Friday Linkage 9/18/2020

A person could not make this shit up, yet we find the President of the United States and his surrogates managing to stretch the boundaries of what we consider possible in this country.  The latest giant pile of dog doo that these people have stepped in is using clip art of Russian soldiers and aircraft in a fundraising advertisement.

I do not even know what to say anymore.  Well, I would like to say that it is imperitive that you get out to vote.  Vote early if you can.  Vote by mail if you must.  Just get out and vote so that we can end this national nightmare as soon as freaking possible.

Stay safe out there.

On to the links…

A Third of Americans Might Refuse a Covid-19 Vaccine. How Screwed are We?—We, as a country, have spent years, if not decades, coddling the feelings of the anti-vaccine community.  Now, when we need everyone to get on board there is going to be a huge pushback.

New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States—This is some truly scary reporting.

Oil Industry Surprised By Trump’s Extension Of Offshore Drilling Ban. The Only Question Is ‘Why?’—The “why” is always very easy with Trump.  Donnie Two Scoops is afraid that he is going to lose his bid for reelection because he is the worst president in the history of the United States and losing Florida or Georgia would spell doom.  So, he has made a deal so to speak.

OPEC Cuts 2020 Oil Demand Forecast, Trims 2021 Outlook on Pandemic Fallout—It seems like every few years we start to talk about peak oil in some respect.  Some years it is peak oil supply, which is the famous Hubbert’s Peak.  Lately, it has been peak oil demand.  Maybe the world is reaching satiation when it comes to black gold.

The End of Oil is Near, or Maybe Not—It is fanciful to talk about the end of oil, but maybe it is the beginning of the end. 

Oil Prices Stay Anemic As Fears Of Endless Covid Hit Demand Forecasts—If people are not commuting to work they are not buying gasoline for their cars.  The market is already oversupplied and there are big players with a lot of barrels out of production.

Why the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may Not be Drilled—There are just economic, political, and legal headwinds.  What oil company wouldn’t want to invest billions of dollars and years of effort to drill in a harsh environment for a commodity that may already be oversupplied?

How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled—The plastic in your blue recycling bin was always going to end up as trash.  The process of rinsing and sorting was eco-theater brought to you by oil and gas companies, which profit from making plastic as oil and gas are the feedstocks.  The only solution is to use a lot less plastic.

Lego to Switch to Eco-Friendly Paper Bags in Its Packaging—It’s a small step, but it’s the right step.

Why Big Oil Cares So Much About Reducing Methane Gas Leaks—Oil is an international commodity and if the rest of the world decides to regulate methane leaks it will be in the oil companies’ best interests to control the leaks.  It’s called business.

Solar Power = 60% of New US Power Capacity in June—The future is blowing in the wind and shining with the sun.

A Red State Goes Green — Why Texas Is Adding So Much Solar—The same regulatory climate or lack thereof that enabled an oil industry to basically do what it wanted also enabled solar to build out like gangbusters.

Meet Perovskite, the Mystery Mineral That Could Transform Our Solar Energy Future—Cheaper and more efficient solar cells…do you want to be sitting on a coal plant right now?  Nope.

Germany: Plug-In Electric Car Sales Quadrupled In August 2020—Just over 13% market share for vehicles with a plug.

France: Plug-In Electric Car Sales More Than Tripled In Summer 2020—Approximately 10% market share for vehicles with a plug.  Sense a trend?

Sailing Makes a Comeback in Wind-Powered Car Carrier—Now imagine your EV being shipped on one of these bad boys.

Amazon Poaches Former Uber Manager to Grow its E-bike Delivery Team in New York City—The so-called “last mile” for deliveries is the hardest.  You can build all the fancy hubs and distribution centers that you want, but people do not live in orderly warehouses.  They live in cities and suburbs and rural areas.

Vinyl Record Sales Surpass CDs for the First Time Since the 1980s—I guess vinyl never was as dead as people made it out to be for like forty years.  Or, CDs are really dead.

