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Friday Linkage 9/20/2019

The hardest lesson to impart to children is the idea that they are the ones responsible for their actions.  Heck, it is hard for adults to learn this lesson.

The current occupant of the White House places blame for everything that swirls around him on someone else.  He even blames his orange skin on something other than himself. If you are the color of a cheese puff in natural sunlight, it’s on you.  If you are the color of an oompa loompa under the lights of an arena during one of your fascist-esque rallies, it’s on you.  Blame LED light bulbs all you want, but your desire to mask your pallid skin with spray tan is all Donald, all the time.

On to the links…

The New Face of Climate Activism is Young, Angry — and Effective—We can hope.  We can hope that this generation will do better than previous generations.  We can hope.

Five CEOs Tell Us Why They’re Joining the Climate Strike—These CEOs understand that the climate strike represents the future.

Unfriendly Climate—We live in a society where elected officials without any scientific training or respect for science are allowed to make speeches and policy regarding science.  Why is it acceptable for someone to say, “I am not a scientist…” and then follow it with pseudo-scientific thought passed off as rigorous truth?

American Migration Patterns Should Terrify the GOP—Demographics may be destiny, but will that destiny get here before the radical GOP wrecks the country.

Renewable Energy to Overtake Natural Gas in the U.S. by 2035—2019 is the tipping point?  How do we accelerate the transition?  What is holding it back?

First National Platform for Renewable Energy Helps Consumers Slash Electric Bills up to 20%–Step by step renewable energy is becoming the default.  Energy exchange platforms allow for producers and consumers who are not linked physically to transact for available renewable energy.

It’s That Light Bulb Moment: Time For A Radical Rethink Of Power Generation Based On Renewables—It’s not radical, it’s rational.

Air Pollution Particles Found on Fetal Side of Placentas—We are now exposing our children to pollution before they ever draw a breath of air. We are doomed.

Monsanto’s Spies—This is the world we live in now.  Monsanto, a giant agri-chemical company, employs “spies” to discredit its critics.  These are the same critics who have had the temerity to question the safety of its products and the ethics of its business practices.

More Residents Turn to Solar Power as North Coast Faces Growing Threat of Wildfires, Blackouts—This is the future.  As centralized power generation becomes more expensive, less reliable, and non-existent in some cases individuals and communities will turn to locally produced energy.

Climate Change: Electrical Industry’s ‘Dirty Secret’ Boosts Warming—I have never heard of sulphur hexafluoride until this article.  How many “dirty secrets” of our modern world like this exist?

$1M a Minute: The Farming Subsidies Destroying the World—We, as a society, subsidize the very practices which are causing climate change.  Imagine, for a moment, if we deployed that level of subsidy toward practices that regenerate the environment and promote a better world.

Hormel, Kellogg’s Getting Into the Plant-Based Meat Business—Have we reached the tipping point for plant based meat alternatives?

Ireland Plans to Ban Single-Use Plastics—Here is why nothing short of bans work to eliminate things like single use plastics…people are really freaking lazy.

Colorado Plans to Abandon its Battle Against the Emerald Ash Borer—We have lost the war against this pest wherever it has been found.  The goal now must be to rebuild the forest, urban or otherwise, with a wide variety of tree species so that we never have a problem like this again.

The Air Force Spent More at Trump’s Scottish Resort than Originally Thought—It is just run of the mill government corruption.  I cannot wait for this to be over in January 2021.  Is it really more than a year away?

Why Don’t Americans Wear Helmets in the Shower?—It’s a silly question meant to spark a debate about helmet shaming.  Listen, I wear a helmet whenever I ride a bicycle because in America cars are out to kill you.  I live in an area with a lot of cyclists and the cars are still out to kill us.  I cannot imagine living somewhere with less of a cycling subculture.

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Five Trees in the Ground

My goal for the year was to plant an additional five trees in my yard.  Before spring the yard contained thirteen trees (1 elm, 1 sycamore, 1 maple, 3 yellow poplars, 3 Norway spruce, and 4 red oaks).  Over the years I have drawn out several plans to add to my trees.

