Friday Linkage 4/29/2016

A little light on the links this week because nothing was really hitting the spot.  A lot of ink was spilled on the thirtieth anniversary of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.  It is hard to believe that it has been thirty years.  When I was a kid—during the Cold War—Chernobyl was the by-word for every disaster be it in the kitchen or on the battlefield.

On to the links…

Did The Paris Climate Accord Start A Low-Carbon Landslide?—Have we reached a “low carbon tipping point” where fossil fuels are increasingly at a disadvantage because of a number of forces?  One only has to look at the dramatic fall of the coal mining industry to begin to think that such a tipping point has been reached.

Newly Released Data Indicates Ivanpah Gas is Under 5%–The concentrated solar facility known as Ivanpah has received a lot of negative press, but this new data release shows that the project is hitting its goals relative to natural gas usage when stored solar heat is not enough.

Exxon Mobil Loses Top Credit Rating It Held Since Depression—Exxon Mobil used to be more credit worthy than most countries and was seen by a lot of folks to actually act more like a sovereign nation, particularly in foreign affairs, than a corporation.  Now market forces are working against the fossil fuels giant.

Barnett Shale Rig Count Hits a New Low: Zero—From a fracking boom to a fracking bust.  I do not mean fracking in the Battlestar Galactica sense either.

Two German States Have Already Hit 100% Renewable Electricity—This is a net number, so at certain times the state may import electricity or export electricity, but it is impressive nonetheless.

Enabling Repair

Repair is a lost art.  Our consumer culture has become a throwaway culture.  It is much more profitable for a company to sell you an entirely new item to replace a broken item rather than enabling you or someone else to repair said item.

When I was a kid—the good old days of the Cold War—there were quite a few television, VCR, and various electronics repair shops in a town of even middling size.  These shops were generally cluttered with the detritus of former repairs like a junkyard for electronics.  Now, I do not know if I could find an electronics repair shop.  I surely do not remember the last time that I saw one of these shops.  Consumer electronics have become disposable items.  Imagine telling someone in 1985 that a 55” television would be essentially disposable if it were to break.  They would look at you as if you had come from some twisted future where Donald Trump was actually a candidate for President of the United States.

Clothes are even more disposable.  Tailoring is a lost art.  Repair is not something people think of anymore when it comes to clothing.  Bust a seam or break a zipper and the item is in the rubbish bin.

Notably different are companies where the customer base is outdoor activity inclined and, thus, generally thought of to be on the progressive edge of environmentalism.  Therefore, reducing waste is a concern for this particular customer base.  Birkenstocks have long been a brand of shoes that owners have repaired and resoled long after someone else would have just gone off to buy another pair of sandals.  Chaco sandals are the same and loyalists are known to keep their sandals way past their socially accepted expiration dates through judicious repair and resoling.  Patagonia even encourages repair with a program where a converted camper truck trundles around the country spreading the gospel through the Worn Wear program.

Keen Footwear also enables repair.  My son, in his eagerness to wear his sandals for the first time this spring, was a little too eager and broke the elastic lace.  A simple request to Keen produced this in the mail:

Keen Laces.png

Contained within are enough elastic cords and small parts to repair sandals a half dozen times or more depending upon what can be salvaged from the broken pair.  The cost to me?  Nothing.  A simple thing like this has earned Keen my business for my kids’ feet.  At least until they grow up to be Chaco lovers like their dad.

Friday Linkage 4/22/2016

Damn, Prince died.  I was not a huge fan of his music while going to college in Minnesota but the man tended to permeate almost every musical discussion in the Twin Cities in the 1990s.  With good reason considering how much of a craftsman he was with regards to lyrics and instrumentation.  It was even more amazing how he managed to push boundaries without losing a lot of his appeal to the mainstream.

On to the links…

Buffett Stakes $3.6 Billion On Massive Wind XI Project In Iowa—That is right, Iowa is on pace to make more than 40% of its electricity from the wind.

Fuel, Not Food Crop will Help University of Iowa Meet a Goal—Fields of miscanthus are going to be grown to be burnt as fuel in an on campus power plant.  By 2020 this project could help the University of Iowa produce 40% of its power from renewable sources.  Notice a trend here?

Cedar Rapids Bus Barn Getting Solar Panels—How about solar one ups the others for a moment here in Iowa.  A public works facility in Cedar Rapids will generate 60% of its electricity through solar panels on the roof.  No additional land is being used, just the roof.

How Cheap Does Solar Power Need to get Before it Takes Over the World?—The most interesting part of this article is that as solar power becomes more broadly adopted, it actually lowers the value of each watt of electricity produced which puts further downward pricing pressure on solar projects.

Coal Is Officially a Zombie Industry—It is over with and coal is a zombie.  The problem with zombies is that they just keep going on and on.

