The Encyclopedia Hydroponica

Your Hydroponics Compendium

Bitsy Battle: Part Deux – Sequel of the Small 25 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 3:15 pm
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Well it looks as though this shall be the final chapter in the Bitsy Battle. While the growing is still going, I think it’s pretty safe to say I’ve learned everything I’m going to learn at this point. So here we go…
100_1014100_1015As you may have guessed by now, I like to set my pictures up to display, left, right, left, right, etc. So if your screen formating moves things around just keep that in mind so you can tell what I’m talking about.
To the left here we have a nice shot of the Micro Tom with some green, ripening, and ripe tomatoes on it. As you can see this is an extremely low-growing cultivar.
To the right is the Florida Petite. It is about twice as tall (at a whopping 6-8 inches) but has similar total mass. The reason they both look a little sickly is because I’m lazy and wasn’t paying good attention to the state of the air stones, which clogged up.


I’m guessing this hurt yield a bit, but it seemed to have affected both plants pretty equally so I’m considering the contest to still be “fair enough”.
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On the left here we have a closer shot of the prettiest fruit cluster on the Micro Tom. I’m not certain why some of them display folded shoulders like that, and it doesn’t really alter the flavor at all, so it doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. Many of the Micro Tom’s fruit seem to be irregularly shaped, and they’re all smaller on average than the Florida Petite.


To the right is a cluster on the Petite, which as you can see here matured more slowly than the Tom.


At this point I was ready to declare the Micro Tom the winner, since it seemed both faster to mature and more prolific, but I was withholding final judgment until I could taste-test the difference between the two.
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For better size comparison I provide the picture on the left, holding fruit from the Micro Tom that I picked (you can see them in the previous Tom pictures).


The fruit from the Micro Tom are a little tougher than most cherry tomatoes, mainly because the smaller fruit have the same skin as a larger tomato, making it comparatively thicker for the smaller fruit. It’s a good-tasting tomato, but nothing that’s going to win an award or get people especially excited. However, it’s a really nice tomato for salads since it’s small enough to pop several in your mouth at once and unlike a full-sized cherry tomato, you don’t have to carefully balance it on a fork or chase it around the bowl trying to spear it. They’re small enough to sit quite happily atop a fork (particularly if you use some dressing to make them a bit stickier.)


The fruit of the Florida Petite, however, are more the size you’d expect from a cherry tomato, ripen to a redder color, and have a brighter, juicier flavor. While the Petite seems to produce fewer fruit (at least in this limited experiment) it does grow a similar total weight of tomatoes. I don’t have exact figures because I tend to eat as I pick, but it’s close enough for my satisfaction.


My final verdict is that the Micro Tom is ideal for extremely cramped growing locations, or anytime you want a fast-bearing carpet-style tomato plant, but it is in my opinion more novelty than salad contributor. The Florida Petite better balances size, yield, and quality. It may take a 2-3 weeks longer to mature, but it’s worth the wait. Of course both plants are still going, so if anything new develops I’ll let you know.


The final picture above to the right is a recent snap of both plants in the closet. As you can see I’ve been neglecting them more recently because I’m kind of anxious for them to finish up so I can start my next project.


Below I have pictures of the three fish I caught awhile back and talked about in the Fishing – Doctor’s Orders post. They’re kind of Goldilocks-style: small, medium, and large. Though really none of them were “big”, they were quite tasty. The final picture is post-cleaning. Yes, I left the tail on one of them. Call it gross, call it whatever, I learned from my grandfather that fried catfish tails were good to eat and so any fish I decide to cook whole (instead of filleted) I leave the tail on.
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You can also see me demonstrating here the best way to hold a catfish. Press the palm of your hand on the top of the fish, forcing the spiny dorsal fin back, flat against the body. With your thumb on one side and your middle finger on the other, hook in behind the spiny side fins, push them forward, and grab the bony protrusions there. Grip firmly and you’ve got ahold of your catfish in a way it can’t really get out of or scratch you with its fins. Simple!





