I always get the good shit

•July 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been eating nasty cafeteria food here at work.  Everyone knows it’s nasty and overpriced; a new company got the contract and the prices doubled (okay, raised by a half), and the quality went even lower than before.  They don’t quite serve food, just some sort of food imitation.

I always get the good shit, you know that?  I bake my own bread from a sourdough starter or (occasionally) get it from Panera; a coworker of mine likes to buy it from bakeries, and not WonderBread either.  I make my own beer or drink Trapist ale (Chimay!) or Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head; several of my coworkers are of the mind that beer is a drink, not a venue for the delivery of drunkenness.  My clothes don’t come from WalMart, mostly from Land’s End or some such; I’ve been replacing my wardrobe slowly, and it makes a huge difference.

I find that this actually improves both my life and my finances.  Bread and beer take time to make, or more money to buy bakery or microbrewery beer; making your own reduces the cost immensely, but making or buying a quality product gets you something enjoyable instead of something you’re used to.  My clothes don’t wear out as fast, even though they cost twice as much; they also feel awesome on my body.  I’m replacing crap economy cars with a used fully loaded Volkswagon Jetta TDI, and the difference in driving experience is amazing, never mind that the car needs fewer (but more expensive) repairs.  I skip 3/$5 condensed soups and grab the 2/$5 cans of soup, because hell, it’s a lot better; I could make my own.

On top of it, I have a $50 set of kitchen knives that actually hold their edge and can cut through things, rather than dulling in a month and ripping things like $10 aluminum sets.  I use a double-edge razor, paying about 50 cents for a week’s worth of blade use (good Feather blades) and a better shave than $2.50 Gillette Fusion blades give me, never mind a horrible electric razor or a decent $150 one that’ll wear its battery out in a year.  My cookware’s mostly cast iron, lasts forever if you take care of it right and cooks much better if used properly.

All of this takes a little extra money and a little time investment.  Cooking takes more time than buying fast food, but saves you money and gives you better food.  A proper shave involves a hot towel and pre-shave treatment to the face for about 5 minutes, then lather application with a brush and several passes with the blade for about 20 minutes, with careful attention to the grain of your face.  Besides just canning your own jam, you can get fresh fruit, vegetables, and even glass-bottled fresh milk from farmer’s markets instead of going to the corner store.

I believe firmly that getting modestly decent stuff actually improves your quality of life greatly.  I don’t mean ultra-expensive luxury items, but more durable and pleasant quality essentials.  Decent bread, decent knives, even a decent $25 fountain pen if you write a lot.  A time investment makes up a huge part of it too; spend half an hour in the bathroom giving yourself a decent shave, or take the time to cook your own food, even grind your own coffee (ground beans go bad fast).  In the end, you won’t be spending too much more money or time on everything; but you may feel like a very rich man just because of the quality of life you experience.

List of shit that’s wrong with the world

•June 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I don’t care to introduce the subject in some vague way.  We have ripened our world to turn into a 1984-style oligarchy, and willingly relinquish our rights.

If you wanted to systematically break down peoples’ rights, what would you do?  Me, I’d convince them that their ‘rights’ didn’t exist, first off.  Convince them that they don’t want their rights, and they will give them away willingly.

Let’s start here:  you have no right to child pornography.  More basically, we need to protect people from predatory men hunting after 13 year old girls; it’s been almost 200 years since we married 25-30 year old men to 12-14 year old girls and had them make babies immediately, so only sick fucks would be interested in a 15 year old girl when they’re 19.  Because of this, you need to be arrested and jailed for child pornography.

I witnessed a court trial for a man who molested a young girl once.  Not violently, just did things he shouldn’t have done.  Besides gathering evidence, the judge began taunting the defendant with invasive, personal questions, asking him why he does the things he does or why he feels the way he feels; the man on trial was visibly shaken, in fact he looked like he was being psychologically tortured in front of the mass of people in court.  Fitting for someone who’s no more than a disgusting creature, not really much of  a person.

We know how important it is to protect our society from these evil people, hence why child pornography is illegal.  You have to touch children in bad ways to make the stuff, right?  That’s got to be stopped.  And, watching it is just as bad as doing it.  Anyone who looks at this stuff or simply possesses it should be treated just like a rapist, because that’s all they are.

At least that’s the theory.

It’s a hard theory to argue with, but only by conditioning.  If I try to put together a rationalization, I start coming up with dead ends and thoughtcrime.  I mean, if it’s bad to possess evidence of a crime, it must be bad to think about the crime; possession is irrelevant, we should be able to arrest you for wanting to possess–or wanting to do!–in this context.  But that’s ridiculous, we know we’re all of higher caliber than that.

Or are we?