The Impacts of Drought Do Not Disappear in a Week

What a difference a week makes.  Take a look at the map of Iowa taken from the United States Drought Monitor on September 10th:

Compare that with an image from September 17th:

It is fairly easy to see the differences.  Areas of “extreme drought,” which are represented in bright red, are completely gone from the state map.  Areas of “severe drought” and “moderate drought” are down dramatically.  Areas of “no drought” increased nearly fourfold.

This is what a period of four days of straight rain will get you.  However, this map only tells the story about soil moisture at a given point.  Drought is a lot more pernicious than the level of soil moisture at any given point in time.

Consider the stress on crops.  Despite the increase in soil moisture, yields for corn and soybeans are likely to be dampened by drought despite the late season rains.  Yields might even be compromised by late season rains if that delays the harvest.  Never mind the more than 550,000 acres of corn fields lost to the derecho in mid-August.  That represents over 40% of the state of Iowa’s corn acreage for 2020 and could cost the state’s farmers an estimated $180M in revenue.

As climate change worsens our weather with the likelihood of extreme events like droughts, derechos, or floods increasing it is important to understand the wide ranging impacts of these phenomena.  Since 2008 we have seen two “one in a lifetime” events occur and the oscillations into drought conditions seem a lot more frequent.

Stay safe out there.

3,000 Mile WTB Venture 40 Tire Check-In

Below you will see how my tires have weathered the 3,000 miles in the riding season so far:

At 3,000 miles I feel like the WTB Venture 700x40c tires are about out of life.  Some spots do not look as bad as others, but for the most part I have a set of DIY semi-slicks.

Overall, the tires have performed well.  As the tread in the center has worn down to slick an odd sensation has begun to emerge.  Like the old square profile mountain bike tires of the mid-1990s there is a hesitancy to enter into a lean unless you really crank into the turn and overcome the corner of the tread that remains.  Every time I take a twisty turn on gravel it reminds me of the time when I was still running a Panaracer Smoke 2.1 on the front tire of my Trek 950.  The good ol’ days.

Over the past 3,000 miles I would not categorize my riding as overly harsh.  It has been split about 60-40 pavement versus gravel.  A little lower on the gravel percentage this year as some trails are getting paved in my area leading to a longer ride to the pavement’s end.  I do not know if 3,000 miles is the average life expectancy for a tire, so maybe I am judging the Ventures harshly in this regard.  Given the wear that the rear tire was showing by 1,500 miles I feel like the wear was rapid.  Perhaps that is a function of my riding being biased toward pavement and the Venture being a tread design biased toward the loose stuff.

These tires are likely to stay on my bike for the duration of this season.  However, a new set of tires is in the garage waiting for next season.  At the annual REI Labor Day sale I picked up a pair of WTB Byway 700x40c tires with skinwalls for ~$40 each.  Given the wear pattern that I have noticed with the WTB Ventures my thought was to give a smooth center section tire a chance.  I do seem to like 40c width out on the trails.

The description on the package is priceless:

“The Byway is for days of endless hardpack exploration and gravel grinding while also providing efficiency on any pavement linking it all together.  A swiftly smooth centerline is paired to a textured intermediate section that provides a seamless transition onto small outer knobs for unwavering traction in loose dirt and gravel.  Prominent outer knobs also extend down the sidewall to provide an additional level of defense from roadside unpleasantries of all shapes and sizes.”

Sounds like an average day in the saddle to me.

Stay safe out there.

What We Choose to Afford

During the time spent shut-in or locked down during coronavirus I have begun to wonder about the things that we choose to afford.  Now that every trip to a retail outlet feels like a roll of the dice with regards to our health it makes one think about the kinds of things that we buy.

With Halloween quickly approaching it is worth a moment to consider just how insane Americans are when it comes to frivolous holiday spending.  According to the National Retail Federation Americans spend ~$9B a year on Halloween related crap.  Yes, crap.  Most of this stuff is forgotten on November 1 and destined for the landfill.  Your children get to keep the cavities from the candy though.

