April 04, 2011
An alternative to giant wind farms
Given how clean wind-power is, it's amazing what a royal pain in the ass it can be to get a major wind farm approved and built. According to this article on Fast Company's design website, many of the objections to wind farms are because of the very large size of the turbines. The Dutch design firm NL Architects proposes to make all of those problems go away by replacing the typical collection of large wind turbines dropped into relatively pristine or scenic vistas with armies of small turbines dumped throughout the urban landscape.
They'll arrange their mini-turbines into vaguely tree-like structures they're calling Power flowers and would plant them like trees in urban parks, along roadways and sidewalks, etc. The group is in conversation with the city of Amsterdam about a pilot project.
November 11, 2008
Moving the Maldives
The Maldives are a string of 1,200 islands southwest of India. The country has the geographic distinction of being the nation with the lowest high elevation, a mere six feet above sea level. Because of the current and projected rise in sea level due to global warming, combined with predicted stronger monsoons, there's a real possibility that the entire country could simply disappear under the waves. What to do?
Mohamed "Anni" Nasheed, the new president of the Maldives, is considering an extraordinary plan. He wants to move the entire nation...every man, woman, and child...to higher ground.
Nasheed is proposing using a portion of the billion dollars the Maldives takes in each year from tourism, and buying land in India, Sri Lanka, or maybe even Australia. It's unclear how much land will be needed to hold the nation's 270,000 citizens, or whether the host nation will allow another sovereign nation within its boundaries.
What is is that Nasheed take the possibility of his country washing away very seriously. Sixty-nine Maldives islands were completely submerged by a monsoon four years ago, and he thinks things will only get worse. "We do not want to end up in refugee tents if the worst happens," Nasheed says.
Here's a CNN article on the plan.
Maldives...the entire country mind you...is
February 06, 2008
How do you say goodbye in Eyak?
The world got a little bit less interesting last month, with the passing of an 89 year old Alaskan woman named Marie Smith Jones. Smith Jones was the last full-blooded member of the Eyak tribe, and the last native speaker of the Eyak language. And as such, she was a living example of a global concern.
All around the world, languages are dying out, falling victim to the forces of globalization. According to some estimates another language disappears every two weeks.
Why care? Well, according to the National Science Foundation there are plenty of reasons. For instance, by studying the variation in human language we gain valuable insight into the workings of the brain. But perhaps more profoundly, individual languages are repositories for the values and world-views of the cultures that speak them. Don't believe me? Check out this talk by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis.
February 01, 2008
Become a polar lawyer!
With the melting of the northern polar ice cap, the coming decades are sure to see a mad dash to claim the territories (and natural resources) of the far north. But since the laws governing the polar regions are a crazy mish-mash of international treaties, centuries-old customs, indigenous tradition, and conflicting national claims figuring out who has rights to what is no easy chore.
Iceland's University of Akureyri is taking on the task, offering the world's first graduate program in Polar Law. Graduates will gain expertise in everything from the Law of the Sea to climate change to Inuit legal customs. Could be a smart career move for a budding attorney looking for some legal adventure.
April 12, 2007
Deconstructing An Inconvenient Truth
What's the one image you remember from Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth? I bet it's that one chart... the one that shows carbon dioxide levels over the last several hundred thousand years.
It's a powerful image, but exactly why is it so powerful? What makes it work? David Womack of Adobe's Think Tank website deconstructs some of the images used in the global warming debate, analyzing how to hit the right balance between data and art.
December 29, 2006
I can live with a gasoline shortage. Or a coffee shortage. Or another set of California rolling brown-outs. Or a spinach recall. But please God don't cut off my supply of helium!
According to this AP article in the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle, we're facing a global helium shortage. helium plants in Qatar and Algeria are off-line, and there are pressure problems in the pipelines that carry helium gas between the main U.S. helium facilities in Kansas and Texas.
All of this may mean... brace yourselves... balloon rationing this Valentine's Day, which is peak helium use time.
(Balloon image by jk**/flickr.com)
December 18, 2006
Harvesting the underwater forest
This seems like something right out of an alternative future...like rocket belts or houses in the sky. A Canadian company called Triton Logging specializes in logging underwater forests -- forests that have been completely submerged by dam construction. They say worldwide more than 300 million market sized trees, worth $50 billion, are under water right now, and they're out to get 'em.
