Sunday, February 22, 2009

An airy conundrum

I am a fan, ahem, of hot-air hand dryers. I think they do a good job of drying ones hands if you follow the directions. (You know, the ones that usually direct us to "Push Button" and rub hands briskly.) The use electricity but do use less overall resources than paper towels. Further the paper towels here at UW are akin to tissue paper and become sopping wet and torn before your hands are dry. Then there is the waste.

There is a recent "study" concerning certain characteristics of drying ones hands. (A second hand report of the study is listed here, I have not found the original.) They basically claim that the paper towel is a better hand dryer for several reasons, which would almost be expected since the research study was funded by the European Tissue Symposium, a marketing group for paper towel manufacturers.

They did 4 studies. The most interesting of them were the drying effectiveness and the bacteria count. Of course paper towels did better in both. Their claim was paper towels dried your hands more effectively. (10 seconds of paper towel use versus 50 some seconds of hand drying)
This is contrary to my recent experience but I can accept the results. Basically because I have no idea what the conditions of the experiment were. The same holds for the second experiment. Their claim here is that a warm-air hand dryer increases the bacteria count on your hands, palms and finger pads, by up to 254 and 194 percent respectively. A paper towel increases it a mere 77 and 76 percent, respectively. Again, I have to wonder what the conditions of the experiment were. And I have to wonder what the condition of the dryer is.

Much like any science, we can interpret results or set up experiments so that we get the results that we want to see if we are not careful to be fully objective. Our methodology is almost more important than the results and full disclosure, which I suspect I would get if I found the original report, must include all of the assumptions that went into the interpretation. A nice lesson for those who try to interpret, and report, on things such as climate change. Here the methodologies and assumptions not to mention the facts are broad and hard to truly understand by lay persons. We have to be careful in our secondary readings because they could lead to misinterpretations which are again misinterpreted by others.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Alternative to the jetsam

One of my students, who I am sure was getting ahead in his reading for class yesterday, ahem... was using a Kindle. I had never seen one up close so I asked him about it after class. He said it was a nice platform to read e-books, it was power efficient, and relatively easier to use. (He claimed, perhaps sarcastically that the new version was "sexier" than his. As I have never thought of personal electronics in these terms, I am still not sure what he meant. )

I am not in a position at the moment to spend a lot of time reading "Pride and Prejudice" or any other text that would more than likely come in an e-book fashion. Recently I have found mself longing for a copy of Barendregts "The Lambda Calculus". My guess is that it is not published in e-book form. Nor should it be for all sorts of aesthetic and ethical reasons. (Or maybe it should through some form of poetic justice.) Regardless, as I have mentioned before, I predominately read, and sometime only scan, a lot of different papers, usually in postscript (PS) or PDF format. Unfortunately the Kindle will not handle PS yet. My student told me that it would handle text based PDF. My question is how it will handle tables and mathematical formulas. If it handles a large collection of arbitrary symbols relatively well it may fit my needs as I still do not like reading things on the computer screen.

However I am not sure I can justify buying another piece of "sexy" electronics. More plastic that I probably will not use as much. Though the new Kindle is much thinner and lighter. Another issue is that here in Wyoming I would not be able to use as much of the functionality as the download network (you can order books via the "cell phone" network and download them in the same fashion) has not quite made it here. (G3 network, same one used for iPhones). And on top of that, my benefactor (Amy) and I have other expenses at the moment that preclude 360 dollars spent on something we may not put to full use. So, although I will probably still investigate it some more, I will probably have to wait on the Kindle.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Drive to ski

One of the few benefits of being a graduate student is being able to disappear from "work" at random times of the day. I have no clock to punch. Well, the clock got punched a few years ago and is continuing to tick away, which if I was paid by the hour would be great. But I'm not.

But sometimes the fringe benefits are worth it. I can take off and go skiing at the drop of a hat without worrying about a boss or co-worker. The problem then becomes that I have to get to where I can ski. In Laramie this is not too hard and one of the few benefits of living here as we have a great little cross-country area less than 10 miles to the East. Yet it still requires me to drive. I still drive a 1986 Saab which is pretty low on the environmentally friendly vehicle list. It gets pretty good mileage yet. (About 30MPG on the highway) The issue is that when I sneak away to go ski I am :
a) driving by myself (and the dog)
b) adding a higher amount of emissions to the atmosphere than if I were to sell the Saab and buy a newer car.

The Saab actually is for sale ($500 OBO) but so far I have had no takers. And I do have access to another, cleaner car (Amy's new VW). But I am never certain if Amy will need that car and I like driving the old one. I would like to see, should it not sell, if there are ways of reducing the emissions from it. This is something I will begin to investigate in the next few weeks.

Problem "a" comes from the fact that this is rather spontaneous in nature. I would like to be able to car pool but most people I know actually have jobs or our few obligations do not match up. Hence I will fly solo. I have always thought that a bus service up the interstate to the ski area would be a great thing. But it probably would not be cost effective and of course there is something about being the only one on the trails.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Will this really make a difference? Part 1 of ...

