31 December, 2009

Most. Incompetent. Doctor. Evahh?

Most. Incompetent. Doctor. Evahh?  I wonder, I really wonder.  On Christmas Eve, a toothache/abscess found me, with unerring accuracy.  There not being too many dentists open over the Xmas break, I headed to the local Emergency Room since, after all, an antibiotic is an antibiotic, whoever prescribes it.  Pity the same can't be said of pain-killers.

Since it was my first visit to ER, the triage nurse asked me if I had any allergies.  I told her than I had very adverse reactions to codeine and venlafaxine, both of which are commonly given.  I then told the registering clerk the same thing before getting to sit in ER waiting for my doctor to show up.  When she did, we went through the quick exam, I explained that I was taking one panadol and one ibuprofen every three hours and that this was coping with the pain but barely. Said doctor said something about panadeine but I've been up this particular garden path before and pointed out that the "eine" stood for codeine, which, as I'd just finished telling her and for the third time, I have an extremely adverse reaction to.

"Hmmm," she said.  "Well I'll add tramadol to the script instead then."  And I waltzed out quite happily, filled my script at my local pharmacy, where I was again asked if A) I'd ever taken Tramadol before and B) what if any drugs I had bad reactions to.  So that was four times in the space of three hours that I'd told a range of medical and pharmaceutical people.

Decided not to take the new painkiller if possible, because it was the festive season after all, and if I was going to get a reaction, this was probably not the best of times to be rocking up to ER again.  But then yesterday afternoon, it became apparent that the antibiotic wasn't working, and the "one and one every three hours" ploy wasn't holding the extra pain down.  So I decided to use the tramadol after all.

Having been caught by surprise by other "snap prescriptions" before, (how do you think I found out I had such bad reactions to the other two?  Two trips to ER after a "change of script" by doctors, is what) I took only half the prescribed dose first time around.  Half an hour later I was feeling very close to the way I felt the other two times, and was close to calling the 000 line as I was by then pretty much incapable of concentrating enough to drive myself.

I held off though, and things settled down after a few hours.  Enough so that I could look up tramadol on the internet.  Yup, it's a codeine analog, and it's chemically closest cousin among commonly dispensed drugs is venlafaxine...


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29 December, 2009

Solar Energy And The Cheap Bastards

Over at good.is, they're looking into why solar energy is taking so long to become commonplace, and coming up with answers.  But they're missing the real issue.  We're apparently Cheap Bastards.

To use electricity, the world had to undergo several costly and resource-intensive paradigm shifts.  First there were localised wind or water powered grain mills etc, and work was brought to them and then distributed outwards, by horse and cart mainly.  That paradigm was brought crashing (and cost people a fortune in the process) when the steam engine meant you could site the mill nearer to the crop or input material.  There were still a lot of small mills that had to be built though.

Next, trains provided the means to move materials and products, and the game changed again.  (And cost the equivalent of trillions in putting in railway tracks and infrastructure around the world.)

Then electricity happened along, and suddenly you could burn the fuel in one place and use whatever part of the fuel you hadn't wasted in inefficiencies, at any other place.  It took another huge outpouring of resources and materials to run power everywhere.

The key thing in all of these transformations was that it cost a lot of money and resources.  Since money is such a driver in society, it cost a LOT, period, for people of generations past to adopt each new advance.

And now we're facing a similar infrastructure shift retooling for solar and wind energy (has to have built in storage and really requires new ways of doing things) and we're coming up as the Cheap Bastards of the millennium...  The problem is largely that everyone is promising that power will be cheaper - and it will, up to and including free.  But only once you've spent the money on making solar and wind power resilient enough to cope.  Thanks to being Cheap Bastards, and the power of advertising, all we're seeing is the word "CHEAP" in that picture...

What is actually needed is a massive redesign and retrofit of houses - use as much of the solar energy in it's "natural" state (at 12V - 24V - 48V or whatever your system outputs rather than upconverted to 240V,) and more than one way to store excess energy during the day for later use.  I suggest.  That one of the largest wastes of energy isn't in lighting (about 2% of your electric bill) or cooking (maybe 10%) but in heating and cooling your house, your food, and your water for showers etc.  It makes sense to use solar heat rather than solar electricity to heat a large quantity of water which you keep insulated underground under your house in cooler climates, or a heat pump design to chill water in a similar tank to cool your house in the warmer climates.

But it's going to take enormous infrastructure changes for this to start happening.  And we're loath to change the system - after all, the current one works fine - for something that may or may not end up paying for itself in our lifetimes.  We're all happy to be Cheap Bastards at the expense of our children's lifetimes.  Because that's when this technology will finally pay off, not in anything as overinflated as money, but in a liveable world for our grandkids and greatgrandkids.

Maybe in the new decade coming in a few days, make a personal decision to stop being a Cheap Bastard and instead realise that we've been paying for several generations to make the current state of affairs come to pass, and now need to pay our dues in turn to save what we have left.


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Is Lasik Better Than Spectacles?

As an intrepid reporter of all things zen and good, I never thought anyone would pay me to write about Lasik eye surgery.  But the offer (from Stahl Eye Center) came up, and I sold my soul to write this article.  Well, actually, not quite so...

Because then I - just stopped and thought about it for a few minutes.  And it hit me - Lasik is probably way more eco-friendly than a lifetime of prescription spectacles and/or contacts, and the ongoing maintenance those require.

Consider it: Every time I get my prescription glasses replaced and renewed, it costs a visit to the optometrist (office, equipment they need manufactured, energy to run all that) and then a scrip placed with an optical technician. (More office/workshop space, a lot of equipment and energy to grind my lenses...)  And then the frames... OMG frames manufacturers and suppliers use exotic materials, obscure manufacturing techniques, and waste God only knows how many resources to provide that overpriced frame.

One last, not immediately obvious advantage:  designer sunglasses.  If you're a spectacle wearer, you possibly got a set of prescription sunnies because optometrists like to make sure you have sun protection too, it covers their asses.  But designer prescriptions?  Not likely,  And at least with the Lasik surgery, you can wear non-prescription sunglasses that look okay...

I was worried about what the surgery entails, because I'd heard horror stories.  But apparently it's now one of the most performed surgeries in the US, and coming up fast here in Australia too, and it's apparently much less fuss than it used to be - usually no pain, vision recovery in a matter of hours, and it can eliminate the need for those special prescription glasses.

Now since I'm in Australia I can only pass this on to you, but the Stahl Eye Center claims to have excellent doctors, excellent results, and an excellent 35 year record.  For us Aussies, I'm sure a Google search turns up some excellent alternatives.

Me, I'm waiting until someone sponsors my eye lasering.  It's kind of hard on a pension and the payouts of these paid articles...  %)

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22 December, 2009

Meander. Cos I can.

As the article says, we live at the office, work from the bathroom sometimes, take work with us into parks and public spaces, and so forth.  We take our friends with us on our mobile phones using voice calls, twitter, photo sharing, and various social networking apps.  We're operating on a sequential multitasking scale never before undertaken by humans, we will often have a conversation,. stir the cooking, be keeping an eye on TV news, and checking emails all in the space of a a few minutes.  All while thinking if we need to buy a new garden hose to water the flowers.

While our grandparents worked long hours at the fields or the factory or the office, we now have "eight hour days" and pretend we're not working the other eight hours we're awake and answering emails from home, phone calls and texts during the bus ride home or during dinner, and all those hours we're on standby just waiting for the phone or the pager to go off.

I've seen a lot of multi-purpose furniture, but paradoxically also a lot of single tasking devices.  To be honest, some things need to be single purpose.  I'd hate to see a combined hammer/pistol/pruning saw, for example.  Yet that's one of the things driving the economy.  A combination of USB memory and a humping doggie figurine, for example, is one of those combinations that probably shouldn't have been thought of.  And a Black & Decker electric jar opener takes the single minded device to a whole new level of resource wasting.


