Friday, August 28, 2009

I don't think I can handle Hamburger Helper anymore.

Yesterday I made some Hamburger Helper "lasagne" using a box of the stuff that I inherited from a friend when said friend moved out of town (for some reason the thought of paying to have Hamburger Helper and other boxed food was a no-go).

Anyway, as a person who doesn't want to see things go to waste, I decided to cook up some of the stuff yesterday, using some frozen ground turkey instead of beef. The taste was as expected - artificial (as it says on the box) - and wasn't really satisfying. However, late that night, I had to make a run to the toilet... Several times...

I suppose that my stomach is just no longer used to powdered foodstuffs cooked up in a pan. I've been having too much of the "good stuff" (i.e., farm-fresh vegetables, home-cooked meals, etc.) for Hamburger Helper. (Strangely, though, I still off the 99-cent menu at Wendy's on occasion, and those grease-bombs don't seem to hurt me any).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Carying an axe in my pannier

Carying an axe in my pannier
Originally uploaded by umlud
I wanted to split some wood for winter firewood, but the axe was in serious need of sharpening. Without a car, though, it was going to be difficult to get it to the farmers' market for sharpening.

However, with a bit of rope and the help of my panniers I was able to get the axe over to the blade sharpener's at the market. I wonder, though, what people were thinking as they drove past me on the road.

The axe is nice and sharp now, and log splitting is quite easy, at least for the softwoods. I'll have to get a wedge for splitting the hardwoods, though. ... and if I'm going to get a splitter wedge, I'll also have to get a sledgehammer, I suppose.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

No romance in candle-lit fish dinners

Based on two stories from PhysOrg, we learn that pretty much all fish has got mercury in it - not quite the beneficial nutrient. We also learn that the candles we normally purchase is a source of indoor air pollution.

What does this mean if we want to have a candle-lit fish supper? Well, we can use beeswax candles and Pacific fishes...

How not to engage at a town hall

I saw this over at Crooks and Liars:

What he says and how he says it are both correct. The woman doesn't actually want to talk about the issues at hand, yet feels a desire to derail it with hyperbole. Not only that, but the type of hyperbole is - as Frank says - "vile and contemptible." It compares Barack Obama - a person who was voted in by a massive popular vote of the entire country - directly to Adolf Hitler - a person who effectively usurped power and installed himself through force of arms.

Trying to argue with her (and those like her) are exactly like Frank said: "it's like trying to argue with a dining room table." It's pointless, and - as recent psychological studies have shown - doing so only serves to imprint the person's message in the minds of the audience. (Basically, the study showed that arguing the counterfactual to a lie by just saying, "Not X," only makes people remember "X," thus keeping the lie "alive" in the minds of the audience.)

This, and the statement from over the weekend of "facts vs. Beck" was also the right way to do this.

Of course, opponents are likely going to latch on to these two cases to try and show how congressmen are "talking down" to "real Americans." However, these stations are likely already preaching to the choir -- people who have already come to that conclusion, and will likely only agree vociferously with the voice coming out of the electronic box that supports their own pre-determined position.

Finally, is it just me, or does it seem like there are fewer cases of "storming the townhall" than there were before? If so, then does it mean that the stormers are on vacation, have started to realize the hyperbole is false, or something else? Or does it mean that more reasonable people are starting to go to townhall meetings in order to try and actually find out what's going on - rather than listen to people yelling on the TV?

Homes pollute the water

Via PhysOrg:
They say there's no place like home. But scientists are reporting some unsettling news about homes in the residential areas of California. The typical house there — and probably elsewhere in the country — is an alarming and probably underestimated source of water pollution, according to a new study reported today at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.
In the study, Lorence Oki, Darren Haver and colleagues explain that runoff results from rainfall and watering of lawns and gardens, which winds up in municipal storm drains. The runoff washes fertilizers, pesticides and other contaminants into storm drains, and they eventually appear in rivers, lakes and other bodies of water.
"Results from our sampling and monitoring study revealed high detection frequencies of pollutants such as pesticides and pathogen indicators at all sites," Oki says of their study of eight residential areas in Sacramento and Orange Counties in California.
Preliminary results of the study suggest that current models may underestimate the amount of pollution contributed by homes by up to 50 percent. That's because past estimates focused on rain-based runoff during the wet season. "Use of pesticides, however, increases noticeably during the dry season due to gardening, and our data contains greater resolution than previous studies," Oki says.
Pollutants detected in outdoor runoff included ant-control pesticide products. Previous surveys have shown that the majority of purchased by homeowners are used to control ants. To encourage pollutant reduction, the researchers initiated community outreach programs centered on improving both irrigation control and pest management.
I wonder if this will be something that will be studied by urban planners, architects, and landscape architects. I mean, if you ever watched a sewer system being repaired, you know that there are leaks. If you ever had power cut off water distribution to your house, you have probably heard the public announcements warning residents to not drink the water for a few days -- indicating that water distribution systems leak (but that the normal positive pressure keeps the contaminants found in the ground out of the drinking water).

You also know that people use pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in their gardens and their lawns. True, not all places are subject to the same cycles of a Californian wet and dry season, nor do all places have the same surficial geology as found in the research area. However, irrigation (i.e., watering your lawn) continues throughout the summer months, and the desire for verdant lawns means that there is a market for fertilizer and pesticide use, and these get into the groundwater.

Now, this article also makes it seem like there are problems with the previous models, and that may well have been the case. However, I don't know that the problem was in the model, but in the groundtruthing of the model, as it was applied to a region outside where it was developed, and why not? Well, I'm assuming that the model was developed a couple (or more) decades ago -- before companies like ChemLawn came into the forefront of "lawncare". They were also probably made before the production of suburbs with massive lawns were included in the "city". In the time when the models were made, therefore, the only major source groundwater recharge came from rain, since people didn't water their lawns (so much) and (might even) have left it to go brown (or grown climate-adapted grass). In this condition, the addition of home-scale lawn chemicals wasn't at all significant, and was therefore left out of the equation.

Skip forward to today, where we live with a California with large ChemGreen lawns (nothing against ChemGreen, but it seems to be the major "lawncare" company in the Ann Arbor region.) that need constant watering (since the lawns aren't made up of climate-adapted grasses) as well as doses of pesticide and herbicide. (Thus, you have warnings of not allowing children or pets on the grass after an application by ChemLawn.) It's not surprising that this new reality in which we live needs to be considered in a different light than the reality in which the model was developed: the physical conditions have changed, and the models representing those physical conditions should also change.

... especially if we will be living in a world in which we want to use science and engineering to make policy and management choices about physical world issues. Especially, too, as we learn the various ways in which we cumulatively impact our surroundings, including those regions that we cannot directly see (e.g., groundwater). Especially, further, if we wish to have predictive capabilities for future management action and being able to incorporate the changes we will see not only form an altered climate, but also from increased population demands on the land, air, and (in this case) water.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SSA conference 2009 presentation

A short (for an academic) presentation by PZ Myers to the Student Secular Alliance conference (2009).

Monday, August 10, 2009

New bike-parking trial in Ann Arbor

Cycling in to the university this morning, I saw a large blue bike rack sitting in one of the parking spots on State Street, just in front of the Bivouac. It's a huge rectangular thing that acts like a barrier for parked bikes against any oncoming traffic that might just be happening to make wide turns.

The basic idea is - I think - a good one: provide more places for bikes to park that isn't impeding foot traffic, thus making it more desirable to walk and bike to the "downtown" area. This bike parking structure is only temporary, and I don't know if there are any more around town. However, it's sponsored (if that's the right word) by the Downtown Development Authority, so I would hope that one (or more) of these show up downtown.

I don't know, though, if blue is the best color to paint these, since - apart from some reflective tape - it's not highly visible even during the day. Furthermore, people aren't expecting to see something like it, so taken together with its limited visibility (especially when not in use), it's likely that drivers will complain that it's a road hazard.

However, if you've seen the bike rack and want to provide the city with your own feedback (it apparently really helped with the issue of installing the LED streetlights), then I encourage you to call in:

UPDATE: Looking at the DDA website story on this, there are two more bike rack stations: one in front of the People's Food Co-Op and the other in front of Arbor Brewing Company. Three in total... they do target places that are high-bike traffic areas, but I think there could be more penetration; for example putting one on at William and Main, to get "both ends" of Main Street by complementing the one in front of Arbor Brewing Co.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Cycled to Dexter

Mill Creek outlet
Originally uploaded by umlud
Today I decided to take a trip out to Dexter. My main reason was to take an updated photo of the Mill Creek outlet, since someone wrote to me, saying that the bridge was almost completed, and I thought, "Hm... I should go out there and see what it looks like, and see if I can look at the amount of erosion (through the back-sedimentation) taking place."

One problem with my trip, though, is that - unlike when I was living in town - I could not easily get over to Huron River Drive to cycle along the river back and forth from Dexter, and the quickest way to get there is to take Dexter-Ann Arbor Road. Of course, I decided not to follow the directions given online, so instead of taking Dexter-Ann Arbor Road, I went the extra bit and took Miller instead. (Stupid choice, since both roads intersect anyway as one goes toward Dexter.)

I stopped in for lunch at the Lighthouse Cafe - eggs benedict with hashbrowns - and then stopped to watch the Dexter fire department put out a fire at the drugstore (ooh, exciting!) before getting some coffee and cycling back home along Huron River Drive.

The trip back from Dexter was a leisurely 45 minutes. The total distance was 27.9 km, and I was back before 2PM. The new bike works well, but the only thing I would like aerobars (or additions) to allow me to lean down to cycle with a little less wind resistance than my current more-upright position gives... or maybe some dropbars instead.