Lunaya Pravda

24 May 2007

Ahhh, spring!

I know I've been incredibly lax in blogging lately. Must be a spring thing--many folks just seem to get silent and busy this time of year.

One pastime I've been enjoying immensely is periodically checking the WildWatchCams with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife that lewlew blogged about. Bluebirds, osprey, bald eagles, herons, burrowing owls and barn's fascinating to watch their spring nesting habits.

The baby bluebirds gradually decreased in number from seven rather ugly hatchlings to three fluffy adorable chicks. At some point Monday morning, they fledged and disappeared from the camera's view. Unfortunately I missed the actual event; they were there when I checked up on them in the morning, and then a couple hours later there was only the empty nest. But it looks like someone's feathering the nest again, so I'll be keeping watch.

The barn owl nest failed. At first, whenever I checked on her during the day, she was setting on her eggs and sleeping. But during the final days before WDFW staff removed the infertile eggs and prepped the box for a new nest, she could be seen awake during daylight hours, preening herself in the nest box and ignoring her eggs. They're not sure why the nest failed--it could be either the male or the female--but there's a good chance she'll nest multiple times during the year. Some feathers have appeared in the new nesting material, so I'm hopeful she'll be back soon.

The osprey is still setting on eggs--she doesn't move much, and her mate can sometimes be seen coming and going from the nest for food. According to Wikipedia, hatching them takes about 5 weeks, and I have no idea when she started.

Both the bald eagle nests have chicks that appear to be doing well, and it gives me a thrill whenever I'm fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of both adults at their nest at the same time.

I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever see the burrowing owl. For two weeks or so, all I ever saw was the burrow entrance surrounded by grass. Then on Tuesday, an adult miraculously made an appearance outside the first sighting. It didn't move much, so I had to wait for several refreshes to be sure of what I was seeing, but it definitely was an owl. Then, after a mere half day of marveling at finally having spotted one, I enjoyed the treat of seeing one of the downy, light-colored babies make sporadic appearances at the burrow entrance. Slightly smaller and much more mobile, it darted in, out, and around the burrow for some 15 minutes before disappearing again, but not before I captured a screen shot of it.

These cams perfectly punctuate my enjoyment of springtime in the Pacific Northwest. The sun peeks its head out and the weather becomes more mild and placid. The grass grows lush and thick in every field. Flowering trees and plants and burst forth in splendiferous displays of color. The tips of the evergreens are frosted with verdant, youthful new needles. And this year, the birds of prey appear to be eating well, given their frequent appearances both on the webcams and all along my morning and evening commute.

Nothing against Christmas, but this truly is the most wonderful time of the year.


14 May 2007

Endangered incandescents

Rather than creating incentives to switch to the more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) now common on the market, governments around the globe are adopting various timetables to phase out or ban the incandescent light bulb.

I'm not entirely sold on the case against the incandescent bulb. Yes, they're energy hogs, with a mere 5% of the energy they consume emitted as light and the rest wasted as heat. (Okay, sometimes that heat isn't wasted; reptile tanks usually make use of it.) I could conceivably realize some savings in my electricity bill by switching to CFLs entirely.

And I have, to a degree. My outdoor bulbs would burn out once a month because of broken filaments caused by the vibrations from regular training flights conducted by the nearby air force base. Tired of wandering around the house to change bulbs, I switched all my outdoor lights to CFLs, which have no filament to break. And the woman who fixed up my house before I purchased it did install some fixtures that take nothing but energy savers. Other fixtures will take either, and as the incandescent bulbs burn out, I replace them with fluorescent ones.

But (you just knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you?) I haven't made the switch completely, and it's not for a lack of effort. Not every lamp in my house is accepting of the newfangled CFLs. I have two lovely lamps in my living room, each of which takes two bulbs, that stubbornly refuse to play nice with the new ones. I have two halogen desk lamps that also won't make the switch. CFLs aren't generally dimmer switch-friendly. I haven't tried CFLs in my motion sensor lights, but then again, I haven't seen a flood light or a small candelabra light that isn't incandescent. When I start having to consider replacing multiple lamps and light fixtures as well as the bulbs in them, the meager cost savings in energy flies right out the open window.

New fixtures? Strike 1 against the CFLs.

CFLs have hefty transaction costs, even when all your lamps and fixtures play nice with them. Right off the bat, they're damn expensive to purchase. I can buy 8 incandescent bulbs for less than the price of one CFL. And they're not easily disposed of. You can't just throw them in the trash--they require hazardous material disposal because of the 5 milligrams of mercury in each bulb. Some hardware stores have take-back programs for CFLs, and in many places, the local dump will take them, but either way, that's an extra errand for me because I can't just drop it in the trash or recycling bin and be done with it. If every household were using CFLs, trash hauling companies might begin accepting them at the curb, but I wouldn't count on it.

