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Off the Bike

Voting in Colorado and the US in 2020

2020 has been a wild year with just the COVID-19 pandemic. To up the ante the US is also having a Presidential election this year. Since I live in the state of Colorado there are a lot of things to vote on here as well. I needed to spend some time researching the ballot initiatives and decided to write something up about my though process. Here we go:

US President

Biden/Harris – I think this tweet sums up the race for me:

US Senate

John Hickenlooper – He is a Democrat so there is a 70% chance that we align on most things. He isn’t perfect but he is a closer representative to what I want to see done in the US and Colorado. The pandemic has caused as close to a black and white rift in the US’ government as I have ever seen. On the Democrat side it is based on science and reason. On the Republican side it is business as usual. A pandemic is anything but business as usual. In Colorado we have done a much better job than most of the country dealing with this but we are not done yet. Hopefully having reasoned leadership will help.

US Congress

I live in Colorado’s 3rd district so that is the representative that I get to vote on for the US Congress. This year we have Diane Mitsch Bush vs Lauren Boebert and it is turning into a bit of a race. The 3rd district is traditionally a Republican stronghold as it is mainly rural. However 2020 is not a traditional year and Bush could upset the controversial Boebert.

I will be voting for Bush as she is a Democrat and again aligns with my views on things like universal healthcare, pandemic response, taxing the rich, and not owning a restaurant where employees open carry firearms.

Montezuma County Commissioner

Samulski – This is the county that I live in and we need all the help we can get. Traditionally we are a farming community but as drought increases it is going to be important that we expand our horizons. I have been working on the Samulski campaign to get her website running.

Amendment B: An effort to repeal Gallagher Amendment governing property taxes

This is a complicated one. The Gallagher Amendment was created in 1982 to deal with the rising costs of living in Colorado. It fixed the total residential property tax revenue at 45% with the remainder made up by business property taxes. Since it was passed it is estimated to have saved residential property owners $35 billion, that is a b.

The problem is that it ties county and city government hands in how they handle property taxes. In smaller rural areas the amendment has been a problem because the larger richer counties determine the tax rates. I am conflicted on how to vote for this.

Colorado has an interesting history when it comes to taxes. In 1992 we passed the Tax Payers Bill of Rights TABOR, which forces any tax changes at the state or city level to be put to a vote of the people. This has kept Colorado taxes low which is seen as helping growth and limiting government. It also means that a lot of government services are underfunded like schools and road repair.

The Gallagher Amendment and TABOR seem to be at total odds with each other even though both limit how the government can rule. However we are in a different time in 2020 and it seems like we need to make a change here and repeal the Amendment. I will vote to repeal.

Amendment C: Expands ability of nonprofits to conduct bingo and raffles as fundraisers

Ah the expansion of gambling in Colorado. I remember when they first allowed gambling to start happening again in a few select towns in the 90’s. Personally I have no interest in gambling. I work too hard to make money and just giving it away seems like a silly thing to do.

Now gambling is seen as a good way to raise money for nonprofits. How messed up a situation are we in that we have to run gambling enterprises to raise money for nonprofits that help children? Rather than raise taxes on everyone we take advantage of people with an addiction to pay for their children’s health.

I want to vote against this on principle, but until we actually raise taxes to eliminate he need for nonprofits this is going to be helpful. Do you think Gamblers Anonymous will hold a raffle?

Amendment 76: Citizenship question to vote cuts would-be 18-year-olds out of the process

Sounds like voter suppression so I will vote against this.

Amendment 77: Allow gambling towns to increase or remove bet limits on casino games

Sure, maybe it will help raise tax revenue to fund more Gamblers Anonymous. Again, until we raise taxes creating more tax revenue via gambling is a necessary evil.

Proposition EE: Increase tobacco taxes and add new nicotine tax to ease state budget pain and pay for preschool

Smoking it a terrible habit and people should stop. Raising taxes on tobacco has worked before and will keep working. Also we need more tax revenue.

