being green


The internet is a funny thing. It makes that of our imaginations real; it shrinks distances to the length of a fingertip. It makes contact wildly easy, and true intimacy easy to forget. It makes careers and whole industries, and occasionally it destroys them. It breeds a kind of pseudo-anonymity that makes it easy to forget that the whole world is watching and that that world is composed of real people with real feelings and real faces. Years ago, chat rooms and email lists pioneered new language to describe the unbearably cruel barbs that became surprisingly common: flames, flame wars, flaming. And then the beginnings of a cure: emoticons (sideways smilies made with punctuation marks), which give us a shadow of facial cues to go with our language. We can smile, wink, laugh, stick out our tongues, even put on sunglasses for a cool look. They help. We also learned, in the early days of email, to keep the emotional conversations off the computer as much as possible. When things get tough the best course is to get together as soon as you can.

For a geographically dispersed congregation like ours, scattered across at least five different regions and many more communities, technology can be an incredible grace. We can email, social-network, even video chat our way into a kind of daily intimacy formerly only available to next-door neighbors. We are working on developing our online presence: website, Facebook page, sermon podcasts, and more. If we use these tools wisely, they can build exactly the kind of strength we need in our community; if we forget that we are people talking to people, if we forget appropriate boundaries, if we use them for hard conversations instead of for scheduling the hard conversations, if we let them depersonalize us, then we are in trouble.

But we can’t let fear of a conflict keep us from connection. These tools could have been custom-made for us. The technology has matured at last, and we are in exactly the right place to reap the benefits: very much wanting to know each other better, and too busy and dispersed to get together twice a week for coffee. We literally have the technology. Let’s use it.

I grew up in the suburbs of New York. Graffiti was a way of life and an art form. Sure, it was illegal, but if it was beautiful enough it could win you over, and often did.

CNET has a photo gallery of “green” graffiti now–no spray cans, just creativity. Some of it is digital, but some is not.

What can we transform?

So print publishers are struggling, newspapers are going out of business, independent presses and novelists are having a heck of a time. Whether or not computers and Kindles are sounding the death knell for books as we know them, they are becoming a part of the publishing landscape. In a time when major booksellers control most of what gets printed and therefore most of what is available, period, the web and electronics are pushing back. Novelists and creatives of every stripe are working with forward-thinking geeks to work with the technology and open up the possibilities.

Nicola Griffith, author of a number of exquisitely crafted, every-word-chosen-for-a-reason print novels, is working with her fans to develop a new cooperative publishing model. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s grassroots, and she’s got a lot of people on board. Read about it here: Ask Nicola.

Publishing doesn’t get much more democratic. The best writers will write, the best artists will illustrate, but everyone can do something to make this project go. Check it out!

Our house was built by an interesting and innovative gentleman who is now building his family another house in the next town over. Part of his research has been into energy efficiency. All fuels have problems of storage, of transportation, of pollution–some more than others. But this new trend in Germany looks at the problem of heating from the other direction: reducing fuel demand to zero while staying comfortable. The NYT writes about it here. Fabulous.

Alison Bechdel (cartoonist of long-running Dykes to Watch Out For) has a partner whose passion is composting. Here, Holly spends a few hours of her vacation overhauling the compost pile for the UU meetinghouse in Provincetown, MA.

I’ve posted several times about furoshikis, the Japanese squares of fabric that can be transformed into carrying bags and wraps of all kinds. A little while back I noted that there was a book, and promised a follow-up if I could get my hands on it.

I found it. Gift Wrapping With Textiles by Chizuko Morita was, unbelievably, in the Bangor Borders. Now that I’ve had it for a few months, I feel qualified to comment.

The truth is, almost all the really useful wraps are demo’ed on YouTube or diagrammed on the Japanese Ministry of the Environment furoshiki. There are a few good additions in this book, notably a large folio carry (think framed art), the long tube wrap (think rolled posters), the kimono wine wrap (not as useful as the ordinary bottle wrap, but prettier), and the backpack (uses two furoshikis, and really only good in a pinch). Everything else is either a reapplication of a basic concept or cute/pretty but not useful as such (and here my New England pragmatism peeks through). The instructions are generally good, especially the section in the beginning about the different sorts of knots and how to tie them. there are a few places where the wording is a little tricky, but nothing insurmountable.

If you’re planning to convert your life to a furoshiki-only existence, get this book. If you want a lot of instructions about decorative wraps (the title is, after all, about gift wrapping) with flowers or rabbits or kittens worked into the tying, get this book. Otherwise, see if you can get it at the library.

