THAT GIANT RADIATOR IN THE ROOM

¿ Can't take the heat?

¿ Can’t take the heat ?

¿ Elephant ?  What elephant?  Don’t think of an elephant!  There is no elephant!*  Silently repeat after me: there is no elephant. there is no elephant. there is no elephant.   ….. .. .. ………

It occurs to me that a huge savings could easily be realized across the warmer regions of the world by insulating these flat concrete roofs which shade us and keep rain off our heads. The problem is called thermal mass; and the concept is that of absorption-and-release. The more mass an object has, the more energy it can hold and release. Therefore, the concrete ceiling overhead in your bedroom is a gigantic radiator, soaking up solar energy all day, and releasing it overnight into your sleeping quarters. If you don’t believe me, some afternoon climb up and touch an interior ceiling, the other side of which has been baking in the sun. Don’t burn your hand! Insulation is a low-tech answer.

So, rather than paying the carbon industry over-and-over to cool your bedroom, why not pay a local mason just once to prevent it from becoming hot? This idea dropped into my consciousness this morning, after a lovely, restful sleep last night – our bedroom having been cooled by a substantial shower late in the day. As folks from New England say Dawn broke over Marblehead (my gourd) revealing to me the idea of insulating the ceiling against the heat from the roof, which radiates into our sleeping quarters.

Last year we had a mason build a patio roof for a small courtyard, which space was entirely too hot and bright to be of any use. A friend suggested we use a styrofoam material to form the mass of the roof, instead of using concrete, which has been the older practice here. But technology is advancing. A few streets away there is a masonry supply, Angel Verde, which carries styrofoam block panels in various thicknesses, designed to fit between vigas (precast concrete beams). So we used this material to form the major portion of our patio roof, thereby reducing the mass of that overhead “radiator” by many tons. (NB: the foam gets covered with a metal lath called malla, pronounced just like the people, the Maya), and skim-coated with a masonry finish. It can be walked upon, but is not load-bearing for additional floors or stories.) And now this patio space is the coolest, most delightful space of the entire home – and we’ve added screened protectores to keep out skeeters, critters, varmints, and other intruders. 

So, my latest curiosity has me researching interior and exterior foam-insulation applications for existing concrete roofing/ceilings, to ward off that herd of elephants (Sol, or Sun) so ready and willing to deliver oppressive heat into our living quarters. If you move in this direction, and learn something worth sharing, please submit a comment for us. For example:  be sure you’ve thoroughly addressed any water leaks before insulating from the interior, if that’s how you decide to proceed. And be sure you’ve provided some conduit for electricians to snake wires to various destinations for fans and lighting. 

As they say, If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. (And don’t move to Yucatan if you’re not prepared to deal with it! But do come. It’s so lovely!)  Energy efficiency and comfort can be improved for the entire planet if we would simply stop throwing money at our problems, and instead, ponder other approaches.  But first, define the problem, rather than merely treating a symptom.

*[Media spinmeisters mostly majored in hypnotism, and minored in 3-card monte. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" say they. ]  So, dear reader, compare sources. Do your own thinking. Hey! Maybe that elephant is really a Rhinoceros.

 

 

 

HOME–SWEET–JUNGLE

 

Look what's growing in our backyard

Look what’s growing in our backyard!

We’re back in Merida, and rather stunned at the rampant growth of weeds and vines in our little corner of barrio Santiago. A fellow expat has reported that rainfall this season has been twice normal. But that needs to be translated into statistical speech, as a friend has pointed out. (Normal and average are not the same concept; and normal has a considerable range.) Water is the best fertilizer on the planet; and stuff grows! Before I share a photo of the source of the delectable fruit, above, I’ll reveal the jungle I had to brave in order to harvest it. (Presently I’ve not been inclined to bring in a gardener while away; last year wasn’t so bad, but this year was shocking.)

The green machine took over

The green machine took over

The pool is rather private now

The pool is rather private now

We added some vines and a tall trellis atop the wall, to provide a visual barrier. The vines are doing the job nicely, but other wild things crashed the party, and will soon be removed. I’m delighted to report that my efforts to control mosquitoes were amazingly effective. I provided our manager with a biological control to add weekly to the swamp which accumulated unavoidably inside the pool. I’m happy to report that I spent an hour standing shirtless in the pool while cleaning, and didn’t get a single bite. Nor did I see any larvae in the water.  This product is excellent. It’s nontoxic, except to mosquitoes, disrupting the balance in their gut with a little bug which harms them alone.

Yes, we have no bananas, yet

Yes, we have no bananas, yet

Our friend Douglas gave us a banana plant which was about four feet tall when we parked it out back. That was maybe February. It rocketed up and is already heavy with fruit. I gave another to each of two adjoining neighbors to enhance the privacy of the back yard, and they are both thriving. And a different variety was also planted far to the rear of our yard which is not bearing yet, as it is somewhat shaded. 

