Look & See – Rural America

I’ve written a number of harsh posts about those living in rural America, mostly based off the perception that is pushed by the Republican party, that is, rural Americans don’t understand, and resent urban Americans. That rural Americans are the god-fearing, backbone of America and urban and city dwellers are welfare dependents, and worse still, socialists. Certainly, the Republican party continue to push this agenda today, dividing sub-urban and rural communities from the cities.

As shown here, rural Americans claiming benefits has sky rocketed between ’96 and 2015; increasingly, the programs getting cut, adversely hit rural America harder, as rural Americans are smaller in total number; medical coverage may not “be a right” according to the Republican party, it should be a “choice”, try maintaining a community without easy access to modern healthcare; schools are also a right, without them, not only are local taxes higher, more subsidy is needed to get kids to schools outside the city. School Choice won’t save rural schools without a massive rethink.

However, rural Americans, and farmers especially, deserve another perspective. They’ve largely been screwed by the “agricultural industrial machine”. Sure, many farmers have sold out and reaped substantial profits, more though are barely getting by. There is a lot to be said about a community completely upended over the last 30-years.

Laura Dunn, Two Birds Film (Austin TX) has produced a beautifully filmed, subtle, but brilliantly edited, and panoramic, poignant portrait of the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture, as seen through the eye of American novelist, poet, and activist, Wendell Berry.

Berry represents, if not the best known defender of rural, natural America, then certainly the most eloquent. His contributions to Lauras’ other major work, The Unforseen, were the first I’d heard of him. Certainly, this profile certainly made me think again. You can watch the trailer on youtube(below) or the complete film on Netflix.

Recycling Futures

A year ago a bale of waste paper was worth $100 a ton, today you have to pay $15 per ton to get it taken away.

That’s not free to you, the cost is hidden in your charges.

recyclingI’m in the midst of switching waste/trash haulers for our HOA. The HOA took a vote last year to switch at the end of the contract. As it turns out the city service for the identical cart service is more expensive than our HOA hauler.

This is a big deal, especially in the era of everything by Amazon and e-commerce.

That’s missing the point though. The city service is aimed at reducing landfill needs, and quite rightly so. They charge by size of trash and composting bins, and whatever size recycling is thrown in for free.

Our current HOA service is mostly just aimed at taking stuff away. We were able to require the existing hauler into doing year-around composting, although a number of people have claimed to have seen the hauler just dump the composting in with the trash. I talked to the City Public Works Director about their service, only to find out that it ends in August next year, and right about the time we move HOA Residents to the city service, they’ll be issuing a RFP for a new 5-year contract.

It’s likely then we are going to be caught between a rock and a hard place. If we stick with the existing hauler, we’ll likely get charged more for a less than optimal service. If we switch, we are likely to be in a bigger pool, which could make recycling even more expensive when the contract is renewed.

At least the communities I’ve lived in, in America, have been lazy recyclers. Back in the mid-80’s, recycling/reuse increasing came into people’s consciousness, it was all pretty specific, especially around glass, and can recycling. Many States instituted deposit schemes, and encouraged collection and recycling. For most though, the deposit schemes never lasted, people were too lazy after a few years, and just reverted to trashing them.

Single-stream_pile_IMG_0995ed[1]
Single stream recycling waiting go to to the “Materials Recovery Facility” (MRF).
Single stream recycling was seen as a simple way to encourage Americans to recycle, it’s been hugely successful, and a disaster. Many Americans don’t even try to understand the recycling process, or even wonder how the materials they dump in their single stream recycling cart make it back into raw materials to be reused. If it’s paper or plastic, they just put it in the single stream cart/bin. Some people jam stuff in the Single stream cart, well, because it wont fit in the trash. It’s then someone elses problem.

In a move, mostly unrelated to the Presidents tariff war with China, the Chinese have so much low grade recycling, that they are no longer just accepting low grade recycling material. This is a big deal, especially in the era of everything by Amazon and e-commerce.

