Saturday, February 21, 2009

Grow your own!!

So, we bought a house in north Oakland, CA (home of the Black Panthers!) this past December 2008... and ever since, have been working to turn the yard into a forest garden, an edible landscape of permaculture with a garden for annuals in the back. This just seems like good common sense to me, and a recent post on BlueOregon shows that the consciousness is spreading that we all need to be doing a little bit more of growing our own. Indeed, a recent article in AARP magazine shows that retired folks are finding that this is a great way to use some of that extra time they find on their hands, while reducing the burden of their food budget on their pocketbook!

So far, we've planted an orange tree, some rosemary, thyme, oregano and jasmine in the front yard (the last because it smells good and can serve as a centerpiece for the kitchen table). And in the back, the house came with a mature apricot tree, which we have surrounded with hops, blueberries, a faux-artichoke, a four-on-one apple tree, a fig tree, a currant bush, strawberries, lettuce and salad greens, carrots, peas, valerian, rhubarb ... and three chickens!! We'll be adding dozens of other crops over the next few months, as we haven't even started to plant our two raised beds, and also intend to add a few more fruit & nut trees & shrubs... I'm quite excited by it all, frankly!! I think it's one of the best parts of owning a house, that you can plant trees and stuff in the yard and know that they're your trees and shrubs and that you should be able to reap your own harvest, year after year (and if you move, well, the next occupant will be able to reap your harvest, year after year)!!

So go out there and plant edible stuff, anywhere and everywhere you can! Just pay attention to what each plant needs and wants (sun, partial sun, shade, good fertilized soil, poor well-drained soil) and give it to it at the beginning... it's just that simple!


Friday, February 20, 2009

Oregon's Trying to Go Idaho-Style

The Legislature of the State of Oregon is currently considering a bill that would make it legal for bicyclists to roll through stop signs (i.e., treat them as yield signs) when it is safe to do so. It would also allow cities to select certain specific intersections to sign/designate as areas where bicyclists would still be required to come to a full stop. It would NOT legalize proceeding through a stop light after coming to a complete stop.

Idaho has had a similar law on the books since 1982, with no reported adverse effects or incidents. They added a new provision allowing bicyclists to proceed through red stop lights (after first coming to a full stop) earlier this decade, reportedly because this option was cheaper than tuning the vehicle-detection-loops at every traffic light in the state such that they would detect bicycles.

While the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay Area in California was studying this issue in 2008, that effort has apparently stalled.

Oregon may therefore yet become the first place outside of Idaho to legalize going "Idaho-Style."

Go Oregon!


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lick It & Stick It

So, there's been a lot of political stuff going on lately, which has been dominating the coverage provided by this blog. But, since California passed a budget (covering the next 17 months or so) today, I figured I would switch gears and talk about something else.

Specifically... vinyl record players. This post, then, is for DJs and vinyl aficionados.

Sometime, when a DJ goes to play a record on a record player for the first time in a while, the record doesn't quite sound right. The needle is fine; the connections between the recond player and the amp are fine; the record itself is fine. What's the problem?

The problem is that, on Technics 1200s (and record players of a similar design), the physical connection between the needle stylus and the tone arm sometimes becomes not-so-great. A tiny gap will open up between the two sets of electrical contacts, and the electrical connection will be intermittent.

The solution?

Unscrew the needle stylus. Lick the electrical contacts (or, spit a little bit on your finger and rub it on the contacts). Then, screw the stylus back onto the tone arm.

This technique is known amongst DJs as "Lick It & Stick It."

It is also done with trepidation, because as any vinyl aficionado knows, Lick It & Stick It may fix the problem in the short term, but in the long term, it contributes to corrosion of the electrical terminals (the likely solution to which is further licking-it & sticking-it). It's therefore a self-propagating habit... the more a particular record player has experienced being licked & stuck in the past, the more it is likely to require this sort of treatment in the future.

Why does it work?

Basically, human saliva contains a certain amount of sodium, just like our blood (which, in fact, has nearly the same sodium level as that found on average in the world's oceans). Sodium in solution in a liquid conducts electricity -- it is known as "contact solution" (or an electrolyte) to folks working with electricity, because when applied sparingly at the point of contact between two electrical connections, it facilitates the flow of electrons from one side of the connection to the other.

Why should you not do it?

Human saliva also will cause those same contacts to corrode (oxidize or, basically, rust) over time.

What's the best solution?

According to Ortofon, you should clean the contacts with WD-40.

That's right -- another use for WD-40!!

And there you go -- the science behind Lick It & Stick It!!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

FILIBUSTERS (open letter to Democratic Senators)

Dear Senator,

I would like an explanation for why Republicans in the United States Senate must only mention the threat of a filibuster to ensure that 60 votes are required for the passage of any bill. The filibuster was never meant as a device to ensure that every single bill required 60 votes for passage. Rather, it is a tool to be used by individual senators when they protest strongly to an individual bill and feel they have no other option to block its passage.

I REALLY would like to see the Democrats grow a collective backbone and call the bluff of the Republicans when it comes to filibusters. If they threaten to filibuster a bill, then they should be forced to get up and explain to the American public, for hours on end, why the bill is a bad idea. And, when they're done, the Democrats should just go ahead and pass the bill anyways.

This is, I feel, an extremely relevant point, as the ARRA bill was unnecessarily watered-down with tax cuts that only generate 0.95 jobs for every $1.00 of expenditure, just so taxpayers can get an extra $8 a week. We didn't elect you to give us $8 a week. We elected you to make the difficult decisions necessary to solve the big problems facing this country.

Calling the bluff of Republicans when it comes to filibusters in the United States Senate will need to become an essential strategy over the next couple of years. I would like an official response from my Senator as to why I haven't seen this strategy employed yet -- and, hopefully, a promise to employ it the very next time a Republican threatens a filibuster. CALL THEIR BLUFF.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

They Sure Showed That Obama (what they're really made of)

In yesterday's Times, Frank Rich gives us a (much-needed) positive spin on the stimulus package & its politics:

They Sure Showed That Obama

OK, so the stimulus package basically sucks. It also represents a political win for Obama, who can now check off the "attempted bipartisanship" box on his agenda, and move on to fixing the country with the rest of the items on his agenda (i.e. health care, etc.).

For transportation reform, which I care about deeply, this is also the year of transportation re-authorization, which is the really big battle. The stimulus may have not offered much of a down-payment on transportation, but that's OK -- re-authorization is where the real money and policy reform is at anyways.

There are a number of groups working on re-authorization, but the one that I'm hoping will be the most effective is Transportation For America (T4America), which is now headed up by my old buddy from MTC, James Corless. Check them out -- they're fighting the good fight.

And in the meantime -- across the country, from California to D.C., we're seeing what the Republican'ts are really made up, and how big it really us. I'm pretty sure that we're all watching, and learning. The question is, will the Democrats be able to pull us out of this giant mess single-handedly?