One layer below that $9B is spending on pet costumes.  Yes, pet costumes.  Based on estimates also from the National Retail Federation Americans will spend ~$480M on pet costumes.  Yes, nearly a half a billion dollars on devil horns for Fido.

Granted, this is a small portion of the estimated ~$73B that Americans spend on their pets per year.  In this time of hyper partisanship and increasingly stratified society the fact that ~67% of households own a pet may be the single unifier across any number of demographic differences.  It is also freaking insane that we spend that much money on pets.

Halloween is not the only example of consumer insanity.  Americans spend more than $6B per year on just Christmas decorations.  Those inflatable Santa Claus statues are not cheap.

Remember these little tidbits the next time someone says that we cannot afford a set of programs like the Green New Deal.  It is not that we cannot, it is that we choose not.

Friday Linkage 9/11/2020

Just when you think 2020 cannot get much worse…it says, “Hold my beer.”

California is literally on fire.  The skies have turned a dusky orange from the smoke and soot as forests burn like dried newspaper.

COVID-19 is still with us and forget talk about a second wave.  We have never left the first wave.  As schools get ready to reopen in my area following a delay because of the derecho—a word I might actually hate more than coronavirus—everyone is just holding their breath for the inevitable shut down to follow.  However, Iowa’s governor is insistent on in-person reopening because her personal lord and savior Donald Trump has demanded it.

We are doomed on so many levels.

Stay safe out there.

On to the links…

Tapes Show Trump Knew Coronavirus Was Deadly While Downplaying the Risk in Public—How can anyone in good conscience vote for this horrible human being?  Please, tell me what reason you have to vote for a man who has nothing but contempt for every other human being on this planet.  Please, tell me why you would vote for someone who would slit your throat for an extra scoop ice cream.

Experts Say Humans Are Living in an ‘Age of Pandemics’—and COVID Won’t Be the Last—Is this our new normal?

This Giant Gulf of Mexico Reef is a Conservation Success Story—Here’s Why It’s Thriving—Conservation works.

Why Would Anyone Finance Another Coal Power Plant in China?—A lot of people say to follow the smart money for ideas about where to invest, but what if money is just stupid? 

Solar Power Prices Sink In The Age Of COVID—Here is why you would not invest in a coal fired power plant anywhere.  You can spend less money for a better solution.

Electric Delivery Vans in High Demand after Pandemic E-commerce Surge—The US government should subsidize USPS, FedEx, UPS, and Amazon to move all of their delivery vehicles to EVs in short order.  Why?  It would accelerate development and production of medium-duty electric vehicles and reduce emissions.  If we are going to order everything online anyway it might as well come in an EV.

As Earth Overheats, Asphalt is Releasing Harmful Air Pollutants in Cities—How about less asphalt?  We all pretty much agree that cars are bad for the environment on a lot of levels including the infrastructure required for their operations.  Just start taking away some of that infrastructure.

How SUVs Conquered the World—and Ruined the Environment—While the type of vehicle is important, I believe it is the simple fact that we drive too god damned much no matter what vehicle we own.  People will commute for hours without a second thought.  People will drive across town to save a nickel on a gallon of gasoline.  It is insane.

U.S. Driving Season Suffers Hit From Covid-19 Pandemic—Does anyone actually miss most of the mundane day-to-day driving:

Our Driving Habits Should Not Be Keeping Oil Prices Low—The statistics are related to how much oil demand is directed toward consumer gasoline, but the lower demand seems like a big story.  Right?

Building Resilience: Towards A Wildfire-Proof Future—It’s not about a fireproof future, but a fire accommodating future.

Forests in the U.S. West Are Out of Ecological Balance. Blame Wildfire Suppression—The history of western forests is one of fire.  The ecological record supports this fact.  However, humans—in our desire to preserve a certain level of stasis—have warped the ecological balance to such a degree that superfires are not a regular occurrence.

The Man Who Saved the Nation From One of the Worst Environmental Disasters in History—As wildfires rage across the west, it is useful to remember that we have screwed up before and we have fixed our errors.  The recovery can begin today if you want it.

