Archive for September, 2008

Ecological Pomade?

I had a lovely visit with a hairdresser this morning trying to figure out what I will do with my hair at the wedding.  I don’t do much with it most of the time although I do think it’s one of my best features.  It’s long and straight and thick and I usually let it hang that way or toss it up in a sloppy ponytail.  But I figured for the wedding I should do something a little more fancy and asked around for a hairdresser who was willing to work without a bunch of nasty chemicals.

Well, I found a woman I really like who has tons of neat ideas and is happy to work without hairspray or mousse but she is a big fan of pomade.  You know, like Dapper Dan’s in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”  It is pretty good for smoothing out hair and adding a little shine without being crispy or sticky like mousse and hairspray can be.  And it smells nice.

But I looked at the can and the ingredients are all ethyl-methyl-bromo-poly-5-gylcol kinds of things so I’m wondering if anyone out there can recommend a natural formula of pomade.

Or maybe I can just find some genuine Dapper Dan’s.

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Affluence vs effluence

A quarter standing on a tableThis month’s APLS Carnival is about affluence, a suprisingly controversial topic–at leastwith me.

Most specifically, ‘affluence’ refers to something flowing to (as opposed to ‘effluence’, which flows from). For some reason, affluence has become associated with material posessions unlike effluence, which is mostly connected to raw sewage (which hopefully flows from and not to). If you’re affluent, you have an increasing supply of material possesions, especially money.In this rather technical view, anyone who has increasing material wealth is affluent–even if their absolute wealth is low–and anyone whose wealth is decreasing is not affluent–even if they’re already rich. Presumably, the reverse is true as well and if you are losing wealth then you’re effluent. Unfortunately, I think the connotations might lead to some misunderstandings.

Anyone who’s had to sit through my rambling about the merits of various savings accounts (Maggie) can tell you that I love to talk affluence. There’s a lot of similarity between the ideals of increasing your wealth and increasing sustainability. If you spend too much money, you’re borrowing against the future. That might work for a little while, but eventually it’ll catch up to you. Sustainability is very similar. We can use lots of resources now, but if we don’t cut back to the level of affluence (increasing resources), we’re just sitting in… well… a big pile of effluence.

Most people now use affluent as a synonym for rich or wealth, which is a shame. You’ll probably be understood, but you lose the (cool) connection to effluence. And, as arduous points out, this definition makes affluence relative (and hence relatively useless, sort of like trying to define people’s religions for them).

There’s a lot of poverty and lack of education and disease around the world and that needs to be fixed. That’s not really connected to sustainability, though. I don’t care how poor you are, you can still work to live sustainably. In some ways, it’s easier to be sustainable when you’re poor because you just can’t afford to consume all the resources that others do.

And, similarly, I don’t care how rich you are, there’s always more you can do. Even if you’re Ed Begley Jr. and ride a bike back to your solar-panel covered house by way of one of your many windmills, you can always help other people realize that living sustainably doesn’t have to mean living poorly.

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Simple Pleasures

Walk on the BeachI’m feeling a little stressed.  I have a long list of things I’d like to get done before we leave on our trip Friday and it seems that there’s no time to get through it all, let alone spend time on the stuff that sounds fun.  So I’m implementing all my little stress-relieving techniques to keep my sanity.  My favorite is deceptively easy: focus on the simple pleasures.   Simple pleasures can be as exotic as a walk on the beach or as mundane as petting the cat.  They can be as environmentally decadent as a test drive of a gas guzzling sports car or as environmentally supportive as biting into a freshly picked organically grown apple.

An environmentally themed simple pleasure arrived in my inbox today.  A Spanish friend of mine forwarded information about an event similar to Earth Hour that is scheduled for September 17th.  I had to laugh at the translation and yet it turned out rather poetic.

Darkness World: On September 17, 2008 from 21:50 to 22:00 hours.
Proposes to delete all lights and if possible all electrical appliances, so our planet can ‘breathe’.
If the answer is massive, energy saving can be brutal.

