Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Life on Mars

Here’s what I don’t get. Why is everyone hung up on whether there is life on Mars, and on the related question of whether that planet ever had water? There are other bodies in our solar system that have water-ice crusts, and may have water beneath these crusts held in liquid state by heat from geological activity. Some such bodies are Europa, a moon of Jupiter, and Triton, a moon of Neptune. On earth, we have some sections of our oceans heated by volcanic activity and supporting an ecosystem completely independent of the rest of life on our planet. If this can happen here, perhaps it can happen in the sub-surface oceans of one of these moons.

But we’re still hung up on Mars. Why, because he’s closer? Forget him. He’s not putting out. It’s time to stop sending space-probes by his house to see if he’s home. Move on, and get with a satellite that has some potential.

Continue . . .

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Grokking Grout and Caulk

I paced and watched the youtube videos again. Then there was no avoiding it. I would have to caulk.

But it took me an hour to figure out how to pierce the inner foil in the caulking gun. I had cut a small hole in the tip, like they said to. But that inner wrap was way in there. My jewelers’ screwdrivers would not fit down there. Would I have to go to Home Desperate and buy something? That seemed silly. The salespeople there would peg me as a novice. So I paced. Maybe I had some wire stiff enough to poke down in there. I finally found my smallest Allen wrench, and this was skinny enough and just barely long enough.

The caulk did not seem to flow like it had in the videos. I realized that maybe my silicone caulk was different from what they were using. Mine did not seem to fill the gap between the tiles that well. Then again, in some places the gaps were huge. The previous owner had done this tile, and the next door neighbor had expressed his pride in this. “He did the remodeling himself,” he had said.

Yeah. And now I’m having to redo his shower corners.

He had sealed the corners with grout, but it was now crumbling. The internet says not to use grout on the corners because the joining of two planes is where the movement and stress occurs. Grout is not flexible and simply cracks under this stress, while caulk does have the flexibility to remain sound.

So, I wondered during my hours of research, why does everyone use grout in the corners? Why, in the demonstrations, are they having to show us how to take out the grout before putting in the caulk?

I finally learned. It is because, when tile is first installed, grout is mostly what they use to cement it in place. And since it is there, on hand, it is used in the corners too. So then it’s just a matter of time before the grout crumbles in the corners and needs to be sawed out and replaced with caulk.

This is how it is. Someone does what’s easy at first. Then someone else has to come along and redo it later.

My caulk bead is uneven, the lumpy wake from one motorboat that you bound across in yours. But the tiles are also unevenly spaced, with bumps that stop the tip and cause extra build-up; and gaps of varying width that need varying amounts. I use my finger a lot to rub off the excess on the edges, and shove it into the gap. The guys on TV didn’t use their fingers that much. I practically do everything with my finger. Why don’t I just caulk my finger and rub it all on that way like hydrocortizone?

I know there’s a little hole in my work somewhere. In five years, there will be water damage under the shower despite my efforts. We’ll just have to pay for that then, and not trouble ourselves too much with thoughts of far-ranging causes, because normal people who own houses don’t do that.

Continue . . .

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Be Careful Out There

A friend said she cracked a rib by coughing. An X-ray confirms it. She had been sick, and you know how it can be when you're sick. You get good at coughing. You practice that rattling resonance in your throat, and you really get into it. She still has the cough, but because of the pain in the rib, she has to cough very carefully now.

I strained my back from coughing one Saturday morning last December. I had not had enough sleep for many days, and my cough, which had been subsiding after a cold I had thought I was over, was bad again. And my back had been tweaked six days prior while pushing a housemate's van off its long-term parking spot on a bed of pine needles in our front yard. On that Saturday, in the midst of moving equipment from my house to my car, I paused with my hands resting on some cases on the dining room table. I coughed, and I felt that electric coil spiraling up my spine, muscles seizing from the base upward. It had been worse years ago, the first time it ever happened. That time, it happened while I was bending over tying my shoes, and it rendered me completely immobile. Now, maybe my conscious mind sent some ameliorative message down to those muscles as they were seizing: relax guys, it's just a cough, don't go completely on sabbatical on me. The seizing was not as bad as that first time tying my shoes, and I was still able to go to work. I could carry things as long as I kept my back rigidly straight, in good dancer form, using my ab muscles. Funny how back pain like that makes us all in to dancers. But I spent the day wincing. There was so much to lift: C-stands to hold sound blankets, the sound blankets themselves, the sandbags to hold down the C-stands. I went back and forth from the staging area on the porch to the dining room inside, carrying these things. I would be sometimes giving instructions to an assistant while lifting something ("When we roll . . ."), and when I felt a twinge in my back, my voice would become noticeably tight (". . . can you be sure the air system is turned off in the hallways, upstairs and downstairs"). But I would continue speaking right through the pain, and no one asked about it.

