The Carbon Hat

Recently work has seen me fiddling with JSON APIs and Python’s requests module. I was also intrigued by the talk of decarbonisation and the banning of gas-fired heating systems.

The received wisdom when I studied this stuff was that it was better to burn fossil fuels in your home directly, than have a power station burn them for you and use the resulting electricity for heating, but maybe the increasing amount of wind energy on the grid has changed things?

While researching this I came across this fine effort by National Grid, Oxford University, WWF, and Environmental Defense Fund Europe. They are using machine learning to forecast the carbon intensity of electricity for the UK’s regions up to 48 hours in advance. Interestingly, in spite of the UK having a “national grid”, the carbon intensity can be very different for different regions, as power seems to mostly be consumed in the same region it’s generated. It turns out that living near to one of Europe’s largest wind farms and 2 funky vintage nuclear power stations, the electricity supply to Conner Labs is mostly wind and nuclear and can have a very low carbon footprint indeed.

Since Carbon Intensity didn’t offer a handy regional forecast widget, and JSON APIs are almost fun, the obvious course of action was to grab a Raspberry Pi and make something to inform my electricity consumption decisions. The source code is here for your edification and entertainment (?)

Carbon Hat surrounded by other experimental IoT junk

I found a Sense HAT in my drawer of IoT junk (some might say it’s more like an entire building than a drawer) so I used the RGB LED matrix on that to display the result. It fades from green at an intensity of 0, through to red at 215g CO2/kWh, which is approximately the carbon footprint of natural gas burnt for heating. All LEDs are programmed to the same colour, and it is covered with a globe from a broken LED light bulb to make it look like a single light source.

Carbon Intensity’s forecasts are updated every half hour, so I pull the 24 hour regional forecast from their API a few minutes after each half hour, and crunch it down to a single number representing the average carbon intensity for the next 3 hours.

The Darwin Diet

We’ve had the GI Diet, the Atkins Diet, and a hundred others. But what if Charles Darwin wrote a diet book?

Well, ever since “Man… descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped“, until the discovery of fossil fuels, human populations were limited by competition for resources. What that presumably meant was that, just in order to survive, Man had to eat everything and anything he could lay hands on. So there’s the Darwin diet right there. Eat anything you can lay hands on if you want to live.

Unfortunately, it just doesn’t fit well with a post-industrial society where fossil-fuelled machines do all of our manual labour for us, and the market economy brings us a cornucopia of processed foods designed for profit. Yes, people complain about McDonalds, but it’s exactly the foodstuff you’d expect a free market to produce. Looks nice, tastes nice in an addictive, trashy kind of way, cheap to mass-produce, and who cares what it does to your health. McDonalds don’t, because they don’t have to pay for your healthcare.

The amazing thing isn’t that some people are fat, as the media keep telling us. It’s more remarkable that some people are still thin, while they have the chance to consume everything and do nothing, and the evolutionary mandate for it, too.

“An engine that knows what it’s missing”

So after a couple of weeks of commuting, I finally got my first puncture on the Skyline. I wasn’t looking where I was going, ran over a tiny rock the size of a marble, and got a pinch flat. Even blown up to 100psi, those skinny tyres really are wimpy compared to mountain bike tyres. But I guess that’s the price I pay for getting to work in 20 minutes instead of 40.

Fixing a puncture on a commuter bike is much the same as in a car. You pull over to the side of the road and empty all the stuff out of your “trunk”, a big messenger bag full of junk, in order to access the spare inner tube and tools buried right at the bottom. Then you sit the bike upside down on its handlebars and saddle, unscrew the afflicted wheel and lever the tyre off it. You locate the hole in the inner tube, check the corresponding place on the tyre to make sure the sharp thing isn’t still there, put in a new tube, blah, whatever, done it a million times.

As I was doing this, sitting on a kerb under a tree in the rain, with Asian kids yelling and playing football in the street, I wondered if I hadn’t strayed too far from my roots in mountain biking, by buying into the whole “Quest for freeride” thing. Mountain biking is getting fragmented into more and more different disciplines, driven by bike companies, who want to sell you a different bike for each one. And who could blame them? They need to eat too.

But as some guy on some bike blog once said (I forget which) the cyclist is “An engine that knows what it’s missing”. Riding singletrack on the Frankenstinky feels like shooting squirrels with a cannon. When you hit something it’s spectacular, but I really wish it was lighter and easier to aim… I actually miss my old Inbred 🙁

Then I found something that made me feel a lot better. According to Colleen Smith’s blog, a cyclist can get 300 miles to the gallon… of ice cream! Or 1000mpg if they ate nothing but peanut butter. Even if the ice cream were entirely made from fossil fuels, which Ben & Jerry’s probably is, that’s pretty damn environmentally sound. I need to test this claim some time. Maybe 100 miles and one-third of a gallon of ice cream to start with.

While I was there, I couldn’t help but notice that Colleen Smith is a 6 foot 6 pro beach volleyball player and really hot. Hey Colleen, if you’re reading this, can I get your number? I’m only 6′ 5″ but I could wear platform shoes.

Oh well, back to reality.