Why World Leaders Are Terrified of Water Shortages—If you thought the Water Knife was a work of science fiction you might be surprised to learn that it really reads like an instructional manual for world leaders.

Sarah Palin: “Bill Nye Is as Much a Scientist as I Am”—Bill Nye is actually the “science guy” and he is freaking awesome.  Sarah Palin is the person who could have been vice president yet ended up quitting her job as governor of Alaska halfway through her term to cash in on her D-list celebrity status via reality television.

This Study 40 Years Ago could have Reshaped the American diet. But it was Never Fully Published.—So, 40 years of dietary wisdom needs to get thrown out the window because it is basically false.  Awesome.  No wonder that, as a collective, we are fat and miserable.

Biodiversity Loss: An Existential Risk Comparable to Climate Change—Ok, so climate change and nuclear weapons dominate the minds of people who consider the ways the human species will end.  But the loss of biodiversity has to be part of the equation.  And zombies.  You cannot forget about zombies.

The Netherlands Could Soon Ban The Sale Of Non-Electric Cars—Leave it to the Netherlands to bring some serious internal combustion hate.  Why anyone would even own a car, EV or otherwise, in the Netherlands boggles my mind.

Are Hazy, New England-Style IPAs a Controversial New Colorado Beer Trend?—You are that guy if you argue about a beer being called an IPA versus something else based on the haze.  Drink it and be happy.

Marijuana Legalization Opponents are Making Drug Policy Worse by Refusing to Admit Defeat—Is our long national nightmare that is the “War on Drugs” almost over?  Not if the rear guard action by those who have a vested interest in keeping the status quo have their way.

Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? This Scientist Thinks So.—This is one of the best headlines I have seen in the last year.  This author’s book could suck and I would still call it a tour de force for the title alone.

Friday Linkage 4/15/2016

Tax day…oh wait, that is April 18th this year. Whew! Now we have three extra days to file out taxes in order to fund Republicans desire to shut down the federal government.

On to the links…

World’s Largest Coal Producer Files for Bankruptcy Protection—This is the end. Bankruptcy does not mean that something goes away, otherwise we would not have Donald Trump in 2016. It does mean that Peabody is going to have to find some way to satisfy its creditors—not likely—and find additional sources of capital—not likely.

California has too Much Solar Power. It Needs Another Grid to Share With.—At times, California has too much solar power. Okay, that seems like a good problem to have. However, the issue is that California cannot share that power with other grids. The fact that our national power grid is actually a Balkanized set of regional grids is asinine.

Dangerous Work for “Crap Money”: The Dark Side of Recycling—Once we put our recyclables in a bin my contention is that most people, myself included, never give a second thought to the next few steps in the lifecycle of these materials.

You Probably Have a Drawer Full of Them – Why Can’t We Crack Battery Recycling?—I have seen those supposedly recycled batteries on store shelves for a while now, but does this mean that there is a lot further to go? Yep.

Treating Soil A Little Differently Could Help It Store A Huge Amount Of Carbon—Changing agricultural practices at the ground level, quite literally, or just below ground level could give us a huge leg up in trying to lock carbon in the ground.

We’ve Changed a Life-Giving Nutrient into a Deadly Pollutant. How Can We Change it Back?—Here is the problem: We use nitrogen fertilizer willy nilly.

Here’s How Many Resources We Burn on Food No One Eats—Food waste is a major problem and it is also a huge opportunity.

Costco Is Selling So Much Organic Produce, Farmers Can’t Keep Up—This is a good thing right?

Craft Beer Industry Could be Caught on the Hops as Shortage Looms—Awesome, now my IPA is going to cost more.

No More Hippies and Explorers: A Lament for the Changed World of Cycling—I think this sentiment is what has led to the explosion of gravel cycling. It’s not about color coordinated kits or Strava records, but about getting out into the world and exploring. It’s amazing how many cool places you can find a short ride from your home that are down a little used gravel road.

2016 Summer Goals

When you take on a hobby or activity where your skill level and experience do not match your desire you run into a wall. This impact into that wall is what makes us know that we are still alive and not just going through the motions.

Skiing is the activity that makes me know that I am still alive. Furthermore, skiing also reminds me just how much I suck every time I slide off the lift and peer down the slope. My first trip down an intermediate slope was an exercise in trying to let go and not think about ligament damage. 1,700 vertical feet later I knew that I had to get better.