And then there's this other guy I heard about who tore a hernia while laughing. He was just leaning back in his office chair and holding a pen in a weird way between his fingers. Someone came in and said something so funny that he was wracked with laughter -- and he was holding that pen weirdly, and his hernia tore and he had to go to the hospital.

The moral of these stories? Be careful out there.

Continue . . .

Saturday, October 8, 2011

First Visit to an Algae Farm

Alganomics is a small algae company in Oak Island, NC. Located on the property of the wastewater treatment plant, the algae is grown in plastic tubes using reuse water from the plant. The operation is still in its experimental stage, like most algae operations around the world. I ache to see this industry take off, but I must be patient.

For its next stage, Alganomics will build open ponds in a nearby park. Open ponds are the cheapest way to grow algae, but the drawback is that the particular strain of algae intended to be grown in the pond can find itself competing with less productive strains that invade the pond. To address this problem, Alganomics will use its plastic tubes to grow the desired algae strain in high concentrations. Then it will inoculate the open ponds with this strain, giving it an advantage over other strains.

Extracting the oil is one of the biggest challenges in algae farming. I had not heard of Alganomics’ method before, which is to simply pressurize the solution of algae and water to crack open the algae cells. Whether this is cost effective remains to be seen. (Another interesting method I know of is that of is that of OriginOIl’s, which uses CO2 to lower the pH of the algae/water solution, then adds radiation to crack the cells.)

Alganomics’ extraction compressor is on a trailer. It can travel to natural ponds all over the region and remove the oil from the algae growing in those ponds. I think the intention is not to make a business out of farming algae in natural ponds, but rather to show farmers that they can set up their own algae production facilities, use manure from their farm as fertilizer, and have their oil harvested periodically by the mobile extractor.

This speaks to the local aspect of algae farming, which is like the local food movement. By reusing and recycling pollution (manure and CO2 for instance) locally, communities can produce their own fuel with little outside input. This would be quite a transformation in how we look at energy. But, the economic feasibility of algae farming has yet to be proven.

The leading project in the world to watch for algae feasibility on a large scale is this one in Australia, where MBD Energy and Origin Oil are working to grow algae on the CO2 emissions from a power plant.

Continue . . .

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Comment

When I comment on a Pajamas Media I have to copy the comment on my own blog just to insure that it appears somewhere. It likely will not pass "moderation" on PJ Media. The following comment was made on this article about how the U.S. will be the "Saudi Arabia" of oil by 2017.

The first big question the shale gas drillers need to answer is, where will they get the fresh water required to do this? Each well requires over 3 million gallons of fresh water. Anyone reading his have drought conditions where they live?

Then, there is this study finding a correlation between high methane levels in drinking water and proximity to fracking wells:

Finally, Small Town America is becoming important. The conservative town of Dish, TX has experienced air and water contamination from fracking. If fracking is coming to your town, as the people of Dish learned, don't be too quick to dismiss environmentalists. You might have to become one yourself.

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Making Tracks

Deer appear as if they’ve floated in, like cottonwood seeds. How do such creatures with hooves move so silently? These are not the horses for whom your mother demonstrated her love by mounting and riding them for hours on end. They do not whinny or gallop or become spooked by mere treacherous terrain. They arrive without fanfare, minding their business; and when they are startled, they bound into thickets where lumbering horses could not tread, leaving no trace.

You crack open your door and see one. It’s looking at you, its bay-leaf ears cupped in your direction, judging distance. Take a few steps and it might bolt, and you don’t want that. Rare is the yard, you think, that welcomes deer. So you carefully lower yourself each step down to the walkway, then skirt the yard. You're going to get your day timer from your car. The deer continue grazing, affirming your behavior as non-threatening.

At your car you look back to the yard and see that others have joined the first. A small one with spots has taken the lead into the yard. The medium sized one you saw first is just behind it. The third is bigger still, but does not have antlers. So perhaps the buck is remaining concealed somewhere, watching the others to make sure they are grazing safely.

