29 August 2008

reducing your personal carbon footprint

This summer I traveled to Europe where I was reminded how energy conscious the rest of the world is. All homes and hotels I visited sported fluorescent lights everywhere and all persons were sensitive to lights being on in rooms unoccupied or the use of appliances during the middle of the day. This got me thinking about my energy use and how if cutting back a little would mean anything in the bigger -save the planet- picture.

See this original post which I've moved to my other blog in February 2009 where I consider alternatives for reducing energy use just by residential lighting alone; http://leandisciplinedsystems.blogspot.com/

I've kept this graph below of mercury output because I find it surprising especially in lieu that many 'anti-CFL' folks blame their reluctance to switch based on mercury output. Surprising, no? If you're one that doesn't like CFL lighting, join the club - however, I've learned in the last two years that not only can you purchase varying colors of CFL light thus reducing harshness, eye fatique, and that "I look horrible" feeling actuallity, but you can also by lower wattages for a dimming effect.

So what about the mercury in CFLs, you say? Yes, that is an important and hot issue now. Read more information from Energy Star on their FAQ webpage and consider their graph of Mercury output in emissions due to both power generation and disposal for CFL verses incandescent light energy production:

10 July 2008

conversations in Romania

Romania is a beautiful country embracing the topography of the sea shore, flat growing fields, and forest covered mountains yet scarred by communism and mostly taken advantage of by compromising entrepreneurs. The few capitalists I spoke with talked of bribes as a typical way of doing business. There are many millionaires in Romania though the middle class is quite small. Turned over to the communists at the conclusion of World War II, the leading nations unaware that Romania might stand on its own, the pearl of this country once called the ‘little Paris’, Bucharest started to crumble. Visiting for the first time I see both old Europe and the rural touches I spied in Mexico and Southeast Asia; beautiful grand buildings fallen into disrepair with unkempt grasses and wayward fences along with quick fixes long left permanent. It’s expensive to live in the city with the prices of homes and apartments similar to that of present day New York City. Food prices are also high, the weak dollar not withstanding. There is progress of course, though with such high prices, who is paying?

There is charm yet of a country as a small town where there are still hitchhikers; women going home from work, an officer off duty, a student done with classes. I also experienced the mountain regions where the people were as warm and welcoming as any small town I’ve ever visited.

I had the opportunity to ask specific questions about the lives of those who experienced life before and after the revolution. I have written their responses as closely to their spoken word as possible.

[WE] What did you see when you returned?

[Ana Maria left seven years after the revolution and has lived in Germany, Turkey, and Switzerland with her Scottish husband] I don’t always see good changes. It is now a democracy but it seems they took only the bad things and they don’t really understand how it should work. It’s also very expensive now but you don’t get the appropriate value for things. Take these hotels for instance. They are very expensive and they say they are ‘4’ or ‘5’ stars yet they are not. They are expensive, not so nice, yet still people pay and they and Romanian! I don’t know how they afford it.

I have traveled all over the world and have seen nice places yet when I return to Romania it’s not as nice but they charge high prices still if not higher.

[WE[ How do your Romanian friends view the government and this change?

[Ana Maria] All they talk about is money: how much they have, how they spend it, and how they plan to get more. It is like they need to prove how much money they have and to brag and brag about all they can do and have done. So many are like this both men and women perhaps because before they did not have the opportunity nor could they risk showing off in communist days.

Most who have money don’t seem to work a lot yet they make a lot.. this is from the corruption. They say we are not communists anymore but the corruption is still here. In ten or twenty years more hopefully this will change.

We have a lot of intelligent people but the schools now mimic the west. It is bad.

[WE] How do you mean?

[Ana Maria] They don’t seem to pay attention and there are a lot of drugs available now. There doesn’t seem to be a focus on learning.

[WE] Would you ever move back to Romania?

[Ana Maria] You know, I am Romanian and I love my country.. but I could never live here again. I left initially to have a better life and I have lived in many places. Now I prefer to live elsewhere.

[WE] What do you like the most about Romania?

[Carmen was eighteen when the coup d’etat occurred] The people. I love the mentality of the people, their heart. I couldn’t think for a moment to live elsewhere. It would be like packing my heart, the heart of Romania into a suitcase.

[WE] What has changed from your youth because of the revolution?

[Carmen] Everything change. The people change a lot taking much from Western Europe. They are free. Couples can walk on the street and show affection by holding hands or maybe giving a little kiss. They didn’t do this before. They were more closed before.

