Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nature Gallery

Friday, February 6, 2009

Recession takes toll on parties

DALLAS, Texas (CNN) -- Jasmine Rocha learned a valuable budgetary lesson when planning her quinceañera, the 15th birthday celebration that represents a rite of passage from childhood to womanhood for Latinas.

"It was very hard because sometimes the stuff that I wanted, it wasn't able to come through," said the teen from Dallas, Texas.

Jasmine's mother, Grace Grimaldo, sometimes has a tough time even paying the family's phone bill, but balked at the suggestion that her daughter's quinceañera was not a financial necessity.

"I had to," Grimaldo said. "It's very important because it's traditional down from generation to generation, and I had one, and my daughter definitely wanted one."

When the economy takes a downturn, not even traditions escape unscathed.

From birthday soirees to Bar Mitzvahs, many are scaling back or getting creative with planning gatherings. Tell us how you're surviving

Increasingly, parents are thinking "my super saver" rather than "My Super Sweet 16" and choosing to forgo the elaborate in favor of more intimate, and sometimes more cost effective, events.

Raul Salas, owner of D'Gala Bridal Boutique in south Dallas, is one of several vendors who benefits from the multimillion dollar quinceañera industry in the United States.

He said the months of December and January were his worst in 14 years of business.

While he typically works about three quinceañeras every weekend, he said he has had no bookings in the last two months and customers he has worked with are looking for deals.

"People come to make me an offer," he said. "If I got a dress for $400, they ask me for a discount, and I give them 20 percent discounts. It's better to make $100 than nothing."

Quinceañeras, which often begin with a religious ceremony before the party, can be huge productions, sometimes on par with weddings in terms of arrangements and cost. Is the recession affecting your wedding day?

Special salons that cater to quinceañeras often offer package deals with all the decorative amenities to match including a stage, balloons, catering, cake, video and photography, music and limousines.

Grimaldo put such a package on layaway -- paying a little at a time over a year. With the help of friends and family, she was able to raise enough money to fund Jasmine's once-in-a-lifetime quinceañera. Watch how they downsized »

Despite the help, Grimaldo said concessions still had to be made.

"Even just the place where I had it ... I would have chosen somewhere else, but with the economy the way it is," she said, her voice trailing off.

Atlanta, Georgia-based Realtor Amy Barocas can relate.

She and her husband are opting to combine their daughter and son's Bat and Bar Mitzvah celebrations into one big event to keep the budget under control. The events celebrate the Jewish religious ceremony marking the coming of age for a girl or boy.

Barocas is planning a casual catered affair for later this month instead of a formal sit-down event. She likened the strategy for the party to what she has seen in the real estate industry.

"You can take one of two routes," she said. "You can go the route where you spend more than you should, and we have seen that with the foreclosures, or you scale down and you make better choices that can still be equally as great."

Her children, Ivey and Harrison, are adjusting to the idea that they will have to share the spotlight on their big day, Barocas said.

"They do have to give up a little, but that's a part of family, making sacrifices when times are tough," she said.

The Barocas family is working with Contagious Entertainment of Atlanta, an event planning company whose owner, Carlos Romeo, said he is seeing more cost-conscious clients.

"They are really concerned with the money that they spend and how they spend it," he said. "A lot of clients right now are doing their events together and that saves a lot of money. They'll check and see if they have similar dates and you see cousins doing events together, friends doing events together, classmates doing events together."

Even those who can afford all of the trappings are altering their plans, said Corinne Dinsfriend, whose Over the Top Productions in Orange County, California, specializes in themed children's parties.

"People are being more sensitive about throwing parties and celebrations," she said. "There's still discretionary income out there, but our clients are not wanting to be as ostentatious."

"The guest list isn't as large," she added. "I guess you could say the 'Wow' factor isn't as intense just to be more sensitive to their friends and family who may be hurting in this economy."

