Saturday, October 22, 2011

Spark's 1st Video Release

Drum-roll please. Spark in the Dark's first-ever home video is complete, and is about to be unveiled, in public, right here on this very blog.

This was created for an assignment in BGI's Social Media for Social Change class.Many of us wondered how we could possibly complete the assignment. I started out not even knowing that Windows comes with a video editor. Its called Movie Maker. It is limited, but in that useful sort of way that makes it relatively easy to use.

After worrying about the assignment for a bit, I finally let go and had some fun with it. In the spirit of the class ("ship early ship often, and don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough"), I unveil it here, for your viewing pleasure.

It was fun to meet Joule. Her agent says that she is available for film, play, and commercial roles.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kill the Energy Vampires

Watch out for energy vampires this Halloween!

Energy vampires are devices that suck power even when you are not using them. Phone chargers left plugged into the wall, modems, digital clocks on the coffeemaker or microwave, etc. Do you have any vampires in your house? Your office?

Shocking but True: In America, some appliances use more energy each year when they are turned off or in standby mode, than they do when being used!!

This wasteful situation is often a result of lazy design. Other times, at least according to manufacturers, it is so our devices will turn on quicker, without taking even a few seconds to boot-up.

The true cost of getting energy to your home involves a lot of negatives. These include war and spills (for oil), putting mercury and other hazards into our air and water (for coal), destroying entire watersheds and vibrant fisheries (for hydro).

This leads me to conclude that sucking power for devices that are not even being used is... Well, kind of disgusting. I am all for using energy to keep us warm and comfortable and to power our industrial production. But let's use it mindfully. Let's stop the waste that is designed into our system.

Until energy-efficient design becomes commonplace, there are a few steps you can take to avoid wasting energy because of energy vampires.

First, unplug appliances when not in use. When they aren't plugged in, they can't suck power. Anybody can do this, and it costs nothing.

Second, plug your entertainment system into a power strip that lets you turn off the parts that dont take time to boot-up. In my case, I leave my cable modem and wireless router in "always on" mode even though it kills me. But I plug my TV, PS3, and stereo into a separate power strip that lets me kill the power to them completely when not in use. You can buy a basic power strip for about $12. There are also a number of "smart" power strips available that can handle this task for you.

The funny Halloween video below sheds more light on the vampires in our homes:

Have a great and energy efficient holiday.

Image (CC, BY, 2.0)

Other Voices

Poking around fellow students' Beat Blogs is fun and informative. Transitional Truths
Jessika's blog about farm and food, turned me on to a new (to me) blogger, Nicole Faires

Nicole has a great story and a couple books under her belt. She doesn't pull her punches and she knows her stuff. I bring her to you as an example of the sort of writing I hope to achieve - she is clear, direct, authentic, unique. The useful info is there, yet the emotional importance of what she has to say doesn't get lost in a sea of words. It's good stuff.

She writes about the human cost of wasting energy. She reminds us:

All energy, even so-called ‘clean’ energy, has a high cost. Hydro comes from building dams which destroys trees and the ecological balance of rivers and lakes. Trees and water all hang in a careful biological balance that are part of the oxygen and water cycles we depend on to survive. I mean, really - you have to have clean air and water.

Solar and wind production don’t magically happen. The equipment needed requires mining for rare materials, metals, and other parts which are manufactured in factories. Mining and manufacturing are just another huge waste of energy. Not to mention that these don’t yet have the necessary power-producing ability that other options have, which would leave some of us in the dark.

Nuclear has been touted as the clean power that will save us all, but it is another wasteful and costly solution. Mining for the materials is toxic and disastrous to the environment, no matter what the materials are, and once you’ve used the fuel in a nuclear plant it becomes toxic waste that has to be protected and saved for hundreds or thousands of years, lest it kill everyone who comes in contact with it.

In a nutshell, almost all of the world's energy challenges get easier if we just use less. The logic is so simple. It makes sen$e. Let's just do it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Energy Themed Videos

For my class, Social Media for Social Change, we've been asked to share online videos related to our BGI Beat Blog topic. My topic is energy efficiency, and I found a couple good videos to share. A couple other entertaining videos about environmental issues are posted on my Professional Learning Journal.

