Government Handouts

21 August 2007

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usda.png If you Google around enough, with diligence and creativity in your search terms, plus a dash of willingness to check out page 12 of the results, you just might find some value provided by your government.

For example, I've been trying to spruce up the overgrown, dreary and downright treacherous shrubs, bushes and vines littering my yard. Using the pick-axe to uproot shrubbery is fun and easy, sure, but then there's a gaping hole, a void, a cavity of hope waiting to be filled. Plant guidebooks seem to either be jinormous compendiums of every plant, fungus or moss known in existence, or else they trot out the same few dozen marigolds, impatiens and dogwoods.

Designing a garden around the house requires a knowledge of the space, sunlight, water, drainage and soil. Without an eye towards color, blooming and size, the results may possibly be healthy, but boring and mundane.

I know my yard. This area is sunny. That area is shady. The dogs poop in that corner. And in that other one, too. This bed doesn't get much rain.

Knowing my constraints, now I must fill the emptiness. With color. That blooms at the appropriate time. Joy! Even more constraints.

Enter the USDA. Established in 1839 as the Agriculture Division, it's been collecting data ever since.

Their soldiers on the ground, in the fields and forests, steadfastly recording the plants they witness everywhere, have compiled a database of over 89,000 plants seen in the United States. While a nice online search form is available, results can be delivered not only in HTML, but also as slightly-ugly yet still useful comma-separated values.

The data includes what you'd expect, including the entire chain of Latin words to precisely describe the plant, along with its common name, of course. The data also includes, for some of the plants, information that is immediately useful to someone attempting to populate his yard. Commercial availability, US nativity and invasive status, the season and color of bloom. All categorized by the states in which the plants can be found.

Download the 17mb CSV results from a rather large query, slice, load into a database, swizzle and serve over ice.

Living in North Carolina and finding a purple flower that blooms in the spring for my partial-shade bed just got a whole lot simpler.

Free Energy

04 August 2007

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coal.jpgWhile doing some work around my house, I found our old coal chute, which had been boarded over and backfilled with coal.

I now have a barrow full of coal.

How does one dispose of a barrow full of coal? Google only leads me to methods and facilities for recycling coal ash. Converting coal into coal ash does not sound like a lot of fun or very environmentally responsible.

I even wrote to the Coal Education Development and Resource folks, thinking they'd know what to do with coal. They have pictures of trees on their website, so surely they can tell me how to legally and environmentally-responsibly dispose of my fossil fuel.

They have thus far not responded. Thanks guys.

My friend Lance did pick up a chunk and marvel how 100 years ago, everyone knew what coal looked like. He took a nugget home to show his kids.

Checking eBay, the closest thing I can find is a guy selling miniature imitation coal for people building scale model railroads.

Suggestions given so far have indeed included "Christmas presents for the next 40 years" so I don't need that one again. Plus, there's the issue of storage. I'd like to use my barrow for other things.

Free bag of coal to whoever gives me the best suggestion for removing the coal from my life.

Yard Blog

23 July 2007

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Rebecca and I have a habit of standing around, talking about all the things we could do to our house.

Some of our talk has centered around the ugly "patio" of poorly-laid bricks and easy-to-trip-over landscaping timbers.

removal.jpg spike.jpg This morning it was a brisk 65 degrees, perfect for some manual labor, so up came the patio.

Thankfully the people who laid these bricks previously had indulged in quite a bit of sand, so I only need to screen it before laying everything back down, hopefully better than it was before.

One of the best tools ever is a 6-foot-long tempered steel spike with a cutting edge. Great for removing stumps or prying up landscaping timbers.


I've also found that I enjoy yardwork as a nice form of exercise, instead of doing something pointless, like lifting a weight 50 times, or walking around in a large circle.