What’s the problem?

amazon-prime-514x383[1]
Doesn’t go in the recycling cart; Needs special service; Must have paper label removed.
Take for example that Amazon 100% recyclable plastic shipping envelopes, just like the one in the picture. These don’t go in single stream recycling. They have to be handled by speciality bag recyclers.

However, even if everyone does what we do and keep a large sack in the garage for plastic bags and take it to their specialist local collection point, in our case Eco-cycle in Boulder, it’s still not that simple.

Your amazon shipping bag has a paper address label stuck on it. Unless that label is completely removed, the bag is just another example of junk recycling. The only way to turn the bag back into recyclable plastic pellets, is to soak the bag, and then use a chemical mixture to dissolve the paper. At scale, ten of thousands per month, doesn’t make this practical. Picking the labels off is difficult and time consuming, better is just to take a pair of scissors and cut the label off and put it in the trash before putting the bag asides to take to specialist recycling. There are loads of other examples

We recently bought a new TV. Aside from a massive paperboard box, it came with a large amount of styrofoam packing material. Styrofoam needs specialist recycling, just because you can jam ito into your trash cart, don’t. It will get crushed and numerous stages and the styrofoam particles eventually end up in landfill and last 500+ years.

Don’t put it in recycling either. Just because you can jam it in, doesn’t mean it won’t end up in landfill, it will, only at twice the haulage cost. If you have a service that penalizes you for “bad materials” in recycling, you deserve to get ticketed. If your styrofoam makes it to the single stream recycling location, it will either be sorted by machine, or often by hand into the trash. That’s not free to you, the cost is hidden in your charges.

That’s not free to you, the cost is hidden in your charges.

The list goes on and on. Tires and inner tubes; shredded paper; food packing(if it has any kind of wax or plastic liner), broken drinking glasses or lightbulbs; almost anything with plastic packing tape, even cardboard.. It all has to be either stripped, or should go in the trash.

All this has to be sorted, cleaned, and then sent to the actual plant where it is converted. The sorting is expensive and  the less “pure” it is, the less it’s worth. Even bottle tops and can lids, carton tops should be trashed, they are not recyclable. In fact, pretty much anything under 3-inches can’t be recycled as it’s too small to pass through the machines.

The Market for recycling

A year ago a bale of waste paper was worth $100 a ton, today you have to pay $15 per ton to get it taken away.

Even the market for that stalwart of recycling, paper, has tanked. Formally cities were paid by the ton for the single stream recycling materials, after sorting. Now, they are paying to have them taken away.  While you can still find baled waste paper contracts for $100 or more per ton, thats waste paper at the mill, not ready to be shipped from the MRF. A year ago a bale of waste paper was worth $100 a ton, today you have to pay $15 per ton to get it taken away.

Interestingly, amid the recycling crisis, the same thing that has happened in other industries is also happening to US paper mills, they are getting bought by Chinese companies. It’s not clear what this will mean for recycling, but it will increasingly mean the Chinese are able to control the price.

What Can we do?

Be a conscientious recycler. If in doubt, throw it in the trash. Compost where you can, recycle diligently. Remember everything you put in recycling that ends up in trash costs twice as much to haul and still ends up in landfills. Even where landfills do NOT pollute the ground, or ground water, they do smell. Many things that end up in landfill will last hundreds of years.

Buying land for landfills; preparing them; managing them is an expensive business. Most people wouldn’t want to live near a landfill for just the noise of trucks coming and going, much less the smell. Yet we can’t live without landfills, the further away from our homes they are, the more it costs to haul trash there. The alternative would be incinerators, and while the science is good, the fear of air pollution is real. At least for now, landfill is the only alternative to recycling.

One of the best videos I’ve seen on single stream recycling comes from our own Boulder County Recycling Center. It should be compulsory viewing for everyone. While watching, remember, our taxes are paying for the locations, machines, energy, and people who make it “simple” for you to do recycling, via single stream recycling. Even after all this, we are now having to pay for many of the resource bundles to be taken away for re-use.

