Category Archives: Household

February’s Solar Production Shows Me that I Need a Snow Broom

Check out the week between February 6th and the 13th:


Notice the difference on either end?  That is what half a foot of Midwestern powder will do to your solar panels.  I lost several days of sunshine that would have easily pushed me past 225 kWh of production for the month.

Now I need to contemplate a snow broom or rake.  This is literally an item I never thought that I would have to consider purchasing.  Is this peak adulting?

As it stands now my system is producing approximately two-thirds of my household needs.  I anticipate that with the increased production going into spring and summer that I should easily produce 100% of my household needs in March.


The Uncanny Valley of Faux Meat

Americans love hamburgers.  Let me amend that because the world seems to love hamburgers.  I have seen people—not just tourists, mind you—chowing down on hamburgers on at least three continents.  However, the United States takes it to another level.  The saying may be “as American as apple pie” but you could easily substitute a hamburger and no one would bat an eyelash.

That love of hamburgers has a big environmental impact.  How big?  Consider that it is estimated that Americans eat approximately 50 billion hamburgers per year or enough to circle the Earth 32 times if laid next to each other. That is a lot of meat in disc form.

Assuming that each hamburger patty is 4 ounces—the literal quarter pounder—that equates to 12.5 billion pounds of hamburger.  Consider for a moment that one pound of beef represents an average of 1,800 gallons of water or close to 16 pounds of released carbon dioxide.  That is a lot of impact, which still does not take into account factors like antibiotic resistance from feedlot operations, land use considerations, or just general animal welfare.

The odds that Americans would be willing to give up their hamburgers is low, so why not just have them give up the beef patty?  Let’s be honest and consider that for a lot of people the patty is just a vehicle for the toppings and accoutrements.  Just replace those beef patties with veggie burgers…

Oh yeah, most veggie burgers are wet cardboard masquerading as a viable alternative to an American favorite.  No thanks.  That sad patty may have been acceptable for Carl the guy from accounting who does not eat meat that Susie invited to the work function for some reason, but for the rest of the red blooded Americans in the backyard this is a no go.

Enter the start-ups, dreamers, and just plain ambitious people who think that there is way to enjoy something that is much more burger like without the stench of sadness that is a traditional veggie burger.  I would love to tell you all about the much hyped Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods, but it has been impossible—sorry, I could not help myself—to find locally or in any of the places I have been on a trip recently.  The reviews have been trickling in online for a while and it seems to hold a lot of promise.  There is a location in Nebraska that I will pass by in four weeks that is supposed to have the item on the menu, so there is a chance.

Locally, I can find the other much hyped faux meat burger from Beyond Meat: the Beyond Burger.  The concept behind this burger is that it is a “plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and tastes like a fresh beef burger.”  Beyond Meat wants you to think of this as a direct analogue to regular ground beef patties so much that it had placed the patties in the meat cases of grocery stores rather than with the Tofurkey.

On a plate and ready for the grill these sure do look like a regular beef patty:


Off the grill and on a bun with all the fixings…I am not so sure.  I think it comes down to expectations.  This is, hands down, the best non-meat burger I have ever eaten.  However, if I come at the evaluation purely from the viewpoint of an all-beef patty I am left underwhelmed.  That is why I feel that this new generation of faux meat patties is potentially stuck in an uncanny valley.  It’s better than any faux meat that has come before, but in coming so close to the real thing it falls considerably short in some way.

The Beyond Burger did grill like its animal protein cousin…kind of.  It sizzled appropriately when introduced to the hot grill plates and there were even a few flare ups as combustible juices flowed down onto the heat shields.  The patties developed an appealing crust and cooked in about the same amount of time as a dead cow patty.

Covered in some American cheese—the appropriate choice for melty nirvana—and the other typically American cornucopia of condiments—onion, ketchup, and mustard—resulted in a satisfying burger-esque experience.  It was not a half pound of fresh ground Pat La Frida beef, but I did not expect it to be either.  Upon further review I might change how I cooked the patties moving from an outdoor grill to a flattop.

