I had a couple of 1st year students (apparently from the music department) come in to my shop a few weeks ago seeking advice on soldering some parts together to make a “pocket theremin” kit — a noise maker that is light sensitive.
Neither of them had much, if any experience in electronics or soldering things together. Their bag of parts included two integrated circuits, resistors, capacitors, a speaker, some light sensitive cells and a battery. They were missing several bits of modern electronics to hold it all together – a circuit board.
I gave them a primer on soldering and electronics and we all mutually decided that it would be in our best interest for me to assemble the circuit quickly using some modern technology. Which I did. I assembled the circuit successfully (and threw in a electronic engineering development circuit board) and much to my delight, it worked like a charm. In the dark, the little unit was completely quiet. As it was exposed to light it would squeal like a demon.
The gals reappeared within a few hours and checked out my creation.
They were delighted. Smiles and squeals all around, the gals vanished with the device (ostensibly for a project in their department…) and that was the last I heard of it. I never even got their name but I did leave them with a couple of personal cards if they needed any additional assistance – and I put the circuit in a cute little box… that had my shipping info on it.
The following Monday I got a call from a senior student in the music department that found the device outdoors near an entrance to one of the University buildings. Look at the video. It could have been mistaken for a small bomb – but it was not. The box that had the device in it I had provided for the circuit. It has some contact info on it – my contact info. Ironically, I recognized the University student who discovered the device and brought it to my attention. His 5 minutes of fame were from a recent viral hoax he and a friend had created. This whole thing started to smell like a fish market on a summers day.
I can just imagine a panicked call to campus security and the bomb squad – which was averted because a smart student found it first. Police. Bomb squad. Media. Yikes! Not good.
Moral of the story – be more careful about who you build and hand out electronic circuits out to. They seemed like good kids – and maybe the project was completed and they were discarding the product. Maybe they were trying to scare some friends. Maybe they wanted to create a viral video and everything went haywire. Who knows.
This was a perfect example of a University bomb scare that never happened because of some common sense responses from sensible people or foolish curiosity of a student or two. Still, I learned a lesson about giving out advice and technology that could potentially be misused.
Listen to the Podcast
We were talking to Jim Richards, affable and chatty host of Newstalk 1010 AM Toronto’s afternoon show.
The topic was coffee, $7 coffee at Starbucks – Geisha coffee – the exotic beans from Central America, what they are worth – who is drinking it and why.
If you cannot see the audio thing above, click here for the mp3.
I think it’s odd with Budget Rent-a-car being in the news lately… allegedly scamming victim after victim to the tunes of tens of thousands of dollars — with nothing happening… no police investigation or law suits… that any one person could walk into a Budget Rent-a-car (and I am NOT advocating that anyone try this…) and say: “Give me $1000 right now and I will not ‘punish’ you…” Again: Do not try this… ever!
I am pretty sure the person would be tracked down and thrown in jail for 5 years or more – for theft, attempted theft, behavior contrary to public order etc…
Which I get. You would not do this in a bank or a Starbucks… and I believe that theft is theft.
Or (and I am not suggesting this…) if someone were to stand outside a Budget rent-a-car and bounce the occasional crab apple off of their windows –
I am pretty sure this person would be incarcerated and given a psych evaluation.
So. What is so upsetting about this, is that hundreds, if not thousands of British Columbian residents may have been victimized and scammed by a small assortment of rental car places in B.C. – and nothing happens to them – the excuse being tossed around: “Car rental companies are not regulated in British Columbia…”
Say what? I think criminal behavior is regulated in B.C. — I know it is for me and you… So why not Rental Car agencies? Word on the street this is more widespread in Canada.
From my personal experience: I have been renting from the same Rent a Car agency since the mid-eighties (AVIS rent a car) and I have nothing but gushing praise for them, hundreds of rentals and nary a blip — so, the bottom line is, these companies are capable of great service…. but somewhere along the way, some companies lose their moral compass – and I am not sure why.
Bottom line avoid Budget Rent a Car in B.C. until this issue is sorted out…
and PLEASE, do not hassle the hard working staff at Budget Rent a car and do NOT throw apples… and if you have been scammed, make sure you harass the crap out of your credit card company and be firm with your car agency – Some tips upon rental include – do a walk around with the rental agent and take lots of pictures with your iPhone – and be prepared to contest any fishy charges.