The second video covers hard to recycle and problem materials with answer son what to do with them.

Please feel free to leave comments and questions.

Kohl’s and Car Oriented Development

Back in July, @_anthonyhahn wrote an article which appeared in both the Daily Camera and the Colorado Hometown Weekly about a potential new Kohl’s store in Lafayette CO, and what that meant for the Louisville CO store.

While pitting the two adjacent cities against each other in a battle for sales tax is valid, it totally misses the point about all the new development around the 287 Corridor, north of Lafayette.

At the time, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Colorado Hometown Weekly and sent it in. I just got to checking, and as far as I can see, it never made publication for either space, or editorial reasons. As always, waste not, want not, here it is. Comments?

FOR PUBLICATION

Re: July 11th Anthony Hahn Kohls move to Lafayette

I’m a Louisville resident, but this isn’t Louisville versus Lafayette, it’s the past vs the future.

How much longer can we continue sleep walking into the future with car oriented development?

The city of Lafayette believes a new Kohl’s on 287 is worth, and will pay off its $2-million subsidy in 2-3 years. Add to that the limited benefit of some extra jobs, and extra sales tax receipts during construction. It still means the Residents will have to shop hard, and drive regularly to make another out of town store pay off.

Louisville development director Dejong says the McCaslin corridor tax receipts are up year on year to $420,000, but that’s from a whole lot of small stores and restaurants that are almost always busier than any of the big box stores. Kohls will need to do much more than it does with it’s Louisville store to make it work. The current store in Louisville often looks like it’s been ransacked by people on a scavenger hunt, and the parking lot is frequently less than 1/4 full.

Kohl’s itself we likely be shielded from a failure, tax write-offs against losses, writing off development and moving expenses. The development company, Hix Snedeker can do the same. It’s not the McCaslin corridor thats in economic crisis, it the whole sector.

It’s always easier to build new development, urban sprawl has funded and driven America for the last 80-years. The real question is, what does this contribute to the community? More driving, more concrete, more parking spaces? The 287 location certainly seems more attractive than the current Louisville location, it has more passing traffic in a superficial way. The question is how many will stop, rather than shop online and have it delivered at home?

Lafayette residents should ask, is this worth the money, the tax breaks, etc. ? What type of development do they want, and is this the right type of development rather than just easy development?

Mark Cathcart

Solar saves water…

Back in 2002, researchers were already warning of the shortage of water, and the possibility that there would be ‘water wars’.

Seriously.

I’ve been going through a set of older notebooks to look up some project design detail, and came across a set of research notes, from 2002, for this slide deck.

Back in 2002, researchers were already warning of the shortage of water, and the possibility that there would be ‘water wars’. This 2016 National Geographic article is a good starter, if you don’t think water wars are a thing.

One of the more well know American “water wars” , are the Tri-State water wars going on between Atlanta, Georgia, and Florida. Lake Laneir, created some 50-years ago by the Army Corps of Engineers when they created the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River. It along with Lake Allatoona were created primarily for hydropower. Both lakes feed major river basins that flow from Georgia through to Alabama and Florida. As Atlanta grows, with much higher water needs, the dispute over whose water it is, started

(Clean) Water is becoming a scarce commodity. With the administrations change of how we classify “Clean Water“, the need to conserve water has never been greater. Forget the climate impact and other negative impacts of coal and nuclear power, they are both “water monster” fuels.

The nations thermoeletric power stations use 4x as much water as all US Residencies, and about the same as farms. Nuclear power plants intake water flow rates can range from 13,500 to 52,000 gallons per minute.

Uranium fuel extraction, requires 45-150 gallons of water per megawatt-hour of electricity produced and uranium mining has contaminated surface or ground water sources in at least 14 states (1).

Choices made now  about power sources will be reverberating for decades. Many Americans are still choosing solar, despite the increased cost following the addition of tariffs, Solar installations in the US are remaining stable, year over year.

