What train transportation could be in America.

Don't I wish!  I think trains are the most beautiful and relaxing way to travel. More room and ability to move about than either airplanes or automobiles; tables for working; power outlets; and (if done right) lounge, restaurant, and playspace cars. Human-dimensioned views. Someone else drives. But to compete with planes and cars (especially self-driving cars) a few important potential roadblocks come to mind.

  • Good parking at the stations (now often inadequate)
  • Cost (currently not competitive in most places)
  • Security (if it becomes widespread and popular, would we get TSA-style screening?)

Still, wouldn't you love it?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 8:51 am | Edit
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Having grown up without air conditioning, I remember the days when it was important to turn off lights that you weren't using—not merely to save money, but because lights made the room warmer. One advantage to the trend toward fluorescent and LED bulbs is that they don't do that so much.

On the other hand, I don't want incandescent bulbs banned, because sometimes you want that heat. I can keep my composting worms from freezing on a cold winter's night by simply turning on a light under their coop. If it had an LED bulb, they'd freeze to death.

The new, highly-efficient incandescent bulb developed by MIT won't help me with that problem. Nonetheless, I'm glad to hear about it, since (1) it can be cheaper than the flurescent and LED bulbs, (2) it's safer, and (3) it gets the colors right.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 17, 2016 at 9:00 am | Edit
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An Earth Day thought from George MacDonald in 1875 (from his novel, Malcolm):

Myriads of such rains had, with age long inevitableness, crumbled away the strong fortress till its threatful mass had sunk to an abject heap. Thus all devouring Death—nay, nay! it is all sheltering, all restoring mother Nature, receiving again into her mighty matrix the stuff worn out in the fashioning toil of her wasteful, greedy, and slatternly children. In her genial bosom, the exhausted gathers life, the effete becomes generant, the disintegrate returns to resting and capable form. The rolling oscillating globe dips it for an aeon in growing sea, lifts it from the sinking waters of its thousand year bath to the furnace of the sun, remodels and remoulds, turns ashes into flowers, and divides mephitis into diamonds and breath. The races of men shift and hover like shadows over her surface, while, as a woman dries her garment before the household flame, she turns it, by portions, now to and now from the sun heart of fire. Oh joy that all the hideous lacerations and vile gatherings of refuse which the worshippers of mammon disfigure the earth withal, scoring the tale of their coming dismay on the visage of their mother, shall one day lie fathoms deep under the blessed ocean, to be cleansed and remade into holy because lovely forms! May the ghosts of the men who mar the earth, turning her sweet rivers into channels of filth, and her living air into irrespirable vapours and pestilences, haunt the desolations they have made, until they loathe the work of their hands, and turn from themselves with a divine repudiation!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 22, 2016 at 12:11 am | Edit
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altFood Foolish:   The Hidden Connection Between Food Waste, Hunger and Climate Change  by John M. Mandyck and Eric B. Schultz (Carrier Corporation, 2015)

Have you ever heard of a cold chain?  Me, neither.  Yet we have depended on cold chains all our lives.  If you don't drink your milk as it comes from the cow, then your life depends its being kept cold, whether it goes straight from the cow to your refrigerator, or travels thousands of miles in a refrigerated truck before being placed in the refrigerated dairy section of your grocery store.  That vaccine your child just received?  Useless, if it hasn't been kept sufficiently cool on its way from the manufacturer.  Unless they're kept cool, fruits and vegetables start rotting the moment they're picked, losing flavor and nutrition, eventually becoming unusable.

The cold chain explains why the Carrier Corporation published Food Foolish.  Keeping things cool is their business, and they've made it their business to develop sustainable technologies to do so.  Along the way, they discovered a shocking truth:  At least a third of all the food we produce in a year is never eaten.

The impact of food waste on hunger, climate change, natural resources and food security is enormous.  It's changing the way we think about our product and technology development.  It's strengthening our commitment to sustainable innovation.  It's also prompting us to convene research and food chain experts to find solutions.  We believe that food waste is an issue that must be elevated and examined globally.  That's why we published Food Foolish.  It's not an attempt to be the final word on the topic of food waste.  Rather, it's meant to connect the issues of hunger, resource conservation and climate mitigation.  We hope it will be a catalyst for more meaningful global dialogue which, many think, is essential to the sustainability of the planet.

That's why Carrier published the book.  What do the authors say about why they wrote it?

Hunger, food security, climate emissions and water shortages are anything but foolish topics. The way we systematically waste food in the face of these challenges, however, is one of humankind's unintended but most foolish practices. We wrote this book to call attention to the extraordinary social and environmental opportunities created by wasting less food. We are optimistic that real solutions to feeding the world and preserving its resources can be unlocked in the context of mitigating climate change.

Food Foolish is a small book (182 pages) but very powerful.  We're reasonably conservationist-minded around here, having been brought up that way.  I feel pretty good that we put very little trash out on solid-waste pickup day, and the reason there's not usually much in our recycling bins is that we consume far less soda and beer than average.  We take short showers and are in other ways mindful of our water use.  Except for animal products, almost all of our food waste goes to feed our composting worms.

Ah.  Our food waste.  That broccoli that got shoved to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten?  It fed the worms, so it's all good.  Or maybe not....

When we consider ways to protect our fragile water resources, we need to look first and foremost at the global food supply chain.  California provides one good example.  The state produces nearly half of all U.S. fruits, vegetables and nuts from the very areas hardest hit by drought.  Monterey County alone produces about half of the country's lettuce and broccoli.

Now imagine a consumer rummaging around in the back of his refrigerator's vegetable drawer only to find a forgotten head of broccoli, now yellow and unappetizing.  He drops it in the trash.  No big deal, right?

But wait:  Fresh broccoli is about 91 percent water, and that's just the start.  It actually takes a farmer about 5.4 gallons of water to grow that single head of broccoli.  Just as each food product has an embedded carbon footprint, it also has a quantity of embedded freshwater from its journey along the food supply chain.  In fact, a single person blessed with a healthy, nutritious diet will drink up to a gallon of water per day but "eat" up to 1,300 gallons of embedded freshwater in his food.

This little book stuck a sharp pin in my pride.  Sure, it's better that the worms ate our spoiled broccoli than if it had gone into the landfill.  But it was still a terrible waste.  There's a lot more cost to producing food than what we see at the cash register.  Water, fertilizer, pesticides, depletion of the soil, labor, storage, transportation—the human and environmental costs of that head of broccoli make it far too costly to become mere worm food.

Food waste also has a devastating impact on the environment.  The water used to grow just the food we discard is greater than the water used by any single nation in the world.

[I]f food waste were a country by itself, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and the United states.  Yet the connection between food waste and climate change is missing from policy discussions and public discourse.

Throughout history, human ingenuity has consistently foiled those who prophecy imminent doom in the form of mass starvation.  Thomas Malthus (in 1798) and Paul Ehrlich (in 1968) both assured us that population growth inevitably leads to massive famine.  Ehrlich specifically predicted that no matter what we tried to do about it, hundreds of millions of people were going to starve to death in the 1970's.

Fortunately, both Malthus and Ehrlich were wrong.  Since The Population Bomb was published in 1968, the world's population has doubled to over 7 billion people.  Despite this increase, humankind has managed to grow its food supply faster than its population.  Eighty percent of the victims of famine in the last century died before 1965.  Since the mid-20th century, famine has been more a function of civil disruption than of limited food supply.

The Green Revolution spiked Ehrlich's misanthropic guns, but the concern is back, and with reason.  Dependent as it is on oil-based fertilizer, irrigation, and monoculture crop farming, the Green Revolution in its original form is not sustainable.  A different kind of agricultural revolution is needed.

The political will exists to improve upon the gains of the Green Revolution, bu the landscape has changed.  While the focus remains on alleviating chronic hunger, there has emerged a fundamental understanding that simply expanding farmland and improving crop yields are insufficient to feed a growing planet.  Any new solution must be sustainable. ... Observers agree that if humankind wants to engineer a new "miracle" to help feed our growing planet, it must be fundamentally different in shape and substance from the Green Revolution of the 20th century.

Enter food waste awareness.  By the numbers, if we could eliminate food loss altogether, we could increase our food supply by 50 percent!  In the real world, complications must enter the equation; even so, reduction of food loss and waste is an area of tremendous potential for feeding the world while healing the environment.

