Monday, March 3, 2014

Water, water everywhere!

Last semester I took a Water Resource Economics class and did a final project that looked at the role of water meters in reducing water use. My inspiration for this project was hearing that the Republic of Ireland is just now starting to install water meters for the purpose of charging people based on their volumetric consumption. Now, there are many wealthy countries that only charge flat fees for water, that is, not based on volume used, but Ireland is one of the few places that did not charge for water, period. Water in Ireland has been free, a service provided to its citizens, but relatedly, Ireland also has one of the highest water use rates in Europe.

So I decided to look at what happens when consumers pay for the amount of water they actually use. I found 24 case studies wherein water use before and after water meter installation was reported, from countries on 5 continents, and I'd like to share some of the maps that I made to correspond with that data. (If you're interested in particular cases, I'd be glad to share my paper and/or sources.)

First are the maps showing daily per capita use and daily household use, depending on what the paper provided measurements for.

And the reductions in water use after meters were installed:

Interestingly, the greatest reductions occurred in Yerevan, Armenia, though there are many reasons behind the different consumption and reduction rates. Other noteworthy sites included Hamburg, Germany; several sites in Colombia; British Columbia; California; and Isle of Wight, UK.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


In September, we had a freaky-looking dark orange-red caterpillar take up residence by our front door and start to cocoon itself. I opted to take photo evidence of the transformation and string the pictures together.

For several days, the white chrysalis just sat there, then went from white to indigo overnight, and within less than 24 hours, the gulf fritillary butterfly within had emerged and taken flight.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Becoming Ace Ventura

... Pet Detective.

Last week was full of adventures for my 2 cats. From run-ins with territorial neighbor cats to getting stuck 10 feet up a tree, it was not a dull week, but then it took a turn for the even less-dull when my little girl Raya went missing.

Long story short, kitty cat didn't come in after a mere 2 hours of being outside and still didn't show up 24 hours later. I decided she must be stuck somewhere nearby, met the neighbors, and started snooping around their houses. I struck gold at a creepy house just behind mine when I called out kitty's name into a dusty window and heard her meow from inside. Shocked, I pushed open the unlocked door, grabbed her, and ran home, reeling with thoughts of the weirdos who must have taken her captive and were keeping her locked up. (The thought honestly crossed my mind that They were planning on eating her.)

Turns out that house hasn't had anyone living in it for about 4 or 5 months.

... But the bottom floor where she got stuck has a communal laundry facility that people go in and out of frequently, so she must have wandered in and gotten herself closed in when someone didn't realize she was inside.

Case closed.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wet, Cold American Summer: Florida Edition

Yup, it was just that. The Family Florida Trek happened as per usual but without the usual summer weather. It wasn't particularly hot, and there were some pretty severe thunderstorms nearly each day.

Not the usual Florida Afternoon Showers, mind you, but black skies with crazy lightning and lots of rain (plus two bozos who -only- went swimming in the ocean while it was storming). Why put an end to the summer of non-stop rain that pummelled the Southeast this year?
Fortunately, it didn't rain -all- the time.. only a lot of it.
On the upside of it being cooler and cloudier than usual, I didn't broil like a lobster at all and almost completely avoided getting sunburned, so I guess that's something to be grateful for.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes

Cead mealle faillte! A hundred thousand welcomes from the heart of the Gaelic world. This post is a follow-up about my recent trip to Ireland, with some of my recommendations of places to see and things to do, with particular relevance to outdoor-minded folks and/or those traveling on a budget.

First up, Dublin, or Dubh Linn (Dark Water). There are just some things you have to do in Dublin, regardless of how much money it costs or how "touristy" it is, and one of those things is seeing the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Intact, beautiful books that are over 1200 years old? Well worth the admission price of 8euro. The Guinness Storehouse tour is fun too, with a free pint served at the Gravity Bar, which has a 360 degree view of Dublin (nice when it's not foggy and rainy).

But the coolest and most cost-effective thing you can do in Dublin is to take a free walking tour starting out from the Dublin Castle. They last 3-4 hours, and you'll get tons of information about culture, history, language, and even local stereotypes from a local guide. (Mine was James, who was chock-full of knowledge.) There's no better way to explore the city, and you'll meet some fun people while you're at it.

Next, grab a Bus Eirann coach to the west coast of Ireland, to Galway or Doolin. From Doolin, you can do a 6-mile long cliff walk to the Cliffs of Moher, which is only slightly miserable when it rains the whole time. You can catch a bus back if you're so inclined, or walk back once you make it to the visitor centre.

While in Doolin, it's best to visit Gus O'Connor's Pub, where there's delicious food and amazing "trad" sessions EVERY night. Oh yeah, and the music is free, with musicians getting together to jam out with traditional Irish tunes. There are 2 other pubs in Doolin, but I preferred the atmosphere of O'Connor's.

