Last night I was at a Passive House meetup in Chicago where among many other things, I learned about Energisprong. (For those new to Passive House, it is a method—and a philosophy—for designing super efficient buildings.) Energiesprong, which came out of the Netherlands (hence the quirky-fun word), is extreme-retrofitting. As the slightly Monty Python/Terry Gilliam-ish animation above explains, older homes get new, better-insulated facades, solar roofs and system upgrades. The kicker is that the work is completed in about a week. Energiesprong is catching on in Europe. Here in the US, Rocky Mountain Institute's REALIZE initiative is working out the logistics to make this practical at scale.
Given all the gobsmacking advances in bestiary robots (fish, snakes, bees, bugs, dogs...), and ever-cleverer AI (e.g, Who / what wrote that poem?!), perhaps the time has come for V.2 of Alan Turing's famous test. Merely matching—or exceeding—human intelligence doesn't seem like much of a challenge anymore. On the other hand, hacking bird-of-paradise intelligence would take things to a whole new alien-psychedelic level. Famous for the males' extravagant courtship displays, you would think scientists would know all there is to know about these flashy dancers. It's not like they're hiding, which makes the identification of a new species in Indonesia all that more amazing. Look at this fellow go! Now write the algorithm... (via National Geographic)
Of all the mechanical critters in the ever-expanding robot bestiary, I think the fish could be my favorite (the headless dog is most definitely my least favorite). The video is certainly much more soothing to watch than the typical tech fare, shot among the coral reefs of Fiji. While the researchers were focused on testing out the fish itself, I'd like to see some of what the fish saw. I guess that's the next trip. Another suggestion: paint the fish like a tropical fish! If the idea is to send schools of these things into the deep as unobtrusive observers, they need to blend in!
Last year at the Automate conference at Chicago's McCormick Place, it was clear that the future, at least in terms of robots, was soft and bendy. Multi-jointed robotic arms have hands with multi-jointed fingers. Now researchers at Harvard have figured out how to make artificial skin designed to slither and made a robo-snake. Robo-eek!
Remember when origami was for making pretty paper swans? The mash-up of drone, extendable origami arm, a gripper and a camera is truly a mythical beast of a maker's dream. While it may not be lovely, it is impressive. The folding arm is some darn clever engineering. Related article on The Verge.
If it weren't so darn adorable, I'd probably reach for a shoe to squash it. That's a lot of "Wow!" in a small package.
While actual bees are plotzing all over the planet from pesticides, mites and disease, the buzz has shifted to itty bitty electronic drones. Interest is coming from all quarters. Retailer Walmart just took out a patent on a drone bee, which kind of makes sense when you consider that more than half its profits come from groceries and much of the food supply is tied into pollination. Artificial bees as the fix for our collective failure to save the real ones? There's not a lot of joy in that. Then there are NASA's "Marsbees," swarms of which could soon be heading to the red planet. Imagine the sound of thousands of tiny plastic wing beats at dawn... (Related: "Supply chains at risk as pollinators die out" )
Puffin beaks glow in the dark. We know that because a scientist having a "'troubling' time in the lab" one day decided to shine a UV light on a puffin carcass in the dark. Ok, it wasn't an entirely random, whimsical, weird thing to do. It turns out there are other birds with fluorescent beaks. Now the question is whether live puffins are as brilliantly wired as dead ones. Field trip! (via CBC)
Researchers at MIT infused plants with the enzyme that makes fireflies glow, making them glow, too. It's neat, but why do it? "Imagine that instead of switching on a lamp when it gets dark, you could read by the light of a glowing plant on your desk." Seriously? If the point is grid-independent lighting, then a solar-charged lamp does the job better and without the eerie green glow. "This technology could also be used...to transform trees into self-powered streetlights, the researchers say." What happens in winter? For that matter what happens when insects nibble the leaves? Will they glow, too? No doubt there is a useful future for nanobionic technology, but what that may be in unclear in the faerie light dazzle.
It is halfway through April and there is snow on the ground in Chicago. At least it's not 28" of snow, which is what fell north of here. Still, in this extended season of gray I find myself desperate for color, the more audacious and science-fictional the better. Thank goodness it turns out we live on a glowing, technicolor planet. Thank goodness for National Geographic.