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This is another way you can hold onto a catfish, but it’s less recommended. Catfish small enough for this method are better held over the top, and catfish too big for the over the top method… well try using two hands over the top or simply beating it to death with a large wooden club or something. I don’t know, I haven’t caught one of those yet so it hasn’t come up. But sticking your thumb in the mouth of a catfish this big or bigger is a good way to get scratched up because their “teeth” are basically just like really rough sandpaper and they will bite down on you. Most fishermen simply don’t care (as you can see here, I’m in that group) but if don’t want to look like someone attacked you with a metal file just stick with the over the top grip, and bring along a fisherman for handling the big ones.

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Bitsy Battle: Chapter 1 – The Teen Years 22 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 4:24 pm
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100_1007As promised I’ve got another update on the Bitsy Battle.
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This one covers the “mid-way” point right around the time when I mentioned it earlier in the blog.

To the left here you can see a nice full shot of the plant and growing unit, the airline is disconnected at the one-way valve on the left. These pictures were all taken in the bathtub while I was changing the nutrient solution and cleaning the bucket.

To the right is a close-up of the stem and the support system. You can see that the plant is growing fine in this system and that everything is nicely secure.

When I moved things around there was no slack or “floppiness” and I’d guesstimate this method would be secure for much larger plants. I’d have no worries growing full-sized indeterminates in this rig,
100_1009given the top support you always need for that kind of growing.

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We have a nice root shot to the left here. Personally I like to see more robust root systems on my plants just because they’re pretty and all the usual male “bigger is always better” stuff. But the truth of the matter is that hydroponics just doesn’t demand that kind of massive root system. (It doesn’t hurt, but it’s not as important.)

You can also see the lower side of the support system, and that my earlier decision to cut larger holes in the netting wasn’t really necessary.

To the right is the other tomato plant (the Micro Tom – the previous picture is of the Florida Petite). You can see that the Micro Tom is much shorter, denser, and has a lot more flowers/fruit so far. But the Micro Tom doesn’t know the tide will turn…
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On the left I’ve got another shot of the Micro Tom, closer and with a
100_10121better view of some of the fruit bunches. The slightly asymmetrical shaping of these tomatoes doesn’t change as they mature and grow. I’m not certain to what extent that might be genetic or possibly caused by me, but I’ve still got plenty of seeds for these two phenotypes so I’ll figure that out later. For the time being, my observation is that in my non-laboratory conditions, these two plants grown under pretty much identical conditions results in the Florida Petite growing fewer, larger and rounder fruit.

At the same time I was taking these pictures, I also thinned the herd in the salad machine by harvesting a whole plant (Grand Rapids lettuce). That machine holds 6 net pots, but doesn’t have the surface area necessary for 6 mature lettuce plants so I would periodically pull a plant out to make room for the others. As you can see with my bodywash bottle as a size comparison, this was no tiny plant. Good root development, and plenty of salad/sandwich making potential.


Useful Tip: If you, like me, harvest more lettuce than you can comfortably eat immediately, I’ve found a great storage method. First off, rinse it clean if you need to (I don’t, since it grows inside away from stuff I’d need to wash off) and then dry it as fully as possible. Water is the enemy to storing lettuce, ironically. I then take some paper towels (2 per gallon ziploc bag), fold them so they fit inside the bag as flat as possible, and then carefully stack the lettuce on top of that. Once the bag is full or you run out of lettuce, zip the bag all but 1 inch shut, push as much air out as you can without crushing the lettuce, and then seal the bag fully.

The paper towels absorb excess moisture that would cause your lettuce to wilt prematurely, and limiting the amount of air inside the bag also helps keep the humidity under control. Using this method I’ve had lettuce stay good for a very long time – much longer than my wife believes anything stays good in a fridge. Oh, and if you really want to get all the mileage you can out of your greens, you can even bounce them back after wilting a little by soaking them in a bowl of cool water for 15-20 minutes. They’ll soak it up and be nice and crisp again, just like new. As long as it’s green, doesn’t smell sour, or have something suspicious growing on it, I consider it good to eat.

But let your conscious be your guide.

