Monday, December 09, 2019

Fix Earth First - Remember, "The World Solved the Ozone Problem"

A very good and timely point:

"Fix Earth's climate crisis instead of dreaming of other planets, urges Nobel prize-winning astronomer"

'Earthrise' - Earth from the Moon, Apollo 8 mission, 1968
By Olivia Campbell - The Independent

And that's got to be Now!

But while it certainly can seem impossible, another article I saw this morning provides a basis for hope. In an editorial yesterday, the New York Times made the point,

"The World Solved the Ozone Problem. It Can Solve Climate Change"
"The same tools that fixed the ozone hole — science, innovation and international action — can address it."

By The Editorial Board
One of the most hopeful examples of the kinds of solutions we'll need may be efforts in process all over the world to extract all the carbon back out of the air.  As we now fully understand, that's what has trapped all the extra heat from the sun here, melting the glaciers and raising sea levels.

That could make all the difference, and clearly would if it worked well enough. Of course, that's over time, if not in time to avoid a lot more of the kinds of impacts and resulting troubles we're seeing.

But having let it slide so badly, it seems like the current population of Earth has an obligation to at least do everything possible to get things significantly moving back in the right direction.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Album Notes for "All-Acoustic Contemplative Sound Spaces"

A new digital album of ambient/space music, for evening listening, intended to establish a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere.  

It was woven from all natural-world instruments, "organic" – with no synth or any electronic sounds.

Hear it streaming free here, on
Several live performances, but mostly layered recordings, introspections of bells, gongs, bowls, percussion, different strings, and serene voices of Nature.  Singing insects, frogs  and birds; rain, a brook, a waterfall, the ocean...

Soundtracks meant to help the listener slow down a little, so the wave that rises in the heart can more easily be found. For putting on in the background late in the day, to set the tone for time and space to stretch out.

There are no synthesizers or electric instruments on this album, no words sung or spoken — it's a percussionist's approach to meditative ambient space music. (But we did not hold back on the tasteful use of "studio magic,' of course, wherever that was right.)
Evocative, intriguing, hypnotic...
Mellow, exotic, harmonic...
An elves' workshop at play; extraterrestrial tambouras; 
Bells reverberating in the air; the thousand-stringed roar of the mighty Monochord.
As the river moves on here, the notes get longer and deeper, slower and wider…
Hopefully this is all about sitting back and settling into in a deep and soothing sound, breathing a little deeper, feeling a little closer to the peace inside.

These Are Soundtracks of Restful Dreams

You won't find the usual type of "music" on this album, with lots of ideas and lines and chords. Instead, these are flowing, abstract atmospheres of organized sound.

You could equally say that of course it's music, only, played, very, slo-o-ow-ly... 

There may be only as many individually sounded notes in this whole collection of pieces as in one or maybe two pop songs. (The notes-per-minute make a radical contrast.)

This is all about how the strongest, most riveting note in any piece of music is a rest, a note of Silence.
Then next to that would be Reverberation, the after-effect when a note is struck, how long it lasts hanging in the air...

Putting this together came from a longtime approach of being observant for the natural possibilities, as much as possible just present, listening and responding. Letting the sound suggest where it wants to go, and your deeper brain do all the heavy lifting.

The goal, the hope, is for when the musicians can become the instrument, the highest and deepest experience you can have of playing.

Some Notes On The Tracks

We've always been utterly fascinated by being immersed in a deep, rich, flowing tone that just hangs there and hypnotizes. As percussionists, we prize the raw, living sound of instruments made directly from the earth, transformed and refined by human hands. (All praise to the instrument makers!)

There's a lot of favorite electronic music that we listen to frequently, even big fans of some. But there's no way a synthesized sound can compare to the depth and all the dimensions of a natural object resonating. That's what we've got here.

We've long been collecting especially "slow-burning" instruments, the kind that make long, sustained tones. You'll hear all kinds of strange sounds pop up in the background, but it's the bells and gongs of all sorts that carry much of the load, and a favorite is using singing bowls as gongs, striking their outer walls with mallets for the deep BOOOM-M-M-M...

They just keep ringing, and ringing... And of course they do some singing, too.

