Category Archives: environment

Bananas and seppuku

Transcribed from a series of text messages:

❦ ❦ ❦

Kathleen packed tea and a banana in my briefcase this morning. I’m at work, eating the banana, drinking tea, waiting for a security scan of a website to finish, wondering how I will coordinate fixing what I find, when there is a thump at the window.

View looking down (approximated).
View looking down (approximated).

I have two windows, and I’m 190 feet above the street. Thumps are odd, so I turn around and —

There is a large, ruffled, and agitated turkey vulture struggling to perch on the ledge outside the window. It is a granite ledge, six inches wide. It isn’t designed for perching, except maybe the occasional pigeon or sparrow, and a turkey vulture doesn’t really fit.

Turkey vulture, one of the more attractive of nature's beasts. Photo from Wikipedia.
Turkey vulture, one of the more attractive of nature’s beasts. Photo from Wikipedia.

I start to get up from my desk for a closer look and — the turkey vulture falls backward off the ledge. Not without a lot of fuss and feathers, but still a fall.

Then I notice a peregrine falcon, lazily spiraling through the neighborhood, make a very sharp turn and — dive.

Peregrine falcon, a graceful flyer, an urban raptor, and way smaller than a turkey vulture.
Peregrine falcon, a graceful flyer, an urban raptor, and way smaller than a turkey vulture.

Because of the angle, I can’t see what happened next, but it had to have been spectacular. While a peregrine is far too small to attack a turkey vulture in a fair fight, a turkey vulture is no match in aerial combat, especially when it is desperately and awkwardly preoccupied with avoiding a fall.

My banana, having suffered from  too much excitement, broke in half and fell to the floor.

Yes, this excessively long message is to tell you my banana committed seppuku.

First world problems

Third world problems usually center around a lack of food, clothing, water, or shelter, or possibly all of them. Compounding these lacks, you often have severe pollution and poverty.

First world problems, however, are more nuanced. For example, this sign in a hotel, alerting guests to the fact that the door does not lead to an entrance or an exit to anything interesting, just Employee Stuff:

This door leads to ES: Employee Stuff. It isn't interesting to anyone else, so move along. Note the sign is written in Braille, too. Photo by Lykara Ryder.
This door leads to ES: Employee Stuff. It isn’t interesting to anyone else, so move along. Note the sign is written in Braille, too. Photo by Lykara Ryder.

Fire hydrants aren’t all that exciting in the first world, but this one is at least different. It is orange instead of red, and it has an Out Of Service sign. Of particular interest: this is a professionally crafted sign, not some temporary thing taped to the hydrant, suggesting that hydrants, much like buses during rush hour on busy routes, are routinely Out Of Service:

Bright orange (orange is the new red?) fire hydrant, prominently saying that it is Out Of Service. Who knew hydrants went off duty? Photo by Lykara Ryder.
Bright orange (orange is the new red?) fire hydrant, prominently saying that it is Out Of Service. Who knew hydrants went off duty? Photo by Lykara Ryder.

Finally, there is this park bench, near the Capitol in Washington, DC. This isn’t just any old park bench, but a solar-powered park bench. And why would a park bench need to be solar-powered? Because it is a park bench with two USB charging ports!

Soofa Bench is a solar-powered park bench. It has space for three people, and can recharge two USB phones at once. It is "made of sustainably harvested materials and built in the United States." Photo by Lykara Ryder.
Soofa Bench is a solar-powered park bench. It has space for three people, and can recharge two USB phones at once. It is “made of sustainably harvested materials and built in the United States.” Photo by Lykara Ryder.

It was crafted by Changing Environments, an MIT Media Lab spin-off that took a look at how technology could improve urban living. The Soofa Bench comes in various versions, some of which also include environmental monitoring sensors, powered by the solar panels on the bench. Also available are a Soofa Core, which is essentially the central pillar without the bench, and a Soofa Sign, a solar-powered, stand-alone neighborhood electronic bulletin board.

Why the company uses the Colombia domain (.co) and why things are called “Soofa” are not readily apparent.

Pirate Party: success at last!

Pirates are thriving, and it may be a good thing.

On December 2, Iceland’s President mandated that Pirate Party Member of Parliament Birgitta Jónsdóttir form a government. In the October 2016 general election, the Pirate Party came in third, but the two top vote-getting parties, the Independence Party and the Left-Green Movement, failed to build a coalition large enough to run the country. It is now time for the Pirates!

Yes, Iceland has a Pirate Party. As the Pirate Party website notes, it is patterned after the Swedish Pirate Party.

The UK established a Pirate Party in 2009, again patterned after the Swedish party. Founded in Manchester, it espouses civil liberties, privacy, direct democracy, and other very sensible things, constrained only by the somewhat strange name. It has never managed to get anyone elected to the UK parliament, but a quick read of the pamphlet distributed in Manchester for the 2015 election demonstrates a very workable set of policies:

What is the Pirate Party? "We believe that being a pirate means you are independently minded and independently minded politicians are what we need right now. If you believe most politicians are crooks, then maybe it's time to try the Pirate Party. Think different, vote different."
What is the Pirate Party? “We believe that being a pirate means you are independently minded and independently minded politicians are what we need right now. If you believe most politicians are crooks, then maybe it’s time to try the Pirate Party. Think different, vote different.”
Platform of the Pirate Party: end mass surveillance, respect privacy, basic living income for all, openness and transparency in government, free health care, broadband for all, education as a lifelong right.
Platform of the Pirate Party: end mass surveillance, respect privacy, basic living income for all, openness and transparency in government, free health care, broadband for all, education as a lifelong right.

Given the state of recent political rhetoric in the UK and the US, consider the Pirate Codex. It lays out a simple set of principles that, despite being political, are remarkably non-partisan.

Adventures in shopping II

Commerce is a human-created ecology, mutating over time to fit niches. Even absurd niches.

Possibly because I don’t like mayonnaise, I see no reason for tiny 1.8 ounce glass jars of mayonnaise, though the Dijon mustard tempted me.

Commercial evolution and miniature mayonnaise and mustard jars are now a reality. Heaven help us all.
Commercial evolution and miniature mayonnaise and mustard jars are now a reality. Heaven help us all.

Janis Ian has a wonderful song, Play Like a Girl, that states emphatically yes, girls should play like girls, and that is just fine.

This shirt, promoting (if commercially) breast cancer awareness month, also points out that girls must fight like girls, too. It is a gender-specific battle, but a battle for humanity.

Sweater shirt promoting breast cancer awareness.
Sweater shirt promoting breast cancer awareness.

On the other hand, purple crab cheese balls are probably banned by several international treaties on cruel and unusual weaponry:

Purple crab cheese balls, a presumably acquired taste that has no sane reason for acquisition.
Purple crab cheese balls, a presumably acquired taste that has no sane reason for acquisition. Nearly a pound and a half of them, in fact.

Back on the clothing front, who can resist this culturally deaf offering from Nordstrom?

Fleece Navidad sweater from Nordstrom. It does not appear to be wool.
Fleece Navidad sweater from Nordstrom. It does not appear to be wool.

Or this limited edition, mass-produced, hermetically sealed, gluten-free, artisan-produced, non-genetically modified organism potato chips made with sunflower oil using a time-honored frying process dating back to 1999:

La Abuela Nieves artisan-produced buzzword heavy potato chips.
La Abuela Nieves artisan-produced buzzword heavy potato chips.

To be honest, the chips (or “crisps,” as Brits might call them) were very good.

Back on the Nordie clothing front, if you can’t get into an Ivy League school, you can have your revenge by wearing a school-style sweatshirt honoring a bitter member of the cabbage family.

Kale, the Ivy League bitter cabbage substitute for lettuce.
Kale, the Ivy League bitter cabbage substitute for lettuce.

Finally, a Christmas tree with a star on the top and a snowman with top hat:

Coke Christmas tree and snowman.
Coke Christmas tree and snowman.

Humane treatment of vermin

This rather large sign asks for humane treatment of roaches and rodents, selling technology that allegedly annoys the vermin.

"Chase out roaches and rodents with cruelty-free pest repellers." In Spanish and English.
“Chase out roaches and rodents with cruelty-free pest repellers.” In Spanish and English.

Yes, “las cucarachas” means “cockroaches” and “roedores” means “rodents.” Hate to say this, but most humans just want them gone, and treating them humanely is not a major concern. Away, all pests!