 

Bitsy Battle: The Beginning 20 April, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 1:15 pm
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I have finally emerged victorious over the technical difficulties that plagued my ability to upload pictures. (translation: I finally got off my backside and fixed it.)


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Here we see the very beginning – two stacked 5 gallon bucket lids that have been covered in aluminum duct tape for light-proofing. I’ve drilled small holes in the center of each lid, large enough to admit plant stems but small enough to prevent a jiffy starter (also shown here with the Micro Tom seedling started in it) from passing through.


Most importantly, note the brown net-like structure. This is made from common, everyday shelf lining (or whatever it’s called). You can buy it at W-Mart or wherever, it costs practically nothing for a roll that will last you forever, and you can even use it to line your kitchen drawers/shelves. As you can see here I cut a narrow strip (slightly wider than I needed it to support). I then found the middle and carefully clipped out larger holes, also clearly seen here. I wasn’t sure if it would be helpful to do so, but I figured a little extra access for roots wouldn’t hurt, and this stuff is much stronger than it looks so I wasn’t really weakening it. (That narrow strip would likely support at least 75lbs.)


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Next up I poked the middle of the strip through the hole like so.


Keep going until you’ve got enough of a loop to slip your Jiffy starter (or whatever you’re using) into place without harming your seedling, then carefully pull the ends back out until it’s snugly in place and the seedling is through the top and flush against the lid (see below).
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Now the tricky part is finding a way to hold the ends tightly apart so that the plant won’t fall back down. Astute late-night television viewers will recognize the “Hercules Hook” employed in this task here. I also considered the ever-popular duct tape, but felt something more easily adjustable and more permanent would be the better choice.


This completes assembly of the upper portion of the system, solidly securing plant to lid.
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Please note that nearly any single item used in the construction thus far can be easily exchanged for something similar. This is primarily an example of construction using “at hand” materials. Take the spirit from this rather than a specific shopping list.
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So, on to the bucket.


At left we see how the exterior is drilled for the airline, which you can see installed with the one-way valve here.


To the right you can see inside the bucket. I glued the air stones down with silicone sealant. The one you see here is a super cheap air stone you can get anywhere (and it didn’t even last through the whole grow, so I don’t recommend that style.)
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Thoughts on this design…


The airline would benefit from being more effectively secured to the side of the bucket. Each time it was necessary to clean the buckets the roots would be wrapped around the air line a little. Not a big deal. Mostly I didn’t see a simple way to do that without complicating something else.


As I mentioned, the air stone should be upgraded. Cheap air stones clog up and stop bubbling entirely, which of course kills plants.
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To the right you can see a shot of the “salad machine” just set up and ready to go. It was coordinated to go with the Bitsy Battle. On the left you can see how the closet was set with both buckets and the salad machine. On the left is the 150w HPS I wrote about before, and on the right is the 105w (500w equivalent) CFL I’ve been using all along.


As plants in the salad machine matured and got crowded, I removed one at a time until three were left. Those were harvested at full maturity a couple weeks ago.


The Bitsy Battle continues and I’ll post another update in a day or two to cover the mid-way point, and then the final conclusions and photos a little bit after that.

 

My Cat’s Breath Smells Like… Basil? – Part Deux 24 March, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 11:49 pm
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Some of you might remember this post.


Well I’ve got a bunch of seedlings in a windowsill that’s surrounded by some curtains in order to maintain privacy and thwart my wife’s plant-violating cat. Well as any self-respecting villain is likely to do, she found a way in despite my efforts. Two Swiss chard plants met an early and violent end at her (allegedly) carnivorous teeth. Several other plants were mutilated, harassed, or trod upon. Fur and fuzz were strewn about and other unknown nefarious deeds were undoubtedly committed.


Uncorroborated reports suggest she may have been trying to contact the Dark Forces with some sort of ritual.


I have tightened security and, against my better judgment, procured a supply of cat grass to provide this ne’er do well with an legal outlet for her vegetative vengeance. It just don’t seem right to appease a criminal like that, but until some form of learning ability is found within that furry mind there is little else to do.