Starring Nature

The other elements to these collages are from recordings made mostly around Woodstock, New York: the frogs in the rain, peepers, crickets, katydids, the stream and waterfall.  (There must have been a few add-in's, since the ocean turns up — that was from the southeast coast of Florida.)

Featuring Peter Blum, David Budd, and Lea Garnier

Much of this album was played by Bill borrowing and buying from the impressive singing bowl collection of Peter Blum, who keeps around 30 on hand. Peter is heard on tracks 5, 6 and 11. 

Our great thanks and appreciations to him, and to David Budd (tracks 5, 8 and 11,) and Lea Garnier (8) for contributing their wonderfully sensitive playing, too.

More thanks

Three tracks, #'s 2, 6, & 10, were begun with tracks recorded by Robert Bard in his studio, Skytop Sound, in New Paltz, NY.  These were outtakes from some recording sessions Bill did with Peter that formed the basis for his "Penumbra" album.  That's how we got the recordings of Bill playing the Monochord harp (2 & 10,) which was loaned to Peter for the sessions, and of Mr. Blum on his tamboura with his beginning intonation (6).

Photo: Sky Away From The Lights, (c)2010 by Tunc Tezel

Used with permission. (Thank you, Tunc!)
From 'The World At Night' (TWAN),

Mastered by Tom Desisto, Desisto Music, Woodstock, NY

Our thanks, too, to Garry Kvistad of Woodstock Chimes, not only for his permission to record there during one of their annual sales, but for his saying, "But don't just record – perform!" So “I Know That Girl” is Bill playing their giant, awesome Windsinger chimes in the foreground and an enormous gong behind, accompanied by the random sounds of customers trying out all the chimes, bells, rattles, flutes and whistles in the chime sale.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Key Influences In Wide, Slow Music

Or, Why We Made An Album Like This.  (''All-Acoustic Contemplative Sound Spaces'')

Where did we ever get the strange ideas about spare, soothing soundmaking that were pursued on this collection?  Here are a few of the original sources.

Paul Horn Inside the Taj Mahal

Paul Horn's 1967 album recorded in the dome of India's Taj Mahal was an absolute revolution in hearing, and in feeling, too.  It's got to be one of the originating albums of the ambient space in music. 

While in India (with the Beatles, it turns out), he snuck into the Taj Mahal with his flute and a Nagra tape recorder to play with a space with its distinctive "decay time" of almost a minute.  He played a long full note, and it just hung there forever as he slowly added notes and simple themes, creating a beautiful weave of suspended tones harmonizing with each other, on their way to disappearing into eternity.  (At least that's how it seemed...) 

He coaxed the temple's prayer caller into joining, so Horn follows him singing a line with harmonies on the flute, for a wonderful, slow motion cross-cultural improv.

The "Environments" series

LPs with sidelong tracks of pure sounds of nature and other expanded perspectives in sound. 
These albums were among the key influences in wide, slow, atmospheric music.

“The Psychologically Ultimate Seashore,” Side A, Environments 1

"Environments 1, released a year before Songs of the Humpback Whale" (another pioneering work in this realm,) "and almost a decade before Brian Eno’s ambient manifesto Ambient 1: Music for Airports, introduced the psychoacoustic concept of sound masking as well as the medicinal uses of natural sound into popular culture."
- From the Irv Teibel Archive, the official site about the originator and man behind the entire series.  
Side A of the original, “The Psychologically Ultimate Seashore,” was a straight up 30-some minutes of very clearly recorded ocean waves at a beach.  Side B, "The Optimum Aviary," was pure bird song.

"Tinntinabulation" (A) and "Dawn At New Hope, Penn." (B)

The second album's Side One was "Tinntinabulation" – unique in the the Environments series, this side was of computer-generated giant bells in a transfixing, seemingly random looping sequence.  (Done with an IBM mainframe, this has to be one of the coolest things ever produced with that technology, along with the other space program of the time, NASA's.)

The LP was playable at any speed from 16 2/3 to 78  rpm.  The CD reissue opted for the slowest speed, which is what you'll find online.

