Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for January 25th, 2008

Good inverter news

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A key component in electricity from renewable sources gets a LOT better:

Inverters are used not only in solar panel installations, but also for wind turbines and other sustainable power generating systems that generate DC power. The inverter converts the power from DC to AC so that it can be used in standard household circuits. (Some homes, mostly completely off-the-grid cabins and the like, do not convert the power to AC, and are equipped entirely with lights, appliances and equipment that works directly off of DC current, but those are a tiny minority).

A new inverter developed by engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute achieved an efficiency rating of 98.5 percent. The more efficient the inverter, the less energy is lost in the conversion.

“Fraunhofer researchers succeeded in reducing the power dissipation of conventional inverters by 30 to 50 percent when compared with results obtained with traditional silicon-based transistors.”

So, while increasing the efficiency of the photovoltaic material itself is probably the more exciting direction for improving efficiency, inverters that lose less of the energy as it is usefully delivered are also a development that will help.

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 6:14 pm

Highly satisfying dinner

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I had more of the miso soup for lunch, but it wasn’t substantial enough in taste and substance for such a cold, rainy, dreary day. I got to thinking about what I had on hand, and here’s what I made:

I had saved the olive oil from a jar of anchovies, figuring it would have lots of umami. So I put that in the skillet, along with:

4 Crimini mushrooms, sliced and sautéed until they were limp.

1/2 chopped onion (fairly large yellow onion), sautéed until translucent

5 or 6 good-sized cloves of garlic, minced and set aside for 15 minutes, sautéed along with one small chopped red bell pepper with the above.

1 can of chunk light tuna, water packed, drained

I stirred that around, sautéing somewhat. I had food-processed a can of chipotles in adobo with some olive oil and lime juice and keep that in the fridge. I added about a Tbsp of that, a good shot of shoyu sauce, a Tbsp of mirin, a good shot of Worcestershire, a 14 oz. can of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with green chili, and the juice of a lemon. (Notice all the sources of umami in this concoction.)

I stirred that up good, then added what I had left of a package of TJ’s egg capellini, broken into little piece, and stirred that in and covered to simmer.

I checked after about 10 minutes, and the capellini was getting softer but seemed to need a bit more liquid. I put in about 1/4 cup of the miso soup broth and put the lid back on for 5 minutes. Opened, stirred, and it all looked good: thick, no excess liquid, and smelling nice. I turned off the burner but left the sauté pan in place, dumped the rest of the package of TJ’s Mexican style finely shredded cheese on top, replaced the lid, and let it sit for 5 minutes more.

VERY tasty and satisfying—excellent for a cold raining night. Only thing I didn’t think of: I should have stirred in some pitted Saracena olives.

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 6:06 pm

“Blown up for nothing”

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Good article, beginning:

A little more than halfway into their year-long tour of duty, with one dead and more than a dozen others wounded by improvised explosive devices, the young men of Bravo Troop found themselves thinking about a quiet little city where such mayhem would have been unfathomable. It was not their tranquil flyspeck towns of Burnsville, North Carolina; or Grants, New Mexico; or Sidney, Ohio; or Daphne, Alabama. Nor was it Killeen, the Central Texas home of their military base, Fort Hood. Rather, the city in question was Al Hillah, the provincial capital of Babil, in central Iraq, which they’d left only five weeks before. They’d begun their tour there because, according to intel, the Shiites were funneling weapons through Al Hillah up to Baghdad. Yet Bravo Troop never found evidence of a major supply line. They encountered no insurgents, no enemy fire. Hardly any hostilities at all, in fact. And so they’d devoted their six months in Al Hillah to humanitarian missions and attempting to train the many hopelessly incompetent local army and police squadrons. That and touring the ancient city of Babylon. Washing the Special Forces’ dogs. Fiddling with their PlayStations. Smoking cigarettes. Lifting weights. And, from time to time, thinking, Why are we here?

