Category : energy

They walk among us. Normal people, like you or me. But inside the corners of their ratty little minds they carry a dark, hideous secret: They own a leaf blower.

I know, I know. It’s easy to hate them, like SUV drivers, sweet sixteen psycho-princesses and those happy-slapping chavs who run around hitting unsuspecting people and filming it. But owning a leaf blower does not make you a shitty person. A crappy one, yes. But not shitty.

It’s not the individuals who own leaf blowers who concern me; it’s the whole problem of Leaf Blower Culture that keeps me up at night (that, and the noise). This is not to say the leaf blower wielders are innocent however. It is their weakness that ruins things for the rest of us. But what flaw in our collective psyche allowed it get to this point?

The Human Flaw
The skull-rattling noise of leaf blowers is the real reason that people use them, I suspect. Far from being the biggest flaw, it’s actually what attracts these weak, pitiful souls to it, desperately wanting to make some impact in the world, wrongly or rightly.

Backpack leaf blowerAlthough commercial grade leaf blowers are spendy at around $500, a small consumer version can cost as little as 40 bucks (plus gas). Like SUVs, the relatively cheap price combined with the vibrant feeling of pure mechanical power gives consumers a drunken sense of maniacal glee.

A few hours after the purchase you can find many people softly, sickly laughing as they swirl the leaf blower around like a bloated magical wand, causing a small wind storm along with an incredible cacophonous noise heard blocks away. Screaming over the monstrous din, they dance through the lawn with their mechanical version of Voldemort’s wand spewing forth a steady stream of devilish noise and blustery fury. Somewhere deep in their gollum-like mind the voice of a mad-man rings loudly in their hollow hearts:

“HAHA!! Yes!! I am making those leaves flee before me! I am invincible with my precious blower! Cower before me, you stupid leaves! I’ll blow you clear across the lawn! MUAAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!!!!!”

He is no longer a balding and pot-bellied middle-aged suburban dad. He is Leafmancer the Majestic, master of all who cross his path. Dare ye to speak to him over the bilious noise of his quivering instrument of power? Nay, he will not hear your pleas. He does not concern himself with such trifles as your feelings. “Back off, before I blow you off!” he hisses in an inaudible whisper.

A Cost/Benefit Ratio Forrest Gump Could Deduce
This simple device encapsulates everything that is wrong with American culture from a social, environmental and technological standpoint. Let’s look at what a leaf blower does and it’s advantages versus disadvantages.

A leaf blower is basically a reverse vacuum cleaner. It blows instead of sucks. But what goal does it accomplish, what societal need does it address?

It replaces a rake.

That’s it. As far as I know, there is no other common use for a leaf blower than the function that is easily accomplished by the common rake, which can be purchased at hardware store for 20 bucks and requires no fuel or maintenance and operates nearly silently.

The leaf blower does its job extremely poorly — and it does so very loudly — yet people still flock to this useless, feeble technology.

5 guys with leaf blowers

To really drive this home, and be fair to leaf blowers, I will now list the advantages and disadvantages of this machine:

Leaf blower pros:

  • Slightly faster? Maybe, but I’ve seen workmen accomplish virtually nothing in an hour’s time, like a retarded monkey pushing around a box of sand
  • Some can suck up and mulch the leaves, but most people don’t have or use this functionality; the device is technically referred to as a “blower vac” in this capacity
  • Although they ostensibly reduce human energy output, using high-powered machines is somewhat difficult and still makes you sweaty. I don’t see many grannies using them

Leaf blower cons:

  • Loud as a fucking airplane
  • Expensive compared with a rake
  • Requires continual purchase of costly fossil fuels
  • Causes air pollution and leaves the stench of gasoline
  • Creates huge plumes of dust & debris, some of which can lodge themselves in your eye
  • Not as good at creating leaf piles as a rake
  • Heavier than a rake
  • Bulkier than a rake
  • Has moving parts and requires regular maintenance such as:
    • Cleaning or replacing the filters
    • Replacing the spark plugs
    • Cleaning the fan blades
    • Cleaning the air intake
    • etc. etc.
  • Doesn’t work without a fuel source yet still requires human control/power
  • If you’re using a leaf blower, you’re pissing off everybody around you

Meanwhile, a rake just fucking works. (Plus, it can be used to sneak up and attack people using leaf blowers.)