The biggest downside of these patties?  The packaging:


Hamburger buns come in packages of eight and I always make extra because leftover burgers are a lunch time staple in my house.  Four plastic trays, four cardboard wrappers, and some trash plastic film is a little much.  How about a sleeve of these bad boys available at Costco?

It appears that Beyond Meat is bullish on the future of its approach.  The company recently announced a major expansion of its research capabilities.  

Almost 200 kWh of Solar Electricity in January

So close.  Like less than 5 kWh away from a total of 200 kWh for the month:


Still, I like that production is trending upward after some fairly light months in the last quarter of 2017.  It will be very interesting to see how quickly my system ramps up production as the days increase in length and the amount of solar radiation increases.

Based on my, admittedly crude, calculations I should overproduce against my initial estimates in the summer months and underperform during the winter months.  Only time will tell if my math works out this time.

Maybe I should add some more panels?

For the month I figure that my solar photovoltaic system produced more than two-thirds of the electricity that we used for the month.  Considering that we were home for the entire month and only went out to eat twice—I call that a “home based life”—it feels even more like success.


December Brings Short Days and Low Solar Production

December 21st was the shortest day of the year in terms of sunlight and the rest of the month was kind of brutal in terms of solar production as well:

Solar December 2017

Just looking at the month by month production numbers makes me sad.  On the bright side, I can hope that as the days continue to lengthen and the temperatures rise that solar production will start to look more like September.  I am beginning to wonder if my west facing array is impacted to an outsize degree by its orientation as compare to a south facing array which makes me wonder if it will over perform in the summer when days are long and under perform in the winter when days are short.  Only time and data will tell.

On the plus side I am down to about 275 kWh of consumption in total, so even though my solar array is not producing all of my household needs right now it should shoot past that consumption figure in the coming months.  Okay, it helps that we were gone for the last eight days of the month.


Do You Have a Little Ninja?

No, this is not the lead in to the feel good children’s movie of the winter.  Although “A Little Ninja” could be a great children’s movie.  Rather, it’s a question I ask of anyone who has a child who loves American Ninja Warrior?

Does your child love Daniel Gil or name drop Jessie Graff?  My six year old does that and a whole lot more.  Does any piece of furniture of built-up area become some kind of obstacle?  My six year old has turned just about anything into a pseudo-parkour course.

Have terms like “flying squirrel,” “wing nut,” and “floating steps” become part of your everyday vernacular?  If so, you have a little ninja.

Thankfully the ninja craze has led to the creation of so-called ninja gyms throughout the country.  One class a week, however, is not enough for some little ninjas.  What to do?

If you live in my house that question is answered with trips to the lumber yard and a weekend spent tearing up an unfinished room in your basement.  Merry Christmas little ninja:


Rather than just bolt some eye hooks to the floor joists, which I do not recommend, I chose to build a pair of beams running the width of the room.  The span is just under 12’6” so the 2×10 is actually rated to carry the load.  A 2×8 probably would have been sufficient but I felt the extra strength provided by the larger lumber was worth the slight extra expense.  Once you are bringing home a pair of fourteen foot boards it is not really much of an additional hassle to go big.

The 2x10s span the entirety of the room without any additional support and are locked into place at either end in a load bearing wall.  At either end the 2×10 is supported by a jack stud and sandwiched between two other wall studs that run the height of the wall.  Four bolts through the entire thickness secure all of the boards together.  It’s a fairly beefy piece of construction:


In this configuration the setup is fairly stout but there is some wobble in the boards.  To alleviate this flex several 2x6s were attached between the 2x10s to increase rigidity. Here is what things look like along the length of the span:


It is difficult to tell from the pictures, but the 2×10 does not touch the floor joists above.  It is a free span.

To give you an idea of how rigid I can hang and swing from the approximate middle with little or no noticeable flex between the boards.  There is no noticeable flex I the vertical orientation.  Oh yeah, I weigh in at over 200 pounds so my 50 pound little ninja should be able to do regrips to his heart’s content.