That's my jar opener.  It's a few pieces of metal, I bought it at a thrift shop years ago when it was already years old.  I feel guilty for having it when I could just use a damp teatowel and a bit more muscle to achieve the same result without having needed to use a few ounces of steel.

Which is all beside the point, really.  The point is that economic forces drive this proliferation of gizmos and geegaws, the honest desire to make money off YOU for some minimal amount of effort and input.  And in point of fact it's not just you that's being exploited, it's also the underpaid workers that are making that crap, the whole world being ripped off to the tune of however many resources it took to design and build the thing and then manufacture it and ship it around the world so that somewhere, someone can sit back and screw YOU for a skim of 50c per unit.

And the one thing that drives this huge intermeshing web of exploitation and ruining of the environment and destroying lives - is YOU.  You buy the gizmo, you encourage the manufacturer to plunge to even greater depths of stupidity and inapprorpiateness.  Cos if you gave them one lot of 50c, then you're an easy mark and good for $1 next time...

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18 December, 2009

Only You Can Save The World

Further to COP15 post of a day or so ago.  What can you do about your carbon footprint?  Because, judging from the posturing and fuddy-duddery going on at the conference, "them" aren't going to win this war, it's down to us, one kilo of carbon and rubbish at a time.

Turns out there are dozens of calculators out there that all factor in different things.  Here's a few:
And there are a few more, search for "carbon calculator" on Google for more.

Anyhow - that's less important.  More so, is to realise that just screwing in a couple of high efficiency light bulbs is going to make only a minor difference.  Adjusting your water use will make a far bigger impact, as a staggering amount of energy is used to clean and pump the scheme water around the place, and the more water you use, the more energy will be needed to process and pump it.

Think about your air conditioning (or heating) costs.  Not in dollars to you (although that will become important as prices go up on energy) but in terms of how much energy it consumes, how much carbon and pollution it will generate along with the energy.  Could you insulate to make your place more efficient? There are government rebates in Australia to make the process easier on your pocket.  Could you add a few square meters of roof to shade a critical area?  A dark wall to soak up heat in winter?

Those sorts of changes will cost you money.  Not making those sorts of changes will also cost you money - the price of energy is set to skyrocket.  The difference is that making the changes will save you money in the long term and save the planet, while not making the changes will hasten global warming even more.

The point is that it has to be you that makes the changes.  Become an activist, if you rent, lobby the landlord to make the changes or let you make them in return for a lease guarantee of a year or whatever.  If you don't, then who will?


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16 December, 2009

COPs & Robbers & Wankers

Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Copenhagen.  City somewhere in the world that's now famous for appearing to fail at Global Warming Conferences.  How many people know where Copenhagen actually is?  And if it wasn't for COP15 would you have known?  It's apparently become a carbon hotspot of its own, although I'd argue that this is another journalist looking for a sensationalist angle, because if these people weren't all gathered in Copenhagen creating the footprint, they'd be at home creating a slightly diffused carbon footprint anyway.  Yes, the reporter is talking about transportation carbon, but it's a piece of shit reporting, designed to just pick holes in things because that way the reporter will appear to be a deep thinker.  May I suggest that they are a deep stinker instead?

Especially, I wish that reporter of drivel had instead chosen to cover people who ARE making efforts, and turned their dribbling into something that brings attention to things that really do need it - such as this woman who's a Chinese Erin Brokovich as far as I'm concerned.

Pulling the piss out of Copenhagen might be good for short term eyes on the screen but is that what we need?  More people stuck in their own private Information Age?  Although in fact, as the article points out, we have a lot of local information built into information systems these days, so if we use this resource right, it can become a major force for changing how we affect our environment.  I can think of dozens of ways for this to work:

Consider a mobile phone app that tells you how much electricity is being used in your vicinity right now.  You can then adjust your usage and reduce the overall figure - in real time.  Think this is pipe dream?  Many electricity suppliers can now offer precisely this kind of information over the Internet, and there are already websites that allow you to use a smart power meter to audit and manage your home energy use.  Making it accessible on the fly could reduce energy consumption by a significant percentage.

And your water use - why aren't there smart meters on your water supply already, providing this kind of live information?

I'd also love to see an online accessible database of what crops are being grown by homesteaders and allotment gardeners in your area.  Could lead to an acute awareness of what is in season, what you could plant, and what you should be buying locally rather than at the supermarket.

Instead of promulgating these kinds of ideas though, the cheap-ass journalists of the world are taking cheap shots at things like COP15, and foregoing the long term good of the Earth for a slightly better sounding headline.  It's a bit like stealing from the world for a spot of personal Onanism.


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Arrrh, The Good Ole Days...

Whenever you see an argument like "was it better done the old way or the new way?" you can safely assume the old way was better.  I got that from reading this article, but it's a thought I've been polishing for a few years now.  This time they deal with the 50kg/acre tractor vs the 10kg/acre horse.  (Those are carbon pollution footprints I'm stating.  The amount of carbon the process creates.)

Arguments take into account raising grain to feed to the horse - with a tractor - but if they'd use the horses to till the soil for their own feed grain too, the carbon footprint would effectively be even lower.

Of course, there's an even easier way to visualise it.  Did the process that our forefathers used, with a horse and plough, create tons of pollution every year?  (Don't count manure because that is a fertiliser and some of it is recycled into the same grains that then feed the horses.)  Then, compare to the modern method - do tractors produce tons of pollution every year?  Assume a few hundred acres, times two operations per year at least (seeding and harvesting) gives me a figure of around 20 tonnes of carbon for tractors and 4 tonnes for a horse.

It's the right way to look at everything food-related we do.  Did multiple small farms, each growing a spectrum of crops, vegetables, and animals, cause large-scale environmental damage?  Did those small farms result in ideal breeding conditions for particular monoculture pests that then require tonnes of pesticides to control?  Of course not. Mixed farming is very eco friendly.  Monoculture farming (growing an entire farm - and sometimes district - worth of the same crop ) results in pests taking advantage of the sea of food.

An apple orchard can lose the whole crop (or sometimes even the whole orchard's worth of trees) to a common borer.  Spraying for the borer creates direct pollution from the chemicals used, indirect pollution due to transport and application of that chemical, and the processing needed to manufacture the chemical.  If the apple orchard were interplanted with other fruit trees and crops, the losses would almost never get above 15%.  Now that's my kind of QED...

Same with animals on farms.  If you have miles upon miles of chickens, then you need to bolster them with antibiotics, supplement their feed with chemicals.  Those same chickens spread across several hundred farms would need almost no attention, and instead of occupying expensive sheds, would actually contribute to the farm by their manure and their scratching and weeding and pest control.


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15 December, 2009

Meat Is Suicide?

I guess while I'm not a rabidly green person, I do try.  I'm growing my own vegetables, have worms and ducks and rabbits for manure, use only trickle or hand watering for that, recycle as many things as I can (including washing machine grey water now) and I try and make as many things in-house as I can, like bread and yoghurt and cheeses and preserves.

But I'm sure where I stand on the topic of meat.  It's been a part of our diet, and it needs to remain a part of our diet.  I find sites like this one, and organisations like PETA, to be pretty laughable.  Sorry, all of you, but no-one can convince me otherwise.  I eat meat a few times a week, not because I hate animals, not because I think meat comes on styrofoam trays (believe me, I've grown up on farms, I know that life is short and the end of life is brutal and messy,) but because I understand my body biochemistry.

You can tell me that I can get my zinc and proteins and so forth from other sources, but you won't convince me. You can get the equivalent of a carbohydrate by eating a pile of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms - same building blocks end up in your body, after all - but I'll say that the person who ate the spelt wheat will not have as many burn marks on their trachea and stomach as the person that had the liquid oxygen...

In other words, the form and the molecules of our food are important to our bodies, and to do otherwise will leave you in a lesser state of health.  Yes there is vitamin D you can take as a supplement, but your body has actually been fine tuned by evolution to expect to find vitamin D in certain fish, or certain animal offal, or from mushrooms that have been exposed to the sun for an hour.  Taking the tablet just plain confuses your metabolism.

