Thursday, October 2, 2014

Quick Trip to Baxter's Hollow Preserve

Since I am still between contracts, I took some time yesterday to ride the motorcycle in search of early fall color. I had intended to head up to Pewit's Nest, near Baraboo, WI. As I zipped up Hwy 12 near the former Badger Ammunition plant, I recalled that there was a conservancy area nearby that I had been trying to visit for probably a decade. Early attempts had been thwarted by bad timing or bad luck. A quick left got me to the entrance road, now a dead end since they had made some changes to the area and the road, while it still exists, has a 2.5 mile stretch that is now considered a "moderate hiking path". The narrow road is beautiful in the fall.


From the parking area it is a short walk, less than a quarter mile, to the first intersection with Otter Creek which runs through the area. This time of year after weeks with little or no rain, it was pretty low but there was evidence to suggest it swells significantly during other times. I spent some time nosing around the general area though since I was still in all my motorcycle gear I was not interested in strenuous hiking.

f/20, ISO 500, Shutter 1/10 second (hand held!)

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f/16, ISO 500, Shutter 1/8 second (hand held!)

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The area is called Baxter's Hollow, and it is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Madison, WI. I intend to return in the spring and see if I can catch Otter Creek at a full, rollicking state.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Green of MG&E's Proposed Billing Policy Change is Money

Madison Gas and Electric is the local energy supplier. Like every business, they are in it to make money, and yet there are times when businesses cross certain lines and their customers line up, link arms, and say, "No, you are not going to do that." Sometimes that takes the form of a boycott, but since it is pretty doggone hard to boycott your gas and electric company, other measures are called for. Here in Madison we know a thing or two about making our concerns public. And thus, today at noon there was a short, effective rally to make some noise in front of MG&E and in front of passers-by.

©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

First there were the usual informative speeches by informed parties. The rally was organized by RePower Madison, and I will let this bit of text from their webpage fill you in:

Madison Gas & Electric (MGE) proposed a radically new billing system to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that encourages consumption of electricity, increased use of coal resulting in higher greenhouse gases. The proposal will increase the fixed charge that everyone pays per month regardless of your electricity usage by about 80% (~$10.5 to $19) while lowering the energy charge (cents per kilowatt hour) by about 8%.

The net effect is to increase electric bills for customers who use relatively little electricity and decrease bills for larger users. The proposal will stifle customer investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy due to the uncertain direction of future rates. The misguided approach will shackle community initiatives to build environmental sustainability into their own operations and create an unwelcoming environment for businesses and residents pursuing clean energy.
©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

In a nutshell, the proposed policy is a disincentive to reduce energy usage and embrace renewable sources like solar and wind. Those who use less energy will pay a higher rate and increase the grid fee. The original proposal increased the base cost of being a customer of the grid from the current fee of $10.40 to $69.00 per month! Public outcry forced MG&E to repropose a grid fee of $19/mo, still an increase of roughly 80% and is a move that fools no one into believing that they will not simply come back every two or three years and inch the fee up to where they intended. The real problem with the rate structure they propose is that it is regressive, hitting both low-income and energy-efficient customers the hardest. It is a Robin Hood scenario in reverse. Again from RePower Madison:
Across the country, low income customers use less energy than higher income. With MGE’s billing plan, low and middle income customers are more likely to see an increase in their utility bills than high income users whose bills are likely to decrease.
©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

MG&E would like its customers to believe they support green energy policy and will reward us for being better consumers of power, yet their proposed policy creates incentive for exactly the opposite behavior. By further proposing to reduce the energy buy-back rate produced by home (or business) solar production it substantially reduces the payback time for the initial investment. Switching to energy efficient appliances, light bulbs, and practices around the home would actually cause the customer's rate to increase!

©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

The "green" coming from MG&E's claimed Green Energy program is whitewash to conceal maximal profit motives. Their concern is that as we become more efficient and embrace alternative energy, they make less and less money. There is truth to their dilemma. Maintaining the energy grid takes money and employees. They must make money to continue to support that infrastructure. Even if everyone, every single customer, were producing energy, the grid will still be needed for the foreseeable future in places like Wisconsin where we have winter. That time is not now, and MG&E is greatly outreaching its actual problem. Today approximately 200 customers have viable solar production as part of their household energy supply. That works out to about 0.7% of their customer base.

©Nataraj Hauser, 2014

We are witnessing the first stages of an industry giant that thinks it is about to face extinction. They cannot envision their role in a world without centralized power production, and this proposed plan says they intend to keep their profit by disproportionately charging the most efficient consumers of energy and rewarding those who consume more. It especially rewards industrial scale consumption. Under our current Governor's agenda, that plan makes perfect sense. It shows a distinct lack of vision about the future, and the role they could be playing. Why not shift their corporate energy to inventing, creating, and installing solar, wind, and geothermal technology? Instead they cling fearfully to the past. With a bit of an eye roll, I will point you to a business book on exactly this topic: "Who Moved My Cheese". Note this link is to the South Central Wisconsin Library System, and the title is also available in ebook format. (Click on Title Notes" to get the synopsis.)

I am hopeful that they have underestimated the resolve of their customers. To become more informed and take action, you can visit RePower Madison's webpage, attend the next meeting at 7:00 PM on Monday, Sept 29th, 2014, at the Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa St, in Madison. Next there will be a Public Service Commission meeting on Thursday, Oct 9th, a 610 N. Whitney Way. Time for that meeting has not yet been set, but likely morning, and you can watch the RePower Madison website for details as the date draws closer.

According to Slate, our fight in Wisconsin could decide America’s energy future. Tell MG&E (, copy to withdraw their proposal and share your concerns with the WI Public Service Commission -

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Does Boiling Water Freeze When Thrown At -17 Degrees (F)?

I had read that water would freeze nearly instantly when thrown at sub-zero (F) temperatures. Well since the temperature here is currently minus 17 degrees (F) why not find out using the scientific method. I did not understand the water needed to be quite close to boiling so my first test was with hot tap water, probably no warmer than 135 or 140 degrees. Nothing special occurred. A scientist friend pointed out that the water in question needed to be near boiling. Well, I had established a base test that proved that merely warm water did not spectacularly freeze when tossed, so I brought another pan to boiling and had my lovely assistant toss it while I photographed the result. Much more spectacular. Would have been even better if I had a backlight too!

We could hear it freeze - as a hissing sound - and very little wet water hit the ground. Actually projecting the water in a thinner stream like from a Super Soaker water gun would probably produce some pretty cool results!


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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lighting the Morning Rocket

Coffee is part of my morning routine. I am not particularly addicted to it (or caffeine) but I do enjoy a couple of cups each day. Over the years I have experimented with different ways to make coffee. I have tried garden variety drip with the Bunn maker we got as a wedding present. That coffee was always, always weak. I bought a Moka pot for camping and that made a pretty good cup of coffee, but it was fussy, and tough to brew back-to-back batches without oven mitts. I even added an electric Moka pot to my collection. French press works pretty well, but my wife and I diverge on coffee; she drinks flavored and I do not. The French press also doesn't do a very good job of keeping the second, much less third, cup hot enough. My wife presses, pours her cup, and pours the rest into a thermos. OK, but a bit of a pain. I don't gulp coffee down, and the last swallows are generally tepid. Since I also like iced coffee, I don't find that offensive but I do want the first sips of hot coffee to be hot. I am currently using a Hamilton-Beach "Scoop", s single-cup brewer that is probably the equivalent of a Keurig-type machine except I get to use my own coffee.

I start with fresh beans and grind them just before use. I have a fancy electric burr grinder, but the damn thing sounds like a jet landing in the kitchen. It is not endearing to my wife or the cat. It sits on a shelf, and this $20 hand-cranked grinder now does the job. It is not very consistent with the grind unless I go quite fine but that results in an unpalatable amount of dust in the brew. *shrug* It is quiet and quick enough, so tranquility is maintained. Everything has a trade-off it seems. I use slightly more than the recommended amount of coffee, at least Hamilton-Beach's recommendation, but still roughly 2.5 teaspoons per 8-oz cup.

The brewing takes about two minutes on the normal setting, not really long enough for a good cup. I use the "Bold" setting for a longer steep. My only real complaint about the machine is that, as you can see in the photo, the finished brew is at 150 degrees, or a good 25 degrees cooler than optimal. I have not been preheating my mug and that could have something to do with it. The water boils before it is fed to the grounds, so I know it is hitting the coffee at 205 or so degrees, but why the cool brew at the end? I had not measured the temperature before this, so I have not yet done any experimenting (dang that Cooks Illustrated magazine!) but I will be starting with the next cups. Preheated mug? Insulated mug? We shall see.

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

House Spouse

Happy new year! As 2013 ends and 14 begins, I find myself without a day job. As luck would have it, that is not a totally bad thing. Reena still has her job which she loves, and with Obamacare we have affordable health care (affordable, as in less expensive with much better coverage, despite what the lying liars are telling you). I find myself settling a bit deeper into that of house spouse. I do still seek employment every day, which consumes an alarming amount of time on the face of it. But I find I am turning more to certain domestic duties. I still confess to having some sort of aversion to, you know, cleaning, but I am finding ways to improve that ailment. What I have been grooving on is kitchen detail. I do love to cook!

I discovered a love for Cooks Illustrated magazine, and Reena got me a subscription for the coming year. I put out a request on Madison Freecycle for any back issues, and a kind soul let me have a dozen or so, as well as another dozen or so of Cook's Country which I had never heard of. I look forward to many enjoyable hours with them! Another of my solstice gifts, partly by my mother-in-law and partly from our accumulated credit card points, was a fine new utility knife (blogged a few posts back). I have been getting bolder in my cooking, and while I will never be confused for a fine chef, I'm starting to get a grasp of things beyon the basics. It is great fun and tasty too.

Not having a job could be off-putting but we are in pretty good shape. We have no debt and our spending habits are historically frugal so while Reena's solo income probably is not sufficient to sustain us indefinitely we are not feeling a crunch. This year has been a tremendous turnaround year for our investments after five years of pretty much not going anywhere.

It is pretty tough not to feel buoyed after seeing a year of returns like that. While we do not anticipate having to draw from it yet, it sure is nice to know there is a pretty solid support there in case I do remain unemployed for a long time.

I ease into this new year with a profound sense of calm and a sense of possibility. What will come next? Is this a lack of a job, or is it an opportunity to cast a creative net and see what else is there for my next decade or so? Time will tell, or as the old saying goes, all will become clear in the fullness of time.

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