Friday, October 19, 2007

Jane, his wife....

I'm swamped today, so head on over to Forbes and check out their Future Spectacular:

What happened to the future? Weren't things supposed to be cooler by now, smarter, safer? Raised on a steady diet of science fiction, overzealous politicians and corporate hype, Americans expected to be living in The Jetsons -- but instead find themselves stuck in a scarier version of The Waltons.

The truth is that people simply aren't very good at predicting the future. It was only two centuries ago that we began to think we could do it at all, and we're still learning. Hindsight may be 20/20, but foresight remains largely blind.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cutting up the credit card (offers)...

With an estimated 850,000 tons of waste generated annually, credit card companies are the bane of my mailbox's existence. I have two Citi cards and receive a credit offer almost daily for each card, even though both offers are identical!

So once a month my wife and I put on our oven mitts and gather around the shredder, the motor burning lava-hot as it wheezes through the No Annual Fees! and Low Interest Rate! offers. Four hours later, we walk out to the mailbox and begin our collection again.

Will the cycle ever stop?

Well, there are many options to attack the credit card companies, some more extreme than the next.

1. OptOutPrescreen
I originally ran across this site less than a year ago and was stoked to learn that I could opt out online. However, I never filled out the form because it asked for my SSN and that turned on my panic alarm. Further digging assuaged my concerns and as of today, I am electronically opted out for the next five years (you can also call toll free 1-888-5-OPTOUT). The site is 128bit SSL encrypted, but make sure you type in the URL yourself, seeing as phishers might set up fake URL's similar in look.

2. Green Dimes
Purchase a Junk Mail Reduction Kit from Green Dimes ($15) and you'll be prompted to enter the names of yourself and everyone in your household. Two to four weeks after it's activated, you'll receive some customized cards that you can direct to snailmail spammers that flood your mailbox with Resident or Occupant letters. They'll also register your name with catalog mailers. Additionally, for every junk mail reduction kit that's purchased, they'll plant ten trees!

3. Change your preference listing with the Direct Marketing Association by sending a postcard or letter to:

Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 15012-0643

Include your complete name, address, zip code and a request to "activate the preference service". For up to five years, this will stop mail from all member organizations that you have not specifically ordered products from. They process 50,000 requests a month and requests are kept active for five years. If you fill out the post office change of address form, the DMA will track the new address (you'll get a few months of mailings to the new address before they catch up to you). It can take up to six months for your request to be fully processed. You can also opt-out online, but they charge $5. The best way is to fill out their online form, then mail them a printout.

4. Catalogs
Catalogs are easy. Just call the company's 800 number listed on the catalog and get their fax number. Tell the CSR that your would like to opt-out from receiving catalogs. Be sure to get their name and keep it as a reference. Now, look on the label of the catalog. There should be an identifying box like Customer # or Source Code. Circle your customer number and write your instructions to Opt-Out on the mailing label and fax it to the company. Be sure to note "ATTN: customer service". Additionally, you can tear off the label, write your instructions on it, and enclose in the postage-paid ordering envelope. Mark envelope "ATTN: customer service". This method is the least effective.

5. Val-Pak Coupons
Click the link above and fill out the form, but don't give them your email address.

Other Tips:
-Whenever you donate money, order a product or service, or fill out a warranty card, write in large letters, "Please do not sell my name or address". Most organizations will properly mark your name in the computer.
-Product warranty cards are are often used to collection information on your habits and income, for the sole purpose of targeting direct mail. They are not required in most situations - avoid sending them.
-On the telephone, ask "Please mark my account so that my name is not traded or sold to other companies". Your credit card company probably sells your name the most often. Call them and ask them to stop.
-"Contests" where you fill in a little entry blank are almost always fishing expeditions for names. -If you fill one out at a football game, for example, expect to get a catalog of football merchandise within a few months. Avoid these if you don't want the mail.
-Select a false middle name or initial for each charity or business you deal with. Keep track of which letter goes with which organization. You can also select a false road designator, "avenue, place, circle, street, highway, parkway, etc.". This step can be very revealing. Some guides recommend changing the spelling of your name, but this can lead to duplicate mailings.

