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Plant That -> Okra

12 Aug

Today, I froze some okra for a challenge by The Untrained Housewife (don’t you just love that?). I’ll post a quick note on that later.
..and that reminded me that okra are pretty cool, but before this year, I had never actually seen them grow. I thought other folks might like to see how that goes. Big picture: Take a chance on okra!

okra pods
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Everything I need to know…I re-learn in spinning class

11 Aug

Have you ever taken a spinning class? For the uninitiated, spinning is riding an indoor bicycle. It spins instead of taking you anywhere, so I guess the name makes sense.

– wouldn’t it be cool if the effort from spinning caused the lights to change or the music to get louder? That would be AWESOME! –

Anyways, if you are not a regular in the class, it can be very intimidating. Walk in the room, and you will see people fixing up the machines to fit them, drinking from the hippest water bottles, and adjusting monogrammed towels across their handlebars. (okay, maybe it isn’t all that bad, but snap judgements are dangerously exaggerated in our heads.) Your towel looks odd, and your water bottle lame. You fumble with the bike, and the instructor asks if you need help. You do a quick assessment in your head and decide to accept her help. She snaps a few things on the bike and loudly, or at least it seems to you, says that you should remember those numbers so that you can adjust it yourself next time.

You get on the bike and try to “pedal gently to warm up” like she says. The bike strains against you. There is no way you are that far out of shape. You push harder. Your struggle is so obvious that the instructor calls to you, “okay, hun?” You don’t respond immediately, so she comes over and asks, did you back off the resistance? [what resistance?] Without waiting for your answer, probably a good thing, she spins a knob at the front of the bike. All of the sudden, your legs are spinning wildly around on the peddles – you nearly fall off. To your horror, she grabs your arm and says, “easy now.”

If you are still in the room – way to go. At this point, you must know that all of the strangers want you to leave and are sad for you.

The class begins. The instructor simulates a ride – usually about 30 minutes or an hour – that includes some hills with a varied pace. She does this by having you sprint (spin fast) and relax (spin slow) while you adjust the resistance on your bike. Resistance simulates the pressure that you might feel from gravity if you were trying to climb a hill. The best instructors keep it entertaining as well – some will imagine scenery, others will discuss politics or pop culture, others dance/sing/or delight in other ways. These entertainments are designed to keep you focused on the instructor and not how much your legs/lungs/ego are hurting.

The thing about spinning, though, is that what you get out of it depends ENTIRELY on what you put into it. You can fake your way through a spinning class – pretend to adjust the resistance, for example. At the end of the spinning class, you will be able to check off “spinning” on your daily to-dos regardless of what you actually did during the class. The lesson, though, is that you will be best served if you give your all in every class. Give it 90% when she says, turn that resistance all the way up. Feel like you made a personal best. That’s the way to get faster, stronger, better.

Same goes for almost everything else. We can drag a mop across the floor, or we can clean it. We can browse related research, or we can create a literature review with critical analysis. We can go through the motions, or we can be the change.

 

Check it out – Claremont Evaluation Center Webinar Series

06 Mar

Claremont Graduate University is hosting the

Claremont Evaluation Center Webinar Series.

of FREE webinars on evaluation topics. These are late in the day, so you can finish your work first. The series runs from March 12 through April 25.
On the surface, the coverage is philosophical/theoretical rather than applied, but the speakers are well known. A great way to hear from these leaders at no cost.

 

Apps for Sustainable Living

19 Jan

If you are like me, you are always on the lookout for new ways to learn about products and services to check to see if they meet conditions to make you happy. A simple [read: nonscientific] poll of my friends and family members shows that people have different combinations of preferences with regard to social welfare, environmental protection, and human health effects.

For example, I have a friend who only buys organic coffee, but doesn’t care about the social welfare effects (okay, she may care, but did not indicate that it ways important), and I have another friend who must see that her coffee is fair trade certified.

These outlooks represent different preferences that we all make to get product that brings us the highest utility. [warning: nerdy economist speak ->; by 'utility' I mean welfare...roughly translated as happiness. People use money to get things that bring them utility.] If we all were endowed with unlimited funds, we might still have difficulty finding products that are produced, traded, and ultimately sold to us in ways that uphold all of our social, environmental, and resource constraints.

Anyways, I’ve found four applications that can be used to investigate products: GoodGuide, Seafood Watch, InRFood, and Fooducate.