Food Foolish covers a lot of ground, and if you like concrete information densely but attractively presented, you'll be happy.  (If you're fond of Oxford commas, you will be less pleased, but their lack is not as obvious when reading as it was to me when typing up the quotations below—and having to backspace again and again to remove the comma that my fingers automatically insert when typing lists.)  Yet the authors cannot cover everything, which I remind myself when I consider issues of corruption, abuse of power, and even bloated bureaucracy that keep food from reaching the hungry.  As the International Justice Mission has noted, we can provide people with food, skills, books, schools, medical supplies, tools, seeds, and even land, but without honest and functional political and legal systems, they won't be able to hang onto them.  Clearly the problems of hunger, resources, and the environment must be tackled on many fronts.

Fixing the global food supply chain requires investment. ... Sometimes the humanitarian return of "doing good" is enough; certainly governments spend simply for the good of their citizens.  Other times a true financial return is required to persuade people to act, especially in the private sector.  The moment those two returns intersect is a moment of critical mass, when doing good and doing well align, rapidly accelerating innovation and new investment.

There is precedent for this kind of global alignment.  In 1993 the U.S. Green Building Council was formed to promote sustainability in building design, construction and operation.  At the time, green investment seemed expensive and was misunderstood.  "Prior to the U.S. Green Building Council," remembers Rick Fedrizzi, CEO and founding chairman, "Environmental organizations and business lined up against one another.  What we did at USGBC was to create a place where business could actually engage one-on-one with environmental and government organizations.  By having a voice and a pace at the table, some of the best ideas imaginable have come forward."

...

The global green building movement began as a way to protect the planet and "do the right thing."  Today it has become a business imperative that drives real financial return, including significant improvements in tenant occupancy and retention with higher rents and overall building value.

One of the strengths of Food Foolish is its emphasis on positive actions more than blame, and its revelations of the global nature of both the problem and the solutions:  everyone has a part to play.  Half of all global food loss occurs in Asia, and there's much that can be gained from solving the problem there.  But ...

What does food loss look like per person?  On a per capita basis, Europe, North America, Oceania and Industrialized Asia waste between 300 and 340 kg of food per year.  South and Southeast Asia, despite high absolute waste, have among the smallest per capita at 160 kg.  In addition, in medium- and high-income regions, most waste occurs at the end of the supply chain when food is discarded by consumers and retailers.  This means that energy inputs such as harvesting, transportation and packaging are embodied in the food.  For example, if we must waste a tomato, it's relatively better to have it decompose in the field rather than pick, clean, pack, cook, ship and display it at retail, only to have it thrown out by a consumer.

There are two very different kinds of problems associated with food loss and waste. One is structural in nature: bad weather, poor roads, improper packaging and an inadequately refrigerated distribution system. Many of these issues can be addressed through careful planning, poliitcal will and sufficient investment. And then there are problems taht are economic and cultural in nature, powerful forces almost built into the system. Food too expensive to be purchased will rot in the warehouse. Food too unprofitable to harvest will be lost in the field. Meal servings that are twice what a person can eat will be partially discarded. A perfectly edible apple with harmless spots or a misshapen carrot might be tossed in a landfill if there are cheap and perfect alternatives. The elements of supply and demand, pricing, tradition and culture all play an important role in food loss and waste. Most of all, ... [it is] clear that there are challenges and opportunities enough for the entire global community.

Developing nations can have the greatest impact on food loss, hunger, land use, climate change, and ... freshwater by focusing on upstream improvements—harvest and distribution—in the food supply chain.  Developed countries need to emphasize reductions in downstream food waste.

And now for the random quote section you all look forward to.  I warn you that it's just a taste of the book and I've left a lot of important stuff out. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 19, 2015 at 10:00 pm | Edit
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They don't come any more enthusiastic about public transportation than us, so we were thrilled when SunRail brought a commuter train to Central Florida.  There were many disappointments, such as learning that the engines are diesel instead of electric, and most especially with the schedule:  the trains do not run on the weekend.  During the week, the best frequency is every 30 minutes during rush hour, and midday the trains are one, two, or even three hours apart.  What's more, the last train leaves downtown Orlando at 9:30 at night, making it completely useless for anyone planning an evening in town.  This is not the way to win a very skeptical population to mass transit.  But, we figured, it's a start.  If SunRail can prove itself useful for commuters, perhaps it can grow into a real train for the rest of us.