I could go on.  I generally do.  And so, this time, I'll leave it there.  Back to the suicidefood blog.  Ridiculing it won't make it go away, Bucko...  Lampooning it doesn't mean everyone will stop. Picketing local supermarkets and large multinational chain stores, on the other hand...

You know the drill.  Big Store is in it for the money.  As long as they are getting $25 a kilo for steak, they will turn a blind eye to how that steak was carved from a carcass, how that carcass was derived from a cow, how that cow consumed as much energy and resources as a small village.

Far better to inform and educate people, so that they realise that there are more meats than just beef, that there are more parts to an animal than prime rib and ground flank.  To use the entire animal, not just eat the best bits and let the rest go to waste. And most importantly, to use meat as though something had to die in order for you to enjoy it.  (Some people would SO benefit from going to see their steak slaughtered...)

So I'll keep valuing the meat I do eat, buy it locally where possible and not just the best cuts, and remember where it came from.


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Swap: Traffic Lights For Air Conditioner

As I'm sitting here it's a cool evening, but we've had the first few harbingers of a hot summer already and they were meltingly hot days.  And my aircon's just decided to stop working.  Normally, in a life I left long ago, I'd have not worried about it but these days, with emphysema making me miserable on hot days, and humid hot days feeling like a slow suffocation, I'm going to have to look around for a replacement pretty quickly.

I bought it for myself last year when I had some spare cash, and true to any gadget bought today, it failed pretty much within months of the warranty period expiring.  Bugger.  I'm facing a few months of sitting in shopping malls using up their a/c and being a "senior mall rodent"... %)

It's such a far cry from things like traffic lights icing up...  Ironic, even.

Interestingly, in Western Australia we've had 240Vac traffic light lamps since the inception of traffic lights, and have only recently switched to LED based traffic light lamps ourselves. Now when the traffic lights had 240V lamps, they were a real hazard during traffic accidents, as live wiring contributed to the dangers faced by people extricating themselves, and emergency personnel trying to do their jobs.  (Since so many accidents involve intersections in the city.)

It's been one of the irritations of what's otherwise a very pleasant and healthy city, that the traffic lights that are supposed to regulate traffic and save lives, are a lethal hazard in themselves.  Another irritation has been the really cheap-ass relay based controllers, which seemingly can't be remotely monitored, activated, or reprogrammed.  So intersections where the traffic patterns had changed substantially due to new roads etc would still have long green lights on now largely unused approaches, annoyingly long wastes of petrol waiting for the lights to change.

And of course not being remotely controlled or monitored means that driving down any street in the city is still a stop/start/stop/start experience that contributes significantly to the bit of pollution we do have already, wastes fuel, and slows traffic through the city to an annoying crawl.  I've always thought that changing a few thousand controllers with some kind of smart ones that can monitor traffic flows and adjacent light controllers and adjust accordingly, would make the biggest difference to fuel wasted due to idling at lights, pollution levels, and speed of transit through densely trafficked areas.

So now that the LED lamps are in place, I wonder whether they've replaced those controllers and replaced them with digital low voltage units, or are just using the new lamps with a dropping resistor, thus making the lights as lethal as before...

Oh and one other thing a smart controller with cameras could do, is to monitor traffic speeds, and take pictures of offending vehicles, and also to adjust themselves to slow down speeders.  It would only take a few months of finding that roaring up to lights will only get an amber light and your number plate being sent to the watch list before drivers would settle down a lot. And of course, photographic evidence is also handy if someone has an accident at a traffic light.

I wonder if I could swap that idea for an a/c that actually works for more than a year?


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14 December, 2009

The Good Life? May Be Closer Than I Think...

   
Moccha Approves
Of the almost-completed rabbit shed with shadecloth to keep it cool and keep the mosquitoes out.  Around here the wild rabbit problem has prompted pretty radical control methods, being myxamatosis and rabbit calicivirus.  We are allowed to vaccinate against RCV but not against myxa, so keeping mozzies and other bitey insects out is important.  The shadecloth is fine enough weave to keep mozzies out while letting breeze through in summer, also a light spray every hour on hot days keeps the inside of the shed beautifully cool.
It's also the coolest spot in the entire yard to begin with, so the bunnies just stretch out on the mesh floors and get breeze from all around them.  Raising the boxes up off the ground not only allows that circulation, it also keeps ground parasites away.  And in winter, a canvas cover over the tops and sides of the boxes and some newspaper on the floor keeps them warm.


Modified sheet permaculture bed
Because the sand here wicks water away faster than you can say "dead plant" I put down light black plastic, after digging a shallow (6" or 13cm) pair of 1m beds side by side.  I angled the center ridge a bit to give a variation in width from 1.1m to about 0.85m just so I'd get a bit of variation in the amount of water.  (Since I use a loop of dripper hose for each bed, there's a bit less dampness at the wide end than will be at the narrow end.  Not a huge difference but it can mean the difference between damping off and succeeding.)
So I dug the beds and put the sand aside, put half the sand back, added two layers of compost, a layer of charcoal and ash, one of worm waste and worm tea, another layer of rabbit poo and hay, (as shown in the picture above) and the rest of the sand sprinkled over that.  The drip hose has been stretched out alongside in the picture so it won't quite try to coil back up like a twisty turny self-recoiling bastard %) and I also used short bamboo stakes to guide the dripper hoses where I wanted them.
After only a few days you can tell that the lower layers are starting to work, because the compost had worms in it and they are going ballistic with all the water I'm pouring onto the bed to get it to rot.
I wish now I'd used layers of newspaper instead of the black plastic as that would rot away naturally over the next year or two, by which time the bed should have had quite a few top-ups, and the finer organic particles would have sunk to the bottom to make a bit of a water seal.  But as it is, the black plastic will disintegrate as I fork the bed over from time to time, anyway.
Sheet beds like this are brilliant over the bottomless slurpy thirsty sand we have here, and the organic material provided by rabbit waste and hay, and the same material composted with other garden wastes, puts a lot of the essentials back into the ground and makes it available to the plants.
The idea here is to see how efficiently the biocycle can run, as I'll be growing both feedstuff for the rabbits as well as my own vegetables on the manure.  The eventual aim will be to have the rabbits on healthy green and dry feed without resorting to outside hay and feed pellets.  And also raise a few crops a year of vegetables I can eat, too.
The beauty of it is that I'm doing all this on a small scale, in town, so that once I find a few acres for lease, I can pretty much scale it up and include other plants and animals as well, increase the range of foods and have a few orchard trees etc as well.  I reckon I can create a farm that will feed a family everything except a handful of things like salt and some herbs, and be able to be managed by one or two people.

If anyone of you reading this knows of a block of suitable land around 50ac - 200ac for a reasonable enough lease cost and long period where I'd be able to build infrastructure, let me know please.  I prefer south of Mandurah and not too far inland for reasons of suitability of the land and weather to my purposes, but I'm willing to go anywhere reasonable...  This is now my only major stumbling block, because I can't afford to buy a block long term so I'd need to get a long cheap lease on the land.

And that way, I leave improved property behind me anyway...



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25 November, 2009

The Idiot Gambit

So does anyone out there still believe global warming is a huge conspiracy?  Are there still people who have their heads so far up their own asses and who like the scenery there better?

Because I'm 52, and I've spent 39 years of that in Western Australia, and I've got news for the naysayers.  Keep your head right were it is.  Just keep your nose out of everyone else's efforts to stem this.  And yes one in particular I'm thinking of when I say that is short, has bushy eyebrows, and was our Prime Minister a few years back.  Unfortunately.

Every year of the time since arriving in 1965 is there in my memory somewhere.  And damned if there wasn't more rain in those memories, more time each year that vegetation remained green instead of dried up.  And it wasn't the explosive kind of tinder dry we've been getting the last few years, either.  Bushfires were scary when I was a kid, but they weren't the uncontrollable monsters I've seen here in WA - never mind the Black Saturday.

