Friday, March 26, 2010

Why did I ignore the warning signs?

Here I thought it was burnout, fatigue, malaise. That I was depressed, unmotivated, dispirited. That Ann Coulter's recent visit and people's failure to shut up about it were getting me down.

Turns out it's none of these things; I'm just falling sick. I'm at my desk with a space heater blaring away, wearing a scarf and toque, with my eyes burning and my head aching, trying hard to stay awake. It's not very cold here, it's just me.

Malaise or maladie, the result is still that I probably won't get as much done as I wanted to this weekend. Grr.

- RG>

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Someone went ahead...

It seems anonymous comments aren't just for blogs anymore.

Last night, amidst a gruelling week of boring and stressful meetings and e-mail battles, I was feeling quite tired and dispirited.

When I left the meeting, I was thrilled to see this note left on my bicycle handlebar clipboard:

It totally made my day!

Thanks, random person. You're cool too!

- RG>

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Save the world this Earth Hour

Last year, I spoke about the 8759 hours in the year that aren't Earth Hour--you know, that one time of year for people who consider a whole day too long to be an environmentalist?

Last night, however, I was lying in bed trying to get to sleep (you know, that time every single night when you turn off the lights for a whole bunch of hours?) when I got to worrying about Earth Hour.

You see, last year, I turned on all my lights and appliances during Earth Hour mainly to be a contrarian dick, and to distance myself from this superficial, contrived event for SUV-driving armchair environmentalists. But this year I might actually save the world by doing so, and you should too.

To complicate matters, I've been invited to an event that night, and that means that I'll either have to turn on all my appliances for the entire time I'm out of the house, or I'll have to inadvertently mark Earth Hour the same way as all the wannabes--by turning off my lights and appliances.

Either way, I'll be damned if I burn any candles. Do you know how wasteful those things are?

But the real reason I'm worried is that my traditional (well-illuminated) celebration of Earth Hour might actually be helping the environment.

You see, power generation isn't a linear thing. When the grid needs to pull more electricity than normal, you turn on more power plants. There are various plants that can be easily activated for peak use. After all, spikes in power consumption are literally an every day occurrence. Have a look at the near real-time Ontario Wholesale Electricity and Prices. It is these peak usage times that strain our electricity system, requiring electricity retailers to import power from other jurisdictions (often coal-fired plants from the US) at ridiculous prices.

The real problem for the electricity grid is when power consumption drops below the normal consumption. While there are plants that can be easily activated and deactivated for peak use, the majority of the power comes from base load power plants, which produce a generally consistent amount of power. Think nuclear plants, which can take days to turn on and off.

Weekends are not a peak usage time. So much so that when Hydro Ottawa introduces time-of-use billing, weekends (all 48 hours of every one) will be priced at the lowest pricing range.

Now, Earth Hour--which is held on a weekend--is only a recent phenomenon, but thankfully I chronicled it in 2009 and 2008. As its popularity grows, the risk of damage does too.

If enough people and greenwashed organizations actually cut their power usage at a time of low electricity demand, they run the risk of leaving the province with a significantly oversized supply of base-load power and no way to turn off the tap. In this type of circumstance, they have to burn it off and waste the electricity. In a doomsday scenario, it might actually cause damage to our power grid, but that's just wild speculation on my part.

Based on this, if I really wanted to be a dick, I would actually go along with the Horoterrestrial Deluminants to help demonstrate they're doing more harm than good.

But then, in the days of Glen Beck and Ann Coulter, if we're going to resort to wild speculation, we'd might as go all the way:

Maybe with the knowledge (er, 'knowledge') that this could do major damage to our power supply, turning off all my lights during Earth Hour at the behest of jingoistic governments and environmental groups might actually consist of conspiracy to commit terrorism!

If anything, it's my civic duty to leave my lights and electronics running during Earth Hour!

- RG>

Friday, March 12, 2010

Leftover Monster

I came home today to find the Leftover Monster in my living room. Here he is.

