The Trick to Popping Up on a Surfboard

September 2, 2011 Leave a comment
Popping up on a surfboard

Put your best foot forward when you try to pop up on a surfboard.

The soft, spilling waves of southwest Costa Rica are perfect for learning to surf.  Even so, many beginners struggle  before mastering the art of standing up on the board.  Whether you are surfing in Costa Rica or anywhere else, learning to “pop up”, is the first challenge in surfing.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

To pop up successfully, you will need to put your best foot forward.  The question is: Which is your best foot?  You will need to determine if you are going to be riding “natural”, meaning you balance better with your left foot forward, or “goofy”, with your right foot forward.  It’s not a simple matter of being right-handed or left-handed.  Many right-handers, for example, are more comfortable balancing with their left foot forward.

To figure this out, imagine what you would do if you were walking on ice.  Most people will slide one foot forward in order to maintain balance.  Which foot is that?  That’s the foot you will put forward when surfing.

Popping up on a Surfboard – the Skinny

“Popping up” is getting to a standing position on your surfboard with the correct foot forward as quickly as possible.  It is the key to successful surfing.  To pop up successfully, grab the edges of the board just above your rib cage.  Arch your back and lift your shoulders and chest.  If you are a practitioner of yoga, the position you are in before popping up is similar to the cobra pose.

Keep looking forward.  Then in one fluid motion, bring your correct foot forward placing it on the board where your belly button was.  Turn your back foot down to your instep.  When you stand, you will be facing out to one side.  Remain in a low crouching position and ride.

Keep in mind that the correct motion consists of bringing your foot forward to be under your body.  If you find yourself kneeling on the board you are probably shifting your weight back over your feet.  To avoid this, try to keep your butt down and your head high.

Practice Makes Perfect

Before heading out to the waves, practice popping up on the beach.  Use a stick to draw the shape of the surfboard in the sand.  Lie down and try it a few times.

Once you head out to the waves don’t get too discouraged if you don’t master it right away.  Most beginning surfers experience a rite of passage when it comes to popping up.  Keep at it until you master it.

Few beaches are as forgiving to beginners as the beaches of southwest Costa Rica, but even surfing in Costa Rica will be a challenge until you master the art of popping up.


Quality Beef. Who Decides?

August 20, 2011 1 comment
Juicy red meat

The different grades of beef are valuable for determining the quality of each cut.

USDA prime filet is the crème-de-la-crème of beef, the highest grade of the finest cut of beef available, tender, juicy and delicious.  By comparison, USDA choice sirloin is a mere poser, and USDA select round, truly second-rate.  But what makes one type of beef so unquestionably superior, while others are unable ever to aspire to such glowing accolades.  Who decides, and by what criteria?

What Determines Quality Beef?

Quality beef is distinguished by superior tenderness and flavor.  Tenderness and flavor are a result of how much fat runs through the meat.  When fat is heated, it melts and seeps into the meat, keeping it moist and making it flavorful.

Lean meat, highly muscled, has little fat running through it.  It’s naturally less moist and flavorful.  That’s why meat taken from parts of the animal’s body where muscles are regularly exercised is not as desirable as that taken from more sedentary parts.

From a butcher’s perspective, the animal’s body can be divvied up into more than eight different cuts.  Each of these cuts is categorized under two broad categories: forequarter cuts, meaning the front half of the cow; and hindquarter cuts, meaning the back half.

In both regions there are muscled and sedentary areas.  It is accepted wisdom among butchers that meat becomes more tender the further it is from horn and hoof.  Thus, among the forequarter cuts, the meat closer to the front, just above the forelegs, the cuts known as the chuck and brisket, are less tender and flavorful than the cuts behind them, toward the middle of the animal, such as the rib, which is why prime rib is generally considered more desirable than ground chuck.

A cook flips a slab of beef on the grill.

Meat is evaluated on two criteria: marbling and maturity.

The same is true of the hindquarter cuts.  The back of the animal, the beef round, is much less desirable than the less weight-bearing area in front of it, the loin.  In fact, the loin is the least exercised part of a cow and has the most fat running through it.  From this area we get the short loin and the sirloin.

What’s Better, Choice or Prime?