A few things on Slashdot have brought up some interesting answers to that question.  For example, apparently there’s no need for minors depicted in child pornography to actually exist.  This came into light from a child pornography and obscenity case in the US referencing the PROTECT Act; along with that, a case about a pornographic cartoon ripping off The Simpsons went through the same way in Australia.  No one has yet tried attacking porn of Gauge or any other 25-year-old porn actress that looks like a 14 year old and is portrayed that way on purpose; but someone got hit for child pornography for GIMPing young girls’ heads onto naked women’s bodies.  Yes, that’s right:  copy a 14 year old’s head and past it onto a 24 year old’s naked body, and you too can be guilty of possessing kiddy porn!

We get to jump at thoughtcrime like this because we as a society have decided that child pornography is the most horrible evil possible.  We don’t even think of molestation when we hear about these things; we just think, “Holy shit, this evil sub-human monster had pictures of naked kids!  He needs to be tortured to death, slowly, by anal rape with a spiked sandpaper horse cock!”  We’re so jumpy, we charge 15 year olds for producing and distributing child pornography because they took pictures of themselves with their cell phones.  Because of course, so-called children (teens are neither children nor adults, sorry; there’s no innocence and no malice here) need to be charged as horribly evil child pornographers and have a sex offender registry entry created just for them.

I’ve seen child pornography cases have additional charges for possession of obscene material (that would be the one with Japanese hentai porn).  This is a lot more explicit:  by “obscene” we mean “we think you are a sick fuck, and you are going to jail for it you gross bastard.”  Eventually we should be able to jail people for having bondage porn, or … ugh I don’t want to think about this.  There’s some nasty stuff out there.  Personally I think that’s your business, but apparently we can jail you for it.

The next step, of course, is to appeal to the racism card.  Many countries have laws against “hate speech” to prevent you from saying nasty things about Jews or Muslims or whoever else.  This seems civil:  we wouldn’t want another Hitler, and the KKK is full of assholes, so all of this should be suppressed.  Looks good, right?

After that, we can probably make the assumption that “extremist views” are offensive.  If you’re loud, annoying, irritable, and pushing an extreme agenda, you are probably willing to kill people or at least ignore the rest of us for this crap.  Thus, you are instantly a terrorist, and we can arrest you.

Actually, “extremist views” is very close to “political dissent.”  How dare you criticize your country?  You must hate America, and want to kill all Americans or violently take over the Government.  We must arrest you, for the safety of the people!

Do you see it yet?  It’s slow, it takes decades, maybe even a hundred years; but over time it works.  Guns are bad, btw; turn yours in today!  I mean seriously, what possible political implications could that have?  You wouldn’t raise arms against your own government anyway; you’d by definition be guilty of high treason.

Renewable energy and fuel

•May 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I did some back-of-a-napkin math on information I’ve gathered and have solved the world’s problems in one deft stroke!  Well, maybe not, but I have some interesting conclusions based on Wikipedia and some quiet reflection.  Remember, I’m not affected by political idiocy; if what I’m shouting doesn’t make sense, I don’t really want to shout it, because I’ll get proven wrong and I fucking hate being wrong.  So, yeah, if you see some dumb shit in here you might want to bring that up to me, it helps; but I’m for the most part pretty sure on all that follows.

First off, what the hell do we pour in cars?  Anything that comes from so-called “Fossil Fuels” breaks this exercise:  we believe (possibly correctly) that oil, coal, and other garbage we dig out of the ground and burn are all non-renewable.  I’ll agree with this, although I want to point out that I don’t think they’re the dead remains of rotting dinosaurs… it doesn’t make logical sense, when oil can be formed by heating and pressurizing hydrocarbons, like the propane gas that comes out of volcanic vents; still, my proposed process resembles the creation of diamonds, and we know diamonds as a fuel source (if it were possible) would quickly run out.  Use your brain for two seconds, it makes sense, oil forms pretty fucking slowly.

So our options have to involve something we can make without oil.  This means we need something that acts as a fuel, and derives its energy either at 100% efficiency from the local environment or works off the power of the sun.  For the benefit of most readers (even the smart ones, who probably don’t think all that much despite being able to grasp some of these basic concepts easy enough), I’ll point out that the heat inside the earth comes from spinning molten metal, which spins due to the interaction of the earth’s orbit with the sun’s magnetic field (this also creates the magnetosphere); that tides come from the orbit of the earth and moon; and that a lot of outside factors involving orbit, gravity, and sun shine affect the winds and weather.  Basically, if it moves or gets hot, blame the sun.

Well let’s start with so-called biofuels.  Biofuels derive energy from the sun by way of photosynthesis to create sugars (plant fibers are sugars; fiber is a long sugar chain, starch is a branching sugar chain).  Some lesser amount of energy can break this down–hence digestion, burning, etc–releasing solar energy back into the environment later as heat (animals get hot, and move).  Biofuels thus allow us to generate power in some form, mainly heat energy to crank a steam or internal combustion engine, which in turn can move a car or generate electricity.

Biofuels can generate enough energy to sustain themselves:  you can use the biofuels generated to fuel the refining process to generate more biofuels from the basic act of farming to the final act of packaging the fresh biofuel and reflowing a portion of it into the fuel input of the whole process.  Although corn provides a popular example, switchgrass gives even better returns; we will use this.

Switchgrass requires half as much energy as corn to produce and refine, and produces more output energy:  1 unit input energy produces 1.28 units output energy generating corn ethanol (i.e. after reusing the product to fuel the process, you retain 28% of the refined fuel), while switchgrass generates 5.4 units per 1 unit input.  Switchgrass also can be used as compressed pellets similar to coal or wood, yielding almost 15 units of energy per 1 unit put into the refining process; and a refinery can burn the remainder of switchgrass mass after extracting ethanol (i.e. “waste product”) to produce enough energy to continue to operate said refinery.  Switchgrass thus would be about 50 times better than corn for this sort of thing.

We can produce 340 liters of ethanol per tonne of dried switchgrass, and 400 liters per tonne from corn.  We can produce about 5 tonnes of switchgrass per acre in a year, or 1700 liters, or about 450 gallons.  It would take about 100 million acres of land to produce 25% of the nation’s energy need, says the University of Tennessee; we have 800 million acres.  That is, of course, a freaking lot of land!  400 million acres!  And it competes with food, which is never a good thing.

The lucky thing for us, of course, is the sheer flexibility of switchgrass:  we can compress it into pellets and use it in coal power plants, with or without extracting anything (i.e. sugars for ethanol) from it first.  Coal comes from stuff that’s been locked away in coal for a long, long time; switchgrass comes from the air, and the sun.  Burning switchgrass has the carbon footprint of eating a plate of broccoli:  we just took this stuff out of the air, it’s not new, the net carbon impact is zero and the environmentalists are happy.  Actually, we can use the ash left behind as fertilizer to grow more switchgrass, without putting it back in the air right away.

This probably works for bioethanol easy enough, which can run in gasoline cars (with consequences, if the fuel system has any aluminum parts); but I’d rather use the stuff to generate power wholesale, keeping the process simpler and the fuel denser.  Compacting unspent switchgrass will get you a pellet that burns hotter due to more available energy (sugar forcibly broken down by fire–wood works the same way, made of fiber, made of sugar), which we definitely want.  Besides, you don’t want half the available farmland in the US tied up making fuel, before you even get to planes and huge ocean tankers; we need an alternate alternate fuel source.

Biofuel encompasses any biodiesel, bioethanol, biocoal, or whatever else you want; so now we have to rely on either crude petrol (which we’ve already established as equivalent to burning diamonds) or something else, something electricity based.  Electric cars have too many problems to list–complexity, efficiency, energy storage, performance (yes, in the magic land, we like to imagine a Ford Mustang would go 200 miles with 450HP and 400ftlb torque the whole way on a charge, but it won’t; by the way, horsepower is a flawed way of measuring actual performance)–so let’s stick with internal combustion engines.

With no biodiesel, diesel, or gasoline, we only have hydrogen to fall back on.  In the narrow perspective, hydrogen represents an amazing renewable resource:  we can generate it from water, and it burns into water, with no nitrogen, NOx, hydrocarbon, CO2, or CO emissions to go with it.  That’s right, no emissions.  Pumping water vapor into the air constantly would fuck up the environment, so you’d definitely want to have a condenser in the exhaust to just pour water out the tailpipe; use a separate radiator and cooling system that doesn’t encounter engine heat for this, and you’ll be just fine.

Now how do we get hydrogen?  That takes electricity and a fairly inefficient process, although we can use various catalysts and electrolytes to reduce the activation energy and make the process more efficient.  At any rate, we need a decent, non-biofuel solution for generating massive amounts of electricity.  Yeah, sure, switchgrass pellets replace coal; but we can’t generate enough switchgrass to generate this much power.

Let’s try something benign first, like solar power.  Solar power requires some amount of space and a solar collector array; first problem, this competes with space for growing switchgrass, unless the land is horribly unsuitable for farming (switchgrass will grow in places corn, wheat, and other such food will not).  If we could line roofs with solar panels we could do it, but that becomes a nightmare because of business models, maintenance, and costs; I do have a business model for this sort of thing, though.