And where does that mercury end up? Some studies suggest that despite their mercury content, CFLs would net a decrease in mercury released to the environment because (in theory) fewer coal-fired power plants would be operating, therefore releasing less mercury. Sorry, but I'm not buying it. Because power plants are quasi-governmental, there's no way they'd be allowed to close solely because of lower energy use. And it doesn't factor in the amount of extra mercury ending up in the environment because many folks are ignorant of the fact that CFLs can't be disposed of like regular bulbs, or the danger to your household should one break before you've disposed of it.

Mercury hazards and an extra errand just for disposal? Strike 2.

Lastly, color me skeptical that anyone is likely to realize lower electricity rates from energy conservation. Energy rates aren't subject to the laws of supply and demand, largely because of *gasp!* government interference. Local monopolies dominate the market. If I want electricity, I either hook up to the sole local provider, or I sit at home reading by candle light. I can't do business other energy company whose practices and rates I find more reasonable. If use and demand fall, rates still increase. As an example, during a particularly dry 2001, Seattle Public Utilities strongly campaigned and encouraged folks to use less water. The public responded favorably by significantly cutting consumption. And at the end of it all, what did SPU do? Because so little water was used compared to projections (which are synonymous with budgets), SPU lost money and needed to raise water rates. I suspect any drastic reduction in energy use would net the same reward. And what incentive does any public utility have to keep energy rates low? When was the last time you've seen one petition the public utilities board for a rate decrease?

And not only that, I'm willing to bet the energy savings is a farce similar to the lies that brought us low-flow toilets. Toilet flushing in America is completely insignificant when you consider water consumed by agricultural and industrial uses. Nothing. We could all start doing our business in the woods behind the house, and statistically speaking, water usage wouldn't go down at all. I suspect, though I have no evidence, that energy wasted by incandescent bulb usage is much the same--an insignificant blip next to energy spent by industry and air conditioning. Why bother with all this if our net gain as a nation is using 0.001% less energy than we did before?

Liars dangling the carrot of lower energy bills and energy consumption? Strike 3--YOU'RE OUT!

So, with the prospect of a phase out of the incandescent bulb looming, I'm doing the only thing I can--hoarding incandescents. It's incredibly ironic that congresscritters spend so much time talking about creating incentives to become more environmentally conscious, yet the incentive they're creating now has driven me to do exactly the thing they don't want me to do--buy incandescent bulbs, in larger quantities than I would otherwise buy. If those idiotic fucks in Washington think I'm going to replace all my unacceptable lamps and light fixtures or spend serious cash having them retrofitted to accept CFLs because "incandescent bulbs are bad, mkay?", they can kiss my ass.

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04 May 2007

Why doesn't this kind of thing happen to me?

I can't recall if I've mentioned it before, but though I work as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyst, my degree is in geological engineering. After graduating, I worked in the environmental department at an oil refinery, and then moved to a project involving the cleanup of an old bombing range, pushing me further into environmental work and away from my major.

And while I do have some quibbles about the nature of the work I do--most of it is for private business, but a small amount of my work is funded directly by the taxpayers--for the most part I enjoy my career choice. I harbor no illusions that without government beasts such as the EPA, available environmental jobs would be a fraction of their current numbers, but most of my work involves projects with companies seeking to limit their environmental liabilities, remediate sites at lower costs, and generally keep the government entities off their backs. Though not as glamorous or high-paying as an engineering job would have been, I think working in practical geology would have killed much of my interest in geology as a hobby. (Hmmm, did I really just say engineering was glamorous?)

I've been to the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show a couple of times, and spent a ridiculous amount of money on mineral specimines and fossils. But hey, it's a hobby, and I'm not apologetic about indulging myself from time to time.

However, why oh why can't I stumble upon finds like this in my own back yard?

Clyde Friend was bulldozing a driveway around his shop when he first saw them in the dirt: gleaming pieces of the past. A forest of stone, more than 15 million years old.

For the past five years, on this hillside above Yakima, Friend has been pulling out pieces of rare petrified wood, no two pieces alike. Branches, trunks and slices in sunset colors. Pieces purple and blue as mussel shells. Pieces like winter sky, gray and white and all the tones in between. Pieces that ring like a bell when struck.

A gorgeous round of petrified wood found its way home with me two years ago for an obscene amount of money, and yet this guy gets an entire petrified forest for the cost of excavation?

Not only would this kind of discovery nearly make me wet myself, it's worth a fortune. Life just isn't fair sometimes.

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