Saturday, July 25, 2009

Watering the Rooftop Garden Mediation

Weekend morning waterings of our rooftop gardens are restful.

The green tomatoes are covered in a golden fuzz. Perhaps it's a simple defense against insects (it must be a field of aweful spikes to them!) but at our scale, it catches the sunlight in a very pretty way.

Our most ambitious cucumber seems to have taken an abrupt reversal of course. It shouldn't affect its eatability, but it sure is funny-looking! (see photo)

We water, and wait. The formerly blank walls are now green leaves up to eye level. Food is coming, but beauty is here!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pit Pot and Corn Cob Disassembly

Extracting further value from the delicious foods of summer and all year round is a simple matter of applying a little thought to what we toss.

The Pit Pot

Some items of kitchen waste are easily repurposed into gravel for your container garden. All you have to do is maintain a Pit Pot, or small container under your sink, into which to toss anything that is lumpy, solid and stolid enough to take up space below the dirt. For example:
  • Pits: Apricots, olives, peaches, and so on. If they eventually sprout, there is no harm done
  • Shells: Nut shells and egg shells should be o.k.; crab shells stink too much and artillery shells are too hazardous
  • Corks: Either natural or plastic wine corks should be fine, since they're food-grade
  • Crockery (broken): Broken clay pots are a traditional source of container gardening gravel, so you can mitigate the distress of breaking a plate by putting the pieces in your pit pot. However, don't even think of doing this for glass, unless the hands you use to garden with are immune to getting sliced open.
Things to avoid
  • Anything that stinks or explodes (see "Shells", above)
  • Anything sharp. Your hands will be working the soil, and you need to keep your blood inside the original container!
  • Anything that is not food-grade. For example, packing peanuts may not be a good idea if what-ever they are made of may leach into your food.

Corn Cob Disassembly

Let's take the concept of extracting further value to the next step by looking at the summer favorite: corn on the cob!

What is tastier than roast corn? It's one of the few foods that are even better than I remember as a child. The only drawback is that most of the ear is waste but we can easily disassemble it as follows
  • The cob can be broken up and tossed into the Pit Pot, above. While it will eventually biodegrade, it should function as gravel for a season and its byproducts should be relatively harmless
  • The leaves can be chopped into mulch. I use kitchen shears to swifly reduce the ears to bite-sized pieces that seem to work well, but I speculate that whole leave may not be too bad as is
  • The tassel makes a nice scrubbie. If you bunch the fibers together, you can scrub out a pot with them; they are pretty durable and like to stick together. When they wear out or get too skanky, just add them to the mulch!
Repurposing kitchen waste is not merely a small way to save money and improve our environment; it is a puzzle, it is fun, it is a mental challenge. Take the challenge!

We can never really throw anything away; we can only put it someplace else.
--- First Law of Thermodynamics

Monday, July 20, 2009

Not As Bad A Day As For Some

A fatal crash on I-90, not involving me, puts things in perspective.

Today I'd had a pretty decent day but, as usual, felt a little frustrated at not getting done everything I wanted to do. We had a lot of books to shelve at MITS, which is always satisfying but takes time; then I almost succeeded in avoiding the monthly volunteer meeting but, since my birthday is this month, I had to be there as they cut the cake (or I'd be a party pooper. I hate being a party pooper!) The meeting wasn't bad, as we learned some interesting things about the VOICE program which is one program our efforts support (hey, it turns out by shelving books I'm helping kids. Sweet!)
When they presented me with my Special Birthday Cupcake (shown in the photo, with my friend Head Book Lady Charlotte), Don announced I was turning 34, and I allowed as how there was a "4" in my age anyway (later I'd tell Sommer and the other students that I was 34, but in Martian years). I admired the cupcake but stowed it to share with Kris at home.

Unfortuately, this meeting delayed me so I didn't get to the library until late, where I printed off the minimum necessary, and then the internet access went down. The very nice library staff where hugely apologetic but what could be done? I was done for the day on Mercer Island.

I don't like add to the I-90 rush hour but at least, I told myself, the construction was over so I-90 should zoom!


Too late I saw traffic was backed up to the Island Crest Way entrance where I got on. The overhead sign (not visible from the entrance) read "Fatal Accident Midspan. Left 2 lanes closed."