Second problem of course is that we’re collecting more solar energy than normal, and converting it immediately to heat (electricity, which gets used for work, which makes things hot); plants usually introduce a delay and slow bleed here, and parts fall off and get reused in other plants.  In this way, solar acts like fossil fuels that skip the fossilization stage (but then, so does burning plant matter i.e. switchgrass), in terms of energy release.  This puts more ambient heat into the earth’s atmosphere, directly raising the global temperature, causing global warming.

We could try for tide or wind power, with various environmental concerns.  Both of these rob motion energy from the surrounding fluid (water or air, respectively), changing the habitat and weather in the area.  Too much wind power would mess with the weather; too much tide power could alter the oceanic ecosystems and possibly mess with the weather by means of messing with ocean currents.  It’s somewhat more sane on the small scale.

Geothermal power works just about the same way:  plug a super alloy into something hot (volcanic vent), conduct through a sterling engine or thermocouple into something cold (lake), and get motion or electricity.  At the same time, you are drawing heat into a body of water, possibly altering the local ecosystem; on a huge scale, you could heat up the oceans somewhat, release some CO2 into the air and alter the thermal properties of the ocean currents, causing some drift.  I’m not even sure a large scale implementation of this is even possible though.

Nuclear power is fossil fuel based.  Do you really think uranium comes from anywhere different than coal?  It’s a shiny rock we find in the ground, that eventually replenishes from meteors or volcanic activity drawing it out of the center of the earth; tons and tons of this shit isn’t popping up all over the planet all the time, it takes something major to make more.  To make matters worse, we can only derive 5% of the energy potential from nuclear fuel without breeding it into weapons grade nuclear material (and then summarily using said weapons grade nuclear material for the non-weapons purpose of generating 20 times the electricity we normally could), which of course violates a treaty or two.

Hydroelectric power is a nightmare too; damming up a river tends to create issues, blocking the travel of marine life and altering the landscape on one side or the other.  Unless you do it at a waterfall anyway, then you can engineer it to act a little different.  Still, not typically viable in terms of minimal environmental impact; but of course, this environmental impact happens to be rather direct, and something the local species will route around (evolution, changing habits, etc.), so mainly benign.

I’m not sure it’s technically possible to generate tons of electricity without deriving it from ambient energy (wind, tides, etc) and creating a ton of extra heat sources all over the planet (hot solar arrays, hot wires, hot electric machines).  Pretty much any source of “clean energy” is going to cause a lot of thermal pollution, raising the global temperature of the planet if we keep it up–never mind putting CO2 in the air by burning oil, we’re doing all the cooking ourselves!

Oh well, whatever.  I think biofuels for cars is unsustainable, and electric cars are impractical.  Hydrogen becomes the only viable fuel source for cars; but how do we get it?  What we need is a self-sufficient space terrarium ….

Cleaning my apartment

•May 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Let’s see… Pine Sol, Windex, laundry detergent, dish detergent, some sort of stain removed, some degreaser, bleach, a spray bottle of Awesome Orange, toilet cleaner, Scrubbing Bubbles….

Okay Hell with all that. I stock far too much stuff just to get my house clean, this can’t continue. I’m reminded of my parents’ cleaning supply room–four shelves of random chemicals to clean just about anything! I’m not stocking that much crap in this tiny apartment!

Five Basic Cleaners

I actually managed to reduce all my apartment cleaning needs to five basic cleaners, including soap for cleaning me. Unintentionally, everything I got is environmentally-friendly, and for the most part minimally toxic (i.e. large doses will cause problems, small doses might be used as food additives) and biodegradable. Some combinations, however, seem to be a bit harsh on the skin.

  • Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Bar Soap — Pretty much? Naturally scented oils globbed together as soap. I like the Peppermint bars but these also come in Almond, Lavender, and Rose.
  • Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Liquid Soap — Same as the bar soap, but in liquid form. I noticed the bar soap had water running off it where it was sitting, and had cleaned some nasty stuff off my tub; besides that, you can use this stuff for shampoo.
  • Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds — Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, some stabilizers, and fir and spruce tree oil for scent. SLS is pretty harsh, but they use stabilizers to counteract that as much as they can; on the bright side, lab rat experiments with SLS have shown that huge doses aren’t terribly toxic, and pretty much cause skin and eye irritation and an upset stomach. It’s great for washing dishes, clothes, and mopping the floor or cleaning the bathroom. You can just use the 18-in-1 Liquid Soap instead.
  • Borox — Removes stains, cleans dishes, cleans the floor, bath tub, carpet, clothes, whatever.
  • Washing Soda — Sodium Carbonate. An aggressive base (like Lye but not as horribly caustic), useful for boosting the efficiency of detergents. Mix with Borax. Constant exposure can be harsh on the skin, so I avoid it for anything I need to immerse my hands in for a long time (i.e. dishes).

That’s it, that’s all I use. With these I can clean my apartment top-to-bottom.

Things I Can Clean

I can clean everything with these things. Myself, my bathroom, my dishes, my clothes, everything. I could wash my car with Sal Suds if I wanted.

Myself

Obviously, I can clean myself with the soap. I use Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Bar Soap to clean myself. This stuff actually leaves me feeling clean, too; regular soaps usually have an effect such that I can skip them and feel the same coming out of the shower as if I’d used them.

I don’t usually use Dr. Bronner’s for shampoo, but you can. Peppermint, Almond, and Lavender liquid soaps can clean your hair easily enough, though I wouldn’t expect a spectacular foaming lather like you get from any regular shampoo. Since it’s all plant oils, this stuff should function like a decent conditioner as well.  Results seem to lean towards rubbery-feeling hair that’s unpleasant in the shower (it sticks to your hands and thus pulls, like rubber); Head and Shoulders for me.

Laundry

For a small load, a tablespoon of half-and-half (by volume) Borax and Washing Soda and a squirt (or like, 2 ounces) of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap or Sal Suds works as laundry detergent. For a large or heavily soiled load, use twice as much Borax and Washing Soda.

Typically you’d use about a quarter cup (2 ounces) of Sal Suds for this, according to the instructions. Borax and Sodium Carbonate both improve the efficiency of laundry detergent, however, by binding or competing with ions that could interfere with the soap. Because of this, you can use a little less of the liquid soap.

Bathroom and Floor Cleaner

Rather than Pine Sol and whatever bathtub cleaner and Scrubbing Bubbles and bleach and toilet cleaner and whatever else, you can clean your whole bathroom and kitchen with Borax and Washing Soda. A mop and bucket with this mixture will clean your floors. You can add a little bit of liquid soap or Sal Suds to these for extra cleaning power.

Typically I use an ounce (2 tablespoons) in 1-2 gallons of water of 50-50 mix Borax and Washing Soda, and maybe a teaspoon or less of Sal Suds. This has cleared up some nasty crud in my bathtub especially; I’m still working on some stains in the bathroom floor.  Mind you, exposure to the Washing Soda for a long time will start to irritate your hands a lot.

Dishes

Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds works for dishes. So does a little bit of Borax. For that matter, a mix of the two works great as well, or a mix of Borax and any Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap.  Typically I just squirt some Sal Suds onto a sponge and use that; however, at times I have soaked nasty smelling Gladware containers (hello burned chili) in a sink full of water with an ounce of Borax and a squirt of Sal Suds in it.

Windows, Tables, Chairs

A tablespoon of Borax in a bucket of hot water or a spray bottle of water (yes, more concentrated in a 1 liter spray bottle) works pretty freaking well as a window cleaner.  Borax works in general as an all-purpose counter top cleaner, and can clean your table or whatever else.  Mixing in some washing soda works for a disinfectant– think about what this stuff does to your hands!– and I’ve also used Sal Suds to scrub things off my counter (dried-on goop from whatever), but it’s not strictly necessary.

I would definitely avoid using Sal Suds or liquid soap on a food preparation surface aside from a cutting board you’re washing.  If you can’t rinse it, use Washing Soda to disinfect, then wipe down with a wet rag, then dry.  The off-flavors imparted by soap can make food taste sort of off; wiping a counter down to remove soap residue can be a little difficult.

In any case, I use about 3 different chemicals as an all-purpose cleaner, pretty much varying how much of which I use based on taste and boredom.  It really doesn’t matter, as long as you use some sort of soap for soapy jobs, and stick to Borax for window cleaning.  Washing Soda acts as a stain remover and a sort of aggressive cleaner, while Borax acts as just a surface cleaner.

Crud in Food

•May 7, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been messing with the flora in my body; or basically, I’ve been ingesting bacteria and yeasts for the purpose of establishing various colonies inside my digestive system. Some people find this strange, and have tried to convince me I shouldn’t mess with that stuff. I have a single response to this criticism: Commercial, processed food contains all sorts of crud that serve to kill things or prevent things from reproducing or just keep food presentable.

Bread

Let’s look at something as innocuous as bread. Bread might contain, say, “whole wheat flour, water, wheat gluten, high fructose corn syrup, contains 2% of less of: soybean oil, salt, molasses, yeast, mono and diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, dough conditioners (sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide), datem, calcium sulfate, vinegar, yeast nutrient (ammonium sulfate), extracts of malted barley and corn, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate (to retain freshness).” Let’s examine this.