Back then, a few of them had even gone so far as to complain about the lack of action in Al Hillah. Handing out coloring books and soccer balls to Iraqi schoolchildren—who the hell enlisted for that? “I didn’t join the fricking Peace Corps,” one of them groused. To which Captain Mac—Brian McCarthy, the troop commander—would inevitably smile and reply, “Hearts and minds, boys, hearts and minds,” reminding them that not all battles were fought with bullets.

One night, while standing watch atop the city’s guard tower and staring out into an infinity of palm leaves dancing in the wind, a private told his sergeant, Mark Jalone, “We should go home. We’re useless here.”

Though Jalone had been thinking the same thing himself, this was his third tour in Iraq. He knew the whole country wasn’t one big Club Med. “Hey, be thankful for what we’ve got right now,” he told the private. “Be careful what you wish for.”

Now it was the summer of 2006. Al Hillah lay fifty or sixty miles behind them. Arab Jabour was their destination. Like Martin Sheen’s character in Apocalypse Now, Bravo Troop had wanted a mission, and for their sins they were given one: Establish a presence in the Jab, as the Sunni enclave came to be known. They’d tried, and they’d kept trying, and Ben Laymon was dead and Jalone and at least a dozen others were scarred by IED attacks, and Captain Mac wasn’t emphasizing hearts and minds anymore. Instead, he was exhorting his battered charges, “Take a look in the mirror. Ask yourself: ‘Am I ready to pull the trigger tomorrow and end someone’s life?’”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 4:20 pm

Doctors and medical marijuana

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I blogged this before, but wanted to re-emphasize it: if your state has passed a law making medical marijuana legal in the state, your doctor is now free to prescribe medical marijuana with no fear of retribution. From the news article quoted earlier, with emphasis added:

… Before the Supreme Court decision, patients have had difficulty finding doctors willing to sign such a statement, fearing that the federal government could yank their license to prescribe drugs, Dalotto said.

“Until now, one of the top obstacles facing seriously ill and sick Oregonians from benefiting from the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act has been the unwillingness of their doctor to sign the attending physician statement,” Dalotto said. “What this means … is that physicians no longer have anything to fear [so long as medical marijuana is legal in the state – LG].”

Of the state’s 11,392 medical doctors, only 1,093 of them have signed attending physician statements to allow patients to secure medical marijuana cards. Statewide, such cards have been issued to 5,085 patients.

… Oregon is one of nine states with laws legalizing marijuana for people with physician recommendations or prescriptions. [The number now is 12. – LG] The legal case that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear originated in California, where doctors must recommend cannabis use before a patient can obtain the drug.

It pitted free-speech rights of doctors against government power to keep physicians from encouraging illegal drug use. A ruling for the Bush administration would have made the state medical marijuana laws unusable.

Some California doctors and patients, in filings at the Supreme Court, compared doctor information on pot to physicians’ advice on red wine to reduce the risk of heart disease, vitamin C, acupuncture or chicken soup.

The administration argued that public health—not the First Amendment free-speech rights of doctors or patients—was at stake.

“The provision of medical advice—whether it be that the patient take aspirin or vitamin C, lose or gain weight, exercise or rest, smoke or refrain from smoking marijuana—is not pure speech. It is the conduct of the practice of medicine. As such, it is subject to reasonable regulation,” Solicitor General Theodore Olson said in court papers.

Despite state medical marijuana laws, the threat of federal legal action against those who supply marijuana to people with a doctor’s note remains. In 2001, the Supreme Court upheld a Justice Department effort to shut down an Oakland “cannabis club,” ruling that there is no “medical necessity” exception to the federal ban on marijuana possession.

So: current law protects prescribing doctors at the Federal level and at the state level in states that have made medical marijuana legal. However, the patients and the dispensaries are still at risk, since they actually have marijuana in their possession.

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Medical

Useful sites for product recall information

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Check these if you have a product that breaks or malfunctions: you may have a free fix or replacement coming (if you ask).

Recalls.gov — “Recent recalls” is a good click at the site. A clearinghouse for government recalls.

CPSC.gov — Consumer Product Safety Commission—allows you to sign up for email alerts.

TotalRecallInfo.com — Suggested by commenter and another useful site.

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 1:38 pm

Fight the EPA decision

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Just got this email from Barbara Boxer:

Last Friday at 5pm, 11 days late, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson finally turned over some documents about his terrible decision to reject an effort by California and 18 other states to raise vehicle emissions standards and fight global warming.

However, the materials the EPA sent to the Environment & Public Works Committee were heavily redacted with white tape, providing censored page after censored page rather than the facts we deserve — and literally obscuring the agency’s real decision-making process. What’s more, we’re still waiting on hundreds more documents to be handed over.

The American people deserve to know why EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson put politics over science and blocked the efforts of 19 states to fight global warming — with no ifs, ands, buts…or white-out.

Forward an email to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson right now, demanding that he produce full, complete, and uncensored documents explaining his decision today!

Yesterday, we called Administrator Johnson to appear at a hearing before the Environment and Public Works Committee and explain his decision. Unfortunately, his frustrating testimony generated even more questions than answers.

Administrator Johnson refused to acknowledge that global warming is a threat to human health — an embarrassing and dangerous response from the head of the EPA. He refused to acknowledge any politicization of his decision to deny California’s waiver — even though it was “coincidentally” announced at 6:30pm on the same day that President Bush signed the Energy Bill in an effort to minimize public backlash.

Administrator Johnson would not even acknowledge any conflict between his recent behavior and his prior assurances during his confirmation process that he would pursue as open and transparent a decision-making process as possible. If Administrator Johnson continues to censor these documents, my committee staff has to spend more endless hours removing tape and painstakingly transcribing information that belongs to the American people.

We now know why Administrator Johnson and the Bush Administration want to keep these documents from us: Simply put, the documents show that the overwhelming consensus of EPA legal and scientific staff is that California, and the 18 states following California’s lead, should be granted a waiver.

These documents undermine Administrator Johnson’s shameful denial. That’s why the American people deserve to see them — full, complete, and uncensored.

Forward an email to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson right now, demanding that he produce full, complete, and uncensored documents explaining his decision today.

BarbaraBoxer.com community members have already sent 40,000 emails to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, protesting his terrible decision. Now I’m urging you to help me send thousands more messages to the EPA, demanding a full, uncensored accounting of Administrator Johnson’s decision to put politics ahead of science.

The American people — who pay Administrator Johnson’s salary — have a right to know how he could make a decision that is so far removed from the facts, the law, the science, and the precedent.

The EPA is accountable to the American people — not the other way around. It’s time for EPA Administrator Johnson to come clean, stop the censorship, and tell the truth — once and for all.

Please forward an email to the EPA now.

Why should taxpayers, already in debt due to a never ending war, and an economic downturn, have to pay millions of dollars for a lawsuit — a lawsuit that has already been filed by the state of California to overturn the EPA’s decision, and that the EPA’s own legal staff says they will not win?

We have one planet, and that planet must be saved. The Bush Administration must change course and grant California’s waiver.

Many thanks for caring about global warming and for supporting my work on this critical issue.

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 12:44 pm

Businesses fight against consumers’ interest

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And they do it all the time. The most recent, from Accidental Hedonist:

Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) is a protein hormone produced in the pituitary glands of cattle that can also be synthetically produced and then administered to cows in order to stimulate increased milk production. The use of rBST is highly controversial for several reasons, running the gamut from “milk produced from rBST cows may increase health risks to the consumer” to “cows injected with rBST lead suffer from a variety of health problems that can be construed as animal abuse”.I don’t wish to get into the details of all the issues in this post, as they’re easily found elsewhere. The important thing to note here is that due to all of the ethical and health questions surrounding the use of this hormone, many people have decided that they do not wish to purchase milk that comes from companies that use rBST. So much so, that many dairies have found it was in their best interest to put “rBST-Free” (or other similar working) upon their milk cartons. This practice has been termed “Absence Labeling”

