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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