When a Plain-Jane Rain Barrel Simply Won’t Do

Saving water is stylish now! And a consequence of that is more high-design products with which to stylishly save water! While that DIY-hacked, second-hand barrel you dragged from the dump is still perfectly functional, you should know that it’s so last year. The formerly humble and homely rain barrel is already getting an extreme makeover. The aggressively-named Waterwall Fatboy from Waterwall Rainwater Tanks in the UK is sure to satisfy your very-particular modern design sensibilities. From waterwalltanks.com,

Despite the name, the Waterwall Fatboy tank has an excellent size-to-capacity ratio, holding 650 gallons whilst being just over two feet wide. Waterwall tanks are made to exacting standards – the UV stabilised high density polyethylene ensures light does not enter the tank, to stop algae from growing in your tank water. Solid, thick walls keep the tank strong and prevent bulging over the many years of service.

And did we mention they look good? Next up from the company: a freestanding tank that’s designed and engineered to be used as a boundary fence. How much, you ask? Well of course good design is not cheap. Raindepot.com has the 650 gallon Waterwall Fatboy for $1,189.99. (If you’re style-impaired, the site offers plenty of other plain, but reasonable options.)

Modularity is a well-loved concept in modern design; that’s why the Rainwater HOG offers so many design-y opportunities. The innovative, award-winning modular tank stores a large volume of water in a small footprint, opening possibilities for creative applications in architectural and landscape design…like this installation, where they’re being tucked under a deck, ready to bulge with rainwater bounty while staying completely out of sight.

This commercial installation at Nundah School in Queensland, Australia of features 114 HOGs storing 5,700 gallons of water. These units were custom molded in the school colors of yellow and black, and the harvested water is used primarily for toilet flushing with the excess used for garden irrigation. Extra credit for these Rainwater HOGs, as the school uses them as learning tools in math, science, and environmental  studies.

Are you gazing longingly at the Rainwater HOGs, wondering if they’re budget-friendly? This is exceptional style, people! You can’t even get these at Target yet! You can get them from aquabarrel.com, $1,960 for 6 units. Plus shipping.

You can’t buy “A Drop of Water” at any price, because it is (still?) a prototype. Designed by Bas Van Der Veer, it passes the “good design” test with flying marks while ingeniously providing an integrated watering can that automatically fills as it rains. Grab and go! The smallish size will be ideal for you city-types with small container gardens. )If you’ve ever wondered how “one of a kind” prototypes are created, browse the photos of the process at www.basvanderverr.nl)

We have met the Numptee and He is Us

Mr. Numptee looks at my flooded basement with sewer overflow blockage
Well, didn’t we have a rousing good time writing about Mr. Numptee, the bumbling red-lipped character in Yorkshire Water’s “Bin In, Don’t Flush It” campaign. Mr. Numptee finds himself in a constant state of sewer overflow because, again and again, he puts inappropriate items down the drain. His adventures are super funny to me because WE’RE not Numptees, we know better!

Or do we? Above, here’s Mr. Numptee in MY basement on Saturday night, after the panic of pumping out the sewer water that covered by basement floor. Below, the floor drain. If any water went down the waste pipes or a toilet was flushed, it all came bubbling up here. Gross! That white-ish stuff is TOILET PAPER!
flooded basement drain blockage overflowing with toilet paper

We cancelled our dinner plans and hit the Yellow Pages…at 7:30 pm Saturday. To our great relief, Pat from At Your Service told us he was on the way over. (Now there’s a well-named business!) After what seemed an eternity, but was actually just 30 minutes, the truck arrives.

The truck arrives from At Your Service Drain Specialists Kansas

They unload a monster of a machine. which looks small here, but is one giant hunk of metal. A hydraulic lift lowered in out onto the driveway.

Dan from At Your Service Drain Specialists in Kansas

Pat brought his helper Dan (above); it only takes one guy to do the actual unclogging, but it took both of them to get the “Spartan 1065” down the basement stairs. If this machine could talk…I’ll bet it would have some incredibly bad breath!

Spartan sewer drain cleaning machine used by At Your Service drain specialists Kansas

Through the clean-out opening of the nearby waste stack, Pat started feeding the Spartan’s snake through the line. The end of the snake has a disk-shaped tool that rotates and cuts its way through the sewer line. Below, Pat patiently feeds the line as all of us watch the drain anxiously. “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever taken out of a sewer line,” I ask. “Feminine Products,” he says. “Tampons. That happens a lot.” Pat says he nearly always clears the obstruction within 100 feet. (The Spartan’s limit is 125 feet.)