Image of 4 apps

Sustainability Apps


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Less time searching = more time DOING (enter Uniform Methods Project)

10 Jan

You’ve just started a new energy efficiency program evaluation. What do you do? Well, after all of the paperwork and meetings, you sit down to write your evaluation plan. After some experience with the programs and evaluation, you know most of the key considerations. Hopefully, you’ve discussed goals and objectives for the evaluation with the client. As part of your due diligence, you check the most recent evaluations in the field for similar programs to ensure that your work stays on the cutting edge and incorporates the most appropriate practices (to the extent that they are evident). All good.

We, in energy efficiency program evaluation have not had a common repository of evaluations (although NEEP’s EM&V Forum Library and CALMAC have been essential resources to fill this void. There are as many methods for some types of programs as there are evaluators. In the past few years, there has been some movement towards documenting the methods that are appearing successful in the field – an effort that benefits both the evaluators (yay, us!) and the evaluated (yay, clients!). For example, there is the “Model Energy Efficiency Impact Evaluation Guide” – just updated. There is also a more interactive, open process, sponsored by DOE called the Uniform Methods Project.

Excited yet? Go ahead and click on over to the Uniform Methods Project Forum. You will end up here:
Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 10.56.40 AM

From there, you can click on Complete Protocols and download a PDF of the protocols as they were drafted in August of 2012. Or, you can click on specific sections (or the archive at the bottom) to get right to the draft appropriate for your work. Each protocol describes the methodology for what is considered a “model” practice by someone who has years of experience in this field. Most also describe options for when the “model” practice is not cost-effective or impractical for other reasons. Newer drafts are available for comments – check those out in the Sector specific areas. You will have to register before you can comment; registration takes less than 1 minute.

Be vocal if you have suggestions to improve the methods that are suggested in these protocols. We are a community of evaluators of energy efficiency programs. Improvements to research methods helps the entire field provide better service to our clients.

Update (Jan 11): Micheals Energy Blog::Energy Rant on the Hamburger Helper approach to evaluation motivated me to add this note. We, as evaluators, are responsible for remembering that each program and client has unique needs and concerns. The “model” practice can present an absurd approach if the parameters are not well met. We can take these protocols as a snapshot of where the field is, and use our judgment to design the appropriate evaluation.

 

A handy little time tracker for you

02 Jan

It is a New Year, and we are going to do great things this year!

One of my resolutions this year was to do a better job of ensuring a healthy work/life balance. In order to do that, I’ve got to figure out when I’m most productive and how I can shift activities around to get more done in the same amount of time. Perhaps you are working on the same thing–we can be planning/organizing/wrenching our lives back buddies. :) I’ve created a time log to help us.

I already track my work time, using Stone Hill Time Card. It is one of several applications that I noted before in Tracking Time — Necessary Evil/Good/Evil. However, I do this on the fly. As in, I open the little app, type in what I am doing, and then it runs in the background until I tell it that I have stopped doing that, or I type in a new thing that I am doing. This is perfect for project billing. However, it is not good for determining what exactly I am doing.

For all of those people who stand up right now and say that there are applications that will record which file you have in the front of you, I say “bah!” I’ve tried those, and they are imperfect at best because they do not deal well with dynamic environments; for example, they do not know when you are on the phone and left that Excel file open, or when you are moving things between several files, or when you are using a real paper notebook to do something else.
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Who cares about energy savings anyways?

13 Dec

As an energy program evaluator and a sustainability enthusiast, I am all wrapped up in thinking about energy savings in different ways. But yesterday, I was at the annual meeting of the NEEP EM&V Forum, and a panelist triggered my thinking about this again. There are so many stakeholders involved in energy savings decisions. Each has a different take on them. Warning: I am about to grossly generalize–read with your newspaper eyes.

