July 29, 2008


I am writing an application together with some Germans which involves making the same kinds of corrections again and again. They don't trust English verb tenses and use 'also' a lot. The Germans asked me, should we really write 'authentification' instead of 'authentication' and I thought, yep, but I checked some dictionaries just to be sure. Found out that 'authentification' isn't a word. One dictionary redirects to 'authentication'. Is it just me or has anyone else run across this? I have been saying and writing authentification for decades, only to find myself corrected. (You wouldn't say 'varicate', or 'verificate' but 'verify', leading to 'authentify'...)

July 27, 2008

Bike v. car distances

Distances travelled from 1 Jan to 27 July, 2008:

By car, 2767 miles, 4427 km
By bike, 3234 miles, 5175 km

I thought driving the family to Stockholm for vacation was going to rack up so many car miles I wouldn't be able to bike my way out of it. I had even planned to divide that distance among the four of us.

July 25, 2008

Cellar Door

I took a day off and we went to my wife's Aunt's house on the East Coast of Skåne. She's older, lives alone and needs help with some things. For example the door covering the cellar entrance was growing mushrooms and leaking. My wife used to walk up and down this door when she was little but now someone doing so would fall through. My wife and the kids hit the beach and I took measures for the new door. The old door was easy to remove due to rot but it was heavy with tar paper sandwiched between two layers of wood, on a wooden frame. I decided to make something lighter but still strong enough to walk on.

Here's the result, modeled by our boy, back from the beach.

July 21, 2008

Energy use to rival greenhouse gases

Energy allows organized systems to exist.

Stars and galaxies use 0.0001 to 0.01 Watts per kilogram of energy to maintain their form. Plants like grass and sugarcane require 0.05 W/kg to live. Hunter-gatherers use about 1 W/kg and primitive farmers, 10 W/kg. An organized society requires energy. On average, humans in the world today use 50W/kg, and in the US, 250 W/kg. The average 40 year old American white man weighs 183 lb, which corresponds to a power consumption of 20 kilowatts. Putting this in everyday terms, on an energy basis today's American society represents either one pre-1967 VW bug running at full power, or about 20 toasters, waffle irons and/or Makita cut-off saws, running full on all the time, for each one of us.

Here's the energy flow through the U. S. today.

Civilization needs energy, and energy use worldwide is compounding at 2% annually (1% per year in the developed world, 5% per year in the developing). There is a point where the climate will change simply because of the amount of energy we are using. Already now the streets of Tokyo are 4 F warmer than they would be otherwise due to energy use. By the end of the century the use of non-solar energy will compete with sunlight to the degree that it will noticeably warm the average surface temperature of the planet -- on top of whatever warming greenhouse gases may be giving. Compounding energy at 2% per year, the IPCC climate 'tipping point' of a 3.5 F increase will be reached by use of non-solar energy alone in about 280 years.


July 18, 2008

Moving first is the key to getting others to follow

Here are my favorite passages from Al Gore's speech A Generational Challenge to Repower America:

We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change.

When demand for oil and coal increases, their price goes up. When demand for solar cells increases, the price often comes down.

I for one do not believe our country can withstand 10 more years of the status quo. Our families cannot stand 10 more years of gas price increases. Our workers cannot stand 10 more years of job losses and outsourcing of factories. Our economy cannot stand 10 more years of sending $2 billion every 24 hours to foreign countries for oil. And our soldiers and their families cannot take another 10 years of repeated troop deployments to dangerous regions that just happen to have large oil supplies.

In order to foster international cooperation, it is also essential that the United States rejoin the global community and lead efforts to secure an international treaty at Copenhagen in December of next year that includes a cap on CO2 emissions and a global partnership that recognizes the necessity of addressing the threats of extreme poverty and disease as part of the world's agenda for solving the climate crisis.

In recent years, our politics has tended toward incremental proposals made up of small policies designed to avoid offending special interests, alternating with occasional baby steps in the right direction.