Enter Monsanto, the producer and seller of rBST, selling it under the trade name Posilac. In recent years, they have brought suit against various dairies who use the “rBST-Free” verbiage. Their argument is that absence label is detrimental to the reputation of their product, as it infers that milk produced by rBST injected cows is unhealthy to the consumer – sort of a “slander by inference”. When this tactic didn’t work, they decided to lobby governments directly, both Federal and State. Recently in my home state of Pennsylvania, the State Department of Agriculture nearly required that absence labeling was to be curtailed in regard to rBST, and it was only due to a tremendous public outcry that this decision was reversed. Similar battles are looming in Indiana, Ohio, and New Jersey.

(Side note: For a very kick-ass take down on how Monsanto heavily influenced the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, I suggest you read this post over at Unbossed).

It should shock no one to figure out where I stand on this. But let’s look at the bigger picture here, because this debate is more than rBST and how dairies label milk. As Michael Hansen, a senior scientist with Consumers Union in Yonkers, N.Y noted in the CNNMoney piece, we use absence labeling all. the. time. How many labels out there state “No artificial flavors”, “No artificial coloring”, “No fat” or “No sugar”? Absence labeling is so ubiquitous that it’s a standard practice, and if it’s anything BUT rBST, we probably don’t even notice it.

So why is Monsanto pursuing this? Because if they win, it’s a financial windfall. Using whatever state’s precedent, it would be easy to legislatively curtail “genetically modified crop free” or “milk from uncloned animal” labels from the marketplace. The competition that Monsanto sees from Organic producers of food would effectively be handicapped from distinguishing their products from the likes Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, or ConAgra.

Keep an eye out this year for these debates. If they take place in your state, contact your representative or senator and let them know how you feel. These tactics by Monsanto are a direct shot at anyone who wants to sell or buy organic or sustainable or even ethically produced foodstuffs.

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 12:18 pm

Sometimes it’s true even though it’s so good

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Scott Horton tells the story. Don’t miss this one.

Wasn’t it wonderful?

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 10:38 am

Useful info: how to pick up a live eel

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Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 10:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

A man’s castle is his home

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And now he’s ordered to destroy it—after removing the bales of straw that hid it.

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 10:07 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

Catalog Choice going strong

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I’ve been using CatalogChoice.org and like it a lot. I just today received this email:

Thank you for making Catalog Choice extremely popular! Within three months we’ve become a community of over 450,000 strong, opting out of more than five million unwanted catalogs – that’s about 60 million catalogs in a year.

You’ve done your job and we’re doing ours. Catalog Choice is working every day on your behalf to ensure that catalog mailers respect and honor your opt-out requests. But there is more work to do. Here’s where we stand:

We are delivering your mail preferences to every company in our system on a regular basis. We have invited all catalog mailers to participate in Catalog Choice’s free service for merchants. More than 100 merchants are participating in Catalog Choice’s Merchant program, including some of the largest mailers in the industry. The number of participating merchants is growing every day. You can view a list of merchant account holders here.

Today we introduced a color-coded system in “My Choices” to let you view the status of your opt-out requests. There are five status labels:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 9:44 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Environmental Pollution Agency

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If you saw any of the video clips of Johnson’s appearance before the Senate Committee, your jaw undoubtedly dropped. No answers, just stubborn ideology. The Center for American Progress comments:

Last month, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson said he would deny an EPA waiver to California that would have allowed the state — and 15 others — to implement tougher standards on greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Even as the White House lauded the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, signed into law the same day, as a means to “add to the President’s ongoing efforts to enhance conservation and efficiency,” it refused to support California’s efforts to “impose what would have been the country’s toughest greenhouse gas standards on cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles.” The state’s proposed rule would have required car companies to achieve a 30 percent reduction of emissions by 2016, as distinct from raising fuel efficiency standards in cars, the tactic employed in the federal energy bill. But Johnson has argued “that the newly revised federal standard for vehicle fuel efficiency…was a better approach to reducing auto emissions because it was more uniform.” In early January, the 16 states sued the agency over its decision. “Who does the Administrator think he and the EPA work for?” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asked. “The EPA Administrator needs to be reminded that he works for the American people.” She added, “The Bush EPA can run, but they can’t hide.” Yesterday, Boxer introduced legislation that would reverse the EPA’s decision and allow California and the other states to impose the emissions standard law.

