Just Shelley

Spring Cleaning

This weekend we spent going through the house and creating four piles:

  • books to donate to the library
  • computers and electronics to recycle at the electronics recycling place
  • stuff for Goodwill
  • a recycle/toss pile.

This will be the first time I’ve recycled computers. In the past, I’ve found homes for older machines while they were still useful. However, the first generation PowerBook and the 11 year old PC laptop are too old to be useful, and have developed problems making them useless, even as Linux machines.

They still run, though, and have working hard drives. In order to prepare them for recycling, I spent yesterday writing zeros and random writes over the PowerBook, and used Darik’s Boot and Nuke over both. I’m also paying the ten bucks each to have both hard drives shredded at the recycler.

The other material I’m donating/discarding is like a microcosm of computer technology. We found that floppy drive and zip discs are plastic surrounding a thin film, which is easily cut with scissors. Old CDs make deadly frisbees; I don’t recommend using them as such. Then there’s my first, bulky external CD burner, ethernet PC cards, a wireless router that doesn’t work, a couple of external USB hard drives that hold only a little data, an old inkjet printer, and various other devices that have me scratching my head as I try to remember what the heck they are.

The last of the photographic film stuff is also going, as I’m now completely digital. The same could be said for many of the books, though I always keep my favorites. Since we eliminated all landline phones, I’m also donating phones and a mile or two of phone wire. We get all our video from the internet or over the air, so there goes the coil of cable wire.

I don’t know if life is simpler with today’s technology, but it certainly is less cluttered.


August Crude

Fix it! Fix it!

The New York Times just published an article titled Our Fix-It Faith and the Oil Spill. In it the author, Elisabeth Rosenthal, wrote:

Americans have long had an unswerving belief that technology will save us—it is the cavalry coming over the hill, just as we are about to lose the battle. And yet, as Americans watched scientists struggle to plug the undersea well over the past month, it became apparent that our great belief in technology was perhaps misplaced.

The “top kill” method failed this weekend, and most of the other options carry too much risk with little guarantee of success. We are at a point where we have to acknowledge that the oil in the Gulf is flowing until August. We sit, disillusioned, because we have had so much faith that “someone” somewhere will find a solution. It is the Apollo 13 effect: anything can be fixed with a little duct tape and good old American ingenuity.

However, rather than face the worst case scenario, BP tosses new “fixes” at the well, including those that could cause additional harm. Some people have gone so far as to suggest sending a nuclear bomb down to the oil well. “Nuke the bastard” is heard again in the streets of America, but this time the target is oil, not alien ships.

What an unbelievably foolish idea—one of many where we allow our frustration to override our common sense. More “fixes” that can make things worse than what they are. We’ve already seen this with the dispersant that BP has used. In the end, the cure can be worse than the disease, as horrible as that is to contemplate.

All that we can do now is come face to face with that, which we have created. This is no act of nature, no act of terrorism. This oil spill is as American as apple pie; it is equal parts citizen hubris, and corporate malfeasance.

Environment Political

Oil Story

I am pleased to see President Obama more engaged in the Gulf crises, but how much control the federal government has is still open for debate. As long as BP controls where resources are allocated in the region, as well as controlling information access, then the Federal government is not in control.

Yes, BP is responsible for all of the costs of the clean up, but it should never have been given the authority in the clean up effort it has been given. It would seem that the Coast Guard in the region, as well as Mineral Management Services, has too cozy a relationship with the oil companies. This also has to end.

The bright spot this week was the moratorium on new oil drilling, particularly along the Arctic. It’s obvious we don’t have a handle on offshore drilling. All we’ve had, is a bit of luck.

Consider what’s happening now: we’ve put the company that caused this disaster in charge of fixing the problem, because the government doesn’t have the expertise or equipment in order to manage the effort. So, now we’re trusting in the competence of the same company whose incompetence triggered this mess. A company that has demonstrated, time and again, that it is acting less than honorably: hiding how much oil is spilling; not allowing independent experts access to the video; preventing media access; downplaying the seriousness of the spill; continuing to use a toxic chemical despite EPA demands. At what point in time is the government going to wake up to the fact that BP is more interested in protecting its butt than the Gulf?

However, the federal government isn’t the only governmental body that needs to be slapped awake. This tragedy is just as much a Louisiana mess as it is a federal government mess. Even now that the state faces untold damage to its coast, it still hastens to assure the oil industry that the two are friends, forever. The state wants the oil jobs and oil revenue, but doesn’t want the oil. As we’re now finding, though, every silver lining has its dark, oily cloud—you can’t separate the oil from the oil wealth.

But lets not talk about this now. This kind of talk is for later, after this current crises is over. You know, when clear heads can prevail. After all, we need the oil: Apple has more iPads to sell. Gosh darn it, can’t make iPads without oil. Instead, let’s focus on good old American ingenuity and know how. There’s no disaster so bad that can’t be fixed with the right mix of technology if we all work together. All we really need, is a wiki.

Governor “never met a press conference he didn’t like” Jindal wants the Army Corps of Engineers to build sand berms to protect the coastal areas. Instead of the oil lapping along the fragile marshes, it hits the sand berms, which can be easily cleaned. Or at least, that’s what we’re told. However, many experts believe the sand berms won’t work, at best, or may push the oil towards the Mississippi state coast line, at worst. It is a politically expedient move, though, and perhaps we may learn from the effort—because goodness knows I hope we learn something, now that we’ve turned the Gulf into one great big oil spill laboratory, already equipped with test animals.


I really hope that BP has succeeded in stopping the oil.

Second update

CNN has come out with an article about how little scientists know about the long term impact of the Gulf oil spill. Sometimes scientists irritate the hell out of me. One is “hopeful that scientists will be able to figure out a way to tackle the problem”, which again puts too much reliance on science to fix the problem, rather than changing human behavior to prevent the problem. Another says hopefully we’ll learn from this event for the next time. There should not be a “next time”. If we can’t guarantee the absolute safety of offshore oil platforms, they should be closed down.

However, I do agree with the scientists who are pissed that we didn’t have the research in hand about how to handle a spill before the spill—what were we thinking, to allow all of these drill rigs to operate in the Gulf, without any kind of emergency plan in place? To allow the use of chemicals, when we don’t understand their impact?