Saturday, January 31, 2015

YouTubed: Kirsten Dirksen Documentaries

YouTube is a great source of DIY project advice, as I've written about in my last posts on my favourite YouTube channels here & here. Another genre that YouTube is full of is independent documentaries.

Kirsten Dirksen is one of the best ones out there, documenting some fascinating places & people. The theme of self reliance & DIY runs through her films, with many a creative genius featured who has built &/or designed their own home, ship, or garden, sometimes in the most unlikely of places. Though she lives in Barcelona, she's been documenting the tiny house movement in the US since before it was a 'thing', as well as focussing on alternative transportation, like her recent video on electric skateboards.

These documentaries are bite-sized--often ten to twenty minutes long. They straddle the perfect line between the high budget epic docs you might see on TV, & the gonzo shaky phone camera stuff shot by lucky bystanders. The questions asked are insightful & the films are edited with a nice flow, using decent quality cameras--unsurprising, as Dirksen used to produce shows for various American networks. Her interviews always feel very relaxed & natural because it's not a film crew--it's just her & sometimes her partner, occasionally their children, visiting someone & getting it on film.

I highly recommend watching a few of her films--they're pretty kid-friendly as well. I'm not the only one who's discovered her, as she has nearly a quarter million subscribers on YouTube & over 94 million views of her videos.

The following video shows you short clips of some of the interesting people she's met & incredible projects she's filmed.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

10 Reasons Not To Get A Cargo Bike

Okay, I know I've been really excited about cycling & cargo biking in general, but I've decided that I had it all wrong. Cargo biking is just terrible & here's why you really shouldn't do it:

  1. You might not need to go to the gym anymore, so you'd no longer be supporting that local small business/community centre/nationwide chain.
  2. If you used your cargo bike for many of the trips you would have taken by car, then you'll have the headache of deciding what to do with all the money you're saving.
  3. Biking to get groceries or supplies at the hardware store instead of driving means you'd be putting less money into the struggling petroleum industry that benefits us all so much.
  4. The extra exercise from cargo biking might cause you to drop a size, requiring you to get newer, better fitting clothing.
  5. If everyone used cargo bikes often, rather than driving, the reduced air pollution would decrease the number of people admitted to hospital, meaning those poor doctors would have less work.
  6. Because you can usually park your bike much closer to the door of your destination, you would no longer be getting the exercise benefits of that walk halfway across the parking lot.
  7. Using a cargo bike rather than a car might mean you'd do the maintenance yourself, which means you'd get your hands dirty. Also, you'd be saving a lot of money, compared to the cost of a car mechanic--see #2.
  8. Since cargo bikes are so affordable compared to owning & operating a car, you'd probably be very tempted to buy more than one.
  9. You don't need more fresh air or exercise.
  10. If everyone got a cargo bike, they'll just be commonplace & my family won't get so much attention when we go out.

Can you add any other reasons why getting a cargo bike would be a terrible idea? Share them in the comments below!

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Our Secret Pet

For the last six months, we've been harbouring an animal, a secret pet of sorts, in our house. It's a pretty unusual one, to say the least. I've known people who had similar pets, but they kept theirs contained behind glass. Ours is allowed to roam free, although she tends to stay in one spot most of the time.

A day ago, I noticed that our pet was missing. She'd been showing signs of age lately--she fell recently & I had to help her up--so I thought that perhaps she'd decided to spare us the grief of finding her lifeless body & crawled away somewhere to hide for her last moments. This afternoon, when I was in the room where she usually hung out, I decided I'd write about her, finally: an obituary of sorts, here on the blog.

Then I turned around & discovered that she was still here! She'd set up camp in a new corner of the room. I admit, it made me happy to see her & know that she hadn't died.

Photo Credit: Arenamontanus via Compfight cc

Yes, our secret pet is a spider. A female orb weaver, Araneus Diadematus, to be exact. She just appeared one day in the bathroom window & after I noticed how many bugs she was eating (we had a fruit fly population explosion at one point last summer), I decided to let her stay.

We weren't on great terms initially, as she kept building her web across the bathroom window. This is the only method of venting damp air out, so we have to open it every time we shower. I lost count of how many times I got sticky web tangled on my fingers when I blindly--I mean that fairly literally, given how myopic I am--reached for the window to open it, forgetting that there was a spider web across it.

Eventually--I forget how long it took--the spider & I reached a compromise. She built her web across the unmoving side of the window, attaching it to a rubber ducky sitting there on the sill, rather than the frame of the sliding pane. I, in turn, held off on cleaning that side of the window.

Through the summer, our spider grew bigger & bigger, from her original size smaller than a kernel of corn, to her current size, her body about as big as a cooked chickpea. The distinctive cross markings developed & became clearly visible on her abdomen.

I did see another smaller spider in the windowsill area, who I thought might be a male orb weaver. If he was a suitor, no egg sac ever popped up after his disappearance, so I assume he just became dinner. However, a quick Google search tells me that the females typically leave their silk-wrapped clutch of eggs all winter, to hatch in spring when the weather warms up. So maybe she's just hidden it really well & we'll have a population explosion of orb-weavers in a few months.