Only 10 minutes, and see what happens.
Yes, we are 10 minutes in the dark, we light a candle and simply
Be looking at it, we breathe and our planet.
Remember that the union is strength and the Internet can be very power and can
Even do something big.

I, for one, am looking forward to some brutal energy savings from our massive dedication to green living.

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Less costs more

After several weeks of suspense, we got our water bill in the mail today. Over the past 37 days, we used 67,000 gallons of water. It turned out to be much better than we’d feared: about 1/3 the cost of our worst-case scenario. Thank goodness we’re on a septic system right now. If not, we’d also have had to pay for “wastewater” management on all of that clean water as well.

Despite our water company’s claim that they’d send us a detailed bill, we just had our normal breakdown into services and usage. That makes it hard to analyze, but if the usage cost had scaled linearly, our cost would have been much higher. This leads us to believe that we got a discount for using more water. That is, the marginal cost (additional cost, for those who aren’t economists) of a thousand gallons is higher when you haven’t used any than when you’ve used, say, 66,000.

Our electrical company is the same way. Our first kWh of electricity cost 9 cents. Then there’s a block that costs 4 cents each. Everything above that is 5 cents per kWh. It’s very odd and not at all like other parts of the country.

The solar books that I read keep suggesting that they’re cost effective because they cut out the most expensive part of your bill. Unfortunately, in Indiana that’s just not true. The most expensive part of your bill is your first kWhs. If we bought just enough solar power to reduce our usage to the first tier of prices, we’d still be paying about $20 a month (with taxes, fees, etc.). That’s a little less than half of what we’re already paying!

This means that for solar power to be cost effective in IN, it has to be cheaper than 5 cents per kWh, because that’s the stuff that you’ll offset! That makes it even harder to justify a PV system around here.

Oh, well. For now, I’ll just thank my lucky stars that our water bill was as low as it was… and keep reducing our water and electrical use.

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Slaughtering an Energy Hog

Maggie looking at the safety lightYou know those little projects that you never seem to get around to?  Well, our new house came with a security light over the garage that stays on 24 hours a day.  Neither of us have ever really been into security lighting, especially the kind that illuminates the back deck, calls in flying insects from nearby counties, and shines brightly in through our windows.  There’s also the fact that it drains electricity 24 hours a day, which seems rather wasteful.  However, this light didn’t come with a light switch so we had trouble figuring out how to turn it off.

At first we thought we could just turn off its circuit breaker.  Unfortunately, it was installed on the same circuit breaker as the refrigerator, which is one of those energy hogs we aren’t quite ready to unplug.  (There are folks who have – check out Green as a Thistle or go straight to Little Blog in the Woods for the real dirt on living without a fridge.)  We tried tracing the wiring down from the light but it disappears under the deck in a corner with no access.

Then Will had an inspiration – just take out the bulb!  My dad suggested a BB gun but we thought we’d be a little classier and actually unscrew the bulb.  I ended up doing the dirty deed since it was an awkward squirm from the ladder to the roof and we figured it would be easier for Will to catch me than to try it the other way around.  No big deal except that I’m really scared of heights.  Happily, it wasn’t too bad except that the bulb was really hot so even with gloves I had to take breaks between rounds of twisting.

The lightbulb from our safety light nestled in a bowlWe checked our electric meter after turning the circuit breaker back on and it appears to be spinning at a much slower rate.  Woo hoo!  Victory!  We’re not sure exactly what wattage the bulb was but based on some other on-line security light figures it could easily be as high as 200 Watts.  With 24-hour usage, that adds up to 6 kWh per day, almost as much as we used in our old apartment in July.  Craziness.  Of course, it will be awhile before we see any significant savings in our energy bill but just knowing it’s gone will help us both sleep a little better at night.

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The bike commute

There’s something wrong with my car, so I’m glad that today was a great day to make my first bicycle commute. It was relatively cool, less than 80 degrees, and cloudy. It was also a little rainy on the way back, but not too much.