Leaf blower mouth

A Cultural Sickness that Reveals Our World’s Rotten Soul
Our world teeters on the edge of economic, environmental collapse and I’m worried about leaf blowers? Well yes, because if we think leaf blowers are a good idea then I weep for our noisy, pointless future. Why does our culture accept and use these technologically gimmicky bullshit tools when perfectly acceptable old-school tools exist? Is it sheer laziness or a delirious lust for auditory power? I’m afraid our leaf blower addiction reveals far more about our society than we would ever want to grok.

Corporate priorities tend to distort things. In recent years the idea that there’s a technological solution to every problem has been driven into the corporate drone’s head. He knows all his competitors are using leaf blowers. He thinks that a rake looks low-tech and that customers are more impressed with technology than simplicity. He expects a lawn care service company to show up with a trailer full of gas-powered goodies, all of which make an unholy racket. It’s part of our cultural expectations at this point: If you’re not making a shitload of noise, are you really doing anything?

Blame it on our Genes
Our monkey brains are helpless before the lure of shiny, noisy tools. If this is the best we can do, perhaps the world would be better off without us. Dolphins don’t have leaf blowers. When they enslave us, they will say it’s for our own good and they might actually be right. That’s what scares me. Still, rakes sit lonely and dust-covered in millions of garages, wondering, like some jilted lover, what it did to push us into the arms of that supercharged demon-mistress next to it. Will America remember the simple, subtle beauty of the common garden rake before it’s too late?

We could certainly use the exercise.

This is one cultural deficiency I can’t blame solely on the Oligarchy (although our elite-encouraged oil addiction is a contributing factor). It’s our own stupid lust for power that led us to this point. If we keep this up I’m gonna start cheering for the goddamn lizard people. Bring on the brainless zombies (armed with leaf blowers, of course).

C’mon, folks: Evolve already!

A Future Fraught with Free Leaves
I’m not the first person to complain about this plague; leaf blowers are illegal in several cities and people have bitched about them for decades. Yet, here we are in 2011 and they’re still fucking here.

The most ironic part is that leaves will win this battle in the end. Leaves will be blowing freely long after humanity has slit its own throat and withered, gurgling and gasping, into the heedless sands of history.

Are leaves such a horrible infestation that they must be removed from our urban green spaces? What about the incredible amount of noise and air pollution that is being added to the atmosphere in their place? We are truly a sick culture if we think this is an acceptable trade-off. I will risk the fucking leaves, thank you very much. Maybe our feral, wretched descendants will use them as currency.

The guy who invented the rake must be rolling in his fucking grave. He’s just lucky he can’t hear it when they blow the leaves off his gravestone.

I like to learn a thing or two every day, and today I learned a very interesting thing indeed.

Many people know that alcohol can be used as fuel for cars and farm equipment. It’s popular today in the guise of ethanol, but ethanol is largely a red herring. Ethanol is a ghost of what could have been had the Prohibition movement not killed alcohol fuel in its infancy.

Most people are not aware that Henry Ford’s Model T came in a variation that allowed the driver to switch the carburetor to run the engine on farm-made ethyl acohol [sic]. This allowed the operator to stop at local farms (equipped with stills) to refuel his/her car during long trips through the backcountry. After all- the gas station wasn’t exactly as ubiquitous in those days, as it is now. The Standard Oil Company and its industrialist-founder John D. Rockefeller wasn’t too happy with this arrangement. After all, Rockefeller’s company had a virtual monoploly on gasoline at this time in our nation’s development.

It kind of makes me wonder why we’re fighting an illegal war over oil in the desert, thousands of miles away, when we could probably retrofit our cars to run on domestically produced alcohol fuels (which does not have to be corn-based like ethanol).

Like William Randolph Hearst’s campaign against cannabis (marijuana), Rockefeller’s campaign against alcohol was ultimately successful… for him. Hearst and Rockefeller’s respective campaigns were horrible crimes perpetrated against America, the environment and truth, but both men were personally enriched through their scheming.

