Monday, April 30, 2007

I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a green planet today

In our rush to become more green (and it is a rush), Wise Bread today reminds us of the law of unintended consequences.

From wikipedia:

The Law of Unintended Consequences is not a law in the strict scientific sense, but it is often quoted to encapsulate the idea that almost all human actions have at least one unintended consequence. In other words, each cause has more than one effect, including unforeseen effects.

If we plant tomatoes in our new garden, we'll enjoy the benefits of fresh sauce and fresh tomatoes all summer. The unintended consequence for this however is Rats. Plump juicy rats, all summer long. Yucko.

More relevant to the topic of going "green", what about these trace amounts of mercury in the CF bulbs? What effect will that have on us when all these CFs are improperly disposed of?

the law of unintended consequences [from wise bread]

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Our new 8.6088 × 10-5 Acre Garden

Okay, it's actually DW's garden -- but we acquired these two flower boxes, and the little lady couldn't be more excited. She went to the greenmarket this morning to look for some plants, but didn't find anything striking.

While she plans, have you any thoughts? What would you do to liven up this little piece of home?

Back on the Dating Scene... sort of.

DW and I were out to dinner a few weeks ago, sitting next to a couple of young lovers looking fresh in their courtship. I looked over and asked my wife, "are we on a date?" We debated a little bit, but she eventually provided the best reason we were not on a date: A date is something you plan -- We were merely out to dinner. And in NYC, that can happen too often to be considered a date by default. I mentioned that we should go out on a date. I thought it would be enjoyable, but would it feel phony?

Married date tip 1: Keep your cards close
So DW told me that she had make plans for us, and I said that I would take her on a date the next day. So Friday night she took me to our "date" restaurant Nikos (we went here the night we got engaged -- her ring lit up like a sparkler under the Christmas lights). We had a bottle of wine, some great conversation, and mouth watering Greek food. We got engaged on the 15th of the month, so we returned every 15th until our honeymoon.

We took a walk south after dinner, still not knowing where we were going. Passing the Loews at 68th street, I mentioned that I could probably pick up the Spiderman tickets I got for May 4th. Passing it by, she spins me around and whips out 5 tickets -- three for Spiderman, and two for that night. Surprise date movie! Woo hoo! Funny movie, a little gory, but very entertaining.

The date was fantastic. Have we gone to a movie and dinner before? Of course. So why was this anything worth mentioning? Not knowing the details brought a sense of surprise that made the night so exciting.

Married date tip 2: Invite your date up for some tofu
I said that I would try to make the date inexpensive -- maybe $10 a head or less, since we had a more costly date the night before. I knew that the weather wasn't going to be great, so I planned on indoor activities. We started with a trip to the American Museum of Natural History*, including comp tickets to the "Cosmic Collisions" space show. We got to see Audubon's Mammal drawings in a room that's reopened after some 15 years. And we ran through the dinosaurs (because can you really go to the AMNH without seeing dinosaurs??) Lots of fun, stayed about two hours, and then onto part two -- a little risky for my first date planning.

(* Truth be told, we renewed our membership that had lapsed -- while this took us beyond the $10 cap, I looked at it as an investment for rainy days or future Saturdates. You can get in with any donation -- $0.50 or $50)

For the second part of the date, we returned home. Home? That doesn't sound like much of a date. If we wanted to stay home, we could have not planned anything! The Yankees (DW's team) were playing Boston, so it would be a shame to miss it. It was playing on Fox, so I went out that morning and brought back some cracker jack, peppers and onions (we had some hot Italian tofurky sausage), peanuts in the shell and some Mike's Hard Cranberry Lemonade (not exactly stadium drink, but I was trying to woo my girl). The result? A carefully planned date at home can be a homerun. We had a great time, watched the game together (multitasking during our date = no second date), wore our hats and had the best seat in the house. She walked away with a free tattoo -- what a lucky gal.

DW's colleague has a standing date with her husband each Friday night. Babysitter for the kids, and out they go. I used to think it was a little silly, but now I can see how enjoyable it is, if not necessary at a certain point. Any other married folk out there have some good post-honeymoon dating tips? (, with each other, of course! :)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Better alternative to Nalgene?

From DW:

...I'm also thinking that maybe I should just get some type of nalgene bottle instead of buying the liter water bottles. I think reusing them is a good step, but I could do more...

DW is thinking that using all these water bottles (refilling, actually) is not the move, and is considering a Nalgene bottle. I know these have been a staple of America's educated granola-types for years, but I thought that there must be something better at this point. Plus, they're (petroleum-based) plastic, so I'd rather avoid them if possible. Of course, if it's the de facto standard, I might have to accept it.

