energy


Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)


Tonight I will give you a month-old photo of some Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) that grows in my backyard.

While we were eating dinner tonight the power went out. It was raining, so I presume that might have had something to do with it. I had downloaded a couple of blog pages and some email to read, so I went ahead and read that. Then I took Penny outside in the rain and threw sticks for a bit. Then I came in and realized it was the perfect time to do something I had been meaning to do for some time – untangle all the power cords in the “IT” corner. It was a mess!

That kind of work does require light though, so I fished out my camping lantern. This is a solar/crank charged LED lantern, so there are no carbon monoxide fumes to worry about. When it gets dim I just crank it for another minute and we’re good to go for a while.

I found five cords that were plugged in only on one end. I don’t know what they used to power, but I’m guessing two of them were for the old desktop, two were for charging hand-held gaming systems, and one must have powered the old wireless router that we no longer use. I freed an entire surge protector and put the unused cables in a box of old computer parts down in the basement. I also disconnected our old very reliable HP LaserJet 5. That printer was a workhorse, and it still works perfectly. I think we got it in 1995. Unfortunately, we no longer run a computer with a parallel port, so it just sits there gathering dust. I ought to buy a USB-to-parallel converter. That thing is a tank.

About the time it got dark, we all loaded into my car and went to DQ for dessert. While we were out we noticed that the outage is pretty limited. They have power over on the next road.

When we got home, I rounded up a 60 watt inverter and an extension cord. I plugged them into Va’s car and routed the cord through the kitchen into the family room. We now have enough juice to run the essentials. And by “essentials” I mean the cable modem and wireless router. Forget the fridge and well pump! We must have Internet!

Actually, 60 watts doesn’t come close to running either the fridge or the well pump, but it does run the Internet OK. So we do what we can.

Ah! Power’s back!

There’s methane hydrate crystals
In the tube
On the “dome”
On the BOP
On the pipe
In the hole in the bottom of the sea.

This woulda been better if I had thought of it three weeks ago.

I enjoyed my day today. Enjoyment started by me not getting out of bed until nearly 9:00am. That’s a leisurely wake-up time for me. I got dressed, checked the Internets, and then drove to Lowes to buy a face mask and price insulation. Insulation is quite a bit more expensive than I had remembered. Before going, I did some quick math to figure out how much more I’d need. The answer was… a lot. Luckily, it looks like an insulation purchase is a tax credit this year, so I’ll get all that back. But I didn’t buy any yet. I need to decide if I want to continue with tripled-up rolls of R13, single rolls of R38, or maybe go with blown-in. An equal length of R38 costs five times more than R13, so even after tripling the R13, it still only costs 60% of what R38 would. I haven’t done the math on the blown-in stuff yet, but it looked roughly equivalent to R13. I guess a lot of people wouldn’t even bother with R13 vs R38 since there’s a tax credit involved, but it would bug me to know that I could have done it for so much less, even if “the government” is paying for it. Newsflash – the taxpayer is the government, and I’m a taxpayer. Anyhow – no decision yet.

When I got home I donned a face mask and hung another four rolls of insulation. By then it was time for lunch, so Va, Beth, and I went into Concord. After we ate, we went to the church and changed the Cradle Roll room over to the Christmas program. Then we came home again.

Tonight I have to get ready to teach my Sabbath School class, plus I have to polish up a sermon (I have the pulpit during the worship service).

Today was the first day of Market Days, when the city of Concord closes Main Street off to vehicular traffic and vendors (et al) set up on the street. Va and Beth came into town, and we walked the length of Main Street checking it all out.

Some guy is opening a “green” energy store on Pleasant Street “soon” and I stopped and spoke with him for a bit. I would really like to get some solar water heating going on at my house. The other thing I’m interested in is getting a photo-voltaic panel on the roof of the Pathfinder trailer so we can keep a car battery in there, and keep it charged. Then we could run the lights and have an AC inverter to charge our laptops with. I wouldn’t want to try to run anything off the PV panel, because that is cost prohibitive. But for about $200 or so, we could trickle charge a car battery no problem. The thought of being able to charge cell phones and camera batteries on PF campouts is very appealing to me.

Beth wanted to ride the train, so I bought her a ticket.

Market Days Fun

Market Days Fun


She appears to have enjoyed herself, so I guess that was $2.00 not totally wasted.

I also bought a couple of books. The Worst-case Scenario Almanac (which depicts a brown bear exiting a tent), and True North which recounts the race to the North Pole. I have long been fascinated with the polar expeditions of the early 20th century (Shackleton’s story is quite gripping). Hopefully, I will find (or make) some time to read these soon.

When I got home I hunted around the yard for flowers, when I happened to notice one with the most excellent name I have ever heard for a plant of any type: the Square-stemmed Monkey Flower. Yay!

Square-stemmed Monkey Flower (mimulus ringens)

Square-stemmed Monkey Flower (mimulus ringens)

A friend of mine breeds poodles and had been naming them after flowers. She knew I was well-versed in the flora of New England, so she asked me for a suggestion. So I suggested Square-stemmed Monkey Flower. Surprisingly, she choose some other name. I work with a guy whose wife had a baby about two weeks ago, and they are using the flower theme too (Lily and Poppy). He did not ask me for a suggestion, but if he had…

There have been lots of new blooms in these parts lately. I noticed three yesterday and two today. The two I saw today were Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), and Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens). I took some photos:

Mitchella repens

Mitchella repens


Monotropa uniflora

Monotropa uniflora


There are cool things about both of these plants. As you can see from the photo of the Partridge Berry, it produces flowers in pairs, joined at the base. These flowers eventually become a single berry, and the berry has two little eyes – remnants of the two flowers that formed it. The berry stays on the vine all winter long, and persist until the new flowers come in. So I guess the berries ought to be dropping off pretty soon.

The cool thing about Indian Pipe is that it is a plant, not a fungus. The first time I ever saw one was on a hike with Beth and David to Sandogardy Pond about four years ago. We thought it was a fungus then, and it sure does look like a fungus. But fungi do not make seeds, and this plant most certainly does. However, it does have one thing in common with fungi besides its looks – it’s a parasite. It feeds off other plants. It is white because it does not produce chlorophyll.

Yesterday I went for a walk at lunchtime. My mission was two-fold: walk to LL Bean to buy some new shoes, and take a long walk to help the wool in my sock to felt up some more. Also, I kept an eye out for flowers.

While I was at Bean, I saw a solar phone charger. And I’ve been wanting one of these for about a year. The price looked pretty OK to me, so I bought it. Usually when we go camping, it’s in some place where there is no cell phone signal. The phone responds by boosting its own signal, and that drains the battery in short order. So unless I remember to turn off the phone, I need to recharge it. Plus when we go to the Camporee in Oskosh in August, I will need to recharge it then too. I think this is just the ticket. It has an internal battery, so I can leave it on the dashboard of the car during the day, while I have my phone in my pocket. Then at night I can retrieve the solar charger from the car and use it to charge my phone while I sleep.

Now back to plants. On the way to Bean, or on the way back to the office, I found a new-to-me variety of Cinquefoil. Silvery Cinquefoil, or Potentilla argentea. I usually just group all the Cinquefoils together, or divide them into two groups – tall and short. But there are several species of this stuff around here, and some of them are pretty difficult to distinguish. So I will try learning to do that.

I also noted that the Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), Bitter Nightshade (Solanum dulcimara, White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba), Hawthorn (Crataegus spp), and Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) were all in bloom. I’m guess they did that while I was sick and didn’t feel much like walking about.

I logged them at the Bloom Clock. First time I had done that for a couple of weeks too. Don’t know if I mentioned it, but the Butter and Eggs (Linaria vulgaris) bloomed a couple of days ago too (Wednesday?)

So now I’m pretty much all caught up on the Bloom Clock. I’ll keep a sharp eye out for blooms over the next couple of days. I’m always on the lookout for new blooms at the end of the month, and old blooms that are still just barely going at the beginning of the month. We don’t have anything planned for after church tomorrow, so maybe I’ll take a walk down to Sandogardy. I hope to find some Floating Heart (Nymphoides cordata) in bloom, and maybe some White Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata) too. And maybe some Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terestris) and some Water Lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna). Lotsa stuff to look for anyhow! It’ll prolly rain, but I do have a rain coat and some rain pants, and I know how to use them!

We did not lose power last night other than for a few milliseconds here and there (thus the flickering). Just so you know.

Our lights flickered a little while ago, and then Va showed me a really cool website that shows the status of our local grid in real time. It’s snowing heavily right now, so I expect that might have a wee bit to do with it. As of this writing, there are 168 customers offline in Northfield. Oop! 174!

I cranked up the sewing machine again tonight. I’ve lost count of how many costumes I’ve made for the Adventurer Camp In, but I saved this one for last. (Well… I’ll prolly make a few more). I wanted to have practiced on the rest before I started in on Va’s.

Tonight I made her a tunic. I still need to put in the hems, but other than that, it’s quite finished. I start on her robe next, but I’m thinking about modifying the pattern for that. It’ll be an open robe rather than one that completely covers the front.

Once that one’s done, I’ll see about making some “leather” armor for David’s soldier outfit. So I guess I’m not really almost done after all, but I DO see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We’re supposed to get something like 16 inches of snow tomorrow. School has already been cancelled, and I might just blow off work tomorrow. I’d rather get snow than have what my relatives in Kentucky and Indiana are getting – ice. And lots of it.

I have decided to pull the plug on the gutter heaters I installed last month. They doubled our electric bill. Another way of saying that is that I found a way to cut my electric bill in half. I think what I really need to do is get up in the attic and insulate the roof. The ceiling is already insulated, but we have a walk-up attic, and we lose a lot of heat through the door to the stairway. Insulation might well eliminate the need for the gutter heaters. It’s also a much more green approach to combating ice dams.

Ice storm

Ice storm


This is a photo of the woods in front my house today. It was absolutely, stunningly gorgeous, and made me think that this is what it must be like to be inside a diamond. But man – here’s a beauty filled with treachery. This same ice storm knocked out power to over half the residents of New Hampshire. We were lucky in that our power was restored in about 12 hours. I know many people who still do not have electricity.

I woke up sometime Friday morning. The radio was playing, but I couldn’t find the clock. That’s because the power was out. It was around 6:30, I guess. I didn’t know that the battery would still try to wake me up when the power was off, and I had actually always wondered about that. Now I know. It was still pretty dark outside, and it was still raining (and presumably freezing).

Va got up and called Mrs. Brace. Yup – school was canceled. Listening to the rain, I just snuggled deeper into my covers and went back to sleep. No WAY was I going to be able to get in to work today. I got up around 10:00 and went outside. There were several bent-over trees in the yard, and several pines had their tops snapped out. It was a little weird – I could see what looked like a fallen pine tree, but didn’t see the stump. That’s because the stumps were over 20 feet high. I took several pictures, including the one at the top of this post. Penny helpfully chased sticks.

Without electricity, we have no heat and no water. We have forced hot air, but that runs on an electric blower. We have a well, but the pump needs electricity to do its job too. So we decreed moratorium on toilet flushing and fridge opening. Flushing was allowed in SOME cases though. We did take a few things out of the fridge every now and then too, but instead of putting them back, we just put them out on the deck. By mid-morning the temperature was up above freezing, so the deck made a pretty decent fridge anyhow.

By noon, the ice was melting out of the trees so heavily that it looked like it was raining. The rain had stopped by then and the sun was out. And the beauty was stunning. The road actually looked somewhat drivable, so I called Pizza Hut to see if they were open – and they were. So the whole family piled in the car and we went to Tilton for some hot food. Then we hit the Walmart and bought a couple of six gallon water jugs, and some other items too. We dropped the kids off at the house, and then I drove to the spring on Intervale Road in Canterbury. That spring is a pipe coming out of the side of the hill, and it flows at about a gallon per minute. I filled both jugs and returned home. We used that water to refill the toilet tanks (even though it is some of the best tasting water in the state).

Then Va and I decided to sneak into Concord. I had a form I needed to return to HR so we could have medical insurance next year. It was due that day (no excuses they said, but I’m betting they would have accepted “ice storm” as one). Then we went to the church and set up our laptops to grab our email, etc. When we finished with that, we grabbed some food to go and started back home. We stopped at the spring on the way, but there were already two pickup trucks there. One of them had half a dozen coolers and 20 gallon tubs in the back, and they were emptying buckets into them. These people live just up the road from the spring – the sign in front of their house says “Centerbury Tales”. I found out that Canterbury Tales has ten tales: five horses and five dogs, and the horse drink way more than the dogs. They were very nice people though, letting others slip in and fill their jugs between their buckets. I guess it took 20 minutes before we had our six gallons. Then we waved goodbye and set out for the house. No sooner had we pulled back onto the road than the boys called Va’s cell phone – we had electricity again! And had for 20 minutes! If they had called right away, they could have gotten their dinner sooner, because we would have left the spring as soon as we heard.

When we got home we ate. We had been planning on using paper plates, but since we had power again, we went all out and used the china. The furnace kicked in, and the water heater started doing its thing again too. The house had gotten down to 57 degrees – not bad. But I’m thinking I really need to get a generator now. I don’t know how long the house would stay above freezing under these conditions, and I sure don’t want any frozen pipes.

Even though we had electricity, we still didn’t have any Internet access. Jonathan was devastated. I think he might be slightly addicted to the Internet, and I can’t say I was sorry he had to go without it for a day. He jokingly (but perhaps… only half jokingly) declared that the three essential items for survival were water, electricity, and Internet access.

I spent the evening going though my digital photo collection and started tagging them. I made a scratch, and I was at it for maybe three solid hours. I also got ready for my Sabbath School class, and then I went to bed. I noticed that the clock was claiming it was 3:00am, but it wasn’t THAT late. I corrected the time, and then went to sleep.

This morning we got ready for church and then went in. I brought my laptop so I could let my family know we were OK, and I posted my previous missive here. We had a light crowd today, which kind of surprised me. The church had power and heat, which is more than could be said for most of the members. One of my friends had a tree fall on her car yesterday. Big tree. Little car. She was in a rental today. Others have generators. Some have wood heat. Many were hauling water. Concord itself was in pretty decent shape. There was no ice on the trees by this morning, and I didn’t see much tree damage. Others reported massive tree damage around where they live, some comparing it to the tornado that blew through NH this summer. Many stayed for a potluck dinner, even though that wasn’t on the regularly scheduled program. It was a great idea though. We would have stayed, but we had power at home and a dog in a crate who needs exercise. So we cruised home. We still have plenty of ice in our trees (unlike Concord).

Once the dog was freed, we had some lunch. Then Beth and I took Penny for a walk down to Sandogardy Pond. I brought my camera. Again, it was like walking around on the inside of a diamond. There were plenty of sticks for Penny to chase, so she was in doggy heaven. But man – it was cold. Sixteen degrees. David opted to stay home because of the cold. Beth and I had bundled up pretty good, so it wasn’t all that bad. We got home around 3:30.

At five-ish, Beth reminded me that I said she could go to child-care night tonight. I had forgotten that I had promised that, but Beth is pretty good at remembering fatherly promises. So we got a grocery list from Va, got in the car, and drove in. Beth had a good time playing with the other kids who were there. They played Uno and watched videos. Beth and a few other girls were pretending they were circus animals (except one of them who was apparently the circus master).

While they played, I washed the cookie sheets we used at our previous Pathfinder meeting. We had filled them with sand and had used plaster casts I had made previously to make new tracks for them to cast. A few people picked up their oranges while I was there, and I did collect payment from them, so that’s good.

We bugged out early. I wasn’t on duty tonight, so I didn’t have to stay the whole time. We did give Joy a ride home though. She lives about two miles from our house, and since I offer extra merit points for anyone who helps on child care nights, Joy wanted to be there. Her mom had brought her, and asked me if I would take her home. I was glad to do that.

So now I’m home and everything appears to be back to normal. We have power. We have water. The Internet came on again at about 1:00pm. So according to Jonathan, we NOW have the three essentials.

It is amazing to me how dependent we now are on something that didn’t exist 120 years ago, and most people didn’t even have 60 years ago. But we sure are! I hope to change that soon, but we’ll see how it goes. Maybe Barak Obama will incent me to install solar cells on my roof.

I don’t know what to think about the threatened financial collapse. Cringley likens it to putting out all the forest fires over a one hundred year period. Eventually the forest will catch on fire, and the longer you keep putting it out, the worse it’s going to be when it does go up in flames.

On the one hand, I really don’t like the message it sends to investors: “Go ahead and make risky investments! If they blow up, the taxpayer will bail you out!” This cannot be good for our future, as it will only encourage more of what Alan Greenspan termed “irrational exuberance.” On the other, it really will be a bad thing if it causes the economy to tank, but maybe that would be temporary, and maybe we could ride it out.

I don’t remember where I read this, but it was a while back, and I think it makes even more sense now. The new president should make a Kennedy-esque announcement that the United States will achieve energy independence “before this decade is out.” And to do this, we will develop clean, renewable sources of energy. Not because it is easy, but because it is hard? No, because it would be the right thing to do. This would have several beneficial effects.

First, it would be a way better use of $700B. That’s $2,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. That’s $10K from my family.

Second, it would help with the greenhouse effect if it’s not already too late for that (and yes, I think that’s a real problem). That’s why we must insist that the energy be clean and carbon-neutral.

Third, a research program like that would create thousands, or maybe even millions of high-paying jobs and put the U.S. firmly back in the technology leadership position.

Fourth, the tech could be exported to places where it is needed most by the world – India and China. Those two places want to be new Americas, and they are on track to do it with oil. That adds additional stress to the oil supply driving prices up, and what it does to the environment is even worse. That’s why the world needs for India and China to use clean energy. It’s not enough for the U.S. and Europe to replace oil with clean energy. China and India would immediately take up the slack in the demand. If we developeit, I believe that clean energy will eventually cost a fraction of what we’re paying now, and that is incentive enough for India and China to use it. Maybe that will prevent environmental collapse.

Fifth, China and India would not be the only ones to benefit. What about Europe and Australia? Africa? South America? Once the tech is developed, it should be cheap, giving the third world a real chance to better their lot.

Sixth, it would solve our Middle East problems. Let them keep their oil. Venezuela too. Well – most of it. There would still be a healthy market for oil because that’s what plastic is made of. Being energy independent does not mean we won’t need plastic any more. The demand for oil would keep them in business, but OPEC would no longer call the shots.

How would we do this? Well, it would take a lot of R&D, and that’s where all those high-paying jobs come from. Solar is getting a lot of research now, and that was spurred even more by $4.00/gallon gas. Wind should be used too. And geothermal, biomass, waves, and maybe something else that we haven’t thought of yet. For $700B, you could probably build a hydrogen infrastructure. We will never use hydrogen cars without an infrastructure to support them, and we will never get an infrastructure unless the government commits to subsidizing one.

But energy independence wouldn’t all be done through energy generation. We’d also need to put a check on the demand. Outlawing inefficient light bulbs would be a start. I would not say outlaw incandescents, because I have heard of research that massively boosts the efficiency of incandescents. Rather than banning a technology, set ran efficiency standard – light sources must produce at least X lumens per watt. We should be using LEDs to light our houses, and we should get tax breaks for installing light pipes to bring sunlight indoors. Why use energy to generate light when we could just grab some from outdoors and use it inside? Light switches should sense motion as well as light. If no one’s in the room, lights out! If the window is open, dim the lights. I have a motion sensor in my office, but recently, I switched it from automatic to off. I have a huge window, and it lights my workspace more than enough (except on rainy days – then I set it back to automatic).

Intel just published the results of some research where they cooled a data center with outdoor air. In Texas. In the summer. The failure rate on their servers went up less than a half a percent, and that was with no air conditioning whatsoever – just fans. Air conditioning is a major, major cost in running a data center, and Intel’s study just showed that that has been a complete waste of money.

What about clothes dryers? We aren’t about to go back to using clothes lines (though that would be a good thing IMO), so we need to find a way to dry them without so much energy. Solar? I dunno – pour some money into research and find a way.

So those are the laws that Congress ought to be looking at. Let the economy dip. Let the underbrush burn, and clean out the cruft. We’ll be better for it if we let it burn now verses letting more underbrush build up. I am convinced that a comprehensive energy plan would more than make up for it. Otherwise, the next collapse will be a lot bigger.