Archive for January 2011

2011 Calendars   Leave a comment

Every year I think to myself that I don’t really NEED to buy calendars, and that it would save money, paper, ink, plastic wrapping, and fuel to stop buying calendars. Then I give in to temptation of the beautiful pictures to peruse the racks of calendars, find a few that I fall in love with, get drawn back to them week after week while doing my grocery shopping, and then buy a couple with the justification that they are pretty. After all, calendars are cheep changeable art that can be reused for a multitude of things like wall art and wrapping paper. My 2010 work calendar is going to be the basis for the design of our nursery. To make myself feel a little better, I won’t buy a calendar unless it is from recycled paper and/or FSC certified sources, preferably with vegetable-based inks.

We really don’t actively use our calendars, so that is why we could theoretically stop getting any. I use iCal on my computer to record events/appointments, and my husband uses his cell phone calendar for everything except his medication schedule, which is on his wall calendar. The calendars on the wall in our office just serve as calendars to see the day of the week when our computers are off or we don’t feel like switching to the calendar program, and as art. And yes, that was plural, we each have a calendar hanging over our respective desks so that we don’t have to compromise on which calendar we get. I have three calendars at work with three different functions: my Outlook where my appointments are noted, the single-page annual company calendar, and my art calendar. My husband also uses several calendars in his cubicle at work pretty much exclusively for the art.

I’d be very interested to find out if other people actively use their wall calendars, don’t use a calendar at all, or are like us and buy them for the pictures.

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Posted January 13, 2011 by mayakey in resource use, shopping

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Hypermiling Lesson   Leave a comment

Our road trip from Sacramento to Albuquerque this Christmas was a Hypermiling 102 class for me. I took Hypermiling 101 a year and a half ago when I last did the same trip. For anyone who hasn’t heard about hypermiling, it is a collection of driving techniques and strategies to get the best gas mileage possible. Some of those techniques and strategies are rather dangerous and not entirely (or not at all) legal, but there are other perfectly legal, safe, and sane techniques. Like not flooring it out of the gate. Keeping the tires inflated and the engine maintained. The specific strategies that I’ve started practicing on road trips are anticipation, reduced average speed, and keeping the power output constant, rather than accelerating/decelerating. On flat roads, cruise control is the best way to do this, which is why cruise control is considered by many to be the most fuel efficient way to drive. Cruise control, however, is very inefficient on hills. Since cruise control is all about maintaining a constant speed, the car coasts on the downhill and then accelerates on the uphill, fighting gravity the whole way.

I hadn’t really practiced driving with constant power output before my trip in 2009 since most of my driving is in the city or on flat highways. (Since driving with a constant power output on a flat road means driving with a constant speed, I’m really just talking about non-flat roads here.) On that trip, I left Kingman, AZ on the morning of the second driving day without gassing up. I know what my typical gas mileage and miles per tank is, and I looked at my 3/4 full tank and calculated in my head that I was perfectly fine on gas. Unfortunately, east of Kingman the freeway is extremely hilly. I was merrily barreling down the freeway, singing to whatever CD I had picked to start the day, and enjoying the morning, when I realized that I had burned about half of my gas WAY before the halfway mark to Seligman. After doing the calculations in my head, I started to freak out that I was going to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. I was mortified. The basic problem was that instead of getting 50 mpg, on those hills at freeway speeds I was getting more like 35 mpg. And that difference leads to a significantly different driving range per tank.

Remembering the articles I had read about hypermiling and the conversations at work about the constant power output strategy (aka constant throttle, but since my husband and I drive hybrids that’s not an accurate term for our cars), I decided that I needed to give it a try. So I dropped my average speed from 75 to 70, but most importantly I allowed my speed to fluctuate and instead kept the pressure on the gas pedal constant. On that trip it was pretty easy to drop my average speed since my choices were drive slower or run out of gas in the desert in the middle of nowhere. That is powerful incentive. My speed generally fluctuated between about 60 and 80 mph as I allowed my car to accelerate with gravity on the downhills and decelerate on the uphills. In order to drive like this, anticipation is a critical skill. The road conditions up ahead, including grade and relative positions/speeds of other cars, have to be accounted for constantly. For example, the amount of acceleration required on a downhill depends on the length and height of the uphill that follows, and also the number of cars on the road. There’s no point in picking up speed only to have to break behind someone going slower at the bottom of the hill. In my opinion common courtesy is also very important: no tailgating, no cutting people off, and no boxing people in if it can be avoided. Interestingly enough, on that section of the highway I soon realized that there were several drivers doing the same thing that I was. That made it fun and easier. And I made it to Seligman with plenty of gas to spare, averaging 40 mpg for the Kingman-Seligman stretch (I gassed up anyway).