Slideshow by me! Be patient, the photos will change. From "News from the..." . (more about the ongoing project here)
I have a weakness for the itty bitties... Yeast, the leaven of life, turns out to have a pretty amazing backstory. All life-forms came from somewhere and for yeast that somewhere is China. It took some game-changing microbiological sleuthing to figure it out:
"...How yeast strains are different from each other turned out to be surprising, too. A standard way to measure difference is to take the same gene in two separate yeast strains and compare how many letters have changed—like typos that have accumulated over time. But Liti and Schacherer found that the number of times a particular gene is repeated in the genome—a phenomenon known as copy-number variation—actually accounts for more of the differences between, say, strains used to brew tasty lagers and strains that live on insects in the wild. In other words, it’s not just the sequence of the gene that matters, but the number of copies the yeast has..." (via The Atlantic)
Yeast was hard to come by during WWI in France, so bakers had to get clever. They mashed up raisins in water, which attracted wild yeast floating the air so they could grow their own. A baker in the Ardennes has recreated a recipe for the bread upon which the French military depended. These were the soldiers who literally fought in the trenches where modern chemical warfare came of age. He now sells 120 loaves a week, with portion of the profits going to a soldiers' remembrance organization. (via Seveva.net)
Slide guitar, sparkly outfits, a banged-up old guitar...check, check and check!
"...So look around you
And take a good look
At all the local wannabe's
Are you sure that this is where you want to be?"
These days the devils are everywhere, but the details are always revealing. From Wired's Rowland Manthorpe:
"...About six months ago, I spent a day at the campus you built in Silicon Valley. I’m guessing people don’t tell you this kind of thing, but, just so you know, it’s not a pleasant place. It’s too big, for a start. Plus those posters you have everywhere make it seem like an AA meeting, only for people who’ve never been drunk. There was one at reception saying, “Silence = Death.” Right above the spot where you force people to sign a non-disclosure form to enter the building..."
Meanwhile, the gentle and brilliant giant (all definitions) Jaron Lanier spoke about the Faustian "oops" of social media at the TED conference this week: "We cannot operate as a society if the only way two people can communicate is if it is financed by a third person who wants to manipulate them."
Well, we can, but it's an Orwellian society (see China).
Watching Lanier's talk Iwondered how many in the audience made their fortunes from mining and manipulating data...
"We're not looking backwards. We're looking forwards" Remember when we had a President that thought looking ahead was a good idea? That listening to scientists was common sense? That investing in science was important? That clean air and water mattered? This was just two-and-half years ago. "Today an African-American child is more than twice as likely to be hospitalized from asthma. A Latino child is 40% more likely to die from asthma. If you care about low income, minority communities, start protecting the air that they breathe and stop trying to rob them of their health care." Rather than destroy Obama's legacy, the systemic dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and the Clean Power Plan have only made it stronger. We were on the right track. Come November, vote.
One thing leads to another. A new friend recently told me about an organic farmer's conference in Wisconsin. I looked it up and discovered that one the keynoters, Melinda Hemelgam, records a podcast with the intriguing if concerning title "Food Sleuth Radio." Who could resist such a rabbit hole? Not me... Her latest interview is with Dr. Lori Byron, a pediatrician with a fabulous backstory. Once Dr. Byron gets going in the interview, it's an interesting listen. She connects the dots between climate change, nutrition, public health, poverty and childhood development.
In a span of about 25 years, the number of diesel-powered cars on European roads went from 3% to 37%. Because diesel doesn't generate as much CO2, consumers thought they were doing a good thing. Whoops! It turns out diesel pumps out prodigious amounts of nitrogen dioxide and also soot filled with small particulates the perfect size to clog up lungs. The spike in air pollution led to spikes in respiratory illnesses and premature deaths. German automakers have long fought to keep diesel because it's been so profitable. Volkswagon even went so far as to fudge emissions data. Now on the roads from lawsuits and the rise of EVs, the tide is turning. via Yale 360
With its a robotic narration, the embedded video is admittedly a challenge to watch, but provides a good overview on a fascinating shift towards solar roadways. Bloomberg just published a more in depth article on this latest stretch of solar road in China. It turns out that the mobility revolution is just as much about the reinvention of pavement as it is about EVs and ridesharing. In addition to generating electricity for the street-lighting and for selling to the grid, the Chinese envision on-the-go wireless EV battery charging. Imagine, the more you drive, the more power you would have to drive even further. Tailpipes? What's a tailpipe? There are still a lot of details to be worked out, e.g., Do these roads get pot holes and if so how do you fill them? For more about next generation roads, see post on The Ray.
