Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Less is more.

So I’ve really been enjoying life lately, in spite of the fact that since quitting my job at the school (as opposed to the After School Thingy, where I am still very happily employed) I’ve been busy as all get out. Or maybe it’s because of that fact. Thing is, I’m doing a lot more now, but I’m doing things I want to do, not things I have to do because someone told me too.

I’m even enjoying the financial side to it all, the certain knowledge that starting next month and for the foreseeable future I’ll be making a bit less money, whilst in the middle of a nationwide financial snafu. Instead of freaking me out, it’s inspired me to try to live a little more frugally, to eat at home, to stop buying junk food, to take steps to supply as many of my needs and wants as I can independently of the market.

To that end, once I finish my kitchen (anyone willing to help with that is welcome to come by on Saturday when I will reward your help with BBQ and beer…or Diet Coke if you happen to be Emblita) I’m going to make use of a portion of the heated driveway outside my door to install a mini-greenhouse herb garden, going to plant some veg in the back garden, put up a little micro-brewery out in the garage (with the happy cooperation of Iňaki and Noellia) and am looking into getting the use of a small boat for a monthly fishing expedition (non-commercial line fishing doesn’t require a license in Iceland). I’m also in the market for a pre-microchip four-wheel drive diesel pickup or Land Rover that I intend to power on homemade bio-diesel and use for fishing and or planting a bigger garden this summer up north. I’m also looking into going back to school in January, but not in English, as the U of I has started a new interdisciplinary Master’s course in sustainable development that I cannot wait to get into.

But in the meantime, I’m just enjoying life. Riding my bike and eating home-cooked meals (I’ve lost nearly 3.5 kilos since quitting the school), going swimming almost daily, hanging out with friends and doing some writing/translating, practicing my various musical instruments, and all that good stuff.

In essence, I’m walking the walk that I used to only talk about. Sure I have less money, but finding a balance between work and the kind of productive play (gardening, crafts, etc) that everyone gets up to given enough time makes one hell of a difference when it comes to quality of life.

I’m even more convinced than before that what this overheated, over inflated, over-stressed and overworked on overtime little island needs most is a shorter work day. More time for our kids, more time for improving ourselves in that slow, enjoyable way that actually works, more time to think about our society and how we can improve it. More time to just fucking be.

Less is so very much more.

P.S. Just in case anyone has started to take me in the least bit seriously, I include the following photo...

That's me in a tank top with a teddy bear that says "Ain't I cute".

Don't take me seriously folks...its all goofy with me...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Manic Planet Mechanics.

I wound up working this Saturday, and not the obligatory trip to my Social Service’s client.

ÍTR, my main employer at the moment put on workshop about Reggio Emilio, a rather well known (at least in Europe) educational philosophy developed in post-war Italy to ensure that fascism never raised its ugly head again.

So of course I went. The fact that I got paid for it didn’t hurt either.
I wound up “watching” the lectures in a side room with all the other foreigners, as the lecture was entirely in Icelandic. Not that I couldn't understand it, but I volunteered to help out the interpreter, gophering questions to the main hall, and because I knew it would be more fun.

It was. Mostly because we outlanders were disappointed with the lectures. We went there expecting an in-depth look into a well-developed methodology and instead got 4 hours of shit we already knew.

So we mostly argued points amongst ourselves, asked uppity questions, and cracked wise, causing gails out outlandish laughter to interrupt the staid and rather uninformative lectures.

Then my two punkish co-workers and one of their girlfriends walked over to my place for the first BBQ of the “summer” and massive amounts of beer.

The massive amounts of beer, combined with the extra long day on Friday and working on a Saturday convinced me that I had every right to laze about all day Sunday.

Well, “laze” is a relative term. I cleaned my apartment and the kitchen (somewhat hampered by a dishwasher that doesn’t want to work, I should have just done it by hand), and did some laundry. Mostly though, I watched TV.

Which was fine. I caught a new episode of Mythbusters (YAY) and some of their would-be competitors like Smash Lab (so lame, and so full of faulty quasi-science) and Brainiac (funny, but ditto on the science).

But the one show I feel obligated, in light of my recent methane blog to critique is the new offering from NatGeo (why the shortening?) called Planet Mechanics.

The show is about two borderline manic Brits who travel around in a bio-diesel fueled horse-carrier that’s been converted into a rolling workshop powered by solar panels and a small wind turbine whilst coming up with green solutions to engineering problems.

The episode I caught involved the manic duo traveling to the farm of an equally manic little farmer and trying to come up with a way to decrease his fossil fuel consumption by replacing it with resources already on the farm.

Good start.

Their main focus was on the gas-guzzling grain-dryer, which sucked up huge amounts of oil for every hour of operation.

The original plan, and by far the smartest, was to use the manure from the manic farmer’s cows to produce methane (which the manic mechanics insisted on calling “bio-gas”) to power the dryer. This made oodles of sense. The manure was there in bulk, its only use being fertilizer (which would only be improved by running it through a methane digester) and because the dryer is a stationary device, they could plumb the methane straight to the machine without needing to compress it into canisters (although if they did compress it into canisters they could use it to power the farmer’s fleet of diesel equipment as well).