Stainless steel seems like the obvious runner up, but I hate drinking water from metal - just doesn't taste right. And to get any insulation properties, we're going to have to add glass or bulk (for air). If you have a bottle you swear by, please let me know in the comments.

How do citydwellers plant trees? Hire someone!

I told you that DW came away from Al Gore's talk feeling like "what can we do as city dwellers?" We already use mass-transit every day, we don't drive, we have no control over our heating (cooling is another issue), and we can't plant trees. Actually, now we can! (And it doesn't mean digging holes in central park after midnight, an undertaking I would strongly discourage.)

DW found this last night -- I think from Oprah possibly. Here's an email I received from my wife :)
I think it sounds like a good ides, & it goes with my problem of how do city dwellers plant trees.

Thanks for looking at it. =)

Love you!
She's been wanting to get everyone trees (new baby, birthday, new home, marriage, heck -- arbor day???) but acknowledges that not everyone can buy seeds and plant a maple/elm/magnolia/birch/sycamore/etc. tree in their back yard. So this site will plant one for you, per month, for a membership of ten cents a day. Not bad!

If you have questions (and I want to do a little more research on these bold claims before I support) check out the Greendimes FAQ.

Financial Meltdown to Financial Freedom in One Year

Over at the simple dollar, Trent has posted the details about the financial meltdown he had about a year ago. He discusses the night he realized that his child was growing up in home swallowed by debt and the beginning of getting out of it. It's amazing to see where he is, a year later on his way to buying a home.

He's incredibly well read, and the site is filled with a wealth of information about cutting debt and getting your finances in order.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Violations? What violations?

Department of Buildings: The Harrison
Department of Buildings: The Linden

I found these link a few weeks ago, and I think about it every time I pass by the Harrison work site. They are DOB pages for the properties, complete with a list of violations and complaints. Nice to be able to see what's going on behind the post-no-bills boards.

What gets me is so many of the violations read like this: (Though this is a bit old, it's an actual complaint):

Received: 10/20/1999 14:47

Twelve days after the complaint. That's priceless. I'm waiting to find one like this:


If you want to search for a current building project/site, check out the NYC Department of Buildings site, and use the search feature on the right.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Take that, Fossil Fuels!" Sincerely, Compact Fluorescents

Happy Earth Day everyone! We spent earth day driving around -- which sounds worse than is is! We never drive (we don't have a car in NYC), but when we visit the family, we usually borrow the family car. So while we were driving, polluting the environment, we made the best of it.


Seen here are the fruits of our labor:
  • (4) 23w (100w) n:vision CF Bulbs
  • (6) 14w (60w) n:vision CF Bulbs (thanks multiple home depots!)
  • (2) 14w (60w) bulbs from brother in law (brand unknown)
  • (2) 26w (100w) GE Daylight bulbs
...and I stopped because I thought we might over buy. After all, these things last so long, it doesn't make sense to buy replacements for these right now. By the time one goes, it'll be affordable to buy LED lights anyway.

So we went around and replaced the bulbs in our overhead bulbs, our bathroom, our over-the-table light, and a bunch of accent/reading lights.


Hey, wait! Two of those aren't going to save me any energy consumption in my home! The two GE bulbs sucked me in with "daylight light quality" -- and I thought that meant "better light". The truth is, the light was horrible. They're going back to the store, but the other ones look great.

I also love to see the quality of the bulbs that the image took (thanks to the flash) -- the "whiter" bulbs are actually the better quality bulbs. For the "Reveal" line from GE, I do actually like their light better. But the fluoros... expensive is not better. The n:vision soft light line are superb, and not too expensive either.

And the results are in!
The power consumption of the incandescent bulbs: 770 Watts
The power consumption of the compact fluorescent bulbs: 204 Watts

The savings?
We reduced the amount of energy we consume in our home (on lightbulbs) by 74%, without having to change our habits. If today was any kind of indication, we are about to start the air conditioning season. This means we'll have to compare to last May's energy bill to see the savings.

There are also two added benefits to these long life, low wattage replacements. First, changing the bulbs in our overhead lights has once resulted in a near electrical fire due to the rickety-ness (and yeah, that's a word) of the unit, and there are two of them, each using three bulbs. I will be very glad not to have to get up on the stool with fingers crossed any time soon.

I also will be eager to see if the decrease in wattage (which relates almost directly to heat output) will make the window and fanless kitchen more bearable this summer. Maybe there will even be a noticable reduction in cooling needs.

