No Trash Week

I decided to take part in No Trash Week, wrapping up today. The general idea is to try and produce no trash for the week including Earth Day. As I've come to discover from past experiments in quitting established behaviors, the initial goal is not necessarily to achieve the goal so much as it is to assess the minutia of that behavior.

In general, most of my trash was junk mail, packaging from work-related consumables, packaging from food, single-use devices (like dental floss), and the incidental items from bars and restaurants (paper plates, soda straws).  I already do pretty well with obvious stuff, placing all my vegetable waste into compost for instance (even though I generally don't use it — but that's another story). I also tend to shop for groceries that either have reusable containers, or seek to buy bulk items that skip the individual packaging step. And I'm not a big purchaser, although the toilet I bought the other week produced a lot of packaging, most of which was either reusable or recyclable.

Due to the way my meals played out, I didn't feel compelled to buy a sandwich from one of the shops nearby: a stupidly wasteful practice involving several sheets of waxed paper and bags so I can carry it across the street, throw the packaging away, and eat the sandwich. My idea is to ask that they pack my lunch in a reusable package I provide and see if they'll go for it. If not that, then at least cut the wax paper to a minimum and skip the bags.

Aside from that, I found myself targeting the little things, even though it's really the rare purchase of something like a toilet that produces the most waste. Regardless, I think I'm going to try and do better at bringing reusable containers where I go. Coffee mugs are easy, but I'd like to experiment with permanent dinnerware to displace disposable paper.

I'm also considering building a wood gasifier that I can use to take organic waste (mostly paper and wood) and make a gas like propane. Many challenges exist there: first getting it to produce a usable gas (something something, and then safety: third), and then figuring out how to store it to use later. I think that's the wisest thinking of all: rather than see waste, I should see resources. I already look to garbage like broken electronics and steel frames as a source for otherwise expensive materials. I can probably expand my view and get more out of what I have.

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Not Quite Dead Yet

I was walking back home from Ali's and I saw a car stopped in South Avenue in front of Al Sigl Center (1000 Elmwood Ave.). The driver was tooting his horn and yelling to someone. I thought he was being nutty, but once he drove through the parking lot to the bus stop, the headlights of the car revealed a figure slumped over inside.

He and I tried to rouse the person (it looked like a man, but appeared to have a purse, so I didn't know) but they didn't wake up, although still clearly breathing. Neither of us were sure what to do so we left. The driver of the car mentioned the smell of alcohol and commented something to the extent that drunks are on their own, apparently clearing his conscience … or just assuaging his guilt.

I decided to call 911 and they said they'd send someone. I felt bad, on the one hand, because I knew the care this person would receive would likely not be adequate to set them on a path to a healthy life. Then again, I really know nothing about the situation. They could have been like me some particular Saturday night, stumbling into a bus stop to "rest" after carrying a curbside string trimmer that held some valuable parts — only to pass out stone drunk as I have been known to do. They could have fit my stereotype of a homeless person — someone who is probably mentally challenged (or at best ill equipped to scratch out modest success in this modern world) and this was the best they could do for the night. They could have chosen that life and actually been prepared for the conditions — after all, they were bundled in what appeared to be no fewer than 3 layers of clothes, and seemed possibly adequately warm to survive.

So I don't know whether I even should have interfered. In my defense, I was unable to get any response, much less a satisfactory one — even if it was just to leave them alone. I don't much care for disrupting someone else's freedom to live as they choose, but I also feel that once in a position where you can't respond, you leave yourself vulnerable to such disruptions.

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It's So Hard to Switch Internet Providers

So today I'm going through the painful process of switching to Earthlink. I currently have Time Warner Road Runner but at $50/month, it's way too expensive, especially since Earthlink offers a slower-speed (768 kbps) service for $30/month.

So I signed up for Earthlink. I got a call for an installation and was told to disconnect Time Warner Road Runner by returning the modem. Okay … so I did that. I called the installation number back again and was told that my account was active until the 28th. O-kay … So I called Time Warner Road Runner back and they said it was already disconnected. Further, they — all of a sudden — offer a $25/month service for the same speed as Earthlink. O-fucking-kay … I wish they bothered to have that as an option on their website. Then again, Time Warner is such a slimebag company, I would rather spend $5 more a month than deal with them. As if I can actually not deal with them because they provide the cable. I called the installer back and they said the system takes 24 hours to update so I'll have to schedule an installation tomorrow. Fucking great!