Perhaps if she sticks around all winter, I'll be able to get a decent photo of her. (the above image is not mine) I avoided it previously, despite fairly good lighting, because I didn't really want all the mildew behind her web to be on public display. Heh. Now that she's moved, her perch is in one of the darkest corners of the bathroom, so I'm not that hopeful I'll get a decent photo, given the lighting conditions.

So, what do you think: is this the weirdest pet you've heard of, or do you want one or your own? She's very low-maintenance, I have to admit, & helps take care of nuisance insects. Would you leave a spider in your house, or would you chase it outside?

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Why My Yuba Mundo Bread Basket is Awesome

O Bread Basket, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Heh. Okay, I won't write the whole post like that. By Bread Basket, I mean the front basket attached to my Yuba Mundo cargo bike. It is hands down my favourite Yuba accessory. Here's why:

  1. It's very sturdy: reputed to hold 50 lbs. I haven't really measured the weight of what I've loaded in there, but I've definitely come close to that limit.
  2. Capacious! The basket holds several bags of groceries, or my large purse & two preschooler backpacks, or all our bike helmets, or four giant loaves of bread from Costco, or a case of baby wipes, or two cases of beer... I could go on. 
  3. Stable. Besides being made of thick aluminum, the basket attaches at four points to the frame of the bike, not the handlebars. This means that whether it's fully loaded or not, it doesn't impact your steering at all. 
  4. The Yuba Bread Basket comes with a solid liner so you can just chuck even tiny items in it & they won't fall through. 
  5. More on chucking: the Bread Basket is wide & easy to toss things in. So much simpler than using panniers or carrying things in a backpack. With two small children, saving a minute of pannier-stuffing, attaching & buckling can be a lifesaver.

    Now, I'm not going to say it's perfect: the plastic inside the bottom of the basket liner is a little flimsier than I'd like & it's started to warp a bit from the weight of the chunky bike lock chain I leave in there. I think the little pocket inside the basket could be improved upon as well--it's made of fairly cheap fabric & doesn't hold much. I'd love to see more pockets around the inside.

    However, I really do love the basket. I think every family should have a Yuba Mundo & a Bread Basket on their Mundo. If you agree, head over to the Bike Doctor in Vancouver & test ride one! If I haven't convinced you yet, you can at least attach a front basket to your 'regular' bicycle to get at least some of the benefits. :)

    Disclaimer: I got a discount on our Yuba Mundo from the Bike Doctor, but was not otherwise compensated for writing this post. The opinions & images above are my own!

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    Thursday, January 22, 2015

    Down the Rabbit Hole... of Fishkeeping

    The fake plants actually look pretty good
    Linnaeus has always been interested in animals, but lately he's been talking about fish a lot & asking to get a goldfish. I thought it might be a good idea, so I started doing a little research on keeping goldfish. It didn't take long to realize that despite their reputation as a simple pet--most people are probably envisioning a fishbowl, some rocks, a plastic plant & a little shaker of fish flakes, right?--they're actually not the easiest kind of fish to keep.

    Goldfish don't need a heated tank, but they require twice as much space as tropical fish & produce a lot of waste, which can cause water quality issues & algae problems.

    I switched gears to looking up which types of fish were easiest to take care of & came up with a list of some tropicals, many of which I have had in the past during the few years I kept aquariums in my teens & early 20s. Researching fishkeeping is a bit of a rabbit hole--sorry, mixed metaphors here--& I soon found myself reading about nitrogen cycles, live plants, LED vs. fluorescent lights, the pitfalls of misidentifying algae eaters, & so on.

    Aquarium decor options are endless
    Having an aquarium is a bit like having a sailboat, in that you get a smaller version of "two foot-itis". Have you heard of this malady? You're always wanting a slightly larger boat than what you've got. When I had a ten gallon tank in high school, I dreamed of getting a bigger one. Then a few years later I got myself a thirty gallon tank. Now that I'm in the market again, though I started off thinking of beginning small, since it's really intended to be Linnaeus' first pet, but over the course of a week, started wondering if even a thirty gallon would be adequate.

    After a whole lot of researching, visiting fish stores online as well as in person, & weighing my options, we got a 36 gallon bowfront aquarium with light hood & stand on sale--not a kit--so I was able to choose the filter & heater I wanted. We brought the aquarium & stand home in a Modo car Saturday, then picked up the other stuff by cargo bike with the kids on Sunday. Two kids, a power filter, heater, bottle of water conditioner, plus 50 pounds of gravel: no problem on our Yuba Mundo!

    There are still a few more things to buy & do before we actually get fish in our aquarium. We need to fill the tank, make sure everything works, then start the process to cycle it (set up our colony of beneficial bacteria). Then we'll start to add in fish gradually over the next few months. I'm looking forward to planting the tank with some live plants too.

    What about you? Do you have an aquarium? Got any advice for us?

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