What a great opportunity to help out the environment (and our pockets in the process!). If you're not using any CF bulbs yet, why not?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Free CF Bulbs? Happy earth day!

Whatever you do, get to a home depot on Earth day, April 22nd. Why?

FREE fluorescent lightbulbs - a very bright idea [wise bread blog]

"In honor of Earth Day (which is April 22nd if you didn't already know) Home Depot plans to give away over ONE MILLION compact fluorescent lightbulbs to anyone who visits a U.S. store."
Now that's some serious green to save you some green. Woot!

Green with Envy

An Inconvenient Truth, a recent Netflix arrival, went into the DVD player last night. DW and I watched about half of it before we were called to other responsibilities. We were fortunate enough to see Al Gore during a teaching conference here in NYC in March. The movie so far has been almost identical to his lecture, with a few extra personal stories thrown in. He was great in person, but if you've seen him live or seen the movie, you can skip the one you didn't see without feeling like you missed anything.

DW came away from the conference a bit depressed, since Gore spent very little time on telling us practical next steps. One could have left thinking we're really up a creek, and one could be right. I've always been a little interested in reusable or alternative energy sources -- Wired had a great article about flywheels years ago that I never got out of my mind. Essentially they're green ways of storing kinetic energy (a spinning cylinder in a frictionless vacuum), which can then be tapped to produce electricity. It's the kind of solutions that we'll never see mainstreamed while there's money to be made in coal and oil. It's really pretty sick.

So what can/have we done to make our meager little apartment more green? Well, we have no outdoor space of our own to set up wind generators or solar panels, so our efforts need to be indoor solutions.

  • We have replaced two bulbs with Compact Fluorescents [popular mechanics compares CF bulbs and traditional incandescents] ... come to think of it, I need to put that other one in a socket! Right now it is saving us in electricity bills but emitting no light either. I'd like to change over more but so many of our bulbs cast the main light for the room, and we've not seen great things when put over our dinner table.
  • We did get a flat screen TV. Hey, less heat energy wasted than CRTs, right?? Heh... :)
  • We are both great recyclers (a good habit best started young)
Hmmm.. I thought we were doing more. Next steps for me:
  • I want to start looking at phantom loads in our house that we can get rid of. Like that DVD player that hasn't worked for a year but is still plugged in?!
  • Find out which alternate energy providers are actually supplying green power to con ed and switch.
  • I still want to find the solution to make energy via pedal power, etc. Why isn't this in our house already? You'd think someone would have created a TV that only powers on when you supply the juice! Are we really that lazy?
I always leave a light on for the kitties before I go to work, but now it's a CF bulb, which they don't seem to mind. Well, if they do, at least they're not telling me.

How are you "greening" your apartment or home? Please let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

To Do: Finish Getting things Done (GTD)

According to my local Borders' search receipt/bookmark, it looks like I bought Getting Things Done almost a month ago, and have yet to finish it. It's funny how people sell books to those looking to manage their time, when it's the time to read the book they don't have. I have faith that the read will payoff in spades, assuming I get to the last page.

I try to read on the subway when I get the time, and Saturday morning I go through a few pages -- I'm just at the point where I can visualize what he's actually talking about. From the 43 folders GTD forum, It came as a great relief that not everyone implements the process during the first read, as I was beginning to get down on myself about it. I found it particularly difficult to set up an inbox on the 1 train during rush hour. I guess that won't be my home base for this implementation.

While I'm not done, sites like lifehacker and simple dollar don't let you get through a day without mentioning some great piece of GTD software, new GTD hacks, or some gotta-have-it gizmo like an uber-sexy space pen to go with my new hipster PDA.

I also am not about to run out and spend all my nickels on a file cabinet for something I may decide was not the best program for me. Looking for a low-cost solution was definitely a priority. That's why this post was such a relief:

How to Make a GTD System for About $20

$20 is something I can work with. After getting buying into the safety razor hype at the simple dollar, I need to watch my wallet from blog-lusting.

