The Third Degree at Beale St., then Karaoke at The Boulevard

One of Ali's friends was having a combination birthday and engagement celebration. We met them at The Beale Street Cafe (689 South Ave.) as Ali's friend's neighbor's uncle [or something] was in the band, Third DegreeMySpace link. We had a few drinks there and a good time. The band did a fine job with the classics and standards … sometimes encroaching on exceptional, in fact.

Afterward, we all went out to ruin music in our own way: karaoke. The first suggestion on the table was The Boulevard Restaurant (412 Empire Blvd.) I looked to see if the much-closer Elixir (938 South Clinton Ave.) still had karaoke on Saturday nights but to no avail in the local papers present at the bar. So it was off Empire. I managed to sing The Turtles' "Happy Together" without much trouble but I also gave Jimmy Buffet's "Come Monday" a go as well. Alas, despite having self-administered the right amount of public singing fluid, the song still didn't sound good to me. I decided that it was in fact a difficult song to sing. Others fared better, including Ali, and particularly this guy who was in our group who broke karaoke: halfway through his song, the computer conked-out and had to be rebooted.

We were very happy to have a generous fiancée who played a staunch designated driver role. He brought us back to the city and we had planned to go to Mark's Texas Hots (487 Monroe Ave.) but Ali observed he wasn't excited about it so made some excuse about the person lying in the sidewalk with the paramedics around them being a reason to not go. Ali and I, however, walked from her house there.

We got in around 3 and double-dated with a couple guys we met in line to share a table as there was — of course — a line, and it was — of course — cold. I corrected my prior attempt at the perfect plate and came pretty close: macaroni salad and fries topped with meat sauce and over-easy eggs — this time skipping the onions. Much better than my last attempts.

Bob Bechtold Talks About Saving Money and the Environment at Harbec Plastics

I headed out to hear Bob Bechtold of Harbec Plastics (369 State Route 104, Ontario) discuss their techniques to become Carbon Footprint Free by 2015 — this week's Tuesday Topics discussion in The Kate Gleason Auditorium at The Rochester Public Library (115 South Ave.) When I was there, I ran into Rochester Turning blogging machine stlo7 and, to my surprise, I posted my summary first.

Anyway, since Bechtold is in business to make money, that's obviously one of his priorities, but it goes along the lines of "Eco-Economic Decision Making" — what's now called the "Triple Bottom Line": people, planet, and profits. He's a self-described former-hippie and tried to engage investors in his ecological interests. But none took hold until he started Harbec Plastics (369 State Route 104, Ontario) on an economic basis, then steered it toward ecological goals.

He started discussing Harbec's in-house electricity generation. They have 25 30-kilowatt microgenerators that provide for the company's maximum 500 kilowatt load with 5 generators literally to-spare. They run on natural gas provided by the utility, but Harbec gets the advantage of utilizing the excess heat which is otherwise a waste product. The distributed utility model is terribly inefficient on this front: generating electricity from a heat source throws away 60%-75% of the energy in the fuel as heat, while Harbec retains it for heating and even in an absorptive chiller for air-conditioning. He claims they have measured their BTU efficiency at 70% and calculated that their methods reduce carbon dioxide production by 90% over utility production.

As such, they just use the electrical grid as backup.

The well-known wind turbine has a 250 kilowatt capacity. Their location is a "class 3" wind site: about average overall and not as good as sites closer to the lake. They use the turbine to further offset their utility consumption by about 300,000 kilowatt-hours per year, netting a cost savings of $40,000 each year and a return-on-investment on the turbine itself in 8 to 10 years. Bechtold said that one of the biggest competitive advantages is that it freezes energy cost for the 25-30 year lifespan of the turbine, since the costs are no longer attached to fuel prices.

Regardless of all these improvements, their first steps were ones of reducing consumption. The site has in-floor radiant heating, large skylights for natural lighting, and double-insulated walls. Although they don't meet the requirements yet, they are following Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building standards. They have also switched their injection molding equipment from industry-standard hydraulic systems to better, more efficient electrical systems. In addition, they added insulation to the molding machines to reduce air conditioning load and to make the equipment run more efficiently. The motors have inverter drives or soft-start for efficiency and to make the equipment last longer. Even their air compressor system is an advanced variable-speed unit. With the help of a grant, the ROI for switching to the T-8 type fluorescent fixtures is only 1.5 years and saves $38,000 each year in electricity.