What’s most interesting in all of this is that within this window area are two very healthy basil seedlings which were, strangely, the only plants that were wholly untouched. This feline felon munched marigolds of all things, in favor of a truly tasty herb. Clearly not this mastermind’s finest hour… like all cats her goal is clearly world domination, but her personality deficiencies are her greatest enemy.



In other news the outdoor tomatoes appear to be doing well, I’ve got some very nice-looking garlic coming up and my first tulip has broken ground. Inside the lettuce is nearly out of control (it’s massive) and the Micro Tom’s tomatoes are starting to ripen. So there’s home-grown salad on the near future menu.


We went fishing last weekend with no luck, but it was still nice to get out and spend some time together relaxing. And it’s always good to get the tackle out and put it through its paces to see what you need to replace and whatnot. We wanted to try again today but the wind here was fierce. I can cast in wind, I grew up where “windy” means “it can knock you down”, but it was also just chilly enough to cut through you pretty good. Add in a little wet and it’d get downright unpleasant real quick and I don’t fish because I’m hungry. If I’m not having any fun, I’ll go home.


Plus there’s the little point that there are very few things that are less pleasant than the mildest annoyance to one’s spouse.

 

The Actual Gardening Update 12 March, 2009

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 4:07 am
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For those interested in why there are no garden pictures in this update, read the previous blog entry.


Let’s see… what all have I been up to?


Well I previously documented some tomatoes I was growing “Hempy” style, which is a type of hydroponic system developed by some people who grow “that plant”. I don’t, but I do study whatever techniques I can find that my apply to legitimate gardening. That one didn’t work for me. It probably works fine, I just did it wrong somehow. I say that because my next project was essentially the same thing, but in dirt. I had the exact same problem. There’s a few working theories as to what went wrong both times, but that’s not really important.


The new tomatoes are doing great.


I got some tomato seeds from a great guy who runs the Hydroponic Workshop blog. I read his blog a lot and noticed he mentioned in one post a few months back that the tomato plant he was growing, called a “Florida Petite”, was super-small. He said that he’d been told it was the smallest variety of tomato plant. Well it just so happened I’d bought some Micro Tom seeds from Totally Tomatoes that said the same thing – that this was the smallest variety. Thus the idea of a side-by-side grow was born and I got sent some Florida Petite seeds.


Micro Tom vs. Florida Petite – The Bitsy Battle!


I do have pictures, but not on my computer yet, so look for those to come. In the meantime I can award trophies in a few categories and you can just use your imagination. Both plants are growing in standard 5 gallon buckets DWC under a 150w HPS and a 105w CFL (6500K).


Shortest: With nothing taller than 3″, this goes hands down to the Micro Tom. At under 6″ the Florida Petite is still a very short plant.
Least “volume”: Hard to say, but the Petite looks a little smaller overall.
Earliest fruit: Micro Tom by 2 weeks.
Most fruit: Micro Tom by double, currently.
Prettiest: I’d have to go with the Petite here. It’s got a more classic tomato leaf shape and a richer color to its leaves.


Observations: The Micro Tom seem healthier, having lost fewer leaves. Its leaves are considerably darker green than the Petite’s, and curl a bit more and are otherwise less symmetrical. It also spreads out more horizontally which is a big part of the reason I prefer the overall “look” of the Petite. The Petite is just a prettier plant. On the other hand, the Micro Tom has quite literally over 2 dozen tomatoes growing on it and is smaller in diameter than the lid of the bucket, so that’s a pretty heavy-fruiting plant there. The Petite may catch up in total crop, but it’s lagging behind a few weeks so it’s hard to say. My instinct says it just won’t bear as many tomatoes as the Tom.


Of course we have to wait for a taste test for any kind of final score, and I haven’t gotten any ripe ones yet. My plan is to wait until both plants have ripe fruit for a proper side-by-side taste test.



