Friday, December 5, 2014

Are the materials of a house worth more separately than together?

About 30 seconds ago I had a realization that I feel like I need to get out of me. Perhaps I just need to write about it in order to fully process it, so thanks in advance for indulging me.

Everybody knows that building materials are expensive right now. They're so expensive that it's preventing people from starting new construction projects. This idea took on a different light today when talking with a couple members of the city council and the city manager.

One of their houses is worth probably 300,000 on the market, but if they were to rebuild it right now, with the current price of materials, it would cost them a million dollars.

I think what this means is that the raw materials a house is made of are worth more than the house put together. That means houses right now are the opposite of a value-add to the materials. This is just the opposite of the way we typically think of processed materials - the more processing, like with cheese, the more expensive it is. It adds value.

But this is just the opposite. The processing of the materials (in this case, building the house) has devalued the materials. How curious!

Of course, I'm not totally surprised, because in the an economy that's bumping up against its limits to growth, it makes sense that new raw resources would eventually out-price old, used resources.

It makes me wonder though, would it be economically viable to buy a house and then disassemble it and sell its parts at a profit? If the gap between the price of raw materials and processed materials widens, it certainly seems possible.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Becoming a Maker?

Last spring or so I went to the Generator Launch up in Burlington, a maker space as they say. There were hundreds of people all milling about a warehouse looking at neat gadgety things spaced out amongst food and cubicles. There were some really neat toys creations there, some of which I hope to replicate, but mostly I came away with a sense that I had to become a maker and that decision mattered twice as much because of my gender.

I don't recall a single female exhibitor. That bummed me out a little bit.

There were a couple of devices that had rattled around in my brain for years that had never manifested, and so I decided they needed to come out. I had to at least try to build these things. I knew there was some kind of blockage that prevented me from doing so, but I have yet to fully name that blockage, but I knew I had to get through it for all of the other young female makers of the world. For my physics classes. For myself.

So I started this summer cleaning out a space in my garage for tinkering. I have three projects I'm working on at once (of course) so that when I get stuck with one of them I have something else to keep my hands busy. But I'm finding that for so much of this I don't know what I don't know. I feel like an utter novice.

Here's the basic plan for one of the three projects: music from a headphone jack is modulated over voltage of a very bright flashlight. That light is picked up by a solar cell, which then transmits that voltage to some kind of speakers (probably with an amp).

Yesterday I made a little progress.  It was a tiny tiny amount or progress, but it was still exciting. I had an old phone handset that could be used as the speaker end of the project, so I had cut the end of the cord off. Inside there were four wires. I attached two of these to the leads of a 1/8" headphone jack plugged into my iPhone. And you know what? I could hear the music playing on my iPhone in the handset. :D What glee!

But the next step was unclear to me. I thieved this plan from the former physics teacher and he really just told me about it, so I don't have any written instructions or diagrams.

Perhaps this is why the maker space exists. What I really need is advice and alone in my garage answers are sometimes hard to come by. I know probably 100 electrical engineers, and all I would have to do is call one, but there's this block.

Short term solution - I'm just going to email the former physics teacher for some clarification.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ballot Item for Locally Sourced School Lunches?

So I've got this idea about how to get more locally source food in our school cafeteria. I really think it could work, but there's a lot of work that would need to be done over the next year. Here's the background...

I recently was published in the Huffington Post (twice actually) as a part of a series they're doing on school lunches. And while my colleague whom I interviewed did most of the writing, we did have some good dialogue about how to get even more local food in the cafeteria.

Here are the challenges to getting more local food in schools:
1) The food itself is more expensive. Sure it may be more nutrient packed, and it arguably has less embodied energy, but local usually translates to expensive - I would guess in large part to the federal subsidies of large food producers. Ug.

2) Local food typically requires more labor, and thus it's more costly. As my colleague likes to say, it will always be cheaper to open a can of carrots than chop carrots. We may be able to partner with a local food hub, like the Central Vermont Food Hub, and they could potentially supply us with pre-processed foods, so we could continue to simply open cans of carrots, so to speak, but they may be limited as to what types of foods are available.