The bells were complemented by a Side B of the gentle sounds of all forms of nature awakening, "Dawn at New Hope, Pennsylvania."  

Many other albums were from pure scenes in Nature, including favorites like "Wood-Masted Sailboat," of the lightly thunking, ringing, wave-slapped sounds of the boat itself, all of which were so soothing.

It was a whole new kind of record to put on, of "music" to hear, a peaceful revolution in listening.  If you've ever lived next to ocean, or some unspoiled away-from-it-all spot, this was old news.  But in a loud, irriating urban situation, they were very welcome even just as aural padding. So city-dwellers craved these recordings, enough to create a new genre.

Brian Eno's Music For Airports —

Later, in the earliest 80's, Brian Eno began making what he termed "ambient" music, defined as this subtly shifting sound that was not made for direct listening, but instead was an environment, an atmosphere designed in this case to lighten the mood of the rushing travellers.

It was slow-moving piano by Harold Budd and wordless vocal samples with the full studio treatment, turning the sound into an Impressionist painting.  But the main feature of the music was how the tones sounds were left hanging there to resonate for the longest time, from start to finish.

Classical Avant-Garde —

Then there's the rethinking of music of the early 20th century's classical Avant-Garde, who were searching the world for ways out of the highly structured box that Western classical music had become by that point.  They sought a form of music based on pure tonality, the random or chance element in nature and/or everything they could think of, experimented like mad and seemingly tried everything.

These European composers pushing the limits of that music discovered how well-suited empty space was for framing their radically new statements in sound.  And they were there as the beginnings of electronic sound gave people the starry-eyed idea that maybe someday there could be completely electronic music!

"Poeme Electronique" by Edgard Varèse, an unearthly, floating combination of percussion, electronics and vocal created for a World's Fair pavilion in the late 1950's, was defining.  Varèse began making abstract percussion music in the 1930's in France using orchestral instruments.  It wasn't any kind of mellow or tonal, but he brought a whole new perspective to listening, of hearing raw, seemingly unstructured sound as music.

Alvin Lucier's "Music On A Long Thin Wire" was another breakthrough in this world.  Among his many sonic experiments, he stretched a long metal cable across an entire room and miked it as both ends.  What he got were the waves of sound impulses as the wire reacted with its environment.  At first he would play on it, activate it in various ways, until he discovered it when he reentered the empty room that it was singing to itself, just from the air currents in the house.

Hats off, too, to John Cage, primarily for his writing and ideas.  He was the writer-theorist and composer who brought very different elements into Western music, of Zen and chance and random changes of various kinds being planned for a performance. While his own music was kind of eh, his writing was stunning, coming at a time when ideas of mindfulness, of understanding how much our own music is rooted in Nature and so on, seemed to this culture to be very, very new.

So Many More

There are countless other tributaries, of course: Tony Scott's "Music for Zen Meditation and Other Joys" from 1964 was probably The original of the genre, was a set of groundbreaking, slow-motion improvs with classical koto and shakuhachi musicians and his clarinet.  Then there was the enormous impact of Indian classical music, the opening Alap section, and just the mesmerizing sound alone of the sitar and tamboura buzzing and droning together.

And 60's rock and jazz were listening: all that feedback (our frenzied version of the tamboura's sound), the jam in the middle of The Grateful Dead's "Dark Star," Weather Report's "Adios"... this could be a very long list.

All of these were defined by fewer, much longer notes, with generous space in between.  With human-made music, it seems, Less is usually More.

And we can only properly conclude by acknowledging the ultimate musical  influence, our countless listening experiences at the Ocean's shore.  (Preferably with the crickets.)

All of these were inspirations for,

"All-Acoustic Contemplative Sound Spaces" 
Bill McNeill Ross, featuring Featuring Peter Blum, David Budd, Lea Garnier; and Nature.
Download or stream from the CD Baby Music Store, iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon and all the rest.
(More on the album, and a free, full streaming player, here:)

We've always been utterly fascinated by being immersed in a deep, rich, flowing tone that just hangs there and hypnotizes.  Alongside that, as percussionists we prize the raw, living sound of instruments made directly from the earth, transformed and refined by human hands. (All praise to the instrument makers!)

