Lock Up That Bike Good

Two Saturdays ago, I learned a little more about security. Not cryptography, which is what usually occupies my mind when it comes to security, but with bikes. Good ol’ physical locks with combos and keys… or maybe RFID readers…

Being someone who had a bike stolen recently, this should have been higher on my priority list. I learned to always lock my bike no matter what. The location that bike was being kept while I was out of town was at a nice residence in a suburban area, not in sight from the streets and the house had cameras. I didn’t really think that locking my bike was really necessary.

Obviously, I was wrong. The thing got snatched up and the cameras could not capture the person’s face so that I could hunt them down and make them think twice about stealing a bike ever again (*puts on fiercest face possible).

So, I learned.

1st Lesson:
Lock it. Don’t be like me. Don’t be haunted by this.

Further lessons happened by bike guru, Ross Willard. We were at the Hispanic Heritage Festival in Harrisburg. It was a beautiful event on a perfect day with great music and people dancing in the street.

I met Ross there to show off the more sensible bike I’d procured and to learn a thing or two. One very memorable part was learning how to properly lock a bike.

Now, when it comes to physical security, creating a barrier to entry is always a useful way to prevent theft. Lazy thieves won’t put in the effort for a bike locked three times over.

But, in the case of those savvy bike thieves, it can’t hurt to be prepared, give them less opportunity, and second thoughts.

Lesson 2:
A bike lock through the frame, the back wheel, the front wheel, and secured to a bike rack is a good start. Repeat: through the frame, the back wheel, and the front wheel. Wheels, especially front ones, are often easy to detach so can be a target all by itself.

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Observe the cord… through the back wheel, within the frame, around the pole, and through the front wheel.

Lesson 3:
To add extra security, make it more difficult by locking down the rear wheel and frame, preferably with a U lock. This can reeeaalllly frustrate a bike thief.

bike-locking-1
Kryptonite U lock through back wheel, around frame.

Lesson 4:
Don’t just lock it to a pole without inspecting it. There are ones that might seem obvious because you could just lift the lock and pull it off the pole. But there are less obvious places. Is it on a sign that a motivated thief could throw it up and over? Is the post easy to pull out of the ground? If so, the thief could get your bike and worry about the lock later. Basically, the lesson is to look around and think like a thief, thereby avoiding one.

Lesson 5:
Not all locks are created equal. There are your basic dinky locks that someone could come back with a clipper and then suddenly your bike is stolen. Getting one with a strong, thick cord would be harder. Getting one with a solid, thick bar of metal is even harder. And if you need that flexibility, getting a several times over braided cord as thick as possible is the way to go. Here are some examples.

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Ross Willard with three bike locks. The one in the middle is the lesser of the three.

Now, I’m a hacker and although combos are alright, you can brute force one of those suckers and it might not take super long and certainly not if you already have the bike and can work on it for a while. So, a well locked bike with longer combos are better.

Carrying keys is laughable. I do not do keys. Plus, lock picking thieves can still be threatening. So, my next idea is to hack one and get an RFID reader in one so that I can use my xEM to open the hefty U lock I will soon have. Yes, a thief could smash the tech, but that wouldn’t open the lock.   It would just mean more annoyance for me getting it home and a lock to repair. But losing my keys is more annoying and woefully possible, and then I gotta get a new bike lock… or learn to lock pick and make a key. Which would be pretty cool… but I think making an RFID bike lock would be cooler.

Regardless of RFID opening bike locks or more mainstream ones, I offer you some good tips for keeping one of your most useful possessions safe. I hope they were helpful!

The Bike Trailer (and getting rid of a TV)

As if Drew and I haven’t convinced you yet, here is another example of how we’re a pretty hardcore duo. (You can be one too!)

The other day, we built a bike trailer to help us haul stuff. We’re not talking kids (though they can haul some weight). We’re talking several 5 gallon plants, soil, wood, bricks, even appliances. And sure, groceries, but only if we’re doing a mega-epic Costco style grocery shop!

But most currently, we have a huge TV that was abandoned at the house when we bought it that has just gotta go.

We wanted something like this, having been inspired by this (Drew was perhaps more inspired at first as my legs didn’t feel that strong; but, after having built the thing and felt how light it is, I feel better about it – still don’t know if I’ll be the one hauling appliances).

But one cannot drop a grand willy nilly, at least not if you’re us. BostonBiker came to the rescue. Following these instructions, we built one by ourselves.

I won’t go through the how-to as you can find it on BostonBiker’s website, but I do hope to inspire you to understand that you’re capable of not only taking your bike commute to another level (seriously, who really needs a car, especially if you live in a city – not to say cars can’t be convenient and handy – but we’re talking about understanding the basic principle of “You can do it anyway!”), but doing so while slashing hundreds of dollars off the initial cost. That initial cost can still be tough for some (but if you’re giving up the car, the savings will pay for it fast), but it is more feasible for many.

So, anyway, if you haven’t clicked on any links, you are probably wondering what the heck we built looks like. This:

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The finished product. Yes, showing you that first.

This was our process in photos:

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Heh, car trailer, we will convert you! Setting this up was simply a matter of attaching parts with nuts and bolts. Screwdriver needed.

It wouldn’t be right without being silly with Bikes at Work replacement parts.

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Turning those spare parts into parts ready to go on a bike trailer.

