Friday, May 10, 2013

Wonder Trailer - Helping Save the Day!

I'll start off by saying I built a trailer for my bike. Or rather, repurposed one. And it was 100% free. I'm saying this now 'cause Ima drone on about the environmental and social impact of oil and your eyes might glaze over for a bit. So stick with me and I'll wander back to how, slash why, I did it.

I've been an avid cyclist for many years. I started commuting to school and work back in 19dickity2 on a hundred dollar mountain bike. Parts would literally fall off while I was riding it. I'd be pedaling and hear something like a nut or washer tinkling along the road behind me. One time a pedal snapped off when I stood up to ascend a hill, resulting in a very impressive gainer over the handlebars and into traffic. This was long before Boise was blessed with the Boise Bicycle Project and I could have fixed it on a college student's budget.

I started riding because I was becoming quite the pantload and desperately needed exercise. Gas was south of a buckfiddy a gallon back then, so economics didn't play a part. At that price, we treated gas like it was coming out of a garden hose. But exercise and current economic impact are only 2/3 of the reason I continue to ride. The other 50% (pardon me while I mount my high horse) is because of our addiction to oil. I firmly believe the internal combustion engine is the best and worst thing that has happened to mankind. We all know it has an enormous Yang, but it's got an equal Yin to boot.

The environmental impact of oil is unconscionable. We've all seen the impact of the Exxon Valdez, and the BP oil "spill". Those atrocities and the next 8 largest spills combined are a mere drop in the bucket compared to what Saddam's henchmen did while fleeing Kuwait.

Let's not forget greenhouse gasses. Clear back in 2010, the population of the earth's automobiles surpassed one billion. Unfortunately, few of us have a billion of anything, and as a species we are not equipped to fully comprehend what the word 'billion' represents (don't believe me? Fill a trunk with sand and ask people to guess how many grains of sand it contains) or what the exhaust from an incomprehensible number of vehicles can do.

And then there's the social impact. Obesity, making billionaires multi-billionaires while the rest of us balk at how expensive our milk is, and funding both sides of a war.

Since I drive an old Chevy pickup (when did '96 become "old"?) that gets 13 mpg when it's being towed, I decided a few years ago that I needed to reduce my impact by driving it as little as necessary. Fortunately, as the years have rolled on, I've been able to whittle down my definition of "necessary." I'll ride much farther than I used to, in colder/hotter temperatures, and under more varied circumstances. Then I stumbled across this TED Talk. And I realized I had to whittle and hone that definition a great deal further.

Please watch it. It's 15 minutes of your life and at the very least I hope readers will turn their cars off in the drive-thru or better plan their trips to the grocery store so they can eliminate a trip here or there. And at the most, ride a bike whenever possible. If you don't watch it, fine. But you won't escape the gist, which is - when you drill for oil you make a small hole in the Earth and pump it from underground and, near as I can tell, as long as you don't start pumping it into an ocean or run a boat into a rock it's pretty much the best way we have of getting oil outta the ground. However, when it is mined from tar sand, it is often strip mined and everything on/in/under the Earth is
removed. To get one barrel of oil in this fashion it takes up to four tons of tar sand (which is at a depth of 130-200 feet, so that number does not even include the massive amount of Earth that has to be removed just to get down to the tar) and at least 126 gallons of water - which is polluted and pumped into unlined holding ponds that are so large they can be seen from the international space station. The smallest of these mines produces 169,000 barrels per day. No wonder there is a lake and major river smack dab in the middle of this operation (see below). And as the speaker states "let's face it, we are all downstream..." Currently, mining is taking place at ten sites making it "the world's largest, and most environmentally devastating industrial complex" and there are 40 to 50 more sites seeking approval. The current approval/request rate is 1/1.

Below is one site, viewed from 21 miles above the Earth. In the upper left quarter is Mildred Lake. There are multiple unlined tailings ponds which sit as close as ~1,500 ft from the Athabasca River. Not only have the toxins leaching into the river made the fish inedible, there has also been at least one spill that (by corporate estimates) dumped 800,000 gallons of oil into the Athabasca. Something tells me they're not estimating on the high end. And for your final piece of perspective... take a stab at guessing the size of this mine (remember the photo is from 21 miles up).

