Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April Showers

Those interested in the facts and just the facts should scroll down to the section entitled "Technical Notes".

Living in California, you usually get the rainfall and snowpack readings as part of your nightly news. For the last two years, the newscasters have reported below average levels of snowpack, relentlessly reminded us to conserve water, reported on judge's decisions to rescue fish by reducing the human water supply and announced Al Gore's Nobel Prize.

I could wash my car a little less. Maybe once a year, instead of twice a year. This was working well until I noticed there was so much dirt on my car, I had to change my cloths after I smudged them first thing in the morning.

How about putting some mulch around my plants to conserve moisture. Less water is less work too. That should be good for about 1 quart per week.

I could also wear some of my cloths more than once. Like my jackets. Especially if I mince carefully around my car to avoid smudging...

I've tried to stay cool, calm and collected. I figured not sweating would reduce the need for personal hygiene and I could shorten my showers.

Then it occurred to me.

Without rain, there won't be anything to wash the pollen out of the air.

I am doomed to death by sneezing, aren't I?

Global warming must end. I have to do more. Action is needed.

I'll start by saving more water. Replacing the shower head with a low flow unit should do the job. Gooooooooogle!


Just what is the flow rate on my current shower head.

Gallons per minute. I need a flowmeter.

Also known as a bucket and a watch.

I already have a low flow shower head rated at 2.5 gallons per minute.

OK, I need an ultra low-flow shower head. Gooooooooogle!

It sure is confusing out here.

Aerating shower heads.
Misting shower heads.
Pulsing shower heads.
Mysterious shower heads sold in blister packs and no markings.
Mysterious shower heads without blister packs and no markings.

Wait a minute. A shower head with only 0.5 gallons per minute flow rate. Now that's low. Such a technical feat arouses my not-so-inner geek and I am moved to enquire about this shower head from an obscure company. The company webpages sport an equation to calculate shower head performance using such quantities as flow rate, water pressure and lots of engineer speak. It reminds me of the good old days when I was majoring in physics and had to solve equations like this before breakfast.

"We will need the psi of your shower." murmurs Marketing politely.


A vision of a mercury-filled barometer fills my eyes and I recall a lecture from freshman chemistry about Torricelli's experiment to measure air pressure. I identify some more with the company that will clearly never sell that many shower heads since many people might think this was a reference to a psychic rather than a pressure reading.

Never one to say no to a new gauge, I run around town until I end up at the plumbing store. The one that the plumbers use, not the public. The clerks are surprised to see someone swankly dressed for the office asking about this bit of esoterica but remain polite. I am surprised that such a cool widget is only $16. In the back of my mind creeps the thought that perhaps computers and electronics are overpriced...nah...

Gleefully, I remove my shower head to measure the pressure. It's pretty easy. I still feel great. Clearly, it's been too long since I've taken something apart. Also, I need to get a life.

30 psi.


30 psi

But this gauge is new

30 psi

Whap. Whap.

30 psi

Who'd thunk it?

I report back to Marketing, "One 0.5 gpm shower head rated for 30 psi. Please."

"30 psi?" replied Marketing faintly, "We have to talk to Engineering"

"30 psi!!!" stated Engineering. I can almost hear the laughter in the background. Even though we are conversing by email. " We can't sell you anything at 0.5 gpm. Buy the model rated for 1.25 gpm @ 30 psi. It will take us 10 days to build it."

They are going to build it? Doesn't sound like any of the shower heads sold in blister packs would have met the specs...

"The check is in the mail. Thank you"

The shower head arrives right on schedule. How lovely. Beautifully machined chromed metal. Trivially easy to install. I can toss....err... recycle or reuse my old one....

I turn on the shower.

Darn it.

It doesn't feel that much different from the old one.

Wait a minute.

It's using half the water and I barely detect the difference?

Wahoo! This is a great shower head.

Psst. It's the Bricor SuperMax 100. The current cost is $69.96 plus S&H of 9.95

I wish to state that my preference for the Bricor has nothing to do with the shininess. Like totally. 

Technical Notes

The water pressure gauge  (picture shown at the top of this blog) is commonly used to measure the water pressure for garden hoses and can be found at many garden and hardware centers. The part that was difficult to locate is the adaptor (pictured to the right in the photo) which converts the gauge to fit onto the shower arm. 

The Bricor SuperMax 100 rated at 1.25 gpm for 30 psi was compared to an old Teledyne Waterpik of unknown vintage. Both produced a "soft" spray with acceptable area of coverage. The Teledyne can be adjusted to produce a more vigorous spray but this narrows the water stream. Rinse time is slightly slower for the Bricor but the difference is less than one minute. The subject has shoulder length hair which she lathers 2x and conditions for a total shower time with the water on, of approximately six minutes for the Waterpik and seven minutes for the Bricor. Unlike the Waterpik, the Bricor is an aerating shower head. Such shower heads have been widely reported in the literature to reduce the water temperature after the water leaves the head. However, a very small increase in the hot water compensates for this effect in the Bricor.

It should be noted that the Bricor is a fixed shower head with a joint to control the angle of the spray. The Teledyne WaterPik is a handheld shower head and can be unmounted for free movement. Since the subject is completely average in height (5' 6") for a woman, this change required what she regarded as minor bit of extra effort with a washcloth. Others are sure to disagree.

For those who may not suffer from extremely low water pressure, there are other highly rated low-flow shower heads with lower prices. I relied heavily on the Metaefficient blog which offers a good series of reviews on shower heads and other devices for conservation and green living. The video on Green Gear was also very helpful. Be careful at the Green Gear site. The photo of the four men heading off to the showers offers much too much detail.

The Extinction of the Dahlias or Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw

Watching Nature in action as the seasons pass can be quite mysterious. Why does dirt disappear from my window box? Can it really be the forces of erosion at work? I didn't think California storms became that forceful. Why did my dahlias flower faithfully for five years and then just disappear? I thought after all that fertilizing and growth they would multiply instead. Are there raccoons in my neighborhood ready to raid my balcony once they figure out there is a whole, thriving colony of tasty well-fed little wrigglers out there?

And what on earth possesses a squirrel to eat the rubber tubing on my gas barbecue?

Is it ours to question why?

Or just ours to go out and buy those squirrel guards for rubber tubes?

Yes, they sell squirrel guards for this purpose. Mine looks like a large steel spring and cost about $5 (on sale). Don't forget the replacement rubber tube. Not on sale for $20. Ouch. So, when a barbecue salesperson gazes at you with pleading eyes to buy the squirrel guard, don't chalk this up as one for the funny farm. The salesperson is serious and so are the squirrels.

Just today, I was watching my balcony, tissues in hand, peacefully communing away when I realized I was under attack.

No, not an allergy attack. Already experiencing that.

It was the voracious squirrel.

Apparently, stainless steel barriers had only encourage him to delve deeper into a life of crime and he was attacking my window boxes. Dirt and my carefully planted seeds (?) went flying. That dirty Spermophilus mumble-mumble. Get away from my pollen producers! You're ruining my planned ecosystem. Hold still so I can hit you. And identify your species. Take that!

Breath in, breath out... you are one with the world.... calm.... calm...

Careful inspection revealed massive earthworks in progress. Clearly, he'd planned to get to the bottom of the the whole thing. That window box is at least six inches deep, or one squirrel height. Good grief, I'd interrupted something major. Like the heist of my dahlias!!!!!


Didn't I use to have a begonia?

Not anymore I don't.

This is war.

Military intelligence is called for. To the Google search engine...

Squirrel repellent = FOX PEE???!!!


all natural, huh.

How about I start by adding some soap to the water. Bugs hate it too. 

And put that five pound brick over the lid on the little wriggler's bin.

Let's hope the raccoons don't work out at the gym.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Party Crashers or maybe the party just crashes

Life has settled into a bit of a routine Chez Lindy's. It's a glorious Sunday morning, warm and intensely sunny. After an emergency dash to the pharmacy late last night, I'm freshly stocked up on my prescription antihistamines. I have that peaceful feeling from knowing all is right with the world. Usually, I try and eradicate my ignorance by reading the newspaper but inevitably I read the comics and the ads for the sales. I've canceled my newspaper delivery for the weekend so I actually have time to putter around. I spend a few minutes wallowing in the sensation of ignorance accumulating rapidly and just not giving a hoot.

I put on my fabulously purple guaranteed latex-free gardening gloves. I love these gloves. I'm allergic to latex. I'm allergic to a lot of stuff that grows in gardens. Like plants. And molds. And just about any insect that bites. Did I mention I'm allergic to soil (well, OK, I'm really only allergic to the dust mites living in the soil). I'm allergic to creatures with fur and feathers too but that's a different story. I feel like I'm ready to do anything with those gloves on. Except maybe take a deep breath. You never know.