To pull this off, they've created a robotic sub called The Sawfish. The Sawfish dives beneath the water, clamps onto the tree trunk, attaches a large airbag to the tree to help with buoyancy, and then cuts through the trunk with its built-in bad-ass 55 inch chain-saw. The tree bobs to the surface where it's easily retrieved.
Here's a brief article from the Globe and Mail about the Sawfish.
December 01, 2006
We know why apples are red
After a five year search, scientists in Australia have located the gene that controls the red color of apples. Apples get their red color from chemical compounds called Anthocyanins, and the researchers have figured out which gene controls the amount of Anthocyanin produced.
Produce industry folks are hoping this discovery will lead to new and more popular varieties of apple. Me, I hope they extract that gene and start putting it into all sorts of other fruits and vegetables. I could really use a watermelon that is red on both the inside and outside.
There are a number of science websites reporting the discovery, but it's more fun to read about it at Food-USA navigator!
(Apple photo by PPDIGITAL/flickr)
November 19, 2006
Sprouting business card
The business card for the Swiss landscape architecture firm Tur & Partner is an example of their practice writ small. Water the card and in a few days seeds embedded within the card begin to sprout. (I wonder if they have to always give clients two cards... one to water and one to keep.
Thanks once again to Geoff Manaugh's BLDGBLOG, which is constant source of interest.
My business cards don't grow or glow or change color or anything, but they are clever and clear and beautiful. They're the work of L.A. designer/photographer Nicholas Ashbaugh.
October 22, 2006
While there's been growing interest in wind-power as a means to generate electricity, there's been surprisingly little research in how to capture the energy of the wind... pretty much everyone agrees that large, fixed, rotating blade systems are the way to go. But are there alternative methods?
Some Italian researchers think so. A company called Sequoia Automation has come up with an idea called the Kite Generator (KiteGen for short) that uses a bunch of mile-high kites tethered to a merry-go-round like contraption on the ground. Each kite's angle to the wind can be precisely and continuously controlled...kites in the downwind phase of their orbit are tilted to catch as much wind as possible, in the upwind phase they tilt down to easily slip forward.
A kite-driven carousel the size of a football field could generate half a gigawatt of power, and for about 1/30th the current cost of electricity in Europe (the researchers recently published a paper in the IEEE journal with the technical details. Here's a pdf). The researchers also say the kites can be quickly retracted if the winds die, or if there's an oncoming airplane.
Wired News had a piece on the kite generator earlier this month.
October 02, 2006
Lights out in Reykjavik
Reykjavik, Iceland is a city that's got its' priorities straight. Last Thursday night, street lights all over the city were turned off to make it easier for the residents to gaze up at the night sky. The lights out was organized as a way to kick off a big film festival in Reykjavik. Thousands of people went outside to gaze at the heavens, many of them listening to a live narration of the night sky being broadcast on the national radio network. Lisa Simpson would approve.
In case you were wondering, the Reykjavik police report absolutely no problems or crime caused by the outage.
[Photo of an Icelandic aurora by blue eyes/flickr.com]
September 11, 2006
EPA to get all of its energy from renewable sources
According to this press release from the Environmental Protection Agency, from now on the EPA will be getting all of their electricity from renewable sources...
EPA is the first and only major federal agency to purchase green power equal to 100 percent of its estimated annual electricity use nationwide.
As of September 2006, EPA will be purchasing nearly 300 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of green power annually in the form of renewable energy certificates (RECs) or delivered product. This amount is equal to 100 percent of the total estimated annual electricity consumption at all of EPA’s nearly 200 facilities across the country—enough electricity to power 27,084 homes for an entire year.
I think it's probably too much under this administration to hope that other federal agencies will follow suit, but I think grass-roots efforts to get organizations like universities, museums, and churches to make the switch to renewable power could be really effective.
September 06, 2006
Get a better handle on your energy use
One third of the energy you'll use today will be used at home...your TV, your lights, the refrigerator, maybe the computer you're using to read this blog. You want to reduce your energy use at home, but how to begin? Just yelling "turn out the lights!!!" isn't going to cut it.
There's a whole new generation of power meters coming to market that give you more details about your electricity use than you ever thought possible (for instance, check out the one from More Associates). The BBC has a fine article about the meter revolution.