Proposition 113: Whether to join the national popular vote compact instead of current Electoral College system

This is an interesting effort to alter how the US general election for president works. It will require a lot of other states to join in the effort but it might work. I will vote yes for it.

Proposition 114: Colorado voters will decide on reintroducing an endangered species, wolves

I will vote yes on this.

Proposition 115: Prohibit abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy unless life of woman is threatened

How are conservatives all for small government but then for some of the most restrictive laws? For me this argument is simple: Does a woman have full control of her own body? My answer is yes.

I will vote no on this.

Proposition 116: A income tax cut for individuals and corporations, but less money for state

I will vote no on this. We do not need to cut any taxes at this time.

Proposition 117: Put limits on fees created by the Colorado legislature for state enterprises

Since Colorado has TABOR the state has had to get creative on how it funds different state enterprises. This is done with fees. Now we want to limit the fees. 🙈

I will vote no.

Proposition 118: Create a new state program and fees to provide paid family and medical leave to workers

Yes

That wraps up the 2020 US and Colorado elections. Thanks for playing along.

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Off the Bike Video

Shelter

Fun ski/splitboard film in the Swiss Alps. Besides being able to ride awesome mountains and make us jealous the riders attempt to be as low carbon footprint as possible. Its a fun snow sport film that gets me excited about winter. The side focus and commentary on climate change is sobering. Here you can see the environment change as the glaciers have melted away.

The movie is fun and interesting in many ways. The history of the alps, the crazy athletic abilities of the athletes, and the conversation about the environment. Naturally it got me thinking about our carbon footprint and impact on climate change.

One of the focuses on our home design has been Net Zero design. The idea is to build a structure that produces all of the energy that it uses. To do that we build a highly efficient home that is run on electricity. Then we add PV Solar to cover our electrical usage.

How big a difference does one house make though? The thing about one house building like this is that then it leads to other houses building like this. Once you see that something is possible it becomes more probable that you will do it too. I think most people look at Net Zero from an up front cost perspective.

Yes adding insulation and Solar PV costs money, but these are two things that continue to pay you back. Instead of having expensive counter tops we will have a home that pays for its energy usage starting year one. By year 5 or 8 we will have recouped the cost of the system.

Yes climate change is a massive issue and it will take a lot of action from the largest countries and companies. But I also see the benefit in each one of us taking action. While individual actions are small they add up by influencing each other to do better.

Regarding the ski movie: Its odd that in 2018 there weren’t any female skiers or splitboarders available for the movie…

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Off the Bike

Whole House ICF?

I mentioned ICF in a prior post as the technique we have settled on for building our basement walls. What I did not mention was that initially we had also planned to build all the walls with ICF. We changed to using 2×6 framing based on various green/passive building techniques we had been reading about.

However we have recently been considering whole house ICF again. This is due to the price of lumber skyrocketing in the US currently. Generally building your entire home with ICF instead of traditional wood framing adds about 3-5% to the overall bill. Currently lumber is about 30%+ up in price so that 3-5% is pretty much wiped out. Add to that the extra costs we were going to incur with spray foam insulation and external continuous ridgid foam insulation and ICF is looking pretty nice.

Beyond the economics though an ICF house has major practical benefits:

  • The walls are self standing. This allows the roof to be built in different manners since it is independent of helping support the walls. You can even use ICF for the roof.
  • Sound proofing. A solid concrete house is very quiet.
  • Thermal bridging. Since the concrete is solid all the way around and the insulation is built in there is no thermal bridging, which is a fancy way of saying that wood studs suck at insulating.
  • Bullet proof. I really hope we never have to test this but if it comes to that we will have a fortress in which to ride out the apocalypse.
  • Build time. With ICF you build the form, pour the concrete, and the walls and insulation are done. Then its just roughing in electrical and plumbing and adding the finish.
Great overview of building with ICF

We have gotten some quotes from ICF suppliers. Now we are talking with installers and getting quotes. The fun never stops apparently.

