I must admit, I am somewhat embarassed by most natural/organic food stores and sections in grocery stores. And obviously not because of the organic food, but because the shelves full of homeopathic “remedies” are indefensible.
Most people don’t know what homeopathy actually is. The idea is very simple: if you have an ailment, you find some substance that causes symptoms similar to those of the ailment, dilute it in water to a minuscule, barely- or not-detectable level, and then… take it as a remedy for the ailment. Why does this work? First, placebo effects can be very real. Second, it doesn’t. And in some cases it does active harm because it prevents people from seeking an actual treatment.
Homeopathic claims are well-established quackery. The concentrations that are used often ensure that not a single molecule of the original substance is even present in the water. No, the water molecules do not “remember” anything about the intention of the homeopath. They’re just molecules of water, nothing special — and no curative effects. It’s not that the mechanism is unproven, it’s that current scientific knowledge precludes the operation of any conceivable mechanism.
So homeopathy is not a natural remedy because it is no remedy at all. I’m sure plenty of supposed natural remedies are placebos as well, but at least there is a possible mechanism — plants contain numerous substances and it’s entirely possible that some of them have an effect on the condition for which they are used. There are plenty of well-established plant medicines, including many that have made the jump to purified pharmaceuticals (e.g. willow bark to aspirin). When you have a cold, it’s a better bet health-wise and certainly more pleasant to have chicken soup or tea with honey and lemon than any homeopathic placebos.
My concern is that association with homeopathy and related quackery makes a bad name for other alternative, but vastly more legitimate items that are to be found in natural food stores.
Hybrid buses seem to be all the rage these days in many cities — and including Grand River Transit. If hybrid buses make sense, then why are there no hybrid garbage trucks?
Especially when operating suburban-type routes, garbage and recycling trucks make very frequent stops. This means they lose quite a lot of energy to braking, which could and should be recaptured. From each of their frequent stops, they have to accelerate their massive weight — and here an electric motor would do a much better job than a diesel one, I would think.
As with buses, the hybrid drive should make the diesel engine last longer and of course improve fuel use. In addition, there is the significant external benefit of lower diesel emissions and, especially, less noise. Garbage trucks struggling to accelerate with their diesels is a truly awful sound in the mornings.
So hybrid power makes sense for garbage trucks at least as much as it does for buses. Why aren’t they on the roads, then? My uninformed guess is that it has to do with them being owned and operated by private companies as opposed to the public transit operators that buy hybrid buses. GRT’s hybrid buses cost around 50% more than the regular ones, and that probably has something to do with it as well.
Upon investigation: within the last year or two such trucks have appeared, not just in hybrid electric form, but also as hydraulic hybrids. The industry group Calstart has a Hybrid Truck Users Forum that is working on hybrid refuse trucks, and impending U.S. government emissions standards seem to be pushing manufacturers in this direction. New York City is trying out a few competing versions, and will probably set the example for others. With increased demand, competition and scale will drive down costs, and I suspect hybrid garbage trucks will become the norm for new purchases within a couple of years.
Somewhere along Highway 8 between Cambridge and Hamilton, I thought I glimpsed a weird-looking old tricycle / lawn-mower. Using a bicycle to make it easier to mow with a reel mower seemed like a terrific idea. To my surprise I found that such a thing appears to have never been mass-produced. What I did find, however, was a gallery of such bicycle lawn mowers at TreeHugger. If you are handy then these are apparently not too difficult to construct.
Lawn mowers (and their small-engine ilk) are the sources of some of the most annoying but ubiquitous sounds in all places with lawns, so I am all for people replacing them with quieter bicycle mowers — or even just regular reel mowers. Of course, they also don’t stink up the neighborhood, and I suspect they’re probably a fair bit safer.
It may seem like some sort of contradiction, but it’s legit and ridiculously simple. Find any flavor of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap — which is fully organic and fair trade certified. Then take a foaming hand soap dispenser (the ones from Method are nice), fill it perhaps 1/8th full with Bronner’s soap, and fill the remainder with water. That’s it.
You can use one of the scented varieties, or just get the basic one (called Baby Mild) and add some essential oils yourself if you like. Dr. Bronner’s soap comes in large containers that are relatively inexpensive, and you don’t need very much of it for any of its numerous uses. It certainly works out cheaper than any of the chemical-laden cleansers/washes that are sold at the same concentration in which they are used.
Apart from the cost and ingredient sourcing, this does make for a pretty nice hand soap, in my opinion.
The streetcars that crisscrossed North American cities and towns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were generally built and run by private companies, and operated at a profit. With the rise of the private automobile and due to other factors, they were no longer able to turn a profit, even in the cities in which streetcars were not deliberately run into the ground. I don’t think cities realized at that time that the infrastructure of the streetcar lines may have actually been worth paying for — and not just something to be allowed if paid the usage fees by streetcar companies. And so the infrastructure was swept away with the streetcars, which paved the way (no pun intended) for the downturn of urban areas and boosted suburb development.
Fast forward to now. Many people still participate in discussion of, and decisions about transit in North America without understanding that transit is not just about moving people effectively. From such a point of view, it can make sense to advocate for high-frequency buses and not much else in many cases. (Of course, there are also factors such as comfort and simplicity to consider.)
The other side of transit is infrastructure. Transit infrastructure, generally rail-based, changes the fabric of its surroundings. It transforms the geography, and attracts disproportionate development to its stations or corridors. Once built, it is taken as a permanent and reliable connection and short-cut between disparate places. It is visibly in place, a financial and social investment that is both useful and that cannot be easily picked up and moved. In other words, it is infrastructure. And such infrastructure is central to reclaiming an urban landscape.
We should stop talking about just transit, and start talking about transit infrastructure. The way discussions are framed makes a difference, and currently discussion about transit allows the ignorance of all the implications of transit beyond the movement of people. The only way to build liveable cities in North America that are not car-dependent is by building strong transit infrastructure. Transit can only follow, while transit infrastructure leads.
Yesterday I took the iXpress bus from Uptown Waterloo to Conestoga Mall (with only four stops in between). In those 20 minutes I counted around 130 minor rattles of the bus, and 80 major rattles. So on average, that’s around a rattle every 6 seconds, with a major one every 15 seconds. It’s not surprising why it’s difficult to read on a bus, and why headaches are a frequent result of the ride.