That fruiting succulent

That fruiting succulent

These cactus-like arms sprawl from the limestone walls of Yucatan, providing a delicious fruit in September, if the birds don’t hollow them out first. (We found several empties.) They are called pitaya, but also known locally as dragon fruit. I am tempted to call them Eye of Cyclops. They require little or no soil, sending out roots in the air, to wend their way into crevices in the stone. The taste is sweet but subtle, and the little black seeds are about the size and shape of sesame seeds, and are soft but pleasantly crunchy. 

Here's lookin' at you!

Here’s lookin’ at you!

 

 

¡¡ SAVE THE EARTH !!

 

NASA Apollo 8 Photo, via Wikimedia

NASA Apollo 8 Photo, via Wikimedia

WOW, what a radical idea! A recently hatched project to heal and restore our planet is well underway, funded by several people of means and vision. This idea was blogged about today by Tom Toles, editorial cartoonist at Washington Post. Perhaps there is now a basis for hope that we can forestall a sixth great extinction! For 10,000 years, humankind has been repeating the same failed experiment, a virtual pyramid scheme of stealing natural resources from future generations, to enjoy the bounty of the land, until it becomes a desert – then moving on. (Will Rogers once instructed: Buy land. They aren’t making any more of it.) Indeed! And I can’t remember when I’ve felt more encouraged about the direction of things.

GIRLS SPORTS: A Century of Girls Basketball; and Today, Little League

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A century ago my grandmother Laura was involved with something radically new: girls basketball. She reflected on it in an address she made to a graduating class at her high school fifty years later, as follows:

I would like to share a few memories of our school days. For instance, 4 of us in the class were on the first girl’s basketball team that Frewsburg High had.  And was that an innovation.  The first thing we had to do was call in a dressmaker to get outfitted in navy blue serge bloomers and white middies.  We wore big silk ties and probably big ribbon bows in our hair, which was long.  This might be in braids around our heads, in a bun at the back or a psyche knot and I don’t believe a single hair was out of place when we finished a game.  We went wherever the boys had a game and we played the opening game.  I remember going to Celeron, Chautauqua, and Randolph and we rode on the train.  All games were on Friday night.  This surely was exciting, especially if your boyfriend happened  to be  on the boy’s team.     ¶ Then the group decided they needed a cheerleader to help the boys win games.  And I was chosen it.  My 2 granddaughters , ages 11 and 12, think that is the most hilarious thing they ever heard of.  So I have tried to explain – we didn’t need to take special lessons or to put on a floor show – all you needed was a good strong voice.  And usually none of us could talk the next day.       ¶ That summer a bunch of us spent a week on Chautauqua Lake across from Celeron Park, which was a thriving place 50 years ago.  So one day we dressed up in our blue serge bloomers, white middies, tennis shoes and long black stockings and rowed across the lake to take Celeron by storm.  Did we ever feel naughty walking around like that!     ¶ This one thought I’d like to leave with the class of 1966.  The past 50 years have gone much faster than the 17 or 18 years before graduation.  The first  thing you notice -  it is 5 years since you graduated, then 10, then 20.  Your  children are graduating, then 40, then 50 and you are sitting here in the place of honor.  And by this time your grandchildren are  graduating and you wish you could just hold time a little slower.  + + + (NB: photo not from Frewsburg HS)

I was delighted last week to catch a segment of Little League World Series where Mo’ne Davis was pitching against the boys. Who says girls can’t throw? She pitched a 2-hit shutout, hurling her 70-mph fastball!

Little Leaguer, on the boys team. Photo by Gene J Puskar, AP/Photo

Little Leaguer, on the boys team. Photo by Gene J Puskar, AP/Photo

 

 

 

PORTRAIT OF A PIG (my title): a book review

 

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While the publisher’s title, Crash of 2016, is not to my liking, the writing is compelling; indeed, it is quite educational and insightful. I was not aware how rare having a vibrant middle class has been over the centuries. Nor was I aware of how devious and controlling the überwealthy have been during this same period at waging class warfare to keep wages low and people desperate. We clearly have lived thru a golden age in the latter half of the 20th century. Whether you vote left, right, in-between, or not at all, this book will complete your economic education, providing much to ponder & discuss. Don’t miss it.

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··You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows·· ~Bob Dylan

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I’ve long had a fascination with weather, to the point of putting up a windmill on our farm up north. I had even researched adding some weather tools to the mast, hoping to join the volunteer weather corp, which is the main point of this post – sharing an account of a volunteer from today’s NY Times. That’s a photo of him, above, studying the sky in the 1930′s for his daily report, which he has done continually right thru today – 84 years! Amazing, how a sense of purpose can invigorate. (He’s 101.)