However, the nursery stock this year was harsh.  I rarely saw a shade tree worth a second look and the conifers were wicked expensive.  Early in the season I was able to find a pair of Norway spruce for about $65 each.  This was an easy choice since I had a spot picked out:

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Both trees really took to being planted and put on a thrush of new growth within weeks.  The weather this summer has been amenable to trees as well with well-spaced moisture and not too many blistering hot days.  Even the days that were hot lacked the combination of heat and sun that really seems to knock the stuffing out of plants.

Hopefully before the end of fall I can trim around the trees like the maple in the foreground of the picture above.  The surrounding mulched bed will not be planted with perennials like the maple.  Over the years the branches will spread to encompass the entirety of the mulched bed.  Also, this is just the start of what I have planned for this side of my yard.  See the disastrous “sport” court in the neighbors’ back yard?  Yeah, I do not want to see it either.  Next year is going to be a heavy year for trees.

Just this weekend I ran across a store doing a fall sale of container grown conifers for just $15 each.  Normally, I am not a fan of Colorado blue spruce as the species is over planted in eastern Iowa.  I could not turn down relatively good looking trees at a low, low price.  I picked up three and got to work finishing another planting bed where I am trying to take out all of the turf grass:

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This part of my lawn is almost entirely sand.  The only soil, so to speak, is what came on the rolls of sod that were laid down and what I have added when planting trees.  The area has little soil fertility and retains very little moisture.  It is like a thin layer of soil, compacted, and sitting on a jelly roll pan.  If you pour out a bucket of water you can watch it flow downhill without really penetrating the soil.  While the rest of the yard can handle a period of drought—mowing the grass extra high and allowing clover to spread helps—this little corner dries out and dies.  I had considered top dressing the lawn in this area, but felt that it was a better use of space to plant trees and perennials, edge the area, amend the soil, and deeply mulch.  I will get to the edging, amending, and mulching next year.  I promise.

The only downside of all of this planting is that I have used up the contents of one of my compost bins.  There is some compost left and a few things that did not break down over the years, like the muslin bags used to steep grains during my homebrewing days, which will go into a mixture to improve soil health in the areas where I remove turf.  The other bin is fairly full, so in a year or so I should have a lot of nutrient dense compost to amend my sandy soil.

Stuff I Like: Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds

I do not wash my bike often, but when I do I use Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds:

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Unlike Dr. Bronner’s more well-known pure Castile liquid soaps, Sal Suds is a concentrated all-purpose cleaner.  According to the instructions you can use it on just about anything without fear of damage.  Depending upon your cleaning task you can mix in more or less Sal Suds.

When I clean my bike—which happens so infrequently that anyone I ride with refers to my bike as the “dirtwagon”—I mix a healthy squirt of Sal Suds into a wash bucket and fill the rest with water from the hose bib.  A few minutes with a soft bristle scrub brush and some low pressure water spray is all that is needed to get my bike into near new condition.  Okay, as news as something can look after thousands of miles.

When I rinse my bike and allow it to dry in the sun there is no greasy soap residue that you might get with something like an all-purpose wash for an automobile.

This stuff is great because I do not need to worry about the impact that the cleaner will have on my landscaping when it inevitably gets washed off the sidewalk or driveway.

About the only downside I have discovered is that my disc brakes howl like a monkey on meth the first ride after a wash.  Seriously, it is like I put polyurethane brake pads on my bike.  For those of us who came of age on bikes in the 1990s, never forget Winwood Poly Brakes.

Note: I buy this stuff with my own money and get no compensation from Dr. Bronner’s.  This is not some influencer pimping a product for money.

Friday Linkage 9/13/2019

On Friday the 13th I want to “pour one out” for a site that has gone dark.  Think Progress and its companion site Climate Progress were linked to frequently from my blog.  The reporting was always well done and backed up by copious well documented sources.  Editorial factionalism and a bitter unionization battle probably contributed to the demise of the site.  The same problems have plagued other “new media” operations as well over the years, but this is a lost nonetheless.