Neighbors are Gathering Online to Give and Get the Things They Need Right Now—How much stuff that is currently sitting unused in basements and mini storage could find productive uses with other owners?

How Would I Describe My Weekend in Nebraska

One word…dust:

It’s a little harder to see on the bike, but everything is caked in a fine layer of limestone dust from my ride on the Chief Standing Bear and MOPAC East trails:

I am not one to spend a lot of time washing my bike.  It was required when I got home.

MoPac East Redux

Earlier in the summer I rode a chunk of the MoPac East trail.    Not one to leave things undone I made the effort over Labor Day weekend to ride the entirety of the trail segment.

Starting at the trailhead off of 84th Street in Lincoln I headed east.  Not more than 100 yards from the parking lot the pavement ends and the gravel begins.  This is considered the “rural” part of the trail.  What extends west of the 84th Street parking lot is paved and winds through suburban neighborhoods.

For just under 22 miles I rode until the trail just petered out:

The surface is crushed limestone.  I do need to apologize for criticizing the trail conditions on my last ride because I found the trail to be well graded and the gravel to be packed nicely.  Obviously, the rutted conditions that I encountered in June were a result of unusually heavy rains.

Eventually, the MoPac East trail will be extended to connect to the Platte River Connector at the Lied Platte River Bridge.  From there you would be able to ride into Omaha and its network of trails.

Watch out for the yellow arrow signs in Elmwood.  The signs make it appear like you need to veer off the trail into the actual city of Elmwood, but that route just takes you past a church and into a city park.  The actual MOPAC East trail continues on for several miles.

A little funky trail side art to keep a smile on your face:

Something to note is that the first few miles of the trail just outside of Lincoln are heavily trafficked.  The morning I headed out there was a gaggle of cross country runners from the University of Nebraska out for a training run.  Past mile five or so I think I saw maybe a half dozen people on a beautiful Sunday morning.

With this ride I completed one of my goals for the year which was riding two “new to me” trails.  What new trails will 2021 bring?

Chief Standing Bear Trail Ride Report

Labor Day weekend saw me return to Nebraska for a few days of family time and, of course, saddle time.  Like last year when I rode the entirety of the Homestead Trail from Lincoln to Beatrice I had my eyes on some new trails.

First up was the Chief Standing Bear Trail:

I started my ride at the trailhead in Beatrice that is right off Highway 77.  Heading south from Lincoln you pass through the downtown area and the trailhead is off to the left.  When I parked there this past weekend there was a trailer for collecting recyclables.  It’s the best landmark I could think of.

The trail is paved for a little bit east of town, but it quickly turns into well graded and packed gravel.  Obligatory shot of the covered bridge a couple miles from the trailhead:

One difference between my local Iowa rail trails and the trails in Nebraska is that the Nebraska trails tend to reuse more of the rail infrastructure:

I do not know if this is an issue of bridge condition or age, but most of the trails here in Iowa that I ride have replaced railroad bridges with trail specific bridges.  It’s not good or bad, just different.

The trail has very little elevation gain/loss, which is the case for all of the trails that I have ridden in the Lincoln area.  I do not come from an area of much elevation gain or loss, but eastern Nebraska is really flat.  You will get used to views like this:

However, the corn is looking good:

Somewhere in the second half of my ride there was an interesting sign:

This part of Nebraska was the site of the Big Blue Reservation.  According to the tribe’s history life on this reservation was hard and in 1881 the tribe was moved to a reservation in Oklahoma.  This sign is a reminder to me that as much as we would like to think there is permanence to settlements and society nothing is forever.  What is here today can be gone tomorrow.

An element of the Chief Standing Bear Trail that needs to be commended is the infrastructure.  At several spots along the trail there are restrooms, potable water, and shaded pavilions.  Even though you are in a rural area these amenities make the trail a little more doable for riders not looking for the more rugged experience of gravel.

