Just a little blog about me and mine.

Tricking Kids Into Manual Labor (and saving the world) January 31, 2009

Filed under: family,Why didn't I think of that? — Katie @ 3:09 am

A headline about tricking kids into doing manual labor was enough to get me to click through a link on a website (Gizmodo) to see what they were talking bout.  It’s a computer gadget website/blog, so I was fairly certain the article wasn’t going to be about parenting or chores, so it got my attention. Kids should be good for something, and manual labor tops my list.  I generally think that kids are a giant drain of energy, time, and money and not really good for anything other than to have a socially acceptable excuse to play on a playground and see kids movies and not look like a social deviant.

My parents were relatively cool in the childhood manual labor department. Unlike my dad, I didn’t have to spend my childhood “leisure” time picking cotton or putting up tobacco, churning butter, milking cows or castrating pigs. He once told me that a summer spent working tobacco, in a hot barn, arms covered in black tar, made him decide to go to college and not have to work on the farm. I grew up within 20 miles of that farm, but had a much more posh childhood. I had to keep my room generally neat and suffered through reminders that, “drawers that open are drawers that close.” I set the table when asked, I cut the grass and got paid $5, and if you’ve ever seen the size of my parents’ yard, they got the better end of that deal. Overall, I was expected to just be generally agreeable and nice and had to do what was asked of me.

But, back to tricking kids into manual labor. Clicking on the headline proved that it’s not a parenting article, or a child abuse article, but a really awesome invention called the Play Pump that has the potential to make a huge difference in the world.


It looks, and plays, like regular playground equipment, but it’s really a pump for moving groundwater to a tank for a village. There’s a tank between the pump and the faucet, allowing water to be stored after “playtime.”


Access to clean drinking water is one of the world’s most urgent needs:

  • more than 1 billion of the world’s people don’t have a reliable source of clean water
  • 80% of all sickness in the world is caused by water-related disease
  • the burden of finding and hauling clean water is often left to women and girls, a task that is both arduous and dangerous

I’m not well versed in international development issues, so I don’t know if the Play Pump folks are effective in bringing these to places where they will make a difference.  I hope so.  It’s often the simplest solutions that are the best.  Occam’s Razor and all that.

Nevertheless, I’m a fan of elegant, efficient, and useful technology–especially when it’s put to good use.  Technology, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad, but nor is it neutral.  Think about it.  Technology is not a moral value.  It’s capacity to be either life giving  or life taking rests not in the technology itself, but with us, it’s creators and users, and for that reason it’s also not a neutral and independent force at work in the world.  For example, the development of the machine gun prior to WWI was a huge technological leap forward after centuries of hand-to-hand combat.  It’s efficient.  It’s effective.  It wasn’t the gun that made it possible to kill one another in a cold, industrialized way–we did that–the gun was just the technology we used.

Likewise, it’s up to us to recognize the moral issues attached to the lack of clean water around the world.  And it’s also and up to us to find ways to solve them, together with the folks whose lives are at stake, or course.  Those are the moral values at stake–life, death, safety, dignity.  Technology has a big role to play as a catalyst and a tool for social change, and in this case, it’s also makes for one really sweet toy.


BYOBike Lane January 28, 2009

Filed under: Why didn't I think of that? — Katie @ 3:23 pm

In the category of “Why Didn’t I Think of That?”…

It costs $5,000 to $50,000 per mile to make a bike lane (I’m not sure what a $50,000 bike lane would look like, but that’s what Huff Post tells me. I imagine it might be the bicycle equivalent of the locking cart escalator at Ikea). Living in a city that is not bike/pedestrian/public transit friendly, I’m not holding my breath for dedicated bike lanes anytime soon. My favorite bike lanes in Atlanta are the ones that go for a while and then stop, dumping you unprotected onto a busy street.

I’m proud of my retro looking bike, and it even has a basket now (installing it is another matter). I haven’t been too many places by bike though because I like living and not being squashed by cars on Memorial Drive. There’s a back way to the library so I rode there one Saturday, and PL was brave enough to climb the giant hill to the Wal Mart parking lot (thereby cutting through and avoiding Memorial Drive) and then pedal through Avondale Estates in search of coffee and Wi-Fi. She’s my hero. And a beast.

I have dreams of a bike friendly society (and riding with my side baskets 3.1 miles to the Farmer’s Market), and I know that if it was safer and easier to get around by bike I would be more likely to do it. A friend living in Denmark introduced me to the cool site Copenhagenize, and also the stylish Copenhagen Cycle Chic–both lots of fun to browse. At least 500,000 people ride their bike everyday in Copenhagen, and don’t need silly padded pants, bike computers, or even sun to do it.

Check this out:


Right now I barely ride my bike in the day, and certainly wouldn’t at night where I live. (The darkness is only one of the reasons, we also live in the ghetto where we hear gunshots (er, fireworks) sometimes and neighbors don’t keep their dogs inside a fence).

I’m now taking bids for one of my geeky friends to make me one of these. It appears to be a laser projection apparatus set up under the seat. My birthday is not until October 15, but Groundhog Day is right around the corner.


Get Fit With Fido July 16, 2008

Filed under: fitness,pets,volunteering,Why didn't I think of that? — Katie @ 9:19 pm

The Seattle Animal Shelter operates a BRILLIANT volunteer program called Get Fit With Fido.  Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, volunteers pick up shelter dogs, put them in adorable vests that say “I’m Available for Adoption” and take them running. 

According to the organization, here are the primary goals of the program:

  • Vigorously exercise dogs that are confined to kennels for long periods of time
  • Find loving homes for shelter dogs
  • Increase public awareness of the shelter and let people know that adoptable dogs are not routinely “put to sleep”
  • Recruit volunteers for various programs at the shelter
  • Encourage runners and joggers to adopt dogs for companionship and safety

I started running in March, right after we adopted a great shelter dog we named O’Malley.  He came to live with us on March 1st.  By March 3rd, it became apparent that he needed more exercise than just a daily stroll around the neighborhood.  It was also clear that he didn’t know what a leash was, and was a pain to walk with at first because of the pulling, and the marking, and the smelling everything.  Patience and training improved his leash behavior, and when he sees us pick up the leash he knows it is time to go for his jog.  Running with our dog has improved our fitness, allowed us to meet our neighbors, and gave us a calm and well-behaved dog.  Georgia is a state with one of the highest number of unwanted but adoptable pets in the country.  Perhaps a similar program would help shelter dogs become more adoptable and more visible.