The most prized cut of all lies within the sirloin, two tube-like strips of beef that run along either side of the spine known as the tenderloin.  When the tenderloin is sliced or “filleted” into portions, the cut known as “beef filet” is the result.  The tenderloin tapers at one end, so cuts taken from this end are known as the small filet or, as they say in French, filet mignon.

But if beef filet is the most desirable cut of beef, what does it mean to call it “prime?”  Is this just a piece of empty hype?

Not at all.  The term “prime” is a legal designation, assigned by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to designate the highest quality of meat.  Meat processers actually pay meat graders from the USDA to evaluate their products before introducing them to the market.  Meat is evaluated on two criteria: marbling (the amount of fat running through the meat) and maturity (the age of the animal when it goes to slaughter).

The designation “prime” is the A+ of meat grading and is so grudgingly given that only about 3% of beef is so honored.  It usually ends up in upscale restaurants or on the tables of the well-to-do.  It indicates beef from a young animal with plenty of intra-muscular fat, and thus highly flavorful.

“Choice” is usually the top grade found at supermarkets.  “Select” is a more everyday grade, leaner and less moist than Choice but by no means objectionable.

Below “Select” there is “Standard”, a still leaner grade of decent quality, but less flavorful; and “Commercial”, lacking in marbling and tenderness and apt to come from older animals.  Even further down the scale are “Utility,” “Cutter” and “Canner”, grades usually reserved for processing into prepared foods and canned goods.

Currently, Certified Angus Beef is all the rage.  Certified Angus is a branding designation registered with the USDA and indicates USDA Prime or Choice beef that came from Black Angus cattle, which some consumers consider to have a superior flavor.

Whether Certified Angus Beef is the equal of good ol’ USDA prime filet, one thing is for certain.  The question represents one of the few cloudy areas in the otherwise crystal clear world of beef evaluation.  Not only the part of the animal where the meat was harvested but the grades assigned by the USDA tell the consumer pretty precisely what’s what.  The terminology is not hype or fluff, but communicates facts.

So can a choice sirloin ever be better than a prime filet?

Not a chance.  Better is better.


Author and Client:  This article was written by Malcolm Logan for Butcher’s Kitchen



USDA beef grading standards (PDF)

Michael Chu. “USDA Beef Quality Grades”. Cooking for Engineers.


Image credits:

Juicy red meat, FotoosVanRobin; Cooking Beef, Public Domain

Riveted: People Who Love Staplers

August 14, 2011 3 comments
McGill Vintage Stapler

McGill Vintage Stapler 1879

What’s so interesting about a stapler?  Well, as it turns out, staplers have a certain irresistible allure to some.  The stapler with all its humble utility is actually a superstar among office artifacts, boasting a deep pedigree of more than 130 years of styling advancements and innovations.  Stapler collecting is catching on.

Muriel Fahrion is an artist from southwest Oklahoma who collects vintage staplers.  She got started collecting two years ago when she became fascinated with an EM230 Paris agrafeuse on Ebay that she managed to snare for only $8 (an identical one was posted at $99).  Since then her hobby has grown and she now owns more than 50 unique staplers.  She has recently parlayed her fascination with staplers into a book, Stapler Fasten Nation featuring 36 pages of color photographs of staplers.

Star Paper Fastener 1896

Star Paper Fastener 1896

Jason McCarley collects vintage staplers and showcases them on his blog.  He points out that staplers are one of the few office tools that require finely tuned design and engineering.  And he’s right about that.  Staplers are not unlike automobiles in the sense that the design is captive to the engineering, but once the engineering is built in, the designers get to flex their muscles, and sometimes the results are impressive.

No one knows that better than Chad Lemke.  On his blog Stapler of the Week, Chad gives a whole new meaning to the words “pin-up”.  His site features a unique and memorable stapler each week.  Staplers have been around since the 1850’s and a wide range of designers have had a crack at them.  To give you a sense of how deep the roster is Chad has been posting pictures and descriptions of different staplers for five years and he’s not done yet.

All of these stapler enthusiasts are admirers of the Early Office Museum, a website devoted to the history and evolution of office equipment.  Among its galleries consisting of exhibits on everything from copying machines to pencil

Swingline Cub Stapler

Swingline Cub Stapler

sharpeners is a gallery on staplers featuring more than 50 early stapling tools.  The museum places each stapler within its historical context and traces the evolution of the stapler over time, culminating in the invention of the open channel magazine loaded stapler in 1938 in the form of Speed Products Co.’s Swingline Speed Fasteners.