The troubled financial markets, layoffs and foreclosures were far from the mind of young Jasmine Rocha as she glowed at her quinceañera in a long, full, pink ball gown embroidered with lace and beading.

As she reflected on the significance of the day, she thanked her mother for her sacrifices.

"I feel the love that my mom has put a lot of effort into this, and I appreciate her for doing that for me," Jasmine said, tears streaming down her face as her proud mother looked on.

For a parent, it was a priceless moment.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

US Interior Dept cancels Utah Oil & Gas Exploration leases.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today the department would cancel leases issued under the Bush administration allowing oil and gas drilling on more than 100,000 acres of Utah wild lands, much of it surrounding some of Utah’s most iconic treasures.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Spray-on solar panels developed

read om budget minded peoples;

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Computer Donation = Computer Dumping

Most of us have heard of the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. These are practically the commandments of environmentalism. They are meant to go in that order, leaving recycling as a last resort after reducing and reusing. But with computers and electronics, apparent reuse through donations does not guarantee proper recycling.

Often when computers are donated, with good intentions to maximize their use, there is a bad end result – the computer is eventually dumped.

People want to donate used computers to those who are less fortunate, to those who cannot afford to buy new equipment. When generous individuals get a new computer, let’s say for the holidays, they may still think highly of their old computer and see it as a valuable item for someone in need. After all, “One person’s trash is another’s treasure.” For a long time, I had felt the same way. What happens when that donation finally goes caput?

Let’s think about this logically. To properly recycle electronics and ensure that toxic components do not end up contaminating the environment here or abroad, it does cost money. This is hazardous material here.

Do we expect that computer donations will be recycled the right way? Or does an image of monitors, keyboards and desktop units piled high on a sidewalk come into your head?

The reality is that these items are not built to last, and many times donating them is just transferring the burden of disposal on to a needy individual or school that does not have the resources for proper recycling.

If you are trying to do right by the community and our environment, would it be more responsible to make sure these toxic items that are of limited use are not ending up in our drinking water or the air we breathe?

Let’s keep lead, mercury, and cadmium out of our landfills and make sure that computers are recycled properly!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Iowa's green energy policy struggle

The presence of prairie winds and rich soil makes Iowa literally fertile ground for developing alternative energy sources from wind turbines and biofuels.

Iowa invested $6m in wind turbine manufacturing

But the landscape is also a reminder that achieving energy independence is a formidable challenge and making an agricultural economy green is not easy.

Farm workers cannot take subways to work, farmers have to drive long distances into the fields to sow and harvest their crops and to deliver them to markets.

Farm animals themselves, not to put too fine a point on it, produce methane - a powerful greenhouse gas - that is trapped in the atmosphere.

Those challenges have not stopped the state setting itself ambitious goals.

Energy pioneers

The Iowa Climate Change Advisory Panel recently wrote a report for Governor Chet Culver setting out how the state can reduce carbon emissions by 90% by 2030.

The state has set up an Office of Energy Independence - surely the perfect place, I thought, to test how easy it will be for President Obama to achieve energy independence for the whole of America.

There are plenty of energy pioneers to be found in Iowa.

I feel like I'm doing something more than just building a washing machine, I'm building something for everyone to capitalise on

Crugar Tuttle
Wind turbine factory worker

Roger Neuberger, a farmer, lives near Clear Lake in the north-west part of the State - where the wind blows hardest.

He gets money from an energy company each year for making room for two wind turbines on his land.

Mr Neuberger has promised the energy company that he will not publicly reveal how much he is being paid, but other farmers have let it be known that, depending on when their contracts were signed, they can receive somewhere between $2,000 (£1,400) and $4,000 per turbine every year for the next 30 years.

Mr Neuberger is very happy, if rather modest about his role at the new frontier.

Asked if he felt like a pioneer, he replied: "Yeah, I suppose so."

"There were a number of farmers who didn't want to do this because they didn't understand - they were concerned how they were going to be treated. We've been treated wonderful. I couldn't ask for anything better."