There was no rest until Kansas:

Yep, that’s the state line.  A little over 22 miles from the trailhead in Beatrice you hit the border.  South of the state line the trail becomes the Blue River Trail which stretches for another ~12 miles to the town of Marysville.  I did not have the legs for a 60+ mile roundtrip ride this time around, but there is always next year.

If you are in the area the Chief Standing Bear trail would be my go-to recommendation for a ride.  The ability to string it together with the Blue River Trail in Kansas for a 60+ mile roundtrip is just icing on the cake.  About the only negative is that there did not seem like a good place in Beatrice to grab a post-ride IPA.  The again with coronavirus raging I do not know if there is a good spot to grab an IPA anywhere anymore.

Friday Linkage 9/4/2020

It’s the first furlough Friday of September.  With all of the post-derecho cleanup accomplished in our neighborhood it seemed like a good time to high tail it out of town.  We are on the way to visit family in Lincoln, Nebraska for the holiday weekend.  The hope is that I get to spend a couple of days on local trails.

The fact that it is September is really odd.  During this time of coronavirus it seems like time both flies and stands still.  Perhaps it is like Heisenberg’s cat that is both dead and alive.  The ‘rona time uncertainty principle?

Stay safe out there.

On to the links…

Welcome to the ‘Pyrocene,’ an Epoch of Runaway Fire—Everything is on fire will be the new mantra for six months or more out of the year for a lot of the planet.

Extreme Heat is Here, and It’s Deadly—It is hot out there and it is only going to get hotter.

Americans are Saving More than Just Money by Not Commuting—The problem in the United States is not car culture, but commuting culture.  People think nothing of driving insane amounts for jobs or houses or whatever.  What is the opportunity cost of all that commuting?   $12.50 an hour seems low.

New Federal Rule Could Create Horrifying ‘Bomb Trains’—In Trump’s America it is totally cool to move trainloads of natural gas through cities.  If a few cities are leveled it is just the price to pay for making fossil fuel companies rich.  Plus, he probably sees destroyed cities as just another development opportunity for the Trump Organization.

Solar and Wind Reach 67% of New Power Capacity Added Globally in 2019, while Fossil Fuels Slide to 25%–How do we get to 0% fossil fuels added in a given year?  Actually, the goal needs to be some negative rate.

The US South Could Save Money by Cleaning Up Its Power Grid—Yet, the southeastern United States will be held back by monopoly power and politicians in the pocket of those monopoly interests.

Trump Admin Weakens Obama-Era Rule to Limit Toxic Waste From Coal Plants—Day One of a Biden-Harris administration needs to begin with a formal process—which the Trump team has ignored to the peril of their rule changes’ lifespan—to reverse every asinine decision made over the previous four years.  The list is long so a lot of people better be ready to do some heavy lifting.

How a Plan to Save the Power System Disappeared—My guess is that if someone other than Bill Barr were to investigate the motives behind these moves there would be a lot of money changing hands in ways that would smell like corruption.  Look, the Trump clan and the associated grifters are motivated by money and what money brings them in terms of status.  It is everything to these people.

Severe Storms are Increasingly Leaving Us Without Power. Microgrids can Help.—After most of the region I live in lost power—some estimates were that in the day following the derecho 99% of Linn County was without grid supplied power—the importance of some base level of power in an emergency became clear.

North Dakota Blues: The Legacy of Fracking—The bust following the fracking boom is here.  The cleanup bill is going to come due and we, the citizens of the United States, are going to be left holding the bill because the companies that caused the damage will be long gone.

The 800-Lb Gorilla Between U.S. Shale Producers And A Big Comeback: Decline Rates—There will be no comeback.  The economics of the business just do not play.

Volkswagen ID.3 Pours Across Germany, Ireland, Norway, & Elsewhere—The ID.3 and its variants are a big deal.  Why?  Volkswagen knows how to make a lot of cars in serial production and work the “kinks” out of the process.  Reasonably priced EVs from a mass market manufacturer is just what the market ordered.  Which vehicle is more important across the globe: a BMW 3 series or a Toyota Corolla?

