Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rain, Break Up and Cabin Pics

Well, we got some rain today and it's raining again right now. Definitely amped up the snow melt around the place! Of course, we had to adjust our work schedule today so we could protect everything from getting soaked.

The guys finally dug all our tools out of the remaining snow and got the buried tarp enclosure put back up!

And they installed our first window upstairs because I got ambitious yesterday with 60F and cut out the hole in the house wrap and vapor barrier :)

(Tom hates ladders, so he actually got to hold the window from the inside while G-man played Spider-Man on the ladder outside)

The whole house is wrapped now, we just have to tape up the seams and get the doors & windows properly installed and we can start putting up the T1-11 siding.

(Tom's taken over Willow -- man has never ridden a 4-wheeler before coming here, and now he's tooling around like an old pro LOL)

I got the vapor barrier completely done and taped upstairs yesterday, so whenever we get the 8' drywall hung downstairs (or at least moved downstairs) so it's off the top of the stack, we can start hanging the 12' drywall in the loft.

Ripley really doesn't like it when I'm upstairs because the stairs aren't in yet and she can't get up there.

I did get the downstairs vapor barrier almost finished today... but we ran out with only 12' of the back wall left. DOH!!  Luckily, we can just do the rest of the room and leave a few of the 8' sheets off to the side out of the way to come back to once we go into town and pick up more vapor barrier. The primary thing was to get the east wall done so we could get the cabinets in! Still have to tape downstairs, and install the foam board around the rim joists, but that hopefully won't take too long.

So things are melting around the cabin....

But it's nowhere near as bad as around the tent...

Looks like we're going to get a reprise of Lake Wardle again this year, after all :(

But, hey, we did get a perfect example of frost heave. Remember that ditch we dug last year to drain the lake of melt and rain water we had in front of the tent? Well, it froze this winter and pushed all the soil in that area up... notice the layer of ice beneath the soil!

And one nice thing about living in the middle of nowhere... you can sight in your rifle right in your front yard while you're taking a construction break ;)

Our little cabin, so awesome even the heavens smile down upon it :)

Quick Update on the Cabin Progress

We've been enjoying Tom's company here for the past week and are slowly getting things done at the cabin. Tom's been more than up for hard labor, but I picked up a nasty tummy bug in Fairbanks and am now just getting back to rights. The guys have been keeping busy collecting firewood and running errands, and I've been doing my best to keep everyone fed (even if all I could do was get stuff out and prepped for the actual cooking by someone else).

We finished all the vapor barrier and taping upstairs today, and the guys started the vapor barrier downstairs while I cleaned up the loft. It's amazing how big the space looks again now that the tools are all packed away and the scraps are out on the pile. With any luck, we'll finish the vapor barrier and taping downstairs, then get the foamboard cut and installed along the rim joist and header beam so we can start the drywall on this week. Having a third set of hands, and a helper at least 6" taller than me, should make getting those 12' sections of sheet rock onto the gambrel ceiling upstairs much easier. Ideally, we'd use a lift to install the ceiling, but I couldn't find one for rent in town while I was in and they didn't know when it would be back in for re-let... oh well, such is life when you live remote.

Of course, the 12' drywall is on the bottom of the pile, so we'll probably have to start with the 8' sections downstairs first just to be able to get at them. Figure if we're going to move them anyway, we might as well move them straight onto the walls ;)  It'll be good practice for the harder task up in the loft. I'm really not looking forward to hanging drywall on the ceiling, it's probably one of my least favorite construction tasks. But at least once all the drywalling is done, I can get to one of my favorite tasks... painting. I know lots of folks hate painting, but I find it extremely peaceful and meditative... well, as long as I'm left alone to zone out and "git'er dun". Too bad I still need to tape and float all the seams first. I don't hate mudding, but it's not my best skill. Just hope the walls don't look like a 2nd-grader went crazy with the playdough ROFL

The temps have been high enough that we should be able to install the sill membranes for the doors and windows with a good chance they'll stick. So, we'll probably get those in before we start on the drywall, that way we can do a good job foaming and caulking around the jambs, and then just do a drywall return rather than messing around trying to do custom woodwork to extend the jambs since our walls are double the thickness of the average wall. We'll be putting in solid wood sills because Ripley is sure to trash them in short order looking out the windows doing her doggy thing if we don't. Sills are easy, but I seriously don't want to mess around with jamb extensions and case mouldings when drywall returns are so much easier and don't collect as much dust LOL (ya'll dust your trim mould regularly, right?!).

I promise to take pictures tomorrow!! I even have the camera lying on my clothes so I won't forget it again. Not really much to see at this point, but I know you all always appreciate the photos :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I Propose a New Law

I'm doing my spring cleaning, and have just about had it with my pantry.

I definitely think it should be illegal to sell a product in a can that will not stack on itself!

Really, some of these manufacturers must think we have all the cabinet and shelf space in the world, and we can afford to line up their product in single-tier rows simply because they want to save a few cents not purchasing nesting cans. And the horrible thing about it is that the worst offenders seem to be folks whole sell cases/packs at the warehouse stores. They sell the exact same product in nesting cans individually at the supermarket; but somehow when they sell 8 or 12 or 24 of them at once, they can't be bothered?!?!

