Monday, April 28, 2008
The Green Movement and the power of information and shame
Just an idea I've been kicking around and I wanted to set it down in writing. It comes from our family's recent obsession with the gas mileage in our car, which reports the mileage in real time. It has completely changed our driving behavior. Taking off from a light too fast now makes me wince when I see the graph for that minute down in the 10s, and cruising on battery from Pulaski all the way to the garage makes me feel virtuous as the graph tops out at 60 (only because there's no infinity on the y-axis). Even more motivating is the desire to raise the average mileage during my turn to drive the car. I drove it downtown this weekend to take my mom to a show. Highway driving is not good for the mileage, and the average was several tenths lower by the time my husband next drove it. I was embarrassed and privately vowed to do better next time.
So, information about our own habits, our electricity usage and trash output and wasted water and sloppy recycling habits, delivered in real time in an unavoidable way, could potentially do more to change wasteful and destructive behavior than all the Al Gore movies and public service announcements and scientific papers combined. Imagine having your daily or hourly utility usage on a (low-wattage) screen where you'll see it frequently. The urge to keep those numbers down, to make Tuesday night less wasteful than Monday night, will come naturally. Seeing how many kilowatt-hours you used while everyone was at work or asleep would be pretty shocking. Even more motivating, imagine having your usage numbers available to your neighbors. Do you want to be the house that sucks up the most electricity or dumps the most water on your lawn? I didn't think so!
The beauty of real-time reporting of gas and water and electricity is that the data already exist (well, not always; our water isn't metered) if only the utilities would make it available. To alter other behaviors, we'll have to rely on glares from our nosy neighbors, and intra-household guilt.
Having a hard time concentrating on the things I am supposed to be doing. Annual committee meeting is in one week and I've done almost nothing about it yet apart from creating some rather confusing maps. I'm supposed to write some final exam questions one of these days. I need to prepare for the Evolution meeting and for my field trip. And for some reason, I'm not as stressed out as I should be. I think my prelims broke me last summer. Not good.
On the plus side, I bought a field guide for the trees of the southeastern U.S., I got my train ticket for Evolution, and only have a few field sites left to locate.
Pet peeve of the day: underwhelming land area comparisons to very small states. In a recent seminar, the speaker told us about a horrible ecological disaster in a far-off nation. It sounded very vast and terrible until he tried to drive home his point by telling us that it was an area equivalent to the state of Delaware!!! Hey, Mr. Speaker, have you *seen* Delaware?
Friday, April 18, 2008
1) Slept through my second Midwestern earthquake this morning. At least last time, we were vaguely aware something was odd because Libby was pacing and panting but there was no thunderstorm. Today I had no idea until I saw it on the news.
2) Accepted a carryout menu from a man dressed as a pumpkin and riding a Segway.
3) Holy crap it's April 18th already *sob* Welcome to the final weeks of the academic year. Please do not poke your fingers through the bars as grad student behavior may be unpredictable.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
A 3.5 hour tour
I said a couple of years ago, after an emergency evacuation of the Blue Line, that I thought it would be interesting to be evacuated from the tunnel sometime.
I was mistaken. It's actually somewhere between tedious and infuriating. Also filthy.
A train ahead of us broke down yesterday morning at 8:10, stopping every train behind it. We were in the tunnel halfway between Grand and Lake. No big deal, the trains stop all the time. But then the operator told us that there's a disabled train, we apologize for the inconvenience, we'll be moving shortly. He apologized every five minutes or so. Time passed. We opened the end doors for some air. Some morons smoked between the cars and pissed everyone off. People started making jokes about just leaving, but nobody really meant it. Discussion of how one actually gets out of the tunnel - are the emergency exits locked? We started seeing people walk by, "self-evacuating," which could have triggered a disorderly mob of evacuators but fortunately did not. The operator came back on and yelled at us to close the doors and get off the catwalk, calling the self-evacuators stupid. Much amusement on our car. And then the power went out. Word later was that the power was cut BECAUSE of those self-evacuators. Thanks a lot, buttheads.
More time passed. More garbled apologies. Not a single CTA employee, police, or fire person in sight. Nobody sharing info or keeping folks off the catwalks. Restless commuters, frightened children (including the 3-year-old girl who was sure she'd never see her mommy again), seniors, claustrophobes, and pregnant women. We were left to languish underground, in the semi-dark, no A/C, for NINETY minutes. Most cell phones don't work in the tunnel so we had no way to call offices etc. Then they announced the evacuation was beginning, but of course four trains worth of people don't move single file very fast. We sat a while longer. Finally we moved out. With one exception (loudmouth woman trying to pick a fight), everything seemed orderly. People were cooperative and resigned. Years of experience have taught us: When the CTA has you in its grip, all you can do is shuffle along like sheep and wait for it to be over.
