Friday, March 30, 2007

Energy Reforms

Lately I experienced a number of powercuts, and this led me to be more careful with my energy consumption.

What I did
I tried to figure out how much electricity all my appliances consume. In most cases it's very easy: it's written on the appliance in Watts. If this is not specified, you have to figure it by multiplying the Amp by current. Example 0.5A in 220v current is 110Watts. Not so difficult. You'll find the detailed information at the botton of the post.

Then I tried to think of ways of reducing consumption:
The electric kettle was the most energy demanding of all - so I decided to switch to an old-style whistling kettle.
I replaced all the light bulbs with energy saving - saving some 500-400 Watts.
I am much more careful to switch appliances off, such as speakers, chargers etc.

1. It's very easy to save energy. Switching light bulbs probably saved 20% of my power usage. It's also very easy to find out how much one is using - the appliances have the information on them.

2. But I didn't bother to check or change until I had to. Even though I knew my supply was precarious, only a real crisis forced me to be more rigorous.

3. What do I need electricity for?
Light - hardly consumes power but is really crucial. As nice as candles can be, washing dishes or preparing dinner with only a few candles is not easy. You end up eating pumpkin peel soup instead of pumpkin soup.
Heating - important and consumes much but there are alternatives
Food refrigeration - will soon become very usefull as it gets warmer. Yet the fridge consumes far less than a heater.
Computer, speakers - important but not crucial. And do not consume much.

I keep this in mind when I read about energy crises and their implications. They don't mean the end of the world. We can do with far less than is the average use today in the UK. Conservation is the way forward and is the easiest way to tackle CO2 emmissions. But we need a real and immediate sense of threat in order to start conserving seriously.

Appendix: energy use by appliance
Electric Kettle: 2200 Watts
Oil radiator: 2000 Watts
Laser Printer 1000 Watts
Inkjet printer:
Electric coffee maker:
Lamps: 100-40 watts
Speakers: 40 watts
Laptop computer: 120-200 watts
Fridge: 700 watts (estimate)

# Of course, not all of these are connected at the same time. The fridge is waiting in the corner for the summer. The kettle only worked for brief periods.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It's running out (2)

Lately I've been following The Oil Drum more closely. As mentioned before, it's a website on peak-oil and energy, featuring geologists, petroleum industry veterans, and techno-geeks. As you can guess there is a very boy-ish atmosphere on the discussion forum, and lots of doomsday-talk. But also lots of people who know what they're talking about. There have been some very interesting posts there in the last month.

If you have any technical sense, if you are not put off by charts, I strongly suggest looking at the site, especially the posts on the situation in Saudi Arabia, the last one is here. Other recommended links are this blog and this research.

It looks like there is strong evidence to suggest oil production will peak in the next decade, if it did not peak already. As supply will fail to meet growing demand, an enrgy crisis will follow. Oil prices will rise cosiderably; by how much exactly is anyone's guess. The worrying thing is that this could happen within a couple of years.

I am not worried about the immediate question of supply. Despite my sensationalist headline, oil is not running out, it is just getting much more expensive. We can cut our consumption by half quite easily, without losing(?) much of our lifestyle. I am worried about the psychological impact. Petroleum is a finite resource: this will come to most people as a shock.

Our economy requires some basic underlying factors. Cheap energy is one of them, but another is trust. We trust the digits on our bank account. We trust the funny paper notes in our wallet, and the plastic card with its 'expiry date'. This is how we live. A sudden shock may do much to harm this trust. This is how stock markets fall, banks go bankrupt, and currencies plummet. True, capitalism is a very adaptable system. It can accomodate crises up to a certain point, and even use them to grow more. But beyond a certain point, even the supplest treas break.

Obscure Visual Sign of the Week (49)

No hitch-hiking (on the Madrid underground)

Monday, March 26, 2007

on flying: with Charlotte Gainsbourg

melancholy / aviation / chocolate
perfume / cigarettes
frequent flyer /stow away
dislocation / sleeping / jets

It's my favourite song in the album, by far. It captures so accurately the intoxicating panic that engulfs me each time I board an airplane.

