Monday, April 22, 2013

15 Important and Untrue Environmental Facts for Earth Day

Today, April 22, is Earth Day.  You need the Earth, and if you use the Internet, you have developed a dependence on numbered lists.  So here is a list of facts to save the Earth, one untruth at a time.

1. I can recycle anything with recycly arrows and a number on the bottom of it.  My desire to recycle it makes it recyclable.
NO!  Motor oil has the arrows, but you can't just throw it the bin.  Some stuff will just mess up the process, like greasy pizza boxes and other food containers with residue. Paper cups aren't just paper - the waxy stuff makes them normal trash. Every area has different rules.

2. If you take the atomic material out of 100 atomic clocks, you can heat your home and your  subdivision with free energy for 5,000 years. Your house will then glow slightly for another 10,000 years.
NO! Experience has proved this one unworkable.  It turns out that atomic clocks just recieve a radio signal from a real atomic clock in Colorado.  The clock on your wall contains no fissionable material, even if you squeeze it very tightly :(

3. Recycling costs the city a ton of money, but that means it's good for us!
NO! The waste recycling company take recycling material for free whereas it charges by the ton for regular waste, so that's more money for other city services, like schools and enforcement services for cat taxes.

4. The city taxes cats.
YES! This one is actually true.  (However, it's not really about the environment, so it's procedurally incorrect even if it's substantially true).  It's $10 a cat if they are fixed.  The city occasionally may think your cat has regained her fertility. You can invite them over for an inspection, but the chocolates you bought for them will just get moldy. However, they will send you a new bill, with no discount for your efforts or the chocolates, and you won't be bitter, even after the second time it happens. You will resist the urge to pay it one dollar at a time.

5. When I get a lot of extra stuff to recycle, I can just put it in bags by the bin for collection.
NO! First don't use bags for recyclables (excepting paper bags for shredded paper). Only stuff in the bin gets collected by the automated trucks.  For large trash items in Durham, see bulky item pickup, in which you can see a picture of a truck with a cool claw that picks up big stuff. You probably shouldn't put out trash just to see the claw come by, at least not that often.

6. I can throw plastic and paper shopping bags in the bin. Again, my desire to recycle it makes it recyclable.
NO!  Take shopping bags back to your store's special bins for recycling bags (for example, at the Walmart entrance).  First put one bag inside the other.  Then put another bag around those. Repeat until you create a mega-bag the size of a small child.  Keeping it growing as you repeatedly forget about them, and then eventually take them to the store.

7. Toilets don't use that much water. 
NO! Toilets use a high percentage of household water.  Even if you have a high efficiency toilet, you can switch to an ultra high efficient toilet to save extra water.  This means fewer reservoirs and water processing plants have to be built.  So the city will help with the cost of installing a toilet.  You can get one free after a $100 rebate at Costco or Home Depot  (rebate form here).  You can install them yourself with basic tools, the supplies included in the toilet kit, some caulk, and a less than $10 water supply line.

8. Earth Day Mardi Gras
The day before Earth Day is Earth Gras. You should use as much energy as possible to show a big statistical drop in energy when Earth Day conservation starts.  Feeling successful about conservation is more important than being successful at conservation!  Turn on all of your lights.  Turn your air conditioning and heat on at the same time and run them against each other.  Turn the oven on and heat the house with it.  Leave the lawn mower running in the yard all day - make sure to defeat the safety features with duct tape to keep it going. Turn off the power saving options on your laptop.  Wash and dry all of your clothes with hot water.  Keep that bus pass in your wallet and drive everywhere.

9. It's fun to watch the sparks when you break fluorescent lights.  
Um, very NO!  Just like lead paint chips are delicious but deadly, fluorescent light pieces are bad for you. While spreading the word on energy saving features of these lights is common, the dangers are often just noted by a small designation 
on the bulb of "Hg" for mercury .
Fluorescent lights, both the long ones and the CFL (corkscrew) types, contain a bit of mercury in a gas form, so breaking them releases toxic gas.  Always take them to a hardware store to be recycled.  If you do break them, ventilate the area and take them to a facility like the household hazardous waste facility on East Club Boulevard in Durham.

Reducing this list from 15 to 9 items saved 40%. Of something. 

Sponsored by
IGDP: Questionable Lists. Unquestionable Progress™.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Duke party you didn't hear about. It still plays out pretty much the same.