Must take measurements (background is laundry air drying on the line and the mess from the bedroom)!

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Must drill in the things (this alteration is to make the trailer axle replace the car hitch).

Drew can do these things with his eyes closed (he is attaching the axle).

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Drew epitomizing manly manliness with his safety gear and Dremel (having to make slots for the bike hitch bars).
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Hitch install.
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Trailer attached, heavy ass TV loaded.

And away he goes to bring that cursed TV we were stuck with to the recycling center! Within an hour, he successfully returned.

Repair That Bike! Avoid Wiping Out!

Since my bicycle was STOLEN (*anger face*) three weeks before moving, as soon as I was in Pennsylvania, I knew I needed to procure a new bike. I’m car free, after all, so I need a bike to get around in a sensible amount of time.

Allow me to introduce you to one of the most amazing organizations I’ve come in contact with: Recycle Bicycle. The deal is this: Abandoned bikes are brought in, torn down to usable pieces or set aside for repair. People bring their broken bikes and they’re shown how to fix them and given parts if it makes sense. If you need a bike, you go and you’re told that your time is worth $10 and each bike is worth $20. So, you give two hours of time learning and helping and you’re paid in a bike (usually one YOU just repaired). The rest, of course, is all volunteer. However, if you volunteer 12 hours, they have a special area of super special bikes that are worth $120. I have a feeling I’ll volunteer more than that.

I’m in love. I will be volunteering there on a semi-regular basis. There is no reason why anyone in Harrisburg should not have a bike thanks to this place and the dozens of bikes they have there. The guy who runs the place, Ross Willard, literally just wants people to be safe, and enable them to do it by having, learning about, and repairing their bikes. He wants people to be empowered to do this. He doesn’t take shit though; you try to pull one over on him and he’ll call you out. I also imagine he just really likes bikes.

I resonate here. Biking is healthier than driving, you’re less likely to die, it’s kinder to the environment, easy to repair, understand, and maintain, is less costly and more accessible to all people than a car, and what fun! I’d just like to see Harrisburg get more bike lanes so we’re not terrified by traffic or terrifying pedestrians on sidewalks.

I went and was told to pick out a bike to fix. I picked out a slick looking orange-red hybrid. It was a one speed which I was warned against, but in hopes of being bad ass, I said I wanted to try it out. It wasn’t a hard repair and I spent most of those couple hours learning how to recognize parts, tools of the trade, and tearing down bikes.

My bike ride home was bliss. The bike was not too hard. My former bike had more speeds, but I usually just kept it on 3 and this bike was comparable. The only part I struggled with somewhat was remembering to back peddle to break, rather than use handle bar breaks. Plus, when my feet were on the ground, I was a little off the seat, so getting used to that was a thing. Still, biking home was a pleasure and I thought I’d do just fine with this bike.

The next day I had an interview for a subbing job at a private school a few miles away. Behind the cemetery I live next to, there is a little path down to the bike trail that would take me half the way. Because I remembered the trail wrong, had not practiced enough with the breaks, and completely forgot that I did not have a mountain bike anymore, rather than being a bad ass, I managed to be a complete dumb ass, and decided to go down the little path. It was terrifying. And I’d completely failed the safety quiz.

I was going too fast, I knew, but it was hard to slow down. There were two trees close together ahead. Somehow, I maneuvered between them successfully. However, I did not maneuver beyond the tree that came right after them.

Top left: 2nd day, thumb swollen to nearly twice the size of my other, scrapes and scratches. Thumb can move but it hurts like hell (getting better; I can do half of a thumbs up now). Top right: 3rd day bruising, there was a more obvious cut as well. Bottom left: Even my little pinky is bruised! Bottom right: 3rd day bruising and big scrape on left thigh. More cuts and smaller bruises on other parts of leg, back, and chest.

Bikes may be way safer overall, but I seem to be prone to minor injuries (this is somewhat less minor than the others- a lot more painful and I’m still healing, but nothing broken or hacked off or life-threatening). This crash takes the cake though and I have no doubt I will be more cautious, especially with unfamiliar bikes, in the future. I am awaiting a reschedule for that interview and how I’ll explain the dent in the front fender to Ross…

Alas, things happen, but this has not hindered my love affair with bikes or their value to society. I am reminded that bike safety is paramount to keeping that love and value alive. I tip my hat to Ross for his work and will be sure to listen closer to his safety part of the lesson.

 

Featured photo is of my bike. A little banged up, but nothing I can’t handle.

My Future in an Edible, Sustainable Ecosystem

Now that I have a home, and land, albeit a relatively small amount, I will be fulfilling a dream. Many years ago, I decided grass was stupid and that I wouldn’t have it. I thought there had to be a way to make a yard both beautiful and edible. I wanted the things I eat to be able to be grabbed off the plant or from the ground.