[Dan came from a wealthy family who have survived much of their wealth after the revolution] I got my house back. The government seized our family house; the house my grandfather built. We were allowed to live in it though only a small part of it on the main level. They divided it up into apartments and others moved in. They all paid rent to the government.. Even us.

[Cecilia is my age though lives nine months out of the year in Minneapolis with her mathematics professor husband, Adriane who created the formulas used in the film A Beautiful Mind. I talk with she and her husband while we all share a bottle of wine on the beach within the lights of a beach bar blaring many American 80’s tunes where many others have also gathered many playing Frisbee in the sand] You can leave! (they both chide at once)

[Adriane] You couldn’t have a passport before. You couldn’t leave.

[Cecilia] There was no music before – not like this. You couldn’t gather and everything closed at ten. Everyone just went home and shuttered their windows. It was always cold inside I remember and the water was only cold. There was actually a schedule when you could get hot water; an hour in the morning and an hour at night. It was different for different houses. I remember my mother would get us up so early just so we could bath in hot water before school. (sighing and exasperation about school) There were so few buses to get us there and they were so crowded. The education system was really bad

[Adriane] The teachers would beat you if you answered a simple question wrong. If you made a mistake on a test for one question, like a serious mistake yet you aced the rest of test, you would fail the entire class. Math and Science was a way out in a way. You could get a special job with the government and just work by yourself alone and away from the madness. You still couldn’t get a passport. You couldn’t go anywhere. Of course you could visit our partner countries (shrugging as if he had little value in this) I asked once to go to a math conference in Germany. I was denied because they said if I went there I wouldn’t come back.

[WE] What was your life like before the revolution?

[Omar was born in Iraq though his parents moved to Romania when he was very young. He was my official guide in the Bran region] There were bullets flying everywhere and you were afraid to go out.

[Andreea is his girlfriend who joined him in touring me for two days in the famous castles of Romania. She is Romanian and was only six years old in 1989. They live in Bucharest currently] You never knew what was going on. You were always scared to go out. There was no news, only that which you got from your neighbors and there were terrorists. In one firefight I remember my mother going to save the TV from bullets. It was near the window. It was a color TV; very hard to get and very expensive. She was five months pregnant with my brother at the time. He was born four months after the revolution.

[WE] Who were these terrorists?

[Andreea] They were minors who decided to rise up against the government. They were big strong men and they had these heavy tools from the mine, but they weren’t very smart. They didn’t know who to fight, so they fought everyone. No one was safe to go out. They were good though because they should the people that the government was not as strong as we thought. In this way the minors encouraged the revolution.

[Omar] ..and there were people every twenty houses reporting everything you did.

[Andreea] Yes, in every neighborhood there would be a man standing with a notebook. You couldn’t do anything without your neighbors reporting you. If you were cooking some steak, your neighbors would report you to the police. It was hard to cover the smell of cooking meat.

[WE] Why was that so bad?

[Andreea] Well, meat was very expensive and the police would investigate how you got it or how you got the money to get it.. because likely you did something illegal to simply afford a steak. You should hear the stories my grandparents tell.

houses along the road, Transylvania

view of the trendy coast, Constanta, Black Sea

dogs on the tennis court, Constanta (10 minutes prior to one biting my friend while she was playing!)

07 June 2008

hiking in Thailand

I sit in this tranquil place outside of town in a meadow surrounded by the mountain jungle with a winding patch of rice paddies, individual guest huts lining the border with the jungle and night bugs starting to sing as the sun brilliants the sky in setting, me sipping a drink of fermented banana leaves which smells like rancid grain alcohol though has a pleasant lightly sweet taste the same as watered down southern sweet tea, only different [same-same as they would say in Cambodia, but different]. Ironic in such a place that there would be neighbors to the resort booming music with heavy bass. It reminds me of camping and how some people aren't wired to just sit, relax and listen to nature but instead to crank a boom box. There is also a noise like a sharp thud that keeps occurring in a regular manner. After getting bothered by mosquitoes sitting among the rice, I seek out the noise only to discover a little mechanism they've devised in the stream flowing near my hut that fills a bamboo tube only to spill upon being too heavy with water; the flipping of the bamboo back into the river onto a rock creating the thud. Immediately I conspire how to dismantle or soften the landing of the bamboo such that it'll be quiet. Perhaps a square of the neoprene I brought? Luckily I discover as well that they adjust for nighttime.