I guessed 5 miles east to west. Not even close. According to Google Earth's measuring tool, it's 23 miles across at it's widest point. It's only 10 miles from Table Rock to Eagle Road (those are Boise landmarks). The entire city of Boise and its 250,000 residents would fit in this mine... twice. It is literally the size of the Grande Ronde Valley. I have a problem with this!!! As a crow flies, 23 miles is the distance from Kona to Waikoloa Village, Table Rock to Middleton, Great Falls to Fort Shaw, Las Vegas to... uh... wow... there is nothing out there... ok. To some nondescript point 23 miles out in the desert surrounding Las Vegas.

The most effective way to end this practice is to reduce demand. If they can't sell the oil, they aren't going to spend the money to strip mine for it. As long as there is money to be made, someone will want to mine it and someone will approve it.

Here's some rough math. If we saved 3 gallons of gas each year for every man, woman and child in the US, that would eliminate the need for the mine pictured above.

Here's an easy rule of thumb that would make a massive difference if it were followed by all of the 1 billion drivers of the vehicles and it is, by far, the easiest. It requires little or no effort on the part of the driver. If you're not driving it, turn your vehicle off. You never run your blender when you're not using it. You turn off the range immediately when you're done using the burners. And yet, there are times we leave our vehicles running when we aren't driving them.

According to AAA, a good rule of thumb is that a car burns .25 gallons of gas idling for 15 minutes. If every driver cut 15 minutes of idling each year... well that's fairly easy math. It's 113 million gallons of oil each year by reducing idling time by one minute 15 seconds per month. You can hold your breath that long! Ultimately, the point I'm trying to make is if everyone does a tiny bit, even 2.5 seconds of idling per day, it makes a difference that would... well gosh... it would replace the need for more than half of the oil pumped into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days in 2010.

Every day I run past a grade school around 3pm as the parents are lining the adjacent streets to pick up their children. While they wait for the bell, a full 2/3 of these vehicles are running. Everytime I go to the bank or grocery store there are folks sitting in their running vehicle, waiting for someone inside. For the life of me, I can't come up with a single good reason for burning that gas. Here's a fun fact from the University of Washington (I think. I couldn't refind the report, but the state of California confirms it) - fuel injected cars do not burn more gas on startup, and wear and tear from extra startups is so minimal that the cost savings of the gas more than makes up for the potential for additional maintenance costs.

So, to make a short story longer, I repurposed a bike trailer to further reduce the use of my truck. I live within two miles of four major grocery stores (and Wallyworld is building a fifth) as well as several small ones. If I needed more than a few items or needed some delicate foods, it wasn't reasonable to stuff it all in my backpack, so I'd drive.

I had been looking for a used bike trailer that I could convert for several months. But they were mostly in great condition and more than $100. So my sister put a post on and within a week someone gave me their old bike trailer.

I stripped it down to the frame, but left the sides intact for optimum aerodynamics. Also because I twisted off a bolt and now that's pretty much what's holding the top to the frame. Plus, it had pockets which converted conveniently to a wine/beer tote.

The crates came from the back of  Zacoalco Super Market and Carnicerea. They're used for produce and when sufficiently worn, they stack them next to their dumpster. So I liberated a few of them, tacking them back together here and there, and attaching them to a scrap sheet of plywood with a couple flat head bolts and wing nuts. The plywood is attached with four 1" U-bolts. If I want to haul something larger the boxes can easily be removed. As you can see the front box is slightly smaller and offset so that wine tote pocket is easily accessible, and there is a gap between the boxes for items that I don't want smashed. Like bread or fresh fruit and veggies. To finish the project I glued and bolted some old bike reflectors that my wife and I have found lying in the road.

