Thursday, October 02, 2014

No Glam, Just Bam: Net-Zero Energy with Passive Design in Maine

Although putting the principles of passive energy design to work can efficiently generate a solid, high yield over time, "passive" is just not the kind of attitude the mainstream culture gets turned on by these days. You get bang for your buck, but they're looking for technologies that make more noise.

With the relics of the Industrial Age still running big jobs all around us, we unconsciously think a powerful solution has to somehow belch smoke and fire and make loud banging sounds.  Like so many pro tennis "raquet-eers" of our time, we want our solutions forcefully grunting with each serve, so we can hear how hard they're working for us.

So, with the news that wildlife on the planet has been cut in half in the last 40 years (Wall Street Journal), as the earth is blindly stripped of their habitats by multiplying human populations, here's another working example of how far you can go with how little. What a very important advantage that is turning out to be.

The New York Times just published this look at a net-zero energy house built by Jack Soley, a commercial real estate developer (and evidently, hardy outdoors-type,) in Portland, Maine. He built this retreat home on a tiny island off the coast as,

"a 1,200-square-foot structure that produces all the energy it consumes — less than it takes to power a high-end refrigerator." 
Mr. Soley and, "Christopher Campbell, a Portland-based architect, collaborated on a design that borrowed from traditional marine and boating practices to create the simplest, most cost-effective solutions..." 
"The 12-Volt Solution" - NYT Home & Garden, Oct. 1, 2014
How?  By putting passive-house principles to work in his design, like:
  • "super-insulation, double-paned fiberglass-clad windows and a south-facing orientation to the sun";
  • building it on only a 12-volt system powered by a micro-array of solar panels only the size of a dining room table, and stored in four marine batteries;   
  • collecting and storing rainwater to supply nearly all that the home uses, with an on-demand heater providing hot showers, etc.
"'You can be here,'" Foley says in the article, "'and have no notion you’re off the grid on a coastal island.'"

Architect Christopher Campbell's site

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

California Becomes First State to Ban Plastic Bags

Well, I'll be… good old California, always — okay, usually — out front:

"California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that makes the state the first in the country to ban single-use plastic bags." 
- Time Magazine, Katy Steinmetz / San Francisco, 9/30/14, 12:56 PM ET

The ban will go into effect in July 2015 for large grocery stores, the next year for smaller businesses.

It allows stores to charge 10 cents for a paper or reusable bag instead, and also provides some financial support to manufacturers of dem ol' devil-bags, to soften the blow as they shift to producing reusable bags.

(Because lately we've been writing about exactly this need in here:)
The OceanS' Floating Garbage PatcheS – Yes, it's worse than you thought

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Can We Do With All This Old Plastic?

Continuing this small series on solutions to the resulting problems of all of that plastic we were told to, "Use it once, and just throw it away!" – 
Echoing the words of Buckminster Fuller, here's a gentleman reusing plastic by mixing it in with cement for roadways.
The road to the dump, and beyond it to Madurai (India)’s airport, is like a Hollywood vision of dystopian ruin: lifeless, black, choked with human refuse. And that’s why Rajagopalan Vasudevan’s enthusiasm is so jarring. … “Wonderful resource,” he says, admiring a jumble of plastic bags, jerrycans, and torn food packets. “With all this plastic, I could lay the whole road to the airport.” 
''Innovators – India's 'Plastic Man' Turns Litter Into Paved Roads''
By Akash Kapur, Businessweek, July 10, 2014
As is characteristic of truly good ideas, it has benefits in multiple ways: 
Chandigarh, India - Some rights reserved by, under Creative Commons
•  it literally "takes out the garbage," but for real,
•  it's much cheaper than the bitumen it replaces in the cement mixer,
•  it even makes the roads stronger!

But wait, there's more — Vasudevan’s roads reuse more types of plastic than can currently be recycled otherwise, including thicker types, grocery bags, wrappers, even the unfortunately popular snackpacks that are layers of different plastics and aluminum. 

The method also has the rare quality of Simplicity: Businessweek's story says, "It requires no significant technical knowledge and no large investments or changes to existing road-laying procedures."

Question: shouldn't it simply be against the law, internationally, to produce or introduce anything into the environment that can't be recycled?

Here it's probably worth noting that any product, material or substance, of any kind, that's publically available must be considered as entering the ecosystem, because it will — as proven by The Great Ocean Garbage Patches.
Also in here:
UNDO-ing Plastic: At The Source
Photo: Chandigarh, India
Some rights reserved by, under Creative Commons

Friday, August 08, 2014

UNDO-ing Plastic: At The Source

As I've been documenting just one small corner of our problems with plastic pollution — the fact of the vast patches of plastic garbage in the world's oceans — it's equally important to keep the focus on solutions.

They do exist (Bucky Fuller said so), and while we don't expect any particular new deconstruction of technology to restore the planet back to Eden overnight, it's almost always a much better use of our time and attention to be part of a solution.  That's even if its effect is no more than a nudge in the right direction (which, let's be realistic, may be the best we can expect at this point).

