Verda Vivo

Verda Vivo means “Green Life” in the universal language of Esperanto.

Flapper Failure Flushes Dollars Down the Toilet April 6, 2009

Close coupled cistern type flushing toilet.
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I’m a clean freak. So years ago, before I knew better, I plopped one of those in-tank automatic toilet bowl cleaners into the tank of my toilet. You know, the kind that turns the toilet water blue. It didn’t take long before the toilet starting leaking. We could hear the water running all night.

We called the plumber who replaced the flapper, the piece of rubber that seals water into the tank and allows it to leave when you flush. A part which costs all of about $10. His service call, oh so much more. He told us the reason the flapper had deteriorated and started to leak was the in-tank automatic bowl cleaner. In-tank bowl cleaners that contain chlorine corrode vinyl and rubber parts. For this reason, most toilet manufacturers will not warranty any tank parts if these cleaners are use.

Wired took a look inside an in-tank automatic toilet bowl cleaner: What’s Inside: 2000 Flushes — a Nonstop Potty. What they found follows below. Decide for yourself whether you want to be exposed to these corrosive chemicals and whether they belong in our water system. When the MSDS for a product says “DANGER!”, I’m taking them at their word.

Chlorinated hydantoins
Ironically, you can clean a toilet with urine. No, not by aiming at the stains, but by using hydantoins — organic compounds sometimes employed as anticonvulsants and that can be made from a mixture of amino acids and urea. Chlorinate the hydantoins and they become a magical ingredient — bleach. But watch for “vacation drip”: If you don’t flush for a while (say, while off camping or when you give in to those comfy adult diapers), the chlorine can eat away older rubber valve flappers. And then your toilet might end up running constantly.

Hydrated alumina
Also known as aluminum hydroxide, this is a solid formed when alumina reacts with water. Here it’s one of the salts that helps control the rate at which the puck dissolves, so the bleaching action can last for up to four months — giving you 16 2/3 flushes per day.

Sodium chloride
Table salt also helps control how fast the tablet dissolves. As a side benefit it may reduce germs by turning the water slightly briny. Unless, that is, you’ve got a salt-loving extremophile in your bowl, in which case you’re gonna need a stronger toilet sanitizer.

Sodium lauryl sulfate
Found in hundreds of bathroom products, SLS is a great foam and lather producer. It is made by combining sulfonic acid with lauryl alcohol and sodium carbonate; the resulting soap-like compound traps greasy particles, which can then be rinsed away.

Cocamide MEA
Cocamide is derived from the acids in coconut oil. MEA stands for monoethanolamine, which is in everything from hair dye to oven cleaner. Together they work as a powerful detergent and another dissolution retardant. Most of the stains in your toilet are going to be from, well, natural organic residues, and MEA is a master at cutting through caked-on organics. It loosens the material so it can be easily washed off with the next flush.

Sodium citrate
The nonorganic stains in your toilet likely come from hard water deposits. These can grow there like rock candy, eventually needing to be acid-washed or chiseled away. Sodium citrate softens the water by locking up (chelating!) calcium, magnesium, iron, and other metals that might be found in your water supply.

Acid blue 9
The full name of this colorant: N-Ethyl-N-(4[(4-(ethyl[(3-sulfophenyl)methyl]amino) phenyl)-(2-sulfophenyl)methylene]-2, 5-cyclohexadien-1-ylidene)3-sulfobenzenemethanaminium hydroxide inner salt, disodium salt. Whew! So why add blue to a cleaning agent? It’s actually just a marker — when it’s gone, your 2000 Flushes are up.

I don’t remember this warning on the package “WARNING: Do NOT actually use this product in your toilet tank. It will eat the hell out of your plumbing.”

But there it is, an expensive lesson.

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Questionable Convenience March 30, 2009

Filed under: food,green,home — Daryl Laux @ 6:00 am
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Gala (apple)
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I admit it, at times I’ve been a sucker for convenience products. Not as often these days but there’s always room for improvement. For example, I eschew bagged greens and vegetables, preferring to wash and prepare my own, make my own croutons and salad dressings and use vinegar and water to clean my ceramic tile floors. However, I dislike baking so I buy whole grain bread at the market. My most notable baking disaster occurred when I attempted to make a pie crust. After much huffing and puffing, kneading and flour-adding, the dough still stuck to the counter, the rolling pin and my hands. I finally grabbed the entire wad of dough in a fury and threw it up in the air in a mighty heave – where it stuck – to the ceiling. My baking days were over in that instant.

