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Nov. 27th, 2016


A comment on movies

Movies are starting to have key characters who are living with mental and physical issues, and who are not the villains. It's not a vaguely-patronizing approach focused on their disability, but treats it as just something about who they are. I think this is a very positive thing, and hope that more movies follow this trend.

[minor spoilers]

In "The Accountant", Ben Affleck is an accountant who does taxes,financial analysis, and assassinations, and is also someone living with autism. It plays very much like any other mainstream movie, and he is not treated as either pitiful or evil because of his autsm- it's just a fact about him. Interestingly, the movie also throws away the usual boring romantic subplot. Usually, if there is a female co-star in a movie, they sleep with the male star. In a shocker, they act like most other co-workers, and manage to be friends and professional acquaintances without needing to fall into bed with each other.

In "Finding Dory", Ellen Degeneres is a fish trying to find her parents. She also is suffering from short-term memory loss. Her memory loss is part of the story, but the movie is still focused mostly on the search. Interestingly, the movie also has no bad guys! Everyone is working towards positive goals.

In "Fury Road", Charlize Theron is a truck driver with a missing hand. She still drives her rig and earns the respect of her co-workers, and the writers do not define her by her missing limb. This is an excellent film about the transportation industry in modern Australia.

In "Deadpool", Ryan Reynolds has cancer, and develops a chronic skin condition as a side effect of his treatment. His girlfriend doesn't make a big deal about his changed appearance.

Nov. 6th, 2016


Election time!

This is going to be a hotly contested one, determining the future of the region! So, a poll of my friends: who do you hope wins? The businessman embroiled in scandal, the female career bureaucrat with experience in international affairs, or the third-party candidate?

PollCollapse )


Some municipalities have zoning laws that say bars and nightclubs can't be near churches or schools.

From a traffic planning point of view, that's the exact opposite of the way it should be. They have different hours of business, so having them next to each other would level-load transit usage in the neighborhood, and allow them to share parking lots. Late-night noise from a nightclub won't bother anyone in an empty school, and noise from screaming kids at recess won't bother an empty daytime nightclub.

Oct. 25th, 2016


Carrot something

m_danson posted about a carrot soup-like something. It seemed interesting, so I bought ten kilos of carrots and started peeling.

I stuffed my grandmother's slow cooker full of carrot sticks standing vertically, and slid thin slices of fresh ginger in between. Chunks of apple filled the remaining space, and it simmered overnight. After cooling, I put the still-firm carrots into a blender until smooth. After simmering the puree again, I added thyme, and served with shredded cheese sprinkled on top.

Very nice, but it didn't taste anything like carrot at all.

Oct. 23rd, 2016


Biking and socializing

I haven't seen Sandy for the past two weekends. Last weekend I was sobbing in bed about socks, and this weekend he's in Ottawa with his father visiting his brother and nephews. So I had to find something to do on my own.

I haven't biked long distances ever since I went to Oshawa and back, and messed up my ulnar nerve. It still hasn't healed yet, but I decided to go biking anyway. I had freshly oiled my chain, and installed a new taillight. Many of the bike paths have a 20-km/hr speed limit, so I added on a speedometer. I put on an ugly safety-green neon t-shirt I got online for $5. And then I went downtown to get my hair cut in the gay village.


I'm very happy with my city's progress on bike paths. Only two of the 14 kilometres between me and my barber shop were not bike lanes. Most of the bike lanes downtown now have physical barriers between the bike path and motorists.

The two kilometers that I shared with cars were exciting enough. My new speedometer showed I hit 43 kilometres per hour on Leslie Street, when I was trying to get away from an overly-affectionate SUV. I had no idea that I could go that fast without tumbling end-over-end.

The leaves are changing colour in the Don Valley. It was a very picturesque ride to downtown. Very crowded, though - the bike paths were packed solid. We'll need to create a mullti-lane bike superhighway to deal with the growing bike usage.