So they get an old manure-spreader and convert it into a digester. All well and good. But they lack the imagination to use either the pressure of the gas itself, or the circulating solar-heated water that keeps the slurry warm enough, to power the agitators.

Nope, they just installed hand cranks.

On top of the round, difficult to climb digester.

Then they get a huge old oil tank to store the gas in, using the water bath technique. This involves bubbling the gas through water to float the tank, which prevents a possibly explosive air-gas mixture and uses the weight of the tank to provide pressure.

Of course they fuck this up too. First they attempted to lay the tank length-wise in an oval shaped bath, which, even if the bath had been structurally sound (it wasn’t, so they had to change their plans) would have been a less than ideal situation as far as weight/pressure goes. Then they decided that the only way it would work would be to cut the huge tank in half and put it in a vertical circular bath (which if they’d have bothered to learn anything about methane-plants they’d have done from the start). The only problem was that now with only “half a tank”, they didn’t have enough gas to run the dryer.

At which point I began to ask myself, “WHAT THE SWEET MONKEY FUCK!?!?!?!”

These guys are supposed to be engineers, right? So how come they can’t figure out that one half of a tank, plus the other half of a tank equal the whole fucking tank???? Not to mention that there would be an inherent benefit in a two-tank design, as it would allow for a more continuous process???

But no. They only use one half (apparently scraping the other perfectly good half). Then they sit around and scratch their heads trying to think up another way to fuel the dryer. Eventually the little skinny one hits on the idea of using the rape-seed that the manic farmer grows (as a cash crop) to produce oil to fuel the dryer.

So they buy a press (which originally had a large electric motor, which could have been powered by wind and solar with no CO2 emissions), hook it up to a junked lawnmower engine and running it on purified compressed methane, manage to convince themselves that with this system they’ll be able to power the dryer with “free green oil”.

Never mind that using the rape seed that the farmer is growing will cut into his profits and uses more fuel to plant and harvest. Never mind that petrol engines don’t work well off of “bio-gas” because they don’t compress as much as diesel. Never mind that they now have a massive Rube Goldberg device that uses cow muck to make half the fuel needed for the dryer, which is then fed into an inefficient engine, which then drives a press, which then produces oil (at a cost to the farmer’s profits) which is then loaded into the dryer….ARGH!

I mean, have none of these people ever heard of Second Fucking Law of Thermodynamics??? If the bio-gas isn’t enough to run the dryer, what makes these idiots think it would be in anyway efficient to use rape-seed, planted and harvested with a diesel combine milled in a press powered by the bio-gas and then burnt in the dryer??? That’s actually producing MORE CO2 AT A COST TO THE FARMER!!!

If these are the best the green revolution can offer, this planet if fucking doomed.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Grand Punk Railroad...late...

So yeah, the blog ain't nearly daily anymore. It's more "nearly weekly".

Who am I kidding, "nearly bi-monthly"...

But anywho, one of the news tidbits being overwhelmed by coverage of protesting truckers and private-jet-set MP's has been the resurgent discussion of some form of rail transport in the capital area. The two most mentioned options are for a train between the international airport at Keflavík and Rvk, as well as light rail throughout the city.

Now, I am allllll for this idea. It makes sense. Rail (especially electric rail) is one of the cleanest, most efficient methods of transport there is. But this piddling little plan pales in comparison to what I'd attempt, given a couple squillion króna and near-dictatorial powers (insert irony here).

I'd start by building a single line of elevated freight capable monorail from Keflavík, through
Hafnafjöður, Garðarbær, Kópavógar, Reykjavík, Móssfellsbær, and on up to Akranes, where said line would then head off into the scenic highlands for an express run up to Akureyri. After that, the system would begin to spread around the coast of the country eventually making a big bisected circular route linking most of the major and minor towns and cities of the country.


Because it could be run on a combination of micro-hydro, wind, and geothermal power, making it about the cleanest transportation one can get.

Because it could travel at sustained speeds of 150km or faster.

Because being elevated, and hence making use of pre-fab adjustable supports delivered by the train itself, it would be quicker than even road building (not to mention it could in many cases parallel existing right of ways) and have a minimal impact on the landscape, not to mention farmer's sheep. Elevating the train also helps solve the problem of heavy snow, and a train mounted around the rail rather than sitting on it is highly unlikely to derail, even in the winds that Icelanders like to use as an excuse for boring square farm houses without covered porches and under use of wind turbines.

Because it would cut down on accidents, injuries and fatalities, as well as wear and tear on the roads. It would be more reliable than air transport (prone to weather cancellations) trucking/busing (ditto, plus collisions), and seaborne shipping (weather, and lots and lots of oil, though I refuse to believe that with all the tech we've got today that an efficient and reliable sail-powered cargo ship is so damned impossible...).