Head to Killarney as your jumping-off point to explore the Ring of Kerry. From Killarney, I did a 10 mile walk to the Torc Waterfall in Killarney National Park. I also went horseback riding in the park, which was the priciest activity of the trip, but rather fun despite my horse's constant obsession with snacking.
The best day activity in Killarney is to rent a bike for a little under 13euro and bike to the Gap of Dunloe. It's a 50km trip to get to the Gap and back, circling around the lakes, with some travel on bike paths, some through the National Park, and a little bit along the Irish highway (ON the highway). It's all pretty safe, and if you take it casually, you can get some spectacular views and really enjoy yourself. Start off biking around the north side of the lakes, west out of Killarney to Kate Kearney's cottage. Then bike through the Gap of Dunloe to Lord Brandon's cottage and back along the south of the lake.

After you've done a few miles on the highway, you can stop at Dinis Cottage for some really tasty food and snacks. This cottage was a saving grace for me, because at that point in my bike ride, I was out of water, dehydrated, and confused that I was biking on the highway, and so I think of it as a sort of Irish Shangri-la.

Cork, the next city... probably my least favorite of all the locales, but it did have some gems tucked away, including the St. Anne's Church / Bells of Shandon near the hostel I stayed in and a tasty fish-and-chips shop called the Fish Wife that had some crazy tasty curry chips. And a pub called Pat Buckley's where they show you how to / let you pour your own pint Guinness or Beamish!

In lieu of spending time exploring Cork too much, I spent a full day at the grounds of the Blarney Castle, which gets a bad rap for being super touristy, but it's a truly lovely way to spend a day. Blarney is really easy to get to by bus, and you'll get dropped off about a 3 minute walk from the admission gates to the castle. With a druid garden, arboretum, fern garden, and poison garden, you could explore all day long and not get bored. Add a picnic and kissing the Blarney Stone and you've got yourself quite a trip.

(Note the tiny spot of light a few feet above the top window of the castle: that's where the Blarney Stone is, on the underside of the wall. What many people don't realize until they get to the ramparts of the castle is that to kiss the stone, you have to slide out on your back over this 4-story-high hole to reach the stone!)

Added bonus for the castle grounds is the oh-so-interesting Poison Garden, which had a marijuana plant casually hanging out in the middle of it!

I found the Irish bus system very user-friendly and inexpensive, though it is worth noting that most coaches don't seem to have a bathroom on board even for multi-hour trips. And as for food, I ate out at a few places, but since I don't like eating dinner alone, I visited grocery stores a lot and cooked a good bit of my meals. I was able to use my credit card at a few places, but Ireland seems to run best on a cash-only system, so I made two withdrawals from ATMs, one at the Dublin airport and one from a Bank of Ireland, and just carried cash. A very easy and safe place to visit, whether you're traveling alone or with friends!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Whiskey in the Jar

In June I was able to make a trip across the pond to the lovely Emerald Isle herself: Ireland. This post is the first of two about that trip; in the second one I will list some recommendations about things I did and saw, but this one will simply be a top-10 list of some surprising or unexpected things I encountered while I was there.
starting with this hand
1: Beer OCD. In bars in the US, some fancier or snobbier or namby-pamby beers (think Stella Artois or any high-grav) require they be served in their own special glasses with their logo printed across them. Other more humble, down-to-earth beers are happy to be served in any old pint glass. Well, in Ireland you'll be happy to hear that all beers are treated as equals, served in proper glasses with their own logo.

2. Guinness really does taste better in Ireland. But it has some stiff competition from Murphy's and Beamish, other local Irish stouts.

3. Crosswalks take FOREVER to get across as pedestrians. The light takes an eternity to turn, and regardless of how long you've waited, you have 10 seconds of walking available before the next long wait. Needless to say, jaywalking is quite common. When you're diagonally crossing intersections in, say, Dublin, assume 5 minutes before you'll get across the street if you follow the lights.

Muckross House, in Killarney National Park
4. The Irish have a way of underestimating distances. "Just down the road" could mean several miles. Unlike in America where walking times seem to be based on elderly and disabled walking speeds, "a 15 minute walk" absolutely means a 15 minute walk (or more) for a healthy young person in Ireland.

5. Biking on the highways is a common and acceptable practice in Ireland. And I'm not just talking "cycling," with aerodynamically-efficient kitted-out roadies cycling at speeds of over 30 mph. I myself rolled along in a straw hat and scarf  on a mountain bike at a casual (read: dehydrated) pace and initially had some question as to whether or not I should even be on the highway, where cars have speeds around 80-100 kmh. I felt reassured after seeing a couple on bikes taking a leisurely date and after seeing a family of very out of shape Eastern Europeans hitting the road. When there aren't bike paths available in beautiful scenery, that's when you change over to the highway. And since everyone bikes on the highway at some point, drivers aren't rude or surprised by bikes and handle them accordingly.
goats not included
6. The food everywhere I went was shockingly good! I wasn't expecting it at all, but I enjoyed some genuinely excellent meals across Ireland. (See caveat in the next point.)