I can haul all the groceries that we need as well as haul empty wine bottles to the recyclers, make trips to Home Depot, the in-laws, Farmer's Market, etc. I figure it'll save me an additional 7.5 gallons of gas per year.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Speaker Magnet Tool Holder, A True Story...

It's difficult to remain creative during Idaho winters. Check that, creativity isn't the problem. It's productivity. In January I think we had only three days with temperatures exceeding freezing, and we had a solid week where the low was below zero. February has brought plenty of snow and one day that hit 58. But a beautiful day in February usually gets the assignment of taking down Christmas lights. Maybe I'll get around to that in March. The point is, it's been dang-ol' cold, I don't want to work outside, and my heaters aren't very effective in the shop. So I haven't made much, which is why there haven't been any new posts in some time. That, and the honeymoon, bowl games, keeping the Sabbath holy, playoff games, Christmas shopping, Christmas parties, winter beers are my favorite, I'm lazy... etc.

But have no fear, every dearth is superseded by cornucopia. And my food horn is overflowin'!
Except in this case.

 When constructing The Greatest Cat Condo Ever Built I saved the speaker that was in the sub woofer. I wasn't sure what to do with it at the time, but I knew I'd come up with something. As Einstein said "Necessity is the mother of all invention." And necessity presented itself in the form of a pile of tools that I couldn't seem to create a proper home for. I tried storing my pliers, nippers, strippers, pincers, smashers, gnashers, etc. in the lid of the 105mm artillery shell shipping tube from the Cat Condo, but they frequently fell out or in, or made it difficult to get smaller tools out of it, so the tools usually ended up piled up in my very limited bench space.
 One day I was searching Google for uses for old speaker magnets when I came across an article suggesting using them to get at screws or small tools that have fallen behind/under your work bench.

"Hmmm..." I thought. "Steel tools stick to magnets. I have a magnet. I have steel tools. If the Rams win out they could still get the final seed in the playoffs. If a train leaves Punxsutawney, PA traveling 60 mph and another leaves Albuquerque, NM traveling 45 mph how many trains are there? No sir, nuts and gum do not go together. What was I thinking about? Focus... focus... focus... Doot doot doodle doodle doot doot de-dah... Steel wool? I have a magnet? That's weird, I haven't eaten corn since Thanksgiving. Wait a minute... I have a magnet!" It took the idea a few minutes, but eventually it got through the first four or five layers, then -  Blamo! Or whatever it was Einstein said when he had a great idea.

I decided to hang it from the ceiling using the worn out front axle from my mountain bike. The magnet peeled off of the speaker easily enough with just a putty knife. And that's when things got pear shaped. I attempted to epoxy a washer with a hole big enough for the axle but smaller than the axle cup to the back of the magnet, which sounds easy enough. Then physics got involved. I thought since I just needed a little epoxy I'd mix it in something small. Like a beer cap. And what are beer caps made of? Wanna guess what happens when you place a steel beer cap full of epoxy a couple inches from a 6" magnet?  Yup. Butter side down, if you will.

I briefly panicked because my epoxy had just been spilled by what looked remarkably like witchcraft. I attempted to peel the beer cap off the magnet (which was as difficult as pulling a steel beer cap full of epoxy off of a powerful magnet) and in my moment of panic, foolishly placed it in the exact same spot, just a few inches away. Rinse aaaaaand repeat. Now, have you ever tried putting a metal washer on the center of a magnet? I don't know what kinda mumbo jumbo physics are involved, but something ain't right about it. It will not go where you want it to and it's covered in epoxy. As are both my hands, the magnet, and the work bench. The washer kept flipping over every time I tried to take my hand off of it. It slid left, right, north, south, everywhere but the center. Imagine trying to put a cat covered in corn syrup into a bucket full of water and you'll get the picture.  And since no decent clamp is made of plastic... Just try putting a steel clamp on a large magnet with only one hand while holding an epoxy covered washer in the center of said large magnet with the other hand which now has large chunks of paper towel adhered to it. Of course, the magnet was scooted around enough that it was mere inches from the frickin' beer cap full of epoxy, again.