Listen to the Podcast
In an era of great technological advance, the question always arises – how good are these advances, conveniences and marvels of technology for us… in general? You know, our health… mental and physical.
I, for one, am typing this blog entry on a Macbook Pro connected through a secure wireless network – and I know my router pretty well… I customized the settings – I have the power level at “medium” – most people are not aware that they can tweak their routers in a myriad of ways – and for me, setting the router output power to a level that works within your work space makes sense in a variety of ways; 1.) It is more secure if you keep your range within the confines of your home and 2.) It adds the minimum of wireless energy to existing orchestra or medley of wireless signals in your living space.
And so you know: I do not believe for a second that 1 device or the output of a handful of devices is going to harm you in any quickly identifiable way – the scientific evidence is not really there.
What I do question (actually I question a couple of different things about this topic area) is the immediate acceptance of any technology that is foisted upon us (or, ahem, introduced) without a sound fiscal or technical rationale for spending a small fortune on introducing the technology. And I know this is kind of late in the game but I heard recently that there have been some perfectly sound judicial decisions about the technology and some of the responses from some local media types is that the Tin foil hat wearers and those that suspect that their PIN Numbers or souls are being stolen by this technology need to relax or take a pill. Which, to me, is nothing more than cruel bullying – and are we not on that very subject of bullying a lot lately?
My point is – I respect anyone (smart or not so much) that questions stuff, any stuff – and even if their claims are a little off the wall, there is no reason to insult anyone.
So: More on where I am coming from. My actual area of expertise is electronics engineering technologist – and my main discipline is, guess what, telecommunications. So I know a little bit about wireless technology. So, let’s talk about wireless for a bit… and wireless radiation.
There are two types of radiation in nature: Ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation. Examples of non-ionizing radiation include cell phones, routers, ham radios, walkie-talkies, radio and TV transmitters, hair dryers (yes, hair dryers) – virtually any electrical or electronic device that has “inductive” properties (has a motor), modern power supplies (like a wall wart for a laptop computer) – even computers themselves radiate a bit of energy on a broad range of frequencies.
Examples of ionizing radiation include X-ray machines, ultraviolet light, gamma radiation and all that neat stuff that nuclear weapons and processes throw off. The thing about ionizing radiation that is bad is: It can (and does) alter your DNA, cause cancer and/or birth defects. It is that simple. No one questions this.
Non-ionizing radiation and electro-magnetic radiation are being studied from many angles for their potential health effects. Here are some examples of what we know. High levels of microwave radiation from cell phones, cell phone towers, radio transmitters, high power routers and other transmitting devices raise your body temperature (when in proximity of the device)… raise it slightly. What the effects of this we are not clear on. Thing is, we have not been using this technology for very long – it is the product of modern living (as in the last 110 years or so…)
When you think about it for a minute, modern medicine is the last 100 years worth of advances. It was not that long ago in history that we discovered antibiotics, antihistamines, remarkable drugs for all kinds of things – even treatments for cancer that were non-existent only a few years ago. And humans have been roaming the planet for thousands and thousands of years – so, point is: A lot of what we are doing today is pretty darn new.
My bigger point: It was only a few years ago, that people would suggest that folks with Fibromyalgia were imagining their symptoms – was all in their heads. This condition is now accepted to be real.
I personally know people that swear that they are effected, in some way, by the presence of high tension power lines (you know the ones, the 300kv transmission lines that cross many rural areas.) There is no physiological reason why anyone should be impacted by the presence of AC power lines near their home – that we currently know of. But who knows what we might discover in the future. We are, after all, bio-electrical creatures… so, who knows right?
Back to the wireless stuff and the smart meters: If you have ever been to the symphony, you will notice that everything seems pretty quiet during the violin solo – and then the rest of the violins kick in and the other strings and then the percussion – My point: 1 or 2 wireless devices in your immediate area are likely not doing you any more harm than running a hair dryer near your noggin – and definitely less of an issue than using a cell phone for 1/2 hour a day. But the more devices that are around you, the higher the levels of energy – it is that simple… and remember this:
The level of energy you encounter from any device drops, in intensity, is at the inverse square of the distance – simply, at 2 feet away, the energy is 1/4 and at 4 feet away it is 1/16th etc. It drops off pretty quickly.
So: Are Smart meters harming anyone? Well. That depends. If one burps out a burst of wireless data every minute or so – more or less at the level of a cell phone and you have one in your home, chances are, it is competing with a bunch of other devices – and some of them are chattering even more frequently. And if you live in a condo or high rise and there are dozens or hundreds of units in your space, then there are hundreds of these device ejaculating bursts of 900+ Mhz energy almost continuously.