1. BASF Energy Efficiency - The World in 2030 (4:22). This one is very "this is why energy is so important." Yet it identifies the single most important future source of energy. Did you guess correctly?

2. A Guide to Energy Efficient Lighting (2:18). If we get talking, you will quickly learn about my passion for energy efficient lighting. It is so much better than its cracked up to be. It has a pretty crappy reputation because of all the junk beta product on store shelves in the early days. Sad to say, there's still a lot of junk, or at least tech that is not the best solution for people's needs. This is unfortunate for the well-intentioned buyer. It takes a bit of research to figure this rapidly evolving field out, and available info is not especially geared to the residential or small business customer. Don't worry, I am happy to help you figure it out. Sorry - this link appears to be broken. The source is aware of the problem and it looks like they've taken the video down for some reason.

3. How to Save Energy at Home: A Quick Guide (2:25). 10 tips in 2 minutes. Nicely done.

Can you suggest other good video pieces about energy efficiency? Feel free to post some of your favorites in the comments section.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Blog Action Day: Good food. Good business.

Many of my days of late are spent studying “Business for Good” at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle. Recently I was lucky enough to join a small group of people in involved in agriculture, the food biz, and sustainable business in Mexico to experience an excellent example of what it means.

It is just more satisfying to do business when everybody wins. That is exactly what happened when self-confessed Napa-based bean lover, author, cook, entrepreneur, and all-around cool guy, Steve Sando aka Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Food, teamed up with Xoxoc, a Mexican family-business dedicated to business, community, food, and family based on their rich Mexican heritage of food and culture.

The Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project that grew out of this partnership involves creating a market for heritage beans, Xoxoc products that are based on the native xoconostle tuna, a kind of prickly pear fruit, along with related foods and handmade Mexican products. They are even working with the famed Diana Kennedy to bring a hard to source chile to the American marketplace.

By the standards of big industrial business, the kind of market we are talking about is tiny. But when you look at the big picture, the impact is really impressive. Bringing customers unique and top-quality products that taste great is always front and center. Yet un-trumpeted, and behind the scenes, there is something equally powerful going on.

Steve profiles the great food elements of the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project here and here, and the meals, mezcal, cooking classes, and all-around good times from our trip on his blog here. I’m going to take a different tack, and share what it means from the perspective of energy, green building and real wages for real people.

The Project means that there is a group of hardworking families, like the farmers of Maguey Verde, a small village in Hidalgo State, Mexico, who can now make a living raising heritage beans. Their market niche was quickly being replaced by industrial agriculture and its focus on one or two commercial varieties. Instead of risking a season’s worth of time and effort, just to take the beans to a commodity market that does not prize unique varieties or chemical-free agricultural methods, and where buyers pay the lowest possible price, the Xoxoc farmers can focus on quality, tradition, and production, knowing that their crop is pre-sold. The growers benefit, and so do consumers, who get access to dried beans so fresh and tasty that leading chefs and high-end food magazines extoll their virtues.

Being able to sell your crop is about more than maintaining a family tradition of crops suited to the natural conditions, and grown without irrigation, on communal ejido lands with horse-drawn plows instead of machinery. It translates into things like villages that come together and have enough money to maintain a shared well that for the past couple of years has brought running water to people’s homes. It means the possibility of being able to send your daughter to school past the 6th grade. The 2-horse plow is pretty cool too.

According to Yunuen Carillo Quiroz, one of our gracious hosts, a force-of-nature, and, one of the driving forces behind Xoxoc, they could have built a standard sort of industrial processing facility. Instead they chose to go sustainable, where beauty and good design counts, and the ratio of environmental impact to economic and cultural value is better for everyone involved. They chose traditional construction techniques and materials so they could keep the traditions alive with experienced craftsmen supervising and teaching their methods to laborers unfamiliar with old ways and indigenous materials. Those laborers left with a paycheck and new “old” skills they can bring to the next project and the one after that.

In contrast to the often dark and ugly buildings in the area, the Xoxoc buildings look great and they are designed to make the most of natural daylight. This is handy, especially since the receiving, processing, and packaging areas are not wired. That’s right – the only electricity in the entire facility is for a cutting edge solar-powered dehydrating unit where the xoconostle fruit is turned into dried treats.

