Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Using an Electric Car as an Emergency Generator

One of the acts of kindness we received during the recent power outage came from my friend Perry, who called up offering to bring his electric car over to run our refrigerator for awhile. Needless to say, we took him up on the offer. 

He brought his own extension cord that put ours to shame. He explained that a thicker wire offers less resistance to the electricity as it heads from his car to our frig. His electric car can serve as an electrical supply for home appliances only because he bought and installed an adaptor of some sort. Perry's also used it at Veblen House to run a vacuum. Power tools like a circular saw, however, cannot be run on this system because they use too much energy when they are starting up. Many machines use much more energy when they are starting up than when they are running. 

Perry retrieved his car a few hours later, by which time our refrigerator was good for the night. The next morning, energy was restored, and we were back to suckling from the mother grid.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Bicycle Inner Tube Scarcity Hits Princeton

A week ago, when a patched bicycle inner tube refused to remain patched, I resigned myself to buying a new inner tube only to find out that a local bike shop had none in stock. Then, driving on the east side of town, I came across a bicycle locked to a stop sign with a note from the owner kindly pleading that no one remove his bike while he awaits the arrival of an inner tube to repair it. Turns out that the pandemic has reduced supplies coming in from China, while increasing demand for bikes and bike parts in the U.S. 

It's astonishing to think that, before the pandemic hit, the only shortage encountered hereabouts was the great pumpkin shortage of 2015, which registered in Princeton as a nearly year-long empty spot on the shelf at McCaffery's food market where cans of Libby's pumpkin puree have traditional sat. That empty foot of a bottom shelf was like a shrine to shortage, in a time when the global economy was making everything else available all the time, stuffing us to the gills with stuff. According to one article, Libby's has 80% of the canned pumpkin market, and grows 90% of sugar pumpkins in Illinois, where heavy rains spoiled the crop that year. Until the pandemic hit, that was it when it came to blips in the stream of commodities flowing our way. 

Yesterday, I found the right sized inner tube at another bike shop in town, and noticed that the bike that had been locked to the sign post had finally been retrieved. 

Monday, August 03, 2020

The Logic of Banning Grass Clippings From the Streets

There's a law against placing grass clippings in the street. There are multiple reasons for this. Grass clippings are high in nitrogen, which stimulates algae growth in local waterways. As grass clippings decompose at the curb, they release the nitrogen, which then gets washed into streams as runoff from the streets, causing nutrient pollution. 

Grass clippings also are very dense, which means air can't penetrate into a pile of them, which means that the decomposition goes anaerobic, encouraging bacteria that release noxious odors. When a pile of grass clippings that's been sitting awhile gets run over by a car, it releases those foul odors into the neighborhood. 

A pile of grass clippings is ugly and mars the appearance of any property it is piled in front of, though psychologically this doesn't seem to register for most homeowners. As soon as the grass clippings are successfully purged from the property, they are someone else's problem and cease in some way to exist.

The last reason it is unlawful to put them in the street is that grass clippings can easily be left on the lawn, to quickly drop down between the new grass blades and return their fertility to the soil.