Boing Boing 

Learn about climate, energy, and "the new normal" this weekend

I'm at the Aspen Environmental Forums, an annual conference focused on many different aspects of climate science, energy policy, conservation, and other environmental issues. You can follow along on Twitter with the tag #aef2012, and I'll be tweeting regularly from the panels I watch. For instance, if you check out the tag now, you can find some great tweets from last night, covering a discussion with Stewart Brand about biotech, cloning, and the possibility of reversing extinction.

Worlds tallest building will be built in China, over 90 days

Broad Sustainable Building (BSB) is an innovative Chinese architectural firm whose mission is to erect "medium-cost, super-saving utility buildings and to promote a futuristic urban lifestyle." They are planning to build the world's tallest building, the Sky City Tower in Changsha, Hunan, whose 220 storeys will be erected in 90 days. The timelapse video above shows another BSB project, a 30-storey hotel that went up in 15 days. The company claims its designs are extremely seismically robust and environmentally efficient. From CNNGo:

Its 220 stories will provide a total of 1 million square meters of usable space, linked by 104 elevators.

Zhang said Sky City is expected to consume a fifth of the energy required by a conventional building due to BSB’s unique construction methods, such as quadruple glazing and 15-centimeter-thick exterior walls for thermal insulation.

The company's construction methods also seem to save money.

According to Chinese newspaper 21 Century Business Herald, the total investment in Sky City is RMB 4 billion (US$628 million), compared with US$1.5 billion on Burj Khalifa and US$2.2 billion on Shanghai Tower.

Sky City: China plans world's tallest building (via Kottke)

The Watt?: Great Kickstarter project aims at helping people better understand energy

The Watt? is an interactive energy primer aimed at making the complicated and completely non-intuitive world of energy use a bit more understandable to laypeople.

I wholeheartedly support any effort to make this stuff make more sense. In the course of researching my book, Before the Lights Go Out, I stumbled across tons of extremely important information that was basic "duh" knowledge to energy experts—but not to you, me, and everybody actually doing the decision making on energy issues.

I ended up focusing on the story of the electric grid, how it works today, and where it might be headed in the future. But there's no way I could cover everything. The Watt? promises to fill in some of those gaps—fleshing out the details on everything from physics and terminology, to economics and technology. There will be some really lovely-looking charts and graphics, guest "speakers" embedded into the e-book, and lots of other cool surprises.

The team behind this is trying to raise funds now through Kickstarter. Their deadline is in 18 hours. If you want to better understand energy systems (or you want to help other Americans better understand them) I suggest making a donation.

The Watt? on Kickstarter

Austerity obliterates ecology: Canadian budget to make environmental impact statements optional, class eco-groups as money-launderers


Chris sez, "The budget bill currently before the Canadian Parliament (Bill C-38) does a bunch of things that don't seem to have much to do with the budget--including completely gutting Canada's federal environmental laws. The Environmental Assessment Act is being completely repealed and replaced with a regime that gives the government the power to basically approve any project they want without any environmental review--including mining projects in Alberta's Athabasca Tar Sands and the Canadian portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. And while environmental protections are being slashed, $8 million is going to the Canada Revenue Agency to audit charities (with the understanding that the main targets will be environmental charities--which the government has labelled as money launderers working for foreign interests). By putting this in a budget bill, the Conservative government has ensured that there will be minimal debate on these changes, and they will almost certainly be passed by the majority-Conservative parliament. Canada's largest environmental groups have organized a website blackout on June 4 to protest and raise awareness of these changes."

BlackOutSpeakOut - Welcome / Bienvenue (Thanks, Chris!)

Life before plastic

Stewart Brand sums up Susan Freinkel's Long Now talk: "What Common Objects Used to Be Made Of," a history of the world before plastic:

“Bakelite was invented in 1907 to replace the beetle excretion called shellac (“It took 16,000 beetles six months to make a pound of shellac.”), and was first used to insulate eletrical wiring. Soon there were sturdy Bakelite radios, telephones, ashtrays, and a thousand other things. The technology democratized consumption, because mass production made former luxury items cheap and attractive. The 1920s and ‘30s were a golden age of plastic innovation, with companies like Dow Chemical, DuPont, and I. G. Farben creating hundreds of new varieties of plastic for thrilled consumers. Cellophane became a cult. Nylons became a cult. A plastics trade show in 1946 had 87,000 members of the public lining up to view the wonders. New fabrics came along—Orlon and Dacron—as colorful as the deluge of plastic toys—Barbie, the Frisbee, Hula hoops, and Silly Putty.

