Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How Cold Is The Big Lake?

OK, so it's getting so I do this every year. Last year, on December 26th, and in 2005, on December 13th, I published pictures from NOAA, of the current Lake Michigan surface temps. This winter has been closer to normal, with snow cover since Thanksgiving an ice on the inland lakes for Christmas.

Still, a look at the big lake, our main weather maker, shows that it is warmer each year. This is bad news for lake levels, as a warmer lake loses more water to evaporation. Ideally, we would like to see the big lake freeze over early and keep all of its water for a month or so.

It is easy to look at lake temps and point to global warming, but there is more going on. Zebra mussels have filtered the water to a new clarity, and sunlight is now penetrating Lake Michigan to greater depths than we have ever seen before, changing the physical characteristics of the lake.

We could also consider the sun. We had a sunny day on Christmas, and a sunny dawn today. We have been treated to more of our usual share of sunny days this December, although the sun doesn't rise very high this time of year.

We watched the sun set over frozen Lake Leelanau last night as we exchanged presents at my brother's place. The sun descends at an oblique angle, reflecting back and shining onto the clouds long after it has disappeared beneath the snow and ice. I don't know how you could have a photo of that sort of sunset, as it is really a series of scenes, with new and more improbable colors every time you glance up.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

First Ice

South Lake Leelanau froze enough to walk on about 10 days ago. Richard waited until last weekend to go out, and the fish waited a few more days to bite. He said it was good to be out on the lake, even if they didn't bite.

We had some cold nights with no snow, so the ice, 4-5 inches thick, was hard and clear. The last few days have been around 30 degrees, perfect for getting out of the house. These nice perch were part of a dozen that will make a nice supper.
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Brilliant Books

Suttons Bay has a new bookstore, Brilliant Books. It is across the street from Misfit Toys with a sweet old-fashioned storefront. The proprietors are Peter and Colleen Makin. I've always enjoyed talking with Peter, and I look forward to getting to know the Makins and their books better.

Brilliant Books is also on the web. As a quick foray into the site, I picked a topic that Liz and I had been discussing, urban planning. (Her environmental studies class was supposed to design the transportation of the future. Her group decided that instead of building better cars, we need to build better cities.) This page from the Brilliant Books site speaks to the same thoughts that Liz and I were sharing. I want to read at least half of the titles on this page alone.

And they are open late on Christmas Eve!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I Was Prescient

Back in the spring I wrote, while riffing on ethanol, about hand sanitizer. I had just attended a TIPS training, the training where they teach people who work in the hospitality industry how to identify and handle people who have had too much alcohol. Since I was also thinking about fuel alcohol, ethanol, at the time, it's not surprising that I ran across the article about the prison inmate who got loaded on Purell. I predicted then that children would end up getting drunk on hand sanitizer, either on purpose or because they licked it off their hands.

Turns out both things have happened, and I can thank the person who got to this site by Googling "how much purell to get drunk" for leading me to these stories.

Two little girls, at least, have ended up at the ER after eating hand sanitizer. One swigged it during an unsupervised visit to the bathroom. Another licked it off her hands at daycare. The second case was particularly frightening as the parents had no idea what was going on -- they picked up a sick kid from daycare and went to the ER. Their daughter could barely sit up in the chair and was having trouble focusing her eyes. The ER doctors could not figure it out until the preschool teacher questioned the other kids and heard about the hand sanitizer.

There are at least two other potential hazards associated with hand sanitizer. At Rant Your Head Off, we find a story about a new urine test to determine if recovering alcoholics are still firmly on the wagon. The test detects alcohol metabolites at very small levels, so small that it appears that a few people may have lost their jobs because of their hand sanitizer use.

And there's this one, from a comment on the NY Times "Freakonomics"blog:

Anyone know whether the stories of hand sanitizers combusting when sparked by static are true? The hospital I work for circulated a memo to that effect. Great-we already have to worry about contracting MRSA, HIV, HepB, and various other nasties at work-now we need to worry about hand fires??
Should’a gone into teaching….
D. Cheryl, R.N.

You know it's a bad day at work when your hands catch fire.

Meanwhile I'm reading Michael Pollan's An Omnivore's Dilemma. The first part of this book is all about corn. He attributes the rise of food engineering to our nations ongoing glut of corn, which we can produce cheaply as long as we can keep synthesizing nitrogen fertilizer from fossil fuels. During our nation's first glut of corn, in the mid 19th century, the excess was converted to alcohol, whiskey, a form that was easily transported and sold to city dwellers. Modern day liquor laws have made that sort of trade impossible today, so corn is converted to a host of other products that are recombined into engineered food. It does make me wonder if hand sanitizer was invented to solve a human need for sanitizing, or to create another market for corn products?