And this year is only the second time that I've gotten two crops of tomatoes off my plants, one lot in the "deep of winter."  The only other time something like this happened was in the Northwest, where "winter" is days with temperatures dipping below 20C and an unreasonably cold winter's day is one where the mercury's approaching 14C...

I've seldom seen the weather as unsettled and uppredictable as it currently is, either.  Nor have I seen as many people I respect being so concerned about the rapid acceleration of all effects of global warming.  So I've made it my personal mission to grow my own food as much as possible, produce it with as little manufacturing or processing as possible, and make sure my skillsets include as much as I can fit in about animals and plants and old land lore.

I figure that if I'm wrong, the worst thing that can happen is that I get to look like an idiot to others - but an alive idiot.  If I'm right, there'll be a lot of dead idiots and I'll be the one looking...


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16 November, 2009

HPSUV Is Pretty Good. But.

It's admirable that more and more human-powered vehicles are coming to the public attention.  (Follow the link in the article to the human-powered 4WD SUV and check out the pictures.)

I looked at the images of the pedal quad hopping rocks, getting all askew on a downhill run on a goat trail, and sliding sand dunes.  First thought was NOT "Wow! What an interesting vehicle!"  First thought WAS "Clever bike!"

I can't help it - I rode bikes, I know they have a certain speed range and power-speed curve that limits them to certain terrain, certain speeds, and certain athletes or couch potatoes.  For me, a human powered machine is out, unless by "human powered" the designer meant "shovel a few humans you don't like into the fire box and then move Lever A to positi..." Emphysema does that to you.  

But even when I was healthy and climbing 300metre antenna towers two and more times a day, I wouldn't have considered a bike to be anything remotely like a vehicle.  For a start, in the Northwest where I was, a vehicle had a roof and air conditioning.   And it covered between 400 and a thousand kilometres a day.  Without me having to tow along a tanker of water to stay hydrated in 48C temperature days.  Oh yeah and the tyres had to be made out of hardier stuff to drive over rocks and bitumen hot enough to slow cook eggs.

Looking at the action images, I had to admit they looked like fun.  Except.  I, like hundreds of others who will look at the pictures, will see a bike and wish there were an an engine. We're grown lazy from having the false impression that some deceased dinosaurs and trees pushing us around is a right.....

07 November, 2009

Rabbitted Off

I drove almost 50km each way to get these two - only to get overcharged $5 each on them. The address where I picked them up turned out to be Mundijong Rural Supplies, and I was expecting to pay $15 each for them, but was charged $20 apiece. I arrived home and checked the advert they'd placed in the Quokka, and yes they have overcharged me. It's only $10 but to someone on a pension that's a fairly substantial hit, especially after splashing out on extra petrol as well. So I'm very disappointed and I'm letting you know what happened to me.

That's now on my Facebook for everyone to see.  I'm just so disappointed that they would do something like that, and I really hope it makes other people think twice before buying anything from Mundijong Rural in future.  I'll contact them tomorrow and see what they say.  There's no way I want to drive another 90-plus km to get $10 back, so it's going to be interesting to see how the plan to resolve this.  I'll keep them honest.

UPDATE:
Nope - I was told that $15 is "for the guinea pigs" and not for the rabbits. Bear in mind that the ad in the Quokka says NOTHING whatsoever about guinea pigs, only the NZ White rabbits. So she's not only dishonest in her actions, she kept lying to justify herself.  Here's the ad direct off the website:


RABBITS (10) New Zealand white, 8 wks old $15 ea. Mndjng. 04xx-xxx-xxx



That's the entire ad, doesn't look like there's much in there that could be mistaken for "$20 per rabbit, $15 per guinea pig" now does it?  I hate people who do this,I hope you do too.


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03 November, 2009

Pseudo Science, Wired Style

Quick thoughts when reading this article.

A) Since that's obviously NOT happening, (i.e. an area the size of the state of TX is NOT under intense farming just to feed the dogs and cats of the USA) you need to question the initial results that prompted the article.  A study by architects, of an agricultural problem.  It's easy for a few inaccurate base assumptions to multiply through the calculation chain.

B) That also presumes, I imagine, that the architects drew on their vast repository of knowledge of what goes into petfood, and extrapolated that into prime cuts of beef and lamb.  The truth is that the majority of the meat that goes into petfood is the trimmings from the beautiful prime cuts that we hunt down in their styrofoam trays in supermarkets, so while meat processors may be being a bit more generous with their trimmings, it hardly adds up to the huge foodprint (which BTW is of my coinage, thank you Wired mag!) that's being claimed.  If the trimmings weren't economically attractive as pet food, unscrupulous operators would find a way to recycle them as stock feed, leading to BSE, scrapie, and human Jakobs-Kreuzfeldt.

C) A lot more pet meat is supplied from culling operations.  When hunters cull donkey or kangaroo numbers, that doesn't represent animals that were specifically grown to feed the ravenous pet food market, that represents a lessening of the demand on natural resources that our own meat livestock can then use.  So again, there's a HUGE chunk of the pet foodprint that's proven to be actually beneficial.

D) The energy needs of the USA and the foodprint of pets are not equivalent.  It's apples and oranges.  I can, at need, change my pets to rabbits and chickens, and therefore gain a local food source.  The same can't be said of electricity generated by a national grid.  Also - I can easily change my pets over to a local food source, such as breeding rabbits and chickens to feed my cat.  It would mean I have to expand my garden a bit, and find a local water source - but it's do-able, by me, without too much material needed.  Solar panels on the other hand, are beyond my capabilities to manufacture.  And that leads to -

E) The amount of land that needs to be covered in solar energy recovery technology isn't the whole story.  If you add in the manufacture costs of the solar panels and collectors themselves, you find that the space they cover is the least of your worries...  The toxins and pollution and raw materials needed eclipse the environmental effect of the land they would cover.

My readers know that I do everything in my power to be eco-friendly and save on everything and anything that I can.  You know that I write pretty impassioned articles myself, pointing out where we're wasteful or messy or just plain malicious to the earth.  But crap quality reporting like this, seeking a cheap sensationalist hook, just dilute the good articles.

Yes, your pets are expensive to keep.  But it's also been proven that people with pets are less stressed, leading to more productive lives.  More productive lives leads to better utilisation of resources, meaning you yourself don't need to use the services of a psychiatrist as often, you won't be at the doctor and consuming medications as much for stress-related illnesses, and you'll produce more in return for the food that you eat than someone who spends a month every year at home sick with SRI.

And you can switch your pet from extensivley processed and packaged pet food (which they don't really appreciate any more than raw feed) to something less processed.  My two cats eat frozen kangaroo meat cubes, a small amount of tinned or pouch-sealed commercial cat food, mainly because I don't always have the 'roo meat to hand, and a handful of cat biscuits a week for dental health.

Compare and contrast my cats' one or two tins of catfood a week, one cupful of cat biscuits, and about four cupfuls of diced 'roo, against two almost identical cats eating seven tins of cat food, almost a full 1kg packet of cat biscuits, and no raw meat whatsoever.  On top of that, because I keep rabbits and don't overfeed the cats, they also help themselves to the occasional mouse snack when any mice get among the rabbit feed.

Oh - and as far as "feeding America's energy needs" is concerned. Has it ever occurred to these plonkers that one might, you know, reduce one's energy needs instead?


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27 October, 2009

The Course Of Water

Bottled Water - It's a No No No No No!  Okay Treehugger?  No matter how you try and put lipstick on a pig, you still wouldn't take it on a date!  The point is that water costs shitloads of energy to just get to a position where it can be used by the bottlers.  Then it costs even more to filter (if you actually believe their bullshit that they do filter it) and then to make whatever you supply it in, fill that, seal it, print your bullshit across it, and truck it halfway around the country and refrigerate it.

The only way that they could make it right is to find some kind of natural channels... Surely there must be such a natural delivery system?  Oh yeah - turns out there is - leave the effing stuff in rivers and dams, and instead of creating pollution to bottle and process it, how about instead you accept a commission from people for spending those kind of man-hours on patrolling a natural watercourse of your choice and making sure no-one pollutes it in the first place?