How do convenience products compare to homemade? As part of a research project sponsored by the Arizona Republic, Linda Vaughan, chair of Arizona State University’s Department of Nutrition, and student researchers purchased both raw ingredients and prepared foods to see how they stacked up. By comparing the extra cost of ready-to-eat food to the time it took to make the same thing from raw ingredients, they could determine what buyers are actually paying for the preparation.Vaughan’s group determined that the consumer was paying the equivalent of $80 per hour for the convenience of buying shredded cheese, $75 per hour for sliced gala apples, and nearly $50 per hour for pre-cut celery. Never mind the packaging that can’t be recycled.

The study also found that “convenient” doesn’t always mean “time-saving”. A frozen teriyaki dinner took 20 minutes to prepare while a teriyaki dinner made from scratch took 30 minutes to prepare. Vaughan also found that the quality of prepared meals was usually low and typically high in fat and sodium content. So the frozen teriyaki dinner tastes like oily, salty cardboard and is less nutritious. Sounds like a deal to save 10 minutes, no?

Convenience food goes one step further when “quick-cooking” morphs into “instant”. The author of  The High Cost of Convenience Foods – Case 1 compares instant oatmeal packets to quick cooking oatmeal. Since the oatmeal cooks for the same amount of time, the convenience is that you don’t actually have to measure the oatmeal. You pay twice as much for this convenience.  The High Cost of Convenience – Case 2 compares ravioli in a microwaveable bowl to its counterpart in the original can. Again, cooking time is the same but buying the ravioli in a microwaveable bowl saves you the trouble of getting a bowl out of your cupboard. For this luxury, you pay 70% more.

Nearly eighty cents of each dollar Americans spend for food goes to pay for marketing services – processing, packaging, transportation, storage, advertising, etc. All of these costs are associated with making our food convenient – getting it into the most convenient form and package, getting it to the most convenient location, at the most convenient time, and convincing us to buy it. So, we pay far more for the convenience of our food than we pay for the food itself. In fact, we pay more to those who “package and advertise” our food than we pay to the farmers who produce it. So by far the greatest part of the total cost of food is the cost of convenience. (John E. Ikerd,  Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri)

Think about it the next time you reach for a food that comes prepackaged. What price are you paying for the convenience of having someone else pre-measure, pre-cut, pre-shred, pre-pour, pre-slice, or pre-season your food? Keep that $80 an hour you save in your own account. You’ll need it to pay your taxes.

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Donate Your Prom Dress March 20, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - JUNE 01:  Juniors and seniors fr...
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The expense of a prom can get out of hand. Some young women will spend hundreds of dollars on a prom dress they’ll never wear again. You could buy a beautiful brand new dress but you can save your wallet and the environment at the same time. Consider a vintage dress. Consignment shops are a good source for gently used formal wear. A friend of mine bought a gorgeous red gown for $7.00. You can also try your hand at sewing your own (I did) or finding a seamstress to sew your gown. Once you’ve worn your dress, donate it to an organization to pass along to a less fortunate but just as fashionable female. Contact the following organizations for donations:

  • donatemydress.org – According to their website, donatemydress.org is the first national campaign designed to encourage girls around the country to donate their prom and special occasion dresses to those who cannot afford to finance the costly experience of going to their prom, sweet 16, quinceañera or formal on their own. Drop-off centers are organized by state and include Becca’s Closet and The Glass Slipper Project located around the country. The site also lists organizations that accept donated prom dresses by mail.
  • Fairy Godmothers – Fairy Godmothers, Inc. mission is to help provide a special high school prom experience for qualified high school girls whose financial situations are such as otherwise would preclude their ability to attend their prom by providing them prom gowns, shoes, and similar accessories which have been donated to the organization.

Use eHow’s guidelines on How to Donate Prom Dresses.

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Project Green Prom March 11, 2009

A typical gathering, with boys in tuxedos, and...
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Time to reserve a corsage, buy a new dress, amp up your makeup, book a stretch limo… The Works! With so many choices to make about the big prom night, caring about the environment might not automatically be a high priority.

