Thursday, December 28, 2006

A new fuel option for India

I have a fascination with alternative energy sources, and am a strong proponent of biodiesel in particular. And the only time I've been off this continent (and more than a few miles from my own country) was three weeks I spent in India. So naturally, this story interested me.

Jatropha is a plant that grows in warm climates, but has never been farmed or harvested on a large scale because it is inedible. It has been used primarily as a hedge or decorative plant. However, India has started growing it and turning it into biodiesel. Recent breakthroughs by The Energy and Resources Institute show that the plant could be mass-harvested by growing it with certain fungi, and that it can be grown even in "wasteland" conditions where edible crops cannot be grown (and which India has a good deal of).

Given the horrible pollution problems I saw over there, biodiesel is going to be an important resource for them.
These findings could be a real boon for many "developing nations" with warm climates.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I've got the power!

Well, we just got home from various things to find that we finally - after a week and a day - have power at home! Yay for electricity. It almost seems novel. We are so happy there aren't words to describe it.

Having power inspired me to dig up this:

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


So, to follow up on the storm situation, my in-laws have gone home to where they have power. We still do not have power, PSE says it is probably three days away. Our generator basically shook itself apart and I am going to have to take it in for repairs before it is useable again. My in-laws' generator has something wrong with it and stalls out after 15 minutes or so. As a result, we are truly without power now.

And to follow up on my post about the British serial killer, as Memophage pointed out, the authorities got a suspect, but he is denying everything at this point. In fact, the police now have two suspects in custody. If it's a serial killer team, that will be interesting. Those are very rare.

Poll results: Most Floridians functionally retarded

From CNN-

Jeb Bush is leaving the Florida Governorship.

"Here is how Floridians rated Jeb Bush as governor:
Great: 21 percent
Good: 36 percent
So so: 31 percent
Bad: 10 percent"

Proving, once again, that there is something in the water in Florida that causes one to stick one's head up one's ass.

Another quote on this topic:

"About half of the respondents expect incoming Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, to be as good a governor as his predecessor."

Way to set the bar low.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Stormy weather: The Saga Begins

Tuesday night, we heard warnings of a huge windstorm coming our way. Wednesday morning, the power went out for a few seconds. I was up, getting ready for work. I reset my alarm clock. I took 5 steps, and the power went out again for a few seconds. I decided not to reset the clock, and just unplugged it. Wednesday night, I was setting the clock again in preparation for going to bed. The power went out. I sat there in the dark, alarm clock in hand, for about a minute before the power came back on. Luckily, it did not go out again that night.

Thursday night came the mother of all windstorms. Jen and I left work, in separate cars, at 5pm. The way I usually go home was blocked by a felled tree already. I turned around and was behind a Subaru Outback with a sizable branch jammed in the axle. I flashed my lights until the driver pulled over, then crawled under her car and pulled the branch out. Then it was back toward work to try route #2.

Jen had already taken route #2, and told me via cellphone that she was stuck in traffic. When I was halfway home via route #2, she called again and said the highway was closed, and she was turning around. I adjusted my path to route #3. The highway was open where this path got to it, so I called Jen and let her know that was open. We got home around 8pm. A mere three hours for what is usually a 40 minute trip.

We had dinner, got the boy a bath and into bed, and waited. The wind picked up speed constantly. At one point, I decided to set the clock on the stove so I could see what time it was. The power went out as soon as I finished, but came back on after a minute. I promised I would not attempt to set any more clocks.

A little after 11pm, the power went out. Not knowing how long it would last, I decided not to start up the generator yet. (A generator came with our house when we bought it, complete with a little enclosure built for it and a GenTran system for powering the house's circuits with it. When we bought the house, I found this odd. After last winter, I no longer found it odd at all.) We went to bed.

I laid awake in bed, for I had no fan running (I overheat when I sleep if I don't have my fan on, no matter how cold it is). My in-laws, who are staying at our place, were still awake because they keep graveyard shift hours. Jen and the boy were sound asleep. Sometime past midnight, there was a god-awful cracking sound that seemed to be a tree falling, followed by some tree crashing noises. I leapt out of bed, grabbed my flashlight and some shorts, and went out to check. As I came into the living room, my in-laws were coming upstairs with a flashlight. They thought it sounded like it was out front, so they checked there. Nothing out there, and the cars were fine. We looked out back, and couldn't see any missing trees or anything. Finally, my mother-in-law spotted something on the ground that looked like a large tree limb. We figured it was a big limb that fell from one of the many huge cedars in our yard. Nothing to worry about.

Around 2am, I fired up the generator so I could get some sleep, as well as my father-in-law, who can't sleep without his CPAP machine. I was worried I would wake my neighbors, as the generator is damn loud, but I fired it up and we went to sleep.

Daylight comes, and I wake up thinking the generator sounds really loud. I step out the door to check on it and realize it's just that other neighbors are starting up their generators, too. I went in the backyard to check on that limb. It wasn't a limb. It was a big, big tree in the yard of my neighbor to the right, that fell and landed in my yard. Actually, exploded in my yard. A nine or ten foot section of it is standing straight up in my yard, buried so deep I can't knock it over.

Half the people in the neighborhood were out walking their dogs or just strolling, checking out the damage. I went out and talked to neighbors. My neighbor to the right came out. "Hope I didn't wake you by starting the generator at 2am," I says.

"Are you kidding?" he says. "We were all laying awake downstairs, and couldn't sleep because of the howling wind. When you started up the generator, it drowned out the wind and wasn't so scary, so we were finally able to get to sleep."

That made me feel better.