I wrote him a song:
Leftover monster, how are you doing?
I've been waiting to see you all day.
Leftover monster, what is brewin'?
I bet it's the same as yesterday.
- RG>

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

RealGrouchy's Workshop: Bicycle Handlebar Clipboard

When you spend a lot of time on your bike, there are some good reasons to have a clipboard on your handlebars. Holding a map, a shopping list, or directions to your destination. Taking notes when you're hit by inspiration. Or by cars.

I've thankfully never been in a serious bicycle collision, thanks to my attentiveness. I've had a few very close calls, all while I was obeying the letter of the law. You often have only a few seconds to write things down before you forget or lose sight of the license plate number, plus a description of the car's make, model, approximate age, colour, driver skin colour, age, gender, hair, etc. While I've always got a pen and paper on me, by the time I pull over and fish them out, I sometimes forget if the license plate was AXYZ 132 or AXZY 123.

The other day, I was on the phone with 3-1-1 reporting a street light that I had seen burned out earlier, but I could only remember that it was at number 283; I couldn't remember which street! With a clipboard, I'd have been able to jot it down without having to interrupt my ride for more than a few seconds.

I used to have this clipboard on my handlebars. The board was from the bottom part of a standard clipboard, and the low-profile clip was salvaged from some age-old binder that had otherwise fallen apart. I had cut two horizontal slots and threaded a metal hose clamp through them and around my handlebars, but as you can see, that wasn't sturdy enough.

I still have the rest of the original clipboard in my workshop's junk pile, but I didn't want to use it on account of the large clip. I also didn't want to replace its perfectly good (although large) clip with this smaller one, because that would be a waste.

I decided instead to figure out a new way to mount the old board to my handlebars.

This little wooden thing was in a box of miscellaneous bits someone was throwing out a couple years ago. It contained some odd things; tracks for a keyboard tray (which recently found a new home with a friend in need thereof), feet for a coat stand, and this...thing. Maybe it was for holding eggs?

Anyway, the holes in it are the same diameter as the middle area of my handlebars. The only part of my handlebars not yet occupied.

The plan was to cut off the outermost holes and make little clamps out of them. To do so, I had to drill holes large enough for the only bolts I had in my workshop that were long enough. This took a few passes with successively larger bits, as it was dense hardwood. To ensure proper alignment of the bolts, I drilled the holes before slicing apart the 'clamps'. I also had to mitre a couple centimetres off the end of one side so they'd have the same depth.

The back part of the wooden thing helped align the saw for the inside cuts, and the remaining four inside holes could still theoretically be used again, should I ever find another use for them.

Here are the bits for one 'clamp' after cutting, before sanding the edges. The rounded edge is actually a bit offset, which later helped in matching the pieces for each clamp pair.

Here's a dry test on the handlebars. It seemed there was a bit of a gap between the pieces from where the saw cut, but the diameter was definitely a match. I discovered that I hadn't cut the bolt holes exactly parallel, which meant the bottom piece needed a bit of finagling to attach.

Thinking that the wood would slip on the handlebar, I figured the universal rubber spacer--used inner tube--would be suitable. This just made the gap between the two halves even wider, and I didn't have thick enough washers to fill the gap with, so I abandoned the innertube spacer idea.

I discovered that I had cut the hole in the smaller side a bit too close to the opening. This caused the washer to rub against the handlebar and keep the clamp from clamping. Using the file pictured above at right, I shaved off an edge from the washer.

Turns out I'd only need per clamp set to get the spacing right, and the wood on its own ended up being plenty tight on its own without a rubber gasket. Having proved the concept, I then made the second clamp.

The next step was to cut holes in the clipboard to mount it onto the clamps. Notice that I put the thicker side on top, so that the clipboard would clear the stem bolt. Since the bolts placement was entirely freehand, I needed a way to transfer their pattern to the bottom of the board. I suppose I could have traced over it with a piece of paper and then flipped the paper over onto the board.

But what I ended up doing, and coincidentally what worked, was I used a flipchart marker to colour the heads of the bolts, then pressed the board against the heads of the bolts to transfer the locations. If you use this method, I suggest using something with more body, like white out, to transfer the pattern of the entire bolt head.