Eventually, I wove the correct combination of curse words to summon a warlock, or align the planets, or funnel the power of a child's love, and I got that S.O.B. in place. I was fortunately wise enough to put a piece of wax paper between the washer and the clamp, and just sanded that off with a piece of emery cloth.
I drilled a hole slightly smaller than the other axle cup in the roof truss, epoxied said axle cup, and pounded it into the hole with a hammer and let it dry. Then I simply screwed the axle into the cup in the roof truss, slid the magnet onto the axle, and screwed the other cup in place. Like I said "Blamo!"

Monday, October 22, 2012

Upcycled Dish Scrubby Buddy

This was one of my wife's brilliant ideas and since she has a brilliant husband, she knew I could make one. She handed me a couple plastic citrus bags and asked me to make a dish scrubby.

For clarification, the bags are plastic, not the citrus fruit, in case there was any confusion.

This was super easy to make and only took a minute or two. I simply wadged up one bag and stuffed it into the bottom of the second one, then twisted the outer bag and turned it inside out, twisted, repeat, until there was no more bag. Then I threaded a piece of string around the bag opening, pulled it tight, knotted it and vwahlah! Scrubby Buddy! Works just like the $2.50 one at the store. Only it cost $2.50 less, is keeping the plastic out of the landfill, and Scrubbybuddy Corp. will produce one fewer of their flagship plastic products (at what I now know is a 2500% markup).

Unfortunately, as I've  used this, the twists have begun to unravel. It doesn't look nears as good as it did in the picture, but still cleans the dishes as intended. Fortunately, looks aren't everything (just ask Steve Buscemi) And, I already have a solution for this problem. Instead of just threading the tie-off string through the bag at the opening I'll also make a single pass through each of the twists at that end of the scrubby to prevent them from untwisting.

If that doesn't work, I'll report it and my next solution in an update to this post. We're getting into citrus season so I'm sure I'll come across plenty of bags to experiment with while creating the perfect upcycled dish scrubby buddy.

UPDATE: 5.24.13 ~ The solution was a smashing success. The scrubby buddy held together for seven months before getting a tear (from cleaning a knife). To fix it, I stuffed it all back in through the tear and put it into a new citrus bag. Twist, invert, repeat and tie off as detailed. Works like a champeeen!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Plastic Bag Dryer

Plastic Bag Dryer

This is a second post about things I've made that make it easy for us to reduce our consumption of single use plastic.

The old way. :( Booo.
This one was a little more involved than the first, but still took me less than an hour. We reuse plastic grocery bags, produce bags, and Ziploc bags many times. Until they are torn, or have holes in them. Washing and drying them was kind of a pain in the butt. Not so much the washing - that's a breeze, but the drying. We would hang them from bulldog clips and they'd drip on the counter, put them in the dishwasher to dry but they took forever, or we'd put them over the faucet to drip in the sink, but then you'd have to remove it to use the sink, and they were always in the way. My wife had been asking me to make something for drying bags for some time.

In my head this bag dryer was very complicated. It folded up and twisted and would hide under the cupboards, maybe have a fan and a timer, some flashing lights and an alarm. Laser perhaps. I wasn't sure how I'd make it or what I'd make it from. Then my wife showed me a picture of what she wanted. It was muuuuuuch more simple than what I had envisioned.

We had an old end table that I had thrown into the fire wood pile. I removed one of the legs, sanded it, polished up the foot with steel wool, stained it with some leftover stain from the front stairs, drilled some holes in it, stuffed 1/8" wooden dowels in the holes and screwed a paint can lid to it for a base. Holds eight bags, fits on top of the fridge.

This makes it very simple for us to reuse plastic bags. We can reuse a Ziploc bag 10 or more times and produce bags up to 10 times. This dramastically (that's a word I believe was invented by one of the articulate frat bros in a business class I took) reduces the amount of plastic we put into the environment. Additionally, we haven't bought Ziploc bags in three years.
The New Way!  *<}:) Yay!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pack Your (Plastic) Bags, We're Going On a Guilt Trip

This post is about plastic and a few easy ways that I've found to help reduce my consumption.

