Wednesday 31 December 2008

2008 in review: choices and their consequences

I've been tracking my CO2 output for a year now. Time for a summing up. My choices over the year have resulted in emissions of 12,800 kg of CO2 (which is quite a lot more than the national average of 8,600kg). That's according to my own calculations of course, but here's how it breaks down:

"Flying for work" covers two return trips to Memphis, and two to Wellington.

"NZ Apartment CO2 depreciation" is twenty percent of the CO2 emitted in building my apartment, and emitted by the building materials over the life of the building. I got the figures from NZWood - they have a handy calculator. It's probably a bit off but it's an interesting thing to consider.

"Flying for fun" covers one flight from Little Rock to Houston return to visit Pete and Ben and Adrienne, and one flight to Sydney to go for a run and do a little shopping.

"US Condo life" and "NZ Apartment life" are the costs of lighting and heating/cooling and generally using electricity in each home - about four times the emissions per day for my temporary American home, due mostly to the huge cost of heating and airconditioning.

That's without counting the CO2 emitted in the production of the food I ate, in the manufacturing off the stuff I used and bought, in the maintenance of the golf courses and movie theatres and restaurants and gyms I frequented (infrequently). I've excluded that because I don't know yet how to count it.

And it's also without counting the CO2 emitted by things I didn't actively choose - for example, the NZ government's activities. I chose to buy an apartment in a concrete building (rather than a wooden house), so I'm counting the amortised CO2 cost of building it, but I didn't choose the wooden condominium in Arkansas, so I'm not amortising the cost of building that (a pity - it was probably carbon negative). I chose to stay alive, so I'm counting the 200kg of CO2 I exhaled over the 366 days of the year :-)

To use up that CO2, it will take about 8.5 hectares of mature forest planted in a temperate land (like New Zealand) a year of living and leafing.

So what could I have chosen to do differently? The obvious choice is to avoid going to the US for five months. If I'd worked in NZ all year, and gone to Japan on holiday as I'd originally planned to, my output would be (after five minutes in Excel) about 4900kg, only 38% of what I actually caused to be emitted.

I started the year wondering if I could have any effect on my CO2 output. I think I've safely confirmed that I can.

The next step is to make those better choices which reduce my impact on the planet.

And the step after that is to make it easy for everyone else to make those choices too - by making it easy for them to see the consequences of each choice they make.

(And maybe there's a step involving buying 8.5 hectares of mature forest. )

2009 will be The Year Of Better Choices for me - for CO2 and for life in general. How about you?

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Tracking my power usage with Wattzon

There should now be a "WattzOn" badge at the top of the right hand column (over there --->). has a "personal energy usage" calculator, which can give you a rough idea of how much energy your lifestyle uses up. The number in the badge is my own usage. What's yours?

I went through the series of questions and the very first one piqued my curiosity: my energy usage halved when I changed my "country of residence" from USA to New Zealand. Apparently it's based on government policies which affect CO2 creation. I wonder if they've updated their estimate since the election?

Even though I did well out of living in NZ, I got all those watts back again from flying around the place. Maybe next year I should stay put.

Thursday 4 December 2008

First tomato!

Look, three little green tomatoes! And this year, I'm actually going to get to eat them.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Poo from balls of jelly is saving the world?

Heard on NatRad this morning while ironing a shirt: salps, which are little balls of jelly floating in the sea, are breathing in CO2 and pooing it out. And the poos are so heavy they sink into the abyssal depths, taking the CO2 out of our atmosphere for decades or even longer.

The NatRad reporter used words like fecal pellets and carbon sequestration, but that's what he meant.

Good on ya, little jelly balls.

In other news, I've been busy sponsoring Fronde's Mo Bros. You should too:

Movember - Sponsor Them

I went to the Sculpture on the Shore exhibition at the weekend with my mate Royden. I particularly liked this giant plane-crash. Royden particularly liked that it's a Zero, as all small Kiwi boys fantasised about attacking with their Spitfires and Mustangs. Apart from possibly the worst-designed catalogue in the known universe, the event was very well managed and over-staffed with friendly volunteers.

The whole thing was in aid of Women's Refuge, a worthy charity if you have a few dollars spare. Wouldn't it be nice if such refuges weren't necessary.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

More strawberry amazement

Two lovely tasty strawberries. Ate them today: the first fruit of my garden!

Check this out for quick growth, too... 7:30 am this morning:

7:30pm this evening, a mere 12 hours later:

Long may this blessed strawberry-ripening sunshine continue.

I suggested at work today that we start a garden on our balcony to grow lunch-food. Let's see if we actually do....

Wednesday 5 November 2008

New growth

Two things please me greatly today.

Thing one is the whole Obama-wins thing which is pleasing everybody sane.

Thing two is much smaller and more green (at least in the literal sense) and is pleasing only me:

Strawberries on 30 Oct

Strawberries on 2 Nov

Strawberries on 5 Nov

So quick! Look at the one on the bottom left!