We apologize for the unoffensive parties; we'll try harder next time- Duke University
The 1% have a right and a duty to party hard - Karl Marx

I think the recent hoopla over the  Duke Asian-themed party is missing a broader point.  We recently received an invitation to another party that seemed to stress the same format.  Take a tried caricature of a cultural idea, add sex, add booze and then you get a memorable party. It needs to be offensive enough to be memorable, but not enough to be picked up by the Associated Press; this is apparently the trickiest part.  We tend to get offended by the poor cultural taste, but the low taste in sex and booze is just old news I guess.   Two sober people not eyeing each other for later could still be some sort of format, but it just doesn't sell as well as the current cliches.  (I'm flexible - compromise on some decent wine and double entendres or something, but change up the current cliched ratio of respect to hormones a little bit).

Due to a fluke, we were invited to "plunder some booty" at  the sorority party called "Pirates of the Chi-O-Bbean" last week.  It seems to follow the same formula: Pirates + booty + bar = cultural cliche + sex + booze. Pirates aren't marginalized here, so we don't get offended by that (unless you count Somalis with machine guns as pirates instead of  Captain Hook. It is statistically likely that Somalis will be the focus of a Duke party eventually).  But the sex and booze is considered okay or at least cliche, so there haven't been any protests against the Chi-O party.

Here's the invite:

Some notes, from someone a decade or two past undergrad parties:

1. For purely anthropological reasons, I will see you there.  I don't want to be an undergrad partyer . I will be his bodyguard or his driver.
2. Could you please ask them to move the start time back a couple of hours?  11 is kind of late for me to start something and will make attending the after-after party almost impossible. And what is a Metro-8?
3. Please make sure they will have diet drinks available.
4. Do I have to show my abs in my pirate suit?  If so, I had better start exercising now.
5. How is dirty old man disgusting different from youngin' man disgusting?  Is it just the abs?
6. We can agree to disagree on changing everybody's ringtones to my parrot saying, "Rah! Make better life decisions!" as a way to greet them into their hangovers the next day. I think it was subtle and classy.  But for a few students, it literally scared some of the liquor right out of them, which was a net detriment to the overall, still classy, effect.

7.Did you get the "Yo ho" reference at the end?  I didn't at first.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Where does Google Maps put you?

There is something disappointing about the austere potential perfection of the new maps - each of us now stands as an individual at the center of our own map worlds. - Simon Garfield

In school, I remember hearing debates on how wall maps discriminates in favor of northern western countries.  China is tucked away on the far right, with Europe centered, and Australia is on the bottom --why not the top?  Greenland is impossibly big for it's actual size, as is every land away from the equator.  So egalitarians created new maps. But they're too late.  Map gazers' faces glow with the dull blue of a smartphone, and they only make contact with wall maps with they make physical contact with walls.  These collisions will eventually stop once smartphone makers build sonar into their next versions.

If you are a smartphone map user, the maps centers the world on you.  As you rotate the map rotates around you. The rest of the world beyond the radius of your trip to the coffee store need not exist. And if you lose connectivity, your phone won't know about the rest of the world, save for some limited caching abilities that you wished you would have thought about before the phone went dark.

For purely functional reasons, that doesn't bother me.  Having a map of an entire city in front of me presents me with nothing useful unless I know where I am on that map.  We spent an hour driving around the outskirts of Paris trying to find our rental cottage only to realize we kept passing it.  The address numbering system made it difficult to figure out where we actually were.  Actual human intervention in the form of a late night phone call.
Though those who gratefully downloaded Google Maps on their smartphones last week might disagree, there is something valuable about getting lost occasionally, even in our pixilated, endlessly interconnected world.

Here on functional reasons again, I disagree.  My standalone GPS has helped me to get lost on three continents.  I have the freedom to wonder off, ignore the signs, and just walk toward something beautiful because I know it can help get me back. Otherwise I would be tied to the safety of only touristy areas with plentiful friendly English speakers who also happened to know where I needed to go.  One night in France, I found none of those.  The train scheduling system crashed, leaving passengers clueless as to at what time and what platform they needed to be on.  I finally got on a train but it got to the outer-lying train station after the local buses were done for the day.

I could have paid $50 for a taxi, but with a GPS in my pocket, I began a three hour adventure through the countryside.  A paper map would have killed me because I would lose myself in the map.

As I walked through the hills between Mantes des Joliet, the sun appears to rise and set again and again.  I took this picture while lying down in the someone's front yard to get the right angle on the sun.  I didn't see any actual people for a couple of hours.  Eventually the GPS battery did die and it was me at dusk, but I was close enough.