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26 October, 2009

How I Got A Free Coolroom That Runs For Free

You wanted a way to keep some of your food in a coolroom to preserve it better and save energy?  But can't afford a coolroom and want one for practically free and practically free of running costs?  You know what?  I just may be able to help you...

Let me stress that this isn't for everyone.  You may have concerns, or perhaps you don't have the space for a coolroom such as the one I'm about to describe.  So let me lay out what you need:
  • You need an old chest freezer in which the compressor has died, but which still has an intact evaporator.  (If the chest freezer was trashed for leaks in the coils, forget it.  It will have to hold water...)
  • You need either an evaporative cooler that you use daily during summer, or a buried low pressure drip irrigation system on a timer (or that you use for an hour or two every day,) and preferably, one that runs on recycled grey water and rainwater, not on your town water mains supply.
  • You need a spot outside which is conveniently handy to the kitchen, has day-round shade, and big enough to put your chest freezer.
If you pass those requirements, then carry on...

I got a local friendly refrigeration technician to donate me a chest freezer that he was only going to have to take to the recyclers anyway, and asked him to de-gas it and identify the copper lines that went to the evaporator coil. (That's the one which is around the actual icebox and is the bit that cools the interior.)  He not only identified it for me, he also kindly took out the compressor and neatly cut the copper tubes for me.  That cost me a carton of the local brewery's finest, but hey! - I got a soon-to-be-very-useful coolroom out of it!  (In fact, I got *two* for this price, I just haven't set up the second one yet.)

Now find the place where the feed to your buried drip irrigation system passes closest to your chosen location.  (In my case, the front veranda fulfills all of these requirements.)  Because I wanted to to be as environmentally conscious as possible (and where I am gets hellaciously hot in summer and is on bottomless sand where the water just seeps away to China within minutes of watering) I've made a load of compost and dug that into my vegetable garden beds, then added a low-pressure drip irrigation system and topped that off with leftover hay and straw from the rabbit cages. I feed this system from a grey-water recovery system that settles the grey water in a small tank on the ground and then pumps it up a few meters to the head tank.  That gives enough flow for my garden, and it's all pretty much free water.

Anyhow - that water in the head tank stays fairly cool due to its large volume (200 liters) and location in the shade of some mature trees.  And if you use a similar system (or perhaps a water bore with pressure reducer) or your irrigation system has a pressure reducer on it, then that's what you use.  Find the line after the timer, solenoid, and pressure reducer, and cut the line.  Put two right angle connectors on, and run two new hoses (preferably buried so it will stay cool) to your freezer.

Attach them to the copper tubes your technician pointed out, and then run your irrigation system and check for leaks around your new connections (and also under the freezer in case there *was* some leak in the evaporator coil) and check that running the water for an hour or so does indeed cool the inside of the freezer significantly.

That's it.  There's not much to say about this.  It may develop a leak due to corrosion one day - but old unloved chest freezers are a dime a dozen, and I'll have extended its lifespan by however many years it lasts.  It works extremely well, because the cooling arrangements in a freezer are designed to transfer as much heat out of the icebox as possible.  Be that into a refrigerant gas or water, doesn't matter.


So that is it - I've left the side panel off so you can see that the compressor is gone, and one of the hoses is attached to the copper down there.  Unfortunately for me, the leak in this freezer was on the other copper pipe and I had to open up some of the lagging to get to it.


Adapting from the thinnish copper tubing to your reticulation system is up to each individual situation.  That's why there isn't a huge instructable, just all these vague holistic suggestions...  I got clear tubing and adaptors at my local hardware, and just fitted it as best I could. It's important that you make sure there are no leaks!

Also of course, using that clear tubing ensures I'll never be tempted to put full water mains pressure on the system.  It was a deliberate choice, because once you attach something like this to water mains, there's every possibility that you'll cost yourself a fortune in water, and of course also there's a huge environmental cost to town water, so why not use whatever you can recycle locally?


You'll also see that there is a second set of condenser tubes in there which I've just left - they don't go anywhere near the icebox itself and aren't needed.  Also you'll see how I had to open up a section of the back of this freezer to get above the leaking section of copper tubing for one side of my water circuit, normally this would also come out in the compressor compartment.  


It keeps a remarkably cool temperature inside, provided you run your water during the heat of the day.  That's why I suggested a drip irrigation system, because these are best run around the hottest time - being buried, it doesn't damage the plants and in fact provides them with the water at the time they need it most - when the sun is driving their sap around at maximum rate.  And that's also the time your coolroom will need the most help resisting the outside heat.  It's a win/win situation...

My next project will involve my evaporative cooler and the second freezer.  See, the water in an evaporative cooler gets quite cooled by going around the cooling pads, and then sits there doing nothing else except go around again.  So instead of pumping it to the cooling pads direct, I intend to redirect it through the second freezer first.  I should get almost refrigerator-like cooling inside it, and since I'm running the evap cooler daily anyway, it will again be essentially for free.  In winter, one will need only run the water pump, and cold air and breeze will supply what little cooling this second coolroom will need.  And those small pumps cost less than a lightbulb to run...   In fact, this project may well involve some 12V pumps and my lighting solar panel...

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How To Save Hundreds A Year On Refrigeration.

If you're like me, you care about your carbon and pollution footprint.  And you find articles like this one I found, which deals with using your freezer to do more, a Godsend.  One little-known thing is to be found at the bottom of that article - by using an external thermostat which you plug into the wall and then plug your freezer into, you can have refrigerator temperatures at about 1/10th of the cost of running a refrigerator.  It's a simple trick, but there are two gotchas with it which that article doesn't point out explicitly:

One - the external thermostat will cycle the freezer more often, in shorter bursts.  I'm not sure if it will hurt, but it may reduce the life of the freezer from ten years to six or seven - someone with more fridgie tech knowledge than myself might care to comment and correct me.

Two - if you use a vertical freezer, all those bets are off.  This 10% figure is for top-opening chest freezers only.  The reason it won't help with a vertical is the same reason your fridge is so inefficient - when you open the door, ALL the cold air falls out.  In a chest freezer on the other hand, the cold air can't fall out and you generally only disturb the top few inches of cold air.

Now to a more vexing question in refrigeration and food - I have a fridge that has "temperature zones" designed into it to provide me space for vegetables, pickles, and so forth.  But each zone is small, and I like a lot of fresh vegetables.  No help here, they are confined to the crisper section, and subject to temperature fluctuations every time I open the door.

The chest freezer with the external thermostat is the answer here - you can be sure the temperatures will stay very stable at the bottom, and fluctuate a lot less than any zone in a refrigerator near the top layers.  It's inconvenient, of course, to lift things out of the way when using a "freezerator", and there still aren't many areas of distinct temperature for vegetables.

So I've come up with a solution.  This will not work for you if you don't have a shaded area outside, and at least a drip or buried irrigation system.  And I'll explain how you can have a "mini-coolroom" that is effectively free, and operates for free.  Stay tuned to the following few articles!


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20 October, 2009

A Cup Of Water, Bunch Of Coral, And A Few Mistakes

It's not just bad maths, it's terrible maths. It's how to make a genuinely important message seem suss and slightly wacky.

I'm talking about the report that this story is about. I picked up the discrepancy right away - maybe I've got some warped sense of logic and economics but it stood out right away. Even more so, the headline is pure bullshit, too.

What am I talking about? Well, money is like energy, matter, and the ecology. There's a certain amount to go around, no matter how you try and stretch and squeeze it, there's a certain amount of value and that's it. So the report that's at the heart of the story is kind of wrong. Some of the value of reefs is in tourist dollars, that will be gone from the reef tourism scene but it doesn't mean the money will vanish in a puff of smoke - it will just be spent elsewhere.

And some of the value of the reefs is in fish that will have to be replaced by food from another source. But again, either you go out and catch fish at whatever that costs in materials and energy and so forth, or you pay money for someone else to spend that kind of materials energy and etc, in some other place.