Some background (could be skipped): The first time I had access to a yard as an adult, I lived with a boyfriend who loved grass and didn’t really understand the appeal of having a wild, not manicured yard. I liked that there were at least different type of grasses on the property, but I still thought it was ridiculous to have to mow a lawn. Anyway, right outside the back door, I put in raspberries, blackberries, stacked some logs and planted strawberries, loads of herbs and some vegetables as underbrush to blueberry bushes. I lined the side of the property with fruit-bearing trees.
The first year it didn’t look all that good and was slow at producing. The next year though- oh! I had moved out but still visited on occasion. The veggies were a mess in a bad way, but the berries that came off those brambles, the blueberries that were finally producing, the strawberry patch, the thyme and oregano! It was so productive and things seemed to work well together. Not that it couldn’t use a little removal of invaders, but still, the wacky, unmanicured spot that looks like a weedfest to some, was absolutely glorious to my eyes. That boyfriend didn’t really harvest them, not grasping the fact that he had free food growing back there. I was flabbergasted by this and would harvest when I came, but eventually I stopped visiting. What a waste (except for the birds and chipmunks!).

It was a long time until I had access to a yard again. But now, it’s mine, and I have free range with no one’s criticisms able to actually hold me back. Drew supports it and has left it in my hands. In the years since that first yard, I discovered that my ideas had a name that already existed and much research had already been done. Much like polyamory and other “liberal” ideas I’d formed (the ideas that weren’t encouraged in smallish town Texas where I grew up), I had to be a little revolutionary and against the grain before I would discover that there were entire groups out there with the same ideas.

This one is called permaculture, with its roots in agroecology. The idea that food and beautiful things can grow sustainably, in tandem with each other, with only gentle oversight, is not crazy.

So, I have a yard that’s a mess as it hasn’t been tended in a year. Fortunately, the former owner had a fondness for berries, cherries, and plums. So, there are already some lovely fruit trees. I’ve cut back a few things so I can get around, but mostly, this year is for watching. I’m learning what’s already there and what should stay or can be switched out with something a little more pragmatic for my purposes. I’m finding what I need to trim back to allow other things to grow and getting to choose what will be worth the work and what should be removed all together.

As I learn and develop, I’ll be posting about the progress, successes and failures, things I’ve learned and built and so forth. Comments and suggestions are welcomed.

 

In the top left, there is a view from the driveway (including some of the wreckage pulled out of the kitchen – another story) that shows privacy hedges, etc. Top right is a view from one of the foot paths. Bottom left is a view from the pond. Bottom right is a view from the porch (and that was after a trimming).

 

Here is a rambling description of the space so far:

Along the privacy hedges, I cut back a bit and I planted blueberry bushes and started a tiered strawberry patch like I did before. At noon and after, they get sunlight, just as in the last yard I tended. I’m letting the mint that was already there running wild continue to do so. Same with the lambs quarter, chives, and wood sorrel. The wood sorrel delights me as it engages my imagination and I can eat it.

I’ve already learned that there are certain things I can and should trim back to encourage growth and flowering. These will be good to bring in birds and pollinators. By next year (or later this year), I would like to have built a honey bee box and a bat box which will both contribute to a thriving ecosystem. The bees will also provide me honey and the bats will help keep down the mosquito population.

There is plenty of starting compost and plenty of things to work it down into rich soil.

The ground cover is a combination of ivy, periwinkle, other vining mysteries, and lovely little things who’s name I don’t know. The little lovelies seem harmless. The periwinkle and ivy, and other mysteries, however, are likely going to be narrowed down to very small patches and replaced with shade-growing edibles.

There is a fallen branch of branches just outside the hedges that might be ours, and the groundskeepers of the cemetery mow around it, so I decided to use it. In four places, I grew butternut squash and they’re doing wonderfully and will vine up the grand branches.

Brambles line much of our property offering raspberries in the earlier summer months. Cherries are beginning to ripen late in the season which is awesome. There are grape vines that are practically taking over, suffocating much of the life. Many I’ve pulled out but near the mailbox, I see that they’re fruiting so those ones will stay.

I’m excited about the lilac, roses, and butterfly bushes in the middle of the yard. They may be more ornamental (although technically edible), but trimmed back a little, they’ll be glorious for all the life that will be drawn to them and the beauty they’ll provide.

I discovered some more stepping stones and a wood box that had been overrun by running plants and hadn’t been seen before. I’m not sure what should be done as I don’t know what all the plants growing there are yet. Whatever they are, they’re growing in profusion.

Hidden in the back is a pond that needs some cleaning and has a pump running. It’s surrounded by nice, big rocks and overhanging it is a hardy plum tree. Quite a pretty sight. Beyond that is a path through brambles and such to part of the cemetery.

There is a huge oak tree in one corner that I considered taking down but changed my mind as it can easily be a source of protection for creatures and is a nice tree. All I’ll do is take down the many dead branches that will be used for other projects or as firewood. We also have a maple tree growing right outside the back door (which is our primary door). It offers a ton of shade to the house. It’s a Norway, unfortunately, so the sap isn’t useful. Nonetheless, I look forward to using their blossoms next spring.

There are some hibiscus, thistles, and other flowers that are still unidentified.  So much can grow on this small fraction of an acre. And I haven’t even begun to analyze what’s across the road on the other side of our strange home.

There is so much to learn about this little wilderness I now have to tend.

 

Photos: there will be more to show a better perspective of the yard. The shots were quickly taken but my willpower was defeated by mosquitoes.

Inducing Carotenosis for Fun and Curiosity

My partner, Drew, and I recently read this and thought it was pretty fantastic. We decided, of course, to test it on ourselves to find out if we could take in enough β-carotene to turn ourselves orange in a month.