“Looking for new markets, the marketers discovered disposability—disposable cups for drink vending machines, disposable diapers (“Said to be responsible for the baby boom“), Bic lighters, soda bottles, medical syringes, and the infinite market of packaging. Americans consume 300 pounds of plastic a year. The variety of plastics we use are a problem for recycling, because they have to be sorted by hand. They all biodegrade eventually, but at varying rates. New bio-based polymers like “corn plastic” and “plant bottles” have less of a carbon footprint, but they biodegrade poorly. Meanwhile, thanks to the efficiencies of fracking, the price of natural gas feedstock is plummeting, and so is the price of plastic manufacture.

What Common Objects Used to Be Made Of

(Image: Plastic Power, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from fxtreme's photostream)

How to: Collect 6,000-year-old swamp mud

Photo:Eric Niiler

I spent last weekend in the Harvard Forest, participating in hands-on science experiments as part of the Marine Biological Laboratory's science journalism fellowship. The goal was to give us an inside look at what, exactly, scientists actually do. When you're reading a peer-reviewed scientific research paper, where did all that data come from?

Sometimes, it comes from a swamp.

On Saturday, we walked into the Forest's Blackgum Swamp to take core samples out of the muck. There was no standing water in this swamp, at least not when we visited. But I wouldn't call the ground "solid", either. Instead, it was more like a moss-covered sponge. With every step, the ground beneath me would sink and smoosh. In some of the lower patches, that meant a shoe-full of water. In other spots, it was just a disconcerting sensation.

Taking core samples involves a little machine that's like a cross between a shovel and a straw. Made of heavy, solid metal, it has an extendable handle on one end. At the other, there's a hollow, cylindrical chamber that can be opened and closed by turning the handle counterclockwise. You drive the chamber into the ground, turn the handle, and then pull it back out. Once everything is back on the surface, you can open the chamber and see a perfect cylinder of earth, pulled up from below. That cylinder is removed from the chamber, wrapped in plastic wrap, labeled, and put in a long wooden box. Then you do all of that again, in 50 centimeter increments, until you hit stone. We got to about 475 centimeters—15 feet deep. By that point, you'll have collected 1000s of years of layered sediment.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

Read the rest

Behavioral economics at Starbucks: should paper cup users be penalized?

Starbucks generates 4 billion paper cups a year, or 12 cups for every man, woman and child in America. The coffee giant knocks ten cents off beverage price for customers who bring in their own mugs, but Mark Gunther writes: "If Starbucks really wanted to save trees, it wouldn’t offer discounts to people who bring mugs. It would charge a dime to everyone who does not."

Energy and geo-engineering: Maggie on the radio

I'm going to be on the radio a couple of times today, talking about my book, Before the Lights Go Out, and the future of energy and climate. At 1:00 Eastern/Noon Central, you can listen to an hour-long interview with me on Minnesota Public Radio's Bright Ideas. You don't have to be in Minnesota to listen. It's streaming online. Then, about 2:10 Eastern/1:10 Central, I'll be on "To the Point", talking about climate, energy, and geo-engineering. Climate scientist Ken Caldiera will also be on that show and he's a great speaker. That will be online, as well.

Navy: sonar and explosion tests may be harming dolphins, whales

In an environmental impact statement covering future plans for U.S. Navy training and testing, an acknowledgement that the use of sonar and explosives "could potentially hurt more dolphins and whales in Hawaii and California waters than previously thought." (AP)

If you put all the water on Earth in one place

Put all the water on this planet into a single sphere and it would have a diameter of about 860 miles, says the United States Geological Survey. For reference, that's roughly the distance between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Topeka, Kansas.

About 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth's water. But water also exists in the air as water vapor, in rivers and lakes, in icecaps and glaciers, in the ground as soil moisture and earthgwaquifer.html, and even in you and your dog. Still, all that water would fit into that "tiny" ball. The ball is actually much larger than it looks like on your computer monitor or printed page because we're talking about volume, a 3-dimensional shape, but trying to show it on a flat, 2-dimensional screen or piece of paper. That tiny water bubble has a diameter of about 860 miles, meaning the height (towards your vision) would be 860 miles high, too! That is a lot of water.