You retrace your deferential path, still hoping not to startle them. There is not just the distance from yourself to the one. Now there is your distance to the other three, and also their own spacing to each other. They’ve triangulated in your yard, staked boundaries like a surveying crew. It’s nature’s turf, a new order descended without a sound.

Back in your house, you shut the door as quietly as you can and describe the incident to a housemate. Later he goes out and returns to say they had gone, returning your yard to its usual boundaries agreed upon by owner and city.

Continue . . .

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Conservative Values Trading Cards

There's a political candidate some are calling "Ol' Tool Shed" because of his TV ad showing him sitting in his tool shed. Apparently, he said at one point that he and his friends get together there to discuss conservative values.

Some liberals and I were thinking, we've probably heard in the news what all these values are. Do those folks at the tool shed really sit around rehashing what's in public discourse? How interesting is that?

I wondered if those folks at the tool shed might have their conservative values on trading cards, and trade them like baseball cards. "I'll trade your tax cuts for 10,000 NPR cuts." You know, that kind of thing.

Then the ideas started flying:

"I'll see your Defense of Marriage and raise you One Immigrant Wall."

"I'll see your Prison Lobby and raise you one American Exceptionalism."

"I'll see your Heartland and raise you one Happy Slave."

Anyone else have suggestions?

Oh, here's one: "I'll see your Joe the Plumber and raise you one Bigger Oil Producer than Saudi Arabia in 2017."

Continue . . .

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some Neighbors Might Notice Their Garbage Heavier

I had moved shelves to the new place but left papers and magazines they had once held strewn about the floors in the old place. H-Town and The Prophet wanted to bag the papers.

"I was just going to take them out when some recycling bin or garbage can became free," I said. Tomorrow was to be garbage day, and then I would be able to refill the containers.

They wanted to bag them now to make it easier to take the stuff out. I didn't think this was necessary, but I said okay.

But then leaving the old house tonight, I saw the neighbors' garbage and recycling containers standing at the curb. Did any of them sleep in the front rooms of their houses? Would any hear a slight rattle of cans?

I went back inside and brought out some recycling bags. The neighbor across the street had filled his recycling bin half way. I filled it the rest of the way, upgrading his waste by adding Outside magazines to his mere beer cans.

A second neighbor had garbage and recycling bins nearly empty. I filled these as well.

From down the street there were gunshots. I figured I'd better move fast lest someone imagine some connection between the shots and the Mad Recycler on their own block.

Returning to a third neighbor with still more bags, I saw the neighbor at the second house actually standing at her recycling bin, looking at the papers I had added to it. This was after midnight.

I whispered loudly, "I'm adding stuff to everyone's recycling bins."

"What?" she said. I repeated myself.

"I wanted to put this in," she said, hefting a cardboard box full of more stuff.

"Well here," I said. I dropped my stuff, went to her, took her box, and dumped it into the third neighbor's bin. I think fast like that sometimes because I play those computer games where you move things around to solve puzzles.

I then dumped my stuff on top of it, swung the lid shut, and said, "That's cool, right?"

"Fine," she said, turning and going back to her house.

Sheesh lady, just trying to spread a little love here.

Good thing I'm leaving.

Continue . . .

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's Like The Rapture Up In Here

They're all gone. The housemates have gotten their acts together and mostly moved their personal stuff out. I've been detained by excess cleaning of filthy appliances, carpets, trash in the basement, none of which was put there by any present housemates, including myself, but for which, having lived here for 17 years, I feel more responsible.

H-Town and Tater-T moved first, carrying out their boxes a few at a time, making many trips in their mini-vans. Now their rooms are empty. This weekend, only The Prophet and I were left, feeling like it was The Rapture, with our comrades now passed on to a better place -- a place, in this case, with air conditioning. Last night The Prophet made dinner here and left his dirty dishes, and went to the new place. Today I woke up alone.

Stopping over at the new place, finding them settling in, it's different. In recent years in the old house, we never had played music in the common spaces. Now, H has set up a small stereo in the living room and was playing the sugary pop of today, which sounds like either Black Eyed Peas or Lady Gaga, depending on whether the singer is Black or White. They asked me where I would put the disturbing art of wood, nails, and glass that dates back to the genesis of our old house, and I said I didn't know -- it is perhaps too heavy to hang on the drywall. The Prophet mentioned the mantle over the fireplace, and H said maybe it could go there. "The art is dark, and might blend in there. I could accept that," he said.

