28 June 2009

Car Window Coverings: Reduce Heat and AC

Starting in 2012, California is set to require auto manufacturers to use special glass that will reduce the solar energy coming through the windows by 45 percent; in 2016, the windows will have to block 60 percent of the heat-producing energy. You can read more here at Treehugger.

Turns out you can go out today and have film applied to your car windows that will do the same job. Solargard claims their film will reduce heat by 66 percent; 3M claims a 99 percent reduction in UV rays but doesn't specify how much that will reduce heat in the car. 3M also makes a clear, rather than tinted, window film that will do the job without reducing visibility.

I have no idea how much this costs, and since it's Sunday morning, it doesn't look like I'm going to find out today. But when I do, I'll be back with an update.

26 June 2009

Rainbow over Upper Manhattan

Taken with my Sony Ericsson W760 phone camera.

22 June 2009

Useless Household Objects

In The Guardian today, Tom Meltzer fantasizes about some new household tools. The item from his list that I really want to bring home: "The silent blender: For people who love smoothies but hate excruciatingly loud noise." Other items on his list: a folding wok, a remote control that responds to "Accio Remotus," an ironing board that won't collapse.

On the other hand are all of those truly useless items we have lying around the house. I don't think I'm talking about the inkwell on my desk -- my Aunt Helen's doubles tennis trophy from 1921 (badly tarnished) -- that holds one of my quill pens made by a friend from a goose feather. These are useless, it's true, but each has sentimental and aesthetic value.

There are the weights next to the bed. At various points recently I've been ready to get rid of them, but I've used them twice in the past month. Maybe they're worth it, after all.

Kitchen appliances? Rice cooker -- used today. Blender, waffle maker, food mill -- within the week. Mortar and pestle, mixer, grain mill -- all within the past few weeks. Actually, yes, I do cook.

Clothing. Hmmm. There are, in fact, a few items in the back of the closet that I haven't worn in a long time, but haven't been willing to get rid of. I might, after all, get invited to a cocktail party one of these years, and want something decent to wear.

So, how about you? What's the most useless item in your home? Why do you still have it around?

(The green point of this post: keeping excess stuff makes us buy bigger homes, which take more energy to build, heat, cool, light, maintain, and so on.)

Piloting the Honda Fit Along the FDR Drive

For the past ten months, I've regularly been driving nearly the entire length of the Harlem River/FDR Drive -- 12 of 13.5 miles, from 178th Street to Houston Street and back -- to get The Offspring to school. At this point, I feel as though I know the road like the old river pilots knew the Mississippi.

Instead of shifting sand bars and treacherous currents, there are blind curves and lane closures for never-ending construction projects.

I know where the nasty pot-holes are, and I know the axle-eating catacombs in the road. I know the sections that are likely to flood when there's heavy rain, and I know the lanes to avoid because the road has settled into waves.

I know where the lanes get narrower and I really have to pay attention; I know where I can grab a sip of coffee. I know when it's not worth bothering to shift into a higher gear, despite the cars accelerating in front of me, because right around the next curve there will be a knot of traffic.

I know where I can pull off when my little passenger needs an emergency bathroom break.

And after countless drives past that sign that says "Triboro Bridge is now RFK Bridge," I'm likely actually to remember the name change, rather than continuing to call it the Triboro for the rest of my life.

Okay, I can count. It's been 40 weeks of school, ten drives per week, divided among two pairs of parents in the car-pool... that's an average of 100 drives per parent.

By September, barring unforeseen complications, we'll have moved down to the Lower East Side, within walking distance of school. Some day, I'll make that drive again, and the construction around the RFK bridge will finally have been completed ... and I'll get thoroughly disoriented.

21 June 2009

Bucket List, Continued

More places I want to see:
  • Dead Sea
  • Jerusalem
  • Pyramids -- both Egyptian and Mayan
  • Berlin without the wall
  • The Amazon and the Nile
  • Tibet

There's a common thread here, or a couple of them. I want to do a lot more traveling (I've already been in dozens of countries on three continents, traveling on foot and by bike as well as on buses and trains), and I want to see human monuments as well as natural stuff.

19 June 2009

"Bucket List"

Apparently, I've been living under a rock. I missed the movie of the above title, and the concept of making a list of stuff you want to do before you die. When somebody used the phrase yesterday, I had to ask for clarification...

At any rate, here are some of the things I want to do before I go:

  • visit Greenland, Iceland, Sicily, the Hudson Bay, Victoria Falls
  • travel the Silk route overland, preferably on foot and/or by camel or on horseback. (Yes, that's dangerous, which means I can't even consider it until The Offspring is through college; yes, I'll have to learn to ride a horse. And a camel.)
  • see Cape Horn and the Panama Canal
  • climb Mt. Olympus
  • swim in the Black Sea
  • hike the Appalachian Trail
  • run another marathon
  • ride my bike across America (yes, America, not the US)
  • play Mozart's piano sonata K 331 and Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata
  • learn to fiddle
  • read The Odyssey in Greek

How's that for starters?

17 June 2009

Under the George Washington Bridge

I love the stone work. I do wonder when someone last opened that door.

15 June 2009

On Building Nicer Staircases

As reported in the Times, Ishak Mansi, a doctor at the Louisiana State University School of Medicine has written an article with some colleages proposing that stairs be made more pleasant -- and not hidden away in the corners of buildings -- to encourage people to use them more often and get a little more exercise.

