Archive for September, 2010

Straw Bale Roofing

September 29, 2010

albertson roof 1

Last Friday, miracle of miracles, I actually got to be out on the job site rather than just perched in front of my laptop as a factor of my work at Whole Trees.  Roshni and I got tagged to come for and “all hands on deck” day at the Albertson house.  We went for a day and a half to help “stuff” the straw bale roof.  I’ll borrow below from my own text about this process originally written for the whole trees “Log Blog” here.

Straw bale roofs are a really fun process, Whole Trees, style.  After the rafters are placed we stretch an interior finish of canvas between them and then create a good strong vapor barrier and fireproofing layer with a techfoil and airkrete layer.  Then a tightly stacked layer of strawbales are laid out to cover the whole roof surface.  But the work is far from done.  The bales are tightly cinched down to the rafters below by wires threaded up through the bales and secured to wooden purlins which run in the opposite direction.  Read the rest of this entry »


Walkable Neighborhood

September 27, 2010

OK, OK, so first I go all Potter crazy and then I just go AWOL.  I’m sorry.  I’ve been reveling in a month long visit from my best friend from college for the entire month of September and its made blogging feel like a lower-than-average priority in my life.  I’ll be back I promise.  Meanwhile here’s a neat concept I came across today:  Neighborhood Walk-ability Ratings.  This is a website which tallies up a bunch of different factors (now available through web mapping) about your location and rates it with an overall “Walk Score.”  To find out yours, click here.

When I did I was a little surprised to find that my address scored a 91 (out of 100) and was designated a “walker’s paradise.”   I don’t know why I should have been because I do consider my home to be eminently walkable and use it that way – I love being two blocks from the library, four from the coop and eight from my favorite coffee shop and I really use my car primarily to get to work or to leave town.  I’ve also been totally proud to share my neighborhood with Roshni, although she’s come most recently from the theoretical walkers paradises of Seattle and Boston.  In any case … yay for La Crosse.

In addition to just scoring addresses the really breaks down their methodology and also talks more generally about the principles which make up a walkable neighborhood.

Here is their list of walkable factors from the website:

  • A center: Walkable neighborhoods have a center, whether it’s a main street or a public space.
  • People: Enough people for businesses to flourish and for public transit to run frequently.
  • Mixed income, mixed use: Affordable housing located near businesses.
  • Parks and public space: Plenty of public places to gather and play.
  • Pedestrian design: Buildings are close to the street, parking lots are relegated to the back.
  • Schools and workplaces: Close enough that most residents can walk from their homes.
  • Complete streets: Streets designed for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit.

I also thought it was delightful that this image – (the “good” example on the left) is of my aunt’s neighborhood in Seattle.


Portable Music Devices

September 10, 2010

Through some unrelated searching I came across this post about the flaws in iPod design.  Although I’m happy with my ipod (and have been since I first realized that I could use one to carry around not only an entire audiobook at once but many audiobooks condensed into a single pocket-sized container) I laughed out loud at this delightful rant against modern audio tech.  I agree with so much of it.

I was far from an early adopter of the iRevolution.  In 2005 I was happily toting around both a minidisk player (yes, folks, a minidisc player) for music mixes and a good old fashioned walkman with audio books (which I called and still do call “storytapes”) from the library for entertainment – I tried to always remember to have the next tape (or two) of the book in my back pocket.

A friend used to mockingly inquire how my eight track was holding up – although this was a ridiculous and unfair exaggeration.  And there are times when I really do miss my old reliable walkman.  (The whole blog is pretty amusing although it hasn’t been updated recently.)

The Sony Walkman turned 30 years old this year, at almost the same time as I did.

Back in the old days a cassette walkman had big chunky buttons, with “Fwd” on one side, “Rev” on the other side, “Stop” in the middle and a bigger “Play” button somewhere equally obvious. They didn’t have a “hold” switch because those massive buttons were never going to be pressed down by accident unless you dropped it on all four of them at once. Doing that would jam them for a minute until you thumped each button one at a time which would generally un-jam them again, sometimes leaving them a little looser but almost always still working.

One happy day “Auto-reverse” came along and removed the need to take the cassette out to play the other side, and at about the same time they got a bit smaller and only needed one AA battery instead of two. As rechargeable batteries slowly came down in price I’m sure I was quite contentedly musically mobile for a while there. Read the rest of this entry »

Hogwarts Math: How many wizards are there?

