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from the August 19, 2008 edition
When I go on my daily four-mile walk and see a penny lying on the ground, I pick it up. Scottish habits die hard, even when your family has been in America for over 300 years.
Recently here in Arlington, Va., the lowly penny became symbolic. For the first time, it now costs one cent to draw a gallon of water out of the tap in your home. Yes, even water prices are going up fast. Enjoy a long shower? That’ll now be 40 cents. Wash your car? Fifty cents. Water the lawn for an hour? Two dollars.
Gasoline, airplane tickets, cooking oil, bread, and now, water – sometimes it seems that the price of everything is headed for the moon.
But you can do something about it.
My concern about higher prices started three years ago. That was when I wrote a series of articles for the Monitor about future supplies of energy. The outlook was glum then, and looks even glummer today.
So in the past three years, I’ve come up with several things that helped me deal with rising energy and utility costs. Among my most effective tools (no joke!):
A piece of strong cord.
A collection of buckets.
A knob that says “Hot” and “Cold.”
A well-trained right foot.
The specific problem that motivated this energy crusade was the rising price of natural gas. Prices zoomed from 54 cents per 100 cubic feet in 2002 to 95 cents in 2005. Now it’s $1.04.
At first I did things that experts recommend. I boosted the insulation in my attic from four inches to 16 inches. I put in 14 new double-paned windows with argon gas insulator.
When the first winter arrived, I was really excited. I thought my energy bill would fall faster than the 2008 stock market. But my gas bill hardly budged.
As the months went by, prices went higher, and my bill went up. Nothing seemed to help.
Then came my first breakthrough. And I can thank the Arlington County government for the inspiration. The county announced that to pay for costly new sewer projects, the combined sewer-water charges were rising to more than one cent for every gallon of water, even if it were used to irrigate lawns.
I thought: Maybe those deep baths and long showers I enjoyed should go. And maybe the water didn’t have to be so hot.
I twisted the Hot-Cold knob on the water heater way down. I took only short showers.
It was then I noticed my first big drop in gas use.
Meanwhile, this spring I called the local Extension agent to find out whether it was safe for plants to use kitchen “gray water” left after washing dishes and vegetables from the garden. The answer: “Yes.”
So at my house, we now keep buckets handy to reuse this wash water outdoors.
These efforts paid off. Last spring, we used 13,000 gallons of water in three months, much of it on the garden. This year, using our gray-water and short shower strategy, we cut that to 5,000 gallons. When I got the latest water bill, I first thought it was a misprint. But the saving, at one cent a gallon, was $80.
Meanwhile, there was the electric bill. Our local provider just announced an 18.3 percent price hike.
I had tried several ways to cut electricity costs. I first installed a dozen of those twisty, energy-saving bulbs from China. No big change.
Then came an idea. In the basement, I strung up about 50 feet of tough cord. Now after doing a load of clothes, we hang them up for 12 hours on the line. Only then, when they are almost dry, do we toss them into the electric clothes dryer to soften them.
Here are the results for June:
June 2007: 401 kilowatt-hours used.
June 2008: 290 kilowatt-hours used.
Let’s see Al Gore beat that!
Then there’s gasoline. That’s where the right foot comes in.
My sister has a new Volkswagen Passat that comes with a device that measures gasoline mileage in real time. When I saw it in action, I could hardly believe it. We were on an open road, and I asked her to accelerate quickly. She pushed down the pedal and for the next quarter mile, the gauge showed we were getting only five miles per gallon.
That’s what speeding does.
So we’ve become very careful drivers – moderate speeds, no jack-rabbit starts. My daughter and I tried such prudent driving on a recent trip to Florida and attained 35 m.p.g. in her Honda Accord.
Yes, prices are going up. But you can do something about it.
The breakthrough could revolutionise the renewable energy industry by making hydrogen – touted as the clean, green fuel of the future – cheaper and easier to produce on a commercial scale.
Professor Leone Spiccia, Mr Robin Brimblecombe and Dr Annette Koo from Monash University teamed with Dr Gerhard Swiegers at the CSIRO and Professor Charles Dismukes at Princeton University to develop a system comprising a coating that can be impregnated with a form of manganese, a chemical essential to sustaining photosynthesis in plant life.
“We have copied nature, taking the elements and mechanisms found in plant life that have evolved over 3 billion years and recreated one of those processes in the laboratory,” Professor Spiccia said.
“A manganese cluster is central to a plant’s ability to use water, carbon dioxide and sunlight to make carbohydrates and oxygen. Man-made mimics of this cluster were developed by Professor Charles Dismukes some time ago, and we’ve taken it a step further, harnessing the ability of these molecules to convert water into its component elements, oxygen and hydrogen,” Professor Spiccia said.