Norway In August – Over 70% EV Market Share And Heading Higher—Norway is not a big market and it has large incentives, but 70% share is big no matter what the market conditions.  Now Tesla’s Model 3 has a competitor in the VW ID.3—funny how they both use the numeral 3—so the share could go even higher.

Norway’s Largest Private Asset Manager Divests in Chevron, Exxon for Lobbying Against Climate Action—Norway makes my head hurt lately.  On one hand it is a country that is actively divesting from fossil fuels and buying lots of EVs.  On the other hand it is planning to drill in the arctic.

Can Planting Trees Make a City More Equitable?—Well, planting a tree is not going to make a place less livable.  So get out the shovels, drop those seedlings, and lets build out some urban forest cover.

How Jack’s Solar Garden Hopes To Transform Farming—For Good—This is just such a good idea.  Combine diversified agriculture with renewable energy to power the future.

What Coffee-Brewing Method Makes the Best-Tasting Cup?—As a long time Aeropress user I am glad to see this simple machine come out on top.  Trust me, when your coffee making device only requires hot water and a little muscle power you discover how lucky you are when the power goes out for days.  A lot of people were looking longingly at their pod type machines during the week post-derecho.

An Analysis of Lawn Mower Battery Life

To power my Ryobi 40V cordless electric mower I purchased two additional batteries.  These batteries are made by a company called GERIT BATT and are 6 AH models.  Currently, on Amazon these batteries are available for ~$80which is what I think that I paid for each earlier in the year.

The mower came with a Ryobi branded 4 AH battery and charger.  Thus far it appears that the charger has no problem juicing the off brand batteries, which is a complaint that I read about from some reviewers.  I will note that if I pull the battery off the charger when it claims to be full it runs for a shorter period of time compared to when I leave the battery on for some time after a full charge indication.  Maybe there is some trickle charging going on or a quirk in the firmware of the charger.  I do not know.

Below is a table showing all of my mowing this season and the times each battery lasted while mowing.  I have been recording these results over the course of the lawn mowing season because I have found very little concrete analysis of battery life in cordless electric mowers.  Batteries A and B are the GERIT BATT models while Battery R is the included Ryobi battery:

  Battery A Battery B Battery R
May 1 32 To complete NA
May 8 34 To complete NA
May 17 To complete 32 NA
May 22 40 To complete NA
May 27 To complete 25:28 NA
June 1 18:03 21:37 17:38
June 5 26:42 24:15 To complete
June 8 To complete 38:51 NA
June 12 No time No time NA
June 21 To complete 37:25 NA
June 26 41:57 To complete NA
July 2 39:44 To complete NA
July 8 To complete 48:16 NA
July 13 45:02 To complete NA
July 20 41:51 To complete NA
July 28 37:05 To complate NA
August 14 To complete 36:23 NA
August 28 To complete 39:04 NA

After the first mowing I stopped using the self-propel feature of the mower believing it to use more electricity from the batteries than it was worth.  The mower is quite light and my yard is not steep enough to really justify the extra juice.  Plus, if I consider it a workout it’s better to make it more difficult.  Right?

The biggest change in battery duration seems to be the dampness of the grass rather than the length.  Early in the season we had a lot of spread out rain that kept everything fairly moist.  Even mowing late in the day it would still be damp.  Compared with later in the season when I let the grass grow long as the rain quit and the temperatures rose, mowing damp grass was just an energy suck.  Check out June 1.  It was like mowing through wet concrete.

You can see that the last month was a hot and dry period of time.  I have really only mowed the lawn to even out some spots that grow long while large swaths of my yard stay at about 4-5” of grass height.

Regardless, it seems like mid-30 minute duration is consistent with some deviation to the high or low side dependent upon local conditions.  Given that my yard is about two-thirds of an acre in size I would imagine that most suburban lots—about one quarter of an acre in size—could get buy with one 6 AH battery.  The possibility of large emission reduction from replacing small engines with electric motors is gigantic.

Note: I bought the two GERIT BATT batteries with my own money from Amazon.com.  I have received nothing in compensation for writing about or linking to the batteries.