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Off the Bike

Partners

Last night I watched some Youtubes before packing off to bed and caught an episode from Vegan Cyclist that I had not seen before. He goes on a pretty epic mountain bike ride which is cool. Then at the end of the video he talks about how he and his wife make it possible for each other to do their own things.

It’s a footnote to the overall video. The lighting is terrible but the honesty is awesome and I highly recommend watching it. Here is where this part starts:

It’s only 2 minutes long but Tyler explains how they are able to make it work, and what it comes down to is commitment.

They are 100% committed to each other with no questions asked. If one of them wants to do something that is important to them the other one says yes, then figures out how to make it happen. This is so crucial for any partnership and especially for a romantic relationship.

There are times when it is hard to do this but those are the times that you need to do it. If you want the relationship to last and be enjoyable. I know that I am guilty of not always being 100% committed when Kate wants to do something but I try to limit those times. I also try to make it up to her as quickly as possible, somehow. This may explain why we have a rose bush.

Oh here is the entire video, its fun too:

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Off the Bike

WebP and Rank Math

According to Exploding Topics WebP and Rank Math are trending upward. While I haven’t heard of Rank Math I have seen more and more WebP mentioned by clients and customers over the last few years.

WebP is a next-gen image format driven by Google. It aims to replace JPEG, GIF, and PNG in one swoop by allowing for lossy and lossless compression, animation, and transparency. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to do it any better than the existing technologies. It can also have issues with your hosting configuration and can be a pain in the butt. Personally I think people should focus on getting their images smaller overall. Once you have the size down then consider eeking out a few percentage points by changing the tech.

Rank Math is a WordPress SEO plugin that appears to be the new up and comer taking on the giant that is Yoast. Various reviews tout it as being smaller, faster, and have more features. Seems like a win win.

The concern I always have with WordPress plugins is what are they doing on my site and how are they making money. With Yoast it is pretty straight forward: they want to upsell you on the Premium plugin. The problem with Yoast is that it has grown into a massive plugin that can use up a lot of resources.

Rank Math has no information about how it makes money or plans to make money on its website. One telling thing is that as soon as you install the plugin it wants you to connect to the Rank Math website via an account. The sell is that this gives you more features but the tell is that this is how they are collecting your data. My guess is that this is then sold to various data aggregators and advertising companies to build various profiles about your website.

I skipped connecting to the Rank Math website. The rest of the setup was fast and clean. They do a nice job of walking you through getting sitemaps setup and other SEO techniques and technologies. I am testing out the Open links in new Window/Tab option. Do you like that?

Once the setup is done they bring you back to the WP Dashboard with even more options available. There is a lot of schema and markup options available which make it a lot easier to configure your site to show up in new search products.

Overall I like Rank Math as a plugin but am concerned about their business model. I realize it is 2020 and its all about monetizing other people’s data. I just don’t have to like it. 😜

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House Build Off the Bike

Put Solar on it

For a second we didn’t think we would put solar panels on our new home’s roof. We had forgotten about doing the same thing on our home in Phoenix over 10 years ago. We had forgotten about living off grid in our trailer for 6 years and we had forgotten about putting solar on our cabin just a few months ago.

It was a lot of forgetting, and it was because we were overwhelmed with everything else that goes into building a house. Now that we have gotten 80% or more into the design stage, we have been able to think about more than just walls and a roof.

Before I had forgotten about solar for the house I did have Arizona Wind and Solar build a proposal for a grid tie and off grid systems. The off grid is over $25k with lots of batteries. The issue is that we would not be able to run a dryer or hot tub, and eventually charge an electric vehicle (I want a Cybertruck).

Grid tie just makes more sense at this point. We are still budget conscious and probably will be the rest of out lives. Even though we will pay a lot to have a transformer brought back 800 feet by the power company it will give us the ability to setup shop. With grid tie solar we will put up enough panels to cover our usage but the grid will handle the Amps.

