Archive for sustainability

Review: Spirulina & Chlorella Superfoods

After  contemplating for a long time, I finally decided to buy some bulk spirulina and chlorella.  They are superfoods.  My understanding of a superfood is a food that is dense in nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, but in general it is a loosely used term gaining steam in marketing.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw Superfood Cheetos.

Spirulina and chlorella also contain a near uniform distribution of carbohydrate, fat, and protein, which I thought was pretty neat.  They are both very small algae (less than 10 microns).  This means it’s a powder, much like flour, but it isn’t modified like ground flour.  Due to the low amount of processing necessary and the quick reproduction cycle, these foods are very sustainable.  If you feel inclined, a simple search will allow you to find more benefits reported about these algae.  However . . .

I don’t recommend these superfoods, based on my experience.


This algae is a cyanobacteria.  The science of cyanobacteria is very neat.  However, in my experience bacterias smell very similar to feces.  Call me Protestant, but I am not excited about acquiring that taste.


Chlorella is a phylum (plant), and it smells like grass.  Acquiring the taste of grass seemed much more reasonable, for the benefits of the superfoods.  However, like others, I slowly developed a chemical sensitivity to chlorella.  What this means is that in two weeks the effect of it started as a headache progressed into satiation then a stomach ache and finally full on food poisoning.

Future Plans

I’m sticking with Michael Pollan’s advice: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.


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Worm Harvesting Optimization

I get one of those “the most fun things in life are free” type of euphoric buzzes whenever I’m working in or talking about my worm farm: “I GOT WORMS!”

For a brief background, I built a container to house red wiggler worms.  The worms eat my table scraps and turn it into soil.  Here’s my post on building the structure.

The concept that these worms are turning waste (which half of it is rotting or covered in mold by the time it gets to the worm bin) into lush soil, completely free of smells other than “morning fresh dirt” is simply amazing to me.

To note, the worm bin can take on a nasty, pungent rotting smell from time to time.  This is simply user error, as the eco-system is out of a nitrogen / carbon balance.  To fix this odor, add torn up pieces of newspaper, unbleached cardboard, leaves, mulch, or my personal favorite saw dust from the filter at the Home Depot saw.

The concept of worm farming is that you put food into one bin until it is full then let the worms compost the material.  Once the material is composted, you start another bin stacked on top of the full bin and allow the worms to transfer through holes in the bins.

This gets a lot of the worms out of the soil you want to harvest, but there are still quite a few in the soil.  So, you have to be a sadistic jay-hole and introduce the worms to something they hate: the sun.  The instructions I’ve seen so far recommend making cones of the harvest and iteratively pull from the top of the cones, like in the picture below.

Being the impatient and lazy efficient person that I am, I noticed that the worms were in the shaded, cooler spots of the cones.  So then, I rearranged my piles into awesome non-linear hockey stick looking formations.

Not the best picture, but you can see I built the mounds just out of the shade range from each other.  This still works the same way: pull one inch going across the top.  Then, iteratively repeat as the worms will keep moving downward.  When you reach the bottom of the wall, build another until efforts are futile and/or you are satisfied with the harvesting.

Also to note, the harvested soil is fertilizer for your plants.  And if anyone local wants worms, I can donate some to you.  I can give you a handful and the worms will propagate into an equilibrium population for your container in a relatively short time.

I’m also kind of curious if you could harvest this soil using the other thing worms hate, which is standing water.

For what it’s worth, it’s crazy, to me, after spending years thinking about chemical extractions and separations in terms of abstract concepts like solubility and entropy by adding a living aspect to it, namely the extraction of the worms from their soil via sun.

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Financial Independence Model

I’m interested in financial independence, as I think it is very responsible thing to do, as well as the most sustainable way to live life.  I remember first learning this from Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  A lot of people do not like that book.  I think the major reason is that the thought of passively making income is so overwhelming that one’s “fight” reaction takes over.  It’s just my guess, though.

Essentially, passive income is earnings where your efforts are not actively needed.  It is much easier to define active income: a job (where time and skill and traded for $bling).  In financial terms, passive income is generally investment capital traded for $bling.  Examples of passive income are dividends, apartment rent (if you own an apartment complex), and the part of the pyramid scheme where you profit from others’ efforts.

Passive income can also be viewed as potential.  As ERE’s post describes, the 25 and 33 scalars, applied to one’s annual budget, are commonly used for estimating this potential.