The last three days has been almost non-stop running around to buy supplies (food, hardware to repair a kitchen sink leak, etc.) and gas for the generator. The nearest place with power (and therefore working gas stations) is Monroe, and they keep selling out of gas. The neighborhood is a warzone of felled trees and power lines. We have land-line phone service, but cell service is spotty. For the first couple days, we could only get through on 1 in 5 calls because we'd get "all circuits are busy". Our DSL is out, so no internet. But all in all, we're relatively comfortable thanks to the generator; 3am refill-and-restarts not withstanding.

Power's back on at work, so I'm here, working and writing up this post. Hope to have some pictures of the disaster area for you soon.

Mattbear out.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Jack's back!

If you've known me for long, you probably know that I have a fascination with serial killers. The missus often says this fascination is "disturbing" or "unhealthy", but I don't find anything wrong with it. Besides, I saw Helter Skelter when I was like 7 years old, and one of my college instructors knew Edmund Kemper. It's not my fault that I like this subject!

Anyway, on serial killer news front, England has one who is preying on prostitutes in Ipswich. Naturally, since he's killing prostitutes and is in England, some are drawing comparisons to Jack the Ripper. While I think that is ridiculous, he is up to five victims, and that's actually a pretty high number for a serial killer, especially in just two weeks. The afore-mentioned Kemper killed 10 over a period of nine years. David Berkowitz (the "Son of Sam") killed six, over the course of a summer.

My guess is, after they catch the guy, James Spader will be in the movie.

Friday, December 08, 2006

An old favorite, coming back to TV

I am a nerd, a social outcast, very uncool. And always have been. One of the reasons I cite for this (other than my own basic character flaws and maladjustments) is that my parents were older than most of the parents of people my age. This might not seem like much, but it caused me to grow up with a different perspective and frame of reference than other kids.

What most people my age call "the comics" I call "the funnies", because that is what my parents called them. Many of my friends' dads went to Viet Nam. Mine went to Korea. Many of my friends' parents were ex-hippies, or grew up in that era. My parents grew up in the days of greasers and hot rod racers. To this day, I love big band and boogie-woogie because of my parents' influence - although now everybody calls it "Swing" and even it's rebirth into popularity faded years ago.

And when most people my age hear "Flash Gordon" they think of the movie with the Queen soundtrack (Flash! Ah-Aah!) and when they hear "Buck Rogers" they think of Gil Gerard on the TV (Beedeebeedeebeedeee, Hey Buck!). Certainly I watched those things, but when I hear those names, the first thing I think of is Buster Crabbe and the serials he starred in.

Why? Largely because of a show on PBS that my mother watched every weekend, called Matinee at the Bijou. Matinee at the Bijou showed old movies from the '30s, 40s, and 50s; but they showed them the way they were done back then. First they would show a newsreel from the era, then a cartoon (often Betty Boop), then an adventure serial such as Flash Gordon or Zorro, then the movie.

For a seven- or eight-year old boy, it was like heaven. Nothing was cooler than Zorro or Flash or Buck. Usually I would get bored with the full-length movie, but during the newsreels I would ask my mom questions about FDR or the war or what-have-you, laugh through the cartoon, and watch the adventure stories with excitement. When they showed the original Bela Lugosi "Dracula" around Halloween, I was hooked, and have loved vampires ever since.

I miss that show. But! PBS is bringing it back. In HD, apparently. I may have to get HD from DirecTV just for this.

The missus got me the old Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon collection on DVD last Christmas, and I've been neglecting to watch it. Shame on me. I just may have to bust it out and watch it this weekend to celebrate.

Monday, December 04, 2006

It's a little more than just "Inconvenient", there, Al

With the missus out of town on a business trip, I had lots of free time last night where "sleep" should have been. I don't take well to sleeping alone. To pass the time, I moved my computer into my bedroom and popped in the DVD for the much-hyped An Inconvenient Truth. I figured Al Gore is so freaking boring, it would put me to sleep.


Not only was Gore more passionate and interesting in this film than any political campaign (damn it, Al, if only you could have been this convincing in 2000...), it exacerbated my sleeplessness by giving the gory details about global warming in a way that could induce nightmares.

For about five years, I have said that Requiem for a Dream was the most depressing movie I'd ever seen. It is a fictitious (but believable) story of a handful of drug addicts who ruin their lives.

An Inconvenient Truth is about how all of us (but especially the U.S.) have fucked the environment up, and now we're all going to die a slow horrible painful extinction. And it's not fiction.

Yay. I think I'll go chase a bottle full of Vicodin down with a pint of Jack Daniels and save global warming the effort.

Global warming is something I have been aware of, but only in a vague "this is bad" sense. I have even tried to make token efforts here and there to reduce my contribution to pollution (see: my many rants and discussions about biodiesel). This movie, though, puts front-and-center in your conscience the fact that:

a) this is a really serious problem that is going to eliminate our species, possibly in our lifetime, if left unchecked.

b) WE are responsible for a good chunk of it.

And while Al tries to brighten it up in the last 10 minutes or so with a "there is still hope" message, the reality is:

c) The necessary steps to stop it are really in the hands of the world governments (half of whom are in the pockets of the oil and energy lobbies) and a populace who largely can't be bothered to do anything.

This does not come at a good time for me, as I've been on a bit of a consumerist spending spree lately, including buying a car that runs on gas and not diesel (my diesel truck died and had to be replaced, so no biodiesel for me right now). Knowing more about global warming than I ever wanted to know, I now wish I could sell it all and move to some remote area and live off the land wearing animal pelts and using a bow and arrow to hunt for food. Unfortunately, I'm a lazy city boy and creature of comfort, so that's out.

At least I don't still drive a '71 Buick with a broken carburetor getting 4 miles to the gallon. Jesus, I want to go back and kick that me in the ass, over and over again.