On to the links…

25 Books That Teach Kids To Care About The Environment—The children, they are the future right?  Well, we should be helping them to understand just how amazing, precious, and threatened this planet of our is in the modern age.

There’s a $218 Billion Design Problem Sitting in Your Fridge Right Now—You want to know the real reason why this will not change?  It’s the same reason that I cannot get parts for an appliance that is just a few years old or why a small part for a car costs hundreds of dollars.  The manufacturers of these products want to sell you a new product.

Why Industry is Going Green on the Quiet—This is a sign of the polarized times that we live in.  If a company can produce the same product using less destructive methods why does it need to be kept secret?  Probably because a reactionary slice of the population will react like their hair is on fire at the mere mention of environmental concern.

A Decade of Renewable Energy Investment, Led by Solar, Tops USD 2.5 Trillion—This gives you an idea about the potential scale of the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables.  If you want to create jobs in the United States you would support renewables at every juncture.  Imagine trillions of dollars more being spent to deploy solar and wind across the United States.

30 Million Acres of Public Land in Alaska at Risk of Being Developed or Transferred—Your public lands are being sold off by the most corrupt and criminal presidential administration in the history of the United States.

Trump Campaign is Cashing in on the Alabama ‘Sharpie’ Controversy he Keeps Complaining About—Every time I think we have reached the height of Trump’s unique combination of stupidity and hubris I am surprised by a new event.  Remember, Trump totally did not change that map.  Trump totally does not know who drew the limp circle showing Alabama in Hurricane Dorian’s path.  However, you can totally “own the libs” by giving his slush fund…er, campaign $15 for a freaking Sharpie.  Get some Trump branded straws to complete you MAGA look for fall.

Department of Justice to investigate BMW, Ford, Honda and Volkswagen—Remember, the right wing is all about states’ rights as long as those states’ rights are about unlimited access to firearms, restricting access to health care, gutting social programs, and in general making the world safe for rich people.  God forbid a state, which has the precedent to set its own emissions standards, would contradict the federal government.

Hydrogen Could Replace Coke In Steelmaking & Lower Carbon Emissions Dramatically—Steel production, like concrete, is a carbon nightmare.  However, steel is essential to modern civilization so any decrease in its carbon intensity is a win for the planet.

Pulling CO2 Out of the Air and Using it Could be a Trillion-Dollar Business—It is doubtful with Moscow Mitch in power that we will ever see a price put on carbon emissions in the United States.  However, what if we could create a market that placed a value on carbon dioxide.

Renewable Energy At Risk In Rural Electric Cooperative Tax Snafu—The Republican tax debacle of 2017 is the gift that keeps on giving.  So to speak.  This piece of garbage legislation that was rushed through because no one actually wanted the details to be public is creating messes just about everywhere.  Wasn’t this the signature legislative accomplishment of so-called policy wonk Paul Ryan’s speakership?

How Much Photovoltaics (PV) Would be Needed to Power the World Sustainably?—I like the thought exercise, but this is not about a single technology.  Freedom from fossil fuels will come as a result of deploying a portfolio of renewable energy technologies combined with greater efficiency.  It is not rocket science.

50 Years Ago a Nuclear Bomb was Detonated under the Western Slope to Release Natural Gas. Here’s how Poorly it Went.—This was someone’s bright idea.  Heck, it was probably the idea of a group of fairly smart people.

It’s Time We Treat Some Forests Like Crops—Let’s just make sure that we do not treat trees like corn or soybeans.  Those crops have been a disaster for Americans.

Invasion of the ‘Frankenbees’: The Danger of Building a Better Bee—What could possible go wrong?  It’s not like scientists have been wrong about making drastic changes to our environment before.

Today’s Special: Grilled Salmon Laced With Plastic—Our love affair with plastic and our inability to deal with its waste is a great, unregulated public health experiment.

The Definitive Superfood Ranking—Can we just stop with the superfood nonsense?  Seriously, you can eat all the kale you want and you will still not be healthy.