Oh sure, you could just leave them in the box/case/flat... but how not useful is that unless they're full? Once you open the case, you just start losing space again. Assuming, of course, that the dimensions of their case actually fit in your space, or that their packaging is even vaguely easy to get into. Totally sucks if the only way to make it fit is to put it in so their "convenient" roll-out tabby thingy is either completely useless or spews cans all over the place the minute a mouse so much as farts in its general location. Of course, most of them don't even come with the semi-useful tabby feeder slots... you have to yank the whole box out and open it... and usually after sledgehammering the glue off the "lid", all the other joints to spontaneously erupt. And those shallow cardboard flats simply fold up and fall apart the minute you take the annoying plastic shrink-wrap off them.  GRRRRRRRR

Yes, you can cut up cardboard to make little support trays between the tiers. Yes, you can get fancier and make/buy extra shelve. Or purchase one of those nifty wire/plastic "organizers" that never seem to fit the space either, don't seem to fit the products either, and experience an abnormally high failure rate. You could go ultra and buy/build self-feeding, top-loading, "professional" food storage and rotation systems... because, hey, we have all the money in the world, right?!

Why?!? Why should we even have to go through any of that at all? Can't these bastards have a little bit of compassion and just package in nesting cans in the first place?!? Then I'd only have to worry about making the funky shaped/sized cans fit. (Hello, Hormel, are you listening?? Your Spam and Corned Beef cans may be cute and all that, but they do NOT play well in the cupboard!)

Ban the Funky Can, Man!!

[/end rant]

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Buildings and code...

Ok since we've had some comments about our electrical system, and I'm sure we probably had some comments about plumbing, or the structure, or whatever.

If you are planning to build a place the very first thing that you'll need to do is figure out whether you are governed by any building codes, and if you are which codes apply (from foundation to wall structures, to electrical and all points in between). Know and understand if you are in a regulated zone and know what permits and codes apply.

If there are building codes you are required by law to follow them, and have inspections and permits to ensure you meet the code. We're "lucky" in that we're in an unregulated zone, this means that we need to ensure that we feel confident that the systems and structures we build are safe for us, and anyone else who enters that structure. To this end we try to stay within established codes and standards where they apply.

Building codes are created to ensure that standard built structures with standard systems are safe for use by anyone who owns or may inhabit that structure. However the problem is "standard". For example standard residential electrical code is for grid tied systems, have an input panel of 200A (or more) with a 220V line split into 220V, and 110V circuits, with associated safety devices both internal to the house (breakers/fuses) and external (company breakers at the entry and along the grid lines) electrical may also have requirements placed by the utility company too. Similarly plumbing needs to take into account any sewer hookups, materials need to take into account any chemicals that may be off-gassed into the structure, or ground and ground water. For instance 50 years ago lead pipes were used, not so now, makes a lot of sense.

Whenever you're using alternative building materials or systems, then the "standard" code may not be applicable, or grossly under/over engineered. So if you're not in a regulated area, it's important to understand why a building code is in place, so that you can derive an alternative system that addresses those safety issues. If you don't feel comfortable in your ability to do that, take the time and money to enlist an engineer, or stick to code and convention (and abandon the alternative method and/or system).

Now on to our systems...

Structure, post and beam with alternate inside/outside studs 4' between studs a side, no applicable code, however the load bearing structure is the post and beam, not the infill walls, structural rigidity is maintained by the shear panels and bracing. Confirmed load bearing capacity with several structural engineers.

Plumbing, pex, internal from storage tank, drains to greywater leech field, no applicable code.

Electrical, no applicable code (code only covers residential grid tied systems), wiring all +2 gauge on internal wiring codes (12 gauge where 14 is code, 10 gauge where 12 is code), grounding wiring +9 gauge (code is 8 gauge for a 100amp panel, we have 2/0 gauge for a 20amp panel). All junctions, sockets, and connectors installed to general NEC electrical codes.

Networking installed to Microsoft Datacenter standards.

HVAC, no AC, heating/stove installed to Fairbanks code.

Now one point of apparent concern is our grounding...

Well, that's kind of you guys to worry, but it's not a problem, here's why.

In a grid tied system, you have your main breaker (100A, 200A, etc.) the neutral is ground tied (so that Neutral and ground have the same potential, we do the same). If for some reason on the house side of the system there is a ground fault (hot shorts to ground), then the circuit breaker will blow or the main panel breaker will because it appears to the system as a short between hot and neutral; even if that doesn't blow, then there are service breakers installed in the lines by the supply company.

These breakers will blow regardless of what is connected or not to the ground rail as long as you have tied the neutral to the ground rail (in essence you're tying the case of your electrical appliances to neutral).

If the same happens on the supply side, then the same thing happens, but higher currents could cause some issues, for instance the supply breaker may not trip (the one you have no access to), so you could be running branch current to ground unless the breaker at the branch blows, if there are 10 or so houses on that branch that's a 2000A breaker at least.

We have a total of a 20 amp main breaker on a completely isolated system, that has a breaker on the circuit (this may be 5 amps, or 10 amps), there is the inverter over current system that will shut down in case of overload, there is a 100A breaker in the battery line if that doesn't shut down. So the failure chain would need to be to cause any serious harm, the circuit breaker fails, the panel breaker fails, the inverter over current fails (and the inverter doesn't burst into flames), and the 100A battery breaker fails.