Pat from At Your Service drain specialists Kansas cleaning out the line

“That’s it.” We all look as the water drains from the floor, off to the wastewater stream where it belongs. Believe it or not, the photo below depicts a beautiful sight that brought me great happiness!

My clogged basement drain is finally cleared

So what caused it? Tree roots? No, Pat says our home is too new for that; roots are a common problem with homes that older than 40 years. In fact, our clog was caused by “feminine products.”

WHAT! Yes, the clog was caused by tampons. Now, there are 3 women in this household and I promise you, we knew that “sanitary products” or “feminine products” were verboten to flush, but for as much information as we’ve read on this topic, we thought they meant sanitary napkins, not little bitty tampons. Manufacturers help perpetuate the myth. From the Tampax website, you will read…

Tampax tampons can be flushed in toilets connected to city sewer systems. Frequent flushing of tampons is not recommended for septic systems.

Along with the misinformation, another problem is the silly modesty of terming these products  “feminine care.” If you mean tampons, say so!

So now we know. Here’s Pat and Dan, undoubtedly smiling because they’re done at my house and can go home and enjoy what’s left of their Saturday night. (I’m smiling too, at least until I have to face the prospect of cleaning up after a sewage overflow into my basement.)

Dan and Pat from At Your Service drain specialists Kansas

Shiny shamrocks on the truck of At Your Service drain specialists KansasI never expected see Mr. Numptee at my house, or a truck like this in my driveway. So let me state this directly: do not flush tampons. Also: according to Pat, who should know, do not flush baby wipes. Even the type that claim to be “flushable” are definitely not. As the truck leaves, I notice one awesome thing: the “lucky” shamrocks on the truck are made of reflective material, so I see them shining until the truck goes out of sight. And armed with a little more knowledge, I expect to be luckier in the future as far as sewer blockages go.

h2o mp3: Pouring Water On A Drowning Man – Otis Clay

Otis Clay is 67 years old and still serving up the soul, performing his brand of R&B and gospel all over the world. Mississippi-born but now a long-time Chicago resident, Clay is a well-known community leader on the city’s West Side, giving tons of time and talent to efforts that help create economic opportunity with initatives that help people give back to the community where they live and work.

This track is from 1970 from the album Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers.

You push me when I’m falling
And you kick me when I’m down
I guess I missed my calling
Cause I sit up in a cloud

How much more
How much more could I stand
When you’re pouring water
On a drowning man

Play the track


Download Pouring Water on a Drowning Man – Otis Clay (3.1 MB)
Like it? Support the people who make music! Visit www.otisclay.net or buy this track at iTunes or Amazon.

Fact-o-Pic: The Green Green Grass of Home

It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago,  many desert dwelling suburbanites viewed lush green lawns as de rigueur–a defining symbol of the American dream. Not any more, but still we cling to the entrenched vision of the “green, green grass of home.”

Today’s Fact-o-Pic* is drawn from a great article on Wall Street Journal online that covers the struggle of developers and homeowners from Colorado westward trying to wean themselves from the blades.
(*Fact-o-Pic FAQ: “Can I use this in my blog/newsletter/report/etc.? Why yes!)

Article: In Arid West, Thirsty Lawns Get Cut From Plans: Developers in Drought-Prone Regions Rethink the Dream Home to Conserve Water and Reduce Costs; Grass as a ‘Throw Rug’

In Full Surround! L.A. Mass Freak-Out over Rain

It almost never rains in Southern California, but when it does… “We’re going to have a mass panic on our hands.” Comedian Mark Iverson’s movie parody, Rain: H2O…NO pulls out every widescreen cliche you can think of for this hysterical “trailer” that captures the high drama of Los Angelenos freaking out as the storm clouds gather.

This was posted to YouTube last May, but we missed it until, thankfully, the L.A. Now Blog at latimes.com brought it onto our Doppler radar.

Mysterious Fruits of Water: Lychee Fruit

Installment #4! The world’s most esoteric fruits are helping marketers de-commoditize bottled water with mysterious, value-added flavorings.