As artifacts, staplers are more interesting than they first appear.  The simple combination of spring, plunger and anvil has elicited a wide range of manifestations over the course of years.  The apparently simple engineering involved turns out to be surprisingly detailed and precise.  The body styling runs the gamut from functional to sexy with a few quirky designs thrown in.  There’s no denying it, the humble stapler has a proud pedigree.  All things considered, staplers can be fascinating.  It’s no wonder some people are riveted.

Author and Client:  This article was written by Malcolm Logan for the Swingline blog 

Image Credits:

McGill Vintage Stapler 1879 , Public Domain, Star Paper Fastener 1896, Jason McCarley, Swingline Cub, Chad Lemke

Surfing in Costa Rica: The Truth About Stingrays and Jellyfish

August 6, 2011 2 comments
Cautious about stingrays

While incidents are rare, it’s best to be cautious about stingrays.

A common question among surfers new to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is whether there are any dangerous marine animals to be aware of.  In a word, yes.

The coast from Dominical down to Bahia Ballena is part of the eastern Pacific tropics, a lush region that is home to many exotic species of animal life, some of which can cause you pain if you’re not careful.  The two to be most wary of when surfing are stringrays and jellyfish.

Stingrays are found lying in the sand of costal waters.  If you step on one, it will whip around and sting you with its muscular tail, driving as many as 4 sharp, barbed stingers into your sorry self.

The resulting pain will intensify over 2 hours before beginning to subside.  You may also become nauseous and experience muscle cramping.  It is unlikely that the sting will kill you unless it strikes you directly in the heart or severs an artery.  The vast majority of stingray stings occur on the lower leg or foot.

Stingrays are not aggressive.  They will not seek you out to sting you.  But if you step on one it will act defensively and give you something to remember it by.


The trick to avoiding stringrays while surfing is to let them find you.

The trick to avoiding stingrays is to let them find you before you find them.  You are advised to shuffle your feet in the sand as you wade out to surf.  The stingray will detect the agitation and take off.

At the Uvita Surf School in Playa Uvita there has not been a stingray incident in several years.  Nevertheless, Tito, the lead surf instructor, always advises his students to practice caution by using the foot shuffling method when heading out into the waves.

If stingray stings are rare, it is even less likely that you will encounter a jellyfish, but it is possible.  Jellyfish are a potential hazard on beaches throughout the world and jellyfish stings are the most common marine injury on the planet.

If you brush up against a jellyfish, you will be pierced with a cluster of needlelike filaments that discharges a nasty venom.  The stinging sensation will be immediate and the pain will increase over 10 minutes before leveling off.  You will experience a redness of the skin, itchiness and minor swelling.  You may become nauseous or experience muscle spasms.

You can lessen the trauma by treating the sting properly.  Don’t wash it in fresh water.  That will only stimulate the imbedded needles to secrete more venom.  Instead, apply vinegar to the wound.  Don’t brush at the wound.  Instead try to lift the needles away or shave them away with shaving cream and a razor.  Take an oral antihistamine like Benadryl to lessen your body’s allergic reaction to the venom.  The effects of the sting may last from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the toxicity of the venom.

The good news for Costa Rican surfers is that jellyfish tend to proliferate in areas of over-fishing and marine contamination, neither of which are a problem in the clean, fish-friendly waters of southwest Costa Rica.  Jellyfish sightings along the beaches of southwest Costa Rica are quite infrequent.

So the likelihood that you will be stung by a stingray or a jellyfish while surfing in Costa Rica is rare, but not unheard of, so it’s best to be prepared with proper knowledge of how to avoid them and what to do if a sting occurs.  ♦

Author and Client:  This post was written by Malcolm Logan for Uvita Surf School at

Image Credits:

Looking out while surfing, Ceiling; Stingray, Gary Rinaldi


What’s Better, a Messy Desk or a Clean Desk?

April 25, 2011 1 comment
messy desk

This messy desk could be costing corporate America billions.

One of the burning debates in the world of office efficiency is whether a messy desk or an orderly desk is best.  Although most office workers lie somewhere between the obsessively neat and the chronically slovenly, everyone has a dog in this hunt because everyone wants to believe that their system is best (or is a system at all).