So, I tackle the problem of transferring my root-bound impatiens plants to proper window boxes boldly. It's much easier picking out dead leaves and clearing dirt when you can use your hands instead of chopsticks. I feel enabled. Enthused, I plant some seeds too. I start to run out of pots and switch to filling soil and seeds into an old egg carton. Great for seedlings. Recyclable too. That just about cleared all of the planting chores and I can tidy up.

For my last chore of the morning, I collect the kitchen scraps to feed the little wrigglers for the day. It's pretty warm and they are probably active. Luckily, I fed them a hearty meal just a few days ago before the warm weather kicked in. I'm confident they're not starved or anything.

Lifting the lid and moving the top layer of bedding aside to bury the food scraps, I notice a cloud of black spots swimming before my eyes.

That's odd. Usually, that happens when I stand up, not when I squat down.

I breath calmly, rhythmically, not too deep, not too shallow. That usually takes care of the problem. I feel fine.

The cloud of black spots is still there. And starting to settle back down onto the remains of the last wriggler feeding.



Uninvited guests.

How do I ask them leave? My little wriggler friends prefer organic munchies. Garlic or lemon might have been effective but I've already had one escape attempt. I doubt fly spray can really tell the difference between friend and foe.

Clearly this is a job for the mighty Google engine.(Thank you Google) And by the way, I never did get the chance to congratulate Larry and Lucy before, during or even after the wedding. Congratulations! But I digress....

After much reading, the simplest least toxic solution seems to be to construct a vinegar trap. Fill a small container with vinegar at the bottom, place plastic wrap with a small hole at the top. Flys go in but they don't leave. Oh and one last thing. Use balsamic vinegar.

Dang, this is a yuppie neighborhood.

The Great Escape

Things are going well Chez Lindy's. The balcony has been swept, there are empty flower pots, a giant sack of potting soil, six root-bound impatiens plants and a package of impatiens seeds out there. Later down the road, I look forward to my new housemates, affectionately known as the little wrigglers, producing a bountiful crop of...well, worm poop to feed all my new balcony plants.

heh, heh. I might be known for my overly long-term plans. But it all meshes well, theoretically. Notice, I've got the ecosystem thing going. I eat my food, the scraps go to the worms, the worms supply castings for the flowers, the flowers produce pollen, I commune with nature and sneeze my face off. A closed cycle for life on the balcony.

After making tea and collecting the used tea and lemon peel, I dutifully feed the little wrigglers and head on out to do my laundry.

(Time passes....)


Huh...but it's daytime. The little wrigglers are very light-phobic. It says so in the instruction manual...


This is clearly a job that calls for latex-free nitrile-coated gardening gloves.

Well prepared, I approach the bin and lift the lid. Yargggghh!

Holy smoke! They are trying to crawl straight up the plastic and out of the bin.

OK, don't panic.

Umm, too late for that. Try calming down instead.

Right, I know about this. This is called catastrophic failure of the bin. The worms will die and little worm ghosts will haunt me unless I fix this.

I'm not panicking here...

Think, think, think

There are only a few variables involved, level of moisture and composition of food. The worms would want to escape if there was too much water, so I can fix that by adding more bedding on top and fluffing the stuff on the bottom. Done.

What about the food?

Well, what about the food?

Tea leaves, lemon and leftover lettuce. Seems alright. Hey, I ate it.

I send a guilt-stricken email to my local, friendly vermicomposter enquiring about details of worm diet. I can't believe I'm bugging someone about worms on a Sunday. He responds within minutes. This is soOoo Silicon Valley.

Wow, lemons are poisonous to worms. So, are oranges but less so. No salt, onions, garlic, spices, oil, meats, dairy either...

Gee, in order to get my table scraps to conform to the little wriggler's dietary needs, I better follow the American Heart Association's guidelines to the dot.

My heart drops straight into my shoes with the next instruction. Remove all of the offending, suspicious food scraps and surrounding bedding and replace with fresh bedding.

Don't I wish I used those tea bags instead of loose tea right now?

The garden gloves won't cut it. They only go up to the wrist. I need something that will reach in there. I raid my kitchen for utensils for worm rescue. Long tongs for reaching in. A plastic spoon to scoop the little guys/gals (they are hermaphrodites) back into their nest. Fresh bedding materials. Some chlorine-free water (let it stand overnight and it's chlorine-free).

After much rummaging, the bin is ready to go again.

But maybe not indoors?

Sorry, little housemates.

You're banished to the balcony.

Ahem, those barbecue tongs...they're yours now.

Eat your lettuce. I'll buy you a nice avocado treat if you all promise not to run away again.


The Party Crashers

How do I welcome several thousand new housemates?