Wheat, water, wheat gluten, corn syrup, all normal stuff; bread contains mainly sugars, proteins, and water. Likewise, for healthy yeast reproduction and activity (necessary for rising), we have sugars such as molasses, malted barley and corn; fats such as fats such as soybean oil, mono/di/triglycerides; gluten binders and yeast controlling chemicals such as salt; and nutrient sources such as ammonium sulfate (nitrogen) and diammonium phosphate (aka DAP, for nitrogen and phosphorus).

Sci-Toys has a nice article on bread and what goes into it. For example, what is sodium stearoyl lactylate(2)? It’s an emulsifier that makes dough bind better, absorbs more water, and tastes somewhat sweet. It’s particularly a sodium salt. Because it binds gluten better, disperses fat, absorbs water, and increases sweetness, it reduces the needed quantities of many ingredients, making the bread cheaper. As for health effects, I found none; you risk, at worst, a poor manufacture process introducing crud into the raw product. Same with Calcium Iodate, Calcium Dioxide, Calcium Sulfate, and DATEM.

I find DATEM interesting because it basically contains acids that help soften and strengthen the dough. More dough conditioning. Effectively it performs the job of more kneading and more gluten, allowing the use of lower-quality flour and lower-quality processes to get the same quality output.

Two preservatives show up here: Dicalcium Phosphate and Calcium Propionate. Both act to prevent mold and bacteria growth, particularly of a certain bacteria that makes bread seem to have rope in it (“rope” being chains of bacteria in a colony). Vinegar serves the same purpose, as acidifying the bread retards bacteria and mold growth too.

Overall bread contains fairly uninteresting ingredients; as a solid product it doesn’t go bad very easily, save for mold growth. However, commercial bread contains a lot of dough conditioners and preservatives that make up a small percentage of the product, typically “less than 2%” but all those 0.15%-0.45% and 0.05% amounts add up to come very close! It’s still a stretch to try to find anything truly harmful in a solid product like bread or icing (which, being mostly sugar, will kill anything it touches anyway), but still a good try.

Now, if you use, say, King Arthur bread flour and a sourdough starter (leave 1 cup water + 1 cup flour out to bubble), you’ll have a bread containing unbleached hard white wheat; cane or corn sugar; butter or oil (mono-, di-, triglycerides); milk; water; wild yeast; and lactobacillius bacteria. You can even go a step farther with the yeast nutrient and add Fermaid K(2), a wine yeast nutrient blend that includes DAP, organic nitrogen sources derived from dead yeast, magnesium sulfate, thiamine, folic acid, niacin, biotin calcium pantothenate, and more dead yeast; not only does the yeast use all this stuff (especially DAP), but most of the non-dead-yeast stuff comprises of essential vitamins and nutrients that you’d benefit from ingesting anyway. In either case, your final product contains lactic acid (from the lactobacillius bacteria), which makes it sour (hence sourdough), and prevents mold and bacteria growth.

Soda, Fruit Juice, Syrup, and Jelly

Liquid products such as soda, fruit juice, jellies, and syrups are more at-risk for infection, and thus need better preservatives. Think about it for a second: you can ferment apple juice into hard cider, and you can ferment crushed grapes into wine. Bread isn’t going to start fermenting and liquefy itself until a fungus or mold starts digesting it, and it’s going to get moldy first, and very slowly; animals will probably get to it first, or it’ll go stale. Liquids with lower starch, higher sugar content naturally provide more hospitable environments for bacteria and yeast growth.

Anything tart like apple cider, orange juice, or lemonade probably contains Ascorbic Acid or Citric Acid. Ascorbic acid acts as a vitamin C supplement, while Citric Acid performs a vital biological function in the Citric Acid Cycle. Both act as acids; extremely acidic environments prevent bacteria and mold growth, as we saw with sourdough. Powdered drinks also likely contain citric acid if anything; as a powder, they dehydrate microorganisms and thus act as their own preservatives. In either case, a strong inoculation of yeast (i.e. from a packet of 50 billion cells) will still ferment the liquid.

Soda often contains Potassium Benzoate or Sodium Benzoate, which can eventually become Benzine. Several health claims have come up for these products in their raw form (i.e. before they decay into Benzine), most of which do not have conclusive evidence; apparently there’s enough evidence that Coca-Cola wants to remove them from their soft drinks as soon as they find a workable alternative. I make my own soda, using extracts meant for yeast carbonation, meaning no preservatives i.e. no Sodium Benzoate (imagine that).

A lot of pancake syrup contains Potassium Sorbate or Sorbic Acid. You can also find this stuff in Hershey’s chocolate syrup, fruit juices and some (non-alcoholic) apple ciders, many jams and jellies, and even cheese and yogurt and dried meats (jerky). Potassium Sorbate helps stabilize wine as well. The major mechanism prevents fungus (yeast), mold, and bacterial growth by inhibiting cellular reproduction; in other words, the microbes don’t make more copies of themselves, and when they eventually die there’s no more to take their place.