“The breakthrough came when we coated a proton conductor, called Nafion, onto an anode to form a polymer membrane just a few micrometres thick, which acts as a host for the manganese clusters.”
“Normally insoluble in water, when we bound the catalyst within the pores of the Nafion membrane, it was stabilised against decomposition and, importantly, water could reach the catalyst where it was oxidised on exposure to light.”
This process of “oxidizing” water generates protons and electrons, which can be converted into hydrogen gas instead of carbohydrates as in plants.
“Whilst man has been able to split water into hydrogen and oxygen for years, we have been able to do the same thing for the first time using just sunlight, an electrical potential of 1.2 volts and the very chemical that nature has selected for this purpose,” Professor Spiccia said.
Testing revealed the catalyst assembly was still active after three days of continuous use, producing oxygen and hydrogen gas in the presence of water, an electrical potential and visible light.
Professor Spiccia said the efficiency of the system needed to be improved, but this breakthrough had huge potential. “We need to continue to learn from nature so that we can better master this process.”
“Hydrogen has long been considered the ideal clean green fuel, energy-rich and carbon-neutral. The production of hydrogen using nothing but water and sunlight offers the possibility of an abundant, renewable, green source of energy for the future for communities across the world
“Spread in military rows across 300 acres of sun-baked earth, Nevada Solar One’s trough-shaped parabolic mirrors are the core of this CSP plant – also called a “solar thermal” plant. The mirrors focus sunlight onto receiver tubes, heating a fluid that, at 735 degrees F., flows through a heat exchanger to a steam generator that supplies 64 megawatts of electricity to 14,000 Las Vegas homes.”
“Today the United States has 420 megawatts of solar-thermal capacity across three installations – including Nevada Solar One. That’s just a tiny fraction (less than 1 percent) of US grid capacity. But Nevada Solar One could signal the start of a CSP building boom.
Efforts to generate another 4,500 megawatts of solar thermal power are now in development across California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico – all of which have the flat, near-cloudless skies most desirable for solar thermal, the Solar Electric Industries Association reports.”
“In fact, there’s a land rush at the federal Bureau of Land Management. As of July, the BLM reported more than 125 applications to build solar power on about 1 million acres of desert, up from just a handful of proposals a few years ago.”
“Dr. Mehos says perhaps 100,000 megawatts (100 gigawatts) could be built across the US Southwest over the next 30 years.”
“You could supply the entire US with the sun power here in a little piece of the Southwest,” says Dan Kabel as he strolls beneath a row of trough-shaped mirrors. Mr. Kabel is chief executive of Acciona Solar Power, which owns the $266 million Nevada Solar One project. “As fossil fuel costs rise, this plant is unaffected. “If America doesn’t do this, if we don’t install many more of these clean solar-power systems, we’ll just end up seeing a lot more fossil-fuel plants instead.”
“What’s different now from the ’80s and ’90s is that we have much higher natural gas prices than back then,” Mehos says. “I don’t think people foresee a serious drop in natural gas prices now. Even if they fell 30 percent, CSP would look attractive.”
“Concentrating solar technology produces electricity for about 17 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), Mehos estimates. But subsidies remain critical to solar thermal development in both the US and Spain, two global hotbeds of CSP development. With the federal investment tax credit, or ITC, costs drop to about 15 cents per kWh – low enough to compete with natural gas.
A key feature of solar thermal is its potential to use heat-storage technology to generate power after the sun sets. Nevada Solar One is considering adding a molten-salt or similar system to allow it to supply power for several hours after sundown.
With such storage systems, solar thermal becomes even more attractive to utilities, experts say. Arizona Public Service is contracting with Abengoa to build a 280-megawatt solar thermal plant near Phoenix that will cost more than $1 billion and have molten-salt heat storage.”
“So far, US development of solar thermal is dominated by a handful of big overseas companies, including Abengoa and Acciona (Spain), as well as Solel Solar Systems (Israel), Solar Millenium (Germany), and Ausra (Australia), now headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif.
“To stimulate development, Spain has deployed hefty, long-term feed-in tariffs. But in the US market, solar thermal is hanging by a thread. The investment tax credit, which covers 30 percent of a CSP facility’s cost, will expire at year’s end unless renewed by Congress. But bills to renew the ITC have been blocked eight times this year by Senate Republicans.”
“What we’re seeing with all these companies lining up for solar thermal is hugely promising,” says Monique Hanis, spokeswoman for the SEIA. “But without the ITC, all of these solar thermal plants will be put on hold.”
