Fecal Collector II
Friday, February 26 2010
At some point in April, Sally the dog will have her 15th birthday. By any measure, that's old for a dog, and she has definitely been seeming older of late. In the forest she still runs around, rolls around, and digs holes like a puppy. But in the house, she can seem a bit more decrepit. She doesn't respond to spoken messages unless they are delivered at high volume and recently she's even been having trouble jumping up on the bed. Sometimes she won't jump quite high enough and will bounce off the side, falling in some random posture onto the floor. She also fell on her back when trying to jump into the Subaru on our big trip to the dump several weeks ago. So today Gretchen said it was finally time for us to put some structure next to the bed to help Sally get up to it. She'd been anticipating this day with dread for years and now it had arrived.
So I queued up some podcasts on my computer, put on my FM radio Sony Walkman (it might actually be a cheap Chinese counterfeit), went out to the garage, and started building. I ended up building a portable two-step staircase with one step at 9 inches and the other at 18 inches. I'd built a similar structure to help me when I'd been excavating the foundation hole for the greenhouse, but I'd learned an important lesson from that structure's chief failing. I'd made it so that its back was perfectly vertical, which meant that it didn't take much of shift in forces for it to topple over backwards while I was standing on its topmost step. So for the steps I built today, I angled the bottom of the back fifteen degrees out from the top. This introduced a bit of complexity when it came to cutting the pieces, but it's very easy to cope with these when you have both a mitered chop saw and a bandsaw. If I had a proper router, I might be able to make furniture, though I doubt I'd ever have enough skills to not need putty, epoxy, or foaming glue.
Sally's step. [This picture dates to the 27th, after I'd painted it.]
Another milestone today concerned the brownhouse. Today I built an air supply for a second thirty five gallon polyethylene trash can that I can swap in for the one that has been collecting human excrement since early November. From now on, I'll refer to the first of these 35 gallon cans as Fecal Collector I and the second, the one built today, as Fecal Collector II. FCI isn't completely full, but I don't want it getting too heavy (a reader has already written a cautionary email warning about the weight of 35 gallons of feces and the consequent potential for a containment breach). Everything is still experimental, so I'm not trying to maximize or minimize any of the inherent periodicities of the system (as I do with, say, the burning of heating oil).
As with all my projects, the more data I have, the better I can tweak things. This winter one of the big mysteries has been the temperature of the fecal pile inside the 35 gallon fecal collector. I've had a thermometer in the outhouse "basement" and know that in cold weather, temperatures down there can fall into the 20s (Fahrenheit of course). That basement has its own south-facing window, so on sunny days in winter the temperature can rise into the 40s (though not much more, given the large thermal mass of the soil beneath as well as the fecal pile). But I've been curious to know what temperatures are like inside the fecal pile, where exothermic decomposition might be generating enough heat to maintain itself. Alternatively, there might be enough heat on the window-facing side of the fecal collector to jump start decomposition on a sunny day, and that decomposition might then generate enough heat to maintain itself. So far the only indication I've had of the fecal pile's temperature has come from poking it with a stick. Even in the coldest weather, it is never frozen solid.
So today as I was setting up the second fecal collector, I included an electronic temperature probe that will, after a month or two of use, lie near the center of the pile (in other words, it will probably be some time in April when it finally starts providing valid data). By then I hope to have the sensor attached to some sort of Arduino-based controller capable of collecting data or (at the least) a digital thermometer I can read.
Browsing the Tivo's "now playing" list, Gretchen came upon an unexpected discovery: last night there had been another American Idol broadcast, which had been automatically recorded because she has a "season pass." So she'd called our friend (and fellow American Idol enthusiast) Jenny Brown to tell her the good news. There's still neither power nor cable out in Willow, so the only way she'd be able to see the episode would be to visit us.
So this evening, after picking up her husband Doug at the Kingston bus station, she and he came over. As always, Gretchen had prepared a delicious vegan meal. She'd also thoroughly scrubbed the kitchen in reaction to a comment Jenny had made about it being "really gross." (She's one of the few friends who can be counted on to tell it like it is.)
At about four in the afternoon, I'd taken my usual recreational pseudoephedrine dose in hopes of knocking out a tricky modification to my AJAXy weekly calendaring system. Instead, though, I'd gotten all wrapped up in building Fecal Collector II. And then when Doug and Jenny came, I started drinking. It was just mild social drinking at first: a Hurricane Kitty beer and then a glass of white wine. But after they were gone, I retreated into my addictions and holed up in front of my computer, posting somewhat inappropriate things on Facebook and pouring shots from a 200 mL flask of cheap gin (prepared from a 2 litre plastic bottle of the stuff). It wasn't long before I was too drunk to accomplish any sort of work, and the best I could do was crank up the music and do wheelchair tricks.
Since this summer, I'd become concerned by how my intake of alcohol was slowly creeping upward. By December, I'd imposed new rules to keep me from drinking in the middle of the day and on Tuesdays. The thought was that if I imposed modest restrictions, I'd be able to stick with them. These rules are actually fairly clever in their design in that they have loopholes, but to engage the loopholes requires that I have much fewer hours available for drinking than if I don't engage them. (In the past, the absence of loopholes coupled with social obligations tended to pull me off the wagon over time).
But I've noticed that the demon in my head that makes me want to drink is just as clever as I am in thwarting my plans. Because now, during the hours when I have given myself permission to drink, I tend to drink faster than I did before. This was especially true during the period when the rules stated that my drinking had to be over by midnight. Now the rules say that I can drink past midnight, but for every minute past midnight that I drink, that delays by a minute when I can start drinking the next day (the time of drinking for today equals five o'clock plus the minutes past midnight when I stopped drinking last night). If I have half the time to drink that I had before, but am drinking at twice the rate, then what has been gained?
At this point, it's not quite that bad. As measured by how much alcohol I have to buy per unit of time, I am probably drinking two thirds what I used to. And my days tend to be more productive, since there are no longer afternoons when I drink a beer and then need to take a nap. But then occasionally nights like tonight happen. Certainly the pseudoephedrine contributed to the problem, but still it was scary. I ended up drinking the entire 200 mL flask of gin between the hours of eight and midnight. That's four and a half shots in four hours. Remember, this was on top of a beer and a glass of wine. And after all that I was still coherent and able to do wheelchair tricks (though not the one where I balance no-handed on just the back wheels).
For linking purposes this article's URL is:feedback
previous | next