None of this stuff gets used in levels harmful to humans; but consider the overall effect. You eat cheese, some fruit juice, chocolate milk, a jelly donut or sandwich, some soda, whatever. Most of the stuff you eat contains some Sorbate or Benzoate in it. The sheer amount of stuff you put in your body won’t harm you, but it’ll keep the flora in your digestive tract somewhat stressed. Those things thrive in hot, acidic, sugary environments; as strange as it seems, your stomach and intestines are not toxic environments, not until you dump toxic crud into them– which is exactly what you’re doing consuming all these preservatives!

Conclusion

I’m going to continue on with the bacterial inoculations, mostly with benign stuff. Lactobacillus delbrueckii floating in my stomach allowed me to drink milk for 16 days before I got horrible pains from it (seems I’m lactose intolerant). I’m currently growing a Kefir culture, planning on blending a relatively large amount of that in with a smoothie; that should permanently colonize my intestines and help digest fats and other things. I think, given the nominal damage that can occur from too much processed food coupled with the consideration that we actually advertise live lactobacillus acidophilus cultures in milk and in freeze-dried pills, I can safely continue dumping things into my body that might provide useful independent biological function.

Also on a similar topic, I’m going to continue drinking mixed powder drinks and home-made soda, and baking my own bread. I could probably can my own jams too, if I wanted to buy fruit from the farmer’s market.

Oh God stick shift

•May 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Brake pad replacement with Friction Master Ceramic brake pads

Brake pad replacement with Friction Master Ceramic brake pads

My 1995 Cavalier passed inspection.  I yanked the tint off, redid the brakes, had a lot of body work done, changed tires… $600 of work plus some tires and other stuff in, it passes, and I got it registered.

I still want to put two new tires on the front, each being a Goodyear Assurance TripleTred all-season tire.  I nab these from Discount Tire Direct for $103 each, and have my mechanic mount and balance them for me for something like $15 a wheel.  Since we don’t have a real snow season here–unless you count 3 randomly placed days of light snow as a snow season–I have no economic justification for either the cost of snow tires or the time it takes to change the wheels; otherwise I’d use these or just some good summer tires and have a spare set of snow tires laying around, as a necessity.

The car could use a little more work still.  A plastic clip holding the inside door panel on needs replacement (it pulls away from the door easy, but isn’t falling off); it probably needs two new front CV joints ($70 each); I want to replace the front springs and struts; I want to have the brakes inspected and the alignment checked, because I seem to have caused an alignment issue doing brake work (plus replacing the CV axles will bump it out of alignment); and the inside could use a vacuum and cleaning with ArmorAll.  That seems to be everything wrong with the whole car, about $500 more work, if that.  I know it’s an old, valueless vehicle; but every system in there is in good shape and I just want to keep it running good and pass it off to someone else in a year or two.  Oh, and I want to paint it, probably $250 or so if I do most of the work myself and have a cheap Earl Schieb paint job done once I prime and tape it up.  What can I say?  I like to fix shit.

When I get on the highway, or Security, or whatever, I have to accelerate.  In my Cobalt (the automatic), this doesn’t quite work as well as you’d hope.  I throw the pedal to the floor, and it… does nothing.  A split second later it finally wakes up and revs to some 6000 or 6250 RPM; then after a small delay it downshifts, and acceleration finally begins.  Mind you, it stays at 6250 for several seconds, rolling up 40 or 50 MPH to my target speed.  The car responds slow, the engine overworks itself, the torque converter gets hot, and I’m pretty sure this is really freaking bad for my car.

The Cavalier is a completely different beast.  It’s a crappy car, with a weaker engine and worse acceleration.  I get to Security at some 10mph and I’m in second gear, and I flat out floor it to speed up.  And then the magic happens:  suddenly I’m going 50mph, the car’s rev’d up high but it went there smoothly, and I declutch and shift up while the engine slows down.  I never come quite that close to red lining it; rather than pinning the engine at the top of its power band, I ride it up through the RPMs as I accelerate, putting much less stress on the engine in the process.  And, of course, I get there much quicker.

A little shaky?  Yeah.  Hill starts are getting easier, but I stall once in a while and I’m a bit green in general.  I’ve ground third gear a little.  I slip the clutch too much– I have to get faster going into first, and ease into other gears smoothly.  Really though?  I like it.

Minimalism in Cars

•March 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So I just got my 1995 Cavalier a couple weeks ago and am tuning it up, and preparing to teach myself to drive stick.  I’m going to take it out (yes, I’m driving) to a college parking lot this weekend and drive it around for a while, then take it up to the shop to have some more work done and an inspection.  I got the oil and filter changed so far, and the spark plugs and wires; I still need to change the radiator fluid, hoses, oxygen sensors, and brake fluid.