So use your phone and GPS for good!  Get lost and discover some new places and adventures.

Confirmation that I had navigated to the correct town.

Quotes from:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Treasures Discovered While at Waiting at CVS

Cardboard Rocketship
Kids always play with the box anyway.  So why not just sell them a box?

Let your children simulate the beauty that is birth in your own living room.

The toothbrush plays TWO Bieber songs.  First you brush with one song, and then you use the toothbrush as a microphone for the next song.   Look for Bieber Brand Braces soon.

Give your bathroom the charm of a roadside gas station.

Dogs need better digestion and posture.  Is that the reason they drink out the toilet?

Fondue with Nesquik?

Sidewalk chalk with safety glasses. Being a kid is dangerous.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Main Street The Movie: Coming Soon

Before: It's got Mr. Darcy, Luke Duke, and a pirate from the Caribbean.  How can they go wrong? -Daniel

After: He must have agreed to do this before he got the Academy Award -Lara, about Colin Firth

It's neat to see scenes from Durham in a movie, Main Street, with big name actors like Colin Firth, Orlando Bloom, and the guy from the Dukes of Hazzard.  It was filmed on location.  That makes it worth seeing for locals.  It opens in the US in theaters this Friday, the 30th of September.  I don't know why, but we already have it here on DVD in Australia, our temporary home until the Department of Agriculture and the city of Durham allow me to import the kangaroos down the street (1). I don't know art, but here are some thoughts about Durham and the movie.

It makes me cringe when they consistently pick out the sore spots of town. In fairness, it is a movie about urban decay, which is not the current story of Durham.  Indeed, the creators of the movie chose Durham based on a visit more than ten years ago.  That was before the new ballpark, rebuilt Tobacco warehouse developments like the American Tobacco Campus, a new performing arts center, a new 1.3 million square foot mall, and two other redeveloped malls, blah, blah.  All that urban renewal wouldn't help the plot. But the city is still called Durham, North Carolina in the movie, so it's not exactly a postcard for the city. Think positive. Anything to prevent over-crowding is good.

Ironically, the scenes from an office and a restaurant, shown as upscale places outside of Durham, are also shot in Durham.    Your definition of Durham will be defined by the sites you sample.  Even in the same location, there are different stories.  I looked at the stats for generally well regarded Jordan High School, and I found different populations, almost schools within schools.  Some groups were doing very well and going off to prestigious colleges , and some couldn't pass basic reading tests.  So no story is going truly showcase the whole of a city.  But Durham doesn't get a lot of movies to showcase it different facets. Please support HR bill 1891, which will require two comedies for every serious depiction of a city (2).

Back to the story.

I paused in the middle of the movie for a bathroom break.  I hit play, and it was over in 5 minutes.  It turns out that it was almost all exposition.  Develop the characters, the scenery, and the opposing themes.  Then you actually do a story (3).  Or you can slowly do the first part and forget the second part, and just take a few minutes to wrap things up and roll the credits.  It was like part one of a mini-series, but there was no "to be continued..." at the end.  At first I was thinking, the setup seems a little slow.  Just wait and watch like an adult watching a movie that won't be defined by number of sequels it spawns.  And then, poof.

Overall, I thought it was worthwhile, but don't expect an intense story.

(1) I'll also have to wait until I learn how to catch a kangaroo.  I have gotten close to them.  I'm trying to get them used to me, so I walk over there every once in a while.  They really are at the end of the block.  See our blog.
(2) I am thinking of a new Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where Ferris is black and Cameron is white.  Ben Stein will still be played by Ben Stein.
(3) Or in an action movie, you paint the picture using exposition, and then blow up the picture in really creative ways.  In a romantic movie, you paint a picture and then hang Matthew McConaughey's shirt on it.  Women then forget that there was a painting or a shirt.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Homeowners' Meeting In the New Subdivision

I don't care what color you are, you know, I just don't like seeing a bunch of teenagers just roaming around the neighborhood.  Where are their parents at?

That bus they put in - that can just drop off people from anywhere.  Any part of the city, and they're coming in to our community to cause trouble.

I used to rent myself, but these renters here, especially these section 8 renters - they don't care.  We need to change the covenants to outlaw that.  [Someone points out this is against federal law, which prohibits discrimination against the rental assistance program].  Well, we should make it more difficult at least.

We have to stop all of these loud cars.  This kid has a huge speaker in his back window.  Where are his parents?