It would draw tourists in like an strip-club across the street from an all-boys school.

It would enable people to re-populate Iceland's rapidly emptying country side without emptying their wallets at the pump and risking their lives on icy roads crammed with semi-trailers. It would improve prospects for domestic agriculture (pig and chicken farmers could still supply the methane for the truckers to deliver the goods to and from the freight yards) and light industry, who would have cheap and efficient transport to market.

And most importantly, it would be a major step in making Iceland the first sustainably energy self-sufficient Western nation on Earth. Which would be good for our economy, our security, and our image.

All three of which are being much-debated in the rook's house at the moment.

If I wasn't convinced that it would make me evil, I'd fuckin' run for Parliament for that.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Ring ring ring

So apparently my joy over the previously unknown internets at my domicile in progress was a tad premature. Like boobs on a five year old.

There's internets, but its a dial-up connection of the squishy-screechy telephone sounds variety that can barely load hotmail, let alone my blog.


But other than that, things are looking up. At least for me. I love being right.

If I'd been blogging regularly up til now, you'd have all read a massive rant championing the squatting of all of the 57 some odd "abandoned" (read: Left to fall apart/be vandalized/burnt down because "undesirables" are living in them so that the owners can a)collect insurance and b) get away with tearing them down despite iffy permission and protest from neighbors and residents in order to build ugly glass yuppy cages). Thankfully, the times they are a changin' and at least one group has already taken it upon themselves to announce that squatting is not a form of theft, which has always been the Icelandic take on it, but a form of repossession, as the slumlord owners have forfeited their already dubious property rights to the building in question by simple act of abandonment.

More power to 'em! I say take all of the abandoned places over. With 20 square meter unfurnished basement rooms in commercial buildings in BFE being rented out for 70+K a month, I say take 'em over! Downtown could see a resurgence of culture. Reading rooms, galleries (not art retailers) concert spaces, co-op daycares, Free Schools, you name it. The economy may be in tatters (not really but who am I to swim against the rising tide of hyperbole) but this opportunity is manna from motherfuckin' heaven for those of us who's economies were already in tatters. Like Dr. Gummi said "Velgengi var diskó, kreppan er pönk!"*

Then there's the on-going brouhaha (or maybe its a brou-hehe) over one of the mp's comments about chicken and pork farming not being "real farming" and hence that the tariffs placed on imported chicken and pork should be dropped.

Fine. Let 'em drop.

The thing is though, the other current shit-fan over here has been the nationwide protest by professional truckers (as well as spoiled yuppies with penis-extension monster trucks and their spoiled yuppie spawn with their brand new fermingavespar**) over high fuel prices.

Now I'll leave it be that these protests, which have been shutting down the major traffic arteries around the country, have resulted in a few fines but no arrests, and in fact have been carried out with the co-operation of the police, whilst last summer when Saving Iceland shut down Suðurlandsbraut on foot they were rounded and roughed up and thrown in the hoosegow.

I'll leave that point be.

But the one and only fuel (aside from electricity) that hasn't gone up in price since the Fall of the Almighty Króna has been methane, which RVK uses to power its garbage trucks. Methane made from waste, produced locally (saving both on costs both the the environment and the budget) and funneling money back into the local economy at a time when international debts and deficit trading are causing the local currency to fall. Converting diesel engines to run on methane involves little more than switching the glow-plugs for spark plugs, adjusting the carburetor a bit, and installing gas-canisters in place of fuel tank, at which point these same truckers would be able to gas up for roughly half the price they currently pay.

And what's the best source of methane, you ask? Pig and chicken shit mainly. The same pig and chicken shit that is currently causing all manner of health and pollution issues out in the countryside. If converted to methane, the unfarmers would have a second cash crop as well as a cleaner (and if the use a methane/ethanol digester, sterile) fertilizer in place of their harmful runoff.

Problem solved.

Tomorrow, stay tuned for Sam's Grand Punk Railroad scheme.

*"Prosperity was disco, recession is punk"
**Seemingly every sixteen year old (or even much younger) kid in my neighborhood seems to have forsaken their clean and healthy (and oft-times super expensive) mountain bike for a fucking gas-powered Vespa.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Not dead.

So I chose a dandy time to quit 50% of my job. Just as I was finishing my last day at the school, bamm!, the króna drops 25% and the whole country starts freaking out about a recession. But truth is, I don't much care. I have enough. I even had enough to buy a new bike (remind to tell you about the fun it was putting together) so now I'm pedalling all over the place. I also just found out that after almost a year of living at my place that there is in fact internets. Who knew? Now I just have to figure if the connection can handle wireless...

Meanwhile I've been out in the garage trying to get it ready to take on a new role as laundry room so I can FINALLY install my kitchen, and enjoying the hell out of only working 4 hours a day.

I've got a world of blog built up, what with the "depression" and the slum-lording of RVK, and talk of installing Iceland's first rail system and lots and lots more, but I'm at work and the boss-lady wants her 'puter back....