Since the late 1800′s there had been a growing Alcohol Temperance Movement developing among reformers. Rockefeller saw an opportunity in this. It is well-documented that local efforts to curb alcohol consumption were expanded to the national level when high-profile figures like Rockefeller joined in the anti-alcohol efforts. Was he so concerned with the social problems that abuse of alcohol was said to cause?

No… John D. Rockefeller was not concerned with family dynamics in the working classes. But he was influential in changing the goals of the movement from temperance to prohibition. As we know, his contribution to the outlawing of the production and sale of alcohol was successful. Of course, Rockefeller and the oil companies reaped tremendous profits as a result. Remember that the period covered by the 18th Amendment (1919-1933) coincided with the huge rise in the sale and operation of automobiles. America was on the move, and all of these cars were now operated solely on gasoline. By the time that the 21st Amendment was passed, ending the prohibition of alcohol, the standard was already set and worked completely in the favor of the Rockefeller family.

While this is an excellent example of a conspiracy against the American people that is both provable and successful, there is one problem with calling it a conspiracy: Conspiracies require illegal acts, and lying to the American people is not necessarily illegal. Unethical, yes, but unless you were personally slandered there’s no chance of legal recourse against such conspiratorial campaigns.

In the end, this is an example of how rich men can ride roughshod over the Constitution and the democratic process and there’s not a damn thing anybody can do about it.

Somebody stole my gas!

I know gas prices are high, but this is just ridiculous.

Lemme break it down for you, in the hope that I will understand it myself. Here’s what happened: I filled up my car’s tank on Thursday. Like always, I tripped the mileage counter so it was back to zero. I like to keep track of my miles per gallon just to see if the car’s doing okay and all that.

So skip forward to Saturday. I drive to the disc golf course to hook up with some friends and throw 18 holes. Afterwards we drive to the bar and run into some friends. After drinking and playing some pool we move decide to play another 18 holes. At this point I look at my gas gauge. It reads 1/4 full.

I assumed that something was wrong with the gauge. It’s electronic and only reads accurately when you turn the key. So I figure maybe there was a glitch and it will read correctly when I turn it off and turn it back on again. So we throw a round and I check the gas level again. It still reads a quarter tank.

Now I know I didn’t drive that far. I check the trip mileage and it reads less than a hundred miles (normally I can expect well over 300 miles per tank). I forget about it for awhile, thinking that maybe the gauge is stuck for some reason and I’ll be able to drive on it for 300 miles. I checked for a pool of gas on my driveway that might indicate a leaky gas tank and found nothing.

But on the way home from work yesterday the gas light came on, signalling the tank was almost empty. Not wanting to risk it I swing back into a gas station and put the pump in. The gallons start adding up. 2…. 3….. 4…. WTF?!

I fully expected it to stop before 3 gallons. My tank was empty. The mileage counter read almost exactly 100 miles since my last fill up.

The thought hit me like a flung portion of pudding — Somebody stole my gas!!

I can’t think of any other explanation. I checked this morning and the gas is still there. My tank is not leaking. I know I hit the mileage counter at the last fillup; I remember doing it and it was only a few days ago.

There’s only one possibility: Somebody siphoned my gas out of the tank while I was playing disc golf! Now, I’ve heard of some fucked up shit in my time, but who the hell goes around siphoning gas out of peoples’ tanks? I don’t want to unfairly smear the good names of my fellow disc golfers, but I don’t think there was time at the bar. And it was very busy around there.

I know there were a lot of kids hanging around the disc golf course. I don’t know why anyone would decide to fill up their tank at the expense of mine, but selfishness is certainly not unheard of on this planet. Still, it’s disappointing from a group that’s usually above such pettiness. I thought the only people who stole gas were in the Bush Administration!

Has this happened to anyone else? I know gas prices are getting out of hand, but I hadn’t foreseen this. Bastards got me for like 25 bucks worth of gas!

I need to put a padlock on my gas tank cover.

I wonder this every day around noon.