But it is still worth doing – any part of the right direction feels better than just moving further into the wrong ones.

Trying to address the source of the problem is usually a good way to go.  So here is just such an effort:

The "Think Beyond Plastic Business Accelerator," in Menlo Park, California, (of course,) calls itself the world’s first such incubator to focus on eliminating plastic pollution.  The company helps startups to develop affordable, sustainable alternatives to plastic, meeting the specific needs of large companies.
"Plastic may be toxic, and it lasts forever, but it’s also extremely convenient.  ...If you want companies to stop using plastic, you need to offer viable alternatives—and provide assistance to the startups coming up with them."
"A NewBusiness Accelerator Takes on Plastic Pollution"
By Caroline Winter, Businessweek, July 14, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

'Fun Facts' About The Great Pacific Garbage Patch & Co.

Continuing from the previous post, a few interesting items from the Wikipedia page on the "Great Pacific garbage patch" and its four fellow mid-ocean dumps around the globe:

  • The Great Pacific garbage patch was predicted in a 1988 paper published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States. 
  • Charles J. Moore, returning home through the North Pacific Gyre after competing in the Transpac sailing race in 1997, came upon an enormous stretch of floating debris.
  • It consists primarily of submerged, suspended concentrations of often-microscopic particles in the upper water column, which, in one of many effects, fish consume as they feed on their normal menu… and those plastic micro-bits migrate all the way up the food chain.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The OceanS' Floating Garbage PatcheS – Yes, it's worse than you thought

Recently, the conclusion has come to me that the mere fact of the five gigantic "floating garbage patches" in the world's oceans means we'd better start figuring out how to capture waste plastic in the wild, and to reuse or break it down to its original elements, among other things.

North Pacific Gyre World Map (by Fangz)
(That's right: it's not just the one in the northern Pacific, the first one spotted in 1997, said to be twice the size of Texas.)
I mean, really – shouldn't the world collectively feel the shame of this, and the responsibility?

(Okay, I know the world I've mostly chosen to live in is a Frank Capra movie, but,)
How come as soon as the news first hit the big media, had its 15 minutes — now probably down to around 3-5, hm? —an immediate worldwide action movement didn't spring up to do something about it?
Could it be that maybe all the plastic they say has leached itself into our systems has influenced us to be more sympathetic to plastic!? (Okay, I'm kidding... I sure hope I'm kidding.)
But for the moment, rather than dive any further into another depressing round of grim facts about all our plastic-coated problems, two basic questions:

What can be done about it?
What can we do?

Maybe we could start with an insight of R. Buckminster Fuller's, who had the right idea when he wrote, decades ago,
“Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value.”
(Pollution seen simply as unharvested resources – this idea would work as an brilliant example of Genius, or vision, something really grand like that.)

An End-to-End Range of Solutions

Beyond that, of course, the full product lifecycle has to be dealt with. The main point first will be to reduce demand and production to the level where it can all be recaptured and somehow processed.  Reducing demand will require learning how to produce good alternatives to the functions people like to use plastic for.

The Buckminster Fuller Institute 
The Guardian's environmental news index on plastic bags:  ( 
The "Great Pacific garbage patch" on Wikipedia  
Here: posts tagged "appropriate technology"

Monday, July 21, 2014

(All the old posts restored, cleared of any unsuspecting copyright issues)

As noted in a post here some months back, I had promptly taken down all 150+ pieces that I'd put up over the years when I heard that a certain online image bank was sending hefty bills with threatening letters to bloggers who'd used one of their copyrighted images.

It didn't matter if you'd linked and attributed that photo (which I've always practiced), or immediately took it down.  You owed 'em, and they said they'd sue if you didn't pay.

Given what a wild and woolly frontier the Web was in the early years, with everyone reusing everything and proud of it, this certainly did seem like a dirty trick.
So I then started going through every post, following the links to everything that I'd put there, and zapped anything that I couldn't confirm had a Creative Commons license or was otherwise public domain.  This did get dreary, naturally, so it's taken awhile; it wasn't exactly a high priority, y'know?

But today, working on a new one, I finally got around to finishing going through the rest of the earlier posts, from way back in 2006.  So, for what it's worth, it's all there again, minus a couple of pix.

A quick search of "blogs images copyright threats" reveals quite an amount of cases; this one, among others, was detailed and instructive:
If Getty Images sent you a demand letter, there is definitely potential for a lawsuit.” –  (

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"All Earth's water in a bubble"

Saying, "perhaps this will give us some perspective on how truly precious a resource water really is," Treehugger posted this provocative info-graphic from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), attempting to show how much water is there on, in, and above the Earth as a series of full bubbles.
 Earth water as a bubble 860 mi. in diameter

The big one represents all of the water on, in and around Earth as a bubble 860 miles in diameter.  But that's 96% saltwater.  "The smaller sphere over Kentucky represents Earth's liquid fresh water in groundwater, swamp water, rivers, and lakes," the USGS says.  The volume of this sphere would be over 2.5 million cubic miles, forming a perfect bubble (and you have to imagine, quite an imposing one) about 170 miles in diameter.