The grid tie solution from AZ wind and solar is just under $10k for the equipment. The question is do I want to put the rock system on the roof and run the wires to the disconnect? If I do all of that I will save myself about $9k based on the proposals I have gotten from solar installers. That seems worth it. I just need to learn more about solar racks.

One of the major players in solar racks in the USA is IronRidge. They have been doing it for a while and their systems are very strong. In southwest Colorado we have wind and snow load that can either rip a system off the roof or crush it.

IronRidge has a very well done design system on their website. You give it location and it looks up the data for the area: solar exposure, wind, snow load, etc. Then you tell it about your roof and the solar panel array you plan on setting up. From there it gives you some product options and spacing parameters. Then it builds the system and even gives you documentation if you need to pass an inspection.

There is another roof mounting option for metal roofs that I am considering by S-5. With their system you have attachment points to the roof and then the solar panels mount directly to the roof attachment. There is no racking involved. This system is much more simple to install and cheaper because there is a lot less material involved. My concern with S-5 is overall strength of the system.

I may end up using the S-5 roof mounts to connect to our metal roof but then use IronRidge’s racking system to mount the panels. This will give us a really strong setup that is well bonded to the roof itself. Apparently there is more than 1 way to mount solar panels to a roof.

Solar electricity is really high tech stuff, but installing it and using it is boring. I say this to help people become more comfortable with the idea of installing it themselves. From talking with various solar installation companies they are roofing contractors with either an electrician running the company or they hire one to handle all of that. It is complicated but seems easier than painting to be honest.

My recommendation is to handle the mechanical installation yourself. Then hire an electrician to do the final connection and help get inspected. You will save a load of money and probably do a better job of installing everything.

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Off the Bike

Leveling Up

I have written about using software like Alfred to improve productivity before. One of the critical aspects of using Alfred successfully is using the keyboard as your primary tool for interacting with your computer. So one thing I am generally trying to improve is my typing.

Yesterday Youtube recommended this video:

Its a super nerdy video but I already learned one new trick:

Option + Delete/Backspace

Usually when I have a typo I hit the Delete/Backspace key repeatedly until the word is gone. By using Option + Delete I can delete the prior word. Hit it again and delete the prior word, ad infinum. Anytime I need to hit delete more than once I should use this shortcut.

Learning a new keyboard shortcut takes time and forcing yourself to use the shortcut. In this case if I forget and hit Delete more than once I will retype the mistake and then use the Option+Delete shortcut. Eventually it will be muscle memory.

Anyway the video had a ton of other great suggestions for learning to type faster: 10fastfingers.com and keybd.com are 2 great sites to practice your typing skills.

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House Build Off the Bike

Green Home Building

Earlier today we had a call with our designer and it was very productive. We are both happy with how it is progressing and the designer is providing good feedback to help us along. One goal with the design is to have a complete set of instructions for building our home. There will be a complete list of materials needed and images of how they will be poured or connected.

This means that if we want the house to be built environmentally friendly we need to start speaking up now. So we have been pouring over the books tonight and my assignment has been the Green Home Building book.

Green Home Building is one of the books we have been reading for getting our home building education. It’s some 400 odd pages about various techniques and technologies for making a home that is more environmentally friendly.

This is a well written book that for the most part cuts to the chase. I do wish they had more graphs and charts showing how different building techniques measure up. While environmentalism is important we do not have an endless budget, so it would be nice to see relative gains based on expenditure.

In chapters 11 and 15 the rubber really hits the road with their actual recommendations. Chapter 11 covers the Net Zero Energy home and 15 is the Zero Cost Premium. Net Zero is the focus on having a home where all energy used is offset by photovoltaic (PV) solar power. This does not mean the home is powered directly by the solar, but rather that the power used from the grid is returned by the solar system. Zero Cost is the focus of getting as environmental as possible while still spending the same as a typical US built home.

In a few areas the book has introduced us to something new (ERV), and in others is has cemented things we have learned elsewhere (stained concrete first floor). Overall if you are new to green building concepts I think this book is worth your time. If you are already familiar with passive house building techniques then you can skip this book.