3) Some local foods are not abundant. For example, the school might be hard pressed to get all of its red meat locally sourced because there is a bottle neck on slaughtering facilities. Dear politicians, what are we doing about this? This needs to change.

4) Government subsidies cost the cafeteria. You might not realize this, but for every "free" or "reduced" meal that the cafeteria "sells", the government doesn't reimburse the cafeteria for the price of that meal. It only reimburses something like 80% of that meal. (Don't quote me on that statistic. It's an approximation.) So the cafeteria makes up for its loss by selling a la cart crap at marked up prices. In case you're not familiar, this might be anything from chex mix to ice cream to cookies.

Ok. Enough with the problems. My point is that the limits to local food are primarily financial, with the exception of availability. So here's one possible solution.

What if on the next Town Meeting Day ballot there was an item that read, "Shall the City of Montpelier appropriate the sum of $__________ for the Montpelier Food Service to provide locally sourced meals for Montpelier students?" That blank could cover the extra position needed for additional labor as well as the extra cost of the food.

Here's why this makes sense:
1) We have exhausted other resources. I have heard some people say that getting extra funding is a great idea, but it shouldn't come from the tax payers it should come from grants. We already involved with Farm to School. Even if we received more grants, those would not be long term solutions. Ok, maybe asking the taxpayers isn't exactly a long term solution, but it's better than trying to find new grant money every year.

2) The school cafeteria is arguably a public good, sort of like the library. The federal government subsidizes meals for students because students who are hungry just can't learn. The trade off now seems apparent. Either we have hungry kids who can't learn or we have obese & malnourished kids who can learn. Hm. I reject both of these things. We can do better.

3) This is a way for us to keep more of our food dollars in our local economy. Money spent on local agriculture has a multiplier effect of two or three, which means this is a better use of your kid's lunch money than where it's ultimately going now.

We're still in the very early planning stages, but the response seems generally positive. I hope it passes, but not just for its stated objectives, but also because this may be a model other cities and towns could use to transition to locally sourced food. If we can show that it works here, it could be a highly transferable model.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Starting a Church in Montpelier?

There's supposed to be seminars or classes you can take on this sort of thing. Now, I've never taken a course on church planting, but I don't even know where I'd go to take one. Plus, Vermont is such a unique kind of place I wonder if it would be of any use. Even if I did take a course, in so many ways it's easier to talk about what church should be than to manifest it.

But it looks like my Bible study may be moving that way...

Gosh, I don't how long my Bible study has been meeting - a couple years probably? People have come and gone, but this iteration seems pretty stable. At one point church planting was just about all that we ever talked about. Or maybe that was just me. :) 

I had dropped the subject months and months ago when one of the other couples said something about it a few weeks ago. And POOF! Tomorrow we meet for the 3rd time ever - we've been meeting every other week - and I'm actually really excited about it. Does this church have a name? No. Is that a problem? :) lol. Maybe. Can you tell growth is not high on the priority list? 

Here's what we do at church. We're attempting to chase down God through... 

1. EATING! usually potluck style. And we have 2 gluten free people and 2 vegetarians, so you know the potluck is an act of love. 

2. Prayer & Music. This is usually where I play guitar, but there are other musicians in the group - note to self: ask them to lead sometime (if they like). 

3. A Thought to Share + Discusion. The first week we read MLK Jr's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Tomorrow will be some reading from St. Francis of Assisi. 

4. Service. Two weeks ago, our second "church" time ever we gathered at my place, ate, and then visited an old guy who needed some help stacking wood in his basement. There were 4 of us, and it took us 20 minutes. SUPER easy. Delightful time chatting with this old guy. 

It's worth mentioning that my sister started a group at her church called "Do Kindness", a group whose entire purpose is to bless people. She told me this great story about one of their early meetings. 

My sister's got a great mac & cheese recipe and she knew of at least a couple invalids who could use some meals. But she figured there were probably others in her church that could use some meals, but she didn't know who. So, leave it to my sister, she just started calling around people in the church saying, "Would you like to receive a meal from the Do Kindness group?" People she called were very polite and generally declined saying, "I'm sure there's someone else in the church who probably needs a meal more than I do." Not to be thwarted, my sister changed her tactics. She found much more volunteer meal recipients when she asked, "Do you like mac & cheese? ... Would you like to receive some mac & cheese?" :) Ha. I love it. 