Wednesday 27 August 2008

It's oh so early

It's 6am. I've been awake since 3.

I woke up & couldn't get back to sleep. No particular reason, as far as I can tell. Might be the Codral Night&Day.

So I picked up a book and I've just finished it.

I know this is not normal.

But the book was really good.

And now the moon is going down behind the Vero tower, and tugs are pushing a container ship into the dock, and it's time to get up and go to work.

The book, by the way, is Social Intelligence by Karl Albrecht. Hmm.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Grin like a dog and run about the city

I can run without my heel hurting! And I have a race to do! Joy! And More Joy!

Goodness knows how, but my Achilles is completely fine now. I ran nearly 5km on Thursday. It feels like waking up from a coma.

To celebrate, I'm going to Sydney in a month, and, serendipitously, there's a run there that weekend: the Sunday Telegraph Bridge Run. Only 9km and with a slow cutoff, so that I can walk if I have to. Joy! Joy!

Of course now that I can run again, I've got a bad bad cold and it's raining. Can't have everything, I guess.

Running about the city takes me down side streets I wouldn't usually go down, and today I found this little gem near Britomart. Isn't it pretty!

Obligatory mention of CO2: I booked my tix on Air NZ and got the option to offset:

From: Auckland To: Sydney - Return
Number of passengers: 1
Total distance flown: 4,320 km per passenger
Estimated emissions: 408.2 kg of CO2 per passenger
Cost to offset this CO2*: NZD$ 13.90 (inc. GST)

Good on them.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

A post that is not about Carbon Dioxide

I was blog-surfing this evening and stumbled upon that eternal question: why aren't there more women in IT? Brenda in Wellington lists some possible reasons, and the Wellingtonista blog had a few things to say (with some really good comments).


You know what? I'm glad there are more men than women in my industry, for some horribly self-interested reasons:

- I like men. I like working with men, I like hanging out with men, I'm totally okay with being the only woman in the room.

- Male-dominated professions have higher pay and higher status (massive generalisation here but if you don't agree, prove me wrong)

- In an industry without clear performance indicators, you have to be both good at your job and visible to get ahead. Just by being a woman I've got the "visible" part nailed and can concentrate my energy on being good at my job.

There are some downsides but only one significant one, as far as my experience goes: the subtle taint of affirmative action, the lingering thought that I mightn't have got that promotion, that payrise, that role, if I'd been a man.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Car? Bike? CO2 part 2

I love my car. I looooove my car. Even when it's raining and the roof is leaking and the cooling system is rusting from the inside out. Love love love.

How much does it love the environment? It's not all that bad... compared to an SUV.

This is part two of a fourish-part post on my CO2 usage. Let me know if you're bored yet and I'll stop.

The only question I really need to answer here is: how many kg CO2 per kilometre? I don't use my car all that much and I can easily keep track of how many km I do on any given day. I already know how many km per litre I get (just over 11.5) and I don't drive enough for it to be worth changing cars to get better efficiency.

That breaks down into:
1. How many kg CO2 / km for unleaded 91 octane fuel, on average?
2. Does it differ by car, in any way?
3. Does it differ by fuel provider, in any way?

And then: how many km do I do on an average day, and how many kg CO2 does that translate to?

To question 1

The NRMA says every litre produces 2.3kg of CO2

The Canadians say 2.4kg. And they've made a handy dandy calculator - cut out and make! It's papercraft for greenie geeks.

The US EPA, via Yahoo Answers, say every litre produces 2.343kg...

That's a much better consensus than the tree question earlier. And that last article also tells me something of the answer to questions 2 and 3. Check out, by the way, the final answer to that question. Love it.

To question 2
Per the Yahoo Answer quoted above, only a very efficient engine would produce the whole 2.343 kg of CO2. Less efficient engines produce more CO (carbon monoxide, not a greenhouse gas although it's pretty nasty to humans) and so on. Can I find out for my car what its efficiency is? I'm good about getting it serviced but it is eleven years old.

For now let's assume it's really efficient and it's putting out all 2.343 of those kilograms.

The internets say to make sure the air filter's clean and the spark plugs are working right. Sounds like a job for Super Roverland!

To question 3
Again per the Yahoo Answer, part of the efficiency is down to the additives. Local received wisdom says some petrol companies (Shell, Caltex) always buy the top grade of petrol from the refinery, and some (Gull, I'm looking at you) buy whatever's available. I'd love to run some statistical tests to check this out but I don't use anywhere near enough petrol - I'd be waiting a year for meaningful results. Any of you like to volunteer to keep records of your petrol purchases and mileage for a while?

Last question. How many km / day do I do. This is where I get to be insufferably smug: since 3 June (the day I came home) I've done 500km, one tank of gas. That works out to (clicks over to Excel... type type type ... clicks back) 9.1 km / day. Thus, an average of 1.84 kg CO2 per day from driving.

And bikes? Well, if I was going to bike to work, I'd be very happy to hear about BikeCentral, a new enterprise opened up just near Britomart, which has bike storage, lockers and showers, repairs and coffee. Shame I already life in the CBD...