Thank goodness I was smart enough to sign up for Budget Dial-Up so I can actually still get to the Internet.

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Painted House Pictures

After living with peeling paint for most of the 11 years I've lived in my house, I finally got it repainted. I used financial and planning assistance from NeighborWorks Rochester (570 South Ave.) and went with Trinity Home Renovations, Inc.. Everything worked out great and they wrapped things up last week. I finally got out for some pictures. The older one is not a good photograph, so the difference is exaggerated, but not by much.

Jayces house as of May 5, 2009.

Jayce's house as of May 5, 2009.

Jayces house as of June 6, 2009

Jayce's house as of June 22, 2009.

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Taking the Bus

I've been working on migrating my travels to alternatives to the car — as you'll recall, I took my Civic off the road (so now I've got our Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon and Ali's Saturn, neither of which I want to rely on for day-to-day tasks). Tonight was The Rochester Speculative Literature Association (R-SPEC) meeting at Barnes & Noble (3349 Monroe Ave.) so I thought I'd try taking the bus. I've used the buses on rare occasions in the past, but this was the first trip that required a transfer and that I didn't really have a backup plan (aside from calling Ali, even though she loaned her car out to our friend Christina for the day).

The meeting was at 7 p.m. so I wanted to get there a bit early. According to The Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA)'s trip planner on the website, I should take the #24 bus at 5:56 p.m. downtown to Court and Clinton, then take the #7 bus to Pittsford Plaza at 6:40 p.m. — total trip time: 43 minutes. I did my own analysis of the schedules and decided instead to take the #19 bus at 5:38 p.m. to 12 Corners then take the #7 bus to Pittsford Plaza at 6:09 p.m. — total trip time: 31 minutes. I arrived early enough to get some dinner at Benucci's (3349 Monroe Ave., in the Pittsford Plaza) … nothing particularly exceptional, but still perfectly fine.

So after the meeting, the RGRTA trip planner suggested I leave on the #7 bus at 8:54 p.m. (or a similar trip starting at 9:38 p.m.) and take it to — get this — Irondequoit Plaza (2133 Hudson Ave.) to get the #5 bus back to my house at 11:51 p.m. — total trip time: 2 hours, 57 minutes. I analyzed it myself and determined I could take the #7 bus at 8:54 p.m. (or an identical trip starting at 10:02 p.m.) to Clinton and Main then hurry to meet the #5 bus going south at St. Paul and Main and get home by 9:37 p.m. — total trip time: 43 minutes.

As it turned out, the meeting ran a bit long and I stayed to try and find that book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbuilt which they did not have. I took the 10:02 bus which arrived pretty much on time. I made it to the #5 which didn't leave for a few minutes anyway and made it home fine.

All told, it worked out okay. I bought a "Freedom Pass" which gets you rides for a day for $3 (as far as I could tell, I would have had to pay $4 for the 4 bus trips … there's probably a secret to transfers or something, though). The bus stop nomenclature is confusing — for instance, the stop nearest my house for the #19 bus is "Crittenden and East" which identifies an intersection. There are 2 stops within 20 yards of that intersection and I wasn't sure which one was right. The trick is that the first street is the main street and the second is the cross street, so it would be much clearer to say "Crittenden at East" but once you get used to it, it makes sense. You also have to know which direction your bus is going — for instance, there are 4 stops at the Elmwood and Mt. Hope corner.

It's also annoying that the stops have advertising on them rather than information: the bus stop signs only specify how much the trip will cost. If only one route uses a particular stop, the sign will identify the route number, but if the stop serves multiple routes, it will just say that it serves multiple routes and not specify which ones. There are no maps or clues as to where to go or when.

But it's that routing system that is the worst. What good is it if you can do it yourself and get better results — and with relative ease at that? The biggest obstacle is to get the bus route information from the site as it is no longer available as tidy PDF's of the route tables, but as dynamically generated pages where you can specify your stops. It would make much more sense to, say, get all the bus route tables for stops within a few blocks of your starting and ending points and figure it out from there.