  • Program Administrator–The program administrator is directly involved in the day to day operation of the program. Energy savings are the bread and butter of their work.
  • Public Service/Utility/Corporation Commission (Regulator)–Due to the very real rate impacts of energy savings efforts, the regulator sees energy savings in terms of dollars. These savings are created through programs that cost ratepayer dollars, but can be used to avoid capital expenditure. In some cases, exceeding (failing to meet) targets can result in bonus payments (fines) to the utility, as determined by the regulator.
  • Advocacy Groups–Advocacy groups are seeking to increase energy savings, for environmental, economic, or social reasons. These groups see energy savings as candy and balloons – this is the good stuff!
  • Independent System Operators  or Regional Transmission Operators–The purpose of these organizations is to ensure the efficient and reliable delivery of power. They see energy savings as an alternative to brick and mortar plants; however, energy savings are not solid, real things, like a generating plant. Because energy savings are less solid, it can be difficult to rely on them in planning for power delivery. The ISO-NE took bold step forward to count three-years of forward contracted energy savings into their forecasts (and estimates ten years out for efficiency are included).
  • Public-Large Industrial Businesses–Large industrial businesses often operate with small profit margins and a great reliance on operational efficiency to improve these margins. These businesses are savvy to energy savings and understand the economics well enough to determine payback for investment in energy savings improvements.
  • Public-Commercial–Commercial businesses run the gamut of savvy with regard to energy savings. However, a good portion of commercial customers operate under constraints that favor short term paybacks, which may reduce their willingness to invest in activities that lead to deep energy savings over the long term.
  • Public-Residents–People, people, people. Without our advocacy hats, residents are essentially consumers. Our culture rewards conspicuous consumption, making energy savings investments rather unattractive (if they are on our radar at all). Energy savings are a bonus of new technologies and are generally not the driver of our actions.

I have made a conscious decision not to include the utility on this list. While utilities are key stakeholders, their perception has not been uniformly presented. Thus, it is not clear how to present the utility take on energy savings. The utility is in the business of selling kWh; depending on regulatory and legislative structures, current generation mix, capacity needs, attitudes of leading executives, and other constraints, the utility perspective can be characterized in multiple ways. I do not see value in attempting to describe these different perspectives in this format. More detailed research could describe causal models for utility behavior. Interested readers can see my research into policy contexts that shape successful utility run efficiency programs, but it is only a small part of the puzzle.

Keeping up with changes in the public sphere is generally the role of market characterization and potential studies. Thinking about all of these stakeholders, whether or not they have a seat at the table, is important to ensure relevant evaluation findings and recommendations. Programs can be, and usually are, designed to meet the needs of these many stakeholders, however, the needs and attitudes of different stakeholders can change.

This post is a little tongue in cheek. Feel free to shout loudly if you want different straw-men!

 

Script to count and say count for TextEdit

04 Dec

I prefer to work with plain text, rather than open a huge word processing program, like Word, for almost all drafting and notes. Since I’m using a mac, and I have to eventually transfer most work into Word, I currently love TextEdit (well, I prefer LaTeX, but we can’t have everything).

Because of its focus on plain text and no features, TextEdit lacks the word count feature of Word. Sometimes, like when you are submitting an abstract; okay, so usually this happens when you are submitting an abstract, you really, really need to be aware of word counts. After much searching around on the web, I encountered a forum where some other folks were lamenting the same thing -> at MacWorld. And, some other super helpful people (specifically mprussell and belleboom) had already written scripts that will overcome this “problem.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

A little bit of innovative inspiration (not by me)

01 Dec

So, I was doing a fairly customary search for cool Applescript–about every month or so, I go online and search “applescript tricks” in order to see what I can see (like that bear that went over the mountain)–and I came across an idea that I’m sure will transform my life as soon as I figure out how to apply it.

Here goes: If you already use an electronic bibliographic software, you know how much of a lifesaver it is to have your own notes alongside the reference to the document. However, it seems to me that it would be just that much better if I didn’t have to print the document, scrawl out my notes, open my reference software, go through the document page by page and transcribe my notes to the software. What if my markup went directly from the document to the bibliographic software?
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NCSEA argues that Progress Energy rate increase is not mostly due to clean energy programs

29 Nov

Earlier this month, I got my feathers ruffle by a post arguing against utilities using ratepayer funds to pay for energy efficiency.  It turns out that I have my head in the sand. Lots of groups and individuals point to clean energy programs and energy efficiency efforts when rate increases are requested.

The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association finds that, at least for Progress Energy, the increase in rates for customers is mostly not due to the energy efficiency programs, as some have argued. Jim Kennerly shows that the bulk of rate increases are due to physical plants (real, generating stations). The difference is on the order of 4 fold.  In addition, the newest rate increase requested does not capture any costs for clean energy technologies or programs. Read the rest of this entry »