Sunday, March 21, 2010

A busman's holiday

I like it best when all of the bits of my life work together as well as they can, especially when I can unite my two homelands. These last two weeks have been that way.

In the English English of the 1960s and 70s that I grew up with, the phrase "busman's holiday" means that when a fellow goes away for a break, he does the same things he does at home. So a busman would ride a bus on his holiday. It's one of those things that makes no sense in American English.

But I just got back from a very creditable example of a busman's holiday.

Accordingly, this post is published on three blogs, the Sustainability Blog, the Womerlippi Farm Blog, and the reflective blog I made for the students on the trip.

This trip will only come as news to regular readers of the farm blog. I hadn't published that I was going anywhere on the farm blog because I didn't necessarily feel the need to advertise the fact that the Womerlippi Farmhouse would be emptier more than usual. Although I doubt that would have led to any insecurity for Aimee, I'm often careful like that. Belt and braces, we say in Yorkshire. In American, belt and suspenders to hold your pants up.

Back-up for back-up, in other words.

Enough with the American-English, English-American dictionary already. Oy!

I took eleven students with me on this field trip. Two were from my own Sustainability Design and Technology program, but the others were from many different programs so we made it as much of a cultural exchange as it was a tech-happy field camp. It was a bit of both, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope the students did too.

It certainly seems to have been that way.

The first picture above shows Amber and Alicia touring the Whole Home exhibit at CAT, an example of a very low energy consumption house, conceptually not unlike our own Unity House project.

The second and last of the three pictures above show one of our projects, the repair, re-mantling and erection of a 600W Marlec wind turbine.

This was of course exactly the kind of thing we do all the time in our Sustech program, but to do it on a breezy Welsh mountainside was a very nice experience. The turbine was connected to the building it powered, and turned on, so as soon as it was up it began to make power. Very fun.

Students got to tour sustainability exhibits and Welsh towns and a castle and the like, but they also were able to experience British countryside life quietly and directly, with rain showers, lambs in spring, bus trips to town on market day, and walks to the pub. They got to live a little slower for a few days, a very good thing that all of us should try. Even the five-hour train and bus ride back to the airport was slow and patient in a very British way, and relaxing rather than stressful. In very stark contrast to the speeded pace and ridiculous commercialism of the airport itself, especially the Terminal Three department lounge, which needs to take a tranquilizer.

They also got to eat black pudding, if they were very brave, or lamb, or cheese of many different kinds rarely seen in the US. One or three even got to see England draw 15-15 with Scotland in the Six Nations rugby tournament, in the very loud "pigs bar" of a Welsh country pub.

We deliberately had an unpacked schedule with a lot of quiet time and opportunity for unscheduled activities. The British propensity for inclusivity, all "mucking in together", and preference for last minute improvisation over planning helped. Our hosts on the CAT Education and MSc programs came up with new activities they wanted to include us in nearly every day and we took full advantage. It worked better to include the MSc module material for our Sustech specialist students as well as the regular CAT Education department discussions because, well, our specialists are more where the MSc students are, really, if a little younger.

I got to give two lectures in the CAT MSc program, which were well received. Despite the increasing importance of many of the ideas, academics with a Dalian ecological economics training are still quite rare, it seems, and so a good lecture on the basics of this point of view puts many things in clearer perspective, which is what I seem to have managed to do.

At least that's what the MSc students said. It was nice to teach advanced students again.

So good. Maybe we can go back again some day.

Back at base, Aimee has been doing the night checks for our several very pregnant ewes, but of course now I'm home again that's my job, since I'm the somnambulist of the Womerlippi family, if not also the human "black sheep".

We saw lots of English and Welsh lambs on our trip and our students were of course charmed by them. The British countryside is kept in tidy trim by literally millions of sheep, and lamb and wool products are much more popular there. We even saw wool used for house insulation.

Sheep make for an excellent livestock choice in the UK because of the climate, but the fact that they can live outside on grass nearly all year also reduces the carbon emissions from supplementary feed and from equipment use. As I mentioned to students, you don't see nearly as much tonnage of agricultural equipment rusting away around an English or Welsh mixed farm as you do an American one. The main reason is that you need far less winter feed, especially for sheep, and so hay cropping is less important.