Bechtold also started Northern Development, LLC (369 State Route 104, Ontario) so he could work toward scaling these efficiencies to an industrial park. If you're really jonesing for more tech-talk, that's the place to go.

During the question-and-answer, it was clear that his message of gains in the "triple bottom line" was accepted. As such, people's questions focused on how to expand his efforts. In answering one question, he said there are anti-franchise laws that prevent people from sharing electricity across property lines, making it impossible to implement in neighborhoods (hint, hint, legislators). It was only through some unique loopholes in that law was it possible for him to run Harbec as he does. However, the individual has a choice: he noted that he's installing a Freewatt furnace/generator at his daughter's house which generates electricity when it heats the house, offsetting expensive electricity (sorry Fairport Electric).

Curiously, New York State isn't so bad for small-scale electricity generation. Not only is it geographically advantaged to be ranked 17th for wind power availability, the legislature finally allowed "net metering" up to 2 megawatts, so small farms can "sell back" generated electricity at utility costs rather than the 1.9 cents per kilowatt hour you'd get from direct sales. This also means that you can use the grid for your excess capacity as it's very difficult to store electricity.

Overall, there's quite a bit of promise in it all.

The Wagon's Grinding Gradual-Slowing

Ali and I were out running around in our Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon to every furniture store in town looking for her perfect couch. Thus far, we had found one that was nice but very expensive, and several others that were cheaper but not quite what she was looking for. We went to Charlotte Furniture and Appliance (3200 Lake Ave.) and the salesperson asked what we were looking for. They had exactly one couch with furniture buttons on the back. When we went to see it, Ali saw the love-seat and thought, "that's perfect if only there were a sofa" just as she saw the sofa. It was perfect. And as cheap as the couches we didn't like. It was great. She ordered it on the spot, picking out the fabric and getting set up with financing.

So we headed out toward 390 via Stone Rd. From Ridge Road we went to get on 390 but as soon as we hit 45 miles per hour or so, we suddenly heard a sound like we were dragging a plastic barrel under the car so we pulled over. We looked under the car but saw nothing — not even from the driver-side rear wheel area. We tried driving again but it made the terrible noise again when we got to 25 MPH or so.

We called the service I signed up for: Better World Club — sort of like AAA, but without all the lobbying for bigger cars and more roads [heck, they even offer roadside bike assistance.] They contacted Towbuster Towing (510 Hudson Ave.) for us and said it would be about 45 minutes. We decided to limp the car to Ridgeway. We checked under again, hoping that we might be able to get it home on our own. Alas, it kept making the noise and I found a chunk of metal all ground down that was warmer than the cold ambient temperature — evidence enough for me that it came out of the car.

We got it to a parking lot on Lee Road and waited. Towbuster called us and said they were 20 minutes away and they had no room in the cab of the truck so we'd have to get our own ride. We wrangled a friend of ours to pick us up — the tow truck even arrived at the same time. Well, despite telling them what kind of car it was, they brought a truck that was too small. The distance from the rear axle of the wagon to its bumper was too long for the truck to accommodate. Well, it was just big enough, but they couldn't do anything more than a really gradual turn. The flatbed truck was another hour away so we decided to just leave the car and go home.

Actually we went out to dinner: Paola's Burrito Place (1921 South Ave., formerly Big Dog's Hots). We received the worst news in the world: Arturo is moving back to Austin in 6 months or so to be with his family, closing Paola's. So, if you like the place, go get your fill because it'll be gone soon. The Upper Mount Hope Neighborhood Association sent out a note that he was leaving in two months, but we're hoping he was correct. Naturally dinner was great.

Anyway, we had our poor wagon towed to Integrity Auto Repair, Inc. (241 E. Henrietta Rd.) As it turned out, the flatbed would have had the room for the both of us to ride along so had Towbuster sent it first, we would have had an easy way home.

As it turned out, it was probably good that we had the wagon towed. The brake drum had been machined beyond specification and the liner finally disintegrated. Had we driven home, we probably would have totally ruined all the brake parts inside. Integrity did a nice job with it and it's fine now. My wallet … well, not so much.

Eating at the Standing Tall…Standing Strong Black History Month Celebration at City Hall Then The Thing at the Dryden

Since Ali had other plans, Christina and I decided to head to City Hall (30 Church St.) for the city's Standing Tall…Standing Strong Black History Month celebration.  Well, actually we went because we knew there would be a food tasting featuring homemade dishes from City employees.  As in past years, there's a huge line … and since we got there late, all the [presumably heavenly] macaroni and cheese was gone.  We were both very impressed by the Firehouse Meatballs by Carlos Manns and the Lasagna with Turkey Meat by Jeffrey Medford.  Everything was great, though.  Plus you can't beat the price.

Unfortunately we had to leave early to get to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see The Thing by 7. We got there a little bit late, but there was a huge line. Christina suggested we just watch it off her housemate's Netflix box so we did that instead.

She maintains the film as one of her favorites, but I was not particularly impressed. I guess the whole futile, frenetic activity against an unstoppable force was just too much. I mean, what was the point of watching these people run around killing one another and stuff when their plight was beyond hope? Perhaps as a parable: how can you fight an enemy that can look and act exactly like you do? In that sense, I think the original version, The Thing from Another World, made more sense in the context of McCarthyism when your otherwise unsuspecting neighbor could be your sworn enemy.

David Cay Johnston Cheerfully Explains the Credit Crisis

I happened to hit a good break point at work and had just enough time to get to the Tuesday Topics discussion in The Kate Gleason Auditorium at The Rochester Public Library (115 South Ave.) David Cay Johnston was on hand to explain The Credit Crisis: Your Wallet and Wall Street in that cheerfully confident way that only David Cay Johnston can.

He started off talking about Reaganomics and where it is some 28 years after the start. The original plan had three goals: reduce taxes, balance the budget, and deregulate industry, so he outlined a measure of past performance. Taxes have dropped for the tiny sliver of extremely rich people but not for the rest of us. The budget is profoundly not balanced. But at the core of the overall failure is that the concept of deregulation is fundamentally a myth.

His analogy to the situation is that of driving: most people on the road are generally pretty good drivers. So, to aid them in driving better, we should eliminate those expensive road signs and traffic signals. After all, most drivers are responsible, so why should we impede their progress with unnecessary regulation? Clearly the exercise leads to worse conditions. But if you take a closer look, even the act of licensing drivers is an act of regulation.

In other words, the concept of deregulation was actually one of reducing regulation, and reducing the amount of regulation opened the door for conditions for which the regulations were designed to circumvent. By operating within the confines of a system of rules, responsible action was one of following those rules.

Johnston's point was that in "deregulating", we have separated risk from responsibility. And by allowing people to make irresponsible decisions, we ended up in the mess we're in now.

Anyway, in this bail-out, the estimated value of all the sub-prime mortgages were worth about US$500B and their actual value was more like US$300B if you consider the real value of the real estate, but the government is spending 8.5 trillion dollars on the bailout — nearly 30 times more than their value … in other words, a terribly bad investment. The excess money is being used to pay for companies who owe money to Goldman Sachs — curiously enough, one of the central figures of the entire bailout.

I suspect I'm doing a very poor job explaining it. The thing I noted was that he seemed rather calm about the whole thing, whether he was talking about the bailout amount being about the same as 8 years of every American's income tax collection, or the possibility of a decade of 10% inflation. It was that kind of deep understanding that makes you know that you really don't know, and no matter what happens, you get by.

Trouble the Wat … er … I Mean The Pool

So Ali and I went with Christina in her recently-formed couplehood with Dominic to see Trouble the Water at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) As it happened, my Palm Pilot [Palm Pilot Vx from 2001, thanks for asking] decided to wipe its memory earlier that weekend, presumably from my pocket trying to hack into its password protection. While it was in memory therapy on its cradle at my house, I didn't have access to it or its wealth of information that includes the events from JayceLand. So we went at 7 p.m. which is when I though the movie was to be shown.

Well, as Jim Healy began introducing the film, it became slowly clear that this was not that movie. "What does he mean, 'characters'?" "I had no idea this was filmed in India." "I wonder if he means 'pool' as some kind of metaphor." Indeed, we had arrived in time to see The Pool instead.

As it turned out, the movie is very very good. It's about a couple kids from Goa, India who eek out a living in odd jobs on the street. The elder Venkatesh is fascinated by an unused swimming pool at what appears to be the home of someone unimaginably wealthy. He weasels his way in to helping the owner with his garden. Then he befriends the man's daughter and the three youngsters spend the pre-monsoon afternoons together. Ever so gradually — with the editorial precision of a surgeon — the film reveals why the pool stays unused.

In retrospect I found it to be a brilliantly paced film. Ali was enchanted by it — much to our surprise, as it could very well have been the kind of Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating) experience culminating in a "when are they going to get on the fucking boat?" somewhere around the 3-hour mark. But it was very warmly received … I guess I'll have to get Ali to write up a summary one way or another.