When I finally get over the "what is the point" question of trying to reduce my footprint on this planet I begin to wonder what difference can I really make?

There is a difference between the two question. Mostly it is a difference in attitude. The question of reason (point) is one that is derived from an external apathy when I view the world around me. Laramie is a small town, yet for reasons which are inexplicable to me, it has a traffic problem. This problem is made even more poignant on days when the temperature is above 40 on a February day. What a wonderful day to walk, to bike, and enjoy the sunshine. We have people driving 1/2 ton pickups to school and back for commuting distances of less than 2 miles, a mile, and less. We have meetings on campus that concern the parking problems around campus. We have trash cans knocked over in the alleys from the wind, blowing trash around, getting plastic bags caught in fence lines, trees, bushes. Empty lots strewn with dumped debris, Styrofoam, and empty cans of Keystone light. (Some of them may be full, but even the most diligent scrounger such as myself has his standards.) It does prevail upon me a sense of apathy that even if my efforts did do something, some yokel in jacked up 3/4 chevy with a sticker of Calvin peeing on a ford is going to run right through my "green space" and do a few donuts to boot.

But then I recall the quote "[n]ever doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." (This is attributed to Margaret Mead, although there are variants and not necessarily sourced.) I believe that as more and more people begin to realize that our actions do have a long term, and profound impact on the planet, they will be making choices that can begin to remedy some of the problems we already begin to confront. Whether it is at the local level (trash in the yard, conscious choice of driving...) to regional (where we get our power, open space and wilderness protection) to global (what we buy and the global impact of our consumption) a few people trying, in an unpretentious way (hopefully), to set an example and even mitigate a change can indeed affect the world.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The way-off topic ad

I put the little ad-banner on the side bar because I was interested in finding out how Googles ad-sense program worked. And as an added bonus perhaps there would be environmentally friendly products that people could use. As most people probably find, it generally works pretty well. I guess though, either I need to post more or need to put some extra buzz words (and phrases) in here such as "earths climate change soon to bring despair to billions" or wind power generator production still controlled by Danish... As it is, for the last few days an ad for a plastic bag manufacturer has had its place on the site. Rather ironic I suppose as I am not fond of plastic bags and most assuredly do not, nor do I know anyone who would, need to buy them wholesale.

Maybe if I started talking about CAFE standards we could get some great deals on coffee.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The big pile

Unfortunately our digital camera broke recently and I have no way of conveniently documenting certain things. The broken camera raises a few issues such as how can we get it fixed in a world that really has no services for repairing consumer electronics. (I say world but mean Laramie, I could probably send it off to the manufacturer but this might be more expensive than buying a new one. ) Our house seems to be littered with electronics that I refuse to throw away because although broken should still have some life in them. But that is not the point behind this post.

The topic here is a compost bin. I asked our landlord if he minded if I built a compost bin in the backyard. He seems to like me, for reasons which I do not understand, and said that "whatever [I] want to do is fine". So in order to accommodate the compostable waste that we had separated from the rest of the trash I built a fairly modest compost bin.

Being the cheap person I am, I did not want to spend any money on this project. So in typical fashion I went scrounging for materials. Fortunately for me this was easy to do. I located some old (and free) pallets that were being thrown away. My friend J and I would run into them on our typical Wednesday night stagger back from the bars. So borrowing a pickup Amy and I went over and threw 5 of them into the truck and we had some instant walls. I did need to go buy some twine as I had used all of mine up for another project. This was simply to hold everything together from the Laramie wind. I have been using the leaves from this fall (and probably many autumns past) to fill it periodically in addition to the household waste.

So far it has worked out quite well. The squirrels love it. Aldo the dog loves chasing the squirrels. And I do not feel guilty about throwing out leftover coffee grounds and avocado peels.
Some day, soon, I will post some pictures of these little projects. As soon as I get the camera fixed.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The blast curtain

We live in an old house. Needless to say the windows in this house are hardly efficient thermal double paned sealed. In fact most of them leak, have cracks, or are otherwise conduits for the Wyoming cold. (When we get it, as today is in the mid 40's and all the precious snow is turning to not so pleasant slush.) The only sealant they have on them is the layers of paint keeping them from opening.

In order to reduce the amount of air/cold transfer A bought a thermal curtain for our home office. It works quite well. In the evening I can shut it, basically applying another (or in this case "a" ) layer of insulation to this window. The difference in temperature between the curtain and the window and the room is generally on the order of 10 - 15 degrees at night. It should work over the summer to keep the sunlight from heating up the house even more but we will see about that when the time comes. Plus I really like the sunlight.

The only issue with this curtain. It came in a heavy duty plastic wrap. The only way around this would have been to make our own I suppose. But until I get a sewing machine I will have to deal with the extra plastic.