Good or bad, we do not currently know.
What I do know is that it is likely less healthy to stress out about it and raise your blood pressure about the possible effects of something that we do not completely understand. If the average person finds these technologies intolerable, then they should have the option of limiting their exposure – and for sure they should not be ridiculed in public or privately. I have been seeing a bit of this in the social media realm and it sickens me. The same person that would ridicule someone who objects to this technology or fears it or questions the wisdom of the investment is clearly the same kind of person who abhors the sight of a handicapped person, a child or adult with a learning disability or someone in a wheel chair… etc. I think my point is clear. Bullying anyone who fears something, legitimately or not does not deserve your pious judgement.
For now, I can sleep at night knowing that all this technology is likely not killing me (that I know of…) and yes, I am an expert on the subject.
if you cannot see the audio thing above, click here for the mp3.
Listen to the Podcast
Was scheduled to talk on CTV Newsworld Express with Dan Matheson for 5 minutes this morning on the subject of coffee and climate change.
And although that interview was canceled at the last moment, I spent a bit of time thinking about how the interview would go and what I thought of the subject and the issues. So here is how I figured it would have gone down.
“On the line from Victoria is Colin from the Coffeecrew.com website… Good morning Colin and welcome back to the show… Hey, Canadians are talking… about coffee and climate change and how coffee might be extinct in 80 years! What’s up with that?
Hey Dan. Thanks. It is good to be back.
And yes, nothing strikes fear in the heart of coffee drinkers more than the threat of losing access to their most important daily beverage – so what is going on with coffee right now? The theory is that climate change will eradicate our precious Arabica bean – within 80 years – give or take.
Well, you are probably wondering how climatologists came to that conclusion – well here is the skinny:
Coffee farmers have been talking about the weather (like other farmers) since there have been collectives and co-ops and individual groups of farmers working together to beat the odds – the odds being, well yes, the weather, pests, challenges to infrastructure, civil strife, market variables and so on – talking about these things since the earliest forms of social networks have been in place; the telegraph, mail, face to face conversation and modern technology.
Coffee itself faces a myriad of challenges – it is, after all a pretty fragile plant – sensitive to frost, sensitive to direct sunlight, too much rain, too little rain, not the right balance of nutrients etc. And Coffee’s main defense are (get this) lush green leaves and cherries loaded with caffeine – hardly an impediment for hungry bugs or mammals eager to chow down on the energy rich fruit.
Coffee plants are sensitive to minute changes in the environment – they thrive on the gentle slopes of inactive (or active) volcanoes – shaded by plantain and palm plants, shielded by afternoon cloud cover and periods of warming sun – regular rainfall. All these things and more create a ballet of factors that keep a plant productive – And remember: Coffee is only really native to Ethiopia and Yemen in the middle east. In the 1700’s it was smuggled all over the World by traders and travelers to see where it might succeed – despite protection from its Middle Eastern masters.
And that is key factor number 1: Coffee is native to one section of the Middle East and has been transported all over the globe to places where it has succeeded and to places where it has failed miserably – it succeeded because the environment was perfect. Coffee is grown in 45 or so countries other than Ethiopia (where it accounts for 90% of the countries GDP – more on that later) and those places are being challenged in some way by “climate change” whether it is nature or man made.
And it’s important to point out that this discussion is not about blame or about what the cause is – the question is: How will climate change impact the success or failure of Arabica coffee in the future?
Climate modeling for coffee – Modeling – it has never been done before: Climate scientists modelling trends 30, 60 and 80 years into the future – measuring the impact of temperature increases (alone) on coffee crops. It’s brilliant and very helpful.
An example of what has been observed thus far: There are coffee regions in Central America (Costa Rica) where coffee is successfully being grown and harvested hundreds of feet higher than ever before. And in simple terms that is because the freezing level has gone up in elevation or the number the of frost free mornings at that new altitude remain ideal – that is, NO frost mornings.
An assumption would be: Well move the coffee plantation up slope to counter the warming at lower levels and take advantage of the higher levels. That would work to a point. At one specific altitude, the incidence of frost free days drops below 100% – and it only takes 1 frost to destroy a swath of coffee plants.
Another factor: As temperatures rise, pest management changes, new pests are introduced – and as stated before, Arabica coffee is very sensitive to pests.