The only big advantage in having heavier grounding is for lightning protection. After careful review we have decided against installing a lightning rod it's not something that sprang to mind when we were planning. We're not higher than any other structure, we're not on the top of a hill, and we're surrounded by higher trees.

Now a for instance, if you have an RV that has a 110V 20A supply, how much hard grounding (to ground) do you make sure you have? If any? Because this is pretty much the same thing we have going on with our electrics.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Electrical Diagram

Awhile back, we promised to publish a diagram of our electrical system here at the tent. Well, we finally got the laptop it was on fixed so I can post it for you :)

This is how we have our tent wired with only two AC circuits, one for lights and one for receptacles. It's usually a good idea not to have your lights and sockets on the same run, or at least not all of them, so that if an appliance blows the circuit breaker you aren't left scrambling in the dark. All the AC wiring starting from the service panel is standard, so you can refer to any wiring manual available at your local library or home improvement center. The only part that is tricky is the wiring between power sources... you just have to be careful that the wires aren't live when you're doing it (hook up the ground FIRST, and hots to the power sources LAST), but otherwise it's really not that complicated.

Our tent frame is aluminum conduit, so all our receptacles and light fixtures are grounded to the frame as well as the common ground in the 3-12 Romex... and both the wiring and the frame are grounded together with 00 braided copper cable to a 4' length of 1/2" Rebar embedded in the earth. This offers protection from electrical shorts as well as lightening strikes. Caution: do not store fuel canisters or firewood on/near your ground cable & spike, as fire and explosion can occur!
We're planning to wire the cabin the same way, except that we're replacing the SLA batteries with AGM batteries, and adding more circuits to the panel so some special equipment (like kitchen appliances and the home office) are on their own dedicated run. We've also added a 3kw generator as a backup and to provide additional juice for heavy draw items (like the log splitter) when we need them. We will also have a dedicated GFCI circuit for the exterior porch receptacle and light beside each door.

Because the battery bank is located in the loft (keeping them warm in the winter, and well vented/cool in the summer), we are wiring 30amp MALE power inlet boxes on the porch and in the loft with 3-10 Romex between them... using the male connectors rather than female connectors, with a specialized prong arrangement, ensures that someone can't accidentally plug a standard appliance into that receptacle. The heavy-duty arctic cable from the generator to the outside wall will have a standard 3-prong male plug into the  generator (2kw is only 20a, so only has a 3-prong), and a 30a female socket into the house; and the cable from the inside wall into the inverter will only have a 30a female connector on the wall side because the leads are directly wired to the inverter terminals.

We may add some additional components such as a larger freezer (AC or DC), well pumps and electric fencing that may or may not have their own dedicated power source (PV panel with battery/generator backup) depending on the draw, run distance, and electric current type. At the very least, we'll be adding a 75w PV panel dedicated to the current DC freezer and utilizing the remaining good SLA batteries as it's own dedicated back up rather than drawing from the house batteries (we only need the freezer in the summer, so power availability is not an issue).

Since the cabin isn't made of metal like the tent frame, we will be wiring all the receptacles and light fixtures to the common ground in the 3-12 Romex, installing lightning rods on the roof peak, and connecting the house wiring and rods with 00 braided copper cable to 4'  of 1/2" Rebar embedded in the earth (once the ground thaws enough!).

Both battery banks are designed to provide 800+ amp-hours at 24v, this provides us an average of 5 days between charges for normal use and up to 10 days with conservative use. A full recharge normally takes less than 8 hours running the 2kw generator, and our generator runs 8-14 hours on a gallon of gasoline depending on load and whether the eco-throttle is on. We intend to add 5 PV panels rated at 225w each (1+ kw total) which should be more than adequate to keep the batteries trickle charged AND provide us with all the power we can use during the long summer days. The addition of a 2kw wind turbine will take up the slack on cloudy days, so we don't expect to need the generator at all during the summer unless we're running some seriously heavy-draw equipment for long periods. The wind turbine and PV combo should provide ample charging of the system during early spring and late fall with rare need for the generator; and the wind turbine should reduce the frequency and duration of running the generator during our long winter nights. PV output from moonlight and snow reflection in the winter is documented up here, but we are not counting it in our plans.

So that's all things electrical for now, hope this was helpful information. Thanks for your patience.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Heirloom, OP, F1, GM... oh my!

Looking through seed catalogs can be an overwhelming experience. Not only are you tempted to buy every seed that looks good, way more than you'd ever eat really, and probably a few that aren't even appropriate for your conditions... but there's also a staggering amount of acronyms and abbreviations strewn about. For now, I'm going to ignore all the ones related to disease and pest resistances since those seem to change slightly between distributors. But one thing I have noticed on many of the discussion boards and forums is what type of seed to get... and there seems to be a lot of confusion around heirloom, open-pollinated (OP), hybrid (F1) and genetically modified (GM). So here's a little primer...

Heirloom:  This simply means that the variety comes from a stock that has been grown for a long time without any changes in its breeding and it's not one of the common commercial varieties that have been selectively bred for high yield, uniformity, mechanical harvesting, and storage-ripening desired of supermarket produce. Planting heirlooms in your garden helps protect genetic diversity, and they usually taste better, or store better, or grow better in a specific area since people wouldn't keep planting them in their food gardens year after year if they didn't (taste and reliability of their own food being more important than profit and ease of manufacture).