I've got to start writing more about the restoration of the constitution and the rebirth of democracy and common sense. If my predictions are going to come true, after all, I might as well make some really good ones.....

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Leelanau Children's Choir

Anna in her choir regalia

Anna sang this weekend in two choir concerts, then again at the Leland Methodist Church this morning. They sang a lot of familiar songs, and some new ones as well. My favorites were the John Ritter carol "Rejoice and Be Merry," and "Gesu Bambino," sung by Allison Wodek, a choir graduate who returned as the guest soloist.

It was different to hear the choir sing in Northport, as this is the first time that they have ever used microphones. Although it is a bigger venue, I think I'd rather be challenged to listen, and maybe miss a few lines, than to have to compensate for the sound coming from the sides while the singer is in front of me.

I remind myself of that old curmudgeon in John Gardner's wonderful novel October Light, who grouses that if the angels were to descend from on high in this day and age, we couldn't hear them through the endless loop of amplified carols. At least I think that's what he wrote -- that book was "pruned" from Leland Library's shelves a few years back, as nobody (except me?) checked it out.

Ah, well. Choir endures. There were some exciting young voices this year, and the boys continue to stake out their own space in what used to be a girl dominated group. I look forward to their 15th anniversary spring concert, and I look forward to having all of my kids home this Christmas, with all of their music.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

A Thermostat Poll

Over Thanksgiving, I spent the a few days taking an informal poll of the people at home and at work, asking the question: "Where do you set your thermostat?"
The range of answers was interesting, as was the range of thought that had gone into the decision. A good many people just automatically said "68," as if there were no other alternative, much the way they said "72" when I was a kid, before the energy crisis of the 1970's. The people who heat with wood, of course, have no thermostats, or they leave the thermostat on the backup heat set really low --45 or so-- and sit closer to the stove if they are cold.

People who have electric baseboard heat know that their heat is pricey, but they make up for it by only heating the rooms that they are actually using and turning the rest off. People with fuel oil furnaces are facing a 22% jump in fuel costs this year, but most of the people I talked to have already switched to natural gas or (in the remote areas) propane. Propane has also risen in price, by 16% according to today's newspaper, but nobody mentioned this.

One woman told me that her mother complained and wouldn't stay to visit if the thermostat was below 70. Parents of young toddlers were the most likely to set the thermostat at 68 despite worrying about the cost. As the ages of the kids rose, the setting of the thermostat dropped. One smart dad said that he starts out the winter with the thermostat at 65, but dials it down one degree a week until the kids get used to wearing socks and sweatshirts and he can run closer to 60 as a daytime normal. (He still turns it up to 65 for the hours worth of "getting up and getting dressed" time in the morning.)

Among the people heating with natural gas, one guy was keeping his thermostat at a whopping 78, for economic reasons. He shares the heat bill with the larger apartment in his building and pays one third; the neighbors of the monthly bill. Nate calculates that they only way to make sure that he's not subsidizing his neighbors is to turn the heat up high enough that his neighbors subsidize him. He has to strip down to his underwear to be comfortable, but he thought that wearing a sweatshirt around the house, as I do, must be awfully constricting. They also split the electric bill in a similar way, so in the summer, Nate cranks the AC up and wears clothes.

Most people turn the heat down at night, and a few mentioned how much they liked a gadget that I had never heard of, an electric mattress pad that preheats the bed and keeps the foot of the bed warm, even if you move your feet to a different spot.

The winners of my informal poll were Shelagh and Jordan, who had still not even turned their heat on as of Thanksgiving. Living on the south side of the apartment building and with their neighbors all turning the heat up, they found that the place stayed reasonably warm without it. "Around bedtime the temperature goes down to 60," said Jordan, "but we just go to bed."
Liz, the environmental science major, lives in an old dormitory with steam radiator heat. Although she turned her radiator completely off, she was still opening her window to cool the place as the radiator in the hall, with no shutoff valve, cranked out heat like nobody's business. I sent this article about radiator maintenance. It turns out you're supposed to bleed the radiators and level them, to keep the steam flowing more evenly, otherwise some rooms heat hotter than others, and the super ends up cranking up the heat to suit the coolest areas, while the people in the hottest areas open windows. Based on my own poll, I'm thinking that the problem is not the temperature, but how people think about the temperature.
These past few days it has gotten cold and windy. Hearing the furnace turn on every half hour sounds like wasting money to me, but such is winter.