A ninja gym is just not a ninja gym without some sort of obstacle.  To provide a multi-point training environment I installed monkey bars—eleven in total—at one foot intervals across the length of the span.  At one end the monkey bars—assembled from ¾” galvanized pipe—are attached to the beam with a pipe flange and at the other end a whole is drilled for the bar to pass through.  On the opposite side of the beam is a “hook” assembled from an elbow, nipple, and cap.  This will allow for the use of loose gymnastics rings to be hooked up and over in a favorite ninja obstacle:


The whole kit and caboodle is waiting for my son to “discover” his new ninja gym on Christmas morning.  Scratch that, a few days before Christmas morning because that day is reserved for skiing.


An Ugly Month for Solar in November

November was ugly.  Especially in terms of solar production from my rooftop solar photovoltaic system:

November 2017 solar.jpg

The production was nice and steady save for some real dog days when the system produced less than 3 kWh per day.  I am really surprised by the actual production numbers because the system is producing far below my calculated expectations, which were based on fairly pessimistic assumptions.

Like October there is a sort of silver lining.  Even though my photovoltaic system produced slightly more than 212 kWh for the month I consumed less than 300 kWh in total, including both grid and on-site consumption.  Considering how much the family has been staying at home and cooking at home I am going to consider this a victory.  It will be interesting to see what the numbers look like in December with a long holiday vacation at the end of the month.

On the bright side, it looks like solar is contagious.  Two new systems went live over the past week and I know of at least two more that are going live soon.  This is in addition to the several systems going up that I can see on my way to work.  Each one of these systems is like a little dagger in the black heart of the coal economy.


In Defense of So-Called Unitaskers

Unitaskers are loathed by the kitchen cognoscenti, but I am here to come to the defense of unitaskers.  As someone who spends a lot of time cooking at home I have come to the realization that there are certain tasks best left to a specialized tool.  It is ironic that specialized tools for the kitchen receive so much scorn when specialized tools for many other endeavors are given little consideration as an affront to skill.

Here are two unitaskers that may have you scratching your head:


On the left is a Kyocera ginger grater and on the right is a Le Creuset pie bird funnel.

Just get a knife to dice your ginger, says the guy who watches Top Chef and thinks he is suddenly a sous chef for Thomas Keller.  Suck it.  I cook with fresh ginger at least a couple of times a week and this little ceramic disc is godsend.

Instead of spending the time dicing, I simply peel about half of the ginger root and gently rub the peeled end along the abrasive middle section of the ceramic disc.  It takes maybe thirty seconds or a minute at most to get the ginger you need for almost any recipe.

The pie bird funnel is a something else entirely.  It does a single task that no other item can perform.  What does this cute little red bird do?  It redirects the steam from the inside of your pie, in my case usually it is an apple pie, and routes it through the mouth of the bird.  Amazingly you will not have any more bubbling messes around the edges of your pie and the shoulders of the bird support the top crust amazingly.

Yes, the pie bird funnel is an extreme unitasker.  However, like having the right tool for a certain job there is nothing that it can be compared to when doing its intended purpose.  You cannot remove an external bearing bottom bracket on a bicycle with a crescent wrench, you need the specific tool for that particular job.  If you want to make amazing apple pies at home with a full top crust then you will need to get a pie bird funnel.

Here is the thing, anything that helps us spend more time cooking meals at home with our families as opposed to spending time and money on going out is a good thing.  If there is a task that you hate in the kitchen that is an impediment to more home cooking then by all means find the unitasker that makes that task simpler.  I do not think it is wrong for people to use a garlic press to make a quick pasta sauce on a weeknight when the alternative is freaking take out.

NOTE: I receive no compensation whatsoever if you click on the link and buy one of these products.  I bought them with my own money and I am promoting them with no benefit to myself save knowing that people will use more ginger if they have a ginger grater.  Or bake more pies.  How could the world not be a better place if people were baking more pies?