Most heirloom varieties are OP which means that they pollinate themselves via insects, wind, or animals and the seeds produced will most likely (but not always!) breed true (grow a plant identical to the parent). However, (because they are OP) in order to keep an heirloom pure, you have to make sure that it's either the only variety you plant, or that the seeds you save come only from fruits/veg that you know for sure didn't get cross-pollinated by another variety... otherwise you might end up with an F1.

OP - Open-Pollinated: This simply means that the plant variety is capable of reproducing through natural pollination methods, and it's seed should grow offspring that are identical to the parent (some exceptions exist*). OP varieties are important to homesteaders and preppers because it means that they can save the seeds from their own harvests and plant them year after year without having to buy new seed and can be reasonably assured that they'll get the same food from them. However, many (but not all) F1 and GM can reproduce through natural pollination methods but they don't normally bred true in successive generations.

It's important to understand the breeding characteristics of any species you plant. Most plants require both male and female flowers or flower parts to reproduce by pollination. However, some species don't have male and female flowers on the same plant, or the male and female flowers on the same plant won't pollinate themselves, in which case you'd need another plant of the same or similar species to pollinate them (many tree fruits are known to need a "surrogate" for pollination). And other species have both male and female flowers and will freely self-pollinate, there are even some species that are hermaphroditic (contain both male and female parts in the same flower) and they can also self-pollinate (even within the same flower!).

In addition to the male/female aspect, you also have to take into consideration how readily the cross-pollinates with other varieties (or species!). Most beans tend to be strongly inbreeding... they easily self-pollinate and don't usually cross with other varieties even if they are planted nearby. Tomatoes tend to be strongly outbreeding... they are easily pollinated by other varieties of tomatoes, and are genetically capable of crossing with other members of the nightshade family (peppers, eggplants & potatoes) although this is uncommon. Important to note that the fruit of a cross-bred plant is still the same fruit you'd expect... it's the fruit of the hybrid off-spring that will be different. If you have a strongly outbreeding variety in your garden and you want to keep it pure, either don't plant any other varieties, time your plantings so they flower at different times, physically distance them so crossing isn't likely (this is hard, some will cross-pollinate within 3 miles!), cover your rows and hand-pollinate, or bag a few blossoms to hand pollinate and only save the seeds of those fruits.

* Potatoes are one notable exception to the OP rule. Potato seeds produced by the pollinated flowers (as opposed to seed potatoes which are eyes from the tubers) do not bred true. In order to get successive generations of potatoes that are identical to the parent, you need to plant eyes from the potato tubers you collected from the parent. This is actually natural cloning, not really sexual reproduction.

F1 - Hybrids: Contrary to what some people believe, hybrids are not evil Frankenfood (GM). Hybrids are the result of intentional or unintentional cross-pollination of two parents of different varieties that create offspring with a combination of and/or slightly different characteristics than the parent. Doing this intentionally is a form of selective breeding (although only saving and planting seed from plants that have the characteristics you want is also selective breeding, just not crossing). There are advantages to planting F1s in your food garden, namely a phenomenon known as "hybrid vigor". Hybrid vigor means the first generation offspring of a cross grows better/faster, has higher yields, and/or is more resistant to pest/disease than the parent. This can be really beneficial to home food gardener who has less than perfect conditions and needs to grow a lot of food, or a type that maybe wouldn't do so well in their climate (super-early harvest, slow bolting, or extra cold-hardiness). Hybrids are completely natural, even if we humans had a hand in it, because they haven't crossed with anything that nature didn't already allow.

In some cases, intentional crossing results in F1 offspring that are sterile, which is sometimes a desired trait (seedless grapes and watermelons). In most cases, however, hybrids are genetically unstable, will not breed true, and subsequent generations will either become sterile or begin reverting to the parent or continue to mutate unpredictably. Sometimes repeated breeding of an F1 to itself, or to one of the parents, eventually creates an Fn (F2 is second generation, F3 is third, etc) that is stable and breeds true... and another reliable OP variety is born! Planting that seed will now consistently grow offspring with the expected characteristics.

GM - Genetically Modified: This is the evil Frankenfood (and, yes, it's one of my soapboxes). These are genetic mutations created in a laboratory by breaking into and fiddling with the DNA directly. These organisms could never be produced in nature because they combine genetic materials from entirely different, non-compatible, families and sometimes even cross kingdoms (plant with animal, etc). That's a bit of an oversimplification, but rest assured that these modifications (mutations!) are created by separating a gene responsible for a desired trait from the donor (usually a bacteria that may have been GM'd itself to produce it), breaking the DNA chain of the target gamete and inserting that gene into the chain where they think it'll produce the same desired result in the host. One thing we know about genes is that they're often responsible for more than one trait, and where you put them sometimes makes a big difference in what you end up with... which is what makes this practice a bit scary when you really think about it. What else is controlled by that gene, and what else is affected by that placement? Do you know? Do THEY? Do they even care as long as they turn a profit? Now you see why I'm a big fan of making farmers post their fields if they're planting GM crops, divulge the animals they're raising are GM (esp. if they're breeding them out!), and all GM foods being labeled in the market!