Monday 28 July 2008

Carbon Dioxide - finding out is a problem

I've been blithely quoting stats on my CO2 usage for a while now and you may (or may not) have wondered how I was calculating them.

I've got a spreadsheet. This will probably not surprise you.

I was updating my little spreadsheet yesterday, and hit the problem that is probably the biggest reason more of us aren't doing more: it's just so hard to work it out! I've been using estimates from various sites for a lot of my stats and I decided to dig a bit deeper.

As far as I know, my biggest CO2-releasing activities are:
- electricity usage at home
- petrol usage in my car
- co-generation which heats my water
- flying around the globe so much

I set out to tackle them in that order. So, here's how I worked out the home-electricity thing. My power comes from Mercury Energy.

Mercury Energy is somewhat coy about how much CO2 is produced by their power generation. I followed a tortuous path from the Mercury Energy website's blather about the environment, which told me precisely zip except that their power is generated by Mighty River Power....

.... so off I go to Mighty River Power's Generation page, which at least told me that they had a bunch of hydro stations (yay!), some geothermal (more yay!), a "biomass energy" station or three (a what?) and a co-generation plant, and that they were thinking about wind. So far so sweet and all but still no mention of CO2.

Some random clicking within the Mighty River Power site brought me to their Reports & Documents section, and from there to the 2007 sustainability report (large PDF).

And there, on page 18, in teeny font, was a CO2 breakdown by plant type! Hooray! And even better, on the following page, they've got a CO2 usage measurement for their corporate activities.

So, they generated 5,339 GWh of power and created 385,061 (love that 1) kg of CO2 in the process.

Armed with that data and a recent power bill I can now calculate that my 8 or so kWh per day results in about 0.58kg of CO2 being released per day into the atmosphere. This is data that should be on my bill, rather than requiring me to hunt through so many pages online.

So my questions to the internet today are:
  1. is there any way to get this data about all the power companies, easily and online?
  2. how does your CO2 production from your home electricity stack up?
  3. and do you agree, that this data should be on our bills?
(Interestingly, I originally ran the calculation on 2005 data by mistake, and on that data I would have been producing only 0.48kg of CO2 per day. Unless I'm mistaken, that means Mercury have been getting LESS green over time. I've done my little bit today by signing up for online billing.)

Saturday 26 July 2008

Once in a decade storm? and eating locally

(Image nicked from MetVuw)

Man, it's windy. The Metservice site is down so I can't tell how windy it is, but I can't see the North Shore and the rain is going sideways. The Herald was getting all excited about the weather earlier, saying the lows would be a new record. But they've been getting increasingly excitable about the weather since this new "weather blog" thing with Philip Duncan started up. Are we really such a boring country we need to blog about the weather? Er. On to other topics...

My building creaks in the wind. It's like living in a giant tree. I suppose that makes me a little bird in a nest. In a normal wind it sounds a slow creeeaaaak..........creak......... creak....... Today it's creakcreakcreakcreakcreakcreakcreakcreak.

But I'm pleased to see that the White Lady is open for business despite the weather. Mmm, dodgy cheeseburgers. I wonder what they taste like when I'm sober.

Speaking of food: I've been buying my groceries at the Britomart Farmers' Market for the past few weeks; I'm trying to "eat local, think global" now that I'm back home. Because it's the middle of winter, only winter veges are available and I've been forced to be a more adventurous cook. No pasta and tomato sauce can be made when there are no tomatoes or pasta! I made this beef rib stew with fore ribs from Te Kainga farm and baby carrots and potatoes from the market the other night - it's delicious.

So go, buy food there next weekend.

And while you're doing good for the earth, go have a look at - they're a group trying to get a non-car harbour crossing sooner rather than later. I for one would like to walk across the bridge without paying $70 to do it as part of a half-marathon.

Enough! it's dark and stormy outside so I'm going to snuggle down, watch LOTR again, eat stew and drink the rest of the bottle of red wine that I had to open (sigh) for the stew. And maybe it will be less than two months until my next post.

Sunday 1 June 2008

Name the product

Can you guess the product, from the ingredient listing? Read and think then go to the comments on this posting for the answers.

Product 1
Sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean, cottonseed), water, cornstart, corn syrup, modified cornstarch, salt, mono- and di-glycerides (for smoothness), natural & artificial flavor, potassium sorbate (preservative), polysorbate 60 (for smoothness), citric acid, yellow 5 lake, blue 1 lake.

Product 2
Sugar, corn syrup, modified whey, cocoa(processed with alkali), hydrogenated coconut oil, nonfat mil, calcium carbonate, less than 2% of: salt, dipotassium phosphate, caffeine, mono- and di-glycerides, artificial flavor, carrageenan, vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).

Thursday 22 May 2008

Mission: Nearly Impossible (rant)

Caution: self-indulgent rant follows. You might as well skip it and wait for the next update, which will be more cheerful.

My mission, and I had little choice but to accept it, was to get some new contact lenses. A simple enough task, you would think.

