Gas station without pumps

2018 November 14

Large thermal mass

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:52
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Our poured-in-place concrete house has a very large thermal mass. We have not turned on the heat yet this year, but the temperature inside the house does not vary much. The outside temperature today varied from 38.1°F to 76.5°F (3.4°C to 24.7°C), but the inside temperature only changed from 58°F to 62°F (14.4°C to 16.7°C).  The outside temperatures are from a home weather station a couple of blocks away, and the inside temperature is from the thermostat, so they may not be identically calibrated, but both should be good to about ±1°F.

The breakfast room, where I do most of my work, fluctuates more than the thermostat, because the breakfast room gets bright sunlight once the fog burns off in the morning until about mid-day.  I’ve not measured the temperature where I sit, but I generally don’t need a sweater in the breakfast room until sunset.

We put off turning on the heat until it gets too uncomfortable in the house, even wearing sweaters. I expect that we’ll be turning on the heat around the end of November—at least, that’s what we did last year.

The natural gas we use costs about $100 a month for the four-to-five months a year when the heater is turned on, and about $30 a month the rest of the time (mainly for heating water, but also for the gas clothes dryer and the gas stove).  Switching from natural gas to electricity would be good for the environment (our local electricity is supposedly all from renewable sources), but would cost us a fair amount, both in replacing appliances and in increased energy costs—I don’t think we’ll be doing it in the next decade, unless electricity costs come down a lot or natural gas prices go up a lot.


2018 November 12

Network of Concerned Academics

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:27
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The rest of this post is copied from, who asked that the letter be reposted on other blogs:

We in the United States are facing a dangerous threat to our institutions of higher learning from a political climate dominated by anti-intellectualism and willful ignorance. For more than forty years, the academic community has been the target of a sustained campaign of demonization and defunding that is designed to undercut its legitimacy as a source of expertise and a haven for dissent. The structure of this anti-education movement is deep, wide, and coordinated and the attack is being intensified under the current administration. Almost every area of academic life is now at risk: whether the threats come from the insistence of outside groups pressuring universities to host speakers who seek to affront marginalized members of the university community and others; or the federal government’s attempts to ban Muslims, “Dreamers,” and undocumented students; or the underfunding of public higher education and scientific research; or, most recently, the state’s attempt to reject years of scholarly work on the complexities of gender identity. This is not only an American issue; the world’s universities are in danger of losing the intellectual distinction and freedom that they have represented and defended.

The Network of Concerned Academics will act as a hub to bring together all those seeking to address these threats to higher education.  The originality of the network is its outreach to the three groups—faculty, students, and administrators—who are not usually in direct conversation with one another; indeed they are sometimes at odds.  Our goal is to unite these diverse constituencies in the face of unprecedented attacks on the entire enterprise of higher education, by providing information and updates on unfolding events, and by developing concrete strategies and blueprints, among them models of best practices for all those who are confronted with new kinds of provocations and threats.  The website is now live at

The effectiveness of this Network depends on its ability to bring together and activate people who are committed to preserving the university as a space in which diversity of perspectives, academic expertise, and critical thought can flourish. Please post this letter and the NCA link on your websites and blogs, and please inform your constituencies about this new resource.

We appreciate your help in spreading the word about the launching of the NCA website, and welcome your contributions to its resources and conversations.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the NCA by email or at .

2018 November 10

Smoky air

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:23
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The air in Santa Cruz is full of smoke today, to the point where it is unhealthy (the EPA site AirNow gives the PM2.5 level as 175, well into the red “unhealthy” range).  This smoke is not coming from our local fire (17 acres and 93% contained), but from the Camp Fire 240 miles away.  The last time we had such bad air it was due to smoke from the Mendocino Complex fires back in July—we seem to be downwind of the worst fires in California since they started keeping good records in 1932  (the Mendocino Complex fires burned the most acres, and the Camp Fire, which is still only 20% contained has burned the most buildings).  Being downwind is bad, but is still a lot better than being in the middle of such fires.

Of the top 20 California fires for size, five have been in the past five years.  Of the top 20 for buildings destroyed, seven have been in the past five years.  Fire (not earthquakes) has always been California’s biggest danger for property damage.  Neither fire nor earthquakes lead to much loss of life, though smoke probably increases the deaths from respiratory illness, which is California’s fifth largest cause of death (after heart disease, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease).  Accidents are a much bigger risk for injury and death than fires are, being the sixth largest cause of death in California.  [Mortality info for California from the CDC:]

I worry that climate change has lead to California being drier, so fires spread faster and further, and that the situation is just going to get worse. Population pressure and poor control of ignition sources (automobiles and power lines mainly) has resulted in very high probabilities of human-started fires that spread fast.  I wonder what the cost would be of requiring all electric lines to be underground—astronomical, but how bad compared to the cost of the fires prevented over the next 20 years?

Several of my close relatives have been affected by fire recently: my brother and sister had to evacuate in Colorado for the Cold Springs Fire 2 years ago (and almost all the trees on my brother’s property were burned, though the fire split around his house and the buildings were spared), my son had exams postponed at UCSB and came home early last year because of the Thomas fire, and my niece’s family have evacuated this week for the Woolsey fire (the fire perimeter is currently about 1000 feet from her house). More distant relatives lost a house in the Tunnel fire in Oakland in 1991.

I am fortunate to live in Santa Cruz, which is moister than much of California and has not (so far) suffered from any really large fires.  I do worry about some parts of town where there are a lot of blue-gum eucalyptus trees (known as “torch trees” to fire fighters, because of their high resin content)—those areas could burn very fast and spread fire to the rest of town.  Most of the blue-gum eucalyptus trees are protected by the city’s heritage tree ordinance, which strikes me as a bit misguided—the city should be actively trying to replace those trees with more fire-resistant ones that are native to the area.

2018 November 7

Santa Cruz bike lockers

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:21
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When i was at the farmers’ market downtown today, I chatted for a little while with a bicyclist taking his bike out of one of the bike lockers.  He was amazed at how under-utilized the bike lockers are—he never has any trouble finding an empty one to use.

It is rather amazing, considering that parking in the lockers is much safer than parking in an exposed bike rack (especially given the bike theft rate in Santa Cruz) and that parking in the lockers costs only 5¢ an hour.  There are 5 locker locations on the UCSC campus, 2 locations at the Long Marine Lab, and 7 downtown (but none in the shopping areas of the Eastside or the Westside).  Each location is a cluster of several lockers. A map of the locker locations can be found at

There is one problem, though: you have to have a Bikelink card to use the lockers.  The cards can be bought on-line, at The Spokesman, or at the Santa Cruz Parking office in the Locust Street Garage. The cards cost $20 and have $20 worth of parking credit (400 hours). The cards are useful also in many other locations around the Bay Area (and even other parts of the country) and can be refilled on-line if you use up the initial credit.

I have not ever used the bike lockers, because my recumbent bike is too long to fit in them (tandem riders and adult-tricycle riders are also out of luck).  But I did get my son a Bikelink card several years ago, which he used a few times, but Bikelink has no lockers in Isla Vista or Santa Barbara—somewhat surprising considering the number of bikes on the UCSB campus.

2018 November 6

Back from Goleta

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:58
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Yesterday I came back from a weekend trip down to UCSB to see my son perform in a play.

Originally, I was going to stay in a bedroom in Goleta that I reserved through AirBnB, but the host cancelled at the last moment (Thursday, when I was taking Amtrak down on Friday).  The reason for cancellation was a good one—her mother had died and she had to fly to China for the funeral—but it left me scrambling for housing.  Weeks earlier, I had tried the UCSB faculty club and a few of the local hotels, but they were all booked up—they still were on Thursday.  I checked for other AirBnB listings, but the only ones within 3 miles of campus were all booked.  Finally, I ended up at the new Hilton Garden Inn at the corner of Storke and Hollister, at a much higher room rate than I would have had if I’d booked there originally, instead of trying AirBnB.  The AirBnB cancellation meant that trip ended up costing me $550 more than I had expected. The reason I had so much trouble getting a room turned out to be that last weekend was the “Parent and Family Night” for UCSB, so there were many more people wanting to be in Goleta than usual.

I took a different route to UCSB this time: Highway 17 express bus, Amtrak 4796 bus to San Luis Obispo, and Pacific Surfliner to Goleta, though the return trip was my usual Coast Starlight from Santa Barbara and Highway 17 Express.  The Amtrak buses are marginally more comfortable than Greyhound, and the King City stop and lunch break is at a MacDonald’s instead of a convenience store, but the bus part of the trip was still uncomfortable.  I had chosen the Surfliner because it has a much better on-time record than the Coast Starlight—even though my margin for getting to the Friday night performance was tighter with the Surfliner, I felt that there was a better chance of making it.

Indeed the Surfliner was only a few minutes late, and I caught a taxi from the Goleta train station directly to the UCSB campus.  The taxi was a bit pricier than I expected ($20 for the 3.2-mile ride), but I got to the Studio Theater on campus before the house opened.

My son was performing in the Fall 2018 One Acts, which are capstone projects for the five students in the directing concentration of the Theater Arts BA.  He was cast as Roderick in The Ballad of 423 and 424 by Nicholas C. Pappas, who is a faculty member at Moorpark College, a community college near Simi Valley, about 76 miles from UCSB.  It turns out that the director for the play, Stefan James, had been a student of Pappas at Moorpark and had pushed to have the play included in the fall lineup.

All five of the plays in the show were good—well directed and well acted, but The Ballad of 423 and 424 was clearly the best of them.  OK, I’m a parent and I’m likely to be biased, but it really did have the best script. I’m hoping I get a chance to see some more work by Nicholas Pappas—he packed more humor and more pathos into a 15-minute one act than I’ve seen in many full-length plays.

he Ballad of 423 and 424 was the last play on the program, traditionally the place for the strongest or funniest piece, so I was hopeful that it would be particularly good.  All I knew about the piece going in was the description of the parts that had been on the callboard and the description on the Playscripts licensing site:

When a new neighbor moves in next door to one of the most popular and reclusive novelists in the world, she knocks his entire obsessive routine out of balance. In this opening-and-closing-door ballet of love and loneliness, will either be brave enough to answer the other’s knock?

It turned out to be a nearly perfect part for my son—he was completely convincing as Roderick, and his body language and timing were just right. There were more laughs for the play than for any of the other comic pieces and more tears from the audience in the sad moments.  Even seeing the performance three times (Fri, Sat, Sun), I still teared up at saddest scene.

At opening night his performance was praised by several people after the show, including the head of the BFA acting program (Daniel Stein) and the playwright himself, who had come to UCSB to see the performance. After the second show, he also got praise on his comedic timing from a man who had been in comedy for 30 years (the parent of one of the other actors).  As a parent, I was very gratified to see his excellence recognized by others—I’ve not just been fooling myself that acting is something he has gotten really good at.

Of course, he’s been acting for 18 of his 22 years and has been in over 80 classes and productions, so he’s had some time to polish his craft.

I was not able to take videos or even still photos during the performances, but I did get a few posed shots after the performances were over, before the stage crew struck the set.

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