Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sleeping With Swine Flu

"If this turns out to be swine flu, would you still sleep with me or would you sleep on the couch?" My wife had come home from work looking like death warmed over, with barely enough energy to finish her dinner. She'd heard rumors of students and teachers coming down with H1N1 at the school where she works, but nothing had been confirmed. I dismissed her question at the time, saying we'd take it as it comes, and though it wasn't yet 8 o'clock, I started coaxing her toward bed...  

A story I wrote in today's Boston Globe Magazine charts my thought process later in the evening as I weigh whether or not I should join Rachel in bed and why, if one of us is to be banished to the couch, she assumes it would be me.

Rachel and I are regular readers of the "Coupling" stories written by local writers on the back page of each week's Sunday magazine.  I didn't figure I'd ever have anything to contribute, but when I got to thinking about the swine flu question she'd posed to me, it seemed like such an obvious fit I just had to submit it.

Vacuum Tube Solar Hot Water Comes to Cambridge

One of the first home improvements Rachel and I made when we purchased our condo here in Cambridge this spring was a solar hot water installation on our rooftop.

The system we had put in uses vacuum tubes, a newer, more efficient type of solar collector than the black box flat panels of old. As a writer covering energy and the environment in Cambridge and China, I'd spent the past three years tracing this new and exotic technology back to the factories and cities in China where they are surprisingly commonplace.

I first read about the tubes three years ago in a story in the Boston Globe. A family in Newbury, MA was using a massive installation to provide hot water and heat for their giant barn of a house.  A photo that went with the story showed their installation covered in frost on a cold winter day. Somehow, despite the cold, the tubes were still kicking out 120 to 160 degree water.