This was distressing; I felt the obligatory regret for the deceased but, to be honest, I thought more about an hourlong trip home. Tere was nothing to do but listen to the radio and chill. I was pleasantly surprised to see how calm and polite everyone was; as you can imagine, there was a lot of merging and shifting to be done, and everyone was waving someone else in ahead of them. This couldn't help but make it all bearable.

When I got up to the bottleneck (all lanes closed except the shoulder) I tried not to gawk, but saw one car pretty badly rear-ended and spattered with what looked like beige paint. A little further on a car was being towed backwards, with no obvious damage. Past the bottleneck, traffic opened up very well but most of us stayed in the far left lane. I was closing in on an odd-looking vehicle in the middle lane; it was some sort of truck with flashing lights, that just didn't look right. It wasn't going very fast, but I didn't feel like I wanted to pass it on the right, or be near it at all. Suddenly, the image resolved into sense: a truck was hauling the remains of a smaller truck, probably a pickup full of odd bits, including a large metal box canted at an angle and spattered with beige. The whole thing was signalling to get into the right lane.

I slowed even more and got into the middle lane; the truck gratefully slid into the right lane and waved as I went by. Like I said, everyone was being cooperative.

Further on, a Very Large Towtruck had some sort of tractor-trailer rig, spattered with beige.

I don't know what it was all about, but it sure made my troubles seem petty. My day was much better than some's. The sun was out and I'm going home to my wife with a cupcake!

That's all. No lesson. Go home!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

You Really Think They Will Re-Hire You?

Charmingly naive blogs about dealing with unemployment after a layoff, such as the delightful "Lords and Ladies of Leisure", often express then hopelessly positive attitude so well documented in Barabar Ehrenriech's "Bait and Switch" ... that there's another job coming, if you just put in your time looking for it.

Too often they think maybe the same company will hire them back.

Well, it could happen. After all, you were laid off because there was a shortage of work at your company and you haven't been hired elsewhere because there's a shortage of work in the entire industry. You reason that surely when the economy picks up, your company will need someone like you again, and who better than the proven succes: you!

Or perhaps you're thinking that they made a mistake when they let you go; soon they will recongize that mistake and bring you back!

Forget it. Buy a lottery ticket instead. I'm not saying people never rehire the ones they laid off, but it's damn rare.

I've seen both sides of the fence. When I was with Coleco, we went through an extended cycle of hiring, laying off, and then discoveing that management had screwed up and we needed more help. There were times when I was consulted as to rehiring staff that had been laid off; coupling that to my more recent experience with being laid off leads to a few thoughts you may apply to your own situation:
  • You were laid off because you were less valuable to the company than every other person that they kept.
  • If company politics had anything to do with your layoff ... you lost. Or your boss lost, and throwing you overboard was distasteful but necessary. Do you think your boss wants you back as a reminder?
  • You know something in your gut that every person still working there does not know: those bastards will let you go when they screw up. Do you really think they want your former co-workers to learn that?
  • Survivor's guilt is real. Your application for your old job, or anything in your old position, is full of negative emotion for the HR department.
  • They had to make a case to let you go, and it's now in your HR file If a new HR person looks at your file, they'll see a long list of reasons why they're better off without you. Why would they take the chance?
  • There is a natural suspicion among HR types that if you want to go back to a company that laid you off, you haven't succeeded in finding something elsewhere and that, therefore, they don't want you either.
  • There are some companies that have a cycle of boom-and-bust, hiring and firing and re-hiring (....remember Boeing?) If that's the business you're in, perhaps none of the above will apply to you, but you need to consider whether this cycle is good for you.
  • Business managers are not built to recognize their mistakes. Why should they, if they can cover them up by blaming someone else? They may well have figured out that letting you go was an error, but admitting it endangers their own career. It's much safer to insist that their decision was the correct one, and to hire someone else.
  • Never make the mistake of thinking that management's priority is the health of their company or organization. You were not laid off to save the company; you were laid off to save your manager, plus whoever higher up in your manager's chain of command made the screw-up that lead your company to needing layoffs. Never expect them to admit this, since it would be cutting their own throats.
  • The architects of America's greatest strategic blunder, the Bush/Cheney/Rice/Rumsfeld invasion of Iraq, retired wealthy and secure by means of simply denying they ever made a mistake. How can you hope to compete with a management model like that?