That's the fresh water we need every day, but around 30% of it is unavailably deep in the ground. Rivers, the source of most of the fresh surface water people use, only constitute about 300 cubic miles, about 1/10,000th of one percent of total water.
"How much water is there on, in, and above the Earth?"  (USGS) 
From the USGS Water Science School, which offers "information on many aspects of water, along with pictures, data, maps, and an interactive center." 
"If you put all Earth's water In one place, it'd look like this"
by Jaymi Heimbuch,

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Will The Solar Rise Again in NY State?

Try, try again - only a few years back, a big push for developing solar industry in New York's Hudson Valley and elsewhere melted down, between China underpricing the world for solar panels and the failure of a deeply politically conflicted U.S. government to resolutely fund the growth of sustainable energy.  But Governor Andrew Cuomo sure seems serious about it, and he just seriously upped the ante again.

"The already-impressive NY-Sun Initiative is about to become one of the most ambitious solar programs in the nation, with the governor committing, through a filing with the state’s Public Service Commission, $1 billion to the program—that’s right, $1 billion—over the next 10 years."
 – Natural Resources Defense Council, Pierre Bull’s Blog, 1/8/14

SUNY Buffalo's 750 kilowatt Solar Strand,
the switch just flipped on in December, 2013
From the Spring of 2012, Cuomo's NY-Sun Initiative brought together and pumped up existing programs of the NY State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), and the New York Power Authority (NYPA), to create one, well coordinated and funded solar energy effort.  The launch came paired with the Public Service Commission's approval of NYSERDA’s request to double funding for customer-sited solar electric systems to $432 million over the next four years.

Last month the Governor added another $108 million in funding over the next two years for residential and commercial solar energy projects, bringing the total budget for the next two years of NYSERDA alone to $216 million.

The NY-Sun Initiative had the stated intention of "doubling the amount of customers' installed solar power in a year, and quadrupling it by 2013."  As of December, according to the Governor's office, a total of 299 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity has been installed or is under development, more than was installed in the entire prior decade, said to be greenhouse-gas equivalent of taking 29,000 cars off the road.

Due largely to the initiative, the state rapidly moved up the national charts of installed solar power ranking, as of the third quarter of 2013:
 “With enough solar to power more than 30,900 homes, New York currently ranks 12th in the country for installed solar capacity," According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (via "There are more than 411 solar companies at work throughout the value chain in New York, employing more than 3,300 people."
But the goal is even more ambitious: to install 3,000 (MW) of solar across New York, enough solar, they say, to:
• power 465,000 homes,
• cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2.3 million tons annually —subtracting the exhaust of almost 435,000 cars — and
• create more than 13,000 new solar jobs.

A win-win-win?  Sounds great, like it always has...

SUNY Buffalo's 750 kilowatt Solar Strand 
"'SolarStrand' Opens as New Gateway to UB Campus"
3,200-Panel Photovoltaic Array at the State University of NY at Buffalo.  Built in partnership with, and $7 million from, NYPA's Renewable Energy Program, which is now under the umbrella (solar-panelled, we're sure,) of NY-Sun.
More links:
"Governor Cuomo Announces Additional $108 Million Commitment to Solar Industry Through NY-Sun Initiative" - Gov.'s Press Office _

Filing with the state’s PSC
Related, in this blog:
"Green" Lights in Europe, Asia, But Not U.S. (2011)

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Steve Jobs' Parents' Garage Now A Landmark

The Los Altos, California, Historical Commission recently voted to designate 2066 Crist Drive -- the house where Steve Jobs grew up, with the legendary garage where Apple Computer was born -- as an "historic resource."
It's not the only famous garage of its kind in Silicon Valley, but between Jobs' astonishingly long line of successful breakthroughs and the fact that Apple has been bobbing in and out of the top spot of most valuable company in the world (jostling past Exxon Mobil and the stragglers, Microsoft, Wal-Mart and IBM), it'll do for the symbol of them all.

That garage, built in 1952, would 24 years later become the lab where he and co-founder Steve Wozniak assembled the first 100 Apple I computers. "Woz," of course, was the engineer who imagined and created the working computer that put the stars in Jobs' eyes, and made them both stars in the process.

The garage's other historic function was as the office -- the space where Jobs met with their first investors.

The first 50 computers created by Jobs and Wozniak were sold to an electronics store in nearby Mountain View for $500 each. The rest were assembled for their friends in the Homebrew Computer Club, part of the tech ecosystem the two Steves were nurtured by. Today, original Apple I's sell for tens of thousands. One was auctioned off a few years ago for more than $200,000.

That little garage simply reminds us that the power of a great idea -- put into effect with a committed team, solid planning, and persistent followthrough -- can create the largest effect out of very humble beginnings.
(This post first appeared in Mitch Ditkoff's "The Heart of Innovation," one of Guy Kawasaki's top blogs on innovation on  Mr. Ditkoff also writes for Huffington Post.)

(Photo by gflinch, on Flickr, under Creative Commons license)