-Return the postage-paid envelopes blank/empty and make them eat the cost of postage.

Want to do some good with plastic?

Barclaycard Breathe
Through this UK-based credit card, 50% of all profit will go to carbon reduction projects around the world, such as Solar4Schools, renewable energy and forest preservation in Brazil, a hydropower and wind project in China.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In the yeeeaaarrr twooo-thooooousannnd...

Communism? Terrorism? Peace? What's going to take over the world?

MIT Researchers, if they keep up at this rate....

Frankenstein meets Mr. Burn's (germ clinic proprietor, not nuclear power provider) meets James Bond's Q meets Dupont.

"Excuse me, miss? Is that sweater made out of viruses?"

From the article:

November/December 2007
Virus-Built Electronics
Assembling nanomaterials with the help of innocuous viruses could lead to threadlike batteries and photovoltaics that can be woven into clothing.

By Kevin Bullis

Angela Belcher leans in to watch as a machine presses down slowly on the plunger of a syringe, injecting a billion harmless viruses into a clear liquid. Instead of diffusing into the solution as they escape the needle, the viruses cling together, forming a wispy white fiber that's several centimeters long and about as strong as a strand of nylon. A gradu­ate student, Chung-Yi Chiang, fishes it out with a pair of tweezers. Then he holds it up to an ultra­violet light, and the fiber begins to glow bright red.

In producing this novel fiber, the researchers have demonstrated a completely new way of making nanomaterials, one that uses viruses as microscopic building blocks. Belcher, a professor of materials
science and biological engineering at MIT, says the approach has two main advantages. First, in high concentrations the viruses tend to organize themselves, lining up side by side to form an orderly pattern. Second, the viruses can be genetically engineered to bind to and organize inorganic materials such as those used in battery electrodes, transistors, and solar cells. The programmed viruses coat themselves with the materials and then, by aligning with other viruses, assemble into crystalline structures useful for making high-­performance devices.

Continue reading here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

If only they were cleaner on the inside...

While the New York Time's City Room Blog has some less-than-kind things to say about the aesthetics of New York's new hybrid turbine buses, I think they're Airstreamariffic.

From William Neuman's article:

The city’s other hybrid buses run like hybrid cars. They run off battery power some of the time and diesel or (in the case of many cars) gas engines at other times. And the braking action helps charge the batteries.

The test bus is different in that it runs on battery power all the time. It has a diesel engine, but that is used only to charge the battery, although the bus also uses the brakes for that purpose. The diesel engine is different too. It is a turbine engine.

Read more here...

To the (smaller) masses...

Large architectural design firms have a massive amount of resources at their disposal - from the 3D printers to the LEED gurus to the eco-marked resource libraries to the specifiers to the continuing education classes to the specialized committees...

What's the little guy to do?

Founded in 2000 as an environmental/software consultancy firm, Square 1 research now devotes the majority of their work to energy efficient environmental design. Co-founders Dr. Andrew J. Marsh [insert bazillion certifications and accreditations here] and Caroline Raines [insert bazillion certifications and accreditations here] have developed and produced a ton of corporate-commercial software programs for purchase -as well as various free software packages- to help designers produce the most energy efficient buildings they can.

Various tools from their website include, but are by no means limited to:


ECOTECT is the most user friendly and fully featured building performance analysis and design tool on the market today. It combines an interactive building design interface and 3D modeller with a wide range of environmental analysis tools for a detailed assessment of
solar, thermal, lighting, shadows & shading design, energy & building regulations, acoustics, air flow, cost & resource performance of buildings at any scale. ...and even more importantly, it has been written and developed by designers for designers, to be as useful at concept stage as it is during final design development.

Solar Tool

With its interactive user interface, the Solar Tool makes the process of accurately sizing and positioning overhangs, shading devices and louvres easy. You will never use manual methods again. This software is a must for architects, planners and building services engineers, anyone who needs to consider the extent of solar penetration into buildings, overshadowing or the most appropriate means of shading a window.

Weather Tool

The Weather Tool is a visualisation and analysis program for hourly climate data. It recognises a wide range of international weather file formats as well as allowing users to specify customised data import formats for ASCII files. It also provides a wide range of display options, including both 2D and 3D graphs as well as wind roses and sun-path diagrams.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I stand in silent protest...

Blog Action Day?

On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind - the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.

My uncertainty for the future is far too overpowering, so I don't think I can partipate.

"Can someone make hybrid cars as comfortable as a Bentley, please?" -Yoko Ono

Where are you, John? We could use a voice.

Oh right...shilling for Nike.*

*I know it's not his fault, but it still hurts.

Nobody *&$% with the Jesus....

US scientist heralds 'artificial life' breakthrough

Sat Oct 6, 4:03 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Controversial celebrity US scientist Craig Venter has announced he is on the verge of creating the first ever artificial life form which he hails as a potential remedy to illness and global warming.

Venter told Britain's The Guardian newspaper Saturday that he has built a synthetic chromosome using chemicals made in a laboratory, and is set to announce the discovery within weeks, possibly as early as Monday.

The breakthrough, which Venter hopes could help develop new energy sources to combat the negative effects of climate change, would be "a very important philosophical step in the history of our species," he told the newspaper.

However the prospect of engineering artificial life forms is highly controversial and likely to arouse heated debate over the ethics and potential ramifications of such an advance.

Pat Mooney, director of the Canadian bioethics organization ETC Group, told the paper that Venter was creating "a chassis on which you could build almost anything.

"It could be a contribution to humanity such as new drugs or a huge threat to humanity such as bio-weapons."

The chromosome which Venter and his team has created is known as Mycoplasma laboratorium and, in the final step of the process, will be transplanted into a living cell where it should "take control," effectively becoming a new life form.
[Is anybody else thinking of the guy at the diner in Spaceballs? I can't help but picture a little alien popping out of a guy's stomach with a top hat and cane]

The single cell organism, which ETC has coined "Synthia," is piloted by a chromosome with just 381 genes, the limit necessary to sustain the life of the bacteria so it can feed and reproduce.

The new bacteria will therefore be largely artificial, though not entirely, because it is composed of building blocks from already existing organisms. The idea is to make it into a universal tool for biologists by according it the genes necessary to accomplish certain tasks.

The project, which Venter has been working on for five years along with a team of researchers, has been partially financed by the US Department of Energy in the hopes that it could lead to the creation of a new environmentally friendly fuel.

"We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before," Venter said.

A Venter spokeswoman however declined to confirm any breakthrough.

"The Guardian is ahead of themselves on this," Venter spokeswoman Heather Kowalski told AFP.

"We have not achieved what some have speculated we have in synthetic life," Kowalski said. "When we do so there will be a scientific publication and we are likely months away from that."

Venter's laboratory, the J. Craig Venter Institute, filed in 2006 for a US patent on the organism, claiming exclusive ownership of a set of essential genes and a synthetic "free-living organism that can grow and replicate."

The ETC group publicized the patent application, which would apply in the United states and 100 or so other countries, in June.

"Venter and his colleagues have breached a societal boundary, and the public hasn't even had a chance to debate the far-reaching social, ethical and environmental implications of synthetic life," Mooney said in a statement at the time.

The group also added that "patent experts consulted by the ETC Group indicate that, based on the language used in the application, the Venter Institute researchers had probably not achieved a fully-functioning organism at the time of the filing."

Nevertheless, "many people think that Venter's company has the scientific expertise to do the job," Mooney added.