JOHNSON WHITEWASHES REPORTS: When Boxer requested to see agency documents that indicated how the EPA made its decision, the agency instead cited executive privilege. EPA Associate Administrator Christopher Bliley wrote to Boxer, “The EPA is concerned about the chilling effect that would occur if agency employees believed their frank and honest opinions and analysis expressed as part of assessing California’s waiver request were to be disclosed in a broad setting.” Just three days later, the Los Angeles Times reported that Johnson had denied the waiver over the advice of EPA staffers. The report quoted an EPA staffer who said that “we all told” Johnson that “California met every criteria” for the waiver request. At a Senate hearing yesterday, Boxer slammed Johnson for his agency’s obstruction. “Colleagues, this is the tape,” Boxer said, holding up a bowl of white duct tape scraps the EPA had used to redact parts of documents it sent to Boxer’s office. “This administration, this is what they did to us. They put this white tape over the documents. …This isn’t national security. This isn’t classified information, colleagues. This is information the people deserve to have. And this is not the way we should run the greatest government in the world. It does not befit us.”

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Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 9:06 am

What happened to the Democrats?

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Have they lost their minds? They’ve certainly lost their way. (I’m speaking of the majority of elected Democrats, not of those who elected them.) Paul Krugman:

House Democrats and the White House have reached an agreement on an economic stimulus plan. Unfortunately, the plan — which essentially consists of nothing but tax cuts and gives most of those tax cuts to people in fairly good financial shape — looks like a lemon.

Specifically, the Democrats appear to have buckled in the face of the Bush administration’s ideological rigidity, dropping demands for provisions that would have helped those most in need. And those happen to be the same provisions that might actually have made the stimulus plan effective.

Those are harsh words, so let me explain what’s going on.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 8:59 am

Better PDF text extractor

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This one, via Lifehacker.com, is a Web-based solution: you upload your PDF, and it extracts the text (which requires clean-up to be usable). Still, could be useful: PDF Text Extraction.

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 8:47 am

Posted in Software

Wrapping up a project

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Dustin Wax has another useful post at Lifehack.org, this one on what’s involved in project wrap-up. In fact, the general method helps with any sort of completion—quitting a job to take a new position, thinking about a relationship that’s just ended, pondering a successful (or unsuccessful) dinner party, ending a semester, and so on.  A journal that collects such reflections might show you interesting patterns in your own behavior.

His suggestion:

Weave the finished project [or job or relationship or dinner party or semester] into the overarching fabric of your life — your mission, your vision, your raison d’être — and to capture the energy and momentum of one success and roll it into your next.

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Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 8:42 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

Exceptional shave for a murky day

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Mitchell’s

Once more a dark, cold, and raining day awaits without, so I turned to Mitchell’s Wool Fat Shaving Soap, which sounds as though it’s perfectly attuned to Scottish weather. Because I was not in a mood to take any chances—the Wool Fat selection shows that—I used my Rooney Style 2 Finest. The lather was unbelievably good. The Merkur Futur I picked because a couple of commenters have mentioned it—and it is indeed a fine razor—and it had a Treet Blue Special blade with one or two shaves on it. No problem: smooth, easy, polished shave. I’ve noticed recently that with the Futur more of the head of the razor rests against my skin as I shave, which seems to put the blade at exactly the correct angle.

I finished with Stetson aftershave, and I’m feeling very good indeed now, in spite of the weather.

Written by Leisureguy

25 January 2008 at 8:23 am

Posted in Shaving

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