I really like this illustration because it shows off an important concept: Whether a number represents "a lot" of something or "a little" is pretty damn relative. As the USGS says, that is, in fact, a lot of water. But it also makes for a surprisingly little ball.

Read more about this graphic and the water cycle on the USGS website.

Behind the scenes of a city: Trash in L.A.

The video, made by Mae Ryan for Los Angeles public radio KPCC, traces trash from a burger lunch to its ultimate fate in a landfill. It reminds me of those great, old Sesame Street videos where you got to see what goes on inside crayon factories and peanut butter processing plants. Which is to say that it is awesome.

The process you see here, though, is L.A.-centric, which started me wondering: How much does the trash system differ from one place to another in the United States?

Over the last couple years, as I researched my book on the electric system, I spent a lot of time learning about how different infrastructures developed in this country. If there's one thing I've picked up it's the simple lesson that these systems—which we are utterly dependent upon—were seldom designed. Instead, the infrastructures we use today are often the result of something more akin to evolution ... or to a house that's been remodeled and upgraded by five or six different owners. Watching this video it occurred to me that there's no reason to think that the trash system in place in L.A. has all that much in common with the one in Minneapolis. In fact, it could well be completely different from the trash system in San Francisco.

I'd love to see more videos showing the same story in different places. Know of any others you can point me toward?

Suggested by maeryan on Submitterator

Video Link

Shocking new photos from BP disaster unearthed by Greenpeace

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones writes about a trove of new photographs documenting the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which released nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico two years ago.

In the midst of the disaster, BP and its contractors did everything they could to keep people from seeing the scale of the disaster. But new photos released Monday offer some new insight to just how grim the Gulf became for sea life.The images were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request that Greenpeace filed back in August 2010, asking for any communication related to endangered and threatened Gulf species. Now, many months later, Greenpeace received a response from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that included more than 100 photos from the spill, including many of critically endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles dead and covered in oil.

More photos and more about what they reveal at Mother Jones.

Revolving bookcase/room divider


The UnWaste Bookcase was jointly created by Ben Milbourne, Leyla Acaroglu and David Waterworth to act as a loft apartment room-divider that could be opened and spun completely around, depending on the needs of the residents. It's a very clever solution:

A split-level open plan warehouse conversion in Melbourne’s CBD needed a flexible solution to divide the open space into 2 rooms, while retaining the option of keeping the larger combined space when needed; an answer that would allow for light and airflow throughout the spaces but also a division between living and sleeping areas. The James Bond inspired solution involves a 4.6 metre high by 3.8m wide rotating library allowing books to be stored and accessed from either side and maximising air-flow and light when needed by simply pushing on the corner to allow for full 360 degree rotation.

Producing the least environmental impact possible was paramount with this project. Conventional ‘virgin’ MDF, Timber or Melamine all came with unacceptable environmental impacts, leading to an impasse that threatened to derail the project. The solution came via the collaboration with David Waterworth who specialises in reclaimed and recycled materials in his designs. Reclaimed plywood from construction site hoardings (the temporary barriers at the edge of construction sites) were sourced and the material’s unique characteristics of posters, weathering, graffiti and mismatched paints was incorporated into the design. The ply was sealed with natural beeswax, and with the construction processes minimising off-cut waste, 30 sheets of plywood were saved from landfill for this project further limiting its environmental impact.

UnWaste Bookcase (via Bookshelf)

Just Do It environmental outlaw activist documentary screening, free online for May Day

Emily sez,

Just Do It - a tale of modern-day outlaws is an exciting new documentary which takes you behind the scenes of the secret world of environmental direct action in the UK. Granted unprecedented access to film, director Emily James embedded herself inside a group of nonviolent UK activists as they shut down airports, stormed the fences of coal power stations, and super-glued themselves to bank trading floors, all despite the very real threat of arrest.

The film opened in the US just last week on Earth Day, however, in solidarity and support with May Day actions planned around the world - starting at 5:30pm EST on Monday 30th, the full film will be available to watch online for FREE for 24 hours on occupy.com, with a live Q&A with director Emily James at 7pm EST. To reserve your seat for the 5:30pm screening, simply head over to www.occupy.com/watch/ or to watch the film at any time during the 24-hour invitation, click "watch now" in the player.

You'll remember Emily and her awesome movie from such blogposts as this one.