Our own Womerlippi Farm sheep are hugely pregnant and will drop around 6 or seven lambs (total) very shortly. I'm looking forward to having lambs at home. Aimee and I will of course try to get some of our students involved in this educational and seasonal operation too.

Because everything works best when it works together.

A few acknowledgements are in order:

Many thanks to CAT staff and faculty for being so welcoming and flexible, especially Rennie, Kara, Arthur from Engineering, Jo, Deidre, Christine, Julie, Mike from the CHP Plant, Sue and Liz and all the others from the restaurant, Meg and Kat from Information and all the MSc faculty, staff and students who allowed us to muck in together for a very enjoyable and educational experience.

Back at Unity Base, thanks are due to Carol Palmer first and foremost, for organizing our finances and our air travel. Amy Knisley, and Doug Fox also helped a good deal, especially Doug who went above and beyond to get the students to the airport and on the plane.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


On Wednesday the 17th it was an early morning start to Machllyth to catch the train to Harlich where we would be visiting the Harlich castle and riding past the beautiful caost. The entire trip there and back was so beautiful, and another sunny day! We arrived at the castle and spent about 2 hours exploring the ins and outs and taking many many pictures. It was amazing to read about the histroy and the time period that it was all built. We than did a little shopping at the gift shop and headed back on our way. We waited in town for a little while to meet everyone for dinner and enjoyed talking to several locals. We than headed to a beautiful inn and had the most fulfilling dinner I think I have ever eaten. Lamb, cheese, veggies, chocolate all so good! I have eaten and tried all that I could new while visiting Wales and have enjoyed all of it.
On Thursday the 18th the project for Renny was finished with a few minor set backs that he will take care of, but none the less something to remember Unity by. We had lunch and than met up for class at 2 about food production. I really enjoyed todays class! Her props were great, it was really refreshing to not see a powerpoint and again to have material that was easily related to children.
Not long after it was time to prepare for dinner and begin packing for an early morning of travel back to the U.S. The stay was so much fun and I walked away with a whole new perspective on many things. The week flew by and I wish we would have had more time to explore and learn the ways of CAT, but I'm greatful for the opportunities and experiences that I did have.


On Monday the 15th we were given a tour of the CAT campus. However, it was only a two hour tour and and when we had finished I felt there was still so much more to see and explore. Our tour guide Joe was great and very informative and not a very technical level, which was great for someone like myself. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to keep up or understand some of the technology but this site brings it to the basics. I really enjoyed learning how a composting toilet works, learning about how the site began to where it is now with more of a wildlife variety than seen in a very long time. I thought the hydraulic lift was very cool as well. Such a simple idea that should be so easy to incorporate into so many similiar forms of transportation. I also enjoyed hiking to the top of the mountain to see the windmills and the surrounding area. It's absoloutly beautiful here. After finished our tour with Joe it was time for lunch at the local cafe which has served us a fantastic meal every day that we have stayed with them. After this we than met with Renny to volunteer to help build a lift for helping the kids to get firewood to the cabins easier. We talked about his ideas and than we all brain stormed on the simplist way to build the project. A new group cooked dinner and it was to bed for another night and a very quick day. So far I think what I'm enjoying most about CAT is that it's really geared torward children. As a future educator I would love to be able to have my students experience such a unique, hands on learning environment. I was really surprised to learn that even the cabins are child friendly. That's very exciting for someone like myself with an up and coming career in this very similiar field.
Tuesday the 16th we woke up and started immediatly on Renny's lift four girls went to town, the guys worked on the lift, and Amber and myself helped Charlie build a box to put the firewood in. Even with 5 people missing from the group there were still quite a few of us working on the project with not alot of space so after a few hours Amber and I headed to lunch a little early to explore the CAT store. After lunch we had a very interesting lecture about ecological footprinting with Deirdre. I learned how and what goes into calculating your ecological footprint and found lots of materials that I could utlize in my own classroom. I really enjoyed the short videos that she had shared with us escpecially "Wake up and Freak Out". I really enjoyed sitting in a lecture directed torward a younger audience. First of all I was able to follow the entire lecture and second of all I walked away with great ideas for a future classroom. AFter this I explored the education exhibits which were very cool, I escpecially liked the solar heating exhibit and the difference between a rural and urban house. And I also enjoyed the peices of turbine that they had recycled into exhibits if not to learn anything else but the shear size of them. After this it was back to the cabin for dinner and bed.