I have been traveling in Southeast Asia for a few weeks now and while I am enjoying my time immensely, I start to think how nice Venice might be this time of year! I can usually go for three weeks until craving familiar comforts. I longed for western home cooked food, my cushy bed, a hot shower, and walking around barefoot in my house. I had to be so careful here. You thought I was worried about mosquitoes before arriving in Northwest Thailand? Here, I'm staying in a place situated on a rice field bordering the jungle. I've learned that in addition to malaria being prevalent here, there is a new ailment called Japanese Encephalitis where upon being stung by the infected mosquito, your brain starts to swell until you die which takes all of about three hours. Oddly malaria also gives you headaches, so it’s possible one would just think they have a migraine or malaria. What am I thinking wondering around in a wet jungle under a canopy of banana tree leaves stepping over rivers and fallen trees?

The third day after hiking with guides for long days, I decide to strike out on my own near the resort. There is a large area defined as a national park with a defined path I’m told. A hostess catches me walking in this direction and hands me a bamboo walking stick. She also calls a few of the many dogs that I have seen about the campus. They will stay with me she says but I am not to trust them with regard to following as they do not necessarily know the way. The dogs are friendly and do stay with me on the trail often running ahead only to find them waiting for me around a corner. I am feeling safer already with their watchful presence.

I pay a small fee to officially enter the park and the dogs reluctantly follow after I call them. If only I knew Thai I might have a chance to command them better.

I reach a place in the trail where it begins to follow a river. The dogs decide to turn back to the resort. I call after them but without luck wishing I had some sort of treat to tempt them. I’m nervous going forward worried about why they would choose now to turn away wondering if they had a bad experience. I sum up the courage to continue. I mean really, how often will I travel to this part of Thailand? I figure I have a big stick if something comes after me but of course worrying about what could come after me [python, mountain lion, bear, the like] makes me worry more, so I push those thoughts away. I spoke with three couples who also did this four-hour hike and two of them said they got really lost. As I connected more with the couple who found their way easily, I felt confident to brave the forest.

I walk along with my tall bamboo stick planting it in front of me with every swinging step, my face bathed in speckled sunlight peaking through the trees feeling very Polly-Anna and Davy Crocket like, proud that I was taking this walk alone, feeling strong that I could handle this rugged nature, and happy just to be there. In this blissful state I walk smack into a huge spider web strung across the path. Its webbing so thick I can feel it hanging on my eye lashes. I take my backpack off and pull the strands as best I can hoping to disturb as less as possible the master of this web who must be somewhere..

Alas, I find no spider [riding on top of the bun I fashioned in my hair?] and continue walking on the trail only now instead of using the stick for its intended purpose, I hold it straight out in front of me wagging it up and down to tear any unsuspecting webs that might dare cross my path.


12 May 2008

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

There are 84 million people living in Vietnam, six million in Hanoi alone. In Hanoi are 3 million motorbikes and 1 million cars. Twenty seven people die every day in Hanoi solely due to motorbike accidents.

Women also tend to marry very young in this country; 16 – 18 years of age. Only 2 children are suggested per married couple and when one works for the government, if they have more than two children, they will lose their job. Men will also divorce or leave a woman if they don’t produce a son. This is a big problem in Vietnam my guide tells me. Parents want a son as the sons take care of aging parents.

Ha Long Bay

Far away from the business of the city I had planned an excursion to one of the natural wonders of the world snuggled on the northern coast of Vietnam: Ha Long Bay. This magical place harbors an intricate maze of tall limestone monoliths not unlike the few along the Oregon Coast.

My new traveling companions and I were each a little suspect about the content, quality, and organization of the tour we each planning the trip in different ways: through a travel agent on the street, a cheap hotel concierge, and in secret with a hotel employee who took the booking commission herself. So far our excursion was going well in spite of activities we each hadn’t known about but were enjoying including hiking, kayaking, swimming, and visiting an island. The second day we took a bus to the top of Cat Ba Island to get on our overnight boat but it wasn’t there. Not wanting to chance waiting another two hours on the dock for lack of organization as we had the day prior, two of the others pestered our young guide to call for the boat verses us simply waiting and waiting. He learns quickly that the boat has issues due to low water. It’s either a low or a high water issue here due to tides and high or low season which we were entering. The group doesn’t really believe him as we’d think nationals would know how to deal with the wet and dry season transitions inherently. The guide says we need a ferry such as we took the day before to get to the boat; this ‘ferry’ being a flat raft of sorts with bench seating and a 2-stroke motor. Much to our surprise and within ten minutes he has secured one – the same guy as yesterday. This guy literally banks on low water. We crawl down some rocks to clamber into his rig and we’re off.

Only the boats we think we’re to board keep moving away from us much quicker than we can approach. Our guide decides that those weren’t our boats. He keeps directing the ferry guy as if the boat will be around the next corner, or the next – the corner being the next monolith. We’re traveling quite far now and this isn’t the safest boat I’ve been on. Its planks are old weathered wood, the shifter barely peeks out from the deck and is put through the gears with the foot of our caption who sits a foot away me, the boat heavy and seeming near capacity with we six tourists, our guide, and the driver. We ride so close to the water I fear that if something should happen we haven’t much leeway ‘till we’re waterlogged. I start to get comfortable with the idea that some pieces of luggage will inadvertently fall in, including one of mine.

We speak to each other in glances wondering how our over-night boat will find us if we keep moving as the limestone peaks are very maze like. The sun is starting to set providing beautiful shadows and skies yet we go and go until we can see Ha Long City on the horizon and we start to feel angry that the guide might be taking us back to shore; its been 45 minutes now since leaving the island.

Only our over-night boat is close and sitting with a bunch a people on it who are very interested to see us, the entire population of the boat standing to one side to watch our arrival. Our guide turns to us with a smug look of confidence mixed with a grin of relief. He has found our boat. We think they must be full for the night and fear they’ll turn us away leaving us stuck on this tiny raft of a boat.

The boat also appears to be listing to one side and not floating. Sure enough it is stuck!

As we start to board this boat much taller than we, a perturbed European woman asks me directly, “Why you so late?!” If she only knew I think to myself speechless at her inquiry. Turns out these people were to have arrived on Cat Ba in the morning, but their boat got stuck and they’d been sitting all day! Our tour didn’t sound so bad after learning this. Most of the people spill onto our little ferry – where we six (with our guide and captain as eight) were at capacity of the small craft, at least 16 now boarded. Some of their ride will be in the dark and I don’t envy their likely fear.

After cleaning up in our private five star bunks and dining with white linens and French wine, our small group gathered on the top deck watching the moon rise enjoying orange slices and chocolate from my last emergency bar. I meet many people from all over the world on my travels and though our faith and governments often disagree, we always seem to like one another and treat each other with respect and joy of living -the “Why you so late”-woman not withstanding!. One quip about those hiking wax embalmed chocolate bars: they are awesome! The chocolate is very truffle like and the wax keeps them clean in your suitcase. An emergency it wasn’t but turned into celebration as our marooned boat started to float as the tide came in, the boat later motoring to a secluded lagoon for a sunrise surprise.

spied while in our 2-stroke ferry.. but what is the woman doing?

11 May 2008

WA State Technology Summit

While I worked in the Pacific Northwest in April, I attended the Washington State Technical Summit taking away a few good nuggets as well as meeting some incredibly dynamic people. Coming from Michigan, it was surprising to see how forward thinking the city governments *let alone their state government, are in the planning to install solar power charging stations for the wave of electric vehicles to hit in the next five years. The Governor speaking of Washington's success in general emphasized companies at the forefront of innovation in clean technologies and advanced materials. This state seems to embrace it's export-driven economy as well as funds R&D significantly.

Also interesting that I attend a tech summit in Washington State only to meet a guy who worked for DCX for several years and has created a lightweight car that runs on methane! Eric Leonhardt is a professor now teaching at Western Washington University where the dairy cows are plentiful and has created a few vehicles along with honeycomb impact module designs; designs that can absorb 100,000 lbs while they weigh only three. I’ve always had a soft spot for vehicle design even as a child, the long nose of our 1976 blue corvette my first love; it’s powerful engine not withstanding. It struck me listening to the presentation that while many electric vehicles have short front ends due partially to the engine volume being greatly reduced, they could actually remain longer holding large impact panels contributing to safety as well as allowing the aesthetic nose.

Download the presentation Eric spoke from via this link. From the Washington Technology Center website and Tech Summit Agenda web page, you can also watch a few of the presentations from the Clean and Renewable Energy panels.

In another panel, I was introduced to a company who has created a near net shape metal process. While I have read about near net shape plastic panel creation for low waste, highly engineered materials, this was the first I’d heard of metal application. ModuMetal has basically created a metal plywood where they ‘grow’ the metal directly on a platform creating a material that is both tough and hard. They are still in development able to create only 18 x 18” pieces and have submitted samples as impact panels to the aerospace industry. This company’s President and CEO is a helicopter pilot, acrobatic water-skier, and is starting her own Merlot vineyard! I love this town.

Off hours I took long walks near Udub, the Cut, Arboretum, and around Green Lake. I visited friends in Renton, Portland, and on Bainbridge Island, enjoyed a SIFF special screening of The Price of Sugar, and even participated as a troop leader for a Girl Scout retreat weekend.

27 April 2008

dark abandoned alleyways

Let me start by telling you a little more about my first few days in Bangkok. I had learned a few weeks ago that a friend needed my favor of being his ‘wedding date’ for a destination wedding of two Americans in Bangkok. I was already in country and my travel through the city coincided with the wedding dates –or so I thought. Through email I had already learned that I needed some sort of formal dress and that there would be an event the day I arrive.

Arriving in Bangkok late morning in an overnight train from Chiang Mai, I stow my luggage at the hotel and set out on the town to find a tailor for a formal dress hoping that the shop will be agreeable to creating it in one day.

Meeting up with my wedding-date later, we share a beer overlooking the river and city from the 16th floor. I learn now that this wedding is for an Indian couple and will be a five day affair as well as incredibly formal with four chefs from India flown in to cater the entire week with strict vegetarian fare. Over 500 guests were expected and I would need a sari or two in addition to the formal dress I had just kicked off.

My wedding-date I find is nervous about traveling around the city and taking public transportation as we seek out a new tailor for my saris and go for a first and second fitting for the formal dress. He finds it funny that I lead him confidently through the city when I’m the country girl of us two. The night of the Sangeet I wear the first beautiful sari with many amazed that a white chick like me could pull it off. "Who tied it for you?!" they all asked. I told them my tailor dressed me.

This is where it starts.
My sari was going to be ready near to the Sangeet start time and only five hours since first meeting the tailor, thus I got completely ready at the hotel putting up my hair, applying party ready makeup, donning high heels as well as putting on all the jewelry we had picked out that day – bangles, special earrings, necklace, the works such that all I had to do was put on the sari and head straight to the party. My wedding-date asked at the last minute if I minded going to the tailor alone and then meeting him at the party. With the tailor’s business card written in Thai, the hotel helps me get a taxi back to the Indian Market in the middle of Chinatown. After a short ride, I recognize that we arrive in China town but it is different from the day, the streets now deserted and storefronts are closed with heavy metal garage type doors. It’s also dark, night coming early near the equator. My driver stops the taxi and explains to me mostly in Thai that he doesn’t know where the shop is and that my ride is complete. He asks for payment.

I refuse to pay him, pointing to the business card and insisting he take me. He spews out the same words and frustrated gets out and opens my door. Reluctantly I get out. There are not many people in the street and there were no other taxis around. We continue going back and forth still getting nowhere. He keeps mentioning police and I start to assume that they must be prevalent on the street of my destination and he must avoid them.

Unaware, a heavy set Indian woman walks up to us and stands very close. I eye her up and down wondering what she wants though she remains silent as if not hearing our conversation but also not focused anywhere else either. Exasperated, I ask her if she knows the place I need to go. She takes a minute to read the card and starts to go back and forth with the driver herself, though I can tell this also goes nowhere. She finally turns to me and tells me he is ‘loco’. At least we agree on this.

There I am stuck with this taxi driver insisting I pay him, this Indian girl, and me dressed up with neither map, more than $3, a language guide, credit card, nor phone. I didn’t even have ID.

The Indian girl explains that she is the sister of the cousin of the wife of the guy who owns the tailor shop I am looking for and she can take me there.

Yeah, I think this is a little sketchy too, but what else am I supposed to do? The Sangeet was to start in thirty minutes. (For future reference, one should take the taxi back to the hotel, get a friend to join you and get a different driver.)

I follow this woman through alley ways, under buildings, and more dark streets taking passages that were once thriving markets during the day but now deserted dingy places one would see watching a scary movie. I'm really not sure how my body will be found when all this is said and done let alone how my friends and family will even begin to think to search for my dismembered limbs in this hidden forsaken place.

During our walk, the woman chats away though her language is mostly unintelligible to me. Then she announces that she's a Krishna, though at first I think she says Christian. Maybe she was. Here I am scared and thinking I’m about to get robbed and murdered and we have a nice little conversation about faith. Sure enough, she's a god-sent angel as she takes me directly to my tailor. Once there, four others help me get dressed; they are like my attendants. They even pick out a bindi for me to wear but the tailor says it’s no good. He leaves the shop briefly and the girls stick it on me anyway saying he didn’t know what he was talking about. I shrug when he re-enters as he notices it immediately. Under his breath and with a little head shake, he says to take it off when I can. I know he has good taste after this day of sari making and jewelry dressing so off it came once in the taxi far away from the waving hands of my attendants and the angel.

**funny sight we see when walking on the street earlier that day**