rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
We've been using Ecotricity as our power supplier for a couple of years now (prompted by [livejournal.com profile] furrfu  and [livejournal.com profile] monkeyhands), and moved to them because they explicitly invest their profits in new generation capacity. They also price-match the "standard" regional tariffs, which meant we could get cheaper by shopping around the confusopoly of energy tariffs, but not by much, and we decided the extra was worth paying for sticking to our values and not having to shop around every year.

Now, they are making a small but symbolic reduction in energy prices, so they will be a few pounds cheaper than the local standard tariff.  Because now they are generating about 35% of what they sell from wind, so they are less tied to the global gas / oil / coal prices which ultimately determine the price of conventionally-generated electricity.  And to quote from the customer email I got, "We intend to stretch the gap between us and the conventional energy companies as we achieve greater levels of energy independence."

This to me is the whole point of the endeavour, of going with Ecotricity and not the Big Six, of getting solar panels on roofs everywhere, and heat pumps where we can: becoming less dependent on burning fossil fuels for power.  And now we're seeing that in hard cash terms - a small step but I think the beginning of something quite exciting.

Another interesting nugget about Ecotricity which I found buried on page 18 of the 2012 progress report (pdf) is their approach to customer service: 

"We don't have a call centre. You call our office and we answer the phone (quickly). And the person you speak  to is able to make decisions and solve problems on our behalf. ... We deal with nine out of ten queries within one call, so our customers rarely need to call back. We never set our staff targets for the number of calls they handle or how quickly they deal with them.  It’s about letting them do the right thing for the customer."

This reminded me of the stuff David Boyle repeatedly says about "human-scale" services and particularly this rant about call centres and IT.  I think he's worth reading, even if I do think his dislike for "digital by default" is misunderstanding the nature of the GDS project.

[I'll also say that it's a pleasure to have the bills arrive on time now - we were with Ecotricity for a while in 2005-07 and the bills always arrived late and we had massively overpaid when we finally switched away.  But no complaints this time around!]
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
Oh yeah, what we're getting in today's messed about delivery: the most energy-efficient tumble-dryer I could find - a Bosch with a heat pump.  I feel a bit guilty about the extra energy use, but we have been finding it really hard to hang up the bedding to dry inside, especially last winter, which means we don't wash our bedding anywhere near as much as we'd like.  (Guest bedding is of course always fresh!)

The dryer is a condensing one that doesn't need a vent fitted anywhere, and it's going to live in the garage as a mild deterrent to using it routinely.  But on suspicion we might start using it routinely anyway, I decided to get the most efficient I could, even if it was more expensive.

(This is the last bit of cat-related admin, as the money came from the self-insurance pot of savings for covering vet fees, which we no longer need.  I cancelled the monthly payment into that pot last week.  I am still finding it strange not to be tripped up on the corridor, and not having to shut the kitchen to defend against intrusion.)
rmc28: (uterus)
Silicone cups

There's a "hilarious" Amazon review of the Mooncup being retweeted all over my timeline at the moment.  I didn't find it that funny, but mostly because I felt it was suffused with an attitude of "what kind of CRAZY person uses THIS?" and I don't usually enjoy having my decisions laughed at for being crazy.    It prompted me to dig out the review I wrote 8 years ago, which reminded me that I too found the first few times a bit challenging.

I used the mooncup regularly until conceiving Charles.  Then I had a long gap without periods at all, thanks to my contraception.  When I started trying to conceive again, my periods returned, and were much more painful without the pill.  The mooncup's size and solidity seemed to trigger cramps on insertion and removal and so, reluctantly, I decided to stop using it.


Washable pads


I bought a load of Lunapads with a friend, sharing the shipping costs from the USA.  With stunning timing, they arrived just after I had got pregnant with Charles, but they came in quite useful for the post-birth bleeding, and then got put away again for five years. 