Unfortunately, many GM plants enjoy hybrid vigor almost as much (more in some cases) as their natural F1 hybrid counterparts. This means they may outperform other OP and F1 varieties, including escaping containment (becoming a weed) and cross-pollinating those varieties for several miles around where they are planted... which is a big problem if Farmer Jane is growing organic heirlooms down the road and suddenly gets a bunch of Frankenbastards next year (and gets sued by Monsanto for copyright infringement!). In some cases, the providers of GM seed alter them to be sterile or at least have a suicide gene that kills off the plant in some amount of subsequent generations, and the majority of them do not breed true. This means you can't save the seed and plant it next year (even if Monsanto won't sue you for copyright infringement and licensing violation). However, there's really no telling whether or not the sterility and/or suicide switch will actually work as intended if that plant is actively cross-pollinating with other natural varieties in the wild because Nature is nothing if not fickle and resilient. (You all remember Jurassic Park and the frog DNA, right?) Even if the safeguards do function, we've now possibly corrupted, and effectively destroyed, the genetic purity and diversity of any crop which it cross-pollinated within several miles... and several miles of those... and several miles of those... until it's finally noticed. Mutations can be surprisingly aggressive that way. If you do decide to plant a GM in your garden, please do everyone a favor and pinch off anything that even looks like a flower bud before it opens! Or at least don't move anywhere near me! 

Edited to Add: Gungnir just informed me that it seems someone in our government actually showed some rare forethought and made engineering a "suicide", or terminator, gene into a GMO illegal because of the "remote possibility" that the organism would escape containment, cross-breed with other varieties in the wild, and effectively decimate the entire population of that organism. So no terminator genes (that we know of, at least... corporations can do some pretty sneaky things to protect their profits and market advantage sometimes). 

Now, I know there are all sorts of "good reasons" to GM food... resistance to herbicides (Roundup Ready), built-in pest resistance (Bt bred), and additional nutrients or quantity of nutrients (Golden Rice). All of these, on the surface at least, appear to be good, humanitarian advantages allowing farmers to produce more and more nutritious foods more easily for more people. I'm all for feeding the people... but doing a wrong thing for the right reasons... what do they say about the road to Hell and it's paving? In most cases, the things that these crops are being GM'd for are a direct result of our own arrogant adherence to unnatural and unsustainable agricultural practices. Many plant diseases, pest and weed pressures can be addressed through natural F1 hybrids and instituting healthier management practices like crop rotation and fallow fielding with green manure groups, and crop diversity rather than mono-cropping. And let's not forget that a lot of the countries that these "humanitarian" GM crops are supposed to help feed don't even want it because it's GM and current trials aren't going as well as promised!

So, to wrap up:
  1. Get heirlooms if you like them, but be considerate and try to maintain their genetic purity for the sake of diversity. Before spending the extra money, make sure that it will actually grow well in your conditions and produce the yields and flavors you're looking for... just because it's heirloom doesn't automatically mean it's better.
  2. Get OP if you want to save seeds and plant again next year to get the same crop. Doesn't matter if it's heirloom or one of the newer varieties as long as it grows well in your conditions and gives you a harvest that meets your needs and expectations in both yield and flavor.
  3. Get F1 if you have difficult conditions to contend with and you don't intend to save the seed to plant next year, just be careful that it doesn't cross with your other OP's & heirlooms. If you feel adventurous, you can even carefully attempt crossing some of your own varieties to get the hybrid benefits.
  4. Avoid GM if at all possible... like if it's the only viable seed left to plant on the entire planet and there are absolutely no other sources of food available.

Record Snowfall for April

The late spring storm that just went through dumped record snowfalls across the state (Nome broke a 105 year record!). We got almost a foot of the white stuff ourselves. It's not particularly cold, which is actually making the new snow a bit more of a bother since it's wet and slippery. Makes me wonder how all this new snow right when the old snow was beginning to melt is going to affect our site and trail this year... will is slow down the melt enough for things to warm up and drain well, or will we end up with Lake Wardle and the Sucking Quagmire again?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Update on Lowes

Hey all...

You remember a couple of weeks ago in the "Riding around in the Rock bus..." post I had a little head to head with Lowes...?

Well after much wrangling with their corporate customer care, I finally managed to get them to apparently waterboard, magneto, threaten families or whatever, and I got an email from the store manager. Apparently the mail I got from Lowes corporate on the 23rd March saying I'd get a response from the store manager within 24 hours "got lost" (or they had to use physical torture methods). So I asked them to ask the manager to reforward that mail.

Here is the mail I received (the names have been changed to protect the guilty)

-----Original Message-----
From: R Sole
Sent: Tuesday, April 05, 2011 1:06 PM
To: me@myself.com
Subject: Blower

Mr Gungnir esq.,

I would like to apologize for you not receiving the first email from us. We
are more than happy to reimburse you the $150 you spent I would also like to
offer you and additional $50 for the inconvenience for a total of $200.00.
Please just let me know
how you would like that and when you would be coming in to pick it up.
Please use me as your point of contact going forward. Sorry for the
inconvenience of this situation.


R Sole
Fairbanks Ak.
All information in and attached to the e-mail(s) below may be proprietary,
confidential, privileged and otherwise protected from improper or erroneous
disclosure. If you are not the sender's intended recipient, you are not
authorized to intercept, read, print, retain, copy, forward, or disseminate
this message. If you have erroneously received this communication, please
notify the sender immediately by phone
(704-555-1000) or by e-mail and destroy all copies of this message
(electronic, paper, or otherwise). Thank you.