Chicago’s New Tool Library Is Awesome, Exactly What It Sounds Like—I own a lot of tools—some bought and some acquired through family—but a lot of my tools just sit for extended periods of time.  This is true even though I use my tools a lot to build furniture and fix things.  For the average user my guess is that tools get used a couple of times at most.

mountainFLOW Launches Plant-Based Ski Wax—I want some.

Building Volume in the Shoulder Season

September is the beginning of the shoulder season.  That is to say, September represents the descent of days spent in the saddle and an increase in the number of workouts to get prepared for the upcoming ski season.  Snow may not have fallen on the slopes yet, but September is when a successful ski season begins.  It does help to have put on over 2,500 miles on my bike this summer so I am starting with an excellent aerobic base.

Switching from long rides on gravel to a high intensity interval training (HIIT) regime that emphasizes explosive movements requires some planning.  If one were to just jump right in you might find yourself spending the better part of a week walking around sore.  Never mind the chance of injury that comes from not properly executing lifts when fatigue sets in.

The key is to build volume over a period of time.  Most people like to focus on adding weight as a benchmark of progress, but if there is not a base of volume to work from injury will likely result.  Matt Owen, a St. Louis based trainer, was quoted in Outside Magazine:

We need to really build that base of general physical preparedness in order to build other stuff on top of it—strength, power, sport-specific movement. We’re going to value volume—one to two hours of work every day—over anything else at first. It’s a lot easier to get strong when you’re able to tolerate more work, more time lifting weights, and you’re able to recover faster than if we just pull you in and make you start lifting heavy.

I am not over fifty years old…yet.  Nonetheless, this advice is sound for anyone who values long term fitness across multiple physical disciplines without experiencing injury.  Once the base is set through a series of workouts a person can focus on the stuff that will really allow them to excel on the slopes.  The same thing can be said in the spring.  No one should jump on the bike and grind out a fifty mile day without first putting on some miles via series of shorter rides.

During the shoulder season, as I watch the early season snowfall reports with anticipation of deep powder days, I am working in three to four HIIT sessions a week while maintaining three or four long rides on my bicycle.  The difference from my HIIT sessions later in the year is that I have lessened the weight on most movements and focused on keeping the repetitions high.

By October I should be ready to transition into four or five longer HIIT sessions with heaver weights and more time on the rowing machine.  By December my body should be ready for the slopes.  Of course, I will be sore after my first day of bombing and ready to soak in the hot tub.  It’s tradition!

A Seriously Large “Craft” Table

Sometime in the past my wife and I considered building a bar in our finished basement.  It is a large room—approximately 40 feet long by 16 feet wide with a nook that increases the space even more—that is used infrequently.  There is a large television, like every other house in America it seems, but it is turned on maybe once a week.

Our two kids have aged out of “baby toys,” so we sold the old play table that I built and the toy storage bins from IKEA that dominated one half of the room.  As it sat empty we returned our thoughts to building a bar.

Like every starry eyed couple on HGTV we discussed using the space to entertain, even though we do not entertain, and were hopeful that it would become a space where our kids would spend time as they grew up instead of disappearing to friends’ houses.

In reality, what we really wanted was a large flat space to contain art projects, wrapping at Christmas time, in-process LEGO builds, and whatever creation our son starts to dream up with whatever found materials he brings out of his room.  It was never about a bar, per se, but rather a large kitchen island that could serve multiple functions.

With that realization the discussion turned to building an ersatz kitchen island that would not require a major construction project (e.g. plumbing that required breaking concrete, flooring being removed, etc.).  Enter the Modern Craft Table over at Ana White.

This is the completed Modern Craft table:

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A lot of modifications have been made to this particular plan.  Let’s go over a few of the major differences:

  • Adjustable shelves:

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Each end—total of four—has two or three adjustable shelves that sit on ¼” chrome shelf pins:

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The holes were drilled using a JIG IT shelving jig.  If you are drilling shelf pins with any regularity get one of these.

