Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Americans Drive 9.6 billion miles less in May, Nova: Car of the Future, and ZipCar

There is this freaky story from Monday on MSNBC about Americans driving less with gas prices skyrocketing. Americans are driving 9.6 billion miles less this past May than a year ago at that same time. Nine point six billion miles. I don't know if that blows your mind but it certainly does mine. That, to me, seems huge. This is major adjustment for a lot of Americans. We've been doing pretty well with one car, but we basically live close enough to most of places that we can bicycle.

I haven't watched the recent Nova series, Car of the Future with the Tappet brothers from NPR's Car Talk, but I thought anything that stars Tom and Ray Magliozzi has to be funny, entertaining and, if it's on Nova, educational. Okay, maybe their cartoon, As the Wrench Turns, leaves something to be desired, but whatever.

I was cycling to work yesterday afternoon and on my usual route I happened to notice a Honda Element that was designated as a ZipCar. I found this rather exciting because I wasn't sure we had ZipCars in Gainesville. ZipCar is a car sharing operation where you can get a car for about $7/hr or $70/day, and that includes insurance, gas, 180 miles, and reserved parking. Gainesville is apparently one of the places in the United States where you can reserve ZipCars for personal use. I think it's run through the University of Florida; I found a page on the UF webite here detailing the monetary breakdown for the university, and it does state that private citizens can use this service. How cool is that? As an experiment, I might try to use one; I think the old man has a ZipCard through the university.

Plastic Bag Horror Slide Show on PoconoRecord.com and Live the Solution Blog

My friend in Indiana, Chris, forwarded me this email today and I thought it was definitely worth blogging about, since the issue of plastic grocery bags in our environment and getting rid of them is an important issue to me. At the PoconoRecord.com they have a link to a slideshow which shows the impact plastic grocery bags have on our world. I liked the fact that the statistics they posted in the slideshow were all referenced to the news items they were taken from, and if I were more industrious I would follow a couple of them to see if the statistics come from actual, peer-reviewed studies and reports from reliable agencies. I did, however, follow the last image, showing this sign (right) with the pretty catchy saying "Do something drastic...Cut the plastic!" It was for a campaign in Freemantle, which is a town in Australia. But, you would not know that, since there was no photo credit attached to this last slide.

A Google image search led me to Live the Solution blog, created by Australian native, Jane Genovese. It's a cool blog that I would put in the category of inspirational websites devoted to dealing with the environmental crisis in a positive way, providing action-oriented guidance to people who want to make important lifestyle changes. The really neat thing about this blog is that Ms. Genovese has written a inspirational ebook titled, Global Warming: A Mind Mapper's Guide to the Science and Solutions. Even better, the ebook is not only free, but available in several language translations. I encourage everyone reading this to take a look!

Update: Anyway, so I emailed Ms. Genovese a couple of days ago to ask her if the photo of the poster was hers and the PoconoRecord.com was totally ripping her off, but she has yet to respond. So I just now sent her this email:

Subject: I emailed you a couple of days ago
Inquiring about the photo on your blog with the poster to do something drastic, cut the plastic" and have not heard back. I really like your blog and want to report on it for my blog. You're not avoiding writing back because of the Men at Work joke I made a few months back in connection with Earth Hour, are you?


So, maybe she'll get back to me on that picture because now I'm on a quest to totally bust the PoconoRecord.com for not crediting the Australian lady with the poster photo. And she so totally needs the publicity, one because her blog and e-book are great, and also because she's so obviously ignoring any attempts by others to promote her work. I think that's what happens when you establish a civilization based on a penal colony. Ms. Genovese is probably out rhymin' and crimin' when she's not out, alternatively, saving the world.

