Archive for November, 2009

Thankful For

I’m celebrating in Tennessee with my family, and that’s rather enough to be thankful for.  What with the sleeping in all weekend, somebody else cooking, and cheese balls.  My immediate happiness at this situation is making it hard to remember the big stuff to be thankful for, but it’ll come, I’m sure.

Until then, have a happy Thanksgiving yourself, and if you’re stuck for a recipe, check out this article about the space cookbook.  Unfortunately there’s no instructions for freeze-drying or irradiating the results to be launched into orbit.  To get that air of zero gravity authenticity, tape your tofurkey to the dining table and float away halfway through the meal.


To tide you over ’til Thanksgiving.

Read up on how Italy already has a headstart on their Smartgrid.  Yeah, the same country that can’t take out the garbage.  They’re already saving millions though.  So much to ponder in this situation.

The Economist’s green.view advises fat cat money grubbing sell their own mother if they can get enough leverage bankers redeem their image by investing in rainforests.  So the next foreclosure crisis we’ll have pythons and pirahna defaulting on their mortgages?  Think it through, Economist.

Know how Alexandria’s wastewater plant is on Glebe?  This article is from NYC, but it applies here too:  when we get too much rain for the system to handle, we dump untreated sewage and other runoff into the Potomac.  As if two days of dreary damp weren’t bad enough- as if realizing I need to replace my windshield wipers on the Beltway in traffic wasn’t bad enough- this is plenty bad.

BBC reports on US research correlating conflict in Africa with climate.  Controlling for other factors like governance and population, conflict in the region escalates as temperature goes up.  This has a lot to do with food supplies, as well.  I’d like to see similar research for different regions of the world.

And check this by your local foodbank, but a reporter for the NYT suggests that you reconsider your volunteer  meal-serving plans this holiday season and do something more helpful for them instead.  If you’re stumped, donating some more perishables can’t hurt.

I’ll be back to give Thanks before the holiday, but until then, safe travels!

Pregaming for the Holidays: Cards

People say Thanksgiving isn’t respected as a holiday anymore- what with the inflatable penguins in the stores from September these days- but I think it’s what you make of it.  And I’m making my Thanksgiving a time to write Christmas cards, to practice my eating and sitting around, and to make  presents.

I’m not writing a gift guide this year, because I’ve done it the past two and all that still applies.  Plus, I’m planning on making many of the presents I give this year, and that won’t be helpful for folks who can’t knit.  (For those who can, mittens!)  My only recommendation this year is, if you’re going to buy anything, shop at small businesses.  Local, if you have the time.  Check out, if you don’t have time to browse in person.  Shop handmade, shop sustainable products- but whatever you’re looking for, put your Christmas money into supporting the small businesses that create ideas and jobs and support families.  I know regular jobs do too, but it’s a rough economy out there right now, and if you want to keep innovative artists and growing companies around, then support them with your dollars.

For now, though, I’ve been looking for Christmas cards, and I’ve got some recommendations if you’re looking as well.  Ten Thousand Villages carries cards and stationery made in Fair Trade agreements, and often from recycled or quickly renewable materials.   You can buy them online, if you don’t have a local shopThe Spotted Sparrow uses FSC certified and recycled papers to make neat cards- there are a series done on old book pages.  Smockpaper and byvik ink make beautiful letterpress cards, and use recycled papers to print on.  Etsy has a great search function, so find any other kinds of cards you like at their Paper Goods section.

Or, grab a potato and make your own?  It’s still cool if you’re not five anymore, I promise.

People in the Streets

I was in New York City for a couple days last weekend visiting friends and roaming- as I do- and there’s something (else) cool going on in midtown.  The city has blocked off half of some streets (definitely Broadway, and maybe some of 7th Ave, but I might have been going rogue on my street sign reading skills there) and turned them into pedestrian avenues, with huge bike lanes.  I read about the city starting this in Times Square this summer, and it was great to see them keeping up with it.  Seems they’ve expanded the original zones, too- they extended up to about 59th, from what I noticed.  The weather was weirdly nice last weekend, and there were people strolling and reading and eating at the tables they’ve set out for public use in these former traffic lanes. Huge planters and green and red dots painted on the road mark off the new pedestrian zones.  It was nice to see people encroaching on traffic instead of traffic encroaching on people.

At night, somewhere near Times Square:


And I forget where the next day:


We could do this here in Alexandria- King Street would be a great place to have a long pedestrian mall.  There are plenty of side streets to pick up the extra traffic.  Close off 10 or 15 blocks to cars like they do during art festivals there- keep open crossing at Rt 1 and Washington, sure- and let people wander around all those shops and restaurants for a few weeks at Christmas, and see how everybody likes it?

Afternoon Glories

Still going strong at 4pm:

fall morning glories

I planted red and blue ones in that pot, and now I have purple ones blooming some days.  The leaves here aren’t looking healthy, but it’s still putting out shoots and buds, so I hope I’ll get plenty of weeks of flowers yet.

Book Talk: Al Gore Looks More Normal In Person

Al Gore gave a talk at GWU tonight about his new book “Our Choice”.  A friend got me an extra ticket to go, because she is rather fabulous.   So, the full report: Gore’s looking pretty trim!  And he signed books too, so somebody’s got a Christmas present coming (I’m going to read it first, of course).  The book signing line was well regimented, with Gore just signing away and not talking too much- the only way to get hundreds of people through, I know, but it was pretty impersonal.  I didn’t really have anything to say, though, (“I’ve been to Tennessee!  You were cool on 30 Rock!  I compost sometimes!”) so no biggie.