Just do it | Occupy.com

Peak plastic

Materials scientist Debbie Chacra writes about "peak plastic" -- the moment at which our ability to make plastic (which is made from oil) begins to decline. As Debbie points out, our material world is made of plastic, and it's hard to imagine a post-plastics life.

Plastic is more than just water bottles and Tupperware. If you’re indoors, look around. There’s a good bet that much of what’s in your field of view is made of plastic. Paint. Carpeting. Upholstery. The finish on a wood floor. Veneer on furniture. And that’s before you go into your kitchen, or bathroom, and never mind a subway car or a hospital (disposable, sterile medical supplies, anyone?). Plastic is so ubiquitous that it’s almost invisible...

There’ll likely still be applications that really need petroplastic, so landfills will become goldmines. The characteristic drawback of plastic, its stubborn resistance to degradation (‘this plastic bag will still be around in ten thousand years!’) will become a virtue, as it sits unchanged in anaerobic landfills waiting for us to decide that it’s worth excavating and recycling. And one day we’ll do just that–there’ll come a point when the easy, albeit expensive, way to get a particular combination of properties (formability, degradation resistance, sterilisability) will be to dig up post-consumer plastics and reuse them.

GUEST INFORMANT: Debbie Chachra

Life in a fracking boomtown: man-camps, meth labs, strippers, and the gas gold rush

“House-Arrest Amber,” Featured Dancer at Whispers. Photo: Mark Ebner.

Veteran muckraker Mark Ebner of "Hollywood, Interrupted" has a knack for producing beautiful writing from ugly subjects. Scientology, pit bull fighting, celebrity scandals, scam artists... you name it, he's investigated it.

Now, Ebner travels to a town several hundred miles north of Deadwood, South Dakota. In a state wracked by joblessness, this little enclave is home to a new gold rush: Fracking.

Read the rest

Homo erectus and the paradox of human tools

Over the weekend, at the Earth Day tweetup at the Science Museum of Minnesota, I heard an interesting fact: Human beings are now the dominant agent of landscape change on this planet, more than any natural process. (That's right. Suck it, glaciers!)

We tend to think of this kind of thing as a result of modernity. But I think that's only partly true. Modern technology has given us the tools that enable us to change the landscape of Earth in massive ways we weren't capable of in the past. But throughout human existence—even before we were technically human—we have made relatively large alterations to the world. It's not like human beings woke up one day and thought, "Hey, it's the 20th century, let's start messing around with stuff!" In reality, what makes our modern impact on the planet different from past—other than scale—is mainly that we've developed more self-awareness about our impact on the planet, and have actually started talking about whether we like the side effects those impacts bring.

Case in point: A recent study of ancient African animal species that suggests our ancestors drove a huge proportion of fauna to extinction basically as soon as they were technologically capable of doing so. Here's how Ann Gibbons described it at Science Now:

After comparing fossils of 78 species of carnivores that lived during five different periods of time between 3.5 million years ago (when large carnivores were at their peak) and 1.5 million years ago, Werdelin found that all but six of 29 species of large carnivores (animals that weighed more than 21.5 kilos) had gone extinct in that time. Moreover, the mass extinction began just before H. erectus appeared in the fossil record 1.9 million years ago. He also found that the community of carnivores alive 2.5 million to 2 million years ago ate a much broader range of food—with species within a community filling a wider range of dietary niches. By 1.5 million years ago, just hypercarnivores that ate only meat, such as lions and leopards, had survived while omnivores that scavenged and ate a wider range of foods, like civets, had disappeared. "Even I was surprised by the dramatic drop," Werdelin says.

Those omnivores that went extinct were in direct competition for scavenged carcasses with hominins.

This sounds kind of depressing, but I think it should actually make us feel a bit optimistic. Two million years ago, Homo erectus might have killed off 23 species of large carnivores. They had the tools to hunt and the desire to eat. But, even if they'd wanted to, those H. erectus wouldn't have had the tools necessary to organize other H. erectus' and better manage their own use of natural resources.

And that brings me to another interesting point that folks from the Science Museum of Minnesota kept making over and over at the Earth Day event. Modern life has created some pretty serious environmental challenges. But, at the same time, it's also put us in a much better position to deal with those challenges. Humans today are better educated, healthier, wealthier, and better connected with one another than any humans that have ever lived before. Our tools have helped us create some pretty big problems. But our tools are also exactly what we need to solve those problems.