To Sum it Up

This is our last night at CAT. Mick and Kayla have gone off to the pub with a few MSc professors for some good beer and intelligent conversation. Meanwhile, another group has headed into town to enjoy their last night at Skinners, another pub filled with words of wisdom on the walls. As for myself, I am enjoying some internet access down at the old shop, where I was fortunate enough not to get kicked out a second time.
I wish I could sum the trip up for you in just a few simple words. But like the environment we seek to sustain, the complex and extraordinary nature of things has left me a bit speechless. Just to name a few adjectives that come to mind, I have experienced exhiliration, amusement, irriation, nausea, happiness, curiosity and first and foremost, knowledge. Knowledge of a country that I have had the oppurtunity to realize is not as stuck up as we tend to believe and knowledge of a subject that is at the precipice of exploration. It is insitutes like the Centre for Alternative Technology that draws a diverse group of students (much like our own motley Unity crew) who have opened their eyes to the world around them and have seen a need for change. And although this trip has been a sobering experience, I will leave Wales tomorrow with hope in my heart, and dramamine in my carry-on.


On Saturday March 13th after arriving in Heathrow from our long and exhausting trip, we jumped on a bus which than took us to a train that we rode for a couple hours to our final destination of Machllyth around 3:00pm. It was truly interesting to experience the public transportation of the UK. Amber and myself decided to experience the culture a bit by exploring Machllyth, we popped in and out of a few shops and ate a deliscious plate of homemade Shepherd's Pie. After this we were picked up by a local cab driver named Nigel who took us to CAT where we would be staying and exploring for the rest of the week. As we were walking through their campus I couldn't help but to think it was like nothing I had expected, but in a very good way. It was absoloutly beautiful, quant, and most importantly natural. I geuss I was expecting lots of "in your face" technology but wouldn't have had it any other way. We got to know the cabins, chose our rooms and back to town we went to have another very tasty dinner at the local pub, fried scampi and fries with some toffee ice cream for desert.I beleive we all went to bed around 9:00pm and didn't wake until 10:00am the next morning.

On Sunday the 14th after eating breakfast we headed into town to do some shopping for our meals for the rest of the week. And shopping at a British grocery store was a cultural experience in itself. This was really our first experience shopping with UK money and it was very interesting trying to calculate the prices on what we were buying and than trying to compare the prices to what they would be in the U.S. It was fun to see what was carried in their stores vs. ours as well. We than returned back to the cabins, relaxed for the remainder of the day and shared a dinner. After dinner we conversed about theories and ideas or things that we have seen thus far that we like or didn't like and what theory they related to. Up to this point I most liked the ease and access to the forms of public transportation and least like the roadways. I feel that making the transporation so accesible would be a huge success to help steer American's in the right direction to becoming more aware of their footprints

A friend we have in cheeses

I wish I could show a picture of all the different kinds of cheese we have sampled since we came here.

Wales has always had great cheese. One of the national dishes of Wales, Welsh Rarebit, is cheese-based.

Different parts of Wales have different native and traditional cheeses, and the great outbreak of local foodie-ism that has swept the UK has revived many of these ancient and bioregionally-appropriate types.

With so much wet, high, and cold land in moorland and rough pasture, hardy cattle, sheep and goat raising were probably always more sustainable a land use on many sites than attempts at arable farming. And more intensive herding regimes intended to produce more meat and less dairy and cheese would necessarily have been harder on the land. These ancient human ecological factors haven't gone away just because we are now an industrial society.

Cheese is a Good Thing.

Last night's cheese board, at the Wynnstay Hotel in town, where we went for the Big Fancy Dinner we had carefully scrimped and planned and budgeted for, was the cheesy piece de resistance.

There were three different kinds of Welsh goat cheese, a smoked cheese, a Caerphilly, and what looked like a Brie but was possibly a Welsh variety too.

Here's a bit of Welsh cheese lore (and law):

"How good are Welsh cheeses? They’re so good they were once used as part of divorce settlements. Under the laws of Welsh ruler Hywel Dda cheeses that were washed in brine went to the wife, and cheeses that were hung up went to the husband."


