Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Things Get Crazy Just Before Christmas

I've been missing my paper scissors for ages, and finally bought a new pair. Then today I started rummaging through our box of wrapping paper (we reuse the good bits), and there was the old pair, along with two big rolls of sellotape.

Then this evening I returned home from work and checked to see if my husband had brought in our rubbish bins. We get three - a large one with a yellow lid for recycling, a middle-sized one with a red lid for rubbish, and a small one with a green lid for compostable organic waste. (Just like the Three Bears!). The green one goes out each week, and the other two alternate. We live at the end of a cul-de-sac, and off the end of the end is a private lane with eight houses up it. The waste trucks don't go up there, so all the bins from about ten houses end up on the pavement right outside our house, and they tend to get muddled up.

So - I saw that P had brought in our yellow bin, but I couldn't see the green bin. There were one of each left in the street, but they had a different house number on them. So, thinking they might have taken ours by mistake, I took theirs up to check. No, they didn't have ours, they hadn't brought theirs in yet. Then I went to every other house, and couldn't find anyone who had taken an extra by mistake.

So - I told P that our bin was missing, and he said "I brought them both in". But it isn't there, I replied. And then he showed me. He had put the small bin inside the large bin, like a Russian nesting doll, and they were indeed both there by our back door. Now I feel very foolish for bothering all the neighbours!

On another tack, I love Carols by Candlelight, but this made me go "huh?" - Carols by Glowstick. I'm slowly getting used to the idea. Granted, they look very pretty, and don't blow out or go out if it rains, and don't pose a fire risk to small children - but it just doesn't sound quite right.

Currently listening to a free downloadable mix tape from World Sweet World, a New Zealand indie craft/sustainability magazine. Check it out, there is nothing else quite like it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Facebook Knows All About Me

I have never, never in my life been anywhere near Facebook. I wasn't especially surprised to get two invitations recently to befriend certain people on Facebook. What did suprise me was the rest of the message which listed various other people on Facebook who I supposedly knew.

This means that entirely without action on my part, Facebook has a pretty good profile of the range of people I have contact with in various ways - a bunch of poets, some distant relatives I've contacted on genealogy matters, people I've worked with on various committees, and so on.

How does this happen? I had to ask my offspring to explain it to me. Apparently when you join Facebook, you can tick a box and Facebook will rifle through your e-mail address list, store the addresses, and check to see if any of them are also on Facebook. Which may seem like a good idea at the time, but it means that you are giving out information that your contacts may well have considered private, to be stored by Facebook forever plus a hundred years or so.

It all makes me rather uneasy.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Musings from the Garden

If the future of the planet depends on us all learning to grow our own vegetables, we're doomed. Today I picked the best of the half dozen cabbages I've been trying to cultivate. I planted them back in April - autumn here - so they've been growing for eight months. The one I picked had the biggest heart, big enough to fill the palm of my hand, and it was solid feeling, so I decided it really wasn't going to grow much bigger. It was just about enough for three of us.

Meanwhile, at the greengrocer I could have bought a cabbage for around $1.50, and it would have been the green vegetable portion of four meals.

So - considering that I paid $3.25 for a punnet of six seedlings, and that of the other five, two have no heart at all, and three have hearts so tiny that I'd be lucky to get even one more meal out of them, I'd say my efforts have not been very successful. It's a good thing that we're not charged for water. And that I didn't spend any money on compost, fertiliser etc - or tools for that matter, since we have garden tools anyway.

Then there are the lettuces. I thought it would make more sense to buy seeds than seedlings, since it's much cheaper. Or would be if I hadn't bought seed raising mix to start them off in. Of course I ended up with far more than I needed. Eventually I planted out about a dozen, and at first I checked on them every night, and made sure they had enough water. But P has the automatic sprinkler system going, and we've had rain in the last week, so I hadn't checked for a few days. Then when I did go to see how they were getting on, they had vanished. Completely. Not even a single withered stalk to be seen.

On this occasion, I suspect slugs. In the past, I've had flower beds destroyed by blackbirds digging for grubs, and I've lost a whole crop of pansies to a marauding human. That was in a previous house, which had a grass strip and a narrow flower bed between the front stone fence and the pavement. The pansies were disappearing one by one, and I couldn't figure it out, until the neighbour told me she had seen a woman stop by, dig out a plant and pop it into her handbag!

So - back to the vegetables. To be honest, I suspect it is actually more sustainable (i.e. lower carbon footprint) not to grow your own. If a market gardener can get cabbages to the market at $1.50 each and still make a profit, he has to be doing it pretty efficiently. A large crop all in one place will probably need less water than a few in a garden bed, where the sprinkler system waters some of the path and lawn as well. Then, there are no plastic punnets to dispose of (or little foil packets if you're buying seeds). Sure, the cabbages travel to market by truck, using fuel, but there are a lot of cabbages in that truck per gallon of petrol. It really doesn't make too much difference whether I drive to the garden centre or the supermarket - except that the supermarket is closer. In fact I often walk to the supermarket.

As for farmer's markets, each grower there grows in smaller quantities, and many of the shoppers at a farmer's market seem to have travelled further to get there, so I suspect the fuel per cabbage is considerably higher than it is for those at the local supermarket.

If you want pesticide free organic vegetables, it may make sense to grow your own or buy at the Farmer's Market. If your carbon footprint is all you're concerned about, then it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that the local supermarket is the best choice.

(I may just try again with the lettuces though. I don't want the slugs to beat me!)

Thematic Photographic: Abstract

I don't think any photo is really "abstract" - although I gather in "artspeak" abstract is not quite the same thing as "non-representational". Abstract, as I understand it, represents a real image in an "abstracted" way so that much of the detail is stripped out, and only certain essentials remain - although the artist's view of what the "essentials" are may not be the same as the viewer's.