  • If you need your money to last 30 years and you invest it 100% in index funds and you withdraw your annual expenses every year, you need 25 times as much money in index funds as your annual expenses (including taxes).
  • If you need your money to last 60 years instead and follow the same procedure, you need 33 times as much money.

(If I remember correctly) this concept of potential is defined in Work Less, Live More.  The book, as well as firecalc, describe how those numbers take into account risk, so that one will be financially independent.

The time to generate these amounts are below,

in general terms, and

in a more applied form.

Applying the equation above in terms of the percentage of your pay that you save, you’ll come up with a pretty graph.  I have two versions, out of respect for the scale.  The first is in a scale for Joe American.  The second is for the whacky nut job ladies that plan to leave millions of dollars to their cats.

It’s interesting to see that saving extremely, in terms of one’s earnings, provides a nearly inversely proportional relationship in time for retirement.  These are not revolutionary ideas.  I just like visualizing numbers.

It’s interesting to note that spending less, as opposed to making more, has a greater impact to achieving financial independence, faster.  This is logical, if you look back to the equation.  The accumulation denominator is a function of earning and spending, yet the state of the system in the numerator is a function of spending scaled by a factor of 25.

Work Less, Live More

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Bike Commuting Boxers

When I first started bike commuting to work, I would dress every morning as a “Spandex Sally.”  When people look like freaks, there’s usually logic behind it.  As it is so with the Spandex Sally look.  Bicycling specific tights have a chamois pad in it.  The chamois (or “shammy”) is roughly the difference of sleeping on a wood floor or sleeping on a mattress.  Shammies are super comfy.  The downside to the tights are that 1) you look like a freak and 2) formunda cheese manufacturing.

Time’s progressed, and now I usually wear my underwear for the day and a pair of Arc Teryx shorts.  The shorts are lightweight.  The fabric, of the shorts, is highly bomb-resistant.  My boxers, on the other hand, are not:

Sometimes for short errands, I wear pants.  For this reason, I now look for pants with gusseted crotches:

It’s also fun to say gusseted crotches.

When I told others about my idea of repairing my underwear, one reoccurring statement I heard was “Why don’t you just buy new underwear?  It’s not like underwear is expensive!”  I like to think I’m the Bill Bowerman of bicycling underwear.  Even though there are products similar to a gusseted crotch boxer on the market, it’s not quite what I want.

I see it as reducing my consumption as well as preventing future failures.  Buying new underwear will just fail in the same spot.  I borrowed dre’s sewing machine and ripped up the failed jeans.

So far I have about 3 miles on “Version 1.”

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Growth Is Not Sustainable

Earth Day is a pagan’s Christmas: no more special than any other day, but yet a universally recognized celebration.  Last year I wrote that the best way to go green is to stop buying stuff.

This year I’ve been reflecting on growth.  Specifically, that many businesses depend on growth in their business model.  From a business perspective, this is great. Especially when it is done with re-investments from previous sales: organic growth.  From a materials perspective, this is not good.  In this model, there is an inconsistency in assuming that the Earth is full of infinite resources.

I also see it in investment ads: contribute as much as possible to your XYZ fund!!  (Why? There are much more wise methods to calculate your contributions.)  The public schools are currently getting killed because they set their budget as a percentage of real estate value.  I assume this was an attempt to maximize the amount of the school systems’ income, but a flat tax would have kept them from their current problem.

More, bigger, easier!

When is enough?  Currently, I can’t tangibly figure out this calculation based off of resource depletion.  My current angle is figuring out when my marginal returns decrease, and stopping myself there.  Most people call this a budget.  Other people call it being a cheap, lame-ass.

A budget allows yourself to reflect and figure out what’s enough, and to keep from excessive use of the Earth’s mass and energy.

Hey, on a related note, check out my right sidebar.  I’m sporting my first badge!

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Rewards for the Cyclists

There’s a management idea of push versus pull.  I like to think of it as:

  • Push: “You better finish that ____, or you’ll be in serious trouble.”
  • Pull: “If you finish that ____, I’ll give you an extra ____ for doing so.”

Some people operate better in a push than a pull, but I think most people like the woohoo idea of the latter.  This morning I came up with a pull method for cyclists.

The ingredients are 2 of those weight sensors (currently used for cars) especially in the left turn lane. These particular weight sensors would be calibrated to a range of sensitivity to >50 lbs and <500 lbs.   I figure most riders+bike will be more than 50 and less than 500 lbs.  Also, the average car weight is 3000 lbs (wikiAnswers), so half the weight [in the bike lane] would be 1500 lbs which is less than the upper specification of 500 lbs above.

With two of those weight sensors and the same controller that decides to change the light for the left turning cars, the controlling system could calculate the average speed of the cyclist and have the light turn green for him right as he would want to enter the intersection.

Ideally this would entice more people to bike commute by drastically reducing any waiting time at lights, which is more of a mental downer than it is one on’s commuting time, regardless if you are in a car or on a bike.

Of course the idea is the easy part of doing it. . .

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Slab City

On the few bike tours I’ve ridden, my elevator speech to the question regarding “the best part of the trip” includes a favorite natural scenic landscape and a fun cultural experience.

On the Turkey Tour, my favorite cultural experience was visiting Slab City.

I like the summary of Slab City is Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

The Slabs functions as the seasonal capital of a teeming itinerant society — a tolerant, rubber-tired culture comprising the retired, the exiled, the destitute, the perpetually unemployed.  Its constituents are men and women and children of all ages, folks on the dodge of from collection agencies, relationships gone sour, the law or the IRS, Ohio winters, the middle-class grind.

And, my favorite visual summary is the school bus converted into a sailboat trailer.

I imagine the resident(s) live in the yacht year-round, roughly half the time on water and the other half on a school bus in the desert.

Here is dre’s map of our Turkey Tour.  Slab City, or the Slabs, is near the far east point, Point F.  From this view, I think the Salton Sea looks phallic.

The Slabs are three miles east of Niland, CA.  Niland is a small town located within a few miles of the Salton Sea with a couple of restaurants, a gas station, a grocery store, and a laundry mat.

I find the amount craftsmanship very interesting in the Slabs.  Not just a sailboat on a school bus, but the way so many people are able to live not only independently, but also communally.

Most people reside in RVs.  Actually, if you look around the internet, it is frowned upon to camp in a tent.  The reason for the frowning is not the more common American housing value but in disposing human waste.  Like other biodegradable wastes, human wastes take much longer to biodegrade in harsh climates like the desert.  Junk waste is actually the biggest problem in Slab City.  There’s a lot of trash from transients, broken down cars, tires, regular trash trash, and dumping from Niland townees.

A part that I found interesting was the amount of solar cells there.  Virtually all of the RVs have renewable solar power.  Around a campfire, I learned the buzzwords in solar power: inverters, modified sine waves, and true sine waves took the cake in addition to the other more traditional electrical words.

I think it’s neat how independent these people are.  They don’t pay “rent” or pay for utilities like electricity and water.  Water is free behind the gas station, bee tee dubs.  In addition to that, the campfire we found included retirees making fun of home-buyers.  I don’t express the thought much because it’s tireless to someone with closed ears, but in society I am apart of the minority that thinks taking a large bank loan, in hopes of “my” housing value increasing is a bad investment.

Note that I don’t say it’s bad to have a house; there are pro’s.  But, I think a loan is a bad investment so much that I view it is as a liability and a speculative gamble which I’m not interested in even if you rent out a room or whatever. (In my opinion, an apartment building is more of an investment than a house.)

Anyways. . . it’s always nice to find your other birds of the same feather to flock together.  It was just a passing comment around a campfire, but it put a little smile on my desert chapped lips.

The community of the Slabs felt comforting.  In our short 24 hour visit, people constantly introduced themselves to us and our claimed patch of dirt in the range of young seniors, middle aged, young adults, and even a boy of about 10 years of age.  We were fortunate enough to make a connection earlier in the bike tour which catalyzed our ability to eat a great traditional Thanksgiving dinner which later led into the campfire.

Even without that catalyzed close knit experience, I think it is place worth spending some time to either winter over, stay a night, or even check out Salvation Mountain during an afternoon of your Southwest road trip.  It may pull you out of your consumerist and isolated housing comfort zone; it may give you renewable energy ideas; you may find cool trash or all the books you want to take home in the library; but, it will help your craving for a shower.

If you are interested in more pictures from the Slabs as well as the rest of the Turkey Tour, check out dre’s picture journal on the ‘book.

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