I haven’t been watching the Olympics so I don’t if you have seen, or heard about, the story of Hope Solo, goal keeper for the Gold Medal winning US Women’s soccer team. The important story isn’t that she won a gold medal, or even her success on the soccer field, it’s about her relationship with her father, a Viet Nam veteran, who spent much of his life homeless, living in the woods, and how he was still an inspiration to her.
In her own words:
From USA Today:
In addition to setting a goal of being the No. 1 goalkeeper in the world, Hope Solo now has added incentive to play her best: to honor her father, Jeffrey, who died of heart failure June 15 at 69.
Although her parents divorced when she was 6 and her father, a veteran, lived for a time on the streets of Seattle or in the woods outside the city, Solo and her father had a strong, unbreakable bond.
“I always had a very unique, close relationship with my father,” Solo says. “He was the happiest man I’ve ever known. He enjoyed the simple life. He never judged another person. His heart was pure.”
They were kindred spirits. They shared a deep love of sports – when she started playing organized soccer at 5, he was her first coach. They stayed close through the years, through weekly letters to Solo and her brother, Marcus. When Solo moved to Seattle for college, she and her father physically re-established their relationship.
“He’d call me from a pay phone, and we’d pick a place to meet. And I’d make him macaroni and cheese, and we’d sit in the woods in a tent and talk for hours,” she says. “He understood life and sports, and that’s why he knew me so well.”
Solo refuses to describe her father as “homeless.”
“He was a tough Italian guy who was raised in a boys home in the Bronx,” she says. “He always had that street sense in him. In terms of being ‘homeless,’ I’m always very careful not to define it that way. He chose to live in the woods. He enjoyed it. I’d offer him money, and he’d never take a dime. If I looked for him, I wouldn’t look for him at a homeless shelter.”
Six years ago, with Solo’s encouragement, he worked through volunteers at the Department of Veterans Affairs to move into a retirement home. Although he attended all of his daughter’s games at Washington, arriving four hours early to watch her warm up, he’d never seen her play for the U.S. women’s team. He’d looked forward to being at the Brazil game June 23 in East Rutherford, N.J., and giving Solo a tour of the Bronx. He died eight days before he could follow through with those plans.
“He was so excited to go back to his hometown, to see me in my USA jersey, to show me where he grew up,” she says. “Instead, my mom, my brother and I took the trip to honor him. And we took some of my father (his ashes) with us. We took him to Yankee Stadium. My dad was the world’s only Yankee and Red Sox fan.”
– Jill Lieber Steeg, USA TODAY
I watch a podcast called “Pop Sirens” which is targeted more for the younger ”Geek” crowd, but has a few segments that I find entertaining. I got my “cake wrecks” post from this show. They have a segment called “Horrible Inventions” which is both funny and a little scary.
1) Baby Cages - which is just as bad as it sound.
In Patent 1448235, July 19, 1922, Edith Head of Spokane, Washington invented a Portable Baby Cage that was designed to be hung outside the windows of apartment buildings.
To provide “proper fresh air from the outside. With these facts in view it is the purpose of the present invention to provide an article of manufacture for babies and young children, to be suspended upon the exterior of a building adjacent an open window, wherein the baby or young child may be
Yep, little junior will get plenty of fresh air, and a six story drop to the ground.
2) A timepiece “for monitoring and displaying the approximate time remaining in a user’s life.” Just think, you get to count down your last moments on this earthly plane.
“A microprocessor monitors the passage of time. A resettable memory is connected to the processor for storing data representative of years, days, hours, minutes and seconds. A display is connected to the microprocessor for displaying data stored in the memory. Buttons or switches are provided to enter and change the stored data so that the approximate time remaining in the user’s life can be reset by the user.”
Patent number: 5031161
Filing date: Feb 15, 1991
Issue date: Jul 9, 1991
Inventor: David Kendrick
3) Our seventh President, Andrew Jackson, invented eye glasses for chickens.
“Be it known that I, Andrew Jackson, Jr., a citizen of the United States, residing at Munich, in the county of Jackson, State of Tennessee, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Eye-Protectors for Chickens”
“This invention relates to eye protectors, and more particularly to eye-protectors designed for fowls, so that they may be protected from other fowls that might attempt to peck them, a further object of the invention being to provide a construction which may be easily and quickly applied and removed and which will not interfere with the sight of the fowl.”
4) Just what America needs ”buttocks cleavage-revealing” pants. Sometimes when I get home I just want to wash my eyeballs out.
“Disclosed is a garment having a buttocks covering portion and a buttocks cleavage-revealing portion disposed at the buttocks covering portion. The buttocks cleavage-revealing portion is an opening and see-through material is disposed at the opening. The garment is a pant having leg portions depending from a waist, and the opening is disposed below the waist.”