Everything else, from washing and peeling the fruit, to sorting and cleaning beans destined for the American market, is done by hand. Doing it this way keeps capital costs down. It also creates good jobs for 11 women, many who are single mothers raising families in an area where employment and money are both in short supply.,

Like every business everywhere, it takes persistence, hard work, and a good sense of humor to make it happen. And where some might say the goal of business is to squeeze a dime out of every nickel, for me, the businesses that do good while doing business are the ones that capture my heart.

PS For more interesting reads, check out Blog Action Day.Link

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why energy efficiency? Some links...

Energy is a limited resource. Energy costs so much more than we pay. It costs more than the jobs or economic development promised to communities sitting near a source that someone wants to get their hands on.

Energy is essential AND it is a truly costly resource. Energy costs lives and communities and money. Let's show a little respect, and quit wasting it.

Here is a collection of links I find interesting:

1. This one helps explain energy use in America and relates a dollar of consumption to a cup of oil. Save energy by the money-saving act of shopping only for what you need. It’s difficult to see how our daily consumption decisions impact the air or water quality on a local level. And it’s even harder to conceive of how our decisions affect the rest of the world. It may help to know that every time you, as an average American, spend a dollar, the energy equivalent of a cup of oil is used to produce what that dollar buys.

2. The cost of energy, in terms of how long a worker has to work to pay for an hour of electric light. In the 1890s, Founder Thomas Edison sold GE’s first lightbulbs. Back then, in order to pay for an hour of light powered at the equivalent strength of today’s 100 watts, the average worker would have to work a full hour. By 1960, the time period decreased to a mere eight minutes. And by 1992, it was down to less than a second when using a compact fluorescent bulb.
3. Some say this study under-estimates the true cost of coal, but it still comes out to be a bad deal for the general public. Much of the effort to rollback current EPA regulations focuses on coal-fired electrical power plants. “Environmental Accounting for Pollution in the United States Economy” published in American Economic Review, is an effort to assess the damages caused by various polluting activities. Findings show that, contrary to current political mythology, coal is underregulated. On average, the harm produced by burning the coal is over twice as high as the market price of the electricity. In other words, some of the electricity production would flunk a cost-benefit analysis.

4. By the way, many people are surprised to learn that along with hydro, Puget Sound Energy in Washington is 32% coal and 30% natural gas.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Green building is mainstream

Green is going mainstream. Or so it seems to me. Lately I've been discovering that people in the most surprising places share my interest in green building and energy efficiency.

For instance, helping a neighbor who was injured while falling off a ladder the other day led to two surprise green encounters. Turns out that the neighbor, who we barely knew before the accident, and one of the ambulance techs, are both living green.

The neighbor's injuries were important, but not life threatening. Things were moving at a hurry up and wait sort of pace, so we chatted to distract and fill the time until the ambulance could take him off to the hospital.

The neighbor had a stack of green building and sustainable home books on the coffee table. And, as it turns out, one of the ambulance guys is designing a new energy-efficient house that will make use of daylighting, daylight harvesting, SIP wall construction, and super-efficient lighting and appliances to make things comfortable, light, and stylish. He is psyched about cutting his energy bills and keeping more of his money is his own pocket. Seeing green building moving out of a niche market and into everyday lives, like mine and theirs, is a huge inspiration. It is a powerful change because those energy efficiency measures will be saving power for years to come.

P.S. I also discovered that the fire department uses the long, curvy, steep, skinny road thru our neighborhood as a training ground for the people learning to drive the big rig. It can be a confusing place to get around, so it is reassuring to know that the local fire department is familiar with it.

(Edited for clarity Oct. 11)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Welcome to Spark in the Dark

Living well and living lighter on the planet go hand in hand.

This blog is a work in progress about my journey to cut my footprint while living life to its fullest, and to help people and companies who are interested in doing the same. Energy and food are rich subjects, full of stories that affect people, planet and our economy. I hope to entertain, teach and learn.

Readers, visitors, and friends, please comment and share and enjoy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Energy is Power

Hello. I'm Tamara and this is my BGI Blog Beat, Spark in the Dark.