Lessons Learned from Commuting by Bicycle in 2016

Here is what I learned this year from all of my time in the saddle back and forth to work:

  • Rain sucks. It sucks worse than the cold or heat.  You can prepare with rain gear and fenders, but you are going to end up with road grit on everything and in places you cannot imagine.  Also, people suddenly forget how to drive when it rains.  What is up with that?
  • The miles will accumulate faster than you think. I traded in a six mile automobile commute for a seven mile bicycle commute.  The extra distance is a personal choice to avoid some nasty intersections and to take advantage of off-grade trails.  Every time I ride my bike to work I am putting in just under an hour of saddle time.  How many people do you know are able to squeeze in an hour ride every day?
  • You do not commute as many miles by bike as you did in your car. You avoid making unnecessary side trips or quick errands over lunch, choosing to consolidate those trips on the weekend or those days when you actually drive into work.  Like the Monday after putting on over 200 miles of mixed road/gravel riding in redonkulous heat and humidity.  Your rear end sent you a check for the day’s cost in driving as a thank you note.
  • You spend less money. Yes, you spend less money on transportation but I am actually talking about stuff like lunch.  As you do not find yourself running out for lunch or errands, you reconsider a lot of impulse purchases.  Plus, you have to carry those purchases home on a bike so you weigh the benefit fairly heavily.
  • You escape the racing paradigm. Bicyclists are defined by their slavish devotion to the trends of racing, particularly when it comes to road cyclists and the trends of European based tours.  Marketers understand this and it’s why people pay to slather logos on near anorexic athletes punishing themselves for two weeks in rural European locales.  All for a chance to sell a middle aged American professional an uncomfortable bike and matching kit.  A bicycle commuter does not care because racing is not their paradigm.  It’s about comfort, reliability, and safety.  A little extra speed is not worth compromising the other three.
  • The parking is the best.
  • The smiles are free.
  • Winter is coming

The commuting season in 2016 may be winding down, but I am already looking toward 2017.  Big goals for commuting by bike in 2017.  For now, I am looking forward to powder days.

How Does it Burn?

A while back I wrote about a little gadget that came my way to make logs or briquettes from paper.  All right, it was a long time ago and I have slacked in updating some of my projects over the past year.

Anyway, a stack of paper logs that my son and I made last year spent all spring, summer, and the beginning of fall seasoning in the garage awaiting a new outdoor fireplace.  The original chiminea on my patio finally crumbled after three seasons.  Fired clay is probably not the best material for an outdoor fireplace in Iowa.  Even if it is garaged during the winter and spring.  I digress.

With a new cast aluminum chiminea on the patio I got to burning the scraps of wood that have accumulated in my garage from several projects.  This past weekend we finally threw a paper log on the coals:


So, how does it burn?  Pretty well.  Better than I thought it would considering that it was made from pressed office paper and junk mail.  A single paper log lasted about fifteen to twenty minutes before needing a replacement.

The one downside is that the paper does not leave a bed of coals to keep the fire at a nice low rumble.  I would recommend alternating a piece of solid wood with a paper log to keep a nice bed of coals for a long night of warmth.

The next experiment is to try and press a log from newsprint that has not been shredded because that would significantly reduce the workload and mess.

Friday Linkage 10/21/2016

I feel like the finish line for the presidential election is very near, but it still feels very far away.  How there can be anyone left in the United States who sees Donald Trump and thinks, “That man would be a good president” is beyond me at this point.

Given the polls and general sense of electoral mood I do believe we have pulled back from the brink of totalitarianism, but I fear a continuation of right wing obstruction regardless of the margin of victory in November.

On to the links…

September was Hot—Really Hot—Depending upon who you talk to and how they interpret data, September was hot.  It is just a question of how hot:


Small Eastern Iowa Town Houses State’s Largest Solar Farm—You probably would not guess it, but the area southwest of Iowa City has become a powerhouse of solar energy.  Towns and rural electrical cooperatives, a legacy of the drive to electrify rural America, have deployed a lot of solar in the past couple of year.

Mountain States Shifting to Gas Power Generation as Colorado goes for Wind—It will be interesting to see how the mountain west deploys wind and deals with its coal infrastructure over the coming decade.  Coal is dead, but it will take a long time for that dinosaur to finally roll over.

Coal Baron Don Blankenship (Liable In Death Of 29 Miners) Claims That He’s A Political Prisoner—There are few people in modern America as despicable, dare I say deplorable, as Don Blankenship who promoted a culture of “profit at all costs” that cost 29 miners their lives and destroyed many more beyond that.  To claim he is anything other than a common criminal is a galling act of narcissism that could only be matched by one Donald J. Trump.

Global Wine Production Falls by 5% due to ‘Climatic Events’—First climate change came for our coffee and now it is coming for our wine.

Anything for First Chair—This is perhaps one of the saddest lines I have read in a long time, “Even with prompting, nothing stood out for him. He had loyalty to the family he was returning to, to finding a job with his brother, but there wasn’t one thing that pulled up the corners of his mouth unconsciously when he spoke.”  We all need to find that thing that pulls up the corners of our mouth in an unconscious grin. It keeps us alive.