I shelled out $2.50 just so I could share this Borba Water with Lychee Fruit with you! The lychee (aka laichi or lichuare) is a fruit tree native to Southern China and is now cultivated throughout parts of Southeast Asia, reaching Hawaii in 1873, Florida in 1883, and California in 1897.

Lychees require seasonal temperature variations with warm, humid summers and cool, dry winters for best for flowering and fruit development. Young lychees can be killed by a light frost, but mature trees have survived temperatures as low as 25° F when fully hardened off. According to the California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc., there are trees in San Diego, California that are over 90 years old with no sign of decline in sight.

And this fruit has some sexy roots! An early Chinese historical reference to lychees was made in the Tang Dynasty, when it was reportedly the favorite fruit of an emperor’s number-one concubine. Since lychees were only grown in southern China, the emperor had the fruit delivered by the imperial messenger service’s fast horses, whose riders would take shifts day and night, like the Pony Express, to get the just-picked lychees to the capital.

Another interesting story: the “Hanging Green” cultivar is the most famous and rare lychee in existence. For centuries, Hanging Green was an item of tribute to the imperial government of various dynasties until people in Canton revolted during the Qianlong era against the tributes and chopped all but one of the Hanging Green trees. The sole remaining tree still produces fruit each year, and fruits from that tree are now called “Zhengcheng Hanging Green.”

That’s fascinating, but I’m too distracted by Borba’s label to think about lychees, particularly THIS gem:

Can you IMAGINE that?! Right on the other side of my skin lies a supermodel, needing only BORBA water to get out! Suddenly, $2.50 seems wildly reasonable! WHY didn’t someone tell me about this years ago, so that gorgeous me could revel in intoxicating global attention? Thankfully, they’ve included directions but I’m a bit confused…do I have to do the Twist, or would other cool moves be acceptable? Do I sip WHILE dancing, or afterward? When will “Inner Babe” bust out? Is it immediate, kinda like kryptonite? Let me know…

THE WORKS Toilet Cleaner Blows!

In an incident sure to go on their permanent records, four South Carolina college students were arrested after detonating several “Works Bombs” in an around their dorm. A “Works Bomb” is a new one by me, but is apparently a well-known prank among our idle youth, with many how-to’s and videos abounding across the internet. And no wonder, because with just an empty plastic bottle, “The Works” toilet bowl cleaner and some aluminum foil, any idiot can become a frathouse legend for years to come. From wistv.com,

via wistiv.com: State Law Enforcement Division on the scene.

via wistiv.com: A State Law Enforcement Division van on the scene.

Four Newberry College students were arrested and charged Thursday, accused of causing multiple explosions in a dormitory which led to an evacuation and police search of the building…[snip]..college Vice President Chuck Wendt told students a water bottle filled with toilet bowl disinfectant was set off in the parking lot of Brokaw Hall at around 11:30pm Tuesday….[snip]..Wendt said another device was set off in the dorm’s first floor lobby at 12:50am. Sheriff Foster said officers in the area mistook the sound for a gunshot and investigated, but could not find the source of the blast. At around noon Wednesday, a third device went off. The dorm was evacuated as agents from the State Law Enforcement Division searched the building with police dogs and a robot.

It’s actually a “pressure bomb” caused by gas buildup from the reaction of the hydrochloric acid in “The Works” and the aluminum foil.

How’s it work? Thanks to thechemistrytwig.com, here’s the science in a nutshell:

The chemistry explanation:  The aluminum foil in your kitchen is coated with a type of wax.  This is to prevent you from being burned by the aluminum since it is a strong skin irritant.  The Works toilet bowl cleaner (and some others) contains hydrochloric acid.  The acid strips the coating away, exposing the aluminum.  Hydrochloric acid reacts rapidly with aluminum to produce Aluminum Chloride (soluble) and Hydrogen gas.  Here’s the reaction:
3HCl(aq) + Al(s) –> AlCl3(aq) + 3H(g)

Like many fun and irresponsible acts, this can be dangerous! Hydrochloric acid can burn your skin and your eyes and kill green living things!  You should observe all safety procedures when handling it. (Who knew toilet bowl cleaner could be this toxic?)  The remnants of the explosion may well contain acid. So understand, careless people: this is very dangerous!  Naturally, we are not responsible for any injuries or legal consequences caused by some numbskull reading this and attempting it. This information is for educational purposes. Now go away and put the knowledge to use and study for your chemistry test.

h2o mp3: I Love the Rain the Most (When it Stops) – Joe Purdy

We’ve had a wet few days here in my ‘burb, but now it’s clear…an ideal time to share American folk artist Joe Purdy’s song I Love the Rain Most (When it Stops). If the 2004 song sounds vaguely familiar, maybe you’re a Grey’s Anatomy fan; the song was featured on an episode of that ABC series.