It's too bad that RGRTA has a government sponsored monopoly because with a little competition, it wouldn't be hard to come up with a better system. One thing that I've been toying with is the idea of a "superway" — a system that's like a subway, but instead puts buses on the network of highways to cover the large distances quickly. So, for instance, there would be stops along each exit on 490, 590, and 390 with buses running frequently along those routes. I could walk 15 minutes to 390 and East Henrietta Rd. then take a bus to the Monroe Avenue exit off 590 in 3 minutes (maybe more like 6 minutes counting a stop at Winton), finishing up by walking the remaining 19 minutes to Pittsford Plaza. All told, it would take about about 40 minutes but I could do it pretty much any time I wanted to; the walking time on my trip out there added 10 minutes for a total of 41 minutes on the way out and 53 minutes on the way back and also limited to the whims of the bus schedule. Throw in a few extra routes to cover the parts of the city farther than a mile from a highway exit, and you're in business.

Anyway, the bus is now an alternative for me to use. But once I get a bike ready, I can cover the 5 miles to Pittsford Plaza via the canal path in about 20 minutes or so. And do it any time.

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Nearly 15 Years of "Sassy"

Today I went to New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (2199 E. Henrietta Rd., Suburban Plaza) and surrendered the license plates to my 1994 Honda Civic that Ali dubbed "Sassy" (largely because of its temperamental handling in its old age). [And I asked, but they wouldn't let me take a picture of the ceremony.] I bought it on June 5, 1994 from John Holtz Honda (3925 W. Henrietta Rd., Henrietta) with 53 miles on it and drove it to 170,530 miles.

As I wrote earlier, the ratio between the cost of ownership and the benefits of ownership was getting worse and worse. This year, I strongly believe it would not have passed its New York State safety inspection as it has numerous problems ranging from a rusted gas filler and a semi-operational windshield wiper switch to a warped disc rotor, non-existent rear shocks, and a noise that's indicative of a failing constant-velocity joint.

So rather than wait for something to fail catastrophically (and in the process, continue to pay insurance on a vehicle that I seldom drive), I opted to take it off the road for good.

My plan is to disassemble the car piece-by-piece. Some parts I'll keep for other projects or souvenirs, but most I'll either sell them, give them away, recycle them, or — if need be — throw them away. I'd also like to maintain a blog of the process with an associated database, documenting each component part.

See, I'd like to get more experience with MySQL and this is the kind of project that has the ideal combination of sufficient complexity and low risk to conquer such an endeavor. Plus, I'd like to apply some of the things I learned from Chris Guillebeau's book, The Art of Nonconformity: 279 Days to Overnight Success … perhaps applying some of that to JayceLand someday.

But what to call it? I'll register a domain name for the project soon and I'm leaning toward something like "Goodbye Sassy" and specifically avoiding things that mention "Honda" or "Civic" in the title. So get out your creative fingers and drop a comment. With some pestering on your part, your comment makes you eligible for miscellaneous pieces and trinkets left over, or an invitation to the Airbag Detonation Experiment.

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Trying Out Zipcar

I borrowed a Zipcar with Ali and Christina today.

I heard about the program a couple years ago and was quite excited about it. In 2006, they introduced some cars at The University of Rochester (Elmwood Ave. at Intercampus Dr.) and I jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, it was only for people affiliated with the university. The other week I was listening to Car Talk and they mentioned Zipcar again so, on a whim, I checked out the site.

The cars were indeed still at the UofR and I clicked to join. This time, I got as far as the page where they asked for my credit card information and noted that I had not been asked about working for the UofR. I called and they confirmed that the program is now open to anyone so I finished signing up.

Zipcar is a car sharing program. It costs about $50/year to be part of the program. In Rochester, there are 5 cars (4 parked at the UofR river campus and the other parked at The Eastman School of Music (26 Gibbs St.)) Each one costs $7 per hour or $60 per day to use — insurance, gas, and 180 miles for each calendar date the car is reserved are included.

I decided to crunch some numbers to see if that's reasonable. I've owned my now-dying Civic for 15 years now. Figuring everything I spent on it, it's cost $0.26/mile for its 170,434 miles or about $3,000 per year. On average each year, it's been about $500 for gas, $500 for insurance, and $650 for repairs and service. However, I've changed my driving habits and last year I only drove about 4,000 miles, so that works out to an ongoing cost of about $0.41/mile. If I estimate an average of 40 miles/hour overall, I only drove the Civic for about 100 hours last year.