I first tried in Memphis. I was there anyway, and I thought what the hell, it's a major city, they're bound to have a few lenses to spare and I'm on my last pair. I'd seen ads for Sears Optical so off I toddled. In a sweet, ever so polite, Southern accent I was told that it was Sunday and they couldn't sell me any lenses. Grumbling only very slightly to myself, I toddled away again and threw my credit card at other more interesting things which were allowed to be sold on Sundays.

My next attempt was the following weekend in Little Rock, with a little more verve this time (my eyes were starting to hurt). I let my mouse do the walking, and found a Sears Optical near the centre of this very spread-out town (think Canberra with a river rather than a lake). They had the particular lenses I use and at a very good price, and the opening hours were 10am to 6pm at the weekend (which is considered very generous in these parts). Drove there, getting only a little lost on the way. Little Rock is about an hour's drive from where I actually live. Wandered around the deserted store for a wee while and was finally directed in a sweet, ever so polite Southern accent to the Optical desk around the back of the children's wear department, about twenty paces away.

It was deserted and just a little more empty-looking than I expected for 2pm on a Saturday. I looked around inquiringly and then went back to the sweet Southern belle I had asked directions of, to be told in matter-of-fact, very polite tones, "oh, they've gone for the day" with just the slightest hint of "you silly foreigner". Muttering invective, but only to myself, I departed.

My third attempt, immediately after the second, involved driving at some speed to a mall I had visited earlier and in which I had memories of seeing a rack or two of glasses. I triumphantly found the optician, admired the gleaming spectacles briefly and presented my prescription at the desk. It was inspected carefully and then handed back with the information, delivered in a sweet, very polite Southern accent, that here in Arkansas opticians weren't allowed to dispense contact lenses, only doctors could do that, and as anybody could see by the darkened door in the back, the doctor was not there and would not be back until Monday. Apparently my NZ prescription from a real live optometrist doesn't count for much. I pitifully asked for help and was directed, sweetly and ever so politely, to Wal-mart.

I was not holding out much hope at this point (I had tried Wal-mart before. You can buy anything there, except contact lenses). But I dutifully drove the ten or so miles to the specific Walmart to which I had been directed, on the edge of town, and fronted up at their gigantic Wal-Vision or whatever the heck it's called. I waited and waited while the sweet polite white-coated people dealt with their sweet polite customers, and while they chatted to each other, and passed the time of day, and eventually it was my turn. I somewhat briskly presented my prescription to a bona fide eye doctor, and it was duly and politely inspected and admired, every single part of it, and it was a good four or five hours later that she told me in a sweet, gentle, ever so polite Southern voice, that she didn't have those particular lenses in stock. But if I came back in two weeks she could order them in for me.

I accepted this information with what I felt extreme good grace, given I was standing in the biggest flaming optometrist's I have ever been in, only about fifty miles from Wal-Mart HQ, and I allowed through gritted teeth that since I was on my last pair, and that I'd been wearing them for three weeks already, and if I had to wear them for two more weeks my eyelids would fuse shut, I was happy to use any of a dozen other kinds as long as they let me see, but I was told in sweet, polite tones that the law here in Arkansas prevents me from acquiring any kind of contact lenses other than the ones specifically on my prescription. I had spent two or three hours trying to buy lenses by now, and was just a mite frustrated, so decided to give it a rest for the day.

My nearly-penultimate try was the day before yesterday, Monday, when in a light-bulb moment I remembered there was a Sears right here in Pine Bluff. I googled, and lo and behold it had an Optical part! Hours 10am to 6pm, so I have to take time off work, but that's fine! I'll be able to see! I called their number. No answer, but the voicemail message was ever so polite and re-stated their opening hours. They didn't call back. Never mind, they must be very busy. In high spirits I went in. In good cheer I asked directions. In a sweet polite voice I was told it was just past the lawnmowers. In joy I strode. In dismay I read the large, permanent, sign stating "Monday: closed". In bad humour I strode out, past the giver of directions who must have known it was closed on Monday, the brainless woman.

On Tuesday I returned extremely grumpily for what I now know to be my penultimate attempt, at 12:05, figuring that lunchtime would probably be a busy time for them but hey, I just need lenses, it's a quick transaction. I strode. I looked with mounting anger at the hand-lettered sign: "back at 1pm". I strode out. I may have shot some people on the way out.

On Wednesday at 10am I strode back. And he was there! I requested lenses. He gravely and at some length inspected my prescription. He gravely and at some length informed me in a sweet, very polite Southern tone that while he was wearing a white coat, he was not a doctor and could not sell me lenses. The doctor, he said, comes at 1:30. I was about ready to shout, but he must have sensed it (I don't believe anybody has shouted here since 1776) and allowed as the doctor did have another place of business and was there now. I exercised great restraint and did not execute him. I strode, I drove. The doctor, in a sweet, polite, somewhat incoherent Southern accent, made conversation at length about my accent, my nationality, the fact that he had once met a New Zealander in the 60s, asked in detail about the future of the mill, glanced briefly at my prescription and said "we don't have any in stock, we'll have to order them in, it'll be a couple of days. But here are some other ones you can wear until then". And handed over a dusty pair of odd-branded lenses, in blatant contravention of the laws of Arkansas which forbid me from wearing anything other than Acuvue Advance II .