Nature's photovoltaics—leaves—recycle as mulch. It's a lovely closed-loop system, the very definition of a circular economy. Solar panels are more of a problem. In Europe, manufacturers are responsible for end-of-life-cycle costs, so there's more motivation to figure out a solution than there is here in the US. Still, within the next few years, old solar panels are going to start entering the waste-stream at scale, so there is a lot of opportunity for companies that develop solutions. via Ensia
Battery storage for clean energy is great. But it wouldn't it be even better if the batteries were...prettier? Rows of white metal boxes—how boring. If we're going to have an clean energy revolution (and, yes, let's have one) let's make as beautiful in every way. Hello designers! Have I got a project for you!
Lovely article by a CNN's David Allen about reading to / with kids. One of my favorite memories was crawling into my Dad's lap for a story. I loved being read to so much that I purposed resisted learning how to read until first grade. Mrs. North (like the Wicked Witch?) put in the second reading group, which was understandable if not acceptable. I cracked the code in the week and moved up to the "Apples" group. Even so, to this day, I love to be read to...
My friends Debra Lunn and Michael Mrowka run a batik factory in Indonesia, creating mind-blowing fabrics for quilters. Michael often posts photos and videos of the batik process on his Facebook, which is one of the reasons I still haven't quit Facebook. Fascinating! You could leave me alone in a room full of fabric, dyes, stampers and wax and I would never come up with this. More on the batik process here. Also, check out Lunn Fabrics!
Several years ago my friends and noted quiltmakers Debra Lunn and Michael Mrowka opened a batik factory in Solo, a city of half million people on the island of Java in Indonesia. They wanted to give back to the community and thought a public library--Ganesa—might be a good way to do that. Over the years, the collection has grown as has the enthusiasm for reading (and also Legos which are transported by the suitcase-full—.the kids love them!). Read more about the backstory here and visit their Facebook page here.
I first met Eric Rasmussen, a former Navy doctor and a co-founder of humanitarian tech consultancy IHS (and also a six-time Burning Man veteran), at a charette on refugee issues organized by Rocky Mountain Institute. That led to being embedded in the last of three enormous military/civilian humanitarian exercises known as Strong Angel that he organized. During his decades in the military Eric was deployed 18 times, including stints to Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. If he hasn't seen it all, he has certainly seen considerably more than the rest of us.
A few months ago Eric gave a keynote at conference organized by the Alliance for Peacebuilding. It is well worth listening to the entire presentation (it's talking head video, so you don't really need to watch). There is a quite a bit to unpack—from energy to social media—and all of it is thought-provoking. My favorite quote, though, is about libraries. It is a small point in a big talk, but still an important one:
"Many don't realize how important public libraries are in the United States and how rare they are in the rest of the world. We rightly put an emphasis on schools, but I think not nearly enough on general access to libraries. Not many people can attend school. Anyone and everyone can walk into a library."
Full disclosure: I am the child of a public librarian. They rock.
• re reference to photographer Lorenza Moscia - the video did not cut-away to his photographs, so click here to see a portfolio on his website.
• re reference to 19 Copenhagen Goals —click here to see a pdf.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, my friend Eric Rasmussen, a former Navy doctor and co-founder of humanitarian tech consultancy IHS, traveled to Puerto Rico with his colleague Alex Hatoum. There the IHS team met up with a team from MIT's Lincoln Labs to install a cutting edge no-moving-parts water purification system. With funding from the Roddenberry Foundation, the system will be supported for a year after which it will be converted into a locally-owned social enterprise. The project is a small drop in an enormous bucket of need, but the technology can scale. It is much, much cheaper to filter and store water on site than to bring in pallets of bottled water by cargo plane, ship and truck. The environmental footprint is also considerably lighter.
A few years ago I helped Eric put together a deployment guidebook. These missions, which take place in the aftermath of major infrastructure-shredding disasters, are not for the faint of heart. At the time, no one imagined that there would ever be a domestic deployment. Yet six months on and much of Puerto Rico is still without power and access to clean water.
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