It doesn’t help that the experts are also divided on the issue.  Eric Abrhamson and David H. Freedman in their book A Perfect Mess, The Hidden Benefits of Disorder come down squarely on the side of sloppiness.  They argue that keeping things neat and orderly takes time, time that might be better spent producing results for the company.

If the same amount of work can be done in the same amount of time by someone with a messy desk and someone with a clean desk, the person with the messy desk is actually ahead because they didn’t waste extra time cleaning things up.

Ah, but there’s more to it than that says Penelope Trunk, a career advice guru whose column runs in 200 newspapers.  “A messy desk undermines your career in subtle ways. If you are the owner of the company, you give the impression that you cannot handle your position. If you are in middle management, when someone is giving away a plumb assignment, she does not think of you because you give the impression that it will go into a pile and never come out.”

Maybe, but Penelope is perhaps a little biased on the issue.  In her column entitled “List of Things I Hate” she places people with messy desks at number two.  In her explanation of why people with messy desks are so irksome she says that people with messy desks wrote to her complaining about her position on messy desks and it annoyed her so now she hates people with messy desks even more.  Um, okay.

Penelope may be surprised to learn that a 2005 survey by office staffing firm Ajilon found that only 11% of people earning $75,000 a year or more describe themselves as being neat freaks when it comes to their desk.  Of those earning less than $35,000 a year, 66% describe themselves as such.  Apparently the folks earning the most money never got the memo telling them that having a sloppy desk undermines your career.

On the other hand, Penelope comes armed with a study of her own, a 2001 University of Texas study that found that “people with messy offices are less efficient, less organized and less imaginative then people with clean offices.”  What’s more, the study found that coworkers viewed messy workers as less efficient and unimaginative.  Ouch!  No one likes to be judged.

But the Ajilon study parses the issue of perception a little more carefully.  It found that given a random sample of three coworkers, one won’t give a hoot about your messiness, one will judge you negatively because of it, and one will say it depends on who you are.  Ah, that’s a little more like it.  We all understand that there are people like Penelope in the office who harbor a smoldering disgust for disorder, but as long as the other two-thirds of the staff are okay with it, we’re good.

Or are we?  What if our messiness causes us to lose things?  One survey conducted by GkF Roper North America and cited by CNBC determined that corporate America loses a whopping $177 billion a year in time spent searching for lost items around the office.  Goodness gracious!  We could use that money to balance the budget!

At the end of the day, we’re left with this.  According to the experts, if you have a messy desk you are likely to be more successful but less imaginative.  You will give a negative impression to about a third of your coworkers and your efficiency will be called into question but you will actually devote more time to your job than someone who wastes time keeping their desk clean.

Oh, and you will cost corporate America $177 billion a year.

But if you can live with that go ahead and continue your slovenly ways.  Just don’t write to Penelope about it.  ♦

Author and Client:  This article was written by Malcolm Logan for the Swingline blog 



Image Credit:

Messy Desk, EUSocial
Note:  This blog post was written for the Swingline Division of Acco Brands and can be viewed at their website

The Best Waves for Beginning Surfers to Learn On

March 23, 2011 1 comment
Beach Break

A spilling wave breaks for a longer period of time than a plunging wave.

When it comes to learning how to surf, some waves are better than others.  For the beginning surfer, spilling waves are the best.

A spilling wave occurs when a gradually sloping ocean floor causes the wave to become steeper and steeper until the crest spills down the face of the wave in a rush of foaming whitewater.  The wave continues in this manner until its energy is dissipated in a froth near the shore.

Spilling waves break for a longer time than other waves, providing ample energy at the start of the ride and a gentle decrease in power as the wave nears the shore.  For beginners who are just learning to stand and balance on the board this is ideal.

When a wave breaks over a sandy bottom, it’s called a beach break.  When a wave breaks over an obstruction, like a rocky bottom or a reef, it’s called a reef break.  Reef breaks produce plunging waves which, while they are highly favored by experienced surfers, are difficult for beginners.

Plunging waves rise quickly and become steeper, almost vertical at the crest, before plunging suddenly into the trough, creating a barrel or tube as they break along their line.  To catch a ride inside that tube is the ultimate surfing experience.