Allow me to give you some background and also some indication as to why taking on this little experiment is kinda hilarious.

The condition called Carotenosis occurs due to an excess of β-carotene. This usually occurs in vegans and vegetarians who intake a large about of β-carotene rich foods like pumpkin and carrots. β-Carotene is what we use to make vitamin A.

The reason this is particularly humorous is because a couple of years ago we both attempted to partake in a citizen science study that involved eliminating vitamin A from our diets. Now, we will be making up for it (especially Drew, who managed to last damn near through the whole experiment; I, on the other hand, was a terrible data point and hardly lasted a couple weeks. That will be a post of it’s own and an anecdote to consider for those who wish to be citizen scientists).

Because there is varied info about just how much β-carotene will cause the yellowing of skin, we’re going add several times the β-carotene for sufficient vitamin A production on top of our normal diet (with slight alteration to include the additional calories), and see where that gets us. In addition to our normal (already vitamin A and β-carotene rich) diets, we will each ingest 8 small – medium carrots/day which will put us at approximately 1lb/day of carroty goodness. Each carrot has about 4,124mcg β-carotene or 8,353IU/carrot. The average man needs approximately 3,000IU and women need 2,310IU. At 8 carrots a day, that puts us at about 66,824IU extra per day.

Ingesting β-carotene from food is different from using β-carotene or vitamin A supplements, which is not recommended. Basically, once your body has generated enough vitamin A, it won’t generate more from the excess β-carotene you get from food (source). Therefore, there is no risk of conditions like hypervitaminosis A that are caused by an excess of vitamin A. Other than the yellowing of the skin, it does not appear to be harmful and our skin will go back to a normal color once we’ve decreased our intake again. On the plus side, we might get a little bit of sunburn prevention!

Each day there is sunlight, we will photograph ourselves in the shade in front of our white door and I’ll write an update with an overview of our recent diet. The photos will be unaltered (save to block out invasive colors like below). We will have a white towel draped over us so all you will see is us and white (more-or-less; I’ve noticed in the first photo that all the white is a little blue. However, the photos will all be taken there and with my phone, so the surroundings should stay fairly consistent). This will, to some extent, eliminate effects involved in apparent skin tone that may occur from wearing different colors and being photographed in different lights. Each day (at least once a week, if not more), you will see photographs of us over the next month. Pigment often shows up strongly in the hands and and nose.

Photos, Day 1:

Drew & Anita, respectively. Anita has a box added to cover part of shirt that was showing and the photo is slightly grainy (she is the better photographer), but any changes should still be apparent.

Issues that may influence this little experiment: our diets, although fairly consistent, may involve slightly varying amounts of vitamin A intake per day, though none less than offered by 8 carrots. We will track general data but not perfectly specific data. This strictly has to do with the two data samples we have (Drew and I) and our preferences. Therefore, should anyone find our results interesting and want to test it further, know that we’re giving you general information having to do with approximate content, not precise information. Additionally, due to a shortage of supplies, we will not be taking blood samples to show an increase in β-carotene in our plasma. That’s how  it’s definitively diagnosed when a fearful parent brings in their child wondering why their child’s skin is wacky. In other words, you’ll have to trust us to not alter the color in the photographs.

In the future, I hope my experiments are more refined. We decided to do this on a whim and we suspect that it will be completed by the time we have to move. If nothing else, it should be a fun romp before we’re back in Pennsylvania.

Photo of carrots sourced here.

Hackin’ the Spice

I have a problem. I love spicy food. Gimme the Thai, Indian, and TexMex, kicked up to.. well… at least medium. It’s not that I enjoy overwhelming the taste of everything else and weeping while guzzling a gallon of milk while I wait for the heat to subside – I’m not a connoisseur. But I do like a little spice in my life.

The problem is that I don’t just cook for myself, but also but also my partner, Drew, who hates spicy food. He can’t even handle sweet peppers. It’s kinda tragic.

His reasoning is that spicy is pain and who wants to be in pain? It actually does communicate with our nociceptors in a way that tricks our body into thinking it’s a burning sensation or pain. It made me consider the possibility of rampant, socially acceptable masochism.  Or perhaps it appeals to the same kind of person who would want to experience jumping out a plane while attached to an expert parachutist with top-of-the-line equipment that minimizes the risk. They want the high, but not the actual danger. Eating spicy food is far less dangerous, but can still give a person that little sense of, “I fucking did it. I am hardcore.”

People in this article were apparently wondering the same things (I thought it was pretty impressive parallel, right down to parachuting).

I can’t help but notice that this guy’s online description is similar to someone describing their experience with a new drug.

Drew does likes ginger though, which I think is totally spicy. He also likes mint and I’m less of a fan, especially when it comes to peppermint (though I do like mint with chocolate), but that’s more of a cold burn. And really, he doesn’t just like these things. He’s pretty obsessed with both (he’ll down a half dozen boxes of Altoids and ginger brews in a day, easily). He also doesn’t like onion, too much black pepper, mustard, or cinnamon candies. But ginger. And mint. This is peculiar so I decided to take a look and see what might be happening in this strange relationship between different types of spice and our relationship with pain. What I found was way more fun than just facts.