September 8, 2010

Its always around Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that I start tilting my head sideways and wondering about how many witches and wizards there are in the wizarding world anyway.  Up until this point I, at least, didn’t think too hard about the world as a whole – Harry had enough going on just with his own circle at Hogwarts.  At this point though, the book starts opening up a lot of new possibilities – other schools of magic, foreign wizards speaking other languages (and casting spell in them?).

Rowling also starts throwing numbers around all over the place … numbers which don’t always add up.  Here are a couple of key numbers that can be used to come up with different overall populations from different places in the cannon:

Five beds in Harry’s dorm

We know that when Harry comes to Hogwarts, there are five Gryffindor first year boys.  We actually only ever learn the names of three girls in his class: Hermione, Lavender and Parvati but this may be because he’s not paying attention to them. I assumed, based on this, that there were roughly ten students per house per year.  This is born out by Harry’s first flying lesson; for Gryffindor and Slytherin first years there are Read the rest of this entry »

Guest Pontificating over at Digging in the Driftless

September 5, 2010

I don’t have any energy to write a new post for this blog because I’ve been devoting my extra typing time to my mom’s blog Digging in the Driftless.  For those who weren’t already aware, I am (slowly and thorough an un-ending iterative process) designing a house which my parents eventually plan to build on their land west of Madison and move to in 2012 and mom occasionally conscripts me to write green building related posts about the process.

This last installment deals with trying to keep bank financing out of the green building process  – as my parents hope to.  This is it … or you can read it and several comments in situ here.


Last Tuesday, Denise posted about how she and Doug are planning to apply the Goldilocks Principal to their building time line.

Rather than build their new home and move into it directly from their existing house in Madison, they are planning to sell their current house and seek  small interim shelter  through the construction phase before they move into their new home.

This is a great strategy for paring down the design to essentials, but it has another very important benefit.  By selling their house before they start to build, they will have the capital  for their eco-dream home without a bridge loan or mortgage.  I am an architect (in training) not a finance expert, but I do have  strong feelings about Read the rest of this entry »

“I’m not going to be murdered:” Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

September 3, 2010

This is the first book in which Harry feels (and is assumed to be by the rest of the wizarding community) specifically persecuted.  In the first book the trio basically stumble on the mystery of the sorcerer’s stone and in the second book, although Tom Riddle is particularly interested in Harry, the danger from the Monster of Slytherin is pretty general.  Ironically Voldemort is barely present in Prisoner of Azkaban but both Harry and the school and ministry authorities believe that Sirius Black is hunting him on the dark lord’s behalf.  Its interesting how coolly Harry takes it, despite dark and unsubtle hints from Professor Trelawney and his own multiple encounters with an apparent “grim.”

Hermione Granger and the Voice of Reason (ignored)

Does anyone else think that Hermione gets the very short end of the stick through this book.  Sure she gets to mastermind the final action sequence but that’s one day; she spends most of the year working her tail off in school and being shunned by her two best friends for trying to point out the truth.

  • First she’s in trouble because her cat, to quote Hagrid, “acted like a cat.”  She says that there’s no evidence that Crookshanks ate Scabbers, and, in fact, he did not.
  • Then she’s dissed and dismissed for pointing out Read the rest of this entry »

A ship. A crew. And a signal.

September 1, 2010

Sunshine (2007)  is startlingly beautiful, original in execution and lastingly haunting. It’s hard sci fi along the lines of Alien or 2001 and well worthy of being in a class with both; an instant personal classic!  The plot, to borrow dialogue from the movie, boils down to this.

Trey: “I think I gotta look this over pretty carefully.  Very carefully.  But if I had to make a guess right now I think we could adjust our trajectory.  We could fly straight to them.”

Mace: “But we’re not gonna do that.”

Mace: “Just to make it absolutely clear, there’s no way we’re gonna do that.”

Mace: “Do I have to spell it out for you?  We have a payload to deliver to the heart of our nearest star.  We’re delivering that payload ’cause that star is dying.  And if it dies, we die.  Everything dies.”

Mace: “So that is our mission.  There is Read the rest of this entry »