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Repairing and raising a wind turbine

Most students have gone to the castle town of Harlech for the day, but an elite handful of die-hard renewable energy enthusiasts eschewed such vacation-like diversions in favor of a bit of what Yorkshiremen call "hard graft" or work.

We were asked to help repair and raise a 600 watt Marlech wind turbine for the Ecocabins.

This of course was right up my street, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, none the least because the weather was nice and we were on a Welsh mountain with a wind turbine.

Earlier we took an in-depth tour of the Ecocabin basement where all the works for the solar, wind and hydro systems lurks, also very educational.

Our host was Arthur, one of the engineers, a PhD in Engineering, whose last name I will try to add later, and Dan, a volunteer.

Two PhDs present might be too many qualifications for putting up a wind turbine.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

House Guest for the Night!

After the lecture, Mick surprised us by bringing a guest back to the Eco-cabin for the night. She is a new graduate student at CAT and had some issue with registration, so had no place to stay for the night. Hopefully she has able to sort it out today.
Her name was Lodgka and lives in the Netherlands. She was very curious about little things in America, and we were equally curious about her culture. However, thanks to some certain students who will not be named, she may leave thinking Americans call cereal "hippi crunchies" and use a smell check to decide whether or not to take a shower.
We played card games, we were a little too loud and may have kept Mick up... But, we taught her some classic American games such as rummy and spoons. She taught us a Dutch game called "teasing". We discovered that a lot of the games we play are similar, just slightly different rules.
She was a very pleasant and polite guest, and definitely a good cultural experience hopefully on both sides.

Evening Lecture at CAT

Last night 5 students and Mick attended one of the first lectures for the new graduate students at CAT. The lecture was given by CAT's Executive Realtions Director. The first part of the presentation was a history of the Centre and the mission and goals that have been carried through the years. The Centre was founded in 1973 on the site of an old slate quarry by a diverse group of people from all walks of life but all interested in trying to have a smaller impact on the Earth.
He then discussed current problems such as peak oil and cliamte change, and how these specifically relate to Britain's environmental, economic, and international security. I have had such lectures before in either Mick's classes at Unity or at various conferences, but this one was particulay interesting because there was a focus on Britain and the UK instead of the U.S. It was empowering to hear that the same ideas and solutions are being discussed in both countries.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Behind the scenes tour

Today's first activity was to take a tour with Jo Gwillam, CAT education staffer and renewable energy expert, Jo Gwillim.

Jo took us into some very rarely visited corners of the CAT site, where we were able to get up close with some fairly high tech equipment.

We started with the new wood chip combined heat and power district heat plant. The first picture is the input fuel elevator. This uses what would generally be low grade or even waste wood for fuel, making a rated output of 100 KW of electrical power and 250 KW of heat (about 850,000 BTUs -- enough to heat our gym/Activities Building and perhaps our library too). The equipment was of Czech manufacture, and cost around a million pounds ($1.5 million) all told according to Mike, the engineer in charge of running it.

The CAT engineers are still fine-tuning the output, both heat and power, and say that the thermodynamic efficiency so far is only 60% or so, but that's still way better than the 35% of an internal combustion generator system, although not as good as a pellet fuel furnace. They hope to get the number up. Even so, the fact that it uses low grade fuel makes it probably cost effective. The theoretical efficiency of a CHP system can be as much as 80%. Natural gas or bio-sourced methane systems can be up to 90% but they have more reliable fuel quality.

A good comparison in terms of rated output would be that this million pound rig is the equivalent of three 100KW wind turbines (say Northwind 100s) at around £350,000 ($500,000) each, at a 33% capacity factor, and a million BTU oil furnace for say £20,000 ($30,000). So compatible, price wise, with the cheapest form for 100KW of renewable energy and the cheapest form of fossil-based Maine space heating.

Except you can have renewable heat and power whenever you want, not just when the wind blows. If we let the manufacturers and bleeding edge early adopters like CAT work out the kinks, and if the price came down to say 50% we could almost afford to get one of these for the offset cost of Activities Building and Library heat oil, and power for the rest of campus.

Here's the generator (second picture). Very shiny. So far they've only managed 75KW/hour, but they hope to get that up.

This is not a gasifier/combined cycle system. There's a heat exchanger to take off the heat and make clean expanding hot air for the turbine.

The CAT engineers have put in this thermal storage system (third picture) for the district heat side of the CHP plant, to even out the heat usage over time. This is a large scale version of what our friends at Revision Energy have been doing at the household scale with pellet furnaces and solar thermal systems.

Then Jo showed us the cliff railway system, which uses a water balance counterweight -- no energy required. They use a regenerative braking system that makes compressed air for power tools, so this is really a "hybrid" cliff railway. The lumber is 100% local, green lumber, air-dried. The railway's upper building was built by a women-only crew.

We then visited this 7KW solar breezeway attached to the restaurant, where there is an interesting kind of see-through solar module, with very nice dappled light pouring into this outdoor hang-out space. Not too bright you couldn't use a computer, not likely to get too hot in summer, but still very well lit naturally, and generating power too. Cost around £7 per installed watt, ways Jo.

I want one of these for our campus. We probably couldn't afford to buy this many modules, and it would be a waste of money since we already run on Maine-made wind and hydro power, but we could perhaps make them for about a tenth of the cost from "raw" solar cells and glass much as we did in this laboratory exercise here. And the facility would be a nice outdoor hang-out or even classroom space.

We then hiked up to the reservoir for the hydro power system, which has brown trout, apparently, which caught the attention of a few of our outdoors types.

Finally we went up to the lowest of the wind power sites, where we saw a Proven downwind machine, and a small scale older machine whose name escapes me, as well as anemometry systems, including a model #40 anemometer from our friends at NRG Systems.

The last photo is of the Nordtank machine high above CAT which Jo says is around 225KW rated output and community-owned. It has an advanced form of stall control based on pivoting blade tips, which I found intriguing.

Heavy smokers

Heating with wood? Not really a surprise for Mainers. We have a number of Woodsman Club members with us, so they're naturally on the job, especially Charlie.

This is our domain from the slate terrace above. It's fairly comfy, and the green roof seems to keep the heat in, although the walls and windows don't do quite so well. It would interesting to use the thermal imaging camera to see what parts of the building work best.

Our wood stove is also providing the hot water, so it's good that a couple of us are early risers, or there wouldn't be hot showers!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Useful readings and small "t" theory

As you look around you while in the UK and at CAT, you'll see things that are different from the way we do things in the US.

Many of these are somewhat accidental or cultural, such as a predominance of pubs that are primarily for families, including kids and dogs, not purely for young people, drunks (drunken young people) and bikers.

Others required theory and policy, such as the well-conserved countryside, which is the product of the ten thousand years of habitation, the British conservation aesthetic, and some very strict laws -- so strict that Americans probably wouldn't ever enact them.

Examining these kinds of differences carefully is a kind of study that if taken to a high degree would be called a "case comparison" in the policy world.

One good choice for your formal response (see the syllabus) would be to do an essay version of the case comparison study, taking one of the things that you noticed that was different and finding out if you can, using research, why it is different here from in the US, and explaining that to your audience with critical insight and comments, and if a web submission, pictures or video.

From our shortened list of discussion items, I set up a list of links to accessible readings. Explore these and begin to think about your formal response. You can of course pick another topic than these, but these are illustrative of the way that culture, theory and policy link to ordinary life, and also how to start your case comparison study.

Some likes

Relatively unspoiled countryside: Planning regulations and countryside preservation
1947 Town and Country Planning Act

Interactive environmental education displays
Practical solutions to 21st century problems
What do we do?
(from the CAT webpage, links below to more information)

Wattle fences and blackthorn hedges

Sheep, lambs, and managing pasture and forage through grazing, not mechanization

Pedestrianism and planning for pedestrianism

Public transportation

Some dislikes:

Green roofs
(why not use a higher tech roof approach, and not run the risks of water penteration and collapse)

Rhododendron sp.
as an invasive (native to PA)

That's enough for now.

The view from our window

Power puzzles

The power-use tracking board at CAT Eco-cabins. Part of the Eco-Cabin ethos is tracking your energy and water usage. So far we haven't drained the batteries and are living "off our income" of hydro- and solar-power.

A day off, almost

Students doing chores, journaling, and relaxing in various settings at CAT today. Also the cabbage seedlings for the poly-tunnel/hoop-house -- a sign of spring.

Today was a day off to recover from jet lag and get some sleep. Most students slept through 10 am or 11. Some of us had work to do. A handful of us went to do a big shopping for our evening meals, four of which we shall cook ourselves. The bus timetable seems all messed up, so we finished up walking the 3.5 miles to Machynlleth, getting a taxi back with Nigel, our garrulous cab company owner-driver, who seems to have adopted us, or at least the students have adopted him, none the least because of all the "stick" he gives me.

After a very nice dinner of spaghetti bolognese prepared by cooking group 1, Kayla, Amber and Alicia, we had discussion. The assignment was to describe one thing that you'd seen and liked, one thing that you'd seen and not liked, and relate one of the two to an item of (small "t") theory taught in one or the other part of your Unity College education.

Some likes:

Relatively unspoiled countryside: Planning regulations and countryside preservation
Interactive environmental education displays
Wattle fences and blackthorn hedges
Sheep, lambs, and managing pasture and forage through grazing, not mechanization
Pedestrianism and planning for pedestrianism
Public transportation

Some dislikes:

Crowded public transportation
Green roofs (why not use a higher tech roof approach, and not run the risks of water penteration and collapse)
Rhododendron sp. as an invasive (native to PA)
Game animals belong to the landowner, not the people

There were more, but I'm tired and I still have to post the sunset picture.

Safe at CAT, 12 souls on board

That "souls on board" is an archaic phrase still used by the Royal Navy rescue helicopters.

But we're all here and sleeping off our jet lag. Here are some pictures of the very arduous journey. The first train was way too crowded.

And, of course, lambs.

More later as we wake up and do things.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Wales, crisp early, clear, for Saturday

This according to the BBC a minute ago, the six o'clock news.

Students will be in the air in a couple of hours.

Chartwell, Churchill and sustainability?

Click on the pictures to enlarge

Winston Churchill, as an historic Conservative Party and wartime leader, doesn't get much credit for his social program work, earlier as a Liberal Party leader (he "crossed the floor" of the house twice in his career). But we have him to thank for the start of our old age pension and disability insurance system here in the UK, among other programs. Not exactly your Ronald Reagan conservative. The traditional British land-based aristocracy had a very different ideology.

Neither does he get much credit for his understanding of countryside conservation and his love for animals. The best example of Churchill's conservation aesthetic must be Chartwell, his beloved country house, which I visited today. The Kentish landscape is exquisite, improved upon by a pleasant series of cascading ponds. Churchill also kept a farm and lots of pets from sheep to geese to goldfish.

Pictures from the top:

The walled kitchen garden: a superb example of the type, common to country houses in the UK. The walls extend the growing season. Plums and other soft fruit trees are trellised along the south-facing ones.

Crocuses in bloom. This tree was gorgeous.

The house itself, parts of which date to the 1500s. Kentish architecture relies on brick, timber, and tile. British indigenous architecture varies by geology and ecoregion. In Wales we'll see slate in all it's variations.

A drawing and saying by Churchill, on his preference for pigs. I have to say, as an admirer and keeper and eater of the porcine race, I greatly agree.

Chickens. Churchill kept a wide variety of poultry. His daughter kept wartime chickens, part of the Dig for Victory campaign.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On the road again

I'm starting my journey to meet the students at Heathrow. It's 4 am here in my parents home, now strangely empty without them. I have a little rental car outside and will drive to the airport shortly, where I will turn in the car and go to a hotel for the night. The students arrive quite early tomorrow and Heathrow is a bear of a place to get to and around, so I plan to be there in good time.

Before I finish with the car, I plan to give myself a half-day vacation today. It's been a somewhat busy and stressful week here and I need a mood-shifter.

I'm going to visit Chartwell, Winston Churchill's country house in Kent. It's only 30 miles from Heathrow, and I've always wanted to go. I have a good collection of Churchill's books and books about him, and have always been interested in this impossible but essential man and his life and times. It's time I went to his home.

The students will leave very shortly too, in about a half a day. Hopefully everyone is properly packed and ready for the trip.

And has remembered their passport!

Travel safe.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tea and Welshcakes

I've been in Wales now for about 36 hours. Already I've had three cups of tea made for me by various Welshwomen.

I remember when I first came to America, to California, and was surprised to discover that rarely would anyone offer to make me a cup of tea, and I have to say I thought it quite rude until I realized that it was just one of those cultural differences.

But Thelma, my parents' neighbor, discovered me sitting in the car in my parents parking spot, waiting for my sister yesterday, and had me come in the house and made me tea and sat me down for a chat with her and her husband Bryn. And every time I go to visit my parents in their new care home, the caregivers make me tea.

Very nice. A very civilized country. Sorry. Civilised, with an "s".

We will have to make sure everyone has tea, while they're here. And welshcakes.

By the way, the weather is very pleasant over here, quite warm by the late afternoon, and sunny. It's supposed to hold in this pattern for most of next week. I haven't seen any Welsh daffodils in flower, but I've seen some very close to flower. And a few lambs.

Did I mention that the daffodil is the Welsh national flower?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Skyscraper scene

The view of the Boston skyline across the pan at Logan Airport.

Plane leaves very soon.

Friedman on fossil fuel finesse, boosts Bloom Box buzz

(Why have your own blog if you can't make up your own silly headlines? Five points extra credit to the student blogger on this trip who posts the best, or worst, headline of the trip!)

This blog post from the road, or to be exact, the bus.

Unity students have been reading the NYT columnist Tom Friedman lately. Mitch Thomashow, our fearless college president, has required his book for a few classes.

Here's his latest column.

In it he praises the founders of Bloom Energy and Calera Inc, a couple of smart-grid start-ups that I've been watching too.

But he also has an interesting riff on immigration to the US, a topic that has often been in my head since I got on that first transatlantic airplane all those years ago.

A related topic might be "why go back?" This might also apply as much to Americans of European descent of any generation as it does to first generation immigrants like myself.

Especially when air travel is so GHG-rich. We're going to have to indulge in the modern medieval indulgence of quite a few carbon offsets to put the carbon balance back in the black.

The best answer I have to this question, other than "I have to go back to see my Mum," is to learn. Although America is still probably the most technologically and socially innovative society on planet Earth, you have to give those Euros credit for some of their recent innovations. And older ones, such as public transportation that works.

We expect to examine both the new and the old up close and personal on this trip. Including public transport.

By the way, this bus is very nice. And the WiFi works. Recommended.

Also by the way, what if Kerouac had written On the Bus instead of On the Road as the quintessential American creed of its era?

What difference would that have made?

On my way...

I am leaving earlier than the students. I have a family in Britain, including aging parents, and they need me for a few days. This is somewhat unexpected, and arrangements have been made for the students to be accompanied to the airport themselves in a few day's time.

But I will get to Britain a little earlier.

Which is why I'm sitting in the Concorde Trailways bus station in Augusta, Maine, having been dropped off by Aimee a few minutes ago.

Trains and Planes and Automobiles was the title of a funny movie a few years ago. But it will also be me for the next few hours. Bus to Boston Logan Airport, plane to Toronto, then London Heathrow (having to go west to go east was not my preferred approach, but the only way I could be assured of coming back with the students group).

Having landed at Heathrow there will be a shuttle bus to a rental car company, where I will rent a car, and then drive to my family's place in South Wales.

Once I get there I will take some pictures and make a post or two if I see or hear or read anything interesting or relevant to our topics of climate change and energy ideas, or to the natural history of the British Isles, or indeed anything that is different that an American environmental college student might not have heard of, or be interested in.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


(Wikimedia photo.)

One place we might go on our day off is the seaside town of Aberystwyth, famous, as is Machynlleth, for its consonants, but also as the site of the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, the National Library of Wales, an ancient castle, a nice beach, and the gentle sweep of Cardigan Bay.

Like most British coastal resorts the town is largely Victorian and Georgian, and very pleasant and walkable. There are some shopping streets, as well as the usual fish and chip shops and pubs.

(I may be willing to give five points extra credit to the student who can still spell both Aberystwyth and Machynlleth at any time after we get back and before the end of the semester.)

British-American dictionary

George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have once described the United States and Britain as “two nations separated by a common language."

This might help.

And then again....

BBC America's British-American Dictionary

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wales in pictures

There are daffodils. Confirmed by one of these pictures. Although some of the others look more like Maine! I expect the warm temperatures have disposed of that by now.