Well, I love the rain the most when it stops
We can see the big white houses, yeah, and the docks
And we can jump in the river, don’t know if the water or sky is clearer
But I know that I love the rain the most when it stops
Yeah, when it stops

No more grey today, we gonna celebrate
You know Miss Sunshine, she starts to paint a perfect picture of this river parade
And I know that I love the rain the most when it stops
Yeah, when it stops

Well, the dark waves, they start singing together
I can’t believe this change in the weather
I start to hum a child’s rhyme
And all these boats, they start rocking in time
And I love the rain the most when it stops
Yes, we love the rain the most when it stops
Yeah when it stops

Play the track


Download I Love the Rain Most (When it Stops) – Joe Purdy
Low-fi 64 kbps mp3 file for sampling
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You Always Go First at All Nippon Airways

Soon, will your airfare include an additional fee for “holding it?” Maybe, now that Japan’s All Nippon Airways has started asking passengers to go to the toilet before boarding because…they want to reduce carbon emissions! (Just think of the greenwashing potential…ANA: we’re working hard to address Carbon Leak issues!) From The Daily Mail (UK):

All Nippon Airways (ANA) claims that empty bladders mean lighter passengers, a lighter aircraft and thus lower fuel use. Airline staff will be present at boarding gates in terminals to ask passengers waiting to fly to relieve themselves before boarding, The Independent reported.

ANA hopes the weight saved will lead to a five-tonne reduction in carbon emissions over the course of 30 days. The airline began the policy on October 1, according to Japan’s NHK television.

Although it is intended as an experiment lasting one month and 42 flights, the trial may be extended if it is well-received by passengers and if results are positive. Based on an average human bladder capacity of 15oz, if 150 passengers relieved themselves on board an aircraft, this would amount to 63.7kg of waste.

Think about it! 63.7kg, (which is 140 lbs) means that All Nippon could transport an additional paying passenger whose weight could be totally offset by all that urine that stays on the ground! That’s an idea that could go right to the bottom-line! (tee hee)

Intriguing, but let’s look at the total picture, that of 150 flushes at both ends of the terminal, or approximately 360 gallons of water assuming a very-efficient 1.2 gallons per flush. We’ll all be stamping our carbon feet either way; it’s simply a matter of who will pay for it. Our policy at Thirsty in Suburbia? “Go where you wanna go, do what you need to do.”

When Protozoa Came to the Big Screen

Fierce and cannibalistic! The battle to the death will be primitive and unmerciful! This is not a sensational film coming to your local multiplex, but a way-back look back at 76-year old street science.

These days, we can watch protozoa battling on screen whenever we’re online, but in 1933 this was shocking, amazing stuff! The article from the February, 1933 issue of Modern Mechanix covers the jaw-dropping marvel that awaited visitors to that year’s World’s Fair Hall of Science…a protozoa death-match unfolding in a single drop of water. (Side note: deflation! Was 25¢, now 15¢!) The article in its entirety:

Screening Fierce Battle in Drop of Water

YOU might not believe it, but ferocious and cannibalistic battles are staged every moment of the day in the drops of water that make up the rivers, lakes and oceans of the world.

A few of these battles are to be brought to the screen for the amusement and amazement of visitors to the Hall of Science at the 1933 World’s Fair. What will make this feat possible is a special projector which throws on the screen in a greatly magnified scale what is seen at the eyepiece of a powerful microscope.

Drops of water containing various species of unfriendly protozoa will be joined on the slide under the microscope connected with the projector. The battle to the death will be primitive and unmerciful, for protozoa are hungry and they ask no quarter and give no quarter. The artist’s drawing above shows how the projector and screen will be rigged up for the show.

And looking closer, the devil really is in the details! What are these creatures doing battle? Are there any microbiologists out there who can identify these “unfriendly protozoa?

Detail: Two unfriendly, unidentified protozoans

Not having any microbiology reference works available, our “research department” turned to a freely available tool, the Tin Eye reverse image search engine, which diligently checked 1.12 billion images but failed to find anything quite like it across the wild, wide expanse of the Internet.