Irony in the Mail

This week irony was delivered in the mail:


Who thought it would be a good idea to promote a cover story about playing more and buying less while including a winter buyer’s guide in the same mailing?  Just saying.

Friday Linkage 10/14/2016

It is less than two weeks until either Loveland or A-Basin in Colorado open for the 2016-17 ski season.  With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up I am tempted to see if I can convince the family if they might want to take a trip to get some turns in.

On to the links…

27 Charts that will Change how You Think about the American Economy—It’s election season so every half-assed political hack will parrot the line, “It’s the economy stupid,” over and over again as if it were some mantra to keep the Trump sexual harassment hydra at bay.  Take a look at this series of charts to get a better understanding of where the American economy actually stands at the end of 2016.

German Lawmakers Vote to Ban the Internal Combustion Engine—This reminds me of the line in the movie The American President where Annette Benning’s character tells someone on the phone that her Volvo is going to be a classic due to proposed legislation.  Make that Volkswagen a classic.

The Baseload Party Is Over For Key Coal-Fired Plants In Texas—This is where it really ends for coal.  The last defensive fortification in its wall against cleaner technologies has been its ability to deliver cheap and reliable baseload power.  Now the ability to provide cheap power is threatened by low usage factors.

The Energy-Efficiency Revolution—This is a very important fact: Economic growth, as measured by GDP, has become decoupled from increased energy consumption in developed countries.  This was a trend you could have bet your mortgage on in the past and it has been broken.  No longer can reactionaries claim that increased energy efficiency and other measures will cause growth the slow or cease.

Efficiency Saves Developed Countries $540 Billion a Year—Efficiency is your mom telling you to put socks on when your cold.  It’s a little bit of a nag, but it’s right.  And it is cheap.  And it is effective.

7 Solar Myths — Busted—Solar is the real deal and the sooner people come to realize this fact the better off everyone is going to be in the long run.  Like climate change or energy efficiency, reactionaries trot out tired myths to “prove a point” but they are wrong on almost all accounts and need to be swatted down.

The Solar Energy Paradox: Why Solar Is Booming and Companies Are Going Out of Business—This same thing happened in the 1990s with computer manufacturers and in the 2000s with Internet focused companies.  Sales were booming, new customers were flocking, and companies were failing or reorganizing left and right.  It’s the nature of the business cycle.

Cheap Solar Power in Texas May Depress Peak Electricity Prices—Solar electricity, generated for pennies or less during peak times, may displace on-demand natural gas generation and depress overall prices.  When natural gas prices increase again this disparity will become even greater leading to a greater deployment of solar technologies.  I love positive trends.

Wind Is the New Corn for Struggling Farmers—Payments for siting wind turbines are a good chunk of revenue for a lot of rural communities in Iowa that would be struggling mightily right now based on depressed commodity prices.  I also think it is important to recognize that cheap wind power is keeping electricity rates low for Americans as well.

Island in the Sun: Saint Lucia Goes Solar—Island nations are a critical laboratory for renewable energy, especially solar.  The islands often import most of their power in the form of diesel or bunker oil for generators that are dirty and inefficient.  The expense is an enormous portion of many island nation’s collective budgets.

Beware the “False First Step” of Buying Stuff to Achieve a Goal—Somebody asked me one time if they should buy a new bike to get ready for the forthcoming riding season.  New bikes are fun.  New bikes are not necessary to get riding.  As a matter of fact, we already own too much stuff.  I am guilty of this as anyone as evidenced by my new skis.  Damn it.

Omega-3 Oils in Farmed Salmon ‘Halve in Five Years’—Some people like salmon, but some people have turned salmon into a religion that shares some of the same traits with the kale people.  Heck, there is a Venn diagram that shows an intersection of salmon, kale, and quinoa people.  At the center is the person in your office who microwaves a plate of salmon for thirty seconds too long and turns the surrounding air into a chemical weapon worthy of North Korean dictators.  And I like salmon, kale, and quinoa.  I digress.

10 Things You Do Not Need for Your New Baby—So much stuff.  I get it.  People like to buy baby stuff because babies are pretty cool.  In the end, however, the little people end up wearing the same three outfits and playing with the same toy.  What they really need is to be held, a lot, and loved.  Everything else is gravy.

Friday Linkage 10/7/2016

It is October.  Normally, people would talk about things like pumpkin spice lattes, presidential elections, or the early trajectory of the football season.  Not this kid.  I am ready for snow.  Sweet, powdery snow.  This week Arapahoe Basin, Loveland, and Copper Mountain fired up their snow guns for real.  It is so close that I can almost taste it.

Just look at these guns:


On to the links…

Canadian Government says it Will Implement a Nationwide Carbon Tax by 2018—If the U.S. could just sack up and follow suit it would change the world.