If you’ve been thinking about installing a residential solar system, this is another great reason to do it, albeit one that doesn’t have a direct financial benefit. Maybe you will end up selling water by the river?

(1). https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/nuclear_power/fact-sheet-water-use.pdf

#TEDxBoulder2017

I got to attend my first TEDx Boulder yesterday, it was a good mix of both motivational speakers, those talking about lessons they’ve learned from personal experience, and some professional development speakers on the topic of CLIMATE and CHANGE. Overall an excellent way to spend an afternoon and early evening.

I’ve curated my tweets from the event into a Twitter Moment. If you have any questions, or feedback on the subjects, feel free to leave a comment or email the usual way.

You get what you want in Texas

The Austin American Statesman today published a frank review of the Texas rules on disclosure of chemical storage “Information scarce on chemical plant blasts — just like Texas wanted“. I wrote about this issue precisely back in “The Texas Freedom Illusion” and after the “West Disaster” report.

In essence, under the veil of “security”, Governor Abbott has effectively just stopped individual Texans from finding out about these storage facilities, and in the same way as you are much more likely to be shot by a gun owning family member, than a jihadi; you are much more likely to get killed, poisoned, or otherwise impacted by a local company than you are by terrorists exploiting the freely available information.

This regulation was alway problematical and is going to bite ordinary Texans until it is repealed. The idea that people have time to go around to each and every high fenced industrial lots within a mile or so of their home and ask what chemicals they are storing is just nonsense, more so in large cities.

 

The machines are coming – 2049?

It is notoriously difficult to predict the future. I lived my life at IBM, following Alan Kays 1982 aphorism

The best way to predict the future is to invent it

In my career I got many things right, and many things wrong. While Amazon was still a small time bookseller, and Youtube for the most part didn’t exist, it was obvious both business models would thrive. While I couldn’t convince IBM to pursue either of these opportunities with ny success, we demonstrated the technology perfectly. My “Wired for Life
Presentation contains some of my wins, and many of my losses.

It was much easier to build on these, especially the societal impact in my 2003 “Trends and Directions” presentation.  Societal impact is much easier to predict as you can demographic data, current trends and it’s pretty easy to extrapolate. Technology adoption is much harder.

Many of these predictions are not useful, after all who needs  a robot to write high school essays? Many though will continue to fundementally change work and life as we know it.

What they are though is a signal in the way the World Economic Forum predicts the technology will develop, and to some degree it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. Watching this and reading many of the “machines are coming” articles that have been published over the past 5-years, it’s easy to become depressed about the rise of automation, AI, and robots. In a year when the sequel for Blade Runner will finally appear on our screens, there are some key things to remember.

  1. There is no magic, no silver bullet – If they can’t explain it, or worse don’t understand it, they have not invented it. Machine learning is great, but the machines can only learn with the machine learning constraints they have.
  2. Listen to the doubters – Doubt is very different to dismissal. People who dismiss possibility out-of-hand either don’t understand the opportunity and the potential, or are afraid of the change. It’s the doubters who have thought things through and understand the problems and the weaknesses.
  3. Don’t fear automation – If you do, you will be left behind. Learn, adapt, change; if possible work to invent the future By all means be a doubter, don’t be a dismisser.
  4. Find a problem, don’t start with a solution – AI, Robotics, Big Data, Machine Learning, Algorithms, Neural Networks are all speciality fields, grabbing onto them and asking how can we use them isn’t useful. The more specific you can be about a problem that needs solving, the easier it will be to identify the correct technology.
  5. Be Human – the more we automate, the more important human interaction becomes. The more empathy you have for someone who has a problem, the more likely you are to be able to understand how to solve it. Empathy, the arts, sports and human interaction are all fields where robotics and automation are least likely to take over.

More Human than Human – Dr Eldon Tyrell, The Tyrell Corporation

What to do if you can’t find eclipse glasses?

It’s like the end of the world is coming, and people want to watch the eclipse to be part of it.