On Friday we decided to check it out.  I adore train travel.  My life is full of positive emotional associations with trains, from commuting to my first job on the Philadelphia Main Line run, to a luxurious ride from Rochester, New York to Springfield, Massachusetts early in our marriage, to my unplanned "rest and recovery" trip from Florida to Connecticut on September 13, 2001, to the easy and relaxing tourist travel in cities at home and abroad.  I planned to love the experience, sitting with Porter and a friend at one of the table seats, watching the world pass by out the window.  It was a glorious day, too:  sunny and dry, with temperatures in the low 70's.

Alas, it was not to be.  Porter described our experience in his subsequent e-mail to SunRail: (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 17, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Edit
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Our local Winter Park Honey folks posted this video.  I figure the grandkids, at least, would enjoy watching the bees.  The bee activity is a little slow at first, but be patient; it gets fascinating.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 13, 2014 at 8:04 pm | Edit
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From the Department of I-Could-Have-Told-You-That:  The air is cleaner than it used to be.

From a University of Rochester study in Greenland:

A first-ever study of air trapped in the deep snowpack of Greenland shows that atmospheric levels of carbon monoxide (CO) in the 1950s were actually slightly higher than what we have today. This is a surprise because current computer models predict much higher CO concentrations over Greenland today than in 1950. Now it appears the opposite is in fact true.

Mind you, it's nice to have it scientifically established that atmospheric levels of at least one worrisome pollutant are lower than they were in the 1950's, even though anyone who breathed back in the 60's and 70's could tell you that we've made huge strides in cleaning up the air.  I'm not saying that levels of carbon dioxide are not important, but it's nice to have some documentation beyond my own memory that our efforts to control toxic emissions have born significant fruit.  And that computer models can be wrong.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 4, 2013 at 7:06 am | Edit
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We interrupt the Life with Joseph series to bring you this very important post from the Occasional CEO:  Lowell on the Yangtze.

Whenever I read about the Industrial Revolution—or watch a movie like How Green Was My Valley, I can't help thinking that it could have been done better.  Couldn't we have had automation and factories without all that dislocation, degradation and filth?

Of course we could have.  Raping the landscape, tearing families apart, and keeping workers in virtual slavery are not essential to production—if businesses are willing to take a little less profit, and consumers to pay a little more for the product.  But that's not how it happened. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Edit
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I'm still working on Hawaii, Day 2, so today you get to see the souvenir we brought home—for the worms.

alt

It's billed as a compostable cup, and was of excellent quailty for drinking.  According the the manufacturer,

Please note that composting is required for biodegradation. These cups will biodegrade within 180 days in a commercial composting facility but can take up to a year or more to biodegrade in a home composting system.

We will see what the worms make of it.  I suspect it will take quite a while for them to have an impact on the cup:  they prefer their food in small pieces, preferably soft.  They will eat the mushier parts first, leaving harder pieces until bugs and microbes have degraded them somewhat—see the piece of corn cob to the right of the cup.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 9, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Edit
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When I was young there was no such thing as recycling, per se.  We still produced a whole lot less trash than the average family today, because we had a whole lot less stuff, and what we had was often reused (e.g. milk bottles).  Food scraps went, not into the trash or down the sink, but into a compost pile in the back yard, where hardworking worms and bugs and microbes recycled it their own way into fertile soil.

Times changed.  Almost without being aware of it we had become a disposable society, and our piles of trash grew.  And grew.  Newspapers could be recycled—indeed, one could make good money by collecting people’s old papers and taking them to the paper plant.  But metal, glass, and the ubiquitous varieties of plastic went straight to the landfill. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 1:12 am | Edit
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It’s quite possible that the environment we live in is in worse shape now than 50 years ago, especially in places like China and Africa.  But here, now, it looks, tastes, and smells a lot better.  And not just because fewer people are smoking.