If you're familiar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch you'll understand that this planet doesn't need more plastic in its oceans and landfills. The GPGP is the largest of five major oceanic garbage patches and by some accounts is estimated at twice the size of Texas. That's larger than the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, The U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut  New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawai'i, Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina, Maine, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, and Louisiana.


Here's more perspective. Every single living human being on the planet, all 7,045,045,481 of us, would fit  on the GPGP and we each would have about 2,100 sqft of plastic gunk to ourselves. And lest we forget... there are four other major oceanic garbage patches.

Decomposed Albatross & Stomach Contents
Before I dismount Hoof Hearted (that's the name of my high-horse), the Midway Atoll in the Pacific ocean is home to the largest albatross population in the world. A recent study showed every single dead albatross on the atoll had plastic in their stomachs. All of them. In most cases, they contained more plastic than food. Dr. Seuss was quite the prognosticator when in 1972 he wrote of "crummies in their tummies." Sure, he was writing about the Brown Bar-ba-loots  frisking about in their bar-ba-loot suits and not albatross (or is it albatri?) frisking about in their albatross... floss..., but the important distinction here is that albatross exist. Currently. Aight, I've gotten way off track, but one final thing. If you have Netflix, I highly recommend the documentary Bag It. It's not all preachy and doomy, and it might give you some insight into the yin of plastic's yang. I've included the link, so half your work is done.

Edward Everett Hale wrote "I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything  but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do."

Over the last 10 years I've tried to be a better steward for the earth. I've gotten so much better at being aware of what I purchase, what I throw away, what I reuse, etc.But it didn't happen overnight. I started out recycling a little and over the years have gradually found ways to improve how I use the resources, eliminate some of the things that I don't need, and purchase in a manner that uses fewer resources (eg. reuse our dish soap bottle by refilling it at a grocer that carries bulk soap, reuse produce bags, avoid packaging by buying from the bulk bins, etc). I'm a looooooooong way from being good at this. Ultimately I'd like to nearly eliminate single use plastic from my life, but because we live in a disposable society it will be very difficult to do so. And, I love Coke. I buy a bottle of it a couple times a month. I could stop buying it in plastic bottles but it's usually an impulse buy and they don't sell individual cans at the Quickimart, nor am I ready to eliminate that impulse. Perhaps someday.

Until then, here's the first of a few posts detailing some easy things I've made to help my wife and I justify my Coke addiction.

Indoor Herb Garden

My wife recently discovered a neat book called The Zero-Mile Diet. The essence of which is organically growing everything you need to eat year 'round. Beyond the fact that we greatly enjoy working in our garden and eating the fruits of our labor, one of the many things that we find so appealing about adhering to this type of life-style is trying to eliminate pre-packaged foods with single use plastic containers and wrappers from our lives.

We already grow some herbs in our garden, but we would like to have more herbs and have them year 'round, so we want to grow some herbs indoors. We are also motivated by the environmental impact most packaged herbs are burdened with. They typically come in single use plastic containers or bags which are often not recyclable.

Our House, In The Middle of Our Street
I've mentioned once or twice that we live in a very small house (which leaves us lots of room for a garden), so finding some space for an indoor herb garden was a challenge. It had to be near a window so it could get plenty of sunlight, but our house only has seven windows, and space beneath them is already occupied by things like The World's Greatest Cat Condo, other plants, the dinner table/pile of bills, the kitchen sink, the bed, a stairwell, etc. Then my brilliant, beautiful, creative wife "discovered" (as in Columbus "discovered" America, really she identified what was already there and then pointed it out to Europe me) a couple feet of unused space right in front of a window. Our kitchen cupboards extend all the way to the edge of the kitchen window but the sides of the cupboards were free to have something attached to them.