Ok so my first question was... Where's the header from the forward...? Unknown, so I checked the mail header itself...

Received: from relay3.lowes.com (mail3.lowes.com [])
by imf25.b.hostedemail.com (Postfix) with ESMTP
for ; Tue, 5 Apr 2011 21:06:17 +0000 (UTC)
X-AuditID: ac148405-b7c8eae00000649c-0c-4d9b8527a295
Received: from msex07corpht2.lowes.com (Unknown_Domain [])
by relay3.lowes.com (SMTP Banner) with SMTP id 25.5A.25756.7258B9D4; Tue, 5 Apr 2011 17:09:59 -0400 (EDT)
Received: from msex07ht2.store.lowes.com ( by
msex07corpht2.lowes.com ( with Microsoft SMTP Server (TLS) id
8.1.375.2; Tue, 5 Apr 2011 17:06:16 -0400
Received: from msex07db02.store.lowes.com ([]) by
msex07ht2.store.lowes.com ([]) with mapi; Tue, 5 Apr 2011
17:06:16 -0400

So What you all cry...

Ok so two things, firstly IT Guys are remarkably unimaginitive, or incredibly imaginitive, mail server names have two possible types, something totally arcane for instance mimir.valhalla.com, or something partially descriptive, for instance msex07corpht2.lowes.com. So no the server wasn't named msex because it's short for Mmmmm... Sex! It's probably named such because it's a Microsoft Exchange machine, and I'd hazard a guess it's Microsoft Exchange 2007 too (which I got a ship it award for while at Microsoft). So it's all just conjecture right... No there's also "Microsoft SMTP Server (TLS)" meaning that it's almost certainly using Exchange Server 2003 or later (google it, don't take my word for it).

What this means is the mail that was allegedly sent wasn't sent. Of course it is entirely possible that Mr R Sole of Lowes doesn't know where his "Sent Items" folder is, or their IT Monkeys can't query through WebDAV, but that's unlikely.

So I responded with this...

-----Original Message-----
From: Mr Gungnir Esq.
Sent: Tuesday, April 05, 2011 1:56 PM
To: R Sole
Subject: Re: Blower

I'm not sure you're dealing with the core of my grievance.

The core of my grievance was that Ken made a statement that I had agreed to something that I had not and then argued with me that I had agreed to this. As far as I was aware at the time he left the only agreement was on the method of reimbursement, not the amount. However if the money was the core issue then I would have taken what I could have got and left. It was more
the attitude and belligerence that was the issue. You should have tapes that confirm my statement from your surveillance systems.

There is also an apparent discrepancy between the information we were provided at time of sale of the insulation, that the blower would be available for a reasonable period of time (a couple of weeks or more) for free due to our remote location and the amount of product we purchased. This was confirmed several times with several cashiers and assistants, yet was
contradicted by Ken during our discussion but only after we began arguing about the reimbursement value.

Now as to fair reimbursement for my costs based upon the good faith purchase I made of the Thermo-Kool insulation, I'm to my mind $240 down for the hire of the blower from Spenards. Which at time of purchase I was expecting to loan for free from Lowes. It's also ignoring any personal inconvenience of multiple trips to Fairbanks (including costs of transport) and sourcing at an alternate location. Incidentally Spenards were very gracious in not charging us the full fee for the length of time we had the blower (due to our location) which is an example of good customer service you may learn from, that actual cost should have been $650.

So my full list of grievances
1) No blower available multiple times when attempting to obtain from Lowes
2) Having to locate alternate source of blower
3) Having a statement from a manager that they would reimburse the costs of renting that blower due to inability of Lowes to deliver on their commitment (this is only a grievance due to later events)
4) Having a manager become belligerent and hostile about a trifling difference in expectations ($60) on the reimbursement value
5) Contacting Lowes Corporate, getting a response from them that I would get a response in 24 hours and not getting that response
6) Re-contacting Lowes Corporate about lack of contact from your store, and being told that there was a mail sent (the check is in the mail)
7) Not being forwarded the original mail, that would have proven the claim that the original mail from your store was sent

I'll be perfectly honest, for the argued difference (at the time of the incident I was arguing for $210 due to an expected 7 day rental and a reimbursement maximum of $30/day) this has cost Lowes significantly more than that, for your time, for the Corporate time, and certainly in lost
business. This seems counter productive to me.

Now based on all of that, if you will send me what you consider to be fair compensation for the inconvenience and loss of good faith, then I will let you know whether I find that acceptable.

So two days have passed, and no contact so I've kicked my Corporate contact again. The thing I love the most is that Lowes has the following policy...

Each Employee will conduct all dealings with Lowe's customers and suppliers fairly and will compete honestly and ethically. Employees should not seek to obtain any advantage for the company by manipulating or concealing facts, misusing privileged information, misrepresenting material facts or otherwise acting illegally, unfairly, dishonestly or unethically.
Well when I had an agreement with one of the senior managers on something, and another manager doesn't live up to that agreement and indeed argues that the agreement wasn't as I was led to believe, is that misrepresenting a material fact...? Well I don't know...

I will keep you posted however, whether you're interested or not. I'm pretty much neutral on the issue and the only reason I'm still pursuing it is to bring a small degree of sadistic joy into my life knowing that someone somewhere in Lowes corporate might go and repeatedly kick Mr Sole in the gonads, with steel toe capped boots. Once this happens there is also the sadistic joy knowing Mr Sole once he has joined his local choir as a mezzo-soprano will go and take out his steel toe capped boots and perform the same service to the idiot who p*ssed me off.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cleansers in a Soil-based System

I've recently been discussing greywater reclamation with a few folks, and the topic of cleansers came up. There are a fantastic array of "natural", "green", "biodegradable", and "eco-friendly" cleansers on the market today... and almost every one of them are NOT appropriate for use in a greywater reclamation system where you use the water to irrigate food crops.

Why not? They're better than all those old harsh chemicals, right? Hey, look, they're EPA-approved!

Well, yes... and no. Most of the environmental concerns that are addressed by these cleaners are for AQUEOUS environments, not TERRESTRIAL environments. For the vocabularily-challenged, they're designed to be (or become) safe in water, not soil. Since the vast majority of our new-world sanitation is done through a combined grey/black water sewage treatment plant (everything gets flushed down the drain), and the liquid effluents from those plants are eventually returned to fresh waterways and the ocean (or back into our city water supply!), it is very important that any residues from cleansers be safe for introduction to waterways and other aquatic life (your dish soap can't be killing the fishes!) and/or breakdown rather rapidly in the presence of water or air.

To this end, phosphates were reduced because these cause horrible algae blooms; nitrates were reduced because these can also cause horrible algae blooms (as well as blue baby syndrome -- although that's normally associated with run-off from synthetically & over-fertilized fields, and some cancers); chlorine and sodium ingredients harmlessly decompose in water, and borates and other elements either don't react or are so diluted they aren't harmful. The alkalinity of most cleansers and their chemical elements aren't a major issue because seawater (the eventual end destination of most effluent waters) is alkaline and all the critters that live in it can handle the alkalinity, and there's plenty of fresh water in most rivers and lakes to dilute the alkalinity in those.

However, when you're putting water that contains cleansers directly on/in the soil it's a whole different story. Soil and it's ability to provide nutrients to healthy growing plants has an almost opposite set of rules. Chlorine is a powerful disinfectant... it also "disinfects" the good bacteria that help breakdown plant nutrients in the soil. Sodium, and all the other salts but sodium in particular, is extremely alkaline and can rapidly alter the pH of the soil either killing the plants or locking up the nutrients that the plants need to grow. Boron is a great water conditioner, pesticide and fungicide... unfortunately, these properties are extremely harmful to a happy, healthy garden. Phosphates and nitrates are generally just hunky-dory in soil (within reason of course!) since they are both plant food... which is what makes them so bad in aquatic environments. And buildup of elements is much more of a concern in soil since there certainly isn't enough water in it to dilute it, and some elements take a very long time to decompose in the absence of water and/or air (like salt). Most plants prefer neutral or slightly acidic soils, the nutrients they need are most active/available at neutral or slightly acidic pH, so high alkaline cleansers made for alkaline seawater are completely inappropriate unless you have seriously acidic soil that you're trying to neutralize.

And you never, ever, ever, want to use anything that is marketed as "antibacterial", "antimicrobial" or "disinfecting"... you're going to kill your good soil bacteria, not just that "bad" bacteria that might make you sick. I say "might" because routine exposure to low levels of "bad" bacteria is normally not harmful at all and can actually result in a stronger immune system. Hmm... maybe all these "sanitizers" are actually making us sicker?

Also try to avoid using anything that has enzymes or is labeled "biodegradable" unless you know exactly what they are, what they break down, and what they break down into... or you can totally mess up your soil's microorganisms, nutrient ability/composition, and the soil structure itself. They're not all bad, just be careful! Biodegradable and compostable aren't the same thing... most biodegradable products are designed to biodegrade anaerobically, in landfills or septic tanks, not aerobically in your compost bin or garden mulch.

OK - So what am I supposed to clean with then?

Surprisingly, a great many cleaning tasks can be accomplished with plain old soap (lye & fat) and water. For a little extra kick you can add a mild acid (lemon juice or vinegar) if you aren't cleaning marble/stone, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, household ammonia (ammonium nitrate -- use with proper ventilation!), or a small amount of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate -- use sparingly, it is still a salt).

If you must disinfect something (like food processing tools), boil them. If you can't boil them, use steam... either an autoclave if you can afford it or a handheld unit. If steam won't work for you, citrus and many herbs and essential oils have natural antimicrobial properties (rosemary, peppermint, tea tree, etc). And sparingly, as a last resort, hydrogen peroxide or ammonia or alcohol.  Instead of using chlorine to disinfect/treat your water supply, swimming pool or hot tub... use concentrated hydrogen peroxide instead, your plants will thank you.

The best bleach in the world is sunlight. Hang your whites in the sun the dry and I guarantee those stains will disappear without any chemical assistance. You'll have sparkling white socks and panties without bluing or other optical brighteners. But if you absolutely must use bleach, try pretreating with lemon juice first, and then use hydrogen peroxide instead of chlorine bleach. Which brings up "Oxygen Bleach"... yes, these don't have chlorine BUT they are chock-full of sodium. Use real hydrogen peroxide instead, your plants will thank you.

