You might be thinking that this letter is going to be about how I am re-using plastic bottles, or making old newspaper into paraffin-laden logs (not a bad idea actually), but that is not exactly what I am not wasting.  As I was growing up, I was pummelled with parental messages.  As I recall now, some of them included, ’a penny saved is a penny earned,’ ‘eat everything on your plate, there are starving people in (fill in this space with which ever country you were told about),’ ‘ if you make that face anymore, your face will stay like that for the rest of your life,’ and one of my favourites, ‘if you don’t study more, you will never get a good job.’ 

I also learnt quite a bit from what I would see on our family’s black & white Muntz telly.  Some of this proved to be completely useless, but for some reason have stuck in my mind all these years.  I can still remember watching the Spin and Marty episodes on the Disney programme (I learnt the benefits of wearing undershot cowboy boots); the terrible scenes from Dallas, and Memphis, and Los Angeles all are as clear today as they were when they were flashed into our sitting rooms (I learnt that there are some pretty sick people out there); the horrendous images that filled our television screens nightly from Viet Nam are still etched firmly in my psyche (I learnt that power can be used for good, but rarely is); and sitting outside at a friends house, watching when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon will always be with me (I learnt that one can achieve anything if they really want to). 

I can also remember seeing some pretty bizarre adverts on telly.  Dancing tooth-paste tubes; effervescent tablets that would sing “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz," extolling the benefits of taking them; famous people explaining how most doctor’s really did think smoking was a good thing; and then the advert that probably make the biggest impact on me.  In the late 1960’s there was an advert for the United Negro College Fund that talked about education.  In the advert, the key message was that ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste.’  I think of all the ‘messages’ I heard growing up, this is the one that keeps coming back, sometimes to haunt me.

I am at my best (whatever that means) when I am busy.  I do love my projects and keeping busy.  I think I would just whither away without things to do, and instead of waiting for them to happen, I create them.  Last year, just after moving to Sol y Mar, my mind cranked up into proactive mode and I came up with a little project to increase the benefits of my sitting-room fireplace.  I am not sure if I was distracted by a few other projects or what, but the idea sat and festered inside my head until last month. 

So here is the scenario.  It is winter, sort of.  Winter means cold weather and short days.  I don’t like cold weather and short days.  And whilst I do believe that the mind is a very powerful thing, I haven’t quite figured out how to keep the cold away and keep the days long (well, I did figure out how to completely cover Sol y Mar with a huge Plexiglas dome, but that is another story).  But to counteract the temperature and lessening amount of light, every night I have a fire in my fireplace.  This is good for me (a nice warm feeling), good for the economy (by now I must be one of Tomeu’s best customers for leña), and good for the carbon footprint of Mallorca (burning wood is just putting nature back into nature).  But as I was sitting in front of the fire one night, the ‘a mind is a terrible thing to waste’ message came back to be like a bout of bad chilli (okay, sorry about that, not the prettiest metaphor…the message came back strongly…yes, that is better).  I needed to resurrect my idea from last year, but this time, actually do it.

This idea involved physics (yawn).  My fireplace is old, and is typical for one that was built years ago.  You put some wood into the brick cave-like opening in the wall, light it, and most of the heat goes up the chimney.  The reason is that heat rises.  Well duh.  So whilst it always looks very pretty, more heat is going up the chimney than actually wafts out into the sitting room where I am.  I can remember seeing something that was sold in the 1960’s, when ecology began to become more than just another ‘–ology’ word.  I decided to build one. 

I bought some copper tubing.  Okay, I normally would have done this out of PVC tubing, but plastic tubing and the heat from a fireplace don’t co-exist well.  So I bought the copper tubing and an assortment of copper elbows.  With my trusty hack-saw, I cut the tubing into the lengths I needed and then joined them with the 45-degree and 90-degree elbows.  And then I stuck the convoluted-looking tube contraption into the fireplace and built a fire.  The shape of this ‘thing’ was sort of like a big ‘C.’  My plan was that the bottom of the ‘C’ would be exposed to the cooler air on the floor, which would then travel up and around the ‘C’ as the fire heated the tubing, and would exit from the top of the ‘C’ into the sitting room.  Well, it worked.  But then, because I sure wouldn’t want my mind to go to waste, I reasoned that if I forced air into the tubing from the floor, I would be able to realise even more heat out of the top of my new trendy and ecology neutral heating system.  I also reasoned that if one tube was good at moving heat into the sitting room, two tubes would move even more. 

So after buying more copper tubing and more elbows, and a very small computer muffin fan, I now am the proud possessor of the Dr. Rieley’s-carbon-neutral-turbo-somewhat-passive-but-incredibly-efficient-fireplace-heating-system.  I was thinking of naming it something, but shoot, it isn’t a car, is it?

And after all that, then I realised that during the day, when the sun is pouring in through the windows, the heat that is built up goes sneaking up through the chimney, so I decided to creatively stop that too.  The ‘brick wall’ in that covers the fireplace is actually some carton-pluma (foam-core) that I cut to fit and painted to look like the bricks around the opening.  I keep it in the opening during the day and remove it when I build my daily fire each evening.

With some luck, my parents are proud of me for not wasting my mind, but probably still a bit flummoxed that I do have a good job and didn’t study all that hard. 

P.S. I have started re-building “Esteban Tenia Razon”


pretty windy here lately



Spin and Marty (or is it Marty and Spin?)


that first big step onto the Moon


the original pill-pusher


what Sol y Mar might look like if I covered it...which I won't



a great barrier to cold air rushing down the chimney


ooooh, dual heat distributors, ooooh


the semi-passive, un-named heating doo-wah in action

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copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, James B. Rieley