On this trip we were driving my husband’s Highlander instead of my Prius. His Highlander is obviously a larger vehicle, and it has a more powerful engine and a power meter on the dashboard. Most people would know that as a tachometer, but in the Highlander it is called a power meter since it is a combined measure of power that includes both the electrical motor and gas engine outputs. I requested the first driving shift on the second day so that I could experience the same hypermiling in a different car, and see if it is easier or harder with the power meter. The first thing that I realized was that the size of the car makes a difference! My Prius was so fun. She flew down the hills and then gracefully coasted up the hills. The Highlander wasn’t quite as much fun on the downhills, and it lost momentum fast on the uphills. To be completely honest, there may have been a mental aspect to my perception since I didn’t have the incentive of running low on gas, and neither did we have the perceived camaraderie of other drivers like us. It also felt more painful to decelerate on the uphills. Unfortunately, America is a nation of power-cravers, and that extends to cars. We build and buy cars with lots of power under the hood and look down on the little car that can’t make it up a steep hill. So being in a nearly new SUV creeping over the top of the hill was a weird sensation. I had to broaden my speed fluctuation to 55 to 85 mph to accommodate the difference between the vehicles.

As for the power meter, it was useful but not necessary, and I could see how it could become a crutch. Driving like this is an exercise in intuition and driving by the feel of the car and the road. Using the power meter draws attention away from that feeling and focusses on just this one little gauge. But it did make it easier to judge power output, obviously. Keeping the same pressure on the accelerator will maintain constant power output, but that can be hard to do on a long trip and the gauge keeps you honest. The gauge also helps to take advantage of gravity. Pressing a little harder on the accelerator on a downhill causes less of an increase in power output than it would on an uphill, but without the gauge it is difficult to judge how much to change the foot pressure. The power meter was crucial for the second half of my Hypermiling 102 class: the Central Valley. On Highway 99, when the traffic was sufficiently light, I was able to keep constant power output by combining cruise control and my hypermiling tricks. Cruise control works on the flats, but it forces the engine to rev up when going over or under a road crossing. So I used the power meter gauge and some trial and error to take the car off cruise control, maintaining the same power output for the dip or rise, and then back on cruise control. Twas a bit challenging, and probably didn’t really make a difference to our gas mileage, but it was personal.

Posted January 11, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, energy use, travel

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Mind Over Immune System   Leave a comment

I just got over a minor cold, again. I had a cold before Christmas, was fine for the holidays, and then got another cold on New Year’s Eve. Ordinarily I’ve got a really good immune system and only get a couple of colds during an entire winter. I can’t think of any time when I’ve gotten two colds within a 4 week period. The thing with both of these colds is that they were both psychosomatic and utterly preventable. I’m a big believer that most of our illnesses are psychosomatic, either directly or indirectly. In this case, they were both directly psychosomatic, caused by a psychologically depressed immune system.

The first cold has a bit of back story: When we moved into our new house we knew that the kitchen faucet had a leak, but before we could find/fix the leak it stopped. We weren’t paying attention, so in mid-December when I realized that the leak had restarted it had already pretty well soaked the cabinet under the sink, and needed to be addressed pronto. Using our (limited) plumbing knowledge we found the source of the leak, made the appropriate obvious attempt to fix it (replacing the supply line), and made it worse instead. The next day I thought of something else to try, which didn’t work and exhausted all of our knowledge and ideas. Since we were days from our holiday party, and soon to leave for a long vacation, trying to find and schedule a plumber on a short time frame seem like a sketchy idea. That evening I spent about an hour and half feeling like a complete failure as a responsible homeowner. By the time I went to bed, I had a cold despite the fact that when I had gotten home from work I had felt perfectly healthy. Isn’t immediate feedback great! 😦

This latest cold is more of a mystery. On New Year’s Eve day I felt healthy, active, and glad to be home. It was a really good day up to the point in the afternoon when I decided to go for a walk. As soon as I stepped out of the house my mind started on a very negative thought spiral. It came out of nowhere, but for some reason I was not able to shake it. After the 2-mile self-pity party and a cry in the shower, we went out to celebrate the holiday. By the time we got to our friend’s house I had the sniffles, and before midnight I knew I had a full blown head cold.

The mind can also prevent colds, not just cause them. But the stories about how I caught these colds make much better stories than the ones where I catch myself in time and manage to avert impending illness by changing my mindset and using all my immune-boosting tricks.

Now that I’m reminding myself, nearly all of my colds are psychosomatic. Personally, I suspect that is true of most people. Did you know that scientists do studies in which they plant live cold viruses in people’s noses, and many of them never get sick? That’s a good thing since most of us are probably exposed to hundreds of potentially harmful viruses and bacteria each day. It seems to me like it is not so much the exposure, but the power of the immune system that determines whether or not someone gets sick. The same immune system that is affected by diet, exercise, sleep, stress, psychological state, and environmental factors. In grad school my colds were like calender-work. During/after every major exam or project, I got a major cold with fever. Needless to say, I was a little bit stressed in grad school and my immune system couldn’t handle any increases in that stress level.

Let this serve a warning to all: avoid high psychological stress situations and negative thinking spirals during cold season.