August 20, 2006
Get rid of the Hudson River
Man, I thought Robert Moses was the worst thing that could happen to urban planning in New York City. Thank goodness a guy named Norman Sper never came to power. As outlined in a 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix magazine, Sper's master plan was...wait for it...dam the Hudson River at both ends of Manhattan Island, pump out the water, fill in the entire river channel, and...voila!...you've just doubled the size of New York City!
Never mind that you'd destroy a stretch of a great river, Sper had a city to build. Besides, the evil Soviets were watching...
"When every possible subterranean necessity had been anticipated and built," Sper points out, "a secondary fill would bring the level up to within twenty-five feet of the Manhattan street level.
"Upon this level would rest the foundations and basements of the buildings that would make up the new city above, planned for fresh air, sunshine and beauty. Thus, below the street level would be a subterranean system of streets that would serve a double purpose. All heavy trucking would be confined to it, but primarily it would serve as a great military defense against gas attack in case of war, for in it would be room for practically the entire population of the city.
"If the Russians had the vision and the courage not only to build huge cities from the ground up, but to practically rebuild an empire, surely America should not be frightened at a project as big as this."
Happily, Sper never had the mojo to pull this plan off...or as far as I can tell, any other plan. The article describes Sper as a "noted publicist and engineering scholar." If anyone knows anything more about this guy, let me know.
August 14, 2006
Houston vs. the bats
As reported in today's Los Angeles Times, the people of Houston have declared war on bats. This past spring a 16-year-old Houston boy died from rabies he contracted from a mexican free-tailed bat that flew into his bedroom. This has triggered a bit of a bat hunting frenzy in Houston, with people stomping them, gassing them, whacking them wiht baseball bats. The rabies control lab in Houston has been hit with hundreds of dead bats, brought in by paranoid residents convinced that they've just fought a lethal animal to the death.
Health officials in Houston have pointed out that less than one half of one percent of the bats in Houston have rabies, and that the Houston case is the only rabies death in the entire country this year. That doesn't seem to matter.
Right now the total number of bats killed is quite small, but there's ample president for public opinion toward an animal switching. If the whole "bats are evil" thing really takes off, there could be a significant reduction in the bat population in the region. Given that these bats each eat 2/3 of their weight in mosquitos every night, I hope the people of Houston won't mind lots more cases of West Nile disease.
(Bat photo by Linus Gelber/flickr.com)
July 25, 2006
The battle over wind farm aesthetics
In the search for alternative sources for energy in America, wind power seems to be a no-brainer... prices are competitive, many parts of the country have abundant wind resources, wind farms are infinitely scalable in size and variable in configuration. Yet, wind farms are voted down in many communities, largely for NIMBY-based aesthetic reasons(*)(**).
To fight against that sentiment, the wind power industry recently created a website called reimaginations.com that offers fine art prints of art inspired by or featuring windfarms.
I love the idea of policy decisions being hashed out on artistic grounds ("Fellow members of Congress, I can not support this proposed change to the Social Security law. The decision to print the bill in Century Schoolbook shows that the opposing party has completely failed to grasp the typographic techniques that will guide our great nation into the new century.")
(*)Personally, I think that a wind-farm can give a lovely futuristic sci-fi look to a landscape. But then, I've also been known to admire a particularly complex arrangement of drainage pipes.
(**)Philosopher Justin Good examined the interaction between of aesthetic view of technology and the aesthetic view of nature in a recent post on Design Observer.
July 01, 2006
Germany advances in the World Cup - Good news for train riders!
German soccer fans have another reason to celebrate Friday's amazing win over Argentina. Germany's Weltmeister-Bahncard (world champion train card) offers longer discounts the better the German team does. The card, which was available for purchase until the opening game of the World Cup, cost 19 euros and guaranteed a 25% reduction on train fares between 1 April and 31 July. But here's the fun part: with every round the German team advances, the card's validity extends for one month. 400,000 Germans bought the card before the Cup began, and the German team's already extended the card's 25% discount to the end of October!
May 18, 2006
Coming soon to airport near you...blimps!
I am *so* ready to travel in style. And I may just get my chance, if Ethan Stock is right. He has an essay laying out how the rise in oil prices and drop in airline passenger satisfaction makes the time right for a return of commercial dirigables. Instead of 10 hours of cramped airliner misery to get from LA to London, why not spend a full 24 hours on a dirigible, cruising along in high style...great food, fine wine, full net access of course, total comfort. Sign me up!