But I strode away happy, because at some point in the next few days a small box will arrive in the mail, and I will be able to see again.

This, gentle reader, if you're still here, is why America is still stuck in Iraq.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Done! Three weeks to go til I come home

Hello dear internet! The go-live is over and done with and I can finally exhale. Here's what my life has been about for the past little while: lots of tasks on whiteboards.

That's not very interesting to anyone outside of the project so here are some interesting things in the sky. Part one: I think this is called a "sundog". It's like a little segment of a rainbow, without the rest of it. Weird. Taken from an SUV doing 75mph down the freeway, so please excuse the lack of focus.

And this is a sunset outside t'mill, on the first day of the four-day cutover. The foreground flag is the Arkansas state flag. Not sure what the background one is, I don't think I've seen it before....

Yeah, that was lame. Sorry.

And in the odd few moments I've been able to snatch, I've been listening to a lot of American podcasts. The radio stations here aren't up to much so I'm getting my fill of NPR and Common Sense (really slow ugly site, but great podcast content) over the internet, same as always. Recommended listening!

I'm coming home on 3 June. If anyone wants me to bring any gadgets such as iPhones, they'd better let me know pretty soon....

Friday 25 April 2008

State of Play

Friday 18 April 2008

The Internet is down

Internet down in Pine Bluff; rest of the world cut off.

It's so quiet. I can't work. I've got nothing to do.


Sent from my iPhone. Thank goodness for Apple.

Monday 14 April 2008

Ceiling Cat

Our office is now adorned with a Ceiling Cat,overseeing the food supply. I wonder who will be the first to notice.

Close-up of my somewhat clumsy papercraft skillz. It's been a long time since I got out the scissors and sellotape and made something, so it's a bit scruffy-looking.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Wildlife Weekend

I went to Memphis for the weekend (at a cost of 72kg of CO2 emissions). Without any real intention on my part it ended up being all about the wildlife. Spring is in full flower here (unlike snowy London, as my brother is experiencing), and all the animals and birds are out of hibernation or back from their winter holidays and ready to party.

The parade of wildlife started with American bison, in a farm park in Memphis. Interesting fact: bison like to wallow in ponds. Not many people know that. And boy, do these things have big heads:

Then a basking turtle in another pond in the same park. Rod and I had planned to go for a short walk around the pond but the path had other ideas, and we clocked up more than 16,000 steps according to my pedometer... the turtle hadn't moved when we got back to the pond after 90 minutes. Rod thought it was fake:

I know these ones weren't fake, because just after I took this photo (waaaaayy zoomed in) they took fright at my presence and splashed off the log into the water.

And this one dove for the bottom a microsecond after I got this shot. Turtles are scaredy-cats....

...unlike midges, which are suicidal little sods. Front grille of my car after the 170-mile trip back to Pine Bluff, at speeds in excess of 75 mph for much of the trip. I had to re-fill the windscreen washing liquid.

Just to remind you that it's not all bugs and bison over here, here's another shot of my workplace. Pretty, isn't it? It's a sunrise, by the way, just as I arrive at work.

And, not that I want to bring you down after all those cheery wildlife shots, but here's a pic of our project room. Yes, that's a bucket in the corner below a missing tile in the ceiling. We've had a little trouble with leaks lately and I don't mean the media.

That's all for now. Back to work for me.

Saturday 29 March 2008

Earth Hour 2008: turning my lights off

Since I last updated this blog I've been to NZ and back. Did I take lots of pictures of the wonderful Indian summer weather, my many gorgeous and intelligent friends (hi guys) and their lovely new babies, or my beloved and missed family? Nup. Too busy enjoying myself.

So what did I bring out my camera for? This unassuming little bottle.

I was thirsty when I got to LAX (no fault of Air NZ, they were quite happy to keep pouring any one of a hundred expensive liquids into me for the duration of the flight). So I bought a bottle of water, attracted by the pretty flower on it and the name, FIJI, which reminded me that there are beaches and sunshine in the world. Then I forgot to drink it.

Serendipity struck: on the next flight I read an article in the New Yorker about the owner of the company which bottles the water, and read the fine print on the back. It's not just named after Fiji, it's from there.

Fijian water, flown from Fiji to LAX, bought there and flown to Dallas and then to Little Rock and then driven to Pine Bluff. Water. It's free, it's heavy, and I just bought some and flew it hundreds of miles. No wonder I'm such a carbon-criminal. *Smacks self on wrist*. I'm keeping the full bottle as a reminder to myself.

I've done the maths and I'm now at 8,011 kg of CO2. That's how many trees? Even Google doesn't pretend to know! Searching on "a tree absorbs tons of carbon per year" gives answers like:

A healthy tree stores about 13 pounds of carbon annually

[] ......