This sort of thing makes me so happy. I really hope it catches on in churches. It seems odd this this would be unusual or novel for a church. It seems with all these Sequester cuts to aid programs, the church may be able to step in and fill some of that gap. Here's hoping something fills that gap. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Analyzing My Own FCI Data

I'm in that glorious time of year known as My Student Teacher's Solo Period where I just sit in the library and get other work done, while my intern handles my classes. How did I get so lucky?

So what have I been doing with all my time? Besides running an uncontested campaign for City Council, co-organizing the Montpelier Energy Fair, and refinancing my mortgage, I've been crunching data from my classroom.

Oh gosh this is embarrassing. But I think it's healthy to just put it out there!

I've been using the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) since 2007 as a pre and post test for my students, to see if I have actually taught them any physics. In case you're not familiar the FCI is a nationally recognized physics test and I could be comparing my results with traditionally taught classrooms or project-based classrooms all over the country, and that's great, but it seems too that at least in my case - there's something to be said for gaining experience. The algorithm for Normalized Point Gain (G) is (Average post test score -Average pre-test score)/(100 - Average pre-test score)

Back in 2010 I was floored by how good my scores were, and then in 2011 you can imagine my disappointment. Was 2010 just a good dream? What happened? This of course led to a serious revamp of some specific units and putting my entire curriculum in digital form. Apparently it's paying off! It appears yet again that I'm making progress. I've already disaggregated the data to tell me which unit is my weakest, so I know where to focus my energies for next year! 

In an industry where your product graduates, it's good to feel like you're making some kind of progress. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Renewable Energy Project Revamp

So I've got this idea for my renewable energy project this year. Last year I had students look at their total energy (electricity and heating) bills for their own homes and calculate their BTUs per square foot, and then compare that with a standard number for what an energy efficient home ought to be. Of course most peoples were well over the recommended amount. But that's where I stopped last year, and fair enough. To do more would be asking students to stand up to their parents and challenge them to do better. I had a few conversations last year about this with the students. They said, "We are not the decision-makers in our homes, so what can we do?" I didn't have an answer for them.

But I have an idea. What if, in addition to the calculation of BTUs per square foot, students could research options for their households: PV, solar hot water, air source heat pumps, pellet stoves, pellet retrofits for oil furnaces, weatherization. They could do the calculations (they're not terribly hard) to figure out approximately how much money their family could save. Students fill out some form that would give parents some easy-to-look-at options and projected savings - specific to their house - and then we hold a parents night, where students present their work generally to their parents.

Part of me feels like this is too nosey and meddling. Part of me feels like if education does not have real-life applications, then why do it?

I think I'm going to do it. It gives students as voice with their parents (or at least an opportunity for them to have a voice). It could save people money. It could save the earth some long-cycle carbon. Those seem like good reasons, even if it is meddling.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

And then, my whole curriculum was digital!

This school year is shaping up to be possibly the best school year ever (I know - I say that every year), but just about every year I've been right about that! But this year perhaps more so than even other years because I worked my tuchus off going over my entire curriculum this summer, through the very sexy process of converting my notes into power points.

I told a science-teaching colleague of mine about my summertime endeavor and he replied, "Anne! Are you a closet lecturer? I'm shocked!" I assured him I was as constructivist as I knew how to be in my classes, but these power points serve a rather different purpose.

I will confess that my thinking can sometimes be non-linear, and hopefully this will help me to stay on track and removes the nagging question "What comes next?". When I get brilliant ideas for other units, I have a go-to location for depositing that thought for development at another time. I don't have to worry about creating notes for next week's class, or even next month's class, not to mention the benefits of when a student is out sick or leaves early for field hockey. I'm already more relaxed than this time last year, and I already feel like a better teacher.

Why did it take me so long to get to this point? Frankly, I knew this would be an intense undertaking, and at this point my compilation of files represents at least 80hours worth of work. But my gosh, it has been well-worth it.