Gingerol, or sometimes [6]-gingerol, is the active constituent of fresh ginger. Chemically, gingerol is a relative of capsaicin and piperine, the compounds which give chilli peppers and black pepper their respective spicyness.” – wikipedia for gingerol

There are difference between types of spicy: capsaicin (chili peppers), peprine (black pepper), gingerol (ginger), menthol (added to mint and part of peppermint), cinnamaldehyde (cinnamon), and isothiocyanate (horseradish, mustard, wasabi). But the common ingredient between most is that they interact with TRPV1 or one of it’s “children“, a receptor found in the brain that is generally thought to be associated with temperature and pain.

All the things listed above can be categorized as “spicy”. But most of them are considered “hot” burn and only a few are “cold” burn. He has a strong preference against the former and I have a preference for it. Generally, it appears that many of the cold burning route through one of those TRPV1 children, whereas the things he considers unappealing bond directly to TRPV1.*

But, there may be a solution to align our taste buds.

There are patches and creams, made from capsaicin to help manage pain. It essentially dulls the nociceptors and reduces the sense of pain.

“Qutenza is a high-potency capsaicin (8%) topical patch, labeled for treating pain associated with postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). Qutenza decreases pain sensation by reducing transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) expression and decreasing the density of epidermal nerve fibers.”(see source)

Drew and I have discussed using an over-the-counter patch or cream to see if it decreases his sensitivity or even allows him to enjoy more spicy foods. We’re unlikely to actually buy a patch, but one can buy pure capsaicin or capsicum oleoresin oil or spray, also known as “pepper spray” which should have the same function. Used sparingly and topically in small areas, he should be safe from the torturous aspects associated with pepper spray. The side effect will likely be that he feels less pain in general which doesn’t really sound like a bad thing. I’m purchasing an oil** to combine with a neutral oil to test. Once we try it out, I’ll definitely post an update.

 

*Note: This statement is based on my understanding of the reading I’ve done. However, if a more educated person has knowledge I missed and would shed further light on this, please let me know.
**Although I have linked to a product I purchased, I am neither making any money off it should you purchase it nor do I currently recommend it.

Photo sourced here.

 

How Sweet It Be

Or, why erythritol is my alternative sweetener of choice. I also love me some (real) maple syrup and raw honey. Coconut palm sugar is good too. If you’re curious, those are the sweeteners I keep stocked in my home.

But anyway, erythritol is getting the focus here because we live in a world where sugar is plentiful instead of scarce. Yet, we have bodies that crave sugar because they evolved when it was scarce. Enter obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. As a whole food enthusiast, of course I’m all like, “Yeah, eat good, whole food and keep the sugar at a low. Avoid refined sugar and most processed foods… blah blah blablah.”

But, let’s be real, we live TODAY. And today, we can trick our bodies when they’re being silly!!! Biohack yo! Augmenting my mind to no longer like the taste of sweet is not really an option yet. Training myself to enjoy smaller quantities of sweet is possible and I do work on that. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to deprive myself completely.

So, let’s count the alternative ways to sweeten nature and technology has to offer! Until we can genetically modify our minds to not crave this abundant and over-used flavor (or some such), why not hack our palates and our options?

Actually, let’s not count them all. A great run down can be found here and here to start you off (it misses a few, but unless you’re focal research is in sugars, those others aren’t particularly useful to know about, in my opinion).

I’ll focus on erythritol, what it is, and why I’ve picked it.

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, found in and derived from a number of plants and fungi. I found a nice low-down of studies that I’ve explored to share some information.

This little baby is sweet. Perhaps only 60 – 70% the sweetness of regular table sugar, but still pretty sweet [1][24]. And the beautiful thing about it is that it works more-or-less like sugar (dissolves in water and bakes well; and I love using it to make cinnamon sugar. mmm.).

What’s even more beautiful is that it does all that without causing tooth decay [1][5][6][7][10], cancer [7][9][20], cardiac problems [11], or glucose or insulin spikes [1][2][3][4][4][15][19]. Also, it’s an antioxidant [7][8]. It’s a-ok for diabetics [15][18].

It is mostly absorbed and excreted unchanged in the urine making this run through the system fairly cleanly, without causing the spikes associated with other sugar alcohols [12][13][21]. It shows no signs of toxicological effects [14].

The big downfalls (which aren’t that big and generally avoidable) happen high dosing, at over ~40g. Most people have been tested at around 20g, which shows minimal to no side effects. At the higher doses, people occasionally experience diarrhea, gas, and a grumbly tummy [12][13]. Functionally, erythritol is considered to have no digestive side effects [4][22].

One thing some people don’t like, but I love, is the cooling effect [23][24][16].

Note: I’m showing a lot of links and really, a lot of the info overlaps and some of the things I cited for one thing is also a worthy citation for other things. Point is, there is a lot of research that’s been done on this polyol of excellence and at this point, I think it’s pretty safe to say that as sweeteners go, it’s a damn good option. It lacks the shortcomings of other sugar alcohols, it has all the benefits of being not-sugar, and in my humble opinion, it’s flavor is superior to most other sweeteners (save the honey and maple syrup (especially maple syrup!)).

If you don’t like the cooling effect or want to eat so much that you might make yourself sick, then maybe it isn’t for you. For me, it’s an awesome way to hack my sweet tooth.