Anyway, I'm on page 144 -- I hope to be done in the next week or so. While I've been trying to do more 2-minute-or-less items as they come into my life (which has been helpful in increasing productivity) I'm eager to finish and begin the actual process. Until then, I'm just delaying gathering all of my open loops... God, what a frightening endeavor...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ask me about NYC

I haven't mentioned yet, but I really enjoy the simple pleasure of helping lost tourists. Despite their best efforts, there are a number of "lost tourist" signs:

  1. "the lost pair". One has their head in a map, the other looking around -- limited sharing of information.
  2. "The subway sign reader." This is funny to me, because "Wakefield bound XX train" means nothing to me. But if you're trying to get to the AMNH, then I can help.
  3. "The group with the upset alpha male." Sometimes it's wise to avoid this group, as alpha male may strike if he feels threatened. If necessary, talk to the oldest woman (the one with the map).
  4. "The Top 10'er." Most people are looking for NYC institutions, so that makes directions a little easier. I used to work near the Brooklyn bridge and not a day would pass without people standing by the subway holding a map and looking for a bridge (see "the lost pair"). For a long time I considered making business card sized maps to hand out or leave with the token clerk.
  5. "The Excuse me." Always the easiest -- they come to you and ask you for help.
Gotta love tourists though. They're usually the happiest people, happy just to be in the city. I sometimes think back to my first winter in the city, crossing the bridge for the first time, and walking EVERYWHERE. If you're planning to visit NYC or just have a tourism question, ask me in the comments. If I don't know the answer, I'll try and find out. It's a wonderful place to visit and live.

Friday, April 13, 2007

You'll never be rich as a teacher...

Growing up, there were four kids in my family. We always had food, electricity, clothes, amazing inexpensive outings (ie. camping, nature walks, etc), music lessons... I don't know how my parents didn't sell me to the gypsies after one look at my food bill, but I guess I should be grateful - I hear gypsies aren't the best chefs. Anyway, I definitely have a bit to learn from them about stretching a dollar.

"You'll never be rich as a teacher, but you'll never be poor." This was advice from my dad, also a teacher, about going into the profession of teaching. I started teaching as a new york city teaching fellow in 2002. I'm finishing up my fifth year in the New York City Department of ed. Due to corporate restructuring, I'm soon up for a change of scenery. More about that at a later date.

I am always looking for a chance to buy a home, but it comes as no great shock that two city teachers aren't going to drop 1.7 million on a two bedroom in our neighborhood. Maybe with the next contract, fingers crossed. Existing one-bedrooms in our neighborhood start at around 350k for a basic shoebox. Two bedrooms... well, let's say they're a bit more. Maybe 550+? I never see them even on the most pie-in-the-sky searches, so if I have to ask the price... well, you know the rest.

So I've been following a few finance 101 blogs these past few months, and thought I'd share them with anyone in the same boat.
They've already helped me to get my mind around money and savings, and hopefully you'll get something out of them too. - "Financial talk for the rest of us"
This guy must not sleep. He's always got great links and articles to share, and writes roughly 22 hours per day. All great stuff, and comments are usually filled with intelligent conversation. - "Living large on a small budget"
Like the last one, the titles really sucked me in. I haven't been following this as long, but it's also great stuff. Not updated as often -- about a post or two a day. - "Saving big bucks on baby stuff"
While we're not expecting, it didn't seem to hurt to get learned a little early. When everyone tells you that it's too expensive to raise a child in your hometown, you tend to get a little proactive in proving them wrong.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Linden, Harrison, and other names I won't give my child

New construction in our neighborhood is a-coming, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop them. The Harrison project tore down a former horse stable that people were trying to get landmark status. In all fairness, it was only being used as a parking garage so I can't say that I really have a spot in my heart for it. I only know that parking around me is going to stink that much more. Ugh.

The other building (linden) is going to take down two or three existing buildings, and then actually canter-lever over the next-door neighbor! That and being three times the height of anything near it... ugh once again.

I say ugh, but if any come through on the low-cost housing (teachers are eligible for the lottery), I wouldn't pass on the opportunity...

New York Sidewalk Astronomy

DW and I were walking home from a church event and passed two guys with radios and telescopes on 72nd and Broadway. They looked like they were looking to be friendly, so I made NY-Safe-eye-contact with one and he said "We're looking at Saturn, do you want to see?" I took a gander through his telescope, and sure enough, there's this little white dot with a white ring around it -- looked almost like a cartoon! He gives me a business card with "New York Sidewalk Astronomy" and a slew of other info (including a distance chart for all the planets on the flip side). It made me wonder if there were other corners of the city that night with amateur astronomers sharing this amazing view with other new yorkers. Great opportunity for kids too. :)

If you're interested, there were two links on the card, so here they are:
NY Sidewalk Astronomy
Amateur Astronomers Assoc. of NY

Posted picture used under creative commons license from Flikr user Waifer X.

"In a world, without affordable housing..."

My wife and I are residents in Manhattan's Upper West Side. We love it, and would hate to leave it. But we're both teachers and don't exactly make the bank that our neighbors do. So this blog will chronicle our journey, living in the UWS, looking to start a family, and trying our darnedest not to get priced out of our neighborhood.