Add general nods of agreement. It's Wednesday night at the public library auditorium, and we are in a Homeowner's Association meeting.  I've related the quotes above, from different homeowners in our neighborhood, to several friends who come from around the country, and they all cringe. They are thinking, this is the bad part of the south-haven't we moved past this?

However, the speakers above are all African American.  Does that change your perception?  This causes surprise when someone hears those quotes.  Our community is mostly African American, and the attendance at the meeting was a couple of dozen or so black people and me and another white guy or two, representative of the makeup of the community.  Durham is somewhat rare in that blacks and whites are roughly balanced within city limits, although individual neighborhoods vary widely.

Nobody is for locking up teenagers, keeping poor people from getting transportation, or disallowing people to have an affordable place to rent.  But people are entitled to the "quiet enjoyment" of their property, as the law puts it.  So if a group appears to stand in the way, it can become us versus them, regardless of race.  And statistically, teenagers and renters care less about their properties (it's not entirely theirs) and maybe less about quiet enjoyment. Racism is still alive, but class distinctions are becoming more important as more African Americans are lifted into the upper class.  "White flight" is deemed a symptom of racism, but "black flight" happens too. Witness the large concentration of African Americans staying away from Washington, DC city limits by moving over the border to Maryland.

We didn't come to any conclusions.  It didn't entirely matter because we are mostly powerless.  We discovered, to my big surprise, that the Board of Directors of the Homeowner's Association, is actually one guy, Jerry Stoltz.  He's the developer that started things 13 years and has refused to turn over the board of one to an actual board of homeowners even though it appears the legal requirements have been met (it's common for the developer to direct the board in the beginning stages of a community).  Disenfranchising a black community is not a good thing to do, so he was the punching bag for tonight.  The meeting was scheduled so he could be present, but he begged off at 9 am and instead sent Drew, who would only call himself a professional acquaintance of Jerry's.  His only ability was to take notes.  He had no answers nor authority.  But anger at the builder was another issue that surfaced harshly in the mostly white HOA where we lived in South Durham.  Crime is also a major concern in both areas.  I think both neighborhoods are safe, but getting everyone together to relay their worst experiences makes everyone feel less safe.

In the end, I don't know if we could really change things if we were in charge.  People are behind on their HOA dues by $40,000, so we can't really spend much money.  Bankruptcy and foreclosure mean we may never see a lot of that.  When we are the board, we will have we  to blame.

Another issue I contemplated:
Should I ask about a starting a neighborhood e-mail list?  You know, to bring the community together?  Or because of the tone created by the false anonymity of e-mailing your neighbors instead of talking to them, would it actually tear the neighborhood apart?  I've definitely seen both results.  It certainly gives people a platform for complaining: "We will initiate action if everyone does not power-wash his home," etc.  But hopefully, it could be a platform for organizing neighborhood cookouts, too. Someone else seizes the initiative and I sign up.  We'll see.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Stuff My Neighborhood Listserv Says

What's a neighborhood without an e-mail list to connect it?  Rusty joined the list of one neighborhood near downtown Durham, and it is amazing what is shared and what is argued.  Here's a sampling [emphasis mine]

  • This neighborhood likes to share:

Sender: [redacted]
Subject: kroger coupons i won't use

going out to the curb at 1:30pm today
[redacted] englewood
please take only the ones you'll useand please don't take the clothespinsave $1 on any 1 listerine 1 liter or larger
save 40cents on 1 kroger graham crackers
save $2 on any nivea body product
save $2.75 on any one charmin 30 double roll
save $1.50 on any 1 brita filter
all expire apr 17
all good only at kroger
you pay sales tax
technically "void if transferred" but an employee told me off the record that's not enforced

  • How can you piece together a life from which these items were necessary but no longer are?
Sender: [redacted]
Subject: Free stuff to a good home
Dinosaur bathtub sprayer and hose. Fits onto a traditional style bathtub faucet and the spray comes out the dinosaur's mouth. Very cute, and functional, too! [how does this fit with the next item?]
Tools to assist someone with limited mobility or reach - a long shoe horn, a picker-upper, a very long handled bath sponge, stuff like that left over from knee surgery and mostly never used. Take it all.

Backpack suitcase - a little too large for my need.
An opened and partially used package of disposable underpads. Perfect for the old dog that's a little leaky.

Almost new Bioset sprout maker with instructions.
Learn Italian cassette tapes.
An hour and a half later, we are informed "still have underpads, the rest is gone."  You have to be quick in this neighborhood.