The rush to buy glasses has reached such a fever-pitch that there are news stories about what to do, “What to do if you can’t find eclipse glasses in Northern Colorado“. Amazon has had a mass recall of glasses that are not safe and the locals here are having a meltdown because the stores have, apparently, run out.

My advice

isn’t having very dark safety lenses going to defeat the point of the experience? Kinda like those people who go to live concerts and spend the gig holding up a mobile phone to record video?

Surely we know the moon is going to pass the sun and completely block it; we know the news media is going to be recording it for broadcast, there will be dozens of videos on youtube within an hour you can rewatch it on.

Isn’t the point to find somewhere outdoors where the impact of it becoming dark much more quickly than normal and then becoming light again, much more quickly than normal the main part of the experience?

You don’t have to look directly at the sun to do that, you can sit with your back to the sun and watch all those other weirdos who are missing the fun of watching people stare directly at something that can damage their eyesight for good, while missing the way the birds, animals and quite possibly the traffic goes into meltdown not understanding what’s going on?

Have a nice eclipse y’all…

Trains, horns and taxes

I’ve been  frustrated that my blog has been withering but I just didn’t want to be an endless stream of rants about the #potus45 administration.

So this isn’t about them, at all. While I have in mind a summery I’ll steer clear for now. So, meanwhile back in beautiful Colorado, the natives are getting worked up over a plan to install “quiet zones”  for all the railroad crossings in town.

As much as I can’t envisage enjoying the horn blowing, and we can barely hear them in the night, apparently many can and do like them and have a nostalgia for them.

Well the whole thing went  awry went Rene posted, she said.

If you don’t like the trains, don’t live near the tracks. No body would build within spitting distance of a rail road track if nobody would live there, then no body would be bothered by the noise. All the high density housing along the tracks is ruining my wonderful, small home town. I resent that people come in and then start to try to change it.

Which of course completely misses the point that most of old Town was built around the railroad out of economic necessity, which made people want to live there, rather than people who loved the sound of the horns and built a house there.

Rene, change is not only inevitable but essential.

For the most part the city carries most of its infrastructure on its book as assets, which means they depreciate it over its lifespan, and they have scramble to find ways to replace it.

In essence the only way they have to do that is to raise property and sales tax, or get new residents who make up the difference. Bonds are indirectly taxes.

If there is some road, building or other city or state asset you’ve been using since you arrived here, that hasn’t been rebuilt or replaced, then you have been subsidized by either earlier generations or the new residents. This is especially true for water, sewage, and roads.

As has been previously articulated here, essentially the quiet zones are really doing no more than returning the crossings to pre-2005 safety and horns for post 2015 traffic volumes.

It’s not the new residents that are to blame, I’m one of them. If anyone is to blame its the people that have lived here for 25+ years.

They’ve not been accounting for city resources as liabilities, not taxing enough to support those liabilities, and then selling property off to developers to make a buck for themselves.

Unfortunately development in America, not just Louisville has been a ponzy scheme for 100 years. You either keep growing or you’ll wither and die, or become Boulder. Louisville is headed for the latter since it’s mostly built out.

Edit:8/02/17 12:40 – Add links, change @potus45 > #potus45 and correct typos.

Dystopian Future it is then

In his acceptance speech, President elect Trump said, among other things:

We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.

This from a man, who tweeted:

I’ve no idea what to expect now from the Trump Presidency, but it’s an amazing  coincidence that the original Blade Runner film was set in In Los Angeles in November 2019, just two years from now.

Hopefully Blade Runner isn’t a metaphor for a Trump Presidency; the weather and the blade runners, especially Gaff, do not foreshadow Trumps Immigration cops; and hopefully the Los Angeles in the film, nothing like the real LA in 2019; and the replicants not an extreme of the automation I wrote about yesterday.

blade-runner

What we don’t know is how Trump will do this. Just running up the deficit doesn’t seem likely given he’s from the GOP/Republican party. Taking much of what he’s said, closing tax loopholes, defunding Nato, closing overseas bases in place like Germany, Japan and more won’t likely save enough money. Your move President Trump.