This is an average of 12.5 kg per tree per year

[] ......

a mature tree only absorbs 7.5 kg of CO2 per year, while a young and actively growing tree can absorb 13 kg+ of CO2

[] .....

each tree will absorb 1 ton of CO2

[] .........

A single mature tree can absorb up to 50 pounds of carbon dioxide per year

[] ..........

roughly one metric ton of carbon per acre per year

[] .....

in the lower Mississippi River Valley, on a per planted tree basis, each tree absorbs an average of approximately 1.33 tons of carbon dioxide

[] .............

How is it measured? I need to see some peer reviewed scientific research. But I'm sleepy now, because it's late, which is because every detailed scientific page I read leads to ten random minutes browsing wikipedia/slashdot/xkcd/arts&lettersdaily/other people's blogs/etc....

So I'm going to turn out the lights and go to bed.

Oh, speaking of turning out the lights: turn them out at 8pm Saturday to participate in Earth Hour. If you missed it, turn them out NOW! After the mandatory ten minute random browse , of course.

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Home on Good Friday!

Yes, that's right! We've rejigged the project plan a bit, and it now makes more sense for me to come home this week rather than the first week of April, so I leave here on Wednesday afternoon and arrive in lovely lovely Auckland early on Good Friday morning. Yay! I get to see all of my lovely lovely friends and my lovely lovely family and eat good food and sleep in my own bed!

See you all soon!

(PS: No offense, Pine Bluff).

Thursday 13 March 2008

Three weeks and counting

Three weeks from this moment I'll be arriving at the airport to come
home. I'm counting the hours...

Sent from my iPhone as a test of blogging via email.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Something to think about

Heard on the BBC: The average life contains less than a thousand months.

And I'm spending six of them in small town Arkansas.

Sunday 9 March 2008

Snow Pics

So the first car said to the second car, "I guess we're not going anywhere today".

Snow coats every twig.

My footsteps... the footpath had been trodden down into ice, so I walked on the grass (which was under 3 inches of snow)...

... and collected it in the turnups on my jeans.

It's nearly 9am and the sun is melting the snow so fast it's falling off the trees like rain.

A short video of a tree steaming. (3MB; I need to work out how to compress video).

It's -5 degrees out but it's crisp and dry and doesn't feel cold until you get wet. Now I'm going to watch one of my neighbours manoeuvre his 4WD out of the carpark....

Saturday 8 March 2008

Testing video posting, with a song I love on YouTube.... These guys are called The Cat Empire, they're Australian, and they deserve more fame than they have. Let's see if this works.

Well. That was easy.

Even more snow! And this time it stuck around!

As I write there is snow falling softly outside. It's formed little hats on the lamp posts and duvets on the parked cars, and lined the top of every twig with white. One of my neighbours is frolicking with his dog in the three or four inches of fresh powder snow on the ground. It's so PRETTY!

Pretty damn hard to drive in. It took 40 minutes to get home from t'mill; it usually takes 10.

Pics as soon as my camera battery recharges.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Snow at last!

After that lovely summery hot weekend, it snowed today! See this news article for proof. We only got a few flurries here but I got to drive through it to work, which was very pretty. No pics, sorry.

Apparently it might do it again on Friday - yay for winter's last gasp. Punxsutawney Phil was right.

Spot sponsorship on CNN

Just watching CNN Morning. They brought up a flu map showing every state except Florida had widespread flu outbreaks (yes, including Hawaii and California). Then the sponsorship for that spot played their ad: Florida Orange Juice ("stay healthy, drink orange juice"). And now I trust the map, and by extension CNN, a little less.

Monday 3 March 2008

Golf on the first warm weekend of spring

At Pine Bluff Country Club, with Deb and Gabb. We didn't quite play all 18 holes because it got dark, but it was a lovely lovely day. This is me sinking about a dozen balls in a row into the water hazard, which Gabb renamed Lake Carolyn. (yeah, there are two of me in the photo - Gabb did something nifty with Photoshop).

This is the second hole, with me and Debbie in the left foreground. What you can't see is the many squirrels bouncing around all over the greens. I'm sure they stole at least one of my a-bit-off-the-fairway balls...

Rented clubs: woods made of actual wood! I've never seen that before. They felt quite similar to my cheap half-set in NZ though. And of course I could blame all my duff shots on having old clubs ...

Hey Carolyn, have you forgotten about the environment?

Yeah, pretty much. It's amazing how easy it is to forget it, here. But at latest count I've produced 3652 kg of carbon dioxide. (that includes daily living, flying NZ to USA, flying Little Rock to Houston return, and all the driving I'm doing here).

Extrapolating out, that's over 21,000 kg of CO2 for the year. That's more than most people, according to this calculator here:

Haven't done anything to offset it yet. I did buy a bunch of CFLs for my rented apartment in Pine Bluff, but I won't be able to judge the impact of that until I get a power bill.