Postscript: I also found out that the city of Fremantle is making a big effort to eliminate plastic bag usage without actually pushing for legislation banning it, much like San Francisco, or putting a surcharge on each bag, like Dublin. They seem perched on the precipice, however, to do one or the other, however; something I'd like to see more of in the states.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Update: Reusable Coffee Filter

I reported early in March of this year that I had constructed a reusable #2 cone-style coffee filter, and then reported a week later that after one repair I would use it until it fell apart. Well, it's been in almost constant use since March and has been working great. The only thing is that it does allow for a small amount of sludge to get through, but I don't really notice it. I would include a picture of the coffee filter in its current state but its current state is quite terrifying, so I won't.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Victory Gardens and their meaning in the 21st century

I have been aware of a new eco-meme lately that's actually a play on themes Americans embraced during WWII. The Victory Garden was one of many ways that citizens contributed to the war effort, mostly by not taking resources away from the armed forces fighting overseas. Every so often my father-in-law will reflect on that time, talking about the rationing stamps and the newspaper drives. He was also an airplane spotter as a kid -- someone who can tell the type of plane from looking at the bottom (ostensibly as it flies overhead). So anytime he was running around and a plane zoomed by he would be able to tell if it was an allied or axis plane. 'rents-in-law don't talk about victory gardens because they both grew up on farms! "Victory" in this sense signified victory in war, so what does this second, more contemporary meaning refer to?

Does anyone remember when the "Victory Garden" television program first started airing on PBS? The show started over 30 years ago, roughly 20-30 years after the end of the WWII, so at the point the meaning of "victory" was perhaps more complex. "Victory Garden" in the nostalgic sense of keeping a small food garden, or maybe "victory" in the sense that you can be victorious in learning the secrets of small-garden farming.

On my street front yard gardens have started springing up and anyone who has thought about doing this has probably looked at the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. Now a website, Squre Foot Gardening has a wonderful "how to" page on the basic concepts of square foot gardening.

I believe that our 21st century victory gardens are going to be a return to some of the philosophy of sacrifice that we embraced during WWII. Home gardens will be impractical for many, but for some it could help supplement the family food budget as foods from other parts of the country become prohibitively more expensive to transport.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Solar Changing UV Bracelet

Over the summer I've been making these bracelets for DJ's friends, as birthday gifts and "just because" gifts, because they are fun and useful. The beads I got from Steve Spangler Science -- they're called "Solar Changing UV Beads." When they're in the sun they change color. It's fun for kids to experiment with them and a good way for parents to find out when to reapply sunscreen -- if you have the children wear the bracelets while applying sunscreen, the beads will remain white until the sunblock wears off. When they change color, it's time to reapply!

I Believe the Children Are Our Future...

...Teach them well and let them lead the way...

Ha! Now that I've got everyone who reads this stuck in an infernal fragment loop of "Greatest Love of All," I can now feel I am not the only one in this predicament.

But, really, I do believe our children are the future, at least our 5 and 6-year olds. Awhile back I got the idea to collect the contents of DJ's pockets for a week and blog about how children are natural hunter gatherers and cleaners of the world. Any brightly colored/strangely shaped/weirdly beautiful object gets immediately tucked away until I find them when I'm cleaning out DJ's pockets in preparation for laundry, or melted on the inside of the dryer drum after I forget to clean out his pockets before laundering.

Last week, the old man and DJ, along with another father-son team, went exploring in the wooded areas around Possum Creek. The above picture contains the artifacts DJ came home with from this expedition:
  • Five golf balls
  • Four used bottle rockets
  • Two shotgun shells
  • Part of an iron grate or rake of some kind
  • One pair of sunglasses
Instead of scolding DJ for bringing what amounts to garbage inside our house, I'm actually kind of happy about it (after it's hidden on the back porch and can be disposed of once sufficiently out of mind), because it indicates what we could accomplish if we all followed a 5 or 6-year old's logic that everything has worth and everything is valuable. The sunglasses could definitely be cleaned up and given away (or used); the iron grate could be recycled; the golf balls could easily be thrown at passing cars. The point is, we could all be picking up detritus in our visits to wooded areas and other natural places where human contact is obvious in the trash we leave behind. I was thinking about our trip to woods behind J.J. Finley when we did this year's Air Potato Roundup and how DJ was thrilled at the prospect of picking up garbage in addition to air potatoes.

Need-a-Bag? Project Update 07.19.08

Note: The Need-a-Bag? project was created to promote sustainable bagging at the Hwy 441 Alachua County Farmer's Market each Saturday morning. We supply reusable tote bags reclaimed from thrift stores and garage sales. The Need-a-Bag? project also utilizes old tank tops as tote bags by sewing up the bottoms (these are called t-totes). We invite you to read the other posts on the project by clicking the "Need-a-Bag? Project" label at the bottom of this post.