Protecting coastlines? Yes, that will mean that coastlines will erode in places, but in other places there will be deposition of material, too. It's a loss to humankind and many animals and fish that depend on it, but to the Earth it's just a change.

And as for the headline, that is just a reporter who didn't work things out before reaching for the keyboard - $172bn will not be "sucked out of the economy" - it will only move from reefs and businesses surrounding the reefs to other areas and businesses.

Think of wealth (==money) as water. Now think of the Earth as a big closed bucket full of water. Now take "$172bn" worth of water from one edge of the bucket to another spot. Did the water magically get "sucked out of the economy?" Of course not. There's so much water before, and the same amount afterwards.

Boo Treehugger for making such an erroneous headline, too.


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18 October, 2009

Some Very Good News - So Why Isn't There Any Good News?

WTF is *really* going on with global warming/weather?  It just doesn't add up anymore.  I think it's kind of important for us to find out the real, whole, complete story.

When we're being told that GW is proceeding faster/more than expected and accelerating more than predicted, that says to me that someone, somewhere, isn't pulling their weight in carbon reduction.  So when I read that the USA has pulled nitrous oxide emissions back by 62% in the last ten years and carbon emissions from all fossil fuels by 9% in the last two years, and yet, despite that, GW is still accelerating and icecaps are visibly melting, I expect that there's an untold story somewhere.

In this case, I think we'll find the rest of the story in a whole slew of mistakes of judgement such as suppressed results of earlier studies and tests (a favourite technique through our entire history, it seems) and in such things as underestimating what effect clear-felling and hill-topping and growing huge monolithic areas of single crops can have on the ecosystem, and no-one ever thinking to add up the cumulative effects from the whole range of climate and eco system damaging activities, and lastly (probably) the industrialisation and exploitation of China and India by companies that still don't think globally and that think that by offloading dirty processes to those countries, somehow climate change will just stay over those countries and no-one will care...

But perhaps I'm being unfair.  Perhaps in a system that took our industrialisation for two hundred years before swinging as it has, will take a bit longer than two years to show the effect of our "undustrialisation" efforts.  And perhaps every big multinational company really *does* have an altruistic paternal earth-loving figure at its helm.  And I'm betting on only one of those being true, by the way...


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14 October, 2009

Gadgetocalypse

You know what really causes global warming?  This does.  This is that face of consumerism gone mad, the one that makes product managers rub their hands in glee, their factories burn through gigawatts of energy every year, and produces millions of tons of waste each year.

It's not surprising, given that if you have your gadget fixed, you pay money to have the same thing while your neighbour is enjoying the Latest Big Thing version of the gadget...  I wonder if I'll ever need a 1080P camcorder, for example.  I have a Samsung S860 pocket camera that takes juddery videos and blurry macro shots.  When it developed a fault, I had it fixed - and finally replaced with one of the same when the warranty repairer couldn't fix the problem.

Had I jumped up and down a bit more, I could have probably gotten the equivalent of that magic camcorder.  But I figured that if I hang onto the S860 for another year or two, something HUGELY better will come along, and when it finally goes to that great gadget shop in the sky, I'll upgrade then.

And therein lies the crunch.  If you have the choice of getting the same gadget back, with your scratches and dents and all, or a shiny new killer version of the gadget, the choice seems to be all but a foregone conclusion.  And it causes such a pile of e-waste every year, that you ought to be very ashamed...

It goes right along with the idealistic vision of OLPC and the e-cars explosion we're seeing.  Manufacturers are still wanting a profit, they still want turnover, and do-gooders have a utopian vision of the future where everyone drives an electric car using solar energy, and has energy-efficient access to all the energy-efficient gadgetry our hearts could desire.

IT ISN'T SO.

At the moment, not everyone has a car, nor, in fact, do the majority of the world's population have even a bicycle.  You will never reduce our impact by buying a newer gadget or making sure everyone in your family has a personal EV to drive around in.  Our way to save ourselves is to accept a slightly reduced standard of living right now, or an extremely reduced set of circumstances in a few years' time.  That's all the choice we have...


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11 October, 2009

Fords to Ploughshares

Sustainable food for the billions. It's an aim, isn't it?  I don't know, it seems to me that perhaps it isn't.  We in the Western world are busy "raising living standards" to bring the rest of the population up towards our standard.  Is it working?  Ask anyone whose people have received foreign aid and disaster relief in the latest round of disasters, and they'll probably tell you it's working.

But really - weren't they victims of the higher living standards in the developed world?  Because many of these disasters can be traced these days to climate change, caused by the technological changes needed to raise the living standards for that lucky percentage of the population of the world...

Well, what about locavore living?  You know, where you eat only local food, or as practically as possible, local food only?  (I think if you're living inland and want to make a one-time Lobster Bisque then getting the lobster from the coast is okay - our ancestors would have made a trip to the coast and made the dish there, either way the same amount of miles are involved, but a lot less energy is involved in bringing the lobster to Mohammed...)

It's a quandary.  Here's the next logical step of the local living phenomenon:  Buy locally made goods.  Again, there are a few problems with this.  Like - I'd really like a marble pestle and mortar.  Fine, except that there's no local marble anywhere around here.  So how about I ship in the marble and make it locally?  Well, there will have to be a much larger chunk of marble shipped to make the p&m out of.  Then too since there are not likely to be skills locally in marble working, there will be wastage of marble, and energy.  In this case, is it ecologically acceptable to buy an imported marble p&m?

Your mileage may vary...  (Pun totally intended...)  I can't imagine buying a totally locally made car, for example.  And when I do, will this car be the best in terms of manufacturing costs and footprint?  Are our local craftsmen "reinventing the wheel" needlessly and inefficiently?  Considering there are large automotive manufacturers out there who have already mastered more efficient manufacturing processes?  Will a car with Wood and leather seats and trim (because we have no local source for making vinyl and plastics) really be more environment-friendly than a mass-produced one?  And since I mentioned mileage - what will be the environmental footprint of me using that locally-made vehicle instead of a mass-produced and quite possibly much more efficient one?

See, the problem isn't bringing everyone's living standards up - it's that in order to bring 3/4 of the world's population up to a marginally better living standard, you have to take down 1/4 of the world population's living standards quite a bit more...   And while it sounds good in theory, it's going to be a very tough thing to sell.

There is a limit to how much material we can use to raise living standards - it's almost precisely one planetful of resources and materials.  No matter how you try and slice and dice it, if there are 10,000,000 gallons of fresh water in your region, that's only 10 gallons per person if you have a million people.  And in actual fact, 700,000 people will be subsisting on 2 - 3 gallons, 200,000 will be using about 6 gallons, and the rest (all 100,000 of them) will be using a staggering 70 gallons each.  And please don't think that this is a wild exaggeration - it is in fact around the ratio that has been established by almost every body that has researched world affluence and world poverty.  If you're reading this, there's a better than 75% chance that you're one of the 70 gallon users.

So the trick will be for *YOU* to make the decision to reduce your living standard.  How far are you willing to go?  Give up using a car, or at the least, make sure you don't replace your existing car for its entire lifespan, and drive it only for absolutely necessary trips?  It's a start.  Better yet is to replace your car with a bicycle, right?  Yet even that had to be manufactured, and by just owning a bike you're still far better off than the majority who have to walk.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is make a list right now, open a text page and type down what you're personally prepared to do in order to use less of the planet's resources.  For each thing, if it's something you're already doing, note down approximately when you started doing it.  Now save the list for a month and then come back to it.  See how many more of the things you can tick and add a commencement date to.  I'm betting the ticks won't exactly be piling on thick and fast, and that's precisely the problem - we in effect need people *right now* to have lists like that with 90% of the items already checked off...