I bought a few screw clamps from Home Depot (with the gift certificate my brother and his wife gave me for my birthday), screwed them to an 11" piece of the cedar fence boards I got a steal on, with wood screws from our old screen door, and attached them to the side of the cupboards. Then insert a peanut butter jar, tightened the clamp, and voila! Indoor herb garden. Well, "voila!" once we planted the herbs. Anyway, took me all of 10 minutes and cost me a buck.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Couple More Easy Items

Wine Bottle Lawn Border (Wart Warning)

There are few benefits to knowing a violent drunk. Just saying. On a completely separate subject, my sister gave me a bunch of wine bottles to build this lawn border. In fairness, she didn't drink all of the wine. A few of them are mine, a few are from my in-laws, a few are hers, and she got about half of them from a restaurant that was about to throw them in a dumpster (good thing she woke up when she did). Wicked-cool landfill save! It isn't exactly straight. Actually it isn't straight at all, but like I said, "Warts and all."

I'm hoping the punts on the wine bottles will also work as butterfly puddlers. As of now, I have only seen wasps drinking from them. My guess is that I'll need to put some sand and maybe salt in the punts.

Three-bin Compost System

A few months ago my wife and I were in downtown Boise having dinner. As we were walking back to our car we passed an office building construction site. In front of it was a huge industrial dumpster taking up a couple parking spaces. Leaning up against the dumpster were four pallets, each in excellent shape. I didn't know what to do with them at the time, but I knew they'd be useful. So we threw them in my truck and now they compose our new three-bin composting system.  I dug up the ground, leveled it with a rake, then attached the pallets to the fence using some wood screws.

Bulldog Clip Cabinet Latch

This one's just lazy, with little cosmetic appeal. We have some cabinets located on our patio, right next to our bedroom window, which we store lawn and garden tools and accessories in. Unfortunately, when the wind blows the door goes "ba-dap-dap-dap-da-dap-dap-aditty-dap-ba-dap-ba-dap-dap-dap (repeat 250x)." It's gotta good beat, but you just can't dance to it. Plus, it's real, real, annoying at 3am. So I used a bulldog clip and two screws I had laying around to solve the problem. When you flip the black clip to the left it applies pressure on the leavers and holds it soundly in place (or soundlessly from my perspective). I wouldn't do this on a kitchen cabinet because 1) they aren't affected by the wind, and 2) it's an old cabinet that's outside and I clearly don't care what it looks like.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Getting a Grip

In our daily quest to become more environmentally conscious I have switched from using a gas powered mower to my wife's push mower. It is quiet, costs less to buy, operate, and maintain, it doesn't create carbon monoxide emissions, helps free us from our dependence on foreign oil, and I can always use a little more exercise.

Unfortunately, the handle grips had worn out and torn on the push mower. As I mowed it would without fail hit a stick or thick weed, jamming the blade, causing the mower blade to stop, causing the handle grip to slide off, inevitably driving the exposed handle into my groin. Needless to say, this upset me greatly and gave me the proper motivation to fix the problem.

I had the great idea of replacing the grips with pieces of an old garden hose. The problem is that the hose is slightly smaller than the handle. I boiled some water to soften the hose hoping it would stretch enough to fit. I sprayed the handle with a silicon lubricant to help get the hose on. This failed miserably. Picture trying to stuff a marshmallow through a keyhole. After about an hour of struggling with it I had it about half way on. And the hose had cooled by this time and wasn't going to come back off the same way it went on. So I set the project aside and hadn't mowed the lawn since.

Then my dad gave me his pipe threader. Either because they don't have pipe in Hawai'i or because it costs to much to ship. So I threaded the handles like a screw. At this point it had to work, 'cause there was no undoing this. I used a heat gun to keep the hose pliable and set about threading the hose onto the handle. It still didn't go easily. 

As you can see there are about 70 threads and each time I rotated the hose about 90 degrees. So it took about 560 turns to get both handles on. It gave me a blister and my hands are very sore. But I got them on and the world is a better place for it. Next time I think I will go to the Boise Bike Project and find some used bike handle bar grips. It just wasn't worth the time or labor to do this since it took me over an hour and now I don't have an excuse to not mow the lawn.