After sweeping up the results of Big Brother's prolific and probably profligate social activities, I felt left out or just jealous that a tree might be having more fun than me. My place needed more... life. I'd enrolled in a class that taught how individuals could reduce global warming. I decided I'd fill the gap and reduce global warming at the same time.

I gotta admit, I'm willing to do things via Internet that I would never do in real life. Would I talk to a stranger in a bar? Would I really go out on a blind date? But I blithely signed up for a class on composting and paid the fee to purchase the, ahhh..., supplies.


The rest of this isn't for the squeamish.



I live in a condo. Spacious for a condo but still there is no yard.

My garbage goes into a collective bin and the HOA imposes the collection fee. I have no direct cash incentive to reduce my output.

I'm not exactly the kind of person who wants to sink several hundred dollars into composting equipment for tight spaces. The infinite wait time required for payback is too much for me (read - I am cheap).

There is only one type of simple, inexpensive composting system that can recycle organic material without a backyard.

Worms, worms, worms.

The only question is which kind of worms?

The composter offers red wigglers or the european night crawlers.

I look at the red wigglers. They try to hide.

My stomach quivers.

I look at the european night crawlers. They look back.


Those red wigglers are looking mighty cute now.

After listening to the instructions for the care and feeding of red wigglers (Eisenia fetida), I feel better about adopting several thousand new housemates and head on home.

Following the instructions, I sit and shred massive amounts of office and newspaper to make bedding material. After a while I start to run out. Luckily, I own stock in Citibank and haven't switched to the electronic annual report yet. (At the present time, that is the only good news about Citibank stock). It's barely enough material for the minimum bed. After dampening the bedding material, I add my new housemates into the bin. They all step lively and dive for bottom.

Excellent companions.

Topping up the bin with some more bedding material, I take a break to gather up some scattered supplies and to retrieve some of the food scraps I'd saved to get the bin started.

All in all, not bad for one day. I learned how to compost with worms, set up a bin and fed my new housemates.

Time to call it a day.

Rustle, rustle...

What's that?



I peek into the bin.

So that's why they call it night life.


The great escape

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Life on the Balcony - Adventures at the Edge

Hey, I'm a pretty cautious type. I don't live life on the edge unless it's the balcony with the nice safe railing in place.

Recently, I decided I needed to get out more. You know, commune with nature. In line with my attitude towards edges, I thought I'd do it by hanging out on my balcony more. Ever since the dry spell in California last summer, all my plants were withered and my barbecue had been bitten by voracious squirrels. "Big Brother", the cypress tree around the place had dumped it's leaves everywhere, no doubt in genteel horror over the seedy view and savage neighbors. I hadn't swept in months.

Armed with a broom and triply-dosed with allergy medications, I ventured out, swirls of pollen filling in my footsteps. Looking around at the number of tree cones, each one an eager tree fetus, I'd say Big Brother's social life was doing much better than mine. I managed to clear the place, tree fetuses and all, but I'd say it was a Pyhrric victory since I had to shower and then use one of those sinus rinses before I could speak in a normal tone after that. After washing the ole orbs with medicated eyedrops to deal with my reaction to communing with nature, my eyes stopped streaming long enough for me to notice the balcony is looking pretty spare. Barren.

Clearly, this place needs some color. Some pollen-generating flowering plants should do the trick. If I use enough decongestant, I should be able to smell some fragrance too. Off to the gardening center.

At the gardening center, I spot a real treasure right off the bat. A pair of nitrile coated gardening gloves for those with latex allergies. My gut tells me this is the right place for me. Clearly, they have dealt with my type before. Reassured, I march confidently toward rows of gloriously flowering shrubs, vines, trees...

Hmmmm. Just how big does nature grow these things?

Hastily, I return my 5 lb bag of potting soil and go for a bigger sack of soil.

A little more cautiously, I pick my way through rows of plants with high maintenance issues like "full sun", "six feet of soil for roots to spread", acidic soil, a need for ceiling heights greater than 8 feet. I work my way through the displays until I finally reach the dark, dank back of the garden center. Here, were all the plants that could live in Big Brother's shadow. Ferns. Moss. Yes, they'll sell you moss. Here's a leafy looking plant. Nevermind, those are it's flowers. By gum! Here are some plants that look like plants! They are... impatiens. Hooray! How about another plant to give the place some variety? Those are... impatiens...more impatients... Isn't there any other plant that likes shade and looks like a plant? Let's try the seeds...

Well, six impatiens plants and a packet of impatiens seeds later, the place is looking pretty habitable...


I acquire several thousand new housemates