I didn't use to be this way. I used to love airports and flying. Maybe growing up in a country that sees itself as an island, despite the geographical evidence to the contraty, makes one enthusiastic about aviation. Airplanes keep you connected to "the world" (read: New York. Los Angeles. London. Paris.) Or was it the little kiddie gifts they gave me on the flight to New York when I was five. I even liked the food.

we wish you all a very happy pleasant flight /
this is a journey to the center of the night /
and the inflight entertainment's out of sight /
here on AF 607105

It usually starts when I find my seat, gets worst in the first hundreds meters above ground, and slowly subsides some minutes after the seat-belt lights are switched off. It's a take-off panic; some people get it during turbulences or thunderstorms, but I don't mind these. I know they're unlikely to take the airplane down. It's the takeoff and landing that are most dangerous, my air-pilot neighbour used to say, but the landing is done usually by the computer, anyway. Which I personally find reassuring.

My neighbour died by free falling, from a cliff, something I think he must have found ironic.

invent / a new persona /
drunk here on the edge of space /
all the things i carry with me /
and all the things i left behind /
and all the things that wait to meet me /
hover in the air tonight

What I fear exactly, I'm not sure: engine failure, bombs and missiles, air collision? My nightmares take on different shapes. But more and more I feel that it is the simple strangess of being so high, so fast, so disconnected from the earth that unhinges me.

Perhaps it is the knowledge that all this may soon pass. In a few years, when oil prices go through the roof and cheap flights become a thing of the past, we will look back with strange envy and disgust on the time when we used to burn petroleum so wastefully to hop across the planet. Ah the sweet scent of aviation fuel: the crudest form of fuel, the most polluting, and tax-free. Of all our carbon-suicide indulgences, it must be the worst, and the one that has no substitute.

if i can only keep on moving /
and never stop and think of me /
and freefall through the years and decades /
terminal velocity

Her thin and quiet voice makes the air above my desk pulse and fluctuate. I look up to the little stretch of sky topping the inner courtyard, the bright blue above the fading green grey bricks. An airplane is flying through the metal railing, emerging, disappearing, in and out, like the song's heartbeats. We will shortly be landing at Heathrow airport.

the cabin / is burning /
i smile and feel complete /
here amongst / total strangers /
27 000 feet

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

about hotels

Hotels are very strange places.

1. I have a friend who can't stay at hotels. The idea that other people slept in that bed the night before, and others still will sleep there tomorrow night, gives her goose skin. And people come into the room while you're not there and mess with your sheets! How obscene! She would rather sleep in a mountain lodge, or stay with the grandma of the neighbour of friends of friends (curfew time: 8.30pm). But hotels? No no no ya habibi pas de question!

2. Hotel rooms are to normal bedrooms what porn is to sex. A supposedly perefected, exaggerated, hyper-real version that is as far from the real thing as you can get. The hotel rooms you find from Hong Kong to Madrid are all the same: the bedside lamp, the small desk, the marbled bathroom, the four towels, the airconditioner, and of course - the television (the same movies, again dubbed in a language you do not speak). As if someone, probably in the US, probably in the 1950s, tried to come up with the universal notion of a home for one night, and then applied it meticulously to creat a model as a-personal as possible. In a friend's house, such room would seem cold and lifeless. But in a hotel one pays money to stay there.

Yet hotels work. Sometimes there is comfort to find in alienation. Sometimes, strangeness can provide some solace. Uniformity, brought to its perverse extreme, has some character - but then, perhaps only for two nights.

3. Hotels are always a reference to somewhere else. The wallpaper of north American lakes in a shabby hostel near Rome's train station; the fake Eastern splendour of King David's hotel in Jerusalem; the fading Colonial pretense of Raj hotels in an Indian hill station; and of course, the names of foreign lands and places. In Paris you stay Hotel Venezia, in Venice in Hotel Londres, in London in the Savoy, and in Vienna at the Alhambra . Always a promise, and never a fullfilment, the names suggest that your journey cannot be finished, at least not here, in the Hotel Austria, beneath the splendid Alhambra of Granada.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

ice age

Overworking on my computer has caused some nasty hand problems, so much that I had to stop working and blogging for a while. I am slowly recovering and getting back to work. Part of the treatment is to ice my elbows before I go to bed, to deal with the wrist inflamation.

The only problem is that my energy situation doesn't allow me to run a fridge and a heater at the same time. And I prefer having the heater - it's still too cold to give it up. So where do I get ice from? Here are my solutions:

1. Frozen peas - the best. The package wraps around the arm nicely and then I can use the peas to make curry! Frozen french beans also works, but not as good.

2. Ice from the local pub. They looked at me strangely but gave some ice.

3. Blueberry ice lolly - surprisingly good. Very easy to crush in a plastic bag and then place in the right place.

4. Magnum ice-cream - no good what so ever. Just not cold enough, and melts in no time.