The bike ride was exactly 20 minutes, which works much better logistically. A 40-minute round trip for an hour meeting is about the maximum I’d feel comfortable with. It also took me about ten minutes after the ride to cool down, but that coincides well with the amount of time it takes to get the meeting started.

I have to say that the 32 oz water bottle was the best bicycle-related purchase I’ve made. Even without sweating much in the cooler weather, I went through it all and felt much more human for it. The bike helmet, on the other hand, hasn’t been as nice. I can’t figure out exactly how to set the straps so that it doesn’t slide back and doesn’t cut into my throat. Nathan has had similar problems, so I don’t know if it’s the brand or if we just have oddly shaped heads.

The rail to trail isn’t as nice to bike as I’d expected because the gravel is so big that my bike (with its hybrid tires) bounces around a lot. Luckily, the closer parallel trails is much better suited for bike riding, with smaller rocks in the path. The drawback is that the path is pretty overgrown on our end, meaning that I get hit a lot with plants, which isn’t a big deal except for the briars. I’m less concerned with getting scratched than with puncturing a tire, but neither happened today so I might be okay.

I’m definitely not in great shape, but the ride was reasonable. I did have to walk the last quarter of one hill, but I expect I’ll be able to get up it pretty soon especially as the weather cools. Riding along the shoulder of the busiest street wasn’t as bad as I’d expected either. It was really busy, but I felt like I had plenty of room to keep to one side. Crossing the road to turn was more exciting, but it didn’t feel too dangerous either.

The biggest drawbacka of the bike ride are that I was starving afterward, so I had the unexpected urge for a second lunch, and I was pretty tired when I got back from the meeting. I probably should have taken a 15-minute power nap right then, but I tried to work through it. I crashed at around 5:15 and was worthless, so I just sat around for a couple of hours reading.

Since I didn’t take the late nap, I’m going to crash now. So far, I’d heartily recommend a biking commute. There are still some little kinks to work out (how do I take my laptop?), but I expect that I’ll figure it out before too long.

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Acquiring stuff

Nikon D40My camera’s been missing for a couple of weeks now. I don’t know if I hid it somehow while moving furniture, if Maggie put it somewhere safe while clearing up, or if some handyman walked off with it. In any case, I haven’t been able to take pictures for a while, which was especially hard this weekend. With a hurricane off the coast, the surf in Florida was amazing. Maggie brought her camera but it’s not as nice as mine.

Not as nice as mine was, anyway. I’ve been thinking for a while about upgrading to a low-end digital SLR so that I can actually manage aperture and focal depth. Since my old camera is missing in action, I decided to take the plunge and buy a Nikon D40.

This morning, I spent some time catching up on work that I missed while on vacation this past weekend, including finding the forms for my quarterly taxes. In the process, I reminded of how much stuff I have. There are still some things that I need in there, but most of it has been boxed up for over a month without a problem. In addition to things from my parents’ house that I still need to sort through, I have a lot of papers, a lot of books, and a lot of electronics.

Ignoring my (lost, lamented) camera, I have another camera with case, a wireless Internet card, a couple of keyboards, an extra monitor, a desktop computer, and 3 laptops in various states of disrepair. I also have an old XBox along with a dancepad and a bunch of games. Do I really need to add a fancy camera to the family?

And that’s just the stuff I don’t use anymore! I have even more stuff that I use regularly. The sad part is that I think I have twice as much stuff I don’t use as stuff that I do use.

On the other hand, that’s good news in that I can reduce my clutter by more than half without impacting my life one whit. Some things will have to be recycled or donated to Goodwill, but some of it I can probably sell. I’ve done pretty well selling hardcovers through Amazon and Craigslist is good for older electronics.  Maybe I’ll even follow along in Greeen Sheeep’s footsteps and clear my clutter out one box at a time.

Of course, then I’ll have to get a camera to take pictures of everything…

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