  • Wider bases with a set of shelves on either end:

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This is a modification that was made by a number of people on the “brag board” on Ana White’s website, so I cannot take credit for the idea.  It does provide for a wider base, which allows for the larger top described below.

  • Larger top made with double stacked ¾” plywood that has been edge banded with runners underneath to provide additional rigidity and sag resistance:

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The top is similar in construction to what was used on a prior furniture project.  The 2”x2” runners along the bottom provide rigidity to the center of the top preventing sagging over time.  Like so many furniture projects we have built over the years this top got a little out of hand.  It weighs a lot.  How much?  It is well over 100 pounds.  This is not flat pack particle board construction.

The table is big.  How big?  The top measures 85.5” by 49.5” edge to edge.  Yes, that is almost the dimensions of a 4’ by 8’ sheet of plywood.  It is also double stacked for strength and stability.  This sucker is not going anywhere.

The end result is a craft table that can comfortably seat four at counter height chairs with plenty of room for whatever project is in process.  The real problem is now that the far wall looks a little bare with a floating shelf of kids’ artwork the vestigial reminder of pre-school classes.  We are already looking at a variety of plans to complete our basement build.  Stay tuned.

Beyond Beef Taco Night

If you have school aged children in any sort of activities you understand the struggle of dinner.  The solution, in my house, is taco night.  A few minutes of prep with some ground beef and a bevy of on hand ingredients mean a quick dinner before running out the door to dance or soccer practice or band…you get the idea.

However, ground beef is an ethical and environmental conundrum.  Regardless of how the animal is raised the production of ground beef results in the death of a cow.  No amount of time on pasture can change this fact.  Furthermore, most cows are raised in conditions that most people find deplorable.  Feedlots and CAFOs are horrible places.  Just driving by one on the interstate can make a person consider becoming a vegan.

America just loves ground beef.  More than half of the beef we consume in this country is in the form of ground beef.  Be it hamburgers, sloppy joes, loose meat sandwiches, chili, etc. Americans eat a lot of ground beef.  Estimates are hard to come by, but the clearest numbers I have seen put our annual consumption north of 30 billion pounds of ground beef consumed in the United States per year.  Most of that ground beef (>80%) comes from feedlot cattle.

This is the market that companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are trying to disrupt with their plant based alternative “hamburgers.”  The ground beef market is not just hamburgers thought and that is where Beyond Meat’s Beyond Beef product comes into play:

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It comes out of the package looking a little bit like a brick of protein:

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After a few minutes on medium-high heat the protein begins to break up into that recognizable crumble:

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A package of taco seasoning and a little bit of water gives you a pan full of taco meat.  It all worked just like cooking a pound of regular ol’ ground beef.

So, what is the verdict?

The process is the same as cooking traditional ground beef.  That is a wash.

The flavor is…close.  The texture is…close.  I do not know if it is psychological because I knew it was not actual ground beef or if it is something in the formulation.  It was just a little off in the same way that some meatless burger patties are off.  Perhaps it is the uncanny valley of fake meat.  No longer are we in the trough of the uncanny valley where the simulated product is off by enough to make it truly disturbing.  Instead we are climbing toward true meat replacements in every facet that only lack a few traits.

This has to be what is scaring traditional meat producers into strong arming state legislatures to pass laws banning the word meat or burger or whatever from faux meat products.  When someone who is conscious of the ethical and environmental impacts of meat production is given an alternative that has none of those concerns their choice is going to be easy.  If the meat alternative is close enough in taste and texture than it is a slam dunk for a larger percentage of the population.  Like Republicans holding onto an ageing base of older, rural, white Americans at the expense of a changing national demographic the meat industry is facing an existential crisis brought on by a competitor.

Beyond Beef is not cheap.  At my local coop it cost $9.99 per pound.  Compare that to a pound of grass fed, grass finished beef produced in Minnesota that costs anywhere from $6.99 to $8.99 a pound from the same retailer.  Consider it the cost of being an early adopter.