This whole endeavor has made me think of some things.  The car has a stick shift, not an automatic; an automatic transmission takes more maintenance, wears more, misbehaves if you actually care about the sort of thing it controls, and in general adds a ton of complexity to the car’s power train.  My car weighs less and gives me much greater control and better fuel efficiency due to a lack of loss in the transmission, plus it has much simpler maintenance needs.  This actually seems like a step up in every way unless you happen to be extremely lazy.

And that brings me to my current line of thinking:  minimalism.  How much stuff can I pull out of that car that I don’t care about, and expect an overall gain?  How much will reduce convenience slightly, but also improve performance or reduce maintenance needs?  I can think of a few things on there, and I think in the next year I might actually go after them.

First off, I don’t drive ABS.  The Cavalier has anti-lock brakes, and that’s okay; I am still more comfortable with standard power brakes.  I actually wouldn’t mind if the entire travel of the brake pedal was braking force, but it seems like brakes don’t actually do anything until you get them down about a third to a half of the way (even the relay to turn on your brake lights doesn’t kick in).  With that kind of leverage, I could possibly use standard brakes instead of power brakes, but maybe not.  That sort of conversion won’t happen, but I can still pull out the ABS stuff.

More interesting to me right now, however, is the steering system:  I want manual steering.  That car weighs 2600 pounds, and 5 ton UPS package trucks don’t have power steering.  Manual steering isn’t hard at high speeds, or even relatively slow speeds; parking speeds pose a problem.  For a manual conversion, I could eject every power steering support system– hydraulics, hoses, reservoirs, everything– and just change the rack and pinion.

A variable rack requiring more steering wheel travel would gear great for power steering, along with a bigger steering wheel, all for more leverage.  The rack would require more travel as you headed out from center, because you don’t do sharp turns at high speeds; on the highway you can put the extra effort into the center, but when parking you’re going to give a good shove and then turn it easy to get that full tilt on the wheels.  When you’re moving it’s easier to turn anyway, so that “extra effort” is a lot less effort than you use when parking.

Dumping both of these systems would remove a large amount of complexity from the car.  No ABS sensors, nothing messing with the braking hydraulics, no power steering hydraulics, no fluid, no pump, no reservoir.  The steering system would have an unassisted rack and pinion; brakes would have user-operated hydraulics assisted by power braking.  Much less stuff to break and fix on the car that way, and still decent for handling, better road feel, and just perfect for me.

Another consideration to make falls into the emissions system.  I have a catalytic converter and two oxygen sensors.  The oxygen sensors help the car adjust its fuel-air mix to stay at the stoic point, while the cat breaks down nitrogen oxides (NOx) and unburned hydrocarbons.  I also have Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR).  EGR was created for emissions when engines used carburetors, and simply sprayed gas through open air to evaporate it; this resulted in gas running rich, with some un-evaporated gas entering the cylinder and not getting burned.  With electronic fuel injection, the fuel gets atomized and direct-injected, and the mixture gets right to the stoic point.  This defeats the purpose of EGR.

Modern cars don’t have a distributor cap and rotor, they have electronic ignition modules that operate based on solid state timing.  This means no timing belts tied to distributors, and no distributors to wear down.  Yes, that’s two pieces of new technology now that help keep the amount of crud in the car minimal:  EFI and electronic ignition.  I never said new technology was bad, did I?  In fact I like this trend, we should start actively taking crap out of cars and minimizing the amount of shit under the hood.  Reduce complexity, weight, and maintenance nightmares!

A few other things we could do is have a heavy flywheel starter on the engine, with a high-mechanical-advantage pedal in the car to push down on to crank it.  No electric starter motor, just push the pedal down and release.  Turn the key, one, two, three, and the engine picks up; let off the starter pedal and it declutches from the engine.  At worst you now have bearings, a lever, gears, and a flywheel; you don’t have electronics and a motor to worry about overheating, shorting, or whatever.  Dead battery just annoys you resetting your radio.  Electric starter becomes an option.

So that’s my rant.  Engine, AC, fuel system, cooling system, exhaust.  Remove as much crap as you can and produce a minimal car.  Full 4 disc brakes, 4 wheel independent suspension, dual 3-stage catalytic converters and exhausts, oxygen sensors, okay.  30 systems just to control emissions?  No, re-engineer the emissions control to take as little shit as possible.  Power steering as a mandatory feature?  No, come on, AC is still an option on half this crap.  Automatic transmission?  Option.  Electric starter?  Option.  Anti-lock brakes, traction control, pre-crash systems, whatever?  Option.  I don’t need all that stuff.

 
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