You see, I work in a fairly ritzy office building, but sometimes I start to hallucinate and think that I work at a hockey rink. Despite the fact that it is about 90 degrees outside at this very moment I am shivering cold. I have goosebumps and I’m rubbing myself for warmth. Hang on, before my fingers freeze off, let me put on a fleece pullover I keep in my office for this very reason.

Okay, that’s a bit better. But I’m still pissed off that I have wear winter clothing inside during the summer. Can somebody tell me who decided office buildings should be kept at refrigerator temperatures in summer? I would like to shove that person into a walk-in freezer and lock the door.

Confession time: I am a skinny person. I have a runner’s build (I had it before I started running) and I generally loathe the cold and winter. I’m shivering and uncomfortable all the time during the winter, and if I thought it would be reasonable, I’d crank the heat at my place to 80 degrees in January. However, the point is that I don’t! I put on extra layers of clothing and work out or play drums to keep warm and get the blood flowing. I understand some people hate the heat and think 82 degrees is unbearably warm, but at this point I don’t fucking care. I suffer all winter, why should I have to freeze all summer, too?! It doesn’t make any sense!

From a global warming perspective, the people who set the temp at 70 or 71 degrees in the summer are basically lighting our atmosphere on fire. Long-term, this obsession with air conditioning is totally counterproductive. You like it cool? Then don’t turn the damn AC on, because every time you do you burn more coal and spew more CO2 into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide causes the planet’s temperature to rise.

Personally, I can go outside on a 90 degree day like today and feel totally comfortable as long as the humidity is not too high. The body naturally acclimates itself to the seasons, so my suggestion to set the thermostat at 80 or 82 degrees in the summer is not that crazy. If your body is sweating profusely at 80 degrees, the sad truth is that you’re probably too fat.

This is a touchy subject, so I’ll try to be kind, but I am getting fed up. It’s one thing to be fat on your own time, but when it starts affecting me that’s where I draw the line. If you are sweating like a pig while sitting in the office and using a mouse, it’s probably time to lose some weight.

Clearly, it doesn’t help matters that I sit all day and stare at a computer screen. I’m sure if I were doing hard physical labor the 72 degree air would be bliss. But if construction workers can construct buildings in this heat why can’t you sit on your ass, in the shade and deal with a temp of 80 degrees? I don’t think I’m being unreasonable, fellow office drones, but please let me know if I am.

Making matters worse, I swear the building temp is dropped a few degrees from 12 to 2 pm. Why? I think it’s to counteract the after-lunch sleepiness that afflicts many workers (but which is actually a sign of sleep deprivation — hell even the unemployed are sleep deprived in 2007). Gotta squeeze every last bit of productivity out of those serfs, right? Even if it’s at the expense of the environment and their health.

Humans are so fucking stupid it blows my mind. Our planet is going down like the Titanic and we’re not even re-arranging the deck chairs. In fact, we’re not doing anything. We’re sitting on our fat asses trying to figure out a way to get even more comfortable when it should be clear that we have only moments to live.

At this point, our dwindling time left on Earth is my only consolation.

Without power…. again

Once again I am without power. I’m writing this from work, just to update the blog, ’cause it might be awhile. This time I can see what the problem is: My neighbor’s telephone/power pole was snapped in half and fell on one of his trees. The whole thing is just fucked. The powerlines going to my house are sagging so low I could almost jump rope with them.

So, for the second time this month I am trying to survice without power. It was the same thing as last time; a powerful storm came through at 3 am and the first thing it did was knock out my juice. My sweet, sweet electricity. Oh how I miss it.

I guess I’m lucky I didn’t have more wind damage since there were 70 mph winds reported (it was 80 last time I think). Lots of my neighbors lost trees or at least huge branches. The whole ‘hood looks like a warzone, with leaves and branches scattered everywhere. I half-expected to see radioactive zombies wandering the street in search of brains.

So I guess Mother Nature hates me or something. I’d better buy a generator before the next storm. That, and a shotgun for the zombies.

36 hours with no power

Because of the storm early Saturday morning I spent last nearly-40 hours without electricity. It’s an interesting perspective on things. You realize how much you depend on a constant stream of fresh, juicy power coming into your house.

The big thing is the refrigerator. As the food starts to get warmer and warmer you’ve gotta calculate how long it will be before the power is back on, and with no working phonelines or a TV or a computer or an internet connection it’s kinda hard to sniff it out.