The biblical admonition to "beat swords into ploughshares" illustrates the problem perfectly - there is only so much iron in the world.  By turning 90% of it into personal transport, that leaves only 10% to be turned into ploughs and harvesters and tractors and farm equipment.  But which one produces more food to raise the living standards?  And yet to you, imagine the effect of losing your vehicle.  Your job, your shopping, your leisure - they will all be affected greatly.  And the temptation is to think that "this is only going to save one panel on a large tractor, I may as well not bother."  And that's the problem in a nutshell...


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10 October, 2009

Where's The Liter Meter?

What would it take to really get you to save water? Maybe it could be something as simple as a waterproof note taped to the shower wall, but I'm betting that everyone would be a lot more sparing of one of our most important resources if they could see it trickling away...

The electricity authorities are starting to get it right with smart meters, and now websites that allow you to monitor your smart meter and keep tabs on how much electricity your house is chewing through.  Apparently just being able to observe power use has resulted in savings of 25% in houses where monitored smart metering is in use.

So why is the water authority lagging, where are the smart water meters?  Such a meter would either communicate back to the water authority as do smart meters, and customers access their meters on the internet, or else they could send a data stream back to the household.

And I reckon a display in the bathroom, of liters/minute, and a mounting toll of cents' worth of water used, would probably encourage people to shower smarter and use less water. Similarly, another display in the kitchen and/or laundry would go a long way towards reducing water wasting in those areas.

So roll on the Liter Meter!


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03 October, 2009

The "Less Carbon Than Umm Some Other Guy. Maybe." Bike Ride

This is just plain daft.  WTF is a "zero carbon bike ride" anyway?

Did he mean the "zero carbon" that was used to make the bike?  Cos it sure as hell isn't zero.  Or were the pannier and saddle bags "zero carbon?"  No, didn't think so.  The clothes he's wearing, including specialised cycling suits?  Nup.

Oh! Oh! I get it!  Zero carbon in fuel!  Yeah! That's what he meant.  Except.  That he has to eat, and food has a fecking huge carbon footprint of its own.

I think what he's trying to say is that he's going to (for unfathomable reasons, as everything you could want is right at hand in your neighbourhood in this modern world) ride around for his own amusement, and feel a little bit better in himself for only releasing fart methane while on the ride.

Except possibly for the bits where he has to ferry or fly himself and the bike across oceans he can't actually ride through....  Even sailboats had to be made you know - like bikes and bags and clothes and foods.  

The only way to have NO carbon footprint is to die and evaporate.

And this is what's wrong with so many green efforts - they want to make you a greener person, as long as you buy their product, buy into their scheme, keep that money going around.  And when you come down to it, money has the worst carbon footprint of anything on this world.


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26 September, 2009

When Is It Unethical?

Was Swine Flu released rather than just happening?  Maybe it's just me, but I get a tad restless in the brain when I see news like this article on USN.  The article is all gee-whiz-gosh-wow about how good it is that H1N1 has not mutated into something that's immune to the flu drugs currently being made.  How wonderful, now we know it will definitely be effective against H1N1. Gosh golly gee whiz wow - aren't we the luckiest people?

But then you have to face the facts - H1N1 found itself a phenotype that it liked.  H1N1 properties worked for it.  H1N1 settled down for a comfortable long wait.  In other words, in 1918, one version of the flu settled down to a more or less stable form which was very successful for it, allowing it to wreak havoc in the early 1900's.  There was no need for it to mutate to a further form.  And then it committed the cardinal mistake that pathogens can commit, it started killing off susceptible hosts faster than they could regrow.  It burned itself out, all except for some samples thoughtfully kept by scientific and medical staff at that time.

And now, we suddenly have a recurrence of a stable and (in virus lifespans) many generations extinct virus.  Since it's a stable form, we know it didn't just "spontaneously evolve again" from existing viruses.  That's like having specially bred domestic chickens, something comes along and kills all domestic chickens - and then suddenly, spontaneously, the wild chickens in India and Asia start producing domestic fowl mutations.  Evolution doesn't retrace steps.

There's evidence to indicate that once an evolutionary step is made, the organism burns the bridges behind it, making it much harder to regress to an earlier form.  And while there are some quirks of evolution, we're begininng to see more and more that organism don't just retrogress.   So you can forget saying that H1N1 just threw back from newer strains of the flu virus.

Furthermore - whether deliberately or unintentionally, there have been several releases of biohazards from laboratories around the world.  Most immediate to me is the 1995 release of rabbit calici virus (RCV) from an island facility (Wardang Island) off the South Australian shore.  There was some discussion whether or not this was actually a deliberate and clandestine release to help farmers hard hit by drought and rabbits denuding their fields, or a genuine accident.  It doesn't matter either way - it perfectly demonstrates that inadvertent and/or deliberate releases are not only possible, but can and do happen. 

So we're in the unfortunate position of deciding, not between whether it was an act of nature or an act of man, but instead that we have to decide if this act of man was an accident, or a cold calculating and deliberate release.  Welcome to Human nature...


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14 September, 2009

Bastard Marketing Inc #2723

"Releases regular bursts, keeping your home insect-free the natural way"...
The quote above is from a TV ad I just heard.  it may not be word perfect.
'Scuse me if I admit to being totally flabberghasted.  I'm still trying to figure out, Louie, how pesticides sprayed into the air is natural in any way shape or form, even less convinced that spraying it in "regular bursts" is actually gonna be any friendlier to the environment or me and my friends.

And i'm not even going to touch the matter of manufacturing a timer sprayer, all the electronics, and the energy needed to keep the thing going.  And the waste when it gets forgotten once the first lot of batteries leak inside the case, rendering it useless after the first can of "natural" poison.  Because very few people ever actually buy more than the refill that comes with the first pack.

Oh well, it's not a clean world and that's not a clean advertising tactic.


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11 September, 2009

The Big Green

You've probably gathered by now that I'm not exactly a fan of big bucks companies. Every company that has gone chasing global billion dollar incomes has created global trillion dollar footprints which are now killing entire species, regions, and soon, populations of people.

A brief few weeks ago, I found an article on Yahoo and took a link to it, which lays out one of the trillion dollar problems we will face in coming years, the fact that all this change is accelerating and predicted to be much worse than initially thought.

So no, I'm not a fan.

Here's some info on organic farming that's interesting to me.  Why?  Because I've started a facebook group to try and keep a lot of that sort of thing local, where it costs less.  Why?  Because the new "orgwashing" and "localwashing" advertising is yet another example of the Big Bucks Companies trying to squeeze another billion dollars out of the world without being willing to foot the resulting bill.

One of the aims of that group (and others like it - please feel free to start one for your region) is to share gardening tips, to let other people know that I have a few spare buckets of tomatoes so they don't go to *insert supermarket chain name here* and buy tomatoes that were grown in some place where entire crops of tomatoes that "aren't quite red looking enough" are just dumped to rot on the ground...  Look over that slideshow, because it's sobering news.

Add up the cost of dumping that entire crop of tomatoes, go on, I dare you.

  • Ploughing under an entire local ecosystem for the fields in the first place, that's one loss.  Okay you can amortise that over the life of the farm so this crop is probably 1/100th of the total cost to the ecosystem - but it's permanent, so really the cost is uncountable.  All that local flora and fauna are irrevocably and finally gone...
  • Oh yes - the fossil fuel and waste used to create the field.  Again, that is amortised over the life of the field, but then there's also 
  • The cost of preparing and ploughing the ground.  That's seasonal, one lot per crop.
  • Seeding.  Takes another trip around with the tractor.
  • Watering that crop.  Most vegetable crops, in order to be commercially viable, involve  pumping water to them at some stage during their growth.  that takes energy, and uses up groundwater.
  • Fertilisers.  Always, they use fertilisers to speed the growth, induce larger heavier bigger better faster more crops. See the next item for problems inherent in this, they are the same for fertilisers as for pesticides.
  • And Pesticides.  Aside from the obvious cost to the local environment of using chemicals to kill off pests that are only there because you've got acres upon acres of tomato plants and the pests are seeing Tomato Pest Good Life City, besides the cost of that chemical material running off and getting into the water table and poisoning other animals down the line either directly or indirectly, there's another cost.  
  • All those chemicals had to be shipped to the farm.  Fuel was burned.
  • Oh yeah, and they had to be manufactured. Raw materials shipped to a factory, toxic byproducts dumped somewhere else, and more fuel used to process it.
  • Then it has to be dug back into the ground.  Because of some perceived flaw or blemish...  More fuel, more pollution.  