‘Incredible’ Price Drops Jumpstart Clean Energy Revolution—Nuclear power was supposed to become “too cheap to meter.”  Well, that did not quite work out the way that atomic boosters thought it would in the 1950s.  Renewable energy may soon fulfil some of that promise:

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The Cost Of Half A Billion Solar Panels Keeps Going Down, Down, Down—Just take a look at the cost curves for solar.  It only goes one way…down!

Solar Power On Brink Of Huge Boom, Social Research Indicates—The early adopters have put panels on their roof, so now it is time for the fast followers to do their thing.  I do not put a lot of stock in this theory given that a rooftop solar system is a little bit different from an iPhone, but there are people who believe it indicates a coming boom.

Solar-Powered Airports Are Taking Off Worldwide—Airports have lots of graded land that cannot host tall buildings or much activity of any kind.  Seems kind of perfect for ground installation solar panels.  Come to think of it doesn’t this describe parking lots as well?  Why aren’t we covering every parking lot in the U.S. with solar panels?  I cannot think of a good reason not to.

The One and Only Texas Wind Boom—Texas has a lot of wind and not all of it comes from Rick Perry’s blowhole.  Harnessing that wind is big business in a state more renowned for the dinosaur business.

Dark Money is Re-shaping Arizona’s Energy Fights—The people who genuinely hate clean power—like, say, the Koch brothers—are using dark money tactics to wage a proxy war against solar in states like Arizona and Florida.  Thankfully, pro-solar won recently in Florida but the war is not won in the west.

Wind Cheapest Power Source in Argentina Renewable Auction—Not coal, not natural gas but wind power.

A Look at Gold Butte, Nevada, Two Years after the Bundy Standoff—The reborn Sagebrush Rebellion has not occurred quite like the Bundy clan had hoped, but there is definitely an undercurrent that exists in the American west.  It is dangerous.

Earth’s Obliquity and Temperature Over the Last 20,000 Years—This is one of those links to keep in your backpocket for that discussion at Thanksgiving with your Uncle Carl who says global warming is a hoax and any change in average temperature is more a function of the tilt of the sun relative to the Earth. Thanks for playing Uncle Carl.

Inside a School that Recycles Two-Thirds of its Trash—Nothing fancy here besides people putting forth the effort to implement behaviors.  Talk about low hanging fruit.

Friday Linkage 9/30/2016

Well, Monday night could not have gone better if you like the future of democracy and decency in America.  If you like your skin the color of store brand cheese puffs you will probably delude yourself into thinking into was a “yuge” win.  Bully for you.

The problem with the election, as I see it, is that there is a small slice of people that will decide the election.  It will come down to enthusiasm and turnout, which is a scary thing for Democrats because the crazies on the other side always seem to turn out.  Hate is a great motivator for that slice of the electorate.

On to the links…

The Best Smartphone is the One You Already Own—Not buying stuff is the best way to save money and, by extension, save the planet.  Do we really need the incremental capability offered by an iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy 7?  Not really.

There Is No Such Thing as a “Sustainable” Coffee Pod—Can we just stop with single serve coffee brewing unless it comes from an Aeropress?  The coffee is generally the equivalent of ditch weed.  The environmental cost is outstanding.  And the price paid is exorbitant.

Spain Closes In on 50 Percent Renewable Power Generation—It will be really interesting to see what happens to the Spanish grid when over half of the power is provided by renewables.  This has always been a threshold rate for naysayers because of intermittent availability, but that argument may not hold much longer.

Xcel Plans Big Expansion in Wind Power, Adding Enough Capacity for 750,000 Homes—Remember, each wind turbine is like a little dagger aimed right at the heart of coal fired power generation.

The Clean Power Plan: Driving Down Electricity Bills for Families—Do you know who benefits from the Clean Power Plan?  Everyone in America with cheaper energy bills and cleaner air.  You know who wants to kill the Clean Power Plan?  Coal companies and Republicans.

The Importance of Being Ernest Moniz—Most people only remember the hair, which is a shame because Ernest Moniz has been killing it for the forces of efficiency and clean energy.  I sincerely hope that in a President Clinton administration this man has a place.  BTW, the hair is sweet.

Studied To Death — Solar Customers Don’t Harm Non-Solar Ratepayers—Every time you turn around there is a new argument from the entrenched players as to why solar is not a good thing.  First it was too expensive.  Then it was too dangerous for line workers in an outage scenario. Followed by its intermittent availability.  Lately the bugaboo has been that solar providers are subsidized by non-solar rate payers.  Shenanigans.

How The Jaw-Dropping Fall In Solar Prices Will Change Energy Markets—At some point the price of solar will be so low that it will be something that we just “paint” onto surfaces of buildings.  I do not mean literal paint, but it will be applied with about as much forethought.

Study Finds Biomass Plastic Bottles are not as ‘Green’ as Thought—A study out of the University of Minnesota questions the green claims of various bio-plastics.

Decades after it crashed, ostrich industry poised to take off as demand grows—I vaguely remember ostrich farming being a thing about the same time people were paying crazy amounts of money for breeding pairs of alpacas.