Posted January 8, 2011 by mayakey in health, psychology

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Sitting Quiet   Leave a comment

Sitting quiet is most essential. Don’t waste your time by not doing this.

Papaji (Sri H.W.L. Poonja)

Posted January 5, 2011 by mayakey in centering, quotes

From BPA to BPS   Leave a comment

This past November news came out that the BPA-free receipt paper currently being marketed may be no better or only slightly better than the receipt paper containing BPA (bisphenyl A). The new receipt paper is made using bisphenyl S, which is a slightly less potent hormone mimicking compound that is more persistent and less studied.

I’ve been waiting for this shoe to fall on the whole BPA thing. From the very beginning the conversation has been very frustrating to me and I’ve tried to stay out of it because it has been almost entirely focussed on one chemical, and not the class of chemicals. It’s been frustrating seeing “BPA-free” plastic hailed as green with no regard for the fact that plastics contain other problematic chemicals as well. It’s been frustrating seeing environmental organizations talk only about the concerns with BPA without also educating the public about estrogenic activity in general. There were a few refreshing bits of fresh air (like the Sigg water bottle issue, where one of the concerns voiced online was that they are only testing or releasing results for the new lining for BPA, not estrogenic activity), but it has been a very focussed campaign.

So when I read the news about the new receipt paper, I had a bittersweet laugh. Laughter because that’s my response to everything (I’m one of those people who can’t suppress the giggles at funerals, or in response to uncomfortable statements), and this inevitable news deserved it. Bittersweet because it is a big deal and something needs to be done, but really, are we going to take a couple of years to make grassroots campaigns to eliminate all of the thousands of harmful chemicals ONE AT A TIME? That’s why we need to incorporate the Precautionary Principle into our systems. That’s why we need to pass the Safe Chemicals Act (It was introduced in the Senate in April 2010 and currently is in committee).

This is not the first time in our history that we’ve replaced something with a more “environmentally-friendly” alternative to later find that the replacement is very environmentally unfriendly. One great example is MTBE, which was added to gasoline when lead was removed. Unfortunately, MTBE is very mobile in the subsurface and now large plumes of MTBE contamination in groundwater are common around fueling facilities with leaking tanks or spill histories. In the BPA/BPS issue, the thing that stands out the most to me is that BPS is more persistent. Persistency is just what it sounds like. It means that the chemical will be around in the environment for along time because, for whatever reason, it is difficult or slow to degrade/denature it. For example: pesticides that were banned in the US decades ago but that are still detected in some places in soil and animal tissue.

Posted January 3, 2011 by mayakey in advocacy, environment

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To Gas Up Or Not To Gas Up   2 comments

I grew up seeing a warning on gas pumps that pregnant women should not pump gas. And I took a human exposures class in grad school where I learned how significant the benzene exposure can be at a gas station. (For all intents and purposes, benzene is the primary constituent of concern in the soup that is gasoline.) So now that I’m looking at possible pregnancy, I have a decision to make regarding whether I pump gas or have my husband do it.

During the last few years, knowing that this question would come I looked for that warning again and didn’t find it. The state of California does require vapor recovery systems that apparently do a good job since I rarely detect a petroleum hydrocarbon odor when gassing up any more. I thought maybe the warning disappeared in this state because the vapor recovery systems are considered good enough. But on our trip back to New Mexico, I looked at the pumps in Arizona and New Mexico (neither of which require vapor recovery systems) and did not see the warning for pregnant women. On the internet the issue appears to be very mixed with some medical websites not mentioning the issue or saying it’s fine and others advising that pregnant women not pump gas.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I think I’ve worked out something that I can live with. But there has been one big looming question: does the vapor recovery system reduce the concentration of benzene (and other constituents of concern) to a level that makes the risk vs. benefits spectrum tilt towards benefits? In other words, do these systems reduce the exposure to a point where the increased risk to the fetus is overtaken by the difficulty/inconvenience of not being able to refuel when needed? Just because I can no longer detect petroleum odor with my nose does not mean that it is not there. This is the kind of question that should elicit a trip to a university library to search the medical journals, but I’m lazy and just looking for what I can access on my computer at home. I found a few references, including a study published in EHP. Interestingly that study did not find a difference in the exposure with or without EVR, however the percent non-detect was higher with EVR. The study was also an occupational study looking at service station workers and not customers.

So what to do? I think that I will continue to gas up my own car unless it is convenient for my husband to do it. I’m not going to make him come to my office after work, drive my car to the gas station, and fuel it up for me; but if we are in the car together I’ll ask him to do the actual pumping while I wait in the car. I have always breathed as shallow as possible while pumping, but I’ll try to also pay attention to wind direction and stand upwind of the pumps. And even when it is cold or raining, I’ll make a more concerted effort to open my windows and ventilate the car after leaving a service station (and having a particularly smoggy car drive by me).

Posted January 1, 2011 by mayakey in environment, health, pregnancy

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