As I got my hair cut, I chatted with the person who had been before me. He's from my home province too, and went to the same high school as me. We stood outside the barber shop and I listened while he talked. It was quite cold, but I kept listening as he talked and went through five cigarettes in 90 minutes. At that point I wished him well, and we went our separate ways.

This is the first time that I've talked that long with anyone other than Sandy in literally years! Eugene is not relationship material (he's a smoker, refers to women as "bitches", and I suspect we're actually relatives on my dad's side), but it's a start to finding someone to be with other than Sandy. Who is awesome, but doesn't want me as anything other than a friend.

It was dark and cold on the way back, so I decided to take a bus uphill from Pape Station. The current TTC buses have a rack on front that holds two bikes, but there were three of us that wanted to use it. We all took turns politely insisting that the others use it, until I broke the stalemate and pretended I had to go to an errand in the other direction. I then loaded my bike onto the rack of the next bus to arrive - and by the time I got to my stop, the other slot had already been filled. That's late on a Sunday night - the racks must be totally packed during daylight hours.

Oct. 17th, 2016


IDEA: Hydroelectric power from water wells

TL;DR: Pour water down deep wells, turning turbines to create electricity.


In my province, many municipalities get their drinking water from both surface reservoirs (lakes) and subsurface aquifers (deep wells).

In spring and autumn, surface reservoirs are full of relatively clean water. In summer and winter, the reservoirs are half-full of dirty water, so municipalities pump water up from aquifers.

Municipal water wells have depths greater than the head of water on some hydroelectric dams.

Centripetal water pumps can be made to run backwards, with only minor modifications to turn it into a centripetal turbine.

Pumps are low-maintenance, with long service lives. The City of Toronto has century-old pumps still in active use.

My province has fewer restrictions on diversion of surface water than Alberta, Colorado, or California.

When surface water reservoirs are full, municipalities in my province could pipe excess treated water down wells into aquifers. The pumps would be turned into turbines, and the electric motors would run backwards and generate electricity. The municipality could then sell the electricity to the grid for a small profit.

Wells are expensive, turbines are expensive, but the municipality already paid for them. It wouldn't make sense to dig a well just for power generation purposes. But if you've already got the well, and you've already got the hardware, it's an opportunity to create revenue.

Oct. 10th, 2016


IDEA: Inexpensive solar-charged electric tractor

Even though it is the 21st century, the majority of farmers in developing nations still use animal power for transporting and cultivating crops.

Having a cow, horse, or other animal pull a plough has some advantages. Animals can make more of themselves, and can self-repair when injured. If you have spare fields for them to graze in, they'll mostly feed themselves. When they break down, you can sometimes turn them into meat and leather.

However, as many of my LJ friends can attest, large animals are not maintenance-free. Vet bills can be enormous and unexpected hits to your budget. Horses eat like ... well, a horse, which either means huge feed bills, or large areas of pasture that you can't use for growing crops. If you don't have enough land and workforce to breed, raise, and train your own animals, they can be quite expensive to buy. And you have to keep feeding and caring for them year-round, not just when you need them to work. All this work gives you the equivalent power of a one-horsepower engine, at best.

Tractors powered by internal combustion engines aren't always better. Fuel is expensive and flammable. Engines require regular maintenance by skilled personnel. And most importantly, unless your farm is large, you'll never make enough money from your crops to cover the payments on a modern tractor.

I think there is a place for small, inexpensive, solar-powered electric tractors.

A few people have already tried making such tractors.

Here's a video of an antique gasoline-powered tractor converted to solar-electric power, for about $10,000, giving 18 horsepower.

Here's one built from scratch as an electric tractor, for $15,000, giving 60 horsepower.

However, these are too expensive for a small subsistence farming family. They are also more powerful than necessary if you're tilling a small plot, and occasionally hauling produce to town.

Here's an electric all-terrain vehicle that retails for $1700, giving 4 horsepower. It can climb a 40-degree slope, has a range of over 60 km, and has low-maintenance brushless motors and sealed batteries. With a few modifications, this would be a good tractor. Make it wider (to prevent overturning when ploughing hills), make it taller (so the undercarriage clears crops and furrows), and reshape the exterior so it looks more like a traditional tractor (so banks will approve a loan for agricultural equipment). Add sturdy towing hitches to the front and back. Add solar panels on top (for recharging, and to shade the farmer). And now you've got something that might help improve the lives of small farmers in developing regions.


Oct. 6th, 2016


Idea: Nucleation sites to remediate Lake Nyos

Lake Nyos contains water carbonated by volcanic fumes. Occasionally, earthquakes or landslides can make the carbonated water suddenly effervesce, burping out a toxic cloud of carbon dioxide. In 1986, 1700 people were killed by such a gas eruption.


To prevent this, several vertical pipes are installed in the lake. Cold, gassy water from the bottom of the lake flows up the pipe. Bubbles form and grow as the pressure drops, and a mixture of water and gas froths out the top. However, the pipes require maintenance, and the ability to remove carbon dioxide is limited by the flow rate.


Pressure reduction is one cheap and effective way to remove carbon dioxide from water. Another way is to create nucleation sites for carbon dioxide bubbles to form. Many years ago, there was a fad where people would drop a Mentos candy into a bottle of Diet Coke. The rough surface of the candy contained many small air pockets. It is far easier for an existing bubble to grow than for a new bubble to form spontaneously, so bubbles would rapidly grow and break away from each bit of roughness on the candy.


We could do something similar with Lake Nyos. Instead of Mentos, we'd sprinkle the lake surface with silica gel powder (basically, sand etched with acid to create trillions of tiny pores), or titanium dioxide (used in paint and icing). The particles would slowly sink, with a frothy column of bubbles rising above each. We'd only add a small amount at a time, so the people living in the region wouldn't be suffocated by a lethal amount of carbon dioxide froth. As the powder sank into the mud at the bottom and the frothing stopped, we'd sprinkle on some more. We'd definitely want to wear SCUBA gear as we shoveled the powder from our boat onto the water, so we wouldn't be overcome by the fumes.

After a few months of adding powder, the lake would no longer be saturated with carbon dioxide. We'd still go out occasionally and drop in some more powder, just to keep the levels from rising again.

Any other suggestions for degassing Lake Nyos?

Sep. 12th, 2016


Headline Coffee

The Toronto Star is struggling to get revenue, as fewer people want dead trees delivered to their doorstep every morning.

Someone at the paper realized that their paper delivery system could be used to deliver other things. Their Headline Coffee subscription will get you a constant supply of fair-trade coffee beans delivered to you.

I pointed out a bug in their ordering system, and got a 75% off code as a thank-you if anyone in the Toronto area wants it.

Rice milk

I've been changing my food intake to reduce my carbon footprint. Eventually I'll be able to live on a few sacks per year of easily-transported, easily-stored, low-waste vegetable-based powders and seeds.

Half of my nutrients come from Soylent, a bland, boring, dense powder. It's vegan, does not require refrigeration, and lasts forever, with minimal waste. It's packaged in lightweight, recyclable plastic bags. Once a month, a small box arrives on my doorstep. I put some in the bottom of a glass Mason jar (with some frozen berries for flavour), add water, shake, and drink. Add coffee, and that's my breakfast and lunch.

I definitely am not giving up coffee, and I need milk (or something similar) with it. Switching from methane-producing cow milk to rice milk was easy. However, the rice milk comes in non-recycleable Tetrapaks, and it uses a lot of fuel to transport something that's 99% water. So I decided to try making my own rice milk. Instead of spending several dollars a week to buy a water-and-rice drink, I could buy a sack of rice and make my own for pennies a week.

I cooked up some rice, and threw it into a blender with water, vanilla and other ingredients. It became a smooth liquid that looked and tasted exactly like store-bought rice milk.

I poured it into a filter to strain it before putting it into a bottle.

Nothing came through the filter.

I accidentally made rice-based vanilla pudding.

At least my failure tastes good.

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