There’s a lot that goes into sustainability, one of which is actual footprint–size of house, for example. Our house is 1080 square feet on three floors. It’s just about big enough for all the stuff we have, mostly. With a little weeding our stuff would fit. However, the common space is a little tight for anything resembling a crowd. The presence of summer guests has made that clearer.

So someday we could expand the house about 8 feet, which is a lot for a 20×22 footprint.

But my father and his three siblings grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Mumbai. Half the family slept in the living room. Do two adults and three pets need more space?

I don’t know.

Here’s a word problem for you green-minded types:

I live in Brooklin. I want to go to Kennebunk (actually Arundel, to Wildfire HPV, but I would use Kennebunk as my base since my partner is there for business) to test-drive recumbent trikes as a first step toward greening my transportation. I have a regular, non-hybrid car at my disposal. If I drive it will take me about 4 hours each way, and about 17 gallons of gas round trip.

I can catch a bus in Bangor, about an hour away in the wrong direction, but not in Ellsworth, which is more like 30 or 40 minutes away. I can also catch a bus in Belfast, an hour or more away in the right direction. Neither of these buses will stop in Kennebunk. They will only stop in Portland. Portland is 30 minutes from Kennebunk. My partner is in Kennebunk with a Prius. She can come get me and return with me to Kennbunk, adding one Prius-hour of driving to the total carbon footprint of this trip.

If I do this and take the bus, I can return with her to Brooklin in the Prius. However, we then must drive to Bangor to retrieve the other car, adding two Prius-hours of driving to the two regular hours of driving to the carbon footprint of the trip. Alternatively, if I take the bus from Belfast, the car pickup will be on the way home.

“Regular driving” is about 20 mi/gal and Prius driving is about 45 mi/gal.

What is the best way for me to get to Kennebunk?

Do I (a) Drive to Kennebunk (8 hours of driving for the round trip)
(b) Drive to Belfast and take the bus from there to Portland (3 hours of regular driving, plus on extra Prius-hour, plus the bus, which is $35 and 9 hours)
(c) Drive to Bangor and take the bus from there to Portland (2 hours of regular driving plus 3 Prius-hours, plus the bus, which is $25 and 2.5 hours)
(d) wait for her to get home with the Prius and then drive to Kennebunk as a separate trip (8 Prius-hours)

Bueller? Anyone?

I’m very, very excited. We now have a choice of velomobiles in the US. In addition to the allwelder from Velomobile USA in Texas, we now have a US dealer fro the Go-One3. Prices are still high-ish (base model at 10k, and then accessories for winter and assembly bring the cost to $17k) but I’m so glad velomobiles are making inroads into the US market. Unfortunately the “financing” available is a credit card at 24% APR. Yikes! We need to get banks educated so we can get auto-type loans for these.

PS: my favorite is still the Aerorider. Anyone importing them yet?

I’m a big fan of open-source software, the open source movement in general, and creative commons licensing. These are all sets of practices that move away from the mine-mine-all-mine model of intellectual property and toward a more collaborative way of being. To my way of thinking there’s a lot of good that comes out of financial motivation, but there’s also a lot of good that comes from collaboration, including most useful science. The trend toward racing-to-publish, secrecy, and sabotage in the science community really disturbs me, so I’m always glad to see something leaning in the other direction.

For a variety of reasons, my work computer has given me the chance to experiment more fully with open-source computer systems. I’m still running Windows Vista for practicality’s sake, but nearly everything else that I use regularly is open source, and it’s working brilliantly. By my calculations, that’s several thousand dollars worth of software not purchased from large corporations. I don’t mind supporting good R&D, but at some point it starts to look and feel exploitative. Further, we’re a church–we have a lot of the same needs as a corporation, but at least in this stage of our development, we don’t have the same kind of budget, and our values suggest that maybe supporting other endeavors should be our first priority.

So for the curious, here’s what’s working well for me:

    web browser (instead of Internet Explorer): Mozilla Firefox
    mail client (instead of Microsoft Outlook): Mozilla Thunderbird
    drawing program (instead of Adobe Illustrator): Inkscape
    layout program (Instead of Quark Xpress): Scribus (warning: this is ever so slightly harder to install than the others. If you want it for Windows, go to the scribus page and under “choose your platform” choose Windows. Read the whole page through, don’t forget to install Ghostscript first, and then look for the download link all the way at the bottom.)
    photo editor (instead of Photoshop): the venerable Gimp, possibly one of the oldest of these open-source projects, and one of the first to gain widespread use.
    photo viewer/slideshow maker/simple editor: Irfanview, and no, I don’t know how to pronounce it, but it’s tiny and fast and flexible.

These will serve most of the needs that most of us have, with no licensing headaches and no major dents to our purses. Of course, all projects accept donations if you are so moved.

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