Being green at prom is actually really easy, and the teams at Teens Turning Green and Whole Foods Market are working together to encourage teens around the country to see just how easy and stylish it is to make thoughtful, earth-friendly decisions and purchases around prom season.

The program, called Project Green Prom, kicked off last week with a fun online video contest for high school juniors and seniors where they are encouraged to post creative three-minute videos that answer the question “How would you ‘green’ your prom?”

Essentially, teens submit videos between now and March 30th via www.teensturninggreen.org that talk about things like how they use organic and eco-friendly makeup, what their dream sustainable prom dress would be by their favorite designer, how they would like to see a zero waste event at their high school, etc.

The videos will be judged by fashion, beauty and green experts including model/activist Summer Rayne Oakes, Teen Vogue beauty editor Eva Chen and John Masters of John Masters Organics among others, where they will decide who will win a variety of prizes including eco-prom dresses from top fashion designers, including Bahar Shahpar and Lara Miller, sustainable beauty products, and even a trip to NYC and a Full Green Prom Makeover for the grand prize winner, and more.

Kinda makes me wish I was back in high school…


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Daylight Saving Time Saves Lives, Not Energy March 9, 2009

Filed under: energy,health,home,politics — Daryl Laux @ 8:57 am
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An illustration of the beginning of Daylight S...
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Now that Daylight Saving Time has “sprung ahead”, I don’t have to worry about the hour difference when calling family members in other time zones. Arizona (with the exception of the Navajo Indian Reservation) and Hawaii are the two states that do have honor Daylight Saving Time and thank goodness. We have enough sunlight thank you. As it is, in the summer, you have to get up pretty early if you want to do anything outdoors. And be done by 8:00 AM. The evening doesn’t cool off until an hour after sunset so having an extra hour of sunlight is not a bonus.

Lawmakers have been tinkering with the clock for decades. For a timeline of tinkering, see NPR’s A Time-Change Timeline. Notably missing is William Willet, English architect and avid golfer, who conceived of DST in 1905, during an early morning horseback ride. He proposed DST to create opportunities for outdoor leisure activities during afternoon sunlight hours and lobbied for its adoption until his death in 1915. See William Willet’s Waste of Daylight.

Daylight Saving Time has been reputed to save energy, reduce crime, lower traffic fatalities, and increase economic activity:

  1. Energy: The truth is, you can find studies to support the stance that Daylight Saving Time saves energy (Impact of Extended Daylight Saving Time on National Energy Consumption, October 2008) or wastes energy (Does Daylight Saving Time save energy? Evidence from a natural experiment in Indiana, October 2008).
  2. Crime reduction: No study exists that clearly links DST and a reduction in crime. A 1970 study, conducted in Washington D.C. is not conclusive evidence that daylight-saving time reduced crime, given both the limited time and limited sample area. Some would argue that more evening daylight equals less opportunity for criminals. If true, is the reduction in crime when the clocks “spring ahead” accompanied by an increase in crime when the clocks “fall back” in the winter?
  3. Traffic fatalities: A study published in 2007, The Short and Long Run Effects of Daylight Saving Time on Fatal Automobile Crashes, indicates that over the course of 28 years, Daylight Saving Time significantly reduces automobile crashes in the long run with a 8-11% fall in crashes involving pedestrians, and a 6-10% fall in crashes for vehicular occupants in the weeks after the spring shift to Daylight Saving Time.
  4. Economics: In 2005, the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association and the National Association of Convenience Stores successfully lobbied for the 2007 extension of U.S. Daylight Saving Time. At the same time, the Air Transport Association (which estimated $147 million worth of revenue at risk due to scheduling conflicts for the 8-week extension), Calendaring and Scheduling Consortium (whose members include software giants Oracle and Yahoo!, as well as universities like MIT, Stanford, and Berkeley), the Edison Electric Institute (representing 200 private utilities), the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism opposed the proposed 8-week extension of Daylight Saving Time. The compromise bill that was adopted extended Daylight Saving Time by 4 weeks.

Then there studies that find impacts to male suicide rates and heart attacks when changing the clocks seasonally. Never mind the disruption to sleeping patterns that can affect some folks for weeks.

All in all, the sole substantiated benefit of Daylight Savings Time appears to be reduced traffic fatalities over a long period of time.