So, in terms of moving plantings around, some obvious things come to mind – the fact that a farm or co-op cannot simply pull up stakes and move “up slope” – what if there is no “up-slope” based on the existing terrain? And with that in mind (and these results vary significantly with each region…) there is actually a modeled average loss of arable terrain over time with every degree of temperature rise. Depending on the model, in many instances, 60 to 90% of arable land is lost following these trends.
And therein lies the factor of complete loss of suitable land for growing and developing Arabica coffee over time.
The sad reality for Arabica coffee’s home-World, Ethiopia, is – Ethiopia has maximized the utilization of its arable land to over 90% and there is little wiggle room. A collapse of the crop would crush the country – Coffee is Ethiopia. If trends continue as predicted in several climate models, production success would be dramatically impacted.
Important – Of the 45+ countries that produce coffee, each of them would be effected differently.
In Australia, for instance, coffee is grown in less than ideal conditions and the resultant coffee is mild to say the least. Regional warming could, in reality, improve their coffee crop.
The same applies to much of Hawaii’s coffee – but that, too, is changing. In fact, Hawaiian coffee farmers have been noting environmental change for 15 to 20 years – subtle things… like changes to trade wind direction which changes rainfall patterns. Hawaii has its own climate and within that climate are dozens of micro-climates, each with their own quirks and challenges.
So, the news is not at all good – but it is not entirely bad either.
If an identified trend of planet warming was to continue over the course of 100 years, there would likely be more troublesome things to worry about apart from our daily dose of coffee. And if there is a positive aspect to this story, it gets us thinking a bit more personally (and a tad selfishly) about how it impacts us.
But actual coffee extinction? That is somewhat nonsensical. I have a collection of coffee plants in my home where the year round average temperature sits at 22 degrees – Celcius or around 72 degrees (F), day in, day out. Week after week. And my plant flowers twice a year and yields slightly less than the average coffee plant on a farm. I collect the fruit, dried the cherries as is, or I remove the fruit and dry the seeds – and put them in storage… where they will likely remain viable for 100 years or so, if kept dry. So, here is to the future!
Coffee could be grown in a greenhouse – it would make it pretty darn expensive… and it’s ironic I guess that in 2012, the relationship between farmer, co-op, exporter, importer, roaster and customer has seen some positive movement towards a more balanced state – that is, fairness… from bean to cup – where farmers and co-ops get a better rate on their products – and yes, we pay a bit more and get a way better cup. It is ironic that the World is getting a minute more just and at the same time, might be slightly more under threat from horticultural disaster.
But that is reality and the real market place.
Because (and this is a fascinating point) if you took all the coffee grown annually and put it in one place, one giant container of coffee beans (and it might be 1 mile high and 10 miles square) – and picture all this coffee… This amount is traded 5 times (or more) – changes hands… 5 times over on the New York and London coffee exchanges!
It is the 2nd most traded and manipulated commodity in the free market next to oil – and unlike oil, which kind of comes up out of the ground (often freely) and is then refined and distributed to market. Coffee is way more complicated and there are way more things that can go wrong (and often do) on the way from bean to cup.
And that is the 1st 5 minutes of a much longer story.
if you cannot see the audio thing above, click here for the mp3.
For those of us that have lived on the West coast for a while, almost everyone has encountered a minor tremor – an earthquake – or even more rarely, a staggering wind and rain storm that knocks out the power for a few hours – and even more rarely, a snow storm that brings everything to a standstill.
One such snow storm occurred, casually at first, on December 21st, 1996 – By Christmas day there was over 1 foot of snow in most places around the Victoria area – the snow picked up in earnest over the next few days and by the afternoon of December the 28th, the snowfall was full on with little indication of stopping anytime soon – and by the afternoon of the 29th, we had a 2 day record of 124cm or 48 inches – a whopping 4 feet of snow! This event seized up the transportation system. The roads were impassable. Telephone lines and power, for the time being, remained thankfully stable.
What was immediately problematic was – everyone was a shut in. For senior citizens and those unprepared for this kind of weather, the prospect of being “locked in” for 48 to 72 hours was almost completely probable.
To the best of my knowledge, nobody died or froze to death – but it was an excellent exercise in the area of “surviving” when at least one or two elements of mobility were taken away – in this case, the ability to “move” and the ability to “gather” supplies.