The talk itself:  it was scienc-y.  First time I’ve heard a politician  (oh right he’s an activist now) refer to a photon like they could define it if pressed.  He explained the six substances causing climate change, talked a little about a lot of ways to change energy, discussed the shape of the new smart grid… and I think the smart grid is really interesting so I spaced out a bit there to think about that and try to imagine if I could work on that in Planning, but then the speech got stirring!  Gore’s warning of the impacts of climate change in an Inconvenient Truth have become a more coherent call to arms now.  The book itself is a well-illustrated summary of the science behind climate change and a survey of the methods we can use to fix the problem, but it’s main message is that we have the technology to solve the problem, but not the political will.  He (correctly, in my opinion) frames our reactions to climate change as the moral testing ground of our era.

The book just came out, and he was on The Daily Show last night explaining it to Jon Stewart.  He used some of the same phrases, so you’ll get the gist of what I saw in the extended interview at Hulu.

Speaking of political will, the Senate climate bill got through the Environmental etc. committee session yesterday, despite all the Republicans on the committee stalling it with demands to find facts they wouldn’t listen to, and walking out of all the committee sessions on it.  Took a fancy interpretation of the voting rules so of course Repubs are mad their bratty, irrational, obstructionist, and (oh my I should save some adjectives for describing Republicans the next time they pull such childish stunts) unprofessional behavior didn’t work out for them.  But is it really steamrolling the minority opposition if the minority a) aren’t there and b) have stated no coherent opposition besides “no”?  Not that the bill the Senate has is great, or even as good as the House’s. But they have a bill.

Al might approve.  Check out the book, the pictures I saw so far looked pretty good.  I’ll let you know how I like it when I finish it.

Stuff I Really Meant to Tell You

Did you hear the one about the underwater Cabinet meeting?  The President of the Maldives made his Ministers meet underwater in scuba gear earlier this year, which will be good practice for when the rising seas flood their island (projected to be sometime this century).  Opinions on the efficacy of his gimmicky and populist approach are mixed, but you’ve got to give him credit for seeing a problem and diving right in.

BusinessWeek reviews some of the Obama administrations efforts to remake the nation’s electricity grid by installing sensors and smart meters.  Given that technology sure is moving fast, and the part where we have no good idea of the chnages to the grid’s supply and demand in the next few decades (being at the beginning of the renewable revolution and all, and I haven’t had a chance to buy my plug-in car yet), this is literally more difficult than we can imagine.  But the stimulus money provided a $3.4 billion dollar down payment on meters.

Which ties right into the article on Al Gore and his investments today in the New York Times.  We all know Al Gore is an advocate for clean technologies to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and that he has invested millions of dollars in start-ups that provide clean technologies.  One of his investments was in a company that sells smart meters for the grid, and has gotten plenty of money from those billions of stimulus funds.  The article points out a potential conflict of interest between his green technology advocacy and his investments, and gives the “profiteering” and “investing in his personal beliefs” angles.  And while Gore is not a lobbyist, he has testified in favor of clean technologies such as the ones he invests in before Congress.  Are you cool with that?  I am, as long as he’s upfront about having those investments during that testimony.   The article doesn’t mention if he did.  Also other people testify before Congress abotu things they have financial stakes in- the auto company presidents begging for their bailouts, for instance.  Fascinating article, if you like ethical puzzles.  Read it and figure out where you draw the line.

Best for last:  I hope you have heard about this already, but if not check it.  William Kamkwamba, back when he was 14, built a windmill.  By himself, in a village in Malawi, with stuff he found, with an old textbook and being amazing for his guide.  People noticed, and now’s he’s got a foundation started to benefit his village and build more windmills, and he’s given a TED talk, and just wow.  His blog is here, his book (of course he wrote a book about it) is here at BetterWorldBooks, an online bookseller that I like and has free shipping (and you can compare their prices to Amazon right there).  Wow!  This is so cool I want to post about it more.

Yes, Virginia

There is an election today.  You should vote in it, too!

Hey, remember that election a year ago?  That was a great election, hey?  This one might not turn out so well, but get to the polls and we will do what we can.

New Goal

Happy November!  About time I got back on the wagon here, but all I can think of is, it’s cold, so I should figure out environmentally friendly ways to stay warm this winter, right?  I’ve had my heat on for a couple weeks already.  I do turn it down to 50 during the day and such, and I always wear a sweater and a blanket-cape and warm socks and furry slippers and such around the house when I’m cold, but it’s still on 68 when I’m home, which I personally, as the daughter of my parents, feel is Too High.

I have some ideas on how to deal with this, so I can turn the heat down- say to 63?  I get cold very easily, and I don’t function well when I’m cold.  But I could get up and do some calisthenics every 30 minutes to keep my sluggish blood flowing (unrealistic, my couch is too soft).  Space heaters are good.  They only work in my bedroom and office, since the other space in my apartment is all joined and too big to heat efficiently with a space heater.  I could spend more time in the bedroom and office.  I could eat more hot soup (tomato soup comes in a box at Whole Foods!  my kind of cooking).  More oatmeal, more tea, etc.  Using the oven warms up the kitchen, too.

Should be enough behavioural changes, but the apartment leaks heat like whoa, so some towels by the windows (single-paned of course) might stop what’s escaping at the edges, at least.  As it’s not my place to convert, I can’t do much beyond that to stop the leaks.  I have up curtains.

Any ideas on what else I can do to stay warm and get that thermostat down even further?

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