With photography, unless you do a lot of image manipulation, it is tricky to "abstract" a subject. Selecting a detail by using close-up, or blurring the image, are two possibilities that come to mind as ways of making an image without it being obvious what it is an image of.

The above image is probably a bit easier to identify, although I find it more intriguing in thumbnail size, where the overall pattern becomes more striking than the individual items (overlapping magazines) that make up the image. Not quite abstract perhaps, but it is what I thought of when I read Carmi's theme for this week - abstract. Do visit him for some alternative views on the subject.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Thematic Photographic: Different

I've been doing a lot of gardening lately, so it's natural that it should be on my mind. Christchurch prides itself on being "the Garden City". Not every garden is the same - there are formal English-style gardens, gardens full of flowers, green gardens with native New Zealand plants, Japanese style gardens, low maintenance gardens with areas of pebble or bark mulch, and so on. But there are certain features that are consistently the same - for instance,it's pretty much a given that the front garden is ornamental, and edible gardens are confined to the back yard. Which is fine if your back yard is on the north side of the house - the sunny side in the southern hemisphere. But if your street frontage is on the north side, as ours is, growing vegetables in the back yard is more of a problem.

We don't have a large backyard. There is a very abundant grapevine along one fence, and a narrow strip alongside the garage where my husband grows tomatoes every year - other than that, the backyard is mostly taken up by a weedy patch of lawn, and a clothes line which gets no sun in winter. So when I decided to try growing more vegetables, I had to get inventive. I've planted red frilly lettuces in a flower bed in the front - I plan to intersperse these with blue lobelia - and I've planted capsicums in pots. I also found room in the back garden to try some other varieties of salad greens - mizuna and sorrel - in an old stainless steel laundry tub, and I have planted a few snow pea seeds in another small plot.

I have a large sunny flower bed in front which is full of a particularly invasive plant that was sold to me as a "good ground cover". I've decided that this is the year to clear the bed completely and to eradicate it (which will probably involve weed killer somewhere along the way, rather reluctantly). Next year, I may plant pumpkins or other veges among the flowers in this bed.

All this reminds me of this exuberant garden I photographed a few years ago. As a front garden, it is not at all typical of a Christchurch garden, with everything in together and not much regard for tidiness or order. But it made me smile (it must have looked even better when the scarecrow had all his face).

For more photographs on the theme "different" visit Carmi here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Bad Solutions to Complex Problems

One more building photo as an excuse to talk about something that's been on my mind lately. I recently approached a post office that I visit often from a different direction than usual, and came across this striking building:

even more striking on the side that faces the river. The reflections of the poplar trees that line the river put me in mind of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The building looks green, but is it really?

- Just like the Emissions Trading Scheme that our government has been discussing recently. Actually, I believe the legislation was first passed by the previous government, and our current government is busy tinkering with it, and trying to get its amendments passed before the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

Some time back, it seems that the government decided that the choice was between an ETS and a carbon tax, and they rejected the latter. Are those the only two ways to reduce emissions? Both are ways of punishing the high emitters - a trading scheme is perhaps slightly better in that it provides rewards for those who reduce emissions, as they can sell their carbon credits. But there are already inherent rewards for reducing emissions. For instance, I would be very happy to be able to halve the fuel bill for my car, or the power bill for my home. Paying less is a reward for being more efficient. To buy a more fuel-efficient car, however, would cost me a good deal more short term than I would save (maybe I would save in the long term). And to reduce my power bills - after we have tried all the easier and more obvious measures - might cost tens of thousands of dollars in modifications to my house - installation of double glazing, solar heating etc, rearrangement of rooms to catch the sun, more insulation and so on.

Financial penalties will bring about changes in behaviour, sometimes. For instance, when our supermarket started charging for plastic bags, it's amazing how many people found it easier to remember to take their reusable bags along on each shopping trip. But they had an easy choice - buy a bag or take one of their own. On the other hand, the ETS, we are told, will add three and a half cents a litre to fuel prices at the pump. But most of us drive because we need to drive to get where we are going. (I walk to work on the days that I work close to home, and it's not raining - and on the other days, I calculate that it will take me four times as long to get to work by bus, and cost me as much in bus fares as in petrol). Here in New Zealand, our fuel prices rise and fall by much more than three and a half cents as our exchange rate fluctuates, and it doesn't affect behaviour very much. Higher fuel prices will also mean more expensive food, but we still have to eat. So we will have less left over to save, which means less to invest in new companies, which may develop new energy efficient technologies.

OK, I'm being a little simplistic here. Still, I don't believe reducing emissions means a choice between two "punishments". And we have to remember that reducing emissions is the goal, not just punishing polluters. One thing that our government has done that I believe will make a difference is to bring in a subsidy for home insulation. There are many more things that could be done. What about ensuring all new government buildings, schools, etc are designed for energy efficiency? What about buying only fuel efficient cars to drive our politicians around in? What about investing more in scientific research into energy efficient technologies? This might not only reduce our country's emissions, but prove an excellent export earner. Our current record of support for scientific research is so dismal that few young people are going into science, and most of those who do have to travel overseas to find work. I'm sure a little brainstorming would come up with many more ideas, at least some of which would be workable.

It's not even a matter of whether man-made global warming is a reality or not. If it isn't (and I somehow doubt that is the case), we will still benefit from warmer houses, from lower government costs in the long run due to more efficient buildings, from the increased export earnings from technology, and so on.

Let's discuss the real problem and find real solutions.

(and visit Carmi's Thematic Photographic for more photos of buildings. Carmi is an excellent photographer and also usually has something thoughtful to say, to go along with his photos.)