It is a great error to say that the United States must wait for others to join us in this matter. In fact, we must move first, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because moving first is in our own national interest.

July 12, 2008


When I was a kid our Scout troop would work at the city recycling center a few times a year and earn money for summer camp. Those were the days-- unloading cars, climbing up into the newspaper truck, building forts and having paper fights, running the can smasher and the glass smasher, walking over to the golden arches for lunch. Ever since I've liked recycling.

So, I like the way they handle garbage in Sweden. Recently we got a letter from the city explaining how they were going to start turning our food waste into biofuel. We got these special paper bags and were instructed to fill them with egg shells, coffee grounds, pasta, meat and bones, vegetables and so on, even paper towels.

Our normal garbage bins had 7 compartments and they split the 'garbage' compartment into two, creating a space for the food waste.

The four compartments on the left are cardboard, newspaper, clear glass and metal. These they empty every six weeks. On the right is food waste, regular garbage, colored glass and hard plastic. This gets emptied every other week.

You might think its not much space and you'd be right. We'd be in trouble if any of the kids were still wearing diapers.

The recycling bins are next to our wild roses, they are having a good year this year.

If you have more trash than can fit in the bins then you get to drive it yourself to one of the city's recycling centers. They have shipping containers for things that burn, things that don't burn, paper, metal, garden waste, chemical waste, batteries, electronics, stoves, paint cans and oil. It's therapeutic to launch the broken wheelbarrow that came with the house into a huge pile of scrap metal. They sell potting soil there made from people's garden waste, kind of like Soylent Green.

July 11, 2008


I know everyone is waiting to hear me talk about the bike I rebuilt. I love it! Couldn't be happier. OK, I will be happier when the Campagnolo chain rings I ordered arrive. The middle chain ring is so worn that the chain jumps free of the teeth when the slightest force is applied. But otherwise, ooh, the feeling of seamlessly converting will into speed.

Here's a picture from our summer vacation when we drove through the Swedish village of Ytterby. The name translates as 'outer town', it is on the coast northeast of Stockholm. Chemists will recognize the name in the element Ytterbium which was found in a rock from Ytterby.

July 08, 2008

American culture's global reach

I ate lunch yesterday with an Argentinian, an Italian and a Dane. We were making small talk and I talked about the pain that owners of large vehicles must be feeling. The Italian said you might need such a car to get around if you lived in West Virginia and I thought about it, and then the Argentinian said, Just look at the Dukes of Hazzard. And they got around just fine didn't they, in a smallish car with two-wheel drive. The Italian said, they had a car like that on Starsky and Hutch, and then we started talking 70s TV shows. The Waltons. Columbo. Addams Family. Happy Days, The Jeffersons even, they grew up watching them. The only hole I have found in foreigner's knowledge of American culture is The Three Stooges. For some reason those guys don't travel.

I told them how I wanted my son to know something about American culture so I bought him music by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Clash. It took them a minute.

July 06, 2008

How to use soap and water

Bike dirt used to really bother me, especially oily chain dirt. I thought it was the dirtiest substance known to man-- impossible to wash our of your hands or your jeans. But chains and bike grease don't bother me any more since I discovered this handy trick.

1) Go ahead and get your hands greasy, oily and dirty working on your bike, even under your nails, it's OK.
2) When it comes time to clean up, rub a healthy squeeze of dish soap into your hands, like it was skin lotion. Work it in. Don't use water!
3) Rinse off the soap with water. Presto, clean hands!

The reason this works is simple chemistry, 'like dissolves like'. Soap molecules are long hydrocarbon chains with a polar group on the end. They dissolve oil using their oily side and bring it into water using the polar end. If you put the water on your hands first, the dirty oil prefers your skin and stays where it is, but if you just use soap with no water the dirty oil dissolves in the soap directly. Think of dry dish soap as thick turpentine.

Web Counter
Web Site Counter

Powered by Blogger

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]