And if the crop passes muster, then it has to be transported to *insert supermarket chain name here* warehouses, then from those to the stores.  Sometimes, that can mean flying from Argentina to Australia. 

So to my mind growing it locally and swapping it, selling it at the Farmer's Market, and making sure I use natural pest control and fertilisers is important.  I'm hoping that more groups such as mine are formed, everywhere, and that they each take a sizeable percentage of the business away from *insert supermarket chain name here* and others like it, so that those factory farms become a thing of the past, fertiliser and pesticide sales dry up, and people realise that there is going to be the odd tomato with a bite blemish on it, tough tits, harden the heck up...

Oh - while I'm at fussy eaters - you can't afford to be fussy.  I was talking to a colleague a few years back, and we were discussing another colleague, specifically, his eating habits.  He didn't like most vegetables, so he avoided them, tolerated bread and cheese but didn't like the taste of milk so only had the odd drop of milk in his coffees, and doted on sugar-laced fizzy drinks.  The guy didn't drink aside from the odd social drink, yet he was perpetually broke.  I guess having to live on bacon - oh yeah, eggs - chops, steaks, sausages, the internal organs, (he loved lambs fry) and burgers does take its toll on your pocketbook, and definitely this guy had a foodprint the size of a small island nation.

"OMG" my friend said of this bloke, "how the heck has he survived on a diet of almost exclusively meat?  I mean, it lacks dozens of essential enzymes, there are whole groups of nutrients he's missing out on, how can that kind of a diet be healthy?"  I couldn't help but be amused though, at how very blind a vegan could be to the complementary "lacks and missings" in his own diet...  

There's energy levels, too.  If your diet is lacking in nutrients, then you will not have as good an energy level as someone with a balanced diet.  I don't care which side of the carnivore/vegetarian divide you favour, if you're not eating right your body isn't working right.  There's a reason why the percentage of omnivores is higher among high-energy-requirement jobs than among the more sedentary office workers.

Again, it boils down to hardening the heck up, realising that the world can't afford to indulge your distaste of broccoli, and getting on with it.  So please do it, start a victory garden, start a local group, and put some of your time and effort daily into fixing the crisis rather than leaving it up to "them" to come along and fix it.


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Ted And The Arctic Slushie Machine

If you don't think the Earth is warming, then you might use this article to argue that it's all about small cycles causing panic, because the glaciers are slowing down again.  You'd use that article to claim that for every warming/panic-inducing cycle that the panic merchants are using to stop you making a healthy billion dollars from exploiting freely available resources.

I'm all in favour of perhaps not being quite so hasty.  I'm all in favour of panicking - right now - because of a few things I observed as a child, as a student, and as an adult.  That is, that things happen in cycles, yes - but those cycles are often self-reinforcing and accelerating.

Ice is a strange material, and if it weren't for the decidedly strange properties of water and ice, life on Earth would have been much more difficult, if not impossible.  Quick recap of basic school science:  All materials on Earth have properties that go a bit like this:
  • Solid state is the coldest state of the material, it is at its most dense (atoms packed closest together) and the particles are generally locked together and do not move much relative to one another.
  • Liquid state is reached as the material is warmed up, and the particles have limited movement relative to one another, allowing the material to flow.
  • Gaseous state is reached if the material is heated even further, and at this point the particles move freely about.
Water doesn't quite work like that.  In its solid state it is less dense than in its liquid state, which is why icebergs float. And that property is one of the freaks of nature that we can blame life on...

Imagine a world where water behaved like all the other materials.  During the night, in a cold spot, the ice would form - and then sink to the bottom of the water, where the sun can't warm it up again.  Normal thermal circulation would ensure that the warmer water would stay on top, and cold liquid water would sink to lite above the ice.  The following night, a bit more water freezes and plunges to the depths, never to be seen again...  You can see that in a very short time, only about an inch of liquid water would be accessible and all else would be ice.

That's in part why life as we know it (and as we're stuck with, it's worth noting) was able to evolve.

Now we come to some observations made as a kid, when defrosting the fridge was one of my duties.  I sometimes used pans of warm water to heat up the freezer box, and one of the things I saw was that water and ice do behave cyclically.  The heat would create a film of water between the ice and the freezer floor, and the ice would start to flow.  Then, as the ice moved and melted, cold water ran down into the gap between ice and freezer, it would slow down a bit, then the heat would build up and there would be another flow, followed by another slowdown.

That cycle would repeat, but the bottom line was that eventually, every time, the ice layer would break up and fall out like a sheet of slushie...  I know this model doesn't take into account that I've turned the source of cold off, but it's still very close to what is observed.  We're turning the fridge to a defrost cycle and letting the slowly warming ocean currents and warmer air slush the polar ice.

In that article, the researchers say that warmer water flows upstream between the glaciers and the ground at times.  If the water is warmer than normal, I would imagine that initially there would be a much faster movement of the glacier ice, until enough cold ice and water had been brought down to counter the effects of the warmer water.  Then the process would obviously slow down again, until the warmer water flows back up under the ice sheets and the temperature of the water layer starts to rise again.

To me the thing isn't that the glaciers are slowing down a bit, because I'd expect that.  To me, the question is - how soon will the warmer layer win again? - And is this the time that the ice drops off in one big line of Arctic slushie? - Or are there a few oscillations left in the system?


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09 September, 2009

Aluminium Heap, What A Waste.

I have to concur with so many commenters - this is an ugly car, inside, out, and in concept.

Inside: I expect the checkerplates to be smeared with diesel oil, mud, and the odd bit of pig poo - I have honestly seen tractor cockpits that are nicer, that overstuffed armchair notwithstanding.

Outside: Are those - retrojets? 'Nuff said.

Concept: In a time when we're all trying to curb fuel use and lower emissions, I don't give a rat's ass how nice an engine it is - using a V8 to move one person around is not on, no matter how rich that person is in coin, and poor in taste.  Find some other way to augment yer manhood.

General: It is UGLY. It is WASTEFUL. It is made of a material softer than any other car it will be sharing the road with, unless you know someone with a car made of butter.  It has a 4.2liter engine.  

In my opinion this would have to be the world's greatest contemporary automotive fail.


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31 August, 2009

Incandescent Imbecility

May I suggest that the people who are stockpiling incandescent bulbs might just be flaming idiots?  Just a thought...  I've used CFLs since they first came out and cost $25 apiece, and while the light was a lot "fluorescent office lighting" back then, they have now gotten to the point where I and my guests can't tell which fixture has the incandescent, which has the halogen, and which has the CFL bulb.

To explain that - I have a reading lamp with a 60W incandescent in it, a second reading lamp with a halogen, a bathroom with a halogen, and everything else is CFL.  Almost invariably, they say the halogen reading light is too "cold" while the halogen in the bathroom is fine, and no-one has ever suggested that the light bulbs in the lounge or kitchen are wrong or give poor light.

For all you people who are going to mutter about "newfangled mumbletty mutter crap not like the good ole days" well guess what the good ole days are gone, behind us, and there's a new reality to contend with and it doesn't include your concerns that your light bulbs are messing with your sense of interior decorating.  If you really DO have such extreme colour acuity that you can tell the difference, change your effing precious decor to match the new lights.  

Do you know how many rooms had to be refurbished when the "good old oil and gas lights" gave way to those same electric incandescent lights that you're now clutching to your bosoms?  Get used to change cos there's gonna be a helluvva lot of change in the next few years, much of it down to your love of those incandescent bulbs and flawless decor...


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26 August, 2009

We're About To Find Out

. . . what "knife-edge" means . . .

UPDATE: Still more bad news . . .


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25 August, 2009

See If This Amuses

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