I started by drilling small holes where I guessed that the green markings told me to drill, then put some small screws through these holes. I put this up against the heads of the mounting bolts to confirm the alignment. This method would allow me to adjust if necessary when widening the holes to their full size.

And here we are with the clipboard mounted. I had to turn my light mount upside down, which in turn conflicted with the cables coming out of my brake/shifter levers, so I had to adjust those too.

Oh, and the gaping hole and big fat bolt heads are a bit of a problem too, but I'm sure I can overcome that, maybe by using a cardboard backboard with holes for the bolt heads, resulting in a relatively flat surface. In the meantime, I've got some cardboard facial tissue box covers as note pages, which are thick enough to provide their own flatness. An elastic band keeps them from flapping in the wind.

I guess the lesson here is, anybody can make a clipboard for your handlebars, so long as you have some miscellaneous clipboard bits, some serendipitous scraps of wood with holes the right diameter, and some bolts.

- RG>

[Continuity postscript: I posted about the clipboard when I initially created it back in 2004, before it broke]

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

OCome on, Transpo

The Citizen's Hugh Adami has yet another column about a ridiculous case of zero-tolerance OC Transpo fare rules. The page doesn't have a comment section, so I'm posting my comments here.

In this case, Sean Nagasar, an Algonquin College student with dyslexia and another condition that makes it very difficult to write, didn't have the numbers filled in on his transit pass, which he bought on Saturday. He did not have an opportunity to get a friend to fill it out for him before Monday morning (March 1st), when he first used it.

You have to fill in the numbers on your pass with the numbers on your photo ID card because the passes are non-transferable. The article says it's been required to fill in the numbers since 2007, but I stopped riding the bus a couple years before that and I ran into a similar situation with the fare inspectors.

Actually, in my years-old case, it was the second of the month and I didn't have my new pass yet (not like any of the four drivers who saw my pass on the first of the month were bothered to mention it). Seeing the two previous months' passes stuffed in my holder, the fare inspector let me off with a warning. I think he even got the driver to give me a daypass so I could get to school and then to a place to buy a pass.

And you know why he let me off? Because these rules are designed to stop people from cheating the system, not to require them to pass stupid little trials. The fare inspector in my case had the common sense to realize that, in the middle of the school year, since I had the previous two months' passes, chances are I would be buying the current month's pass. Maybe in 2007 OC Transpo management revoked fare inspectors' ability to use common sense.

If Nagasar fights his ticket in court, the fare inspector could easily testify that the student had not filled in the numbers on his pass. But he'd have a hell of a hard time arguing that he suspected Nagasar was trying to cheat the system--the problem this technical rule aims to solve. For fuck's sake, he doesn't even have the dexterity to write, much less swap out bus passes with his buddies.

Alex Cullen, Chair of the City's Transit Committee, tells the Citizen, "...supporting our fare inspectors doing their job will make me look as insensitive as you have portrayed them, and taking the side of the student undermines their work on behalf of taxpayers. It’s a lose-lose situation."

Well, Cullen's lost it indeed. Fare inspectors' "work on behalf of taxpayers" is to catch people who abuse the fare system, not to waste their salaries ticketing disabled students (and testifying against them in court) for not being able to write.

- RG>

Monday, March 01, 2010

Earthquake in a bottle

I was reading this Globe & Mail "Project Jacmel" blog entry about a Naturopathic 'doctor' using homeopathic mixtures on Haitian quake victims. The comments are consistently (and reassuringly) critical of the article and its subject.

The best comment, however, is the one at the end of page 3 of the comments, by user Bede:
Does he put some earthquake in a bottle and mix 10 million to 1?
If you don't get the joke, read up on Homeopathy. He accurately describes how homeopathic remedies are prepared: take a substance that causes the condition, dilute it to infinitesimally small amounts, then apply it to the patient.

Not the best place to look is my December 2008 blog entry, Don't ask the homeopath if you need a haircut.

- RG>