Read the rest of the article at Science Now

Image: Homo erectus tools, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hmnh's photostream

Sourcemap: visualizing supply-chains for the goods in our lives


Sourcemap shows supply-chain maps that reveal all the places in the world that feed into the common goods we consume in our lives. The service's about page implies that the supply-chain data comes from companies themselves, but there's a lot of what seem to be user-generated maps like this complex map labelled "Laptop Computer". It's a tantalizing set of maps, but I wish there was more information on the data-sources that went into each map.

On the other hand, I'm loving this reconstruction of Western Electric's 1927 telephone manufacturing supply chain by Matthew Hockenberry, who added this information: "This is a reconstruction of the supply chain for the Western Electric produced 'candlestick' style telephones of the late 1920s. Information is largely drawn from archival Western Electric/AT&T materials, as well as those of supplier companies. Some imagery is currently included for cotton and copper sources. This is a rough draft - many details are missing or incomplete."

Sourcemap: where things come from

877 dolphins wash up dead in Peru. Why?

Dolphin carcasses are displayed by conservationists and environmental police officers at San Jose beach, 40kms north of Chiclayo, Peru, on April 6, 2012. The cause of death of over 800 dolphins in the last four months on the shores of Piura and Lambayeque are still being researched, Gabriel Quijandria, Deputy Environment Minister said on April 20, 2012. More about the ongoing investigation into the possible cause of these mass die-offs: CBS News, MSNBC, AFP, DPA, CNN, (REUTERS/Heinze Plenge)

Read the rest

Russian City Always On the Watch Against Being Sucked Into the Earth

That's the headline in the New York Times. Really, what more do I need to say?

Population growth isn't really our problem

In the course of preparing for a panel here at the Conference on World Affairs, I ran across a 2009 editorial by environmental journalist Fred Pearce, in which he explains why current global population trends aren't as horrific as they're often made out to be. I thought you should read it.

Global population is going up, Pearce writes, but that's not the same thing as saying that birth rates are going up. And, in the long run, that distinction matters. Around the world—not just in the West—human birthrates are decreasing. And they've been decreasing for a really long time.

Wherever most kids survive to adulthood, women stop having so many. That is the main reason why the number of children born to an average woman around the world has been in decline for half a century now. After peaking at between 5 and 6 per woman, it is now down to 2.6.

This is getting close to the “replacement fertility level” which, after allowing for a natural excess of boys born and women who don’t reach adulthood, is about 2.3. The UN expects global fertility to fall to 1.85 children per woman by mid-century. While a demographic “bulge” of women of child-bearing age keeps the world’s population rising for now, continuing declines in fertility will cause the world’s population to stabilize by mid-century and then probably to begin falling.

Far from ballooning, each generation will be smaller than the last. So the ecological footprint of future generations could diminish. That means we can have a shot at estimating the long-term impact of children from different countries down the generations.

What I really like about this essay, though, is how well Pearce articulates the real problem, which is over-consumption. Population and consumption might appear to be intrinsically linked, but they're not. As Pearce points out, global consumption is increasing far faster than global population and the average American family of four uses far more land, far more water, far more energy and produces far more emissions than an Ethiopian family of 11.

This is important. I've heard many, many Americans express their fears about population growth over the years. Pearce's essay makes it clear that, when you do that, you're pretty much being a concern troll. The population problem, while still real, is well on its way to solving itself. The consumption problem, not so much. Population growth is a problem of the poor. Consumption growth is a problem of the rich (which, from a global perspective, includes pretty much everyone in the United States). So when you ignore consumption and pin the blame for global sustainability issues on population, what you're doing is blaming the 99% for the mistakes of the 1%.

Read Frank Pearce's entire essay on Yale Environment 360

Image: Family Portrait, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from 12567713@N00's photostream

The motion of the ocean

Yesterday, at the Conference on World Affairs, I went to a panel about science and the movies. I'll have more on that later, but I wanted to share this short video recommended by Sidney Perkowitz as an excellent example of how the video medium can be used to allow people to explore and understand their world.

The video is Perpetual Oceans, and it's made by NASA. It shows ocean currents, twisting and turning and undulating around the globe between June of 2005 and December of 2007. There's no narration, just music. The idea is to put into images things that have previously only been words—here is the Gulf Stream, there's the Kuroshio Current. Watching this, you get a better idea of oceans as a system, and it's easy to see how—in the days before steam or gasoline powered engines—where you traveled to and from across the oceans was partly determined by how the ocean moved through that area. It's also important to understanding climate science.