During the evacuation, CTA personnel were everywhere, guiding us around tight spots and directing traffic. Never saw a single police or fire person, just one paramedic and an army guy (??). Our car was at the split between evacuees going north and going south, so we went south. Very good decision, as the most awful sea of humanity was accumulating at Grand and Milwaukee waiting for the CTA to arrange shuttles. (Advice for Chicagoans: if the CTA is offering shuttles, FIND ANOTHER WAY.) After walking carefully on a concrete walkway for a very long time, we snaked through a dead-end tunnel stub, into a hallway, and up maybe 6 flights of spiral staircase. We emerged somewhere on Lower Wacker, completely disoriented, and were led into a mystery door and up into an office building on Wacker. The building folks let us use their bathroom to wash that nasty horrible brown dirt off ourselves, and finally we emerged triumphantly, blinking in the sunlight somewhere west of Clark and Lake. I got my bearings and walked to Halsted, hopped on a bus, and arrived on campus 3.5 hours after leaving home. If I'd ended up on Milwaukee with the rest of the mob, I would have just gone back home in aggravation.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Because I'm a sucker for trees
The Nature Conservancy's Plant a Billion Trees campaign. Give if you are able; I did. Think of it as a carbon offset.
School supplies for grad school
In keeping with my own personal belief that my PhD, and life in general, would proceed effortlessly if I could only find the right mix of school supplies:
Mead Releases New Grad-School-Ruled Notebook
Grad-school-ruled notebooks will have lines 3.55 mm apart, much narrower than those 7.1 mm college-ruled notebooks. Much more practical! "And with the time you'll save by not having to flip a page every 33 lines, you could earn your Ph.D. a year early," says the press release.
Oh, that pesky First Amendment!
I have been following this story with great interest, outrage, and amusement. Yes, Rob Sherman is annoying and goes way too far most of the time, a la Madeline Murray O'Hair. However, every cause needs an extremist to get things rolling; the truth, or compromise, will eventually lie somewhere in the middle once people get used to the idea that there are two (or more) sides to the issue. In this particular case, Mr. Sherman, a well-known atheist activist, was invited to testify before the Illinois State Legislature about the governor's shady method of disguising public funds being given to a Baptist church in Chicago. But during his testimony, Chicago representative Monique Davis (a democrat, no less!) WENT OFF on him in a way that should be keeping her awake at night with embarrassment. Taking his atheism as a personal attack on her, she completely lost control of her words, loudly informing him not only that his ideals are destructive but that "it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!"
It's a story that the MSM didn't touch, of course, but the blogosphere found it and ran with it. And yesterday, Ms. Davis hit the big time by becoming MSNBC's Keith Olbermann's Worst Person In The World. Thank you for advancing the cause of secularism, Ms. Davis.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Slime shooting velvet worm
It's in Spanish, but I think the video speaks for itself. I did notice repeated use the word "pistolas", though. Pistol-packin' worms!
Signs of the apocalypse
According to an ad on the Tribune website, it is now possible to rent designer handbags, starting at $6 a week. I don't even know where to begin with that, so I'll just let you imagine my sputtering disbelief.
Took Miss Foleyface to the vet yesterday to have her gimpy leg x-rayed. She was SO good through the whole thing that I was popping with pride over how far she's come. She even zonked out on the floor of the waiting room, just after I'd told some people that greyhounds don't like to lie on hard floors because of all the pointy elbows. The metal plate and four screws that hold her leg bones together were rather jarring to see on the x-ray, vivid white shapes among the filmy bones and soft tissues. Turns out she has arthritis in that joint already, even though she's not even 3 yet. Good to know.
Met a young woman with the HUGEST dog I've ever seen. He was a black Great Dane, a full-grown puppy and a real charmer - I fell in love instantly. He was nervous about the scale his mommy was trying to coax him onto, so instead he stood up and put his paws gently onto her shoulders. He was taller than me!! Words just cannot describe how ginormous he was. He made Foley look like a little terrier when she emerged from x-ray. There's no way I could own such a dog, though. I need to know that when health or behavior require it, I can just pick up the dog and put her where I need her to be.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Oh, how I despise April Fools Day. I am without a doubt the most gullible person I know, which is ironic since I'm also probably the most skeptical and suspicious person I know. Go figure. But I dislike practical jokes in general and only rarely will be a party to them.* See, practical jokes are designed to make someone look dumb, and I disapprove of that. Also, even though I'm aware that it's April 1st, I keep forgetting, so whenever someone says something april-foolish, my first reaction is to be shocked and amazed and say "Really???" Then they say "April Fools!!" and I feel dumb which, I may have mentioned, I disapprove of. I resolve to be vigilant so I don't get taken in, then five minutes later I'll forget what day it is and fall for the next stupid thing that's said.
So when I got the email this morning at 9:00 saying "Surprise, the professor is stuck in Philadelphia and you have to teach Bio 230 today!", I wanted it to be a joke. But it wasn't. Luckily, the professor did arrive partway through class, and I got a reprieve.
Oh, and Mr. Student who thinks he's being so sly by turning his laptop so I can't see his screen: I don't really care what you're doing, but if you're not going to pay attention or take notes, why do you bother showing up?
*I have orchestrated two practical jokes in my life (that I remember, anyway). The first involved a rubber snake, a medicine cabinet, and my mom. The second was when I worked for the police. I had been chatting with the communications people about creating a glossary of police terms to put on the website. Then I went to my desk and sent them an email from the address 2cool4U@aol.com that said dudes, wouldn't it be awesome if there was like a glossary of police terms on the website? They totally fell for it and I was exceedingly proud of myself. I let them off the hook in a few minutes, though, before they did something crazy like report to the CO that the public is clamoring for glossaries and now they have proof.