One of the more interesting things that they promote is spray foam insulation. We did this on the cabin and felt a little guilty because of the chemicals involved. But the Green book promotes their use since they are far superior at insulating and will be with the house for its lifetime.

It turns out that a lot of what we did in the cabin is going to be good for the house. 2×6 framing, sprayfoam insulation, and extended roof for seasonal shading. For the house we will upgrade the windows and look at the U-value and SHGC to get better efficiency.

One new thing we are learning about is Advanced Framing. Rather than using traditional framing of 16 inch spacing AF uses 24 inch spacing. It also makes other recommendations that result in less material used which improves insulation by reducing thermal bridging. Here is something that helps the environment, reduces costs, and improves the structure. The issues with this technique are that most house plans are based on 16 inch stud spacing, and its original intent was to reduce materials used, not improved insulation. Based on this we are going to follow our designer and builder recommendations.

In regards to designing the house the Green book has a few suggestions that we like. They suggest putting the kitchen on the north side of the house. Since the kitchen is a heat source placing it on the north side, in the northern hemisphere, will help balance heat generated by the hot summer sun on the south side. In the winter it will add heat to the cooler north side of the house.

The bedrooms are going on the south side as they are mainly used at night. This means they will heat up during the day and retain that heat when we go to bed at night. Since we work from home we plan on spending 99% of our time in the central/northern living grand room area. The master will be on the second floor with a large landing area that looks out over the first floor great room. The house will be oriented to take advantage of the view to the east:

The La Plata mountain range.

We are going to have a 2 bay garage that we can put the truck and Honda Element in. The roof of the garage is where we will probably put the solar panels as well. Since we have dirty dogs we are also going to put a shower in the garage for quick cleanups before entering the house.

Overall the project is moving along and we are starting to collect bids from various contractors for everything that needs to get done. The plan is to break ground no later than October 1st!

Interesting video about passive building techniques. This Youtube channel has a lot of building sponsors so take all the recommendations with a grain of salt.

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Daily Ride Off the Bike

Adventures in Woodworking: Leopold Bench

Since we bought this property I have wanted a bench in this location. It is about 100 feet from where the trailer is parked, and where our house will eventually be. There is a nice grouping of trees that create great all day shade, and there is the view to the east.

One of my goals with my woodworking projects is to use the various scrap wood that we have. This can make it challenging when considering what to build as it limits what I can build. Yesterday I was browsing through some outdoor bench designs and found the Leopold bench.

My first exposure to Aldo Leopold was in high school when I was in the Environmental Ethics class. We read A Sand County Almanac and it was impressed on me how we need to look at nature and our place in it. So when I saw a bench design based on something he had come up with I was drawn to it.

“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.”

Aldo Leopold

It is also a very simple design and I knew I had the wood pieces to make it happen. While I didn’t have 2×8’s to build with I did have a lot of treated wood that will withstand the elements. So after work yesterday I spent about an hour picking through boards and then cutting and screwing them together.

The final result is definitely odd looking but it is surprisingly stable and comfortable. Kate and I spent about an hour sitting under the stars and moon last night talking about the house design.

I will build a more traditional Leopold bench with proper boards eventually. In the meantime this is the one we have and it gets the job done.

Morning ride

I got 1.5 laps around the land in this morning before a light rain stopped me. Normally I would have been caught out in the rain with miles to ride home, but today I was able to quickly head into shelter.

We had a call with our designer to get things on track and I hope to have a design to share soon!

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Off the Bike

Failure to Launch

Since the 100 days of blogging challenge ended I have not been posting here daily. I have been writing daily and have 22 Drafts started but not published.

Why am I not publishing them?

Some of them are longer posts that involve me finishing tasks, like painting the bathroom of our cabin. Others are more work/business related and I am worried about saying something dumb or incorrect.

Its strange cause during the challenge I was just focused on publishing and less on quality. Now I am trying to get the quality to be better but at the expense of publishing anything. The internal battle is strong.