And, if it hasn’t already proven interesting enough as a sweetener, check this out:

“Some synthetic insecticides suffer drawbacks including high production costs, concern over environmental sustainability, harmful effects on human health, targeting non-intended insect species, and the evolution of resistance among insect populations. Thus, there is a large worldwide need and demand for environmentally safe and effective insecticides. Here we show that Erythritol, a non-nutritive sugar alcohol, was toxic to the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Ingested erythritol decreased fruit fly longevity in a dose-dependent manner, and erythritol was ingested by flies that had free access to control (sucrose) foods in choice and CAFE studies […] Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that erythritol may be used as a novel, environmentally sustainable and human safe approach for insect pest control.” [17]

 

Note on sources/Disclaimer: Among the primary sources listed below, there are a number of which that I only read the abstracts for so if you observe a mistake in my understanding of one (or more), then please comment and, if I made an error, I will definitely note in the post about it. Also, the reason why there are many sources sited for some of these statements is because studies were often done on small samples so, even though useful, I thought it best to add backup.

Sources:

  1. Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide

  2. meso-Erythritol: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/meso-Erythritol#section=Human-Toxicity-Excerpts
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15914983
  4. Effect of erythritol and xylitol on dental caries prevention in children.
  5. Sugar Alcohols, Caries Incidence, and Remineralization of Caries Lesions: A Literature Review

  6. Erythritol is a sweet antioxidant.
  7. Chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity study of erythritol in rats.
  8. Comparison of erythritol and xylitol saliva stimulants in the control of dental plaque and mutans streptococci.
  9. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/meso-Erythritol#section=Top
  10. https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@term+@DOCNO+7968
  11. Plasma and Urine Kinetics of Erythritol after Oral Ingestion by Healthy Humans
  12. Erythritol attenuates the diabetic oxidative stress through modulating glucose metabolism and lipid peroxidation in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.
  13. Sugar Alcohols, Caries Incidence, and Remineralization of Caries Lesions: A Literature Review

  14. Erythritol, a Non-Nutritive Sugar Alcohol Sweetener and the Main Component of Truvia®, Is a Palatable Ingested Insecticide

  15. Effects of oral administration of erythritol on patients with diabetes.
  16. Serum glucose and insulin levels and erythritol balance after oral administration of erythritol in healthy subjects.
  17. Noncariogenicity of erythritol as a substrate.
  18. Metabolism of erythritol in humans: comparison with glucose and lactitol.
  19. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002444.htm
  20. 1,8-Dihydroxynaphthalene (DHN)-Melanin Biosynthesis Inhibitors Increase Erythritol Production in Torula corallina, and DHN-Melanin Inhibits Erythrose Reductase

  21. Fumarate-Mediated Inhibition of Erythrose Reductase, a Key Enzyme for Erythritol Production by Torula corallina

Photo source: me.

Strange Human Habitat: Internet, but No Running Water

Last summer, I lived in a beautiful house (albeit on its way toward decay) on 5 acres with a creek running through it. Not exactly the spot to consider “waterless”; however, the house did not have running water, a thing that I doubt most privileged Americans have had to deal with. I hadn’t.

I had electricity and Internet. And one of the most scenic views. All I needed, right? I learned the extent of difficulty not having running water can bring. Despite the creek, no water runs to the house and the creek water, I’d been told, is not drinking water (I never got around to collecting and boiling it, which I regret).

A few of the things I learned living there (there are some unflattering things so, if you have a weak stomach, be warned):

Local water refill locations. There was a store nearby where you can refill gallon jugs of water so you’re not constantly buying new water bottles. I would never have given this a thought (or even noticed the service), but not wasting bottles is definitely an environmental concern and I’m now extremely glad this service exists.

Vinegar is awesome. A spray bottle of vinegar and water (about 3:2) to wash the few dishes I used and as a general cleaning agent. Spray, wipe, spray, wipe. This goes for my compost bin when it needs cleaning as well. An eco-friendly way to keep stuff clean. Additionally, for a quick clean, I used a vinegar, water, and tea tree oil spray bottle (2:3:dash of tea tree). I did this to spray down my body in between trips to get showers at a nearby gym (washing in the creek was actually quite tough as it was quick moving. Spray, wipe.

One pot pastas. Beyond the sheer fact that I now know how to waste less water and when I do have excess, it can be used to water the plants, knowing how to make a one pot pasta has been HUGE. I only had a single stove top and because I needed to conserve, I learned what techniques I could do vary my diet. I can cook up some slammin’ sauted veggies (and over an open fire – *drools), cook up eggs and bean dishes and whatnot, but what I had in my vegetarian rippeteau was getting old and the world of one-pot pasta made an impressive difference.

I do not love pooping outside. I never had a problem with it while backpacking, but the day-in-day-out got tough, especially with the wily creatures and the mosquitoes (so many mosquitos! The silver lining is that now I know about bat boxes and will build a new one for my next home; helps save the bats and keep the mosquito population down). In my permaculture research, I learned a great deal about composting, including that human feces is compostable. This gave me an idea. I used a brown paper bag and a 5 gallon bucket as my toilet and disposed of the poop-filled bag by composting. No water needed (except in the production of the bag which before becoming a toilet, was used for groceries, and may also be used to composting other things).

The pee cup. Collecting my pee in a cup inside and then distributing it outside allows me some inside relief privileges without the use of water or being bitten up by mosquitos. I never used it to distill water and drink it though.