Washing your laundry rarely requires detergent. Yes, you read that right... simply soaking your clothes overnight is enough to remove most dirt and debris from your clothes because water is the universal solvent and also lifts particles from clothing fibers all on it's own. However, if you want to make this work a little better, or you have some pretty tough stains, try using something slightly alkaline (like plain soap or ammonia) because most stains on clothing are acidic (perspiration, oil/fat, blood, etc). Rubbing a little plain soap (or Fels-Naptha soap) on a stain before washing will do the trick most times, no need to add soap to the water. Adding just a half-cup of ammonia does a wonderful job cutting any body oils and deodorizing through neutralization not fragrance... and no your laundry won't stink of ammonia, the smell dissipates as soon as it's dry. The only caution is to be careful using ammonia if you pre-treat spots with Fels-Naptha because this contains a small amount of chlorine and we all know to never mix chlorine and ammonia!

There are a gajillion tips for treating stains of different origins all over the internet, I won't repeat them here ;)  But remember that soap and ammonia are slightly alkaline, so do add a little vinegar or lemon juice to your laundry rinse water... it helps your clothes feel softer (gets out the last of the soap residue), reduces static cling, removes any soap scum from your laundry tubs, and helps neutralize your greywater.

A little bit of plain liquid soap in the wash water and white vinegar in the rinse water gives you squeaky clean dishes. A little vinegar, water and alcohol give you sparkling windows and counters (but not if they're stone!). A little vinegar in the mop water and your hard surface floors will shine (unless they're stone!), or a little ammonia if they're really greasy grimy.

Vitreous china, glazed ceramics, or enameled surfaces in the bathroom can be cleaned with lemon juice, vinegar, or ammonia since all three will cut through soap scum and hard water deposits. If you must scrub, make a paste with a small amount of baking soda and water, wipe up the majority of it and throw it away instead of rinsing it down the drain. If you have mildew stains, try applying straight lemon juice first, then hydrogen peroxide, and if that still doesn't work apply a paste of borax and water, apply it directly to the affected area, scrub a little and let it sit for a little while -- wipe it off and through it away rather than rinsing down the drain.

Rubbing alcohol in any formulation helps cut through oils, especially petroleum oils which are harder than biological oils to cut through, and just evaporates away into nothing so it rarely leaves any sort of residual gunk in your greywater... but I wouldn't go pouring straight rubbing alcohol on your garden because it has a high desiccant factor (it dries things out), which is also why it's not so great for cleaning wood surfaces.

Hydrogen peroxide is slightly acidic, not so much that it makes a difference unless it's super-concentrated though. Hydrogen-peroxide straight out of the bottle is a potent disinfectant, but the effect doesn't last very long. However, hydrogen peroxide rapidly decomposes into plain water and oxygen... so, by the time you drain the hot tub, or dump the laundry basin, you don't have to worry about what it's going to do to the garden (not that it would really hurt it anyway!).

Now, having said all that, if you need to or want to use chlorine bleach, borax, biological washing soda, or any other of the "no-no" cleansers as long as you capture that water separately and dispose of it somewhere that you don't want any plants to grow... like your paths and driveways.

Of course, periodically flushing your greywater system and irrigating your garden with rainwater or snow melt (which as close to pH neutral as we can naturally get) will help keep salts and other elements from building up in your garden soils and causing problems.

A Little Note on SOAP:

When I say soap, I mean soap... lye and fat. Any other cleaning product (with the exception of a saponin product like Laundry Nuts) that is not made of lye and fat is a detergent. Soap is basically just the fatty salts that are left over when the lye finishes reacting... the result of the process of saponification.

Real soap is mildly alkaline after it is properly aged... soap doesn't have to be pH neutral or pH-balanced to our skin (which means mildly acidic). In fact, in order to clean us properly, since our perspiration and body oils are mildly acidic, soap actually needs to be mildly alkaline. In a properly made and aged soap, there is no caustic lye left in the bar.

Lye in soapmaking is either sodium hydroxide (NaOH - red devil) or potassium hydroxide (KOH - potash), although sodium hydroxide is most commonly used and it's hard to find potassium hydroxide commercially (although you can make your own by leaching hardwood ashes). The biggest difference is that NaOH makes a hard bar, whereas KOH normally results in a soft gloopy "cream" texture (the original liquid soap). The type and amount of fat used in the recipe also affects the consistency, texture and lathering of the soap -- hard fat like beef tallow makes a harder bar (or very thick gloop) that barely lathers, and soft fats like olive oil makes a smooth liquid soap. Most NaOH soaps that use only oils are liquid soaps, and most soaps that use tallow or lard are bar soaps... although there are exceptions, I'm not going to get into soapmaking here either ;)  Keep in mind that all soaps lather poorly in hard water, but a soap doesn't have to lather to clean well (it's a psychological thing I think, needing to foam away the dirt!).

A Final Ecological Note:

If you aren't trying to reclaim your greywater for irrigation, and are just trying to disperse it so it can be soil treated, as long as your dispersal area is large enough, you probably don't have to worry as much about "salting the earth". But, if there is any possibility that you will produce so much greywater that it will cause excess runoff, or be washed by runoff before soil treatment is completed, and thereby contaminating nearby waterways... be mindful of the fishies! In that case, you may want to consider constructing an artificial wetland with appropriate aquatic plants and beasties to treat your greywater instead of just pouring it out or spraying it on the ground.