Watched Nancy Pelosi speak to the Netroots Nation conference in the main ballroom today, using the stream feed to Netroots Nation Island in Second Life. Gore made a surprise appearance which drove the crowds (in world and in real life) wild and effectively saved Pelosi's butt from having to answer a lot of difficult but needed-to-be-asked questions from attendees in Austin, TX.

Before that, however, I did Need-a-Bag? at the farmer's market. We put out 7 bags. I haven't been chronicling our market days for the past couple weeks, because I've had my head up my butt.

Anyway, last week some caring soul gave us a few new bags which we washed and put out this week, and this week we got another new bag! Plus, some have finally heard the call and are beginning to return bags they have used. This is definitely a turning point! Thanks to all those who continue to support our efforts!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Arm & Hammer Essentials and Optical Brighteners

This is something I couldn't leave buried in the comments section for a post I did about a year ago on Arm & Hammer Essentials laundry detergent and the fact that they don't use petroleum products in their Essentials line. The commenter says:
However if you read the label closely there is a Warning and if you call their 800 line and ASK them if they add optical brightners the answer is yes. They won't tell you that unless you ask. Optical brightners bond irreversibly to the skin and pollute the enviroment. A & H also does their testing on animals. I for one love animals and think there has to be a better way to test products.

My friend Brenda told me about optical brightners in her research while using cloth diapers with her children. Apparently, most laundry detergents use optical brightners and it's really hard to find detergents that don't. I kind of thought I had found an exception in Arm & Hammer Essentials, but I was more concerned about petroleum products (which the product supposedly doesn't have).

A quick search on the internet confirms the commenter's claim that optical brighteners are bad for the environment. I found the topic detailed on the New England Regional Water Program website, and they state that:
Optical brighteners are less than benign from an environmental perspective. Many of the chemicals in this category are toxic to fish and other aquatic life. Some are also capable of causing mutations in bacteria.

Seventh Generation has a page about optical brighteners which covers the same information but also adds:
Optical brighteners can also cause allergic reactions in people via a process called phototoxicity. When they rub off on our skin from laundered clothes and come into contact with sunlight, they can create a rash or irritation that’s mistaken for sunburn.

They also add that optical brightners are derived from benzene, not something you want in the water system. This also made me think, "isn't benzene derived from petroleum?" I looked it up and, sure enough, there's a post on Wikipedia about benzene and it is indeed derived from petroleum. So, what's the point of using Arm & Hammer Essentials if it has petroleum-derived products in it, anyway?

Dang. And I just bought two more jugs of it on sale at Publix. You know, if it's too good to be true and it costs less than Seventh Generation, it probably is (too good to be true).

I also posted about Seventh Generation when I asked why Sierra Club wasn't partnering with them, instead partnering with Clorox's new brand of "environmentally-safe" cleaning products.
Even though I'm still mad at Seventh Generation because they wouldn't let me enter their popularity contest to go to some Eco-leader training in D.C. (because I was too old), they are turning out to be the real deal as far as environmentally safe products for the home.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Printer Cartridge Refills

My family runs through a lot of ink, and I've tried several different methods of stemming the cash hemorrhage as a result of paying upwards of 30-dollars per new cartridge. Walgreens, a drug store chain near us, offers cartridge refills for about half what we normally pay and has one-hour turnaround.

I'm sure everyone's had the horrific experience of spending 15-20 dollars on a "refurbished" cartridge and find out that it is completely, utterly useless for its stated purpose. I've been through that -- I've also refilled my own cartridges with reasonable success. Having them refilled at Walgreens is by far the best way I've found yet for saving money and recycling this big chunk of plastic that makes my printer print.

At Walgreens they give you a cardboard holder, and an ink surface protector (I don't know what else to call it -- the blue thing in the picture). I've reused these three things (I think) three times. And the nice thing about this method is that the person who refills the cartridge does a test on them -- if they don't work you don't have to pay for it. You also don't get your cartridge refilled which means you have to either buy one new or root around your house for another empty cartridge.