Taking the $1,650 annual cost against the $7/hour cost of Zipcar, that's about 235 hours; the daily rate works out to 27 days. In other words, if I get rid of the Civic altogether, I can break-even with Zipcar as long as I stay under 235 hours in a year. As I said, I changed my driving habits and try to do as much as I can by bike — or avoid trips altogether — so it doesn't seem particularly difficult.

The idea behind car sharing is that you don't need a car per se. Almost all the time it's just moving people from one place to another — you only really need a car if you're hauling things. Of course, if you have small children, it's much more convenient to have a car, but you might be able to get away with one car instead of two in a household.

So anyway, I tried it out. I reserved the Honda Element named "Eastman" for a couple hours. Since it's generally used by college students, it was … well … a lot like a college student's car: kind of a disgusting mess inside, what with a McDonald's bag, garbage, and food all over the place. I suspect it was as bad as it gets because nobody wanted to clean it all winter.

But overall it was a pretty easy process. In the future, I'll bike to the pick-up location rather than take the 20-minute walk and just lock my bike nearby for retrieval when I return the car. (That's another thing: you can't do one-way trips — you have to return the car from the place you found it when you're done.) For now I'll hold onto the Civic (and don't forget we also have the wagon) until it fails to pass inspection later this year.

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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.

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RIP, Baby Squirrel

This afternoon I was talking with my neighbor and a baby squirrel (okay, maybe an adolescent squirrel) came stumbling out and tried to befriend me. We suspected it was dislodged from a nest in the wind from a few days prior — or it was possibly Blondie's kin (that is, the so-named blond-hair squirrel that was flattened by automobile earlier this week). Whatever the reason, this inexperienced tree-rat was perfectly willing to let me pet it.

I went in and got it a banana — it seemed quite receptive to me (well, anyone I guess) giving it affection. I pet it a bit and brought it some sunflower seeds as well. I decided to let it be and see if its instincts would kick in after a decent (?) meal, so I headed out.

a baby squirrel

Well, come 1 a.m. when I got home, I searched for it and found its lifeless body in my driveway. I might have been able to do more, but I can only believe that its last hours were spent with a full belly, and with dreams of frolicking — cat-free — with its peers. Perchance, even, to run confidently along the squirrel superhighway (a.k.a. human utility service wires). Rest in peace, baby squirrel.

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Among the 609

Sometime around midnight on Monday night, the lights in my house blinked out several times in 10 minutes or so. I knew what was coming — alas the same line I've complained about before was once again afflicted with inability to transmit electrical current. It's been a while since it got knocked out, but by midnight, the lights went out and the fans all stopped; the only sound was the beeping of back-up power supplies on assorted computers and appliances around the house.

So I called Rochester Gas and Electric (RG&E) (89 East Ave.) when it happened, and the nice computer lady recorded that my power was out. I went to bed. In the morning, the nice computer lady said that they recorded my outage — but did not mention that it was part of a larger outage. Darn. I had hoped a crew would be out already. As it turned out, tens of thousands of people were also without power, so I was not all that likely to get responsive service. By 10 a.m. or so, the computer lady said that there was a known outage affecting approximately SIX HUNDRED NINE customers — thus it was that crazy wire by the canal that got knocked out again. The worst, though, is that the streets near me are interleaved with power from different sides, so across the street, my neighbors were preserving perishable foods with refrigeration, drinking hot coffee, and reading in at night. By 3 p.m. or so, the nice computer lady reported that "the estimated repairs are scheduled to be completed by 6 p.m. — this Wednesday."

So I got a lesson in pioneer life for a while. As it turned out the power came back Tuesday night sometime — probably between midnight and dawn by my guess. In any case, I took the opportunity to revamp the computer setup where I write JayceLand and other stuff. I also pondered alternatives: like solar panels to operate the sump pump (which was thankfully bone-dry), getting (or making) a chest freezer, and figuring out how to get Internet connectivity. I might be closer to off-grid living than I thought … or not.

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