I remember when the Cuyahoga River caught on fire, and when it was said you could develop film in the Genesee downstream from the Kodak factory.  My father worked for General Electric in Schenectady, and used to say that they returned the water to the Mohawk cleaner than it was when they took it out, which was no doubt true but should not be taken as an endorsement of the effluent. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 12, 2010 at 6:02 am | Edit
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altThinking in Pictures:  And Other Reports from My Life with Autism, by Temple Grandin (Vintage, 2006) (Expanded from the original 1995 version)

I’ve already written about Temple Grandin, the movie, which was the inspiration for getting this book from the library.  It’s well worth reading, and the only reason I’m sending back unread the two other books of hers I picked up at the same time is that I realized I must put the brakes on my reading for a while.  At the very least I need to substitute books I won’t be tempted to review.  Smile

Thinking in Pictures would have convinced me, if Grandin’s own commentary on the DVD had not, that the movie is an accurate, if not perfect, portrayal of her life.  It’s fascinating to read about autism from the inside out, as it were, and also interesting to note her opinion that for all the advances we have made in understanding autism and Asperger’s syndrome, as a child in the 1950’s she had a few advantages over today’s children.  School classrooms were well-ordered and quiet; the noise and chaos often seen classrooms now would have been impossible for her to handle.  Parents, teachers, and other adults worked hard to instill good manners and polite behavior into children; these are difficult but essential skills for autistic children to learn, but they are sadly neglected today.  Finally, there were no video games then, which encourage solitary activity; she was forced to interact directly with other children through board games, outdoor play, and other normal, 1950’s-era activities. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Edit
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altTemple Grandin (HBO, NR)

Why are you reading this post when you could be rushing to your nearest video store (is that phrase as passé as "dialing a phone number"?) and grabbing a copy of Temple Grandin?  It would be trite to say that this is one of the most amazing and inspiring movies I have ever seen, though it is.  It would be understatement to say that Temple Grandin is an incredibly amazing and inspiring person.

"Highly functioning autistic" doesn't begin to describe this brilliant visual thinker—and university professor—whose humane designs have revolutionized livestock handling.  My introduction to Temple Grandin was through her TED lecture, The World Needs All Kinds of Minds.  That's a good place to start, but don't miss the movie.  (As far as I can recall it is completely grandchild safe.) (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 1, 2010 at 7:31 am | Edit
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altFruitless Fall:  The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis, by Rowan Jacobsen (Bloomsbury, New York, 2008)

Fruitless Fall had been my "to read" list since mid-2009 and, thanks to generous family, on our bookshelves since Christmas.  I loved Jacobsen's Chocolate Unwrapped, so why it took so long to begin this book is beyond me.  Once begun, however, I couldn't stop, and finished it the same day.  There are a few compensations for being sick and not having the energy to tackle much of anything else.

Speaking of feeling sick ... Fruitless Fall is scarier than The Omnivore's Dilemma, Food, Inc., and Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal combined.  Or perhaps the effect is cumulative.

That's not to say the book isn't a delight to read, doing for honey and beekeeping what John McPhee's Oranges did for the citrus industry many long years ago.  (I wish someone would write an update, as McPhee's book ends when frozen concentrate was king.)  The overall theme is the recent precipitous and inexplicable decline of bees and beekeepers, with many side notes (some delightful, some frightening) along the way.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 6:38 am | Edit
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Micro Mobility Systems makes classy scooters, and look what I discovered when I ventured onto their website from a FRK article:

I like to take the bus to the airport, but the mile and a half walk to the bus stop is hard on luggage wheels.  They're not designed to take long distances on concrete.  But this is!  It's a scooter, zipping one to the bus stop and then folding to cabin-baggage size.

On second thought, it wouldn't really solve my problem, as cabin-baggage isn't that hard to haul to the bus; my real problem comes whenever I have to bring a bag big enough to check—the weight is much greater and the wheels no better.   With Lufthansa having an 18-pound carry-on weight limit, the scooter part probably adds an unreasonable amount of overhead, anyway.  But it's still a cool idea.

Micro Mobility's scooters in general look pretty classy.  They might make a nice addition to bicycles and trams in the Swiss commuting arsenal.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 28, 2010 at 6:59 am | Edit
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