According to Wikipedia (which of course is always absolutely correct), a tree in the tropics absorbs about 22kg of CO2 per year, and a tree in the temperate zones about a third as much. So after some Excel wizardry, my impact so far this year could be offset if I planted 1162 trees in New Zealand. That's quite a few trees. I might have to buy some land.

Weekend in Houston

Flew down to Houston last weekend to see Pete (and Ben and Adrienne and their two boys - they're all working for Macquarie there).

Random points:

* the TSA staff at Little Rock airport are friendly and chatty. The staff at Houston airport, not so much. In both places it takes an hour to get through security.

* Houston is a damn nice place. Good restaurants with deliciously fresh sushi and NZ wines (as well as many good American wines of course), suburbs with footpaths and flowering trees and friendly neighbours. I really wasn't expecting that; my mental image was of cowboy boots and oil-men. This is Pete, under a cherry tree in a park.

* the Johnson Space Centre is like a super-Motat. (That's a good thing). Highlight of the visit: touching an actual Moon rock! Whee!

* shooting a Glock 9mm at the Top Gun Range. It's VERY LOUD. And it kicks up rather than back. I feel like a real American now. (I'm not a very good shot).

* sculpture in concrete: someone gave the Texas highway engineers a lot of money a few decades ago and they paved most of the state. When they ran out of ground they went up into the sky, layer upon layer upon layer....

iHave an iPhone

And yes, I like it as much as I thought I would. Favourite features:

* inbuilt speakers for use as a speakerphone or a tiny tiny stereo for playing podcasts of In Our Time as I fall asleep at night.

* just beautiful user interaction and graphics. I don't think any other gadget makes me say "oh, cool!" quite so often.

* using Safari to Google for tourist locations in Houston and then find them on the map, while actually en route to said locations. (note for the safety-worried: I wasn't driving)

* "visual voicemail" - it's just a list of my voicemail messages that lets me listen to them in the order I want, but that's actually very useful.

* unlike my Treo, the call quality is not at all bad.

Things I wish it could do that it can't, yet:

* recognise addresses on web pages and turn them into links to open Maps.

* stay un-smudged for more than five seconds. I guess that's the price we pay for a multitouch interface.

* really know where it is, on Maps. It's usually out by about half a mile. (Mind you, that's often close enough to be useful).

Best bit: I managed to get a prepay account from AT&T, and avoided having to sign up to their 2-year contract. When I come home for good, I'll be free of AT&T entirely - yay!

Monday 18 February 2008


From my new favourite site for random browsing, LimerickDB:

int factorial(int sum) {
if (sum == 1) return 1;
if (sum != 1)
return product(sum,
factorial(sum - 1)); }

(I just love this, especially since it works, but they're not all this geekily mathematical: click the Latest Submissions link and away you go). Caveat: not necessarily safe for work or those offended by the odd naughty word.

The best part is that all these limericks have been submitted in the past SEVENTEEN DAYS solely by readers of my all-time favourite webcomic, The forumites here are the most civilised I've ever found. Actual conversations! Politeness! Profundity, even! It gives me hope for the future of the interwebs. Especially since most of them are still in their teens.... the kids are all right.

Wednesday 6 February 2008

Well, that was exciting

Hello internet! Bit of stream-of-consciousness, it's-late-and-I-can't-be-bothered-editing, for you tonight. No photos cos it's not an easy thing to photograph.

Tornadoes don't usually come until the summer but a whole bunch of them just swept across Arkansas and wreaked havoc (more in this NY Times article ). We'd been seeing the wind warnings online all day and I had an interesting drive home. Bear in mind I had been in a windowless office since 7:30am*

As I left the mill, lightning was turning night into day a couple of times a second. I've never seen so much lightning (it beats out Sydney thunderstorms!) but it was still dry, so I got in the car (telling myself I was safe from lightning in the car... if this isn't true I don't want to know) and started the 10 mile trip home. Every time the lightning re-lit the clouds they had changed. At this point I started thinking about that tornado movie with Helen Hunt and that guy. Remember the lightning? Just like that.

And before I'd gone the mile to the freeway onramp it had gone from dry to torrential, sideways, rain. Pushing my car all over the road.

This project's not going to kill me in any way shape or form so I wasn't getting on that freeway - it's elevated most of the way and I didn't want to be the highest point around. Fortunately some of the project team are staying at a Holiday Inn near the freeway entrance so I aquaplaned through the last block and pulled in there. Spent about two hours holed up in the bar inside the mall attached to the Holiday Inn, eating oily calamari and watching the weather on tv. Several people are dead. Very surreal. By the time we'd all paid and tipped it was dry again outside. What is UP with this place?

(And it was nearly 25 degrees today. Celsius.).

*Off-topic: I've discovered the secret of getting to work early. Travel across many timezones, get utterly jetlagged, then you can reset your internal clock to whatever you like. Not sure it's worth it though.