Then there's the medium of ambient or space music, which suggests a couple things: long sustained tones in a peaceful, slow moving background, addressed more to the senses, feelings and breath than to our modern overstimulated minds. And you always assume it's done on synthesizers.

There's a lot of favorite electronic music that we listen to frequently, even big fans of some.  But there's no way a synthesized sound can compare to the depth and all the dimensions of an object in nature, resonating. That's why it was put together "all acoustic."  (The new term for this unplugged approach seems to have become "organic," but I'm sorry, that only suggests food to me.)

"Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order."
- Plato (429-347 BC)
And that's what it's all about.

Monday, May 28, 2018

''Are You Eating Plastic?"

> Europe is proposing a ban on single-use plastic items such as cutlery, straws and cotton buds in a bid to clean up the oceans. - CNN
It is SO about time for this — we now know that tossed plastic gets washed into the world's oceans and starts breaking into tiny bits which fish eat and retain, and that we used to feel confident eating fish. So this is very, very late, but the proposal is a solid advance towards a practical overall solution, and in a prompt few-year timeframe. 

Plastic bags everywhere thank you
A good start, but here's a humble Suggestion: ban the manufacture of all single-use plastic products.  And no plastic product can be made without an end-to-end plan for re-everything: recapture or recycle.

Its vendors will naturally need to work the cost of all that into the product, and voila, it's not so cheap to produce anymore, which is one of the main causes behind our ever-growing problems with the damn stuff.
> The European Commission wants to ban 10 items that make up 70% of all litter in EU waters and on beaches. The list also includes plastic plates and drink stirrers.
> The legislation is not just about banning plastic products. It also wants to make plastic producers bear the cost of waste management and cleanup efforts, and it proposes that EU states must collect 90% of single-use plastic bottles by 2025 through new recycling programs.

> On a global basis, only 14% of plastic is collected for recycling. The reuse rate is terrible compared to other materials -- 58% of paper and up to 90% of iron and steel gets recycled.  Research shows there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the world's oceans by 2050, which has spurred policy makers, individuals and companies into action.

> The Rethink Plastic Alliance -- an association of environmental organizations -- called the proposals "a leap forward in tackling plastic pollution,"
 …but said that since the proposals do not set targets for EU countries for reduction, it "could result in countries claiming they are taking the necessary steps as long as any reduction is achieved," however small.
"Europe plans ban on plastic cutlery, straws and more"
by Alanna Petroff, May 28, 2018

More good ideas to solve the scourge of plastic are going into practice, like this one:
> Starbucks also announced in March it was launching a $10 million grant challenge to solicit designs for a cup that's easier to recycle.
From this blog (2014) — "What Can We Do With All This Old Plastic?"
  (Photo by Bill McN. Ross)

Friday, April 20, 2018

(How About) A Greenhouse Walking Track Community Center

A Concept Statement.

(Greenhouse on the Biltmore Estate - Dale S. Rogers)
Imagine — not just "picture," since scent is central to this— a lush, leafy greenhouse under a large, arching glass ceiling, filled with beautiful, breathing plants, most of which are also food.  It's warm, with an invigorating light moisture in the air.

Then, winding its way through this living space, a walking track, a footpath under the bowers, interspersed with fountains and benches.  There's a space in one corner, say about 25 x 25 ft., where near sundown the shelves of plants usually growing there can be swung into wheeled stacks and moved to open it up for meetings, small performances, etc.

The small café, its tables tucked in under the leaves, is always open starting later in the day, once all the work on the plants is through.  The music is selected for the tastes of the plants, the food for the people's.

You began coming here (remember, we're still imagining,) because you heard the walking path was very pleasant, and maybe to look at the various foods grown there and for sale.  But definitely hearing that interesting and generally healthier types of people were getting together there was an influence.

Once you'd been in there a couple times, you noticed how much you looked forward to that first in-breath of oxygen-rich air when you walked in the double door, and your step always became just a bit livelier.

Eventually you became a member, because you fell in love with all of it.  Membership in the co-op means that you get the best price and first crack at every new crop, with a year-round food share of whatever best grows in each season and cycle, and preferential choices for walking times and meeting space use.

You even looked forward to the open member meetings because you liked a lot of the people, and came to feel a common cause with them.

Now, realistically, we all know that good and even helpful ideas can and do run aground as easily as bad ones.  So any idea worth its salt has to stand up to a few good rounds of How's It Work, What-If and Then-What?

The key idea is that the combination of a strong, (literally) healthy Membership program, and the café (which could expand into a restaurant if the demand is there), could ease the enterprise out of the brutal stream of making it work exclusively as a retail operation on what's grown for sale.

Okay, sounds ducky; but "What If" it doesn't work?

If it didn't fly as this multipurpose dreamhouse, it could still be easily turned into simply a commercial greenhouse — unless the winter fitness or restaurant crowds are what draw the main support, who knows? — and I'll just need to find somewhere else to walk in the winter, even year-round.

It would so cool if someone would do this; I'd consider moving there and becoming your first member, how's that?

(April 20, 2018)

Friday, August 25, 2017

"A Working Simple System"

This post represents an interesting confluence of past and present. In a recent short series I wrote for LinkedIn on "Economizing on High Quality Documentation Projects," I ended the third with a reference to John Gall's famed concept about the crucial role of what he called "a working simple system."  It turns out this concept has become so famous over time that it's now known as "Gall's Law."

Well, that started the wheels turning, because one of the first half-dozen posts I wrote in 2006 was about just that.  Why rewrite what I've long been saying about Mr. Gall's stellar thinking, when I already have *and* had decided to start republishing my own favorites from the blog, as topsoil for what will come next.

That's what made this one our nominee for our blog's humble "Hall of Frame," we'll call it.  So:

Here's an idea so profound, so fundamental, that I can't tell you how many times I've quoted it; even before the time I had it on my first site ( in "the Serious Part," now enshrined here, along with everything else in the Internet Archive). A lot of system designers of all kinds would do well to contemplate this principle.

It's from a book by John Gall, famously named "Systemantics, The Underground Text of Systems Lore." (With the typical feverishness of Web publishing, I'm going to slap this up here now, then do some searching later to see if I can find anything about it online, or in print, or at least a bread crumb trail. Originally found this in print, in the old Whole Earth Review when I believe Kevin Kelly was editing it, before he went on to Wired.)

Some essential statements:
"Complex systems exhibit unexpected behavior. 
"The system always kicks back - systems get in the way - or, in slightly more elegant language: Systems tend to oppose their own functions.
"A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.
"The parallel proposition also appears to be true: a complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system."
General Systemantics Press, Pub. Date 2nd Ed.: November 1990

(Shortly afterwards:)
...Sure enough, there are ample references to Mr. Gall's book all over the Web.

"General Systemantics Press was established in the 1970s to publish Dr. John Gall's book, 'Systemantics™ - How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail.'
This was the First Edition of what is now 'The Systems Bible™,' 

which they proclaim includes,

"three new chapters, new AXIOMS, THEOREMS AND RULES OF THUMB, and many new Horrible Examples..."

Of course there are a number of entries about it in the Wikipedia;
the main page for Systemantics contains these additional, comforting Laws:
"The Functional Indeterminacy Theorem (F.I.T.):
In complex systems, malfunction and even total non-function may not be detectable for long periods, if ever.
"Systems develop goals of their own the instant they come into being."

– from this blog, Rosswriting: "A Working Simple System"
  (originally posted  July, 2006,

Facebook, LinkedIn… and Back Around to Blogger

All of my blogging energy for years now has gone into my locality of Facebook, and the blog has mostly been left sitting here, wondering when I would return.  (Blogs are a lot like dogs that way – they just wait.)

But recently I've begun dropping articles (now known more as "long posts,") in LinkedIn, too.
The three-part "Economizing on High Quality Documentation Projects" is the current one.

That, in turn, has brought me back here – how do I want to use the "old fashioned" public blog?
The first answer to that was to go back and find the posts that I'm happiest about, the most proud of, that say things that bear repeating (at least one more time), and republish them, annotated. 

That starts with this "Introductory Demarcation Point," which you apparently are still reading.  Good!

(I'm terming this bit that way only because an "introduction" is a logical unit that would only function correctly at the beginning of what it describes, at the top, right?  But in a blog, they immediately sink to the bottom as soon as what they were previewing appears and pushes them out of the way. Even after over 10 years, I still find that clumsy.)

Well, whatta ya gonna do?  Each medium has its quirks to match its virtues.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Does Amazon Own Google Now?

On a laid back Sunday morning, when I'm most likely to feel the room to indulge curiousities that float by when you're buttering the toast, I was looking up how little you could get the third season of 30 Rock for on DVD at this point.

On Google, after a lead ad,

  • the first three (3) pure search returns were Amazon pages,
  • then one from Wikipedia,
  • then we get three more in succession from Amazon.
  • That's followed by one from Bestbuy,
  • one IMDB,
then an ad by Amazon and one by Target. Even better, the third result of the leadoff 3-in-a-row for Amazon is for Season 4, when my search for "30 rock season 3 dvd" pretty much couldn't be simpler or more specific. What's the logic there?  (Maybe "rationale" would be the better word.)

Overall, of nine (9) pure search results, six (6) were from Amazon.  Dear Google, how smart does that look?

Google's 2/3rds Amazon search results, Jan.'16

I realize of course that your Shopping tab will give me what I want.  But most people, and it's been this way since the earliest days of Web search (based on having worked at the original AltaVista Search in the late 90's), just go a search engine, type a one-word search and pick something from the first page. Google's default search page should be much smarter than this; and, inevitably, it makes me wonder what other subjects they're screwing up in similar ways.

On the identical search within the hour, Yahoo did much better, although with two each for Amazon and Ebay, it's still plainly skewed towards the Big Boys. That's anti-competitive, a principle that is not only common sense, but deeply entwined in the law. (Sure sounds a lot like whistling in the wind in this era, doesn't it.)

So, am I complaining about a flaw in their search algorithm ("Such mistakes have always been traced back to human error, Dave,") or Amazon's dominance?

Both.  First, we not be many, but there people like me who clearly choose not going to Amazon except in a pinch, and for all the reasons.
Like, Shop Local for everything possible, because Small Is Beautiful and human-scale, and you have a voice in it.  Unlike the alternative, where Too Big is a Failure of society, and Amazon in particular sounds pretty brutal to their workers, both white- and blue-collared?
That last part may not be such a problem in the near future, though, because here's a tip: if you're a robot, go see them about a job.
Bigger Is Better – for the Bigger.  Not necessarily for anyone any smaller.

Yahoo - pure search results, not incl. ads - one each of:
  • Amazon
  • EBay
  • Wikipedia
  • Bestbuy
  • EBay (2nd)
  • Amazon (2nd)
  • barnesandnoble
"Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace
- The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push
white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions."

New York Times, by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, Aug. 15, 2015

Friday, February 27, 2015

NY State now 4th in U.S. solar energy jobs

Here we go again, again: with something over 7,000 jobs directly attributable to solar energy in New York State, 2100 added in 2014 alone, the state appears ready to turn solar energy into a real business, finally.  We were following earlier efforts, and it's good to see what looks like a major corner being turned.

From The Solar Foundation (an independent, strategic research nonprofit in D.C., begun in 1977):

"Solar is the fastest growing source of renewable energy in the U.S. today. Accounting for 50 percent of new generation capacity in 2014 in the U.S., the sleeping giant of solar energy is most decidedly waking. The solar industry currently employs nearly 174,000 Americans and contributes almost $15 billion to the U.S. economy."

Relevant fun facts from the Solar Energy Industries Association:

•  In 2014, more than a third of all new electric capacity was solar. At that rate, a new panel is installed approximately every three minutes; the one-millionth solar panel will likely be installed this year.

•  over 17,500 MW of cumulative solar electric capacity is operating in the U.S., enough to power more than 3.5 million average American homes.

In here:

Will The Solar Rise Again in NY State?

"Green" Lights in Europe, Asia, But Not U.S. (Except...)

Our long-running top tag is "appropriate technology"

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