I'm having one of those "why didn't I think of that?" moments. I'm impatient with elevators and escalators (to say the least), and I don't know how many times I've been forced to take one or the other because I can't find the staircase in a building.

Older buildings have wide, open, well-lit, central, and often dramatic staircases opening right off the main lobby. Think Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library, British Museum. The British Library, in a new building, has a nice broad staircase to the second floor (the first floor, if anyone is reading this from the UK).

Then there's 666 Fifth Avenue, where I worked for a few years in the late 80s. I once shared an elevator for a few seconds with Jackie Kennedy Onassis, because the company I worked for occupied three (contiguous) floors, and you could only get from one to another by taking the elevator. Made me nuts.

The NYU Library has stairs, dramatic ones, that ascend next to the interior atrium. But if you're on the ground floor, you have to know the sneaky route through the reference area and around a study area on the second floor in order to reach the upper floors.

Is it a cultural difference? Are European buildings more likely than American ones to have open, pleasant staircases that are easy to find?

11 June 2009

More on Fish

Pret a Manger, the British sandwich chain partly owned by McDonalds, has eliminated their tuna sushi because of concerns about overfishing of bluefin tuna. Early reports were that they were eliminating all tuna products; Bloomberg has what appears to be the accurate report here.

Think about it ... do you really need that can of tuna fish for your lunch? Some alternatives: cheese, egg salad, PB&J -- or use walnut butter on your sandwich if it's the omega-3 fatty acids you're looking for in the fish.

Think about taking one step in that direction. Once a week, skip the tuna in favor of something with less impact.

10 June 2009

Airlines and Differential Environmental Impact

Airlines differ widely in the amount of emissions per person per flight, as reported on Treehugger, depending on the age of the plane, the amount of space used for first class or business class seats, and how full the airline keeps the flights. Economy class seats, unsurprisingly, are much lower in their environmental impact than first class ones.

And now, Travel Analytics will allow you to calculate the airline with the lowest carbon footprint for the route you want to fly. If taking the bus isn't an option, check out airlines here before you book your ticket.

Where Did Your Meal Come From?

The New York Times has a forum on line today about whether people who eat seafood should know where it came from (and how its fishing and transport affected the environment). Oddly, though the Times usually has people on various sides of these debates, all of the participants in this forum agree that those who eat fish should make the effort to inform themselves about the source of the meal.

The US passed a law in 2002 that required sellers of meat and vegetables to label such foods with the country of origin. The agricultural industry got implementation delayed for years, but it finally went into effect in March. That means if you can read the tiny, tiny type on the little labels all over your food, you can find out if it was shipped from Chile or New Zealand, or produced right here in the USA.

Country of origin labeling laws have been around in Europe for quite a while, and since countries there are fairly small, if you buy something from the same or even a neighboring nation, you can pretty conscientiously call it local.

For the US, though, we really need a state of origin law to tell us if those strawberries were produced in your own or a neighboring state, or were shipped or trucked or flown a few thousand miles to get to your local supermarket. Still, if you cook almost all of your meals at home, it's useful to know if your hamburger came from the US or from Argentina, or your kiwis from California or New Zealand.

The Times debate, on the other hand, focuses mostly on meals eaten out, where it's harder to know what you're eating and where it came from. The debaters recommend small fish lower on the food chain as lower in impact, both on the fish and on the environment more broadly.

Taras Grescoe writes that small fish are "still relatively abundant in the oceans." The use of "still" and "relatively," though, bother me, with their implications of decline, both past and future. I'd really like to see people think of animal products as a condiment, to be used in small quantities to flavor a meal composed primarily of nuts and beans, fruits and vegetables, and grains, rather than as a primary food group.

08 June 2009

Saving Money and Going Green in the Big City

E Magazine has an article about what they call the top five ways to save money by going green. Their list:
  1. Kill your lawn
  2. Make your appliances work for you
  3. Get back to basics
  4. Be energy-efficient
  5. Go on a low-impact diet
Read more details here. By "low-impact diet" they don't mean just food, but also buying used instead of new things and doing other things to cut back on your environmental impact.

But this article, like so many, seems oriented primarily to a suburban lifestyle with, well, a lawn. And outdoor space where you can hang a clothesline to limit use of the dryer. While apartment-dwellers also have appliances, they often come with the apartment, and we tend to have fewer of them than people living in houses. We also rely a lot more on public transit.

But we still buy stuff; we probably just throw more of it away because we run out of space faster. We order take-out in vasts quantities. So here are some proposals, in no particular order, to save money and lighten the environmental impact for city dwellers:
  1. If you can imagine throwing it away any time soon, don't buy it.
  2. Walk or bike instead of taking public transit; take public transit instead of driving or taking a cab.
  3. Pack lunch and water in re-usable containers; cook from scratch instead of ordering in; store the leftovers in re-usable containers and take them for lunch.
  4. Use a fan instead of air conditioning; keep your air conditioner filter clean; when it's time, get a more energy-efficient air conditioner.
  5. Go to Times Square and sit down on Broadway. Grin from ear to ear. Then send email to your elected officials and tell them to keep it traffic-free forever.

Any other ideas? Let me know!