Usually the power is back on shortly after the outage. It was clear in the morning that this wasn’t one of those outages. I called the power company today on the last of my cellphone battery and they said, worst-case, it could be end of day Tuesday. Yikes.

You start thinking differently without reliable power. Simple tasks become much harder, some things become impossible and you have to be wily and inventive. The weird thing was how much I got done around the house. Tasks that has been sitting around forever got completed. Overall, I can’t complain. But I’m glad it’s over.

Thorium to solve world's energy crisis?

TreeHugger.com seems to think so:

According to a news release this past week Professor Egil Lillestol has been trying to convince Norway that a nuclear reactor based on thorium would be a viable solution to the worlds growing energy demands without the environmental impact of coal, or the hazards of traditional nuclear energy. Is he onto something? Read on to see the gory details.

From the article:

  • There is no danger of a melt-down like the Chernobyl reactor
  • It produces minimal radioactive waste
  • It can burn Plutonium waste from traditional nuclear reactors with additional energy output
  • It is not suitable for the production of weapon grade materials
  • The energy contained in one kilogram of Thorium equals that of four thousand tons of coal
  • The global Thorium reserves could cover the world’s energy needs for thousands of years

That sounds pretty fucking sweet. And maybe a little bit too good to be true. What’s the catch? Well, I suppose that it’s still nuclear power, so the dangers inherent in that are still a factor, but we’ve gotten a bit better at managing it recently. We haven’t had a Chernobyl or a 3-Mile Island in, what, two decades? That’s pretty good… I guess.

But how realistic is this plan? And who stands to gain/lose from it?

Resurrecting the Electric Car

Despite oil industry efforts to kill the electric car, it looks like the inevitable will finally happen once the forces of capitalism are firmly lined up behind it. In what sounds a little too good to be true, a company is claiming that their electric car will get you 500 miles for 9 bucks. Can these guys deliver? Well, they’ve got Business 2.0 along for the ride:

Forget hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles. EEStor, a stealth company in Cedar Park, Texas, is working on an “energy storage” device that could finally give the internal combustion engine a run for its money — and begin saving us from our oil addiction. “To call it a battery discredits it,” says Ian Clifford, the CEO of Toronto-based electric car company Feel Good Cars, which plans to incorporate EEStor’s technology in vehicles by 2008.

EEStor’s device is not technically a battery because no chemicals are involved. In fact, it contains no hazardous materials whatsoever. Yet it acts like a battery in that it stores electricity. If it works as it’s supposed to, it will charge up in five minutes and provide enough energy to drive 500 miles on about $9 worth of electricity. At today’s gas prices, covering that distance can cost $60 or more; the EEStor device would power a car for the equivalent of about 45 cents a gallon.

And we mean power a car. “A four-passenger sedan will drive like a Ferrari,” Clifford predicts. In contrast, his first electric car, the Zenn, which debuted in August and is powered by a more conventional battery, can’t go much faster than a moped and takes hours to charge.

The cost of the engine itself depends on how much energy it can store; an EEStor-powered engine with a range roughly equivalent to that of a gasoline-powered car would cost about $5,200. That’s a slight premium over the cost of the gas engine and the other parts the device would replace — the gas tank, exhaust system, and drivetrain. But getting rid of the need to buy gas should more than make up for the extra cost of an EEStor-powered car.

Sounds too good to be true, right? But technology is always advancing, even when it appears to be standing still — as in the case of combustion engines, which haven’t gotten much more efficient in the last 20 years. The oil companies are really only succeeding in prolonging their reign for a few more years while simultaneously ensuring their eventual obsolescence. Once the electric/hydrogen/whatever technology matures it will be a no-brainer to switch away from oil-based engines. Would you rather pay $3.50 a gallon or 50 cents a gallon? I’ll take the cheaper and more environmentally friendly option, thanks. It could’ve been a hard decision, but with hybrids and a retardedly obvious cost/benefit ratio, alternative fuel sources are poised to take off, leaving oil companies in the dust.

So, uh, why are we fighting a war for oil in the desert again?