Here's the technical detail from NASA:

This visualization was produced using model output from the joint MIT/JPL project: Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, Phase II or ECCO2. ECCO2 uses the MIT general circulation model (MITgcm) to synthesize satellite and in-situ data of the global ocean and sea-ice at resolutions that begin to resolve ocean eddies and other narrow current systems, which transport heat and carbon in the oceans. ECCO2 provides ocean flows at all depths, but only surface flows are used in this visualization.

Video Link

Brilliant pop. engineering book Sustainable Materials comes to the USA

The brilliant popular engineering Sustainable Materials - with Both Eyes Open: Future Buildings, Vehicles, Products and Equipment - Made Efficiently and Made with Less New Material has just been released in the USA. I reviewed this book last November, when it came out in the UK. Here's a brief excerpt from then:

We review a lot of popular science books around here, but Sustainable Materials (like Sustainable Energy) is a popular engineering text, a rare and wonderful kind of book. Sustainable Materials is an engineer's audit of the materials that our world is made of, the processes by which those materials are extracted, refined, used, recycled and disposed of, and the theoretical and practical efficiencies that we could, as a society, realize.

Allwood and Cullen write about engineering with the elegance of the best pop-science writers -- say, James Gleick or Rebecca Skloot -- but while science is never far from their work, their focus is on engineering. They render lucid and comprehensible the processes and calculations needed to make things and improve things, touching on chemistry, physics, materials science, economics and logistics without slowing down or losing the reader.

The authors quickly demonstrate that any effort to improve the sustainability of our materials usage must focus on steel and aluminum, first because of the prominence of these materials in our construction and fabrication, and second because they are characteristic microcosms of our other material usage, and what works for them will be generalizable to other materials.

From there, the book progresses to a fascinating primer on the processes associated with these metals, from ore to finished product and back through recycling, and the history of efficiency gains in these processes, and the theoretical limits on efficiency at each stage. Lavishly illustrated and superbly organized, this section and the ones that follow it are a crash course in the invisible energy embodied in the bones of our built up world.

But the primary work of the book is to look at how small (and large) changes in our society and business could make important gains in the sustainability of our material use, an important subject as developing nations start to copy the rich world's insatiable appetite for material goods and titanic cities.

Sustainable Materials - with Both Eyes Open: Future Buildings, Vehicles, Products and Equipment - Made Efficiently and Made with Less New Material

3D printed shoes


The Smithsonian's Design Decoded blog reports on the latest developments in 3D printed footwear, including the fashion designers and students who are experimenting with printing out shoes using cheap materials that only last for "one lap down a runway." As Andrew writes on the Makerbot blog, "the artist worked with what was available to push the limits of the design, and the design will drive the demand for the needed materials. This is truly a case where life will catch up to imitate the art." Sarah C. Rich expands:

As materials science advances, injection molding may give way to 3D printing—a strategy that’s widely used in design studios for pushing formal boundaries, but as yet not ubiquitous on the footwear market. Most polymers used in 3D printers are too hard and inflexible to make a comfortable shoe, although fashion students and designers have not been deterred from producing them, if only for one lap down a runway. The existing concepts invariably look rather sci-fi, with web-like lines that wrap the foot.

Swedish designer Naim Josefi envisions a consumer environment in which a shopper’s foot would be scanned in-store, and a shoe printed on demand that perfectly fit the wearer’s anatomy. Brazilian designer Andreia Chaves’s Invisible Shoe pairs a common leather pump with a 3D-printed cage-like bootie, while Dutch fashion designer Pauline van Dongen’s Morphogenesis shoe more closely resembles a platform wedge. And at the London College of Fashion, student Hoon Chung created a line of 3D printed shoes for a final project, which look perhaps the closest to contemporary styles, though the molded shapes betray a high-tech production method.

These Shoes are Made for Printing (via Makerbot blog)

(Image: Andreia Chaves’s Invisible Shoe)

Memorial reefs: cast your loved ones' cremains into concrete marine habitats

Eternal Reefs is a company that will turn your cremains into concrete artificial coral reef and marine habitat. Families are allowed to attend the casting of the reef-component, put their handprints in it, view the finished item, and accompany the reef to the drop-site.