The lunapad consists of a cloth pad similar in shape to a disposable pad, but with poppers to secure it to the pants.  There are two elasticated strips which allow extra cloth liners to be inserted if more absorbency is needed.  They are softer and more pleasant against the skin than disposable pads, but also bulkier and less comfortable to walk or cycle in.   I also found that the liners would come out of the elastic too easily and stick to me and I had to be careful when going to the loo or I would lose them.

Laundry was easy enough: for the post-birth bleeding, I used to soak them in the nappy bucket; last year I just threw them in with my regular laundry.

I found them less likely to leak than disposable pads, but with the same problems of coverage (unless I use extra-long pads, I end up staining my underwear) and messiness/smell, not to mention incompatible with swimming.  Fundamentally I don't like pads much - tampons or the mooncup keep my blood much more contained, and though I never smell other women's periods I can smell my own and I dislike it.

If I liked pads better in principle, I would have bought some Party In My Pants pads to replace the Lunapads, as reviewed here by [personal profile] staranise.  They seem to use better textiles technology to solve the bulkiness issues I have with Lunapads, as well as actively encouraging "just throw them in the laundry with eveyrthing else".   Getting a set for post-birth bleeding would be extravagant but I might spoil myself and do so anyway.


Sponges


[livejournal.com profile] k245 alerted me to the existence of Jam Sponges, sold from the UK (I think I've seen them in Boots) and thus without enormous shipping charges.  I also like that they don't have a moon-based product name.

Usage:
Wet the sponge, squeeze it, insert it.  To remove it, you bear down until you can reach a bit of sponge, which generally provides a good grip to pull it out.  It's easiest to remove when it's full.  If you are somewhere with a handy basin, you rinse and squeeze it out and then can reuse it.  Otherwise you can put it in a zip-lock bag and deal with it later.  They are much more absorbent than tampons, and so I found it was always possible to save rinsing them for when I was at home.  For heavy flow, I used two sponges.

Cleaning between periods consists of soaking in boiling water with a bit of antiseptic (e.g. teatree oil) and then leaving to dry somewhere warm, e.g. in direct sunlight.

I found the sponges easier to insert / remove than the mooncup, and no messier.  I got similar "go all day or all night" performance from them: no faffing at work, no worrying about leaking in bed.  They didn't trigger cramps the way the mooncup did and I found the cleaning regime easier than boiling the mooncup.  They don't last as long as the mooncup - the Jam Sponge site reckons about a year - but I felt they'd make a good long-term solution for me.  (And then I got pregnant on the next cycle, so I'll not be able to test that for a while.)


Problems:
It took me a while to figure out the right way to insert them to prevent leakage.  The sponges have a long axis and a short axis, and I started off inserting the sponge like a tampon, long axis up the long axis of my vagina, and then I wondered why it was leaking despite obviously not being full.  The trick is to have the long axis across the vagina: the sponge compresses amazingly when wet and will then expand to fill the space available.  After figuring that out, I had no leaks.

The pretty red bag supplied isn't actually waterproof, you need a small zip-lock bag inside / instead of it to carry around either clean wet sponges or dirty sponges waiting to be cleaned.  A couple of zip-lock bags are also supplied, but again I needed to learn from experience.

rmc28: (charles-blocks)
Professor MacKay's talk on Tuesday was about the feasibility of replacing the energy infrastructure of the UK so that we no longer use fossil fuels and emit CO2. It could be summarised as "electrify everything" i.e. cars, heating, etc and then replace the electricity generation with alternatives to fossil fuels.

To quote his executive summary:

"The electrification of transport and heating of course requires a substantial increase in electricity generation. The five plans supply this required electricity using five different mixes of the carbon-free options. The mixes represent different political complexions, including plan G, the Green plan, which forgoes both “clean coal” and nuclear power; plan N, the NIMBY plan, which makes especially heavy use of other countries’ renewables; and plan E, the Economist’s plan, which focuses on the most economical carbon-free choices: onshore wind farms, nuclear power, and a handful of tidal lagoons."

After the talk, he said in conversation (and I've confirmed this by email) that the total cost would be of the order £300 billion, plus or minus a bit depending on exactly which combination of electricity generation we went for.

Does that sound a familiar sort of number? Yes, that's the same order of magnitude as the money recently pledged by Gordon Brown to stop our economy melting down. We can stop the UK emitting CO2 for the cost of the banking bailout.

Ok, that overlooks the key difference that we'll very probably get all the bailout money back. On the other hand a nice injection of public spending on infrastructure is supposed to be a good way of getting out of recession. Also we can't spend all £300 billion at once: £5000 per person spread over 10 years begins to look almost affordable.

Doing nothing about CO2 is not a cost-free option. I'm still stuck halfway through Six Degrees, but the 4-degrees-warmer world is really pretty grim. If we do nothing about CO2 emissions, I will probably be lucky enough to die of old age before it gets very bad. Charles probably won't.

The Professor said the only other public spending on the same order of magnitude is the Iraq War. One could do an interesting compare-and-contrast about the relative benefits of the banking bailout, eliminating CO2 emissions and fighting a war in Iraq.
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
I've spent a lot of the last two days in bed, or at least with my feet up. Charles, having got over last weekend's bug, promptly got whatever I had, and we've both spent a lot of time sitting around looking pale and tired. Charles has exercised his option to revert to extra breastmilk, and consequently I am simultaneously ravenous and queasy most of the time. It's almost like being pregnant, without the heartburn and being kicked in the ribs and bladder. Tony's been a bit under the weather, but as far as I can tell, less bad than me and Charles.

But we are getting better, and Charles has at least eaten some solid food today.

I felt, and Charles seemed, so much better this afternoon that I decided to give him a haircut with Jonny's trimmers. I did this in the summer and it went really well, because he watched Jonny do his own hair first. This time we didn't have that and I made the mistake of starting with a big obvious pass right down the middle of his head, and he hated it but I didn't want to leave it like that. So I insisted on finishing the job and it was all a bit of an upsetting battle. Bad decision really; I note for future reference that haircuts are a trivial reason for imposing my superior physical force, and next time he can just look silly for a bit and we'll all be much happier.

We are going to try to organise Charles getting to watch Tony's hair being cut the next couple of times that happens, so he can learn more about this whole haircutting concept.

This afternoon I finally watched the 3-part BBC series "Earth: The Climate Wars" which had been lurking on the PVR for weeks. The first episode traces the history of climate change concern from the "impending ice-age" ideas of the 1970s to today.  (One of the more interesting bits of historical footage was Margaret Thatcher giving a speech on climate change and how we were not landlords on this world, "but tenants with a repairing lease".)

The second episode was the most interesting, and dealt with the backlash of climate change skepticism, and how new data and new analyses attempted to respond to the criticism. Set among footage filmed at a climate change skeptics conference, it rather pointedly showed the difference between science "ok, that's a fair criticism, now let's find more data/re-analyse the existing data with that in mind" and dogma "your data doesn't show what we think, so it must be wrong/you must be committing fraud". One of the scientists said something along the lines that personal attacks on individual researchers means the skeptics have probably run out of attacks to make on the research itself.

Having established that the world is getting warmer and that human-released carbon-dioxide is the cause, the third episode looked at predictions of the future: how can we tell what this means for us, and how bad is it going to be?

Sadly, this series is no longer available on iPlayer, but it's already had a few repeats, and maybe it'll get released onto DVD like all the good BBC nature series.

On the climate-change theme, I'm currently about half-way through Six Degrees by Mark Lynas, which won the Royal Society Prize for Science Books this year. The "4 degrees" chapter was so scary I had to stop, and I haven't yet got up my nerve to carry on to 5 & 6 degrees. In the meantime, I've just added [livejournal.com profile] mark_lynas as a syndicated feed to LJ (and I'm quite astonished I'm the first one to do so).
rmc28: (glowy)
There's this idea being promoted that washing at 30°C rather than 40°C will help reduce power consumption. I am dubious about whether things will be cleaned well enough, especially given the advice "It is however recommended that towels, underwear, sportswear, baby clothes, all bedding, and heavily stained items still be washed at higher temperatures to ensure they get completely clean."

Currently I'm working my way through the draft of Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air, a book on sustainable energy by Professor David MacKay of the Department of Physics in Cambridge. It is an excellent facts-and-numbers-driven analysis. His debunking of the mobile-phone charger myth inspired me to do some calculation on "washing at 30".

The manual for our washing machine states that it uses 59 litres of water for a standard wash, and 0.5kWh of electricity. It is plumbed into both hot and cold mains, and for wash temperatures up to ~65°C it uses the house hot water rather than doing any heating itself. As a household, we do a nappy and a non-nappy wash most days of the week, nappies at 60°C and everything else at 40°C.

Non-nappy washes
For the sake of easy calculation, I'll call it 6 washes a week currently at 40°C, and 60 litres of water per wash. The specific heat capacity of water is 4.2 kJ/kg/K and water is handily 1kg/l.

60 kg x 4.2 kJ/kg/°K x 10°K = 2.52MJ per wash, so 15.12MJ per week.

Our water is heated by gas and we are billed for gas in kWh. 1kWh = 1000 J/s x 3600s = 3.6MJ.

15.12/3.6 = 4.2kWh per week. We are currently charged 2.574p/kWh inc VAT, so the saving would be a grand total of 11p per week, or £5.72 per year.

Either there is something wrong with my calculation or this is a fairly minimal effect on energy consumption.


Nappy washes
We wash the nappies at 60°C but strictly speaking, only the soiled nappies need to go at 60, the rest could go at 40 with the non-nappy washes. Without worrying too much about implementation, we could cut from 6 x 60°C washes per week to 3 x 60°C washes, and 2 x 40°C washes (we could probably eliminate one wash a week by mixing the wet-only nappies with other laundry).

Pleasingly, 3 x 60 x 4.2 x 20 is the same as 6 x 60 x 4.2 x 10, so we know that part of the answer already. What about saving 1 washload a week? If we assume the water is heated from mains cold at 10°C to 40°C then we have 1 x 60 x 4.2 x 30, which is half the previous answer. Plus we save the 0.5kWh of electricity which costs just under 11p/kWh.

So in total, we could save 22p per week by separating out the soiled nappies, and we could only do this by continuing to wash at 40 most of the time, so it's not additional to the 11p per week above.


Showers
Showers are also usually taken at about 40°C. Some quick experimentation with a measuring jug and the shower tells me that our shower flows at about 8 litres per minute. So if we shower for 7.5 minutes that's the same as one non-nappy washload. My guesstimate from our morning routine is that I spend 5-10 minutes in the shower and Tony spends 10-15 minutes. Plus Jason and Jonny take showers every day in the other bathroom, but I don't observe for how long. Our showers are both fed from the hot water tank and do no additional heating of their own.

If we assume an average of 10 minutes per adult per shower per day, that's 280 minutes of showers a week, equivalent to 37 washes at 40. The energy used by heating water for a wash at 60 is 5/3 that for a wash at 40 (heating from 10 to 60 rather than 10 to 40), so our current laundry is equivalent to 6 x 8/3 = 16 washes at 40 (16x5.5p=88p/week), less than half of the cost of showering. Without the nappy washes, it would be less than one-sixth (6x5.5p=33p/week).

Baby costs
Jonny asked just now "so how much does Charles cost then?" to which the answer is 6 nappy washes and 1 non-nappy wash per week.
Water heating is (6x5/3 + 1) x 5.5p = 60.5p/week.
Running the washing machine is 7 x 0.5kWh x 11p/kWh = 38.5p/week.
A total of 99p/week on baby laundry energy costs. Detergent costs are left as an exercise for the reader.
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
Thank you for all the interesting comments! I'm sorry it took me a while to respond to all of them, but Gmail helpfully started tagging all my comment notifications as spam shortly after the post.

The most clear conclusion, though only 3 of you were brave enough to tick it outright, was "Rachel, Tony & Charles are strange". That is, we are different from the majority of UK parents in the following ways:

1. We don't own a car, so we have no default travel option.

2. Although we do use hired or borrowed cars when that seems the best option, only one of us can drive (and it's the mother rather than the father).

3. We are comfortable using public transport, and have years of experience travelling together thereon to calibrate how much we can reasonably manage.

4. Most of our UK journeys are long-distance (and thus requiring more effort from the sole driver), between cities/towns well linked by trains, and with reasonable buggy-friendly urban bus provision. Our experience is that train+bus doesn't add much more time to each journey than the many necessary comfort stops when driving with the baby.

5. We live in a particularly compact, walking- and cycling-friendly city which shapes our expectations of how to get around.

6. All of the above constrain our purchases of luggage, baby equipment, in fact anything we might want to take on holiday, to the lightweight and portable.

7. We breastfeed and co-sleep, both of which cut down our required baby baggage considerably.

Because driving isn't the norm for us, when we do drive, we are probably more stressed than on trains/buses. Certainly I am more tired. These will both communicate themselves to Charles and affect his mood. I am also ignoring Charles for long periods in order to drive, and he's still clingier to me than to Tony. It's likely also that he's not terribly used to the car or the car seat, and the car seat is more restrictive than the buggy. He is also at a particularly wriggly phase and doesn't seem to sit still anywhere for more than five minutes unless restrained or asleep. I suspect the biggest improvement we could make to long-distance car journeys would be to have a second driver, both to give me a break and to give Charles more mummy-time. Perhaps when I'm feeling less traumatised about the last few long car trips, we can experiment if an appropriate journey comes up.

In any case, I am now much less puzzled about having to repeatedly defend not-driving-with-Charles, which was mostly the point of the exercise. Thanks for helping me examine my assumptions.
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
I was told today "you're very brave to come all the way from Cambridge with a baby on public transport", and answered honestly "it would have been much harder any other way". I keep coming up against this perception that cars are the easiest way to transport children, in complete contradiction to our experience. Either we are strange, or the vast majority of parents are self-deluding on this matter. Or, more charitably, encouraged into delusion by advertising, social expectation, and reluctance/unpreparedness to try the alternative.

[Poll #1133041]
rmc28: (glowy)
I have an email from 11 months ago where I wrote "[the pc] takes so long to boot up and down that I am *not* doing so every time I'm pulled away from it". That was when I was still running Windows. It would take 5-10 minutes from power-on to being able to do useful work. I think after that I did start getting it to hibernate rather than shut down, and that improved things, but it was still a great faff.

One of the things I noticed after switching to Ubuntu was the startup was much quicker. I timed it this morning and it takes 60s to get to the login screen, and then about 35s more after typing username and password to stop opening windows and restoring my previous state. It takes 30s to shut down.

All this means that I am much happier to shut down every night, and during the day if I know I'm going out, and as a result my computer has gone from being on pretty much all the time to about 70 hours a week or less, saving 98+ hours a week. I base that 70 hour estimate on a rough schedule of 2pm-10pm Mon-Fri, 8am-11pm Sat & Sun. It goes on later if Charles is demanding or we have other things to do, and of course once it is on, I am repeatedly and unpredictably drawn away from it at no notice.

I haven't got data for my new hardware yet, but using a cheap power meter from Maplin, I collected data on the old hardware before deciding to be rid of it. Among other things, the meter measured consumption in kWh and number of hours on. Following the timetable given above, the pc unit was drawing 130W and the monitor 80W. Being off for 100 hours a week saved 21kWh per week. Assume leave and weekends away mean I'm away from home 6 weeks of the year, that's 966kWh per year, assume a cost of ~10p per kWh (reasonable based on my bills during 2007) and that's nearly 100 pounds saved annually just by an improved start-up process.
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)

Public Information Warning


This is a review of a feminine hygiene product. It's going to mention blood and women's bits. If that's not the sort of thing you want to read, don't read on. Easy, eh?

icky girly stuff )

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rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
Rachel Coleman

September 2017

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