Most of us, at least, have 3 to 5 days worth of food on hand – some people more, some people less. And as much as I would like to have a larger supply of water in the house, I do not. (Yet) But I do have over 40 bottles of wine and 25+ pints of homemade beer – and that alone is a valuable source of nutrition! Friends, make a note of where I live!
Problem is, for Island residents, we have become somewhat complacent over time. When 25 – 35 years or so passes with little or no consequential seismic activity locally, we do not take the risks seriously. Recent events in the area of the Haida Gwaii and the central coast have been something of a wake up call – but how awake are we today, some weeks after the event. Who among us has become completely prepared? Here is a fairly complete list of what you probably need and what you should know in the event of an Earthquake or storm resulting in the loss of power, shelter and/or communications.
Here is one of the hardest facts that we all need to swallow: You may and likely will be without immediate help for up to 72 hours – that is 3 days. Prepare to settle in – and hope that the weather is not too unpleasant!
Water – Have a minimum two litres of water per person per day (including small bottles that can be carried easily in case of an evacuation order) – Most people do not drink enough water during normal day to day routines – but when there is a crisis, water is going to keep you alive and you are going to go through it quicker than you think and you may be sharing. Have some in your home, in your office at work and in your car of you have one. I may be a bit more cautious, paranoid or prepared than most people but I have a liter of water in a steel jug with me at all times – not just at my desk but on my person – when I am at work or when I am doing my weekend hike around town.
Food – The number two most important item. You are not going to last very long or stay well in a crisis with zero food intake – and the good news is that there are lots of dry alternatives that you keep you out of trouble; energy bars, dried fruit, nuts and canned foods – you need to replace most of this annually, so you can consume as you go, day to day, but try and maintain a stock of protein and carbohydrate rich snacks. And keep in mind that many energy bars require a ready supply of water – do not consume them without water.
And once again, you can keep stuff like this in your car, your office and your home.
Tool and Health kit – Being a technician at a local University I always have a tool bag slung over my shoulders – I call it my “Jack” bag – after Jack Bauer of 24 – It has basic tools, tech gadgets, water bottle, wires, soldering iron and a leatherman utility knife, bottle opener and/or a cork screw – My wife often winces when we hit the road for a trip over the Malahat – but it is in the trunk and out of site and has enough “McGyver” bits and pieces to find a solution to any problem that comes along.
What you should have is: a knife, bandages, antibiotic cream, aspirin and any medications that you might be on, a flashlight (even if its daytime!), extra batteries, waterproof matches and yes, candles. Hey, it cannot hurt! A palm sized transistor radio is a must have even if you have a radio in your car. Under no circumstances should people rely on cell phones to get them out of a bind after an Earthquake or major weather crisis. This technology is way too dependent on other technology and electricity to be reliable during a crisis.
I call my preceding Tool and Health bag a “1 day solution” – settling in for a 3 day state of isolation requires an investment in some more stuff…
The 3 Day Kit – in addition to what we have covered so far, you need to think about the following items:
Shelter – nothing makes your temporary stay out of doors more challenging than no cover – and if you are lucky enough to find yourself at the mercy of a conflagration generated by mother nature during summer time, count your blessings – chances are, it is going to be in January. So you need to have warm clothing handy. And you need to have a method of staying warm outside and being able to sleep on the ground or somewhere with no heat. Items that come to mind are sleeping bags (that come at all prices and levels of sophistication down to basic foil survival blankets – 1 per family whichever you pick.
The 3-day kit should also include garbage bags (for personal hygiene, disposal of clothing and waste…), Toilet paper X 4 rolls which should serve a family of 4 for a few days, rubber or vinyl gloves – several pairs per day per person, a few heavier tools that the ones listed in the kit bag above; hammer, big screwdriver or a universal screw driver, a pair of variable pliers or a pair of locking vise grips – super duper useful!
And now, really important: More water! 2 additional liters of water per person per day! For cooking and cleaning. Yup, we use water like this in real life! Makes you think twice when you are letting the water run when you are brushing your teeth!
Some optional goodies could include a good quality camp stove – and be careful, the fuel cells for these are highly flammable – storage might be a challenge – a method of boiling water and cooking is very handy, particularly among us coffee drinkers.
And it that regard, think about having pouches of ground coffee or a bottle of instant coffee – it has caffeine in it and trust me, you are going to need your caffeine in a crisis!
I will stop there for now – in the next chapter, more on the other skills and things you might need during and after an earthquake or crisis here on the west coast.