However, the suddenness and force of a reef break can be too much for a beginner.  What’s more, the rocky bottom can result in a painful battering if the wave crashes down full force on a fallen surfer.

Finding the right beach to learn on should be one of the chief concerns for aspiring surfers. Yet many surf schools make no mention of the importance of learning on the right waves, taking all levels of surfers to the same beach.

At the Uvita Surf School, in Bahia Uvita, Costa Rica, beginners are taught at Colonia Beach in Ballena National Marine Park. Colonia has a beach break and produces plenty of vigorous spilling waves to learn on. The gradually sloping sandy bottom at Colonia is most forgiving to surfers who fall in the course of their lessons, dramatically reducing the chance of cuts and abrasions, and Colonia is not frequented by experienced surfers, who prefer the plunging waves further up the coast at Dominical.

Waves are not all the same. Some are better than others. For beginners, a spilling wave that results from a beach break is the best kind of wave to learn on.  ♦

Author and Client:  This post was written by Malcolm Logan for Uvita Surf School at

The Types of Wood Used in Making Picture Frames

March 13, 2011 1 comment
Wood Types in Picture Framing

Picture frame mouldings come from a variety of different trees

The picture framing industry has long sought to provide its customers good value as well as a range of high quality mouldings.  To do so, it has sourced wood harvested from a wide variety of trees.  Broadly speaking, however, picture frame mouldings can be gathered under two headings: hardwood frames and softwood frames.  But as you are about to find out, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Hardwood frames and softwood frames.  Hmm, this would seem to speak to the fact that one is made of a harder, more difficult to work wood, and the other is more soft and yielding.  Well, um… not quite.  In fact, the designations don’t always have to do with how hard or dense the wood is.  For example, balsa wood – wait for it – is a hard wood, as is basswood, one of the most common woods used in making picture frames.

The one thing that all hardwood trees have in common is that their seeds have a covering, like an apple, acorn or walnut.  Softwood trees by comparison drop cover-less seeds, like pine trees.  Hardwood trees are typically deciduous trees which means they lose their leaves in the winter time.  Softwood trees are more commonly evergreens.

While we can say that not all hardwoods are hard and dense, we can also say that the hardest and densest of woods are indeed hardwoods, and this is where the confusion comes in.  In picture framing the terms are often used to refer to the workability of the wood rather than the strict designation.  So basswood frames are often referred to as softwood frames, as opposed to oak and maple, which are universally acknowledged to be hardwood due to their density and stability.

To confuse matters further, many commercial frame mouldings are made of basswood or ramin – both soft hardwoods – but have a veneer meant to mimic an even harder wood like cherry, walnut or maple.  In purchasing a picture frame you will want to stay alert to words like “finish”, as in “walnut finish frames”.  This probably means a ramin frame with a walnut finish.

Hardwoods are tough, hard-wearing woods that resist dents and scratches.  One way to tell a hardwood moulding from a softwood moulding is to scratch it with your fingernail.  If it doesn’t scratch easily, it’s likely a hardwood.

Hardwoods are generally thought to be more attractive than softwoods as they have well-defined grain patterns.  But truly dense hardwoods like oak, maple, hickory and teak can be a struggle to saw, sand and nail.  Softwoods, on the other hand, are much easier to work but are more prone to warping and can ooze sap.

In recent years most commercial picture frame mouldings have been made from soft hardwoods imported from Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia, where cheap, easy-to-work ramin and basswood are the lumbers of choice.  Even when the mouldings are sourced through China, the Chinese are often getting the moulding from Southeast Asia.  This is an issue as the Indonesians do not practice sustainability and deforestation is a growing problem in Indonesia.

Recently the furniture and picture framing industries have begun looking to hybrid poplar, grown in North America, made from black cottonwood and eastern cottonwood, for its better sustainability.  But this has not yet ramped up.

The most common soft hardwoods used in picture framing are basswood, ramin, obeche and mahogany. The most common dense hardwoods are oak, walnut, cherry and ash.  The most common truly soft softwoods are pine, redwood and cedar.

Whichever moulding you choose, remember that the picture framing industry has always endeavored to provide a low cost, easy to work wood that has the beauty and character to enhance fine works of art.  In this they have largely succeeded.  ♦

Author and Client:  This article was written by Malcolm Logan for Logan Graphic Products, Inc.