7. The espresso drinks I tried were terrible. I had them in a few different places with baristas probably of different skill levels and ages, but they all tasted like... burning or drip coffee or.. something. I'm not sure what happened to all of them, but the best coffee drink I had was in an airport cafe. Like many in the British Isles, the Irish are fans of instant coffee rather than drip coffee (or apparently espresso).. ugh. Enough said.

8. Something I miss from living in Europe is seeing baby strollers with plastic hoods covering them in times of rain. You don't really see that in the US much because people don't walk in the rain or take public transit (some metropolitan areas excluded).

9. Live music, or more specifically, "trad" sessions of traditional music in the pubs is fantastic. You can find free live music in a pub any night of the week in pretty much any city in Ireland. From old-timers playing the concertina and spoons to the young, new faces of traditional Irish music playing fiddles and guitars, there's great music everywhere, though Doolin near the Cliffs of Moher boasts being the birthplace of Irish music.
best pub in Doolin

10. Finally, the most important point, the Irish truly are some of the friendliest people on the planet. You'll never be alone in hostels or pubs in Ireland, and when you start chatting with the locals at a bar, there's nothing but great craic (a good time) to be had.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Tale of FrankenMouth

I think most bad news can be softened by adding an emphatic "SURPRISE!" before it. Like "SURPRISE! Your eBay item didn't sell" or "SURPRISE! I lost your sock" or "SURPRISE! You need a gum graft." Adding that interjection doesn't make the news any less true, and it could potentially soften the blow. Sadly, the news of my gum recession was not broken to me in such a fun manner, and it appeared that I would, in fact, require a gum (gingival) graft. It's now 2 months after the procedure, and I feel pretty good about calling it a success and discussing it. For the tooth-phobic among us, this post will be sans pictures.

The general procedure of the gum graft is that They (your friendly neighborhood periodontist) chop some tissue out of your upper palate and graft it onto your lower gumline (or wherever your recession is), the idea being that the palate tissue is stronger than the thin gums and will hold recession at bay for the rest of your lifetime, reducing the chances of disease and rot by preventing your teeth's roots from being exposed. In practice, the surgery entails a fully numb mouth, some scraping, some blood, some random tools, and a whole lot of stitches. I'm honestly not exactly sure what went on because even though I opted out of being put under, I mostly kept my eyes closed the whole time.

Because my mouth is on the small side, the doc couldn't get a long enough piece of tissue from just one side of my palate to graft across 6 of my bottom teeth, so he had to take tissue and stitch up BOTH sides of my palate. I had been under the impression that the donor site would be in the middle of my palate, but it actually came from just alongside my teeth, which ultimately is probably a good thing. As it turned out, double the donor sites equaled about four times a worse recovery, or so I like to think.

As with many surgeries, the recovery was the worst part about this surgery. Even though the mouth is supposedly one of the quickest areas on the body to heal, it took me several weeks to feel completely back to normal. My follow-up routine involved salt water gargling multiple times a day, mouthwashing twice a day, and light toothbrushing starting 3 days after surgery. It took me a full month before I was brave enough to eat anything more solid than soups, milk or juice with protein powder, and soft items that could be chewed along my back molars. I was given 3 prescriptions beforehand: 600mg Ibuprofen (for mild pain and inflammation), narcotic Meperidine (for strong pain), and anti-nausea drug Phenergan (for nausea caused by the Meperidine). I didn't even bother getting the Meperidine and Phenergan and used the Ibuprofen on and off for the first week after the surgery. In my case, a blood clotting medication probably would have been more helpful.

I had a hard time getting the bleeding to stop on the day of the surgery; I left the perio's office with my mouth stuffed full of gauze and arrived home 10 minutes later just in time to spit up a mouthful of blood. I spent the rest of the evening sitting on my couch pressing tea bags against the graft site, though in retrospect, it's possible some of the bleeding was from the donor sites as well. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be the only day I dealt with bleeding problems. I ended up throwing several clots over the course of the first few days, where one minute I was fine and the next minute I was gushing. The pinnacle of that breakthrough bleeding came at a party where I was savoring some tasty cake and ice cream, only to realize that my spoon was now coated in red instead of strawberry pink.

Flash forward 2 months. I went in for my final check yesterday, and it has supposedly healed up quite nicely. I'm eating solid foods, my donor sites have healed with nary a scar, and my graft site is hardly even sensitive anymore. However, I will always have a strip of lighter colored gum on my bottom jaw: despite being billed by insurance as a cosmetic surgery, the donor tissue will never change color and darken to match the gumline, so I will forever visibly remain: FrankenMouth.