Tip: Use your charcoal ash to reduce trash odor and kill pests

Have you ever had one of those strokes of brilliance that happened entirely by accident? One of the longstanding problems I’ve had as a homeowner has been the disgusting nature of our outdoor garbage barrels.

We get trash pickup every two weeks, a 96-gallon trash barrel and two recycling barrels of the same size. We also don’t have a garage, so the barrels sit in the sun on the side of the house. You can imagine what it’s like after two weeks in the hot, summer sun. It’s disgusting. Not only does it smell, but the barrels are literally crawling with maggots. It’s so veery disgusting. (I hate maggots.) After every pickup, I used to have to hose down the trash barrel to clean it out.

Another fact about our home: When we grill, we grill exclusively on charcoal, not propane. I love the taste and smell of charcoal on grilled food and charcoal grilling is something I’ve become very good at. I also grill a lot in the summer, as often as the weather and other factors allow. This means I go through a lot of charcoal and create a lot of ashes. I used to dump them in an out of the way place in the backyard, but that got messy after a while so I just began dumping it straight into the trash barrel. It turns I should have been doing that all along.

Ever since I began dumping the ashes in the barrel, the problems of smell and pests have dramatically lessened. I never see maggots any more before or after pickup and while you can smell the trash right next to the barrel and when you lift the lid, it doesn’t waft over the whole side of the house and down the driveway like before.

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Tesla Solar Panels: One Year Later

I wrote a long post last year about our saga getting solar panels installed on our house and approved for activation by the local electrical utility.1 While the panels were installed in the spring of 2018, we weren’t able to turn them on until August 2018. So one year later, how is it going?

Pretty awesome, to be blunt. In July 2018, our last full month on the grid, we used about 1 ,200 kWh of electricity from the utility, costing us about $286 in charges2.

This July 2019, our solar panels covered all of our electricity usage (in a massive heat wave) and generated an excess of 500 kWh to put back in the grid, generating a credit of $100. The Tesla solar panel lease is about $130, meaning we paid about 1/10th the amount for electricity this July over last.

Our current total credit balance for the year is about $450 so far and if current trends match last year’s, we should be on track to cover most, if not all, of our winter usage.3 I am very, very happy with this.

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I’m an Expert at Working from Home

I have worked from home part-time (i.e. telecommuting) or full-time for 12 of the past 23 years. I’ve done so as a single guy and as a married guy with homeschooled kids about. I’ve done so as a full-time virtual worker (i.e. no home office), as an employee of an organization where I worked several days in the office and several at home, and as essentially a sole proprietor (not really, but close enough). So I have some experience with the idea.

I did the commute to work from the suburbs to Boston, from suburbs through Boston to the other side, and from suburb to suburb and I have absolutely zero desire to get back in my car every single day and sit in that mess five days per week. This is why I wholly support the new focus by those in both government and the private sector on encouraging more telecommuting.

When I worked for Mass. Citizens for Life, I was required to drive into the office in Charlestown three days per week, which was torture, because I sat in stop-and-go traffic on the way in and on the way out, sometimes taking more than two hours to get home, and it was completely unnecessary. There was nothing in the office that I needed to be there for. For most of my time working there, only one other employee worked in the office and we had completely separate functions. Some days we said hello and goodbye. Most days I didn’t do a single thing that I couldn’t do from home, often more efficiently because I have a better computer at home. And yet, every day I drove in I contributed to traffic congestion and pollution and the consumption of gasoline and took up a spot in the parking lot and so on.1

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The Lone Pundit and the Archdiocese of Boston

Have you ever noticed that reporters tend to go to the same pundits when reporting on particular subjects and sometimes rely on a single pundit to comment? And those stories often seem tailor-made for that pundit to comment on?

So in today’s Boston Herald, the reporter goes to Peter Borre of the so-called Council of Parishes, a tiny organization that purports to represent Boston Catholics, but which apparently has a tiny membership and almost no public footprint1, to comment on the “news” that the Archdiocese of Boston has hired a consultant to help with parish fundraising.

I worked in the Archdiocese of Boston’s fundraising arm for several years and then in a parish for several more. I am well aware of the deficiencies in fundraising in the Archdiocese. I also know that dioceses hiring consultants to help parishes with increased offertory campaigns or capital campaigns is as run-of-the-mill as hiring waste disposal firms to take away the trash. This is not news and one wonders why it is that the Herald decided this was news and perhaps whether the reporter called the pundit or the pundit called the reporter.

The Archdiocese of Boston has hired a fundraising agency to boost donations for parishes — an expense that shouldn’t be necessary with all the employees raising money in the finance department, a Catholic Church watchdog said Tuesday. … Borre told the Herald, “The use of an outside firm surprises me. They have salaried people in the finance department who are supposed to be pretty good at fundraising.”

Borre’s complaint is off-base. Fundraising doesn’t happen in the finance department. Fundraising is a separate function done by Boston Catholic Development Services, a department of the archdiocese which does fundraising for the clergy health and retirement fund, Catholic schools, and the annual Catholic Appeal that funds the operations of the Archdiocese.2 They also provide fundraising services and assistance to related Catholic entities within the Archdiocese, like parishes. There are definitely criticisms that can be leveled against the fundraising practices of the archdiocese and questions raised about the relative size and expense of BCDS compared to their results, but neither the reporter or the pundit come close to those.

You could also point out that lack of funding is not primarily a problem of extracting more money from the people left in the pews, but one of evangelization and discipleship (i.e. not more dollars per person, but more persons at the same dollar level).

But this Herald article is bunk, a criticism of a common and standard practice, and its reliance on a self-described Catholic Church watchdog is deceptive and religion reporters need to do a better job than this.

  1. They have a Facebook page with almost no followers and very little activity and a domain name that doesn’t have a web site. And their Facebook page links approvingly to information about schismatic parishes.
  2. Unlike some dioceses, the annual Appeal does not fund Catholic Charities. They do their own fundraising.

Camping Vacation in Gettysburg

We just returned from our summer vacation in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania over the weekend. It was a great choice of place to visit for several reasons, but it was also not without its hardships. (Incidentally, if you want to read Melanie’s take on our trip, check out her blog posts on it, which she’s writing about day-by-day. We also talked about the trip on our podcast, Raising the Betts1.)

We were supposed to visit Gettysburg for a day or so last September at the end of our two-week, 11-state family reunion trip, but Ben got sick on the way to there from the Great Smoky Mountains and we had to cancel at the last minute. But we promised the kids that we would go back another. I”m not sure why we picked Gettysburg in the first place; we’re not especially Civil War buffs, but it might just have been halfway from Tennessee to home. In any case, we’re much more interested in the Civil War now.

Heat and Other Weather Woes

Let’s get the not-so-good aspects out of the way first. We camp in tent on most of our vacations, partly because we enjoy the outdoors and mostly because we’re a family of 7 without a lot of money. Camping in a tent costs about a fifth of renting enough hotel rooms or getting an AirBnB. But the downside, of course, is that you are at the mercy of the weather. And we picked the wrong week to visit central Pennsylvania. Temperatures all week were in the 90s and at night, it was humid and still hot. Luckily, our new tent has sides that zip way open to provide excellent ventilation, but hot and humid is still hot and humid. And during the day, we had to stick close to the air-conditioned car. If I had to do anything more strenuous than sit and read a book, I ended up drench in sweat and gross. And with the forecast showing even hotter temperatures on Friday night and record heat on Saturday, we decided we’d seen most everything we’d wanted to see and cut our trip short by a day and went home on Friday. My takeaway is that we don’t camp in July or August unless we’re in the mountains or by the sea.

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When Moderate is Bad

On the front page of today’s Boston Globe, there’s an article about Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, which complains that despite a hard swing to the left in the Democratic Party and his commanding reelection landslide win 1, he remains entrenched in the middle.

A couple of observations. First, When a Republican professes to be a moderate (i.e. liberal on social issues), the Globe calls it “taking a principled stand”, but when a Democrat professes to be a moderate (i.e. basically middle-of-the-road liberal on social and fiscal issues), it’s called “slow to take bold steps.”

Second, as I read the article, I’m left wondering where the news hook is. Why this article now? There is no particular policy initiative in question, no particular criticism from other Democrats. In other words, it’s either someone talking on background to the Globe who encouraged them to write this or the Globe’s editors themselves advocating for a harder turn to the left.

In fact, the reporter frames every issue in terms as if the most obvious correct course is the more liberal, the harder left one. There’s not even an acknowledgement that there are different ways of reaching the same goals, just the “way of courage” and the “way of playing it safe.”

Such is the state of political discourse here. We are becoming ever more radicalized. Our politicians are being dragged to the far left and the far right because only total adherence to the purity of ideology can be tolerated.

I don’t particularly like Marty Walsh, but I don’t live in the city and so I don’t have to worry about voting for or against him. But some of his policies seem to be benefiting the city. Many others I think are misguided or just plain wrong. Either way, I would prefer that those in power don’t pander to the extremes of their party, the way the presidential candidates are, but respond more to those in the vast middle who are evidently less vocal and less heard.

  1. But come on, when was the last time a sitting Boston mayor faced any kind of real electoral challenge? Decades!

Completing Crossword Puzzles on iPad with Apple Pencil

I’ve long been a crossword puzzle fan. When we were first married, Melanie and I would do the puzzle at dinner together as a fun couple activity. But as children came along that became impossible to continue at dinner. And then when I quit getting the physical newspaper in favor of a digital version, I gave it up entirely. But last year, when I started working from home, I decided to start doing the crossword during lunch during the week and on Sundays during brunch. At first, I printed them out from the digital newspaper and used a pencil, but that used too much paper and ink and seemed wasteful. But what if I could do the puzzle with my Apple Pencil on iPad?

Sure, there are plenty of crossword puzzle apps for iPad, from ones of questionable value up to the New York Times daily puzzle, but they all seemed overkill since I already had a newspaper subscription and they all used frustrating keyboard interfaces for completing them instead of the natural writing of the Pencil. So here’s what I did, first in my description of the steps and then with a video to illustrate.

First, I subscribe to the Boston Globe e-Paper1. Yes, the Globe website has a puzzle, but it’s not downloadable; it’s the same “complete it in a window” as the ones I didn’t want. However, the e-Paper is available both as an app in a web browser and as iOS and Android apps.2

Second, you should own the GoodNotes app for iOS (and an Apple Pencil). This is an excellent writing and notetaking app that is useful for a lot more than just this puzzle function, but it’s part of my workflow here.

Second, I open the app each day, go into today’s edition and go to the comics section.

Third, I tap on the crossword itself, which opens it in Article view, which is a full-page view.

Fourth, I hit the Print icon in the top right, but I don’t print it. This part is key: Do a reverse-pinch3 in the print preview window in the middle of the screen. This will open another screen that will have a Share icon in the top right.

Fifth, tap the Share icon and the Share sheet will open. If you do not see an option to “Copy to GoodNotes” on the top line here, keep scrolling to the right until you do. Tap on “Copy to GoodNotes.”

Sixth, GoodNotes should now open. If this is the first time doing this, you can import the puzzle as a new document. On subsequent imports, you can choose to import into the same notebook. If that notebook is open, you can append it right to the end or you can “Change Location” and select the correct notebook to append to.

Seventh, you are now ready to complete your puzzle. Obviously, unless you have a very large iPad, you will need to pinch and zoom to read the clues and write in the little boxes, but that’s what iPads are good at. Frankly, it’s superior to pencil and paper puzzles since when I erase, it never smudges and I can always ensure it’s at least legible as my handwriting allows.

Obviously, this can work with any puzzle (or any document that you want to write on really) as long as you have a way to print it on iOS. Once you have it in the print dialog, then turning it into a PDF that gets sent to GoodNotes is the key.

Enjoy!

  1. This is the first caveat: You have to be a paying subscriber. Support local journalism. Read the paper.
  2. Second caveat: the iOS app is of spotty quality. Sometimes they forget to format it correctly so one of these steps doesn’t work. In that case, I have to use the website to “print the PDF”.
  3. Reverse-pinch: Place two fingers (thumb and forefinger usually) together on the screen and then move them apart, like you’ve got some taffy on your fingers and you’re stretching it.
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