Mariner Memorial Reef
(large) 4' high by 6' wide
3800 - 4000 lbs.
$6,995
The largest of our reefs, the Mariner Memorial Reef stands out as a pinnacle of the reef and attracts the larger species of sea life. The Mariner can accommodate up to four sets of remains and is frequently used for spouses or partners to be together.

Prices include:
* The handling of the cremated remains once we receive them
* The incorporation of the remains into the concrete
* The casting of the Memorial Reef
* The transportation of the Memorial Reef to the project site
* The final placement and dedication
* A GPS survey to record the specific longitude and latitude of the Memorial Reef
* Bronze Plaque with inscription
* Two Memorial Certificates
Please note: When more than one set of remains is included in an individual Memorial Reef there is an additional charge of $250 for each set of remains other than the first set.

Eternal Reefs, A Cremation Memorial Option (via Super Punch)

Wooden skyscrapers: efficient, fire-safe, environmentally friendly(ier)

An architect named Michael Green believes he can make wooden skyscrapers that stand 100 storeys tall, and he's prototyping the idea with a 30-storey wooden building in Vancouver. More wooden high-rises are planned in Austria and Norway. Green uses laminated strand lumber, a glue/wood composite, and has char buffers to give it good safety in fires. He claims that his buildings can be cheaper than comparable structures made from traditional steel and concrete, and will have a smaller carbon footprint.

Wood buildings lock in carbon dioxide for the life cycle of a structure, while the manufacture of steel and concrete produces large amounts of CO2 -- the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimate that for every 10 kilos of cement created, six to nine kilos of CO2 are produced.

Green's "Tallwood" structure is designed with large panels of laminated strand lumber -- a composite made of strands of wood glued together. Other mass timber products use layers of wood fused together at right angels that making they immensely strong and able to be used as lode bearing infrastructure, walls and floors.

Despite being made of wood any worries about towering infernos should be banished, says Green, as large timber performs well in fires with a layer of char insulating the structural wood beneath.

"It may sound counter-intuitive, but performing well in a fire is something inherent in large piece of wood, that's why in forest fires the trees that survive are the largest ones," he says.

Can wooden skyscrapers transform concrete jungles?(via Dvice)

Laser de-printer lifts ink from paper, leaving it ready to be reused

An experimental printer documented by Cambridge University scientists in a paywalled Royal Society paper is capable of laser-ablating the toner off of sheets of previously printed paper, leaving them ready to be reused. The device uses picosecond pulses of a green laser that passes through the cellulose in the paper, but vaporizes the toner.

The primary goal of unprinting is to cut down on the carbon footprint of the paper and printing industries. Manufacturing paper is incredibly messy business that produces millions of tons of CO2 every year. Recycling paper is definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s still a very resource-intensive process. If we could simply delete sheets of paper, rather than re-pulping them, we could cut down on electricity usage, CO2 output, and most importantly fresh water, which is growing more scarce by the year. It would also be rather handy if you never had to buy another ream of paper, too.

In a worst-case scenario, The University of Cambridge unprinting method has half the carbon emissions of recycling; best-case, unprinting is almost 20 times as efficient. It’s now a matter of building the technology into a commercial device, which the team admits is probably a long way off. High-powered picosecond lasers are the reserve of labs… for now!

The laser unprinter (via /.)

Guess who else is part of the evil climate change conspiracy?

In a story at that socialist rag Financial Times, the radical environmental group General Electric explains why the Republican presidential candidates' refusal to accept the evidence on climate change is ridiculous. (Sadly, you have to register to read this piece.)

How is climate change like Copernicus?

An article in the latest issue of Physics Today puts modern contrived controversies into historical perspective. After all, this isn't the first time that humans have looked at the evidence supporting a profound paradigm shift in science, realized how badly it would screw with their deeply held social and political beliefs, and, then, soundly rejected the evidence.

The decision [whether to accept the new theory] was not exclusively, or even primarily, a matter for astronomers, and as the debate spread from astronomical circles it became tumultuous in the extreme. To most of those who were not concerned with the detailed study of celestial motions, Copernicus’s innovation seemed absurd and impious. Even when understood, the vaunted harmonies seemed no evidence at all. The resulting clamor was widespread, vocal, and bitter.

Thus does science historian Thomas Kuhn describe the difficulties experienced by astronomers in convincing the public of the heliocentric theory of the solar system, which ultimately ushered in