I found the following animated videos about “Simon’s Cat” I will share with you. They document three reason’s I would rather live in a coal mine then with cat’s. These videos don’t even address the “pleasure” of cleaning up cat vomit and cat poop.
Cat TV Dinner
Cat Man Do
Let Me In
Every vote we cast in an election is important. Every action we take makes a difference. It’s our children, not the President or Congress or Governors or Mayors, who will decide by their actions what kind of a country America will become in the future.
But not in the case of Karen Gadbois. She jumps in her car and checks up on the promises, driving for hours across the city, then blogs about the results on her kitchen table while her dogs yap around her. A few months ago, she discovered a city renovation program that was not actually fixing up houses.
That activism might normally go down as well-meaning naïveté. Here though, it can be incendiary, in a place where big public funds slosh around, citizen needs are still great at Hurricane Katrina’s three-year anniversary and City Hall’s grasp of its own initiatives is shaky.
In fact, it has set off a bomb that has exploded in slow motion here in the past three weeks, largely thanks to Ms. Gadbois: the federally financed program to gut and repair the storm-damaged homes of the poor and elderly, on which the city spent $1.8 million, has been exposed as — at least partly — a sham.
The F.B.I. on Monday raided the agency running the program, the local United States attorney announced last week he was investigating, and Mayor C. Ray Nagin, hauled grudgingly before the City Council, complained about what he called “amateur investigations,” a reluctant nod to Ms. Gadbois and her followers in the news media.
The classic New Orleans blend of possible corruption and certain mismanagement has dominated headlines for days, forcing Mr. Nagin to do an abrupt about-face. First, he called a news conference to criticize a New Orleans television reporter, Lee Zurik, whom he called “reckless,” for following up on Ms. Gadbois’s discoveries in a report on WWL-TV.
Mr. Nagin made it clear he was not pleased with the report, especially because it was broadcast when a high-level Congressional delegation was in town. With the cameras rolling, he said it was “completely untrue” that federal money had been misspent on work never done.
“It’s got to stop,” the mayor ordered the reporter at a news conference, referring to what he called “the gotcha mode,” and accusing the reporter of hurting the city’s recovery. The charge is akin in New Orleans to being accused of a lack of patriotism.
On Thursday, though, in front of the City Council, the mayor acknowledged through gritted teeth that there were “documentation issues” and “discrepancies” in the remediation program, which is run by the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership Corporation, known as NOAH. “
“Taking their cues from Ms. Gadbois, WWL and The Times-Picayune have documented business connections between the program’s former director, Stacey Jackson, and some of its contractors, one of whom was the mayor’s brother-in-law. The reports showed houses that were supposedly fixed up at the taxpayers’ expense but in fact were untouched, contractors who billed the city for gutting work that was actually done by church volunteers, “remediated” houses that were then demolished and poor and elderly residents mystified at turning up on the city’s list of those supposedly helped. Some of the houses did not belong to the poor and the elderly at all, but were actually owned by businessmen or landlords.”
“Lists of homes to which things are going to be done — there are many in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, where nearly 60 percent of the dwellings were damaged in the storm — are red meat for Ms. Gadbois. But this time she did not even need to leave her own house, a rambling, cheerfully messy raised green cottage in the Carrollton section (it took on four feet of water in the hurricane) to know something was terribly wrong with the list of houses NOAH claimed to work on.
“It wasn’t even that the house didn’t exist; the whole block didn’t exist,” Ms. Gadbois recalled. “Something’s not right here. We saw properties that had supposedly been remediated by NOAH coming up to be declared imminent health threats, and then demolished.”
It galled her, she said, that public money was being used to rehab a house, and later to demolish it, often by agencies sharing the same office space.
But it was actually worse once Ms. Gadbois got in the car with her colleague, Sarah Lewis, and started to look at the houses NOAH was supposed to be working on.
“The first day we went out, there were 10 properties, and they were just not done,” she said — nothing had been done to them, even though they were listed by the city as remediated. Photographs of some posted on her Web site look ready for the wrecking ball rather than an all-clear inspection certificate. In the end, she inspected several hundred houses: only a few had actually been remediated. “
Mark Goffeney was born with out arms. That did not stop him from learning how to play the guitar.
John Bramblitt went blind before he discovered how to paint.
The limitations we set in life are mostly those we impose on ourselves.
“Mark Goffeney (born 1969) is an American musician from San Diego, California known as “Big Toe” because, being born with out arms he plays guitar with his feet. He is lead guitarist and vocalist for the ‘Big Toe’ band and played the principal role on Fox Television’s Emmy nominated commercial ‘Feet’.