In the old house, the art was grandfathered in. Now, H-Town decides.

Speaking of the mantle, I said I'd like to put that picture of myself with those old housemates from 17 years ago on it.

"No," said The Prophet. "This is a new house."

"I never want to hear about those folks again," said Tater.

We're getting the truck today. We will keep it for 3 days, moving in the evening hours the big furniture, including my bed. Perhaps tonight I, too, will sleep in AC. But I will have much work to do back here before it's all over.

Continue . . .

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quite a Statement

One friend lent me his paper shredder, but another said it sucks and lent me his as well. The second friend said of the first's, "His makes thick strips. Mine makes thing ones."

Like tagliarini vs. fettucini, I figured. Or Burger King fries vs. home style.

As an afterthought before leaving me to feed the machines, the second friend said that his shredder tends to shut off when it overheats. You can't do anything until it cools off.

So I use the second paper shredder until it overheats. Then I set it aside and use the first one. It also overheats. Then both need to cool. I have 17 years of paper statements to go through, and it's not pretty. I had thought about just burning them, but I wanted to be environmentally conscious and shred them for recycling. Now I'm not so sure. Still, to sit and feed these to a fire would take just as much time, maybe.

The shredder can fills quickly with the fluffy strips. While the shredders cool, I take the can to the recycling bin and dump it in. All that paper pasta is filling the bin fast. I scoop it in my hands and turn it over, as if it were compost needing fresh air. I hold it to my nose and smell something comforting in it. What does it remind me of? It takes me several trips to the bin to finally identify it. It is the same smell as the paper in the Hardy Boys books I loved when life was simple, when I was not getting kicked out of my house with nothing to show for it but the joke of having lived here for 17 years with some 50+ different housemates, all of whom the landlord never knew about, paying dirt cheap rent . . . and after all this time, the joke still feels cut short. I had wanted to stay until I could finally buy a house. Now I simply must move, like commonplace people do.

Seventeen years of statements. This is quite a statement.

Continue . . .

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Open Letter to Former Housemates

You dressed mummies in a second floor bedroom . . .

You took calls in a fundraiser for Hell in the dining room lined in plastic . . .

You wired the living room for heart-popping beats when techno was still technical . . .

You were not too proud to sweat with 20 or so others in our rooms of barren plaster and no AC to watch countless season openers and closers of Star Trek . . . or flicks by Pedro Almodovar or Peter Greenaway or Andrei Tarkovsky.

How much would you pay now to own a piece of your post-college past?

It’s not just a piece we’re talking about. It’s the whole place.

Yes, now your old hippie group home can be yours for the ridiculously high price of just 300,000! Hardly a wall has been painted, a floor waxed, a bathroom mildew stain scrubbed since you left. Everything is just as you left it, but multiplied . . . no, exponentiated! A single washer dryer set in the basement has become two; a few unclaimed clothes strewn about have become heaps; that collapsing shed in the back has collapsed further like the body of some decaying animal once bloated by the gasses of bacterial digestion, but now slowly deflating while snakes and maggots scurry around it.

Act now while supplies last!

(Just please don’t kick us out or raise the rent. If 300,000 is too high for you to pay, name your own price. You might get laughed at now, but soon enough they’ll come around. As one housemate said, “We can live here until we die while the price is 300,000.)

Continue . . .

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Moonshine Party

I understand that the Tea Party is a movement desiring small government and low taxes, and that its name references the Boston Tea Party which was a protest against taxation without representation.

But what about the moonshiners? They eschewed not only taxation without representation, but taxation of all kinds. If Tea Partiers are serious, shouldn't they become Moonshine Partiers?

Continue . . .

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Brownwashing is the New Green?

I’ve only heard this word "brownwashing" from Riggs Eckelberry of Origin Oil, and it refers to the absorption, by algae, of the CO2 in smokestack emissions from power plants. The algae uses the CO2 to produce oil which can be harvested and re-used as fuel. So, essentially, brownwashing is carbon recycling.

(For a while, some folks thought CO2 from power plants needed to be buried in the ground. But after this farmer in Canada, whose land lies above the world’s biggest carbon sequestration project, found his damp ground and puddles to be bubbling like tonic water, and small animals that live near the ground to be dying, the idea of burying carbon might be defunct.)

Eckelberry and others have been saying for some time that algae, as a fuel source, will first appear in conjunction with some other purpose, and brownwashing is such a purpose.

The first company to make a major attempt to recycle power plant carbon emissions was Greenfuels Technologies. They installed test facilities at Arizona Public Service’s Redhawk natural gas plant, and NRG’s Big Cajun II in Louisiana. But then Greenfuels went out of business. APS seems to be making some attempt to continue the experiment, but no recent news on this can be found.

There are lots of other algae companies around the world working on carbon capture from power plants, but the project that seems to be leading the way is the collaboration between Origin Oil and MBD Energy in Australia.

MBD is a company focused on carbon recycling, while Origin Oil is, for now, focused on extracting oil from algae. Oil extraction has been one of the major obstacles in algae farming, but Origin Oil claims to have cost effective methods. Their Single Step Extraction method is to infuse algae-laden water with extra CO2 to lower its pH; then to use low energy electromagnetic radiation to break the algae cells. They also have Live Extraction which uses electromagnetic pulses to make algae cells leak their oil without killing the cells. The algae can then continue to produce more oil without needing to grow entire new cells.

How cost effective are Origin Oil’s methods? There is no way to tell just from reviewing company press releases. But we can watch what happens in Australia. To my knowledge, this collaboration is the first time an algae-fuel technology has been purchased from a company; and the first phase has been successful, so the next phase, a scaling-up of the operation, is underway.

Continue . . .

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Explaining Conservatives

For some years, I've been explaining liberals and conservatives this way: A liberal is someone who wants to control how much money someone else makes; a conservative is someone who wants to control how much sex someone else has.

Neither side exerts any control over itself -- the distinction is in how each side tries to control others.

For example, if liberals really wanted to help the poor, we would spend our own income, privately, to do so. But instead, we want to tax others -- the rich -- to pay for social programs. And, if conservatives really wanted to save lives, then before engaging in war, they would explore all possible alternatives and consider likely undesirable or mixed outcomes that would show the loss of lives and money to be unwise.

Given today's conservatives' general support of our current wars and death penalty, it would be hard to understand their anti-abortion stance if it were not for my original premise. By forcing us all to give birth to, and care for, all the babies we conceive, they think they can reduce how much sex we have. But if we are allowed to abort our babies, then we are getting away with sex and not having to face the consequences. My premise also explains their stance on gay marriage. Opposing it allows them to at least imagine that they are reducing gay sex, which is a subset of all sex.

Recently, a friend postulated a different explanation of what makes a conservative vs. a liberal. He said that it depends on the degree of exploitation on is willing to tolerate. For example, conservatives may oppose unions and civil rights movements because these rally against exploitation. Conservatives may favor business deregulation because it allows businesses to behave more abusively toward the environment and general public.

Now, I counter with yet another explanation about conservatives and liberals. It's not so much about money and sex, or exploitation. It's about authority. Basically, conservatives align themselves with icons and institutions of authority, and liberals align themselves with questioning, opposing, subverting authority.

For instance, why are conservatives so worried now about the Middle East uprisings against totalitarian governments when the Iraq war was justified, in the mid 2000's, on the basis of bringing self-determinism to the Middle East? My answer is that it's about authority -- with the U.S. needing to be, in conservatives' eyes, the highest authority. Mubarak was playing our game by shutting off supplies to Palestinians and keeping control of the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia was keeping the oil flowing. Gaddafi had renounced WMD's in the early 2000's, which had seemed he was submitting to U.S. authority expressed in our invasion of Iraq. But now these three governments are being removed, questioned, or fought, and conservatives are worried about how the U.S. will maintain its authority in the Middle East.

Opposition to abortion and gay marriage is also related to authority. The process of getting married and having children is traditional, and tradition carries authority. For sex to happen out of wedlock, or for its resultant child to be aborted, or for it to happen between same-sex partners subverts tradition and is thus frowned upon.

"Family Values" is about authority. Opposition to the "Ground Zero Mosque" is about authority -- indeed, it has been called by conservatives a "slap in the face" for being so close to the World Trade Center site, where it was shown that despite our robust military and authority in the world, we can be penetrated.

Fossil fuels are now a tradition and are associated with big international businesses which have lots of money and carry lots of authority. Nuclear energy and its associated weapons also carry lots of authority. However, wind power, tidal power, algae fuel, and other alternative energy sources carry comparatively little authority.

For what other issues can the conservative vs. liberal stance be explained by positions with respect to authority?

Continue . . .