Foreign oil

Iowa hopes that wind energy will deliver more than just electricity - and that investment in wind technology will help to transform towns depressed by unemployment.

Towns like Newton, which is just to the east of the capital, Des Moines.

Nearly 2,000 people lost their jobs in Newton when the town's biggest employer, Whirlpool, shut its doors in 2007.

Is ethanol really a clean alternative to fossil fuels?
Hundreds of those same workers, who once made washing machine parts, now make blades for wind turbines at the TPI factory.

But the jobs did not come cheap.

The state gave the manufacturer $6m in subsidies and tax breaks - in return the company promised to hire 500 people.

Larry Crady worked at Whirlpool for 23 years, making coin-operated laundry machines.

"It just wows you when you see a blade open and close," Larry says. "When you pull that blade out of the mould it's exciting, I feel like I'm doing something more than just building a washing machine, I'm building something for everyone to capitalise on."

Mr Crady's sense of wonder is understandable - the plant certainly has the "wow" factor.

The turbine blades are as long as a 747 jet and the factory is longer than an aircraft carrier.

It is fitting, then, that - according to the plant's manager - so many of those that work there feel that making the blades is as much about national security as it is about electricity.

"A lot of us in this company and in wind energy have a sense of calling to this," Crugar Tuttle says. "I think in the interview process it comes out with a lot of our veterans that this is about weaning us off foreign oil."

But wind energy is a long way from delivering independence for Iowa any time soon.

It provides just 8% of Iowa's energy needs.

If it is to go any way towards making the rest of the country energy independent, a distribution grid would be needed.


President Obama has promised to invest $150bn in renewable energy over the next 10 years.

He hopes to increase dramatically the contribution that wind, solar and other renewable sources can make to the country's energy supply.

According to current projections, renewables will still be providing only 8% of the country's energy supply 20 years from now.

Certainly, energy independence will not be possible without replacing the foreign petrol used in cars.

We need sources of power that are constant and don't rely on things like whether the wind's blowing or the sun's shining

Phil Wyse
Iowa state representative

Many Iowans think the solution is biofuels (as do most presidential candidates - albeit only while they are campaigning in the crucial Iowa caucuses).

Refineries across the state produce 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol a year - enough to replace 10% of the petrol in America's cars.

But biofuels are controversial.

A UN report says they drive up the price of food.

And is ethanol really clean?

We visited POET's ethanol plant in Hanlontown in the northern part of Iowa.

The plant, like most in the state, is powered by fossil fuels.

I spoke to POET's Vice President for Project Development, Larry Ward.

He insists that despite the use of natural gas in the production of ethanol, it is a good bargain.

"There's a tremendous net gain from an energy standpoint. Using natural gas to produce ethanol you have a gain - for every unit of energy you put into the plant you get two units of energy out."

The trouble is, many of Iowa's ethanol refineries use coal - the dirtiest fuel of all.

It is one of the reasons why Iowa will soon be building another coal-fired power plant.

More than half of all the electricity produced by the new plant is expected to be used to fuel the state's ethanol refineries.

King coal

Another problem is that Iowa gets very cold in winter.

How many Americans would risk living in a place where January temperatures hover around -18F, if they had to rely on sun or wind power for heat?

What happens when the sun goes down and the wind dies?

That is why, despite the push for ethanol and wind power, coal is still king when it comes to powering Iowa.

It currently provides 85% of the state's energy needs.

Phil Wyse, a state representative for 22 years, believes Iowa and America need nuclear power.

"We need sources of power that are constant and don't rely on things like whether the wind's blowing or the sun's shining," he says.

"Alternative to coal? Nuclear more in the mix."

Despite all the wind energy and ethanol Iowa strives to produce, carbon emissions are still growing here - and they are 1% higher than the average for the whole of the US.

Iowa may have much to show the rest of America about green energy - including how hard it will be to make America energy independent.

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles