Friday, September 7, 2007

Prefabbed modular sectional everything...

After seeing me Dad burn through three drills as he Bob Vila-ed our back yard into a deck lovers paradise, I'm interested to see how a product like this takes off.

Deck work isn't easy. It's hard, laborious lifting and setting that can be made all the more difficult if you're too cheap to buy the beer (i.e. your friends won't help you out). Since we've seen modular carpeting, garage tiles, furniture, storage...why not modular decking?

At about $600 for a 100 square foot room (with you as labor!), I'd say that's not a bad price...given you already have an extremely flat surface to work with.

While the modular/prefab/preassemble/sectional craze continues to go bonkers, I can't help but think that a product like this takes something away from the aesthetic of an area/building. Maybe it's because I'm a wood traditionalist, but in my opinion decking, shingles and crown molding lose a lot of artistic integrity when they're prefabbed or mass produced. While definitely easier to construct and maintain, a part of me would stand on that product and say "I'm standing on a modular surface," not "I'm standing on a deck." Does that make sense?

I guess there's just something to be said about the sturdiness and sweat put into a "man deck" with all of the built-in barbeques, flat screen tvs, fire pits, hammocks ($19,500!!!)....I could keep going, but I'm starting to drool.

From their website:

Snapping Deck Tile : a do-it-yourself product designed for the average homeowners. It instantly provides a solid hardwood floor on the patio, balcony, roof top, next to a pool or spa, and also kitchen and bathroom areas in a couple of hours without the hassles of building a deck in the conventional way in multiple days.

Snapping Deck Tile comes with with a plastic base engineered with an intelligent interlocking mechanism, which allows flexibility and variety in use. You can design a unique balcony deck for your apartment, pull it up 6 months later, and create another balcony deck for your next apartment in an hour. Tiles are easily rotated, mixed, and matched to create various patterns. The possibilities are endless.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

An introduction to the coconut wireless...

For those of you unfamiliar with the "coral atoll" I mentioned in the previous post, here's a great video exclaiming the crisis of global warming and its effect on Kiribati.

I'm addicted to crank...

While stranded in the South Pacific on a thin coral atoll, moon hidden by the clouds, walking down dirt roads with only a a three dollar flashlight in hand, I oft wished I padded my rucksack a little bit better BEFORE I left the states.

The batteries we would buy in Kiribati worked, so that wasn't necessarily the root of my lighting problem, but the lifespan of said batteries was a definite issue. Their operational efficiency depended HEAVILY on the device being used. A Kasio [sic] keyboard, for instance, blasted at full volume by a neighbor practicing for an Independence Day botaki might need to be changed out every two songs or so, unless, of course, the neighbor is practicing at 3:00am...then the batteries had uncanny staying power. There was also the case of the "inconvenient crap-out" where a low-wattage item would die when most needed, say, during an aforementioned stroll down a rock cluttered dirt miles from your home...during the rainy season.

Batteries are, and will continue to be, a MAJOR issue in developing nations as more and more technology and goods continue to be introduced without a proper means to maintain and dispose of them after life has ended. So you can imagine my elation when I stumbled upon this website (while the technology is by no means new, continue reading to see why Freeplay is nevertheless a modernistic company):

Freeplay Energy is a damn cool website devoted to all products "crank." From weather band radios to eye-blinding LED flashlights, freeplay has it all.

From their site:

At Freeplay Energy, we believe in developing environmentally-responsible products to empower the global village. As the original creators of the famous wind up radio, we now develop and manufacture a wide range of electronic products distributed throughout the world. Freeplay’s award winning self-sufficient products harness human, solar, and rechargeable energy to power durable portable devices from radios to lanterns to mobile phone chargers. Forget disposable batteries. Our self-sustainable power solutions provide energy for life, while respecting the social and environmental impact on our planet. You can rely on Freeplay Energy products to work anytime and anywhere.

Freeplay Energy’s commitment to the planet goes well beyond the environment. Our products are engineered with every nation in mind. In developing countries – which have little or no access to reliable energy – we are pioneering, durable, innovative, rechargeable products that withstand the harshest climate and use. Our products offer convenience and security to some, and to others, enable critical communication, access to education and basic lighting at night to improve their quality of life.

What's more is that they provide a great product AND a great message. Established in 1998, the Freeplay Foundation "is committed to providing innovative and practical energy solutions and to ensuring sustained access to information and education via radio." More from their site:

The Freeplay Foundation aims to:

-facilitate sustained access to information and education for the poorest of the poor, especially children, women, refugees and the disabled.

-raise awareness of the role of radio broadcasting and communication in developing countries, disaster areas and regions of conflict.

-research opportunities where appropriate and alternative sources of energy can be applied to improve the lives of people in developing communities, especially children living on their own.

-seek sponsorship to initiate and support humanitarian communication initiatives.

My time on the islands might be over, but I might still buy crankable flashlight...not because I need it, but because this company actually "gets it."

The Sustainable Times also has a really wonderful article.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Jay Leno blows...

I'm on a roll...

"Small wind" is going mainstream...and God only knows there's nothing more mainstream than the king of overindulgence, Jay Leno (the man is so rubbery middle-o-the-road that I swear he could be a White House Press Secretary...and how many cars does one really need?).

Jetson Green has a feature on Jay Leno's newest addition to his 15 bazillion (B!) car garage, a Delta II Wind Turbine.

A single turbine.

Enough wind energy will be harvested in one day to fuel one Ferrari for...enough energy to gas up his jaw for....enough wind to blow away a...damn it!

SEE!!! You can't even crack a joke about him!

I'm off to watch Conan.

Check it article with numerous videos here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

1 million dollars if you let me sleep with your country...

Remember that post a while back about 9-volts not saving the world?

Remember the inventiveness of the children of Guinea?

Well, the World Bank Group is trying to shake things up in the $38 billion (B!) fuel-based global lighting market with a new design competition.

Fancy yourself the Bono of bulbs? Then why not register and compete in Lighting Africa!

From their website:

Lighting Africa is a World Bank Group initiative aimed at providing up to 250 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa with access to non-fossil fuel based, low cost, safe, and reliable lighting products with associated basic energy services by the year 2030.

Currently, 1.7 billion people worldwide are without electricity. The problem is most acute in Sub-Saharan Africa where over 500 million people presently lack modern energy, with rural electricity access rates as low as 2%.

Among the poorest of the poor, lighting is often the most expensive item among their energy uses, typically accounting for 10-15% of total household income. Yet, while consuming a large share of scarce income, fuel based lighting provides little in return.

New advancements in lighting technology, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs), promise clean, portable, durable, lower cost, and higher quality lighting. The challenge is to make these products accessible to the half billion "energy poor" in Africa. With expenditures on fuel based lighting estimated at US$38 billion annually, the potential exists to engage the international lighting industry in this new market area, while serving consumers, bolstering local commerce, creating jobs, enhancing incomes, cleaning the air, and improving health, safety, and quality of life.

Plus, their little satellite image of Africa at night is pretty cool. I think I can see my house.

So back to the previous posts....

A recipe for winning the Lighting Africa competition (I love the recipe schtick...creative gold...if you ever hear one at a wedding reception, duck and cover).

1) Take the best invention ever created
2) Fold in half a cup of Pedal-A-Watt
3) Add a dash of ingenuity with William Kamkwamba and others
4) Toss in three sprinkles of human powered zero-emissions
5) Encourage technological advancement without pity (I guess that would be considered baking)



Seriously though, does it really take a $200,000 prize to come up with a solution? How much is this problem/will this problem be over-thought until we've blown it up into some abusively researched acrylic monstrosity, decorated to the tilt in Western design stereotypes by people with no understanding of the affecting cultural and socioeconomic norms and traditions of another country?

I'm just frustrated. The designs (typically) have no staying power and never really pan out. If they do, they're implemented with little to no follow-up by an organization that donated the time (see: their name in lights). Parts break, people remain untrained to fix and/or operate the machinery...all goes to waste.

Fortunately, I'm always optimistic that my pessimism is wrong.

Seriously though, check out Afrigadget. There's some amazing stuff there. Check it out already. Go.

I want to ride my bicycle power grid...

After a wonderful May, in which a large number of NBBJ'ers participated in bike-to-work month, I was in wonderful shape...but very, very, very cynical as to the possibility of ever marketing Columbus as a green city.*

Our first rider was hit within 3 days and due to some quick thinking by citizens on patrol, the driver was eventually apprehended (driver took off insisting that he/she didn't see/hear body/clunking noise of said biker).

Me? I already knew the in's and out's of biking in Columbus. Back in my bartending days, with Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday completely off (w00t!), I used to log anywhere between 45 and 90 miles per day on my Giant. But if I wasn't on a country road, rhythmically pedaling corn field after cornfield, I'd prefer to be riding in downtown rush hour traffic.


Stopped cars are predictable - slow moving cars are estimable - 35 mph cars aren't paying attention - and 55 mph cars hold up everyone in the fast lane. Simply put, I'd rather weave in and out than dodge; and the faster a driver gets in Columbus, the worse they operate their W-stickered Denali.

By the end of May, bike-to-work month came to a dreary end and I was all but fed up with the two-wheeled commute. It was time to try out COTA (and a whole new user-unfriendly bitchfest all together).

Anyways, why a 4-month-late rant? Because I finally found something for the agoraphobic cyclist in all of us (actually, it wasn't my find, but our IT guru aus Deutschland).

You can now be green AND get in shape...

The Pedal-A-Watt Stationary Bike Power Generator!

From their website:

The Pedal-A-Watt bicycle stand keeps the user aerobically fit while creating power that may be used to power lights and/or other small appliances. The Pedal-A-Watt may also be used to charge a battery so that the power may be used at a later time (see the PowerPak under the Accessories page). The battery may then be tapped at a later time, after dark for example, when the energy is needed to power lights or appliances. The Pedal-A-Watt bicycle stand is an excellent addition to an existing battery system that may already be charged from the photovoltaic panels, 120 VAC grid power or wind power. The concept behind the Pedal-A-Watt bicycle is that electricity can be created from human effort and then stored in batteries...
The Pedal-A-Watt, creates 200 watts of power. If you pedal for 2 hours, then you have created 400 watt-hours ( 200 watts x 2 hours) of power.

This 400 watt-hours would power a 100 watt light bulb for 4 hours, a 200 watt large screen TV for 2 hours and so on.

So since I don't live in Davis, California, I still need to four-wheel it to work (lest I become a speed bump). And while I love Plug-In Hybrid Technology, PHEVs still draw from your home's electricity, thus relying on the coal-based plants of the Midwest. Soooooo, if I want to be truly green, I should pedal power my car with a Pedal-A-Watt for my daily commute.

Using the above calculations - applied with the specs from Hymotion's Plug-in Hybrid Kit (the L5 for the Prius) - I need to pedal for 25 hours to get a full charge on the conversion kit...a full charge being a 20 mile range.**

Include the 24 mile RT commute, thus adding an additional 5 hours worth of pedaling, means 5 days of commuting gives me 18 hours in which to work, eat, sleep and spend time with my family (168 hours in a week, less the 150 hours of pedaling).***

I think I can manage.

*Greening of Columbus is, apparently, still in R&D phases
**Last math class I took was Poly-Sci and Stats sophomore year at Eckerd. No math is guaranteed.
***Seriously, see first "*."