The “salad machine” as I’ve dubbed the DWC I’ve shown here previously is nearing the end of it’s latest lettuce crop. As usual I’m getting monstrous plants out of that thing but I’ve decided I’m going to retire it, at least temporarily, after this crop. It may come back later, but probably not growing lettuce. I need a shorter, wider system that’s more modular for my salad needs. Younger plants and more of them should work better. I’m still in the planning and design phase of that, and with the donation of some lights by my uncle I should be able to actually convert a significant part of my grow closet back to storage and still multiply my lettuce harvest. More as that develops.



Beyond that I’ve started preparation for my outdoor crops by making a little window grow area. I’ve currently got 4 types of tomatoes (different than the mini versions above) started there, some swiss chard, marigolds (for companion planting with the tomatoes), basil, oregano, and this cool giant flower bushy thing I took seeds from at our old place but forgot the name of. Hopefully I got a mix of the pink and white ones of those because I couldn’t tell which were which after the flowers turned into seed pods. Oh, and I’ve got a snaggled mess of strawberry crowns all in the same peat pot in the window with some vague plan to sort them out eventually. Mainly I just want a runner I can put into hydroponics.


All that remains to mention is the garlic I planted last fall that hasn’t come up yet and the tulips I planted this winter that also haven’t come up yet despite the neighbors all having theirs up already. I’m not terribly worried just yet, but I’d prefer more than just bare dirt.

 

Gardening Update

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 3:32 am
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For those familiar with my posts a warning of impending rambling is unnecessary. For those unfamiliar, you’ve been warned.


There is a method to my madness, I assure you, which I’m tempted to explain but you either see it or you don’t and the explanation would be redundant or annoying, respectively. I mean if you see my writing style as random rambling it’d just be more of the same if I explained why I ramble, right?


It’s interesting sometimes how things that are merely annoying can shape events in our lives. I used to work and blog exclusively on my laptop. This was great because of the flexibility and portability it gave, but also annoying because I didn’t want to devote an entire desk “area” to a computer that was frankly a bit underpowered compared to my desktop PC. So the ergonomics of working from home were less than ideal. Then I got an even better desktop with a gorgeous wide flatscreen monitor roughly the size of… well… it’s big. The point is, this thing is built to game on but the allure of all that acreage for working was just too much. So I plugged the laptop into it for a little while.


And of course then I was hooked. Being able to lay out things side-by-side at the same resolution I was working before just made things so much simpler that I could hardly stand to work without the new monitor. But part of my work involves a certain disposability that I don’t want to introduce to my personal computer. (I have to be able to completely wipe the work PC to eradicate hostile software and/or protect sensitive data.) And I couldn’t simply keep working with the laptop plugged into the personal PC’s monitor because the analog output of the laptop meant the screen flickered whenever the charger was plugged in, and there was the extra hassle of an extra keyboard and mouse on the desk.


So I decided to go a step further and got a little external hard drive and built a Virtual Machine on it. I transfered all my work onto that and now my work PC literally fits into my back pocket. I can plug it into my desktop PC and work at home with all the power and sexiness of the big screen or plug it into the laptop and work on the go. And it can be very easily reset to a previous version if infected or deleted outright when a project is completed and ensure client confidentiality.


About now (if not earlier) people are wondering “what’s this got to do with a Gardening Update, as this entry is titled?”


Well you see my laptop has a card reader built into it and my desktop PC does not. And the USB cable for my camera has been MIA for months because I never used it since I had a card reader on the laptop. I’m sure it’s not actually lost, it’s most certainly buried at the bottom of a couple hundred pounds of “valuable computer parts” (or “computer crap” as the wife calls it) in a trunk I’m allowed to keep that stuff in. (Whatever I can’t fit in that trunk I’m not allowed to keep.)


For some annoying reason the card reader on the laptop doesn’t talk through to the Virtual Machine when it’s hooked up to that computer. Could I fix it? Most likely. But it’s one of a hundred things that only pushes the needle on the dial to “annoying” that I just can’t be bothered to fix. And yes, I know this flies in the face of the previous examples of annoying things that I was somehow compelled to correct like the monitor flickering thing. Don’t ask, I haven’t figured out the dichotomy myself yet.


See where I’m going now?


