Kitty litter considerations

After seven years of scooping kitty litter on a daily basis, one can’t help but meditate occasionally on the environmental impact of the stuff. What kind of litter is best? And what’s the best way to dispose of the scooped-out pet waste, or the used litter?

“Litter and the Environment” (2008) discusses the environmental impact of clay, silica, and plant-based litters. Did you know that the raw clay material (sodium bentonite) is obtained through strip mines, and that “The United States Geological Society estimates that 85 percent of the 2.54 million tons of clay used in this country every year is used for absorption of pet waste, with cat litter being the dominant”? That’s about 2.15 million tons of (ultimately) used-up clay that goes, most likely, into landfills. The article concludes that plant-based litters may cause the least environmental impact, but ultimately there is no perfect solution.

Some alternatives to clay-based litter that caught my eye, and have favorable comments in discussion fora, are:

These are inevitably more expensive than clay-based litters, but might ease your environmental conscience. For the ultimate in cost savings (at the expense of time), you can make your own paper-based litter.

Once you select a litter, there’s still the question of how to dispose of it after it’s used. I scoop waste (pee clumps and feces) from the litter into a Litter Locker, which is super handy (and keeps odors down) but not only consumes plastic, it seals the waste for eternity and guarantees it’ll never break down. But you can’t compost it (temperatures don’t get high enough to break down feces), you shouldn’t flush it (can clog pipes, and there’s a small risk of infecting marine life with toxoplasmosis, although apparently VERY small risk if your cat lives indoors and doesn’t eat mice), and from what I’ve read, most sources regretfully recommend sending it to the landfill. Probably the best solution is to put it in a paper bag or something a little more likely to ultimately decompose (versus plastic), then put it out with your trash.

I change out the unused litter very rarely, like every few months. From browsing online, I learned that some people just let the box fill up with waste and then throw out the whole thing once a week, which must make them go through a ton of litter! Why why why?

Finally, no discussion of this issue would be complete without mentioning the alternative strategy of toilet-training your cat, which uses no litter and takes another chore off your hands. However, the small toxoplasmosis risk would still be present.

I’m considering trying out Feline Pine and/or Yesterday’s News, just to see how well they work (and whether my cat will use them!). And I may try to devise an alternative to the Litter Locker that avoids the use of plastic. Hmm.

Training librarians across distance

Distance learning has great potential to reach a wide array of students, or just to cut down on commuting. Four years ago, I took a class on remote sensing through USC’s Distance Education Network as part of my Master’s degree work in geology. While I was delighted to not have to drive down into L.A. that semester, and I enjoyed being able to eat dinner or knit while viewing the lectures, I did feel that the experience lacked something — real-time engagement with the professor and other students.

But technology and pedagogy have been adapting and improving over time. I recently watched a recording of an open house for the San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science. Their entire program is offered through distance learning, even for local students; there are no physical classrooms. As a result, if the Open House is any sample, the professors have developed excellent ways to conduct an online class meeting that involves and engages students beyond passively listening to a lecture. Contrary to my initial reservations, I came away impressed by the use of technology and the clear commitment to a quality experience. There were interactive quizzes, discussion of the results, and a live chat window. I think I was most impressed by the presenter’s comfort with the online environment; she noticed and responded to every comment made in the chat window, seamlessly blending those topics into the flow of her presentation.

SJSU’s program involves ~2500 students (again, all online), with a 25-30 student enrollment limit in each class (interesting given that it’s offered online!). The required introductory course has a peer mentoring component. Students have the option of getting course credit for in-person internships with their local libraries. At the culmination of the degree, students can choose to assemble an ePortfolio demonstrating 15 core competencies or a research thesis. Recent theses cover a fascinating range of topics, including:

  • The impact of Hurricane Katrina on Gulf Coast libraries and their disaster planning
  • Historical archaeologists’ utilization of archives: an exploratory study
  • The rise of Mormon cultural history and the changing status of the archive
  • Libraries in American German prisoner of war camps during World War II

The course offerings broadly address issues of how to organize, catalog, access, and share information. There are classes on how “interview” patrons (to zero in on what they’re really looking for), the library’s role in intellectual freedom, archives and preservation, and the history of books and libraries.

I noticed a few interesting differences in word use from what I’m used to. “Research”, in the library context, refers to the process of looking up a desired piece of information, rather than developing new algorithms and conducting experiments. “Implementation” means to install or put something in place, not to write code.

Here stands revealed another world of new ideas and information to learn. And with distance learning, it’s made super easy! Hmm…

Violin fingerings

Since my last post about violin lessons, I’ve had the pleasure of learning the following new bits:

  • First four-finger fingering pattern (termed “red” in Fingerboard Geography), which consists of a whole-whole-half-whole step pattern (played on any string). This is, conveniently, just what you need to play in the key of D minor, at least on the D and A strings. I’ve been doing “finger marches” up and down these notes, which helps train my ear and also helps strengthen my pinkie.
  • D Major arpeggios. I’m finding these *hard* because they not only skip notes (challenging my newbie ear) but also cross strings. Much more challenging than a scale.
  • Bowing variations. The default back-and-forth bowing is termed “détaché.” We’ve also discussed staccato (slight pause at the end of the note, stopping the bow on the string; feels “sticky”) and slurs (playing two or more notes with the same bow motion, yielding a smoother sound).

I’m enjoying using Pachelbel’s Canon as a “piece” to work on. It’s conveniently in the key of D, and it keeps presenting new and interesting challenges, such as a high G-natural that requires a fingering change (from the “red” above to “blue”, which is whole-half-whole-whole steps). We encountered this in today’s lesson, so I left with additional homework: to learn the blue fingering, as well as “yellow” (whole-whole-whole-half) so that I can get the low C# on the G string. Yowza!

It’s a weird brain-inverting feel to read music for the violin. I had piano lessons for a short while as a kid, and I remember how sharps and flats were a mark of deviation (from the white keys) — because both the music and the piano are set to the key of C by default. Yet with this “red” fingering we started with (and I think is the most common way to start on the violin), it’s the key of D that’s easiest to work with. This means that the marked sharps (C# and F#) come for free on the D and A strings and it’s the sneaky G-natural (on the E string) that requires special handling. It takes a sharp eye to notice this!

But then I was reading through some of Wolhfart’s Etudes (a book I have from my previous violin lessons, which always defeated me with its difficulty) and realized that, because they’re written in the key of C, the blue fingering is just what’s called for, throughout most of the first etude! So that’s another way to practice it. I’m glad to start being able to map these fingering concepts to what the written music needs.

I’m also getting more of a view of all of the pieces that learning to play the violin entails — like cresting a hill and beginning to make out new landmarks in the distance. I started paging through later parts of Fingerboard Geography and noticed where it introduces *shifting* — moving your left hand up or down the fingerboard! Yikes! It’s presented as “no-fear shifting,” which manages to be both comforting and intimidating at the same time (evidently shifting is scary for a lot of people, else there would be no such term). I don’t expect to be ready to learn that for a while, although it’s needed about halfway down the first page of Pachelbel’s Canon (we’re skipping that section for now). Always more to learn!