I’m not saying I’d want that life forever. But I love having had the experience and feel like I could do it again, being more prepared. I value running water more than before and learned a lot. I still miss working on the big porch, lifting my eyes from a computer or a cup of tea to stare at a changing, wild world. I still miss wandering those acres, learning a little more about the motions of nature, pondering the conveniences of human adaptation, and increasing the desire not to squander either.

Viveka

I fell in love with yoga for the intrinsic value in the exercise: the stretch, the focus, the breathing, the low-impact strengthening of my body. It just feels good and has helped me in life at times when I’ve felt like all else is lost. The “why” is not fully understood.

More recently, I’ve timidly decided to look closer, curious about the multi-millennia old philosophy, and wondering if the bulk of me which insists on empirical data would take to it. I’ve never been one to enjoy cognitive dissonance overmuch. I suspected I’d get a mindbend as well as backbend as I analyzed these concepts and either discard them as facts about some worldview I can’t subscribe to like all the religions I’ve studied, or, integrate them with my overall philosophy.

There is a concept in one form of yoga that I adore. I can’t adore everything about this form of yoga called Jnana Yoga, either because I just don’t have the context yet or it’s just not agreeable. But the first of the Four Pillars of Wisdom gave me hope: Viveka.

Viveka (discernment, discrimination) is a deliberate, continuous intellectual effort to distinguish between the real and the unreal, the permanent and the temporary, and the Self and not-Self.

I suspect that would warm the cockles of every science-oriented person out there. At least, it does mine. This concept inspires the research I’ve begun. By weeding through the idiosyncrasies that make up our interactions with the world, dig into the idea of a Person, and sort out how the material world is organized and interactive, I can definitely see myself fulfilling this concept in yogic philosophy.

Do not to discard the intuitive; rather, analyze it. Until all the facts are sorted, and likely even after that, there is still value in doing many things the old fashioned way (and in the case of yoga, the very old fashioned), with mindfulness as we wander through life, as we breathe and bend in our yoga practices, and as we think about the moment we’re in. How this will be different as we evolve further, I’ll be interested in finding out.

Still, all the while, we can grow in empirical awareness of biases and attempt to strengthen our minds against them, as well as false ideas of probability and numbers, replacing poorly-working heuristics with more meaningful ones, or other such mistakes of the mind. Still largely restricted by biological evolution, we are a creature of accident. Which means there is vast room to grow. Being mindful of this as we uncover more about our selves and the world around us, I think is a good goal.

Viveka, in a modern sense.

On Not Driving

I am not the only of my kind (in fact, historically, I’m among a majority so large that the percentage of those different from me would utilize a number appropriate for scientific notation). I don’t have a car.

When I was growing up, my family drove everywhere, much like many people growing up in the United States. Biking or walking was for fun, not a mode of transit. One summer my sister and I walked almost every day to get lunch at one of the nearby fast food restaurants. That was the extent of my pedestrian life.

After I got in a major car accident that totaled my car, I didn’t have a car for a while, which didn’t bother me terribly. I was going to college and would live on campus. Later, my boyfriend and I shared a car. This car sharing situation went on for years.

About a year after graduating college, I lived on my own with my own car for the first time. It was short-lived as my car was hit (presumably by a drunk driver leaving a nearby bar), totaled, and the culprit disappeared. Not having full coverage and not making much money, I did not consider buying a new one. I lived in the city of Dallas. Mass transit was plentiful and I lived in walking distance from where I volunteered. I knew it was time. I’d thought about it and wanted to live car free for a while and now I could embrace it.

I caught on to mass transit quickly. I had many adventures, got lost a few times, and collected a number of stories. I walked a respectable amount. I traveled by Greyhound to see my family in Houston. I got good at negotiating the trains and buses.

There was a time when I moved out of the city while still working in the city. I figured out a 1.5-3 hour transit time, switching buses or trains (depending on which I chose) and trying to avoid long layovers. This was before smartphones, so I listened to music or read. I did much more reading of actual books than was usual for me. It also meant waking up outrageously early sometimes. But not only was I in great shape, I was spending significantly less money. It easily justified me getting a gym membership next door to work so that I had a place to shower and workout when I would get in an hour or more before work. In many ways, it was one of the best times in my life.

Another year later, I moved to Harrisburg, PA. I was in for a serious awakening about not having a car. The “mass transit” was awful and useless for my purposes. It did not run early enough for my job when I opened, late enough when I closed, or on Sundays (I worked retail). It also didn’t run far or frequently enough to live in most parts of the city. So, I rented a room a little under 2 miles from work and walked every day. I’ve discovered my happy limit for walking is keeping it under 2.5 miles (ideal is under 1.5), although there were instances when I walked farther. It never really occurred to me to get a bike. I had one my uncle gave me but it was way too big and frankly, I was a little bit of a scaredy cat on the busy street I used.

One thing you become when you aren’t reliant on a car is efficient. I learned what I could carry and how to maximize stacking errands and activities. Despite working two life-sucking jobs that I more-or-less hated, I felt vibrant and healthy. I liked not having a car. I would get rides more frequently than I used to because I couldn’t rely on mass transit, but most of the things I needed to do, I could take care of myself. During this time, I also became a good cook and learned how to make tasty, healthy meals for myself in advance. My one day off each week usually consisted of cooking, cleaning up, whatever errands, and a little relaxing. I’d go out once or twice a week with friends (usually carpooling on those occasions). It was a difficult time, but also a good one. Poverty can be an amazing tutor. Many of the things I learned then, I will always carry with me.