Getting better last year meant losing weight. I ended the winter a hair over 220 pounds. A lot of time in the saddle on my bike and a lot less snacking at night, plus cutting back my beer drinking, led me to a weight loss of over 20 pounds. I clocked in at 197 pounds during my first day of skiing this year in Winter Park over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Getting better this year means fitness. The bike is an important part of my summer fitness program. A bad day on gravel beats any day inside. Without the zen like quality of chewing up mile after mile I might go insane. Here is what I worked up as my fitness goals to be achieved by the time snow starts falling and skis need to be waxed:

  • 2,500 miles on my bike
  • 2 sets of 25 kettlebell swings and squats with a 45 pound kettlebell
  • 2 sets of 15 bicep curl, overhead press, and triceps extension with two 45 pound dumbbells
  • 4 sets of 15 ab rollouts
  • 5 1,000 meter rows at a sub-2:01 500 meter split

Do you notice what is not on my list of goals this year? Any mention of weight. Last summer I got too focused on losing weight at the expense of overall fitness, but particularly strength. I was an aerobic superstar by Thanksgiving and I paid the price skiing in some early season powder when my legs started to quiver like sand during an earthquake.

My contention is that if I hit the relatively limited set of fitness goals listed above that some measure of weight loss will follow, but it is not going to be my guiding principal this season. Everything is pointed toward an epic 2016/17 ski season.

Surly Brewing Xtra-Citra Pale Ale

Session beers are here to stay. Why? People want something that they can drink when the weather is hot that will not turn them into a hot mess two cans into the afternoon. I know that there are booze hounds and hop heads out there who think that this trend is an abomination and if we are going to drink session beers we might as well crack open a Natty Light. Wrong. Session beers can be just as layered and complex as more potent and bitter beers.

One of my favorite breweries—Surly Brewing in Minneapolis, Minnesota—has joined the fray with Xtra-Citra Pale Ale:


As the name implies, Xtra-Citra has a generous amount of Citra hops bringing the aroma of tropical citrus. Is Citra overdone in craft beer? Probably, but that is because it is a damn fine hop that a lot of people like. Combine it with a mild level of alcohol—Xtra-Citra comes in at 4.5% ABV—and you get a beer that a lot of people will like.

Something about this beer falls a little flat for me and it might be the use of an English ale yeast. In my opinion, beers using English ale yeast need to really depend on malt and hops to produce layers of complexity because the yeast on its own produces a fairly blank slate upon which to work. The use of English ale yeasts in Surly’s beers is one of the most common complaints I hear lobbed against the brewery. Generally, I do not agree with the assessment that the yeast produces boring beer especially when you think about some of the great beers Surly makes with those yeast strains. Yes, I am looking at you Coffee Bender.

In the case of Xtra-Citra the criticism is valid. The beer is a little boring. Session beers can be complex. It’s harder to do at lower alcohol and bitterness, but Founders Brewing found a way to pull it off with All Day IPA.

It is my contention that Xtra-Citra is an evolution away from being a really good, possibly great beer, but right now it is kind of muddling along in that great middling morass:

Two Mug Purchase

See what others are saying about Surly Brewing Xtra-Citra Pale Ale @ Beeradvocate.


Know Your Scam

You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

-Obi-Wan Kenobi


Old Ben Kenobi may have been referring to Mos Eisley, but in retrospect he may have been warning Luke Skywalker about the types of people he would run across on Craigslist.

If you have listed anything for sale on Craigslist you have probably been a target for scumbag scammers. I know that the job postings and apartment listings can be equally villainous places, but I have not had the misfortune of utilizing either.

Inevitably someone will contact you about a listing willing to pay full price and some extra to cover the hassle of shipping, holding onto the item, etc. Red flag #1.

When the cashier’s check finally arrives from this prospective purchaser it will be for an amount more than the agreed upon sale price plus handling. Sometimes it will be a lot more. In my case the cashier’s check was for more than $1,300 over the agreed upon purchase price. Red flag #2.

The cahsier’s check will look authentic, but it will likely be “issued” from a bank with no physical branches near your location. Red flag #3.

You will contact the prospective purchaser about the discrepancy in the cashier’s check amount and they will spin a yarn that is one step removed from a Nigerian prince trying to recover his frozen assets. Red flag #4.

Finally, the prospective purchaser will ask that you just deposit the check and wire the remaining money to him in order to settle things. Red flag #5.

Why do people fall for this? Ignoring the first four red flags, which are all hallmarks of a scam as laid out by Craigslist and others, people fall for this scam because they take the cashier’s check to their local bank and it gets deposited. People think that once the check has been deposited at the bank that it has cleared and the money is real. Whoops. This is not the case since the bank merely places the funds virtually in your account balance—you will see a difference between total funds and available funds—until the check actually clears. In that period of float the scumbag scammer is hoping that you wire the money to them before getting wise to the fake cashier’s check.

In my case I knew this was a scam from the start, but I wanted to see how things played out so I acted dumb and let the scumbag scammer send a cashier’s check. Lucky for him he sent it via United States Postal Service, so I was fortunate to be able to report him to the inspections division of the USPS. Thanks scumbag scammer.

Unfortunately people out there are trying to scam people out of money who are using one of the internet’s great tools. Craigslist may be killer for newspaper classifieds, but it is great if you are trying to clean out your basement and make a little cash on the side for more adventures. Trust me, my cash stash for new powder skis is getting quite fat.