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New American Farmers Need New American Consumers March 6, 2009

Filed under: food,health — Daryl Laux @ 6:00 am
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An agricultural scientist records corn (maize)...
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My family was in the potato farming business as long as I could remember as a child. In order to create an outlet for our potatoes, our family built their own potato chip factory on the farm. It was a family business that grew; big enough to merge with another company and change the name from Warner Potato Chips to Treat by Warner. Finally Beatrice Foods, with brands like Butterball, Dannon, and Hunt’s, bought the factory and contracted to buy our potatoes. Within a year, the plant was shut down and the contracts were gone. The land could have easily been converted to housing during the housing boom, considering the location (Suffolk County, Long Island, New York). However, one of the brothers reinvented the farm as a wholesale nursery, more than doubling the size of the original farm. While my uncle doesn’t grow food, it’s still a family farm.

Other farmers are not so fortunate. Thousands of farmers have gone out of business; many sold their land to pay their debts. We’ve all seen housing developments spring up on fertile farm land. The number of farms in the United States dropped from more than six million in the 1930s to about two million by end of the century.

“…the largest 10% of U.S. farms now account for more than two-thirds of the total value of production and more than 40% of total U.S. production sold under contract arrangements with the agribusiness corporations that control agricultural processing and distribution (MacDonald and Korb 2008). Non-farm corporations own only a small portion of U.S. farms and farmland, but their span of control, achieved through various contractual arrangements, is quickly approaching one-half of U.S. agriculture.” (John E. Ikerd,  Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri)

The food in your supermarket or fast-food “restaurant” is food that is the most profitable, not necessarily food that is the safest or highest in quality. The market provides food in relation to ability to pay, not nutritional value. Hence the paradox of poor people who are over-fed but under-nourished. The industrialization of agriculture has created a system where corporations make the decisions and the profit. Farm laborers and food industry workers are among the lowest paid workers in the U.S. And when corporations deem U.S. labor costs too high, they rely on cheap imports from low-wage countries such as Mexico, India, and China. Are we now a nation which can no longer feed itself?

“Food is not a commodity like others. We should go back to a policy of maximum food self-sufficiency. It is crazy for us to think we can develop countries around the world without increasing their ability to feed themselves.” - Former US President Bill Clinton, Speech at United Nations World Food Day, October 16, 2008

That, in my opinion includes us. So, what can you do? Support local farmers and farming, farmers markets and CSA’s. Support farmers who grow grass-fed beef. Local Harvest is an excellent resource. Prepare your own food from scratch rather than buying highly processed, prepared foods. Organizations such as Slow Food, chefs collaborative, help to promote the “locavore” movement. Try 100 Mile Diet for tips and resources. And if you’re fortunate to have enough to share, do that too.

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Twitter, the Romance is Gone March 5, 2009

Filed under: blogging — Daryl Laux @ 6:00 am
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Twitter's Update Page
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Recently, I realized I was spending way too much time on Twitter. Who should I follow? Should I follow everyone who follows me? When should I unfollow? Should I try to get more followers? Should I follow Twitter “celebrities” like Jason Calacanis, Kevin Rose, or Stephen Fry? Beyond that, how do I distinguish the spam from the real deal? And where the hell did all the internet marketers and spammers come from?

This morning I realized I’m not having as much fun as I used to on Twitter. My blog is suffering because I spend too much time on Twitter. Just like a lover, I became infatuated. I initially followed folks with interests similar to mine. Then I started following folks that had expertise in blogging, social media, gadgets and general geekiness. Then I started following folks because they were recommended by blogs, Mr Tweet or by other Twitterers. That is, until I read this article, Twitter Less, Blog More. It made me realize how much time I was wasting on Twitter! So I unfollowed the Twitter “celebrities” I was following. Why should I follow Twitter “celebrities” when they aren’t interested in having a two-way conversation? The more I explored Twitter, the more it seemed that some folks are merely interested in the number of followers they can generate. I had the same people follow and then unfollow me multiple times. It just ended up being annoying.

I decided to get back to basics. Follow people with similar interests. Yes, there is still a smattering of experts in blogging like problogger and technology experts like Robert Scoble. I’ll continue to watch TwitKit and TweetDeck for nuggets of information. There’s a lot to be said for collective wisdom. What I’m not going to do is obsess over who to follow/unfollow. It’s purely a waste of time.

In the end I’ll have more time to devote to my blog.

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