Our windmill flew for only fourteen months, failing atop the tower. I crashed it, attempting to repair it. The mast, which snagged as we were lowering it, snapped at a coupling. Insurance bought me out. But it was great fun watching the sky for signs of change.

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This  Merida windmill, designed to lift water, didn’t survive a hurricane

.eric windmill

Friends helped me erect my pinwheel. We tilted it up with a tractor, for attachment next to the silo.

Our Christmas card, 2006

Our Christmas card, 2006

These are some of my favorite weather tools:
Realtime lightning strikes
North American radar, with animation button
Water vapor, animated
Tropical hurricane tracker

 

¡¡ YOU’VE GOT MAIL : A LOVE LETTER !!

Dear __YOU__,

You can read, and ponder what you’re reading, or you wouldn’t be here presently. Reading is a precious gift. Doing it well, reading between the lines, can be transcendent. (Why was this word chosen, instead of that synonym?) Questioning a text is wise, since a right question is the beginning of wisdom. And words have an array of meanings – which is why literalism contested between readers can result in feeling as though we’re in a combat zone.

In January 2003, as USA was preparing for war in Iraq, I had an epiphany in which I was cautioned not to lose my peace, as war would surely come. But also I learned that the GREAT RED DRAGON described in St John’s apocalypse, Revelation, reveals an aggressive penchant for literalism. 

No one needs to study the writings of Plato or Wittgenstein to realize that interpretation determines experience! How we perceive events shapes what happens. The shaman understands this, as explained in this brilliant set of radio stories. But I digress.

It is with much enthusiasm that I now share with you a simple way of unpacking the words of scripture (a love letter to you!), enabling you to ponder their early meaning. PLEASE NOTE: This scriptural love letter is written to you. Nobody else should presume to interpret it for you! Not your granny, not your pastor or priest. You can do your own thinking, with the help of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit  (– see v.26; many versions can be selected for comparison). And if you are a bible reader who has told others what their love letter says, well, just STOP! Instead of thinking for them, invite them to think by asking leading questions! Does God love your ears and eyes more than those of your friend? (Don’t become like the taliban, who tell others what the Quran says!)

O, that I had these tools when I was in grad school! (NB: To use the linked interlinear translator, enter a word or a verse-address in the LOWER FIELD.) Let me  illustrate, using these familiar verses. Notice that some words at the linked site are blue. They are clickable. When clicked, you will see an array of word meanings from biblical Hebrew or Greek. This gives an idea of the wide variability handy for translators, including you and me. Here is my take on this psalm, based on many years of reflection and study, and now, using the interlinear Bible study tool. Below is what the psalm means to me.

 

Now you try it!

Now you can translate your own love letters:

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¿ JOIN ME FOR PIE AT BREAKFAST ?

 

Here's lookin' at you, kid.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

First, let me be clear. The banana is there simply to smile back at you  Good morning! Welcome to my table! – it is not part of the breakfast pie. I consume one each morning after having a refreshing  cup of organic green tea, which I buy in loose 100-gram packets, directly from Japan, – eating the banana before making pie. (I’ve been eating this breakfast most mornings for several years, but have yet to tire of it; and I weigh about the same I did when I graduated from high school: 155 pounds, +/– 5 pounds, depending on season.

Robert Frost popularized one definition of a Yankee as someone who eats pie for breakfast – but a famous-yet-mysterious person named Anon said it first. <grin> Real pie crust is made with lard (don’t hang up!), and is best followed by vigorous outdoor labor, to keep it from adhering to wasteline or chin. But my recipe is considerably different, easier, and  healthier. Up front I will assure you that this pie contains no additional sugar or fat, yet is deeply satisfying, even while having no crust. But can it be pie, without crust? you ask. Taste and see, I say.

Let’s review the ingredients by imagining a clock face which is just a bit shy of numerals. Starting at 12:00, above, we have a small handful of walnuts.

1:00 is a teaspoon of sushi-grade powdered seaweed, which is not a flavor element, but is really beneficial, especially for vegetarians (which I am not) as it is a good source of vitamin B-12. It is also found in fermented veggies such as sauerkraut or kimchi, which will not be useful in this pie! (Skip 2:00)

3:00 is a tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseed meal. Fresh grinding is important, as flaxseeds have a tough shell which tend to pass thru without releasing their omega-3′s; and pre-ground flaxseed meal breaks down quickly, starting ~15 minutes after grinding.  

4:00, optional, is powdered whey. It’s said to be a good source of vitamin K, potassium. If you’ve been told to reduce salt the real intention is to adjust the ratio of sodium to potassium. (But don’t boost K with a supplement, absent a prescription, as that can be risky.) More greens and bananas are best, but again, not in pie. (Skip 5:00)

6:00 shows a double spice, which is nice: a teaspoon of yellow curry powder, which contains turmeric;  and a teaspoon of cinnamon. (My wife is finding that the curry may be helping her joints.) Get this: a major US drug company patented the medical use of turmeric, but this was overturned in court in a suit brought by the Indian gov’t! (Skip 7:00)

8:00 is freshly ground organic pumpkin seeds, hulls removed by the supplier. These are a staple among Native Americans. We first ate them in Merida, and now also toast them for salads. In this dish I simply grind them raw, dried.  Most health food stores carry them, as does the bulk department at our grocery up north, Wegmans. They can be found at the main market in Centro, Merida, and elsewhere, as semilla de calabasa, sin cascara [lit. seeds of squash, without hulls]. Beware. I’ve found small stones in the seeds from the main market, several times.

9:00 is buckwheat groats.  Buckwheat supplies an uncommon but essential protein, lysine. (Skip 10:00.)

11:00 brings us almost to the end, with a teaspoon of chia seeds, supplying more omega-3′s. These are too small to grind. If chia is too pricey or unavailable, add more flaxseed meal. In the center, where the clock hands connect, is a great staple: rolled oats, one tablespoon. Rolling or crimping these seeds is necessary to stress the fiber, thus enabling access of digestive juices; but the stressing is done by the vendor. (Quick oats are shredded – best not to use.) 

Rock around the clock, in the words of that early rock’n’roll song. Just add some milk, a small apple, chunked but not peeled, and a few blueberries, frozen or fresh. We get them frozen at Costco in Merida, even organic. The fruit makes the dish sufficiently sweet for me. If sweeter is better, consider adding some prune juice to displace some of the milk. I don’t measure liquid for this dish – simply saturate, pop the dish into the microwave for precisely 4:44 which is the most efficient way to key-in ~5 minutes. When done, add a couple dollops of good unsweetened yogurt (1% low fat). If using frozen fruit, add after cooking to speed cooling, blending fruit and yogurt into the mix. Being a Yankee has never been easier! And only one container needs washing.

Here’s what it looks like. Wish I could serve some to you right now. Virtual pie will have to do. <smile> Upcoming: a low-tech way to make truly great espresso.

Pie. It's what's for breakfast!

Pie. It’s what’s for breakfast!

MAYAN MATHEMATICS: The Power of Zero

 

Photo by Donkey shot, Wikimedia

Photo by Donkey shot, Wikimedia

The Mayans were seriously ahead of the Europeans for a great long while, as they knew how to count much more efficiently. And while their counting system might look daunting to modern eyes, being base twenty, it had only three symbols: zero, dot, line (line being a compiler representing five, like our four ones scored thru with a slash). No, it’s not Morse Code!

Rendering: Neuromancer2K4, Wikimedia

Rendering: Neuromancer2K4, Wikimedia

The result of this simplicity was elegant, and it enabled them to devise a calendar which was exceedingly accurate. The concept of zero was a great advantage. They represented zero by depicting a turtle on its back (dead?). For example: over the course of a million years, the Julian calendar had an error of 7802 days; the Sothis calendar 2198 days; the Gregorian calendar 302 days; but the Mayan calendar only 69 days.

And the Mayans could have made their calendar even more accurate, with a residual error of only 2 days, but for their penchant for divisibility of numbers. The astronomical correction cycle is 1507.03 years, but the Mayans instead of rounding down to 1507 (which would have given them the 2 day correction), they rounded up to 1508 for greater divisibility.  1507 has one division of 11 X 137, but 1508 can be divided by 4 and by 13 and 29, two very important numbers to the Maya.

Friend Peter sent me a short video showing how the Maya did math. Pretty cool, no?

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Turtle shell adorning a temple at Uxmal.

 

 

SILENCE OF THE CLAM?

Photo by Pinay06, Wikimedia

Photo by Pinay06, Wikimedia

Merida is a very friendly place. While most locals may be somewhat shy, they are warm and welcoming, as noticeable in the frequent smiles and greetings extended to visitors walking the sidewalks. This is rather refreshing to those who have ever lived in New England, for example, where people tend to avoid eye contact, pretending others scarcely exist, as a safeguard to personal privacy and security. Yes, Merida has its hawkers in the heart of downtown who will try to engage you in conversation to lure you into a nearby shop for a commission. But they’re mostly harmless, and the shops are easily overlooked, but fascinating. Yet the majority of those sidewalk smiles are genuine, without ulterior motive. So, don’t clam up!

A recent article has studied our practiced reserves, and noticed that those who are willing to engage with strangers are likely to be happier than those who remain silently immersed in their devices. Come to Merida and practice talking with strangers who are eager to use their English. Merida is also a great place to study Spanish. You might find your spirits lifting thru such encounters. Maybe you’ll discover from whence our phrase being happy as a clam derives. (What do clams share with each other?)