I’ve got pictures in the camera, though not as many as there would be since the concept of home hydroponics is becoming more normal in my life (the whole “you take more pictures of the first kid than the second kid” thing) and the HPS I have seems to seriously screw up any digital photography I attempt and I didn’t put an easy-to-use switch into my wiring project for that so I have to unplug it if I want it off for pictures. Thus we have pictures in the camera but no easy way to get them into the computer. I’ll do it. Eventually. No really, I will.


I’ve actually got a USB card reader thingie around here somewhere. Probably right next to the camera’s USB cable.


And this all ties into a Garden Update thusly: It’s going to be text-only. But to make sure it actually gets done, I’m doing it now. (Just as a separate post since this one is basically one of the more lengthy and wordy excuses in human history at this point.)

 

Snow, Car Buying, Car Selling, and Holidays 9 December, 2008

Filed under: Blog — E.H. @ 7:27 pm
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Well the new place is starting to feel like “ours”, and it only cost a small fortune to get there.  I exaggerate a bit, but when the wife and I zip out to Walmart to get “a couple things” if we get out for less than $100 we feel like we won.

Mayonnaise, curtains, a popcorn popper… these are just a few of the things we didn’t have when we moved because they belonged to someone else at the old place.  And of course the whole nesting thing costs money (and it doesn’t help when one of you is a tech-a-holic.)  Yes, I do need to be able to hook the laptop up to the new 32″ HDTV.  For, uh, research purposes.

I have not forgotten how far behind I’ve gotten with the hydroponic/indoor garden updates.  I went through the pictures the other day and they weren’t as complete as I’d remembered, but there’s still a heck of a lot more than I could cram into even a few posts so it will be a good “What I’ve Been Slacking On” update.

At the moment I’ve just got two soil-growing tomatoes in the closet with some respectably CFL output, but they’re not as healthy as I’d like.  I have a small HPS on the way so I hope to do a DIY post MacGyvering that thing into use.  (It’s not a plant growing design, so it’ll need adapted.)

I think I mentioned a few month back that I’d bought this natty pickup to help with the move and picking up garden supplies and so forth.  Well we’re into the snowy season here and without any cold frames, hoop covers or (*drool*) greenhouses that means I’ve got no outdoor growing and thus the truck has reached the end of its usefulness until spring, except as basic transportation.

To make a long story slightly less long, we’re now selling the truck and looking for a car that’s better suited to winter driving than our beloved Honda, in the “we drive it in winter because morons who can’t drive in snow might hit it and we’d cry if the Honda got bent” sense.  I’m paranoid enough about our Honda I’m tempted to get a car cover for it to protect against the elements, but I’m concerned people might think it’s valuable if it’s covered up and mess with it.  Kind of a gamble either way.

And of course all this is set with the double-edged backdrop of the holidays.  I like the holidays, don’t get me wrong.  I like the family get-togethers and that stuff, but the whole commercial, crowded, panicked last-minute freak-out aspect of the holidays makes me want to start waving a claw hammer at every idiot that gets near me.

Christmas is December 25th, every year, like clockwork.  It only sneaks up on people bad at math.  If you forgot to get a widget for your cousin Ernie, hauling your ‘tocks down the road at 20+ over the speed limit in your be-wreathed Combat-Shopper edition SUV while texting on your ridiculous phone is not the best way to solve that problem.

Some of us are just not in that big a hurry and would instead prefer to get to the mall alive.  And you know what else?  You may not notice from the cockpit of your assault vehicle but you don’t get there any quicker than I do with my 75hp and 30+ mpg.  They’re called traffic lights and they’re timed to keep us from going too fast.

Just freakin’ relax a bit.

Try enjoying the holidays instead of turning them into a competition.

Just one thing.  Can we please have legislation banning Christmas music on the Musak system until at least the 15th?  I mean honestly, we really don’t need that many renditions of “Little Drummer Boy” and I think more than a little of the holiday tension comes from the fact that the people working in those stores are pushed to the breaking point by hearing the same seven Christmas songs over and over.

Sorry, rant over.

Merry Christmas!  ;p