe some plain English would help others also.

The subject of internet protocol (IP) addresses has come up among some friends – due to someone claiming that they were able to track them down (confirm that they were the perps of an action online) based on their IP address. Rather than directly address that question, let me put it in broader terms so that internet citizens understand what is – and what IS NOT – probable or possible.

For a simple proof-of-concept, go to this site:

If all is working well, you will see your public (current assigned) IP on that page – AND, a map with a location as close as humanly possible to your house. Does it pinpoint your town? Your neighborhood? Your block? Your house?

To answer the first basic question – can someone, outside of law enforcement or your cable/telecom company, trace your IP to your house?

The answer here is a BIG FAT NO. They cannot. You see, IP addresses are doled out on a temporary basis from your provider out of a big block which they own. They change – sometimes often – sometimes less often. BUT, these temporary addresses are NEVER assigned to a person or an address. That’s why we call them “temporary”. You simply borrow them.

So, where can these “temporary” (also called dynamic) IP addressed be traced to?

This depends. They often can be traced to a large telecom facility somewhere within a couple miles of your location. Perhaps it would be your town – perhaps not. My IP currently points to a town about 60 miles away, which is where my cable provided (Charter) has a large facility. At another location I frequent, my IP points to the next town over – about 12 miles away by road.

Are there any exceptions to this rule? My friend/brother/father/son is a hacker and claims he can do tricks to find out exactly where an IP comes from?

Short answer – NO. Unless your friends works inside the cable company office or has special advanced employee access to their records, they cannot map your IP address to your house.

Longer answer – some businesses have “fixed” IP addresses which they pay more for. They do this in order to provide services (like a web server or other services) from their own networks. Fixed IP numbers can often be traced to a COMPANY, but still not to a location or a person. For instance, an IP which is owned by Apple or Google may be in use in one of hundreds or thousands of their offices – and/or it may still not point to their facility, but to the “upstream” provider who assigned (sold) them the fixed IP address.

Even longer answer – Even law enforcement does not have direct access to who has a particular IP. This can only be looked up afterwards…..usually only with a specific type of serious request or court order to the cable or telecom company. IF you’d read a story about someone being tracked down for file sharing or a virus being unleashed, it was after MUCH investigation. In order to do so, law enforcement has to get the court order and provide the cable/telecom company with the IP and EXACT TIME AND DATE in question. This is because, as mentioned before, IP’s change. So the person who used this IP last month may be different than the one today…..or even different in one hour or one day!

How about my cell phone? How does that work with IP addresses?

Your cell phone runs on TWO different networks. It has a wireless connection which you may use when around your home….which ties it to your local wireless router. When you are doing this, your cell phone is exactly like your computer.

But it works differently when you are in the car and out and around. In these cases, it again receives a VERY temporary IP number…it likely gets a different one every couple minutes as you roam from tower to tower. So, again, unless your cell phone provider is in on the action, no one can find exactly where you are located.

Does every computer have a unique IP number?

NO WAY. In the case of most homes and offices and even small businesses (small hotels, etc.), the entire building has ONE public IP number and there could be dozens of devices showing on the internet as being from the same IP number. In theory – and sometimes in fact – hundreds or even thousands of devices could have the same IP number.

OK, I think I get it. Tell me, then, how does some of this super snooping I read about in the news happen?

Ah, I thought you were gonna hit me with that one! Well, it turns out that the IP number is only one part of the equation. As I mentioned, that could get law enforcement to your house or a stranger to your town or a 50 mile radius. But how can law enforcement track you down when you sent that virus from the local Starbucks?

Quick discussion. Firstly, every single phone and computer and internet connected device DOES have a unique number inside it! Yes! No one told you about this yet? Well, here it is. In fact, many devices, like your phone,likely have a NUMBER of unique ID numbers inside them. These go by various names – the most well known being a MAC address. Suffice it to say it is possible for the experts to trace these down in many ways.

Anything else of note?

YES, glad you asked. GPS is your enemy! Well, it’s like fire- it can be your friend or your enemy. Newer devices like your cell phone or android tablet often have GPS chips inside of them – that is how they know where you are located VERY CLOSELY. That’s how google maps can find you with almost pinpoint accuracy or how “friend finder” apps work.

BUT, in most cases you have given your phone or tablet express permission – often called “allow location services” to use GPS and cell tower triangulation (don’t ask!) to map you. In theory, no regular person, hacker or computer expert from the outside can see into this data to locate you.

Thanks for listening!


How I become familiar with computers and then a Webmaster!

How I become a Webmaster and started Hearth.com

For those who are unfamiliar, I am the founder and publisher of Hearth.com, a popular web site about wood stoves and related appliances which has been active since 1995.

When I first decided to start this informational hearth site, it was my goal to have 10,000 readers per month…now we have more than that number in ONE DAY. Stats for Fall, 2011, show 460,000 visitors in November alone, reading over 3 MILLION pages!

In fact, Hearth.com is the most read stove and fireplace publication in the world and perhaps the only independent source of hearth information on the internet or in print!

Let’s turn on the wayback machine and discover how Hearth.com came to be.
Continue reading

Why we must roll back the tax cuts NOW…

A first step, but it’s nice to see at least a couple of them facing down their “owners” like Grover Norquist:
“GOP shifting on anti-tax policy
In light of the nation’s deficit, some Republicans are calling for an end to individual and corporate tax deductions.”

I think most of us – at least those who pay attention to economics, know that we are in real trouble in terms of the basic financing of our Federal Government. After all the BS dies down, the problems remain – and the BS does nothing to solve them all.
Continue reading

What I’m reading and listening to these days…..

Just finished reading:
The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Four Visionaries Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America.
This is the inside story of Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Andrew Weil and others who kicked off much of the 60’s with their interests in mind-bending drugs, self-introspection and holistic health. These stories are unfamiliar to most who didn’t live through that era. I’m not even sure that those who did not directly experience some of these times would be able to graph many of the changes which these folks spearheaded.
I’ll leave it at this – it’s a great book for anyone with interest in the 60’s. As the author notes, many of the concepts put forward by these pioneers are now part of everyday life – from the mind-body connection to the meditative spirit – from the idea that we are spiritual creatures to the importance of community and from the idea of Earth Day and Environmentalism to the ideas of sustainability….most of it hit the greater culture in the crucible of those times.

Podcasts: I really enjoy listening to certain episodes of NPR’s Fresh Air. Even then the particular subject is not something which seems of interest, listening through can be very educational. One recent episode detailed how one of the leaders of the Skinhead movement become “converted” back to a normal and sane member of society – fascinating!

Another interest of my is innovation and entrepreneurship, especially in the fields of technology (google, etc.) and energy (anything from clean water to clean energy).
I highly recommend a podcast series put out by Stanford University called Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders. This series features some of the top minds in the world giving talks to Stanford students. Listening to these audio programs will immediately increase both your IQ and your optimism!