After a stint near Chicago (where there was fantastic mass transit and I had a smartphone, I never once even thought about a car), I moved back to Harrisburg and in with a boyfriend that was not so close to the job I had. It was about 5.5 miles. I thought that he and I would do a car share and I would help him with payments and insurance and so forth (and we did share for about 3 months), but he was not much of a sharing type and told me I needed to get my own car. Nowadays, I would have said no and walked the 11 miles/day or dumped him. At that point, I bought a used Honda Civic to get me to and fro.

I did not love driving. Actually, I hated it. I didn’t mind being on my own and I liked music and audiobooks so that part was fine. But the act of sitting and driving was not. It did come in handy though when I finally fulfilled my dream of working for a nonprofit. I was a Grassroots Organizer for Planned Parenthood and needed to have my own car to travel all over the state to do my job. This was one of the few times I appreciated it. Shortly after starting the job, I sold my car and bought a 2000 Chevy Metro which suited my low income and low carbon footprint lifestyle.

The other part I liked was road trips. One of the last ones I did before going car free again was across the country to Washington state where I moved and fell in love with my life partner.

Drew doesn’t have a driver’s license. He has a ton of anxiety about being in the car and is one of the most stressful people to have in the passenger’s seat. The stress was reasonable, as car crashes are the top killer of people under 35 and in the top 10 for all people in the United States, but not good for the driver. Since I no longer worked for Planned Parenthood, part of me had wanted to go car free again but, considering how little I was paying for mine and the low toll it took on the environment, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to it. Not unless we moved to a major city with good mass transit.

But, when our lives stabilized, even though we didn’t move to a major city (currently Mt Vernon, WA), I finally took the plunge. We’d been putting a lot of money in for repairs and I’d learned to bike and had come to really enjoy it. Biking doubled my comfortable travel radius.

Here are things some facts in relation to not having a car:

  • Excluding repairs or road trips, I save appx. $1350/year. That is with a Chevy Metro at 45mpg, some low insurance rates, and the fact that I’m already a minimalist and very efficient driver. The very sensible Civic I’d previously owned would have probably added a grand. I have no idea what it would have cost to have a not-so-sensible car. Stack on top ≥$1k for repairs or car payments. Let’s say I spend $600 on trains, buses, or carpools/shares or uber for a year (which is about right for travel to nearby cities, etc- excludes major travel which I would categorize differently anyway; though I’ll track it this year and if I turn out to be wrong, will follow up). I’m still saving >$1.7k a year. Let me reiterate, that is for a <60hp, 3-cyl car.
  • For going long-distance, it takes more planning and a bigger investment of time. Optimization is important.
  • I do not have to worry about exercise; I don’t even have to think about it. I walk and bike regularly, sometimes carrying weight (usually under 35lbs though). I’ll still add in other physical activity because it’s fun, but it is not necessary for general fitness. I have had a pretty healthy diet for a long time, but when I’m driving regularly, I still have to watch the calories. Without one, not so much.
  • I have a heightened awareness of my health. When something hurts or is abnormal, it’s easier to discern and be aware of when regularly active. I do not have to wait until I’m sick to deal with anything that is going awry. I suspect it contributes to the fact that I haven’t gotten sick since.
  • I get outside more. Biking and walking are outdoor activities. Nature is a known therapy in this bustling, crazy modern world of ours (I don’t even know how to cite this: a quick search on NIH or Google Scholar returns an outrageous number of studies on this).
  • I appreciate nature more. For better or worse, I experience weather in all it’s abundant glory. I know when to actually be afraid of nature and those times are extremely rare. I always see what flowers are in bloom. I rarely miss a beautiful day.
  • I see more. Physically. Sunlight, people- it illuminates a lot more information. Not to mention that I’m going slower; therefore, I’m able to really look at the things around me.
  • It gives me additional opportunity to hang out with the love of my life. When there’s an errand to run together, it’s means a lovely to walk or bike ride with my favorite person. Way better than an anxiety-ridden fewer minutes in a car.
  • It reduces opportunity to go longer distances and gives fewer living locations because I need to be close to my food sources. Choosing where to live according to grocery stores, work, etc. has yet to be a problem. Sometimes I do wish I was able to go some places to where it’s just not feasible to travel without a tremendous amount of planning and time. It’s the one true negative for me; but, it’s is far outweighed by the positives. Fortunately, it’s an infrequent issue. There are plenty of things to do near home, friends to travel with, and rentals/uber if it’s really that important (but usually isn’t).

Here’s a fun quote from a book I like about the lack of time actually saved by cars:

“It seems to be a tragicomic fact that every time-saving invention is immediately canceled out by an increase in activity or a change of behavior. When the automobile was made affordable to the masses, people moved further away from work and further away from stores. While transportation speed increased, transportation distance increased proportionally, keeping transportation time constant.

Not only do I not regret getting rid of the car, I actively like it. I like the way I spend my days, my level of fitness, and seeing more of the world.

I’d even recommend that others try it.

 

Photo taken in Copenhagen by me.