Thursday 31 January 2008

Slice of life in Arkansas

I promised myself I'd take some photos today, so show you an average slice of life for me in Arkansas. Forthwith:

A rare shot of the mill, where I am working for Honoured Client. The stuff coming out of the top is steam, honest.

A Twinkie. I, and many of the other Kiwis on the team, remember eating these in NZ when we were children, so one of the guys bought a box of them. Be warned: they are exactly like they were when we were four years old, but now that's not scrummy any more.
There are still a few in the box if anyone wants one.

The Frozen Pizza aisle at WalMart, where I do 90% of my shopping. Yes, a whole aisle devoted to nothing but frozen pizza in all its icy cheesy glory.

And not ONE SINGLE FROZEN CURRY in the whole damn supermarket. I'll be a waif by the time I get home, a waif, I tell you!

My car is covered in a thin layer of ice

Some of you have seen this already, but here it is for posterity. There was an ice storm last Friday and my car became covered in icicles. Pretty, if you didn't have to be outside while it was happening. (I didn't even see the storm: our office has no windows).

The icicles were still there when I got home.

Sunday 27 January 2008


Exec summary if you don't want to scroll through all the waffle:

- it's surprisingly small

- it's extremely sanitised

- it's still quite fun and interesting, even for non-Elvis-fans like me

- The best bit is the house itself - the planes/cars/suits/etc can be safely left off your list of things to see, unless you're a plane/car/tacky-suit nut.

So Rod and I shelled out USD32 each and spent last Saturday at Graceland in Memphis. It's one of those things you've just got to do (once). Here's a tiny selection from the photos I took and some accompanying waffle. Please note all facts are taken from my sieve-like memory and not checked, so are probably a bit wrong.

First up, the actual "Graceland" mansion. It's across the road (the Elvis Presley Memorial Highway) from the rest of the tourist stuff, which is a nice touch.

Elvis didn't have it built: it was built in the 30s by some business guy, and named after his daughter. Elvis was only about 22 when he bought it.

The first thing that struck me was the size. I was expecting a huge mansion with imposing columns and so on. In reality, you can see larger houses with more impressive entrances on many suburban streets in Memphis. Even the rooms inside are normal-size, with normal-height ceilings and so on. Maybe this is more a statement on the expansion of "normal house" size over the decades though. I don't mean to say it's a small house: it's two storeys and has a basement too, and there are (smallish) columns outside and a (one-car-wide) sweeping driveway. It's quite a bit bigger than my apartment, anyway :0).

The grounds are smaller than they were in Elvis's time, but there are still a few fields with some horses and a gardeny area. I saw a squirrel; first one since I've been here. I imagine most of them are hibernating (it was below freezing the whole day). It would have been very peaceful here in the 70s, provided you kept the fans away.

Thus, into the house. We were bussed across from the tourist-stuff side, and issued audio guides with headphones, thus neatly cutting off conversation with our fellow tourists, and firmly instructed not to take flash photographs, necessitating a few minutes of technological confusion while everyone worked out how to turn their flashes off.

We only got to see the ground floor and the basement. The top floor, containing the bedrooms and bathrooms, has apparently been maintained in 1977-style, but it's off limits. We didn't get to see the loo Elvis died on, or even his bed.

The living room, a marvel of 1970s tack in cream and blue, with stained glass and so on. My Nana would love this room.

Then the room I was particularly interested in, the Jungle Room. Kind of a disappointment: I wanted decadence, I wanted louche style and extravagance, I got tiki-carved wooden furniture, green shag carpet and a big teddy bear. A jungle as imagined by a six year old. Quite a nifty waterfall though.

There was a bit more of the decadence I was hoping for in the basement display, including this beauty:

The bad-boy edge was taken off by its positioning between his and Priscilla's wedding attire and Lisa Marie's crib and toys.

There were at least a hundred white jumpsuits in cases around the place, illustrating the journey from simple, very skinny outfits early in his career through to glittering, widely belted, bejewelled suits in the later years.

Speaking of the later years: Elvis got really fat and sweaty in the late 70s, but you'd never know it from a tour of Graceland. This shot in a video tucked away in one of the back rooms was the only hint I could find that he had ever been less than lithe. Also, no mention of how he died. It's as if God took him up because he was just too good for this world.

And when that happened, those left behind created this gravesite, and left, and still leave, garlands and wreaths and posies and clippy koalas and little notes and big posters:

Elvis's planes

In keeping with the "they did things smaller in the 70s" theme, here's his plane. Every two-bit CEO over here probably has a bigger company Lear now, but at least the seatbelt buckles are plated in gold on this one :-). It probably looks cooler without the plastic condom-ing every surface. Here's a pic of me outside the plane, to prove I didn't just grab these photos off the web. And the other two shots are specifically for my Dad, who will probably look up the tail number immediately and may also be able to tell me what's up with the weird thing on the engine's rear end.

Elvis's cars

There were a couple of dozen of them, and I do have photos of them all, but only this one shows that deep down, he really did have style:

It was a day of glitter and gold records, and a lingering sense that we could never have such a big star again: