Replacing The Light Bulbs

This is one post in a series that started here, describing what I've learned while attempting to understand my ecological footprint.

Back in January we swapped out most of our incandescent light bulbs for Compact Fluorescents. The CFLs use about 1/4 the power of the old incandescents, and while they cost more up front, I haven't had a single one blow out... Or do they fade away... If one of them ever stops producing light I'll let you know what that looks like.

Overall the change to CFLs was nearly painless. The main downside is the ridiculous form molded plastic packaging the lights come in. It takes a pair of pliers and a blowtorch to open it.

There were some odd side effects:

Dimmer Switches
The dimmer switches I installed in a few rooms became obsolete. The standard CFL doesn't dim gracefully. Instead it flickers angrily as if it is spitting at you while saying "Hey cut that out! I don't dim!!!" This turned out not to matter much because we never actually used the dimmer switches with the incandescents either.

Less Circuits:
The other strange thing relates back to the basement project. Over the past two years I've been finishing my basement with the help of my family. Actually the latter half of the project was more my dad finishing my basement with my help. More on that in a future post.

When we first worked out the electrical, we determined that the ceiling lighting for the entire basement would require 2 15Amp circuits. This was based on the total number of incandescent bulbs at a maximum of 100w each. But we did the math 2 years ago, and long before I started the my ecological footprint project.

Now that I'm using CFLs I could fit the power to light all of my basement lights on half circuit! Of course that wouldn't be up to code so 2 circuits it is. Still, when I realized the reduction in infrastructure that CFLs would enable the reality of cutting lighting power by 75% really hit home.

New Light Bulbs in Plain English
Today CommonCraft released a great video on why switching to CFLs is a good idea. As usual, another great production!

Garlic & Arts Festival

This year we made our second annual trip to the Garlic and Arts Festival. It's my favorite festival of the season. They have great food, great music, and the vendors have actual local crafts!

The largest vendor groups were a toss up between renewable energy groups/companies, and local farmers markets with lots more than just garlic. One place had this amazing Pesto! All the same, I taste tested all sorts of garlic and while I'm a big garlic fan I'm pretty sure your not supposed to eat raw garlic all by itself. At least not as much as I did. Vampires beware.

The festival has a very eco-friendly atmosphere as a result of their clean and green minimal impact policy. In 2006 they had over 10,000 attendees and only generated 2 bags of trash! They require that food vendors use all recyclable or compost-able plates, napkins etc. The festival provides recycling & compost collection containers instead of trash bins.

This year there was a new eco-friendly twist. Water! The festival provided free drinking water from temporary water fountains and non refrigerated coolers. They even had pamphlets explaining the impact of bottled water and how this free water was a step in reducing that impact. As a result no one was selling those silly water bottles and there was plenty of free water for refilling my bottle.

I do feel like a bit like a hypocrite though. All that eco-friendliness is great, but in order to get there our only realistic option is to pile the family into the Honda Odyssey and drive 45 miles both ways. Someday we'll make that trip in a solar powered electric car.

The kids had a great time. There was a table with wood and tools where the kids could drill and saw. We could have stayed there all day. Conner and Alex took turns hanging out on our shoulders. Having my parents there really makes corralling three kids much easier.

After the festival I asked Alex what he liked most. He thought for a second and then said "The pesto and the chicks!" I racked my brain to remember who he was flirting with. Then I remembered this...

Update 2007-09-27: It has been brought to my attention that there is a "chick" bending over in the background of this picture. If you look closely at Alex's hands you will also see him holding a baby chick (as in bird). It was the latter that I was suggesting was the focus of Alex's attention. I'd also like to note that I didn't take this picture.

Peppers, Pumpkins, Tomatoes, and Salsa

We harvested a few green peppers from the garden. They taste great and are so fresh that when you bite into them they spray water/pepper juice.

The pepper plants started falling over lately. I'm not sure if that's because there wasn't as much rain, or because pepper plants like tomato plants, are designed to fall over as the produce seeds. Either way, next year I need to give them more space as the tomato plants basically smothered them all season.

The mold killed all but a few pumpkin leaves, but our lone pumpkin is holding on and looks like it may be turning orange.

Overall the garden is producing lots of food even if it looks like a jungle trying to strangle itself. A lot of people have mentioned that their tomato plants did not do well this season. I suspect our success is due to my Uncle Sam's gardening strategy: raised garden, compost base, two phase fertilizing and Epsom salt.

The other night Christine and I made Salsa based on a recipe from the food network. We improvised because we couldn't bother to go out an get the stuff we were missing.

Paul & Christine's Salsa [Take 1]
3 large cloves garlic
1 garden fresh red hot chili pepper (NO SEEDS!)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (lightly packed)
4 large garden fresh tomatoes (remove seeds & puree the rest)
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup diced Vidalia onion

Puree 3 tomatoes and strain out most of the really thin stuff. Keep the thicker material. Dice the red hot chili pepper very small and blend it in with the thicker tomato puree. Dice up everything else including the last tomato and mix it all together. Add more red hot chili pepper to taste.

Avast! It's Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Hello, shipmates, relatives an' loyal readers. Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Its an important tide when we celebrate sea dogness. As ye know from previous posts I spend a lot o' time learnin' about global climate change. Here`s a tidbit (from Th' Church o' th' Flyin' Spaghetti Monster) that highlights th' importance o' Talk Like a Sea dog tide from th' perspective o' our environment.

Th' followin' quote be translated into Pirate Speak fer th' purposes o' clear an' Sea dog like communication:

"Ye may be interested t' know that global warmin', earthquakes, hurricanes an' other natural disasters be a direct effect o' th' shrinkin' numbers o' sea dogs since th' 1800s. Fer yer interest, I be havin' included a graph o' th' approximate number o' sea dogs versus th' average global temperature o'er th' past 200 voyages. As ye can be seein', thar be a statistically significant inverse relationship between sea dogs an' global temperature."

- Excerpt from Bobby Henderson's open letter t' th' Kansas school board translated into Sea dog Speak.

As ye can be seein' one o' th' best way`s t' combat global climate change be t' talk like a seafarin' hearty.

Stuff I'm Sharing

Reading is important in my job, role as a citizen and father, and also useful for hobbies. I read close to 200 blog posts a day and usually have a book or six in progress.

With all this reading I often come across things I feel are worth sharing. They range from funny, to informative, to politics related (ranging from sad to infuriating these days).

It's in large part due to the state of politics in the US that I've come to realize that it is critically important that people share, discuss, and debate information, and not just mindlessly consume the the stuff that passes for news on TV. More on that in a future post...

So I decided to create a share feed called Paul's Share Feed. It's is like a blog, but instead of my authoring the content, I simply aggregate other people's content that meets my "This is really worth reading" criterion. Sometimes I add some quick commentary, and other times I simply include the original article.

I've had this share feed going since November of 2006 and have found posting to and subscribing to share feeds an extremely efficient and effective way to share content with friends. Whereas I used to use email and do lots of cutting, pasting and typing email addresses, now I just click a share button in Google Reader or bookmark a page with!

If you're interested in my share feed you can visit the Paul's Share Feed web page, or better yet subscribe to the Paul's Share RSS Feed

If you're interested in creating your own share feed check out this post by Mike Lepore.

Baby Swing Batteries Be Gone!

This is one post in a series that started here, describing what I've learned while attempting to understand my ecological footprint.

Since Alex was born we've have an electric Fisher Price cradle swing that our kids (as babies) love to sleep in. One thing that always bothered me about these swings is they were all powered by 4 D batteries and the batteries don't last long in these swings. We were throwing out a lot of batteries in an effort to get our kids to take naps.

My first thought at reducing the waste was to use rechargeables, but the only place that carries D cell rechargeable batteries is Radio Shack. It costs $100 to get 4 batteries and a charger and they get crappy reviews.

So I decided to install a plug on the swing so it wouldn't need batteries. In retrospect it seems silly that these things don't come with plugs. Anyway, I got a refresher on volts, amps, energy and power from my dad and determined that I needed a 6 volt power supply. This was based on the fact that the swing is traditionally powered by 4 D batteries (1.5 volts each) in series.

I also estimated that the power supply needed to produce at least 500m-amps. I couldn't find anything on the amperage you get out of D cell batteries so I choose a minimum of 500 m-amps because I had a 6v DC power supply that was rated for 600mamps. The theory was that if the draw from the swing was greater that the power supply could handle, it (the power supply) would get hot and then I'd know to get a bigger power supply.

Rolling Up My Sleeves

Power supply in hand I needed something to plug it into. I found and old external hard drive chassis that died a long time ago. I removed the power connector from the circuit board and soldered 2 wires to it. I actually used the volt meter in the image below to test that it was all working. Mad skills I tell ya!

P9050576 P9050584

Now that I had a way to connect the power supply to the swing I taped up two old D batteries (so they couldn't conduct electricity) and used them to hold the wires in place on the swings + and - terminals. This was the big test and it worked!

Nearly overwhelmed with my success so far, I moved on to making safe and good looking. I carved a hole in the back of the swing chassis near the battery pack and mounted the power connector flush with the swing chassis using crazy glue. I consider it a small miracle that I'm not permanently affixed to the swing.

Then I fed the wires behind the battery enclosure and soldered them in place so that you cant see them even when you take the battery cover off.

P9050586 P9050592

The finished product can still use batteries, but for the 99.999% of the time when its right next to a wall outlet, we avoid using batteries. Moreover we avoid creating the carbon footprint associated with producing, packaging, shipping and disposing of all those D Batteries! Now I'm all for using rechargeable batteries where appropriate (plug-in cars for example) but it seems to me that swings like this this should at least have the option of having a power supply.


Image Credit
The logo image was created using content from Wikimedia Commons and is license under the LGPL as it was created using LPGL content. Thanks to Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon for Crystal Clear app klaptopdaemon and Crystal Clear app kcontrol and thanks to David Vignoni for the Nuvola gnome-logo.

Update Thursday February, 19th 2009: Todd Mayti (commented below) was kind enough to send instructions on his modification that allows for both a plug without removing the batteries.   Instructions and pictures are available at .

Chili Peppers Need Proper Labels

Chili peppers are evil. Following a successful harvest I decided to try one out of curiosity. I figured they'd only be a little spicy...

The initial sensation was a bit foreign and it took a few seconds to realize that it was my esophagus closing up. My concerns for lack of oxygen were quickly set aside when the sensation of liquid fire spread throughout my mouth and I realized I was probably going to die from poisoning before I suffocated.

At this point I was still sitting at the kitchen table. As I turned to look at Alex's blurry image through my watering eyes he asked "How does it taste, Daddy?" I simultaneously responded "HOeey Shid!" and bolted from the table in search of a glass of water.

The water accomplished the exact opposite of what I had hoped for and I made a mental note to track down the lunatic that left a drinking glass full of beach/acetone/chili extract on the kitchen counter. Important Note: Do not drink water to reduce the sensation of a chili pepper melting your skin.

Realizing I had only moments to rectify the situation before my son watched me pass out from eating a vegetable I made a last ditch run to the fridge. I popped open a gallon of milk and started drinking. Slowly the sensation of fire subsided and as my vision returned to normal I remember thinking, "I'm much too stupid to be raising children."

While I appreciate that red is natures warning color, I respectfully submit that these peppers are grossly mislabeled. Each one should, at a minimum, have spikes and a tattoo of a flame or a skull and crossbones prominently displayed on its exterior.

The Harvest Mystery

For the last few weeks I've gone outside after work and looked at the garden to see if there were any ripe tomatoes. Alex and Conner often joined me and we'd note that none were ripe yet, but there were a few tomatoes that should be ready to pick tomorrow.

It went on for weeks like that. Not a single tomato ever got ripe enough. I was beginning to think time was standing still in my garden. Had I transcended gardening genius and created a fountain of youth in my back yard?

Then I told Christine that story and she laughed... And I felt my ability to bend the laws of physics melt away as she explained that every afternoon she, Alex, and Conner go outside and pick all the ripe tomatoes. There was a big pile of them on our kitchen counter.

So not only am I not keeper of the powers of the gods, but I'm also very unobservant.

Quick Garden Update

Anyway, the tomatoes are great. We've given some away, eaten them as a snacks, put them on sandwiches, and Christine made an amazing tomato sauce with them. The picture above is from last weekends harvest. The Basil made its was into a lot of dishes, and the chili peppers have not. The Peppers still need a few more weeks before they're ready.

The pumpkins are a mess. We have one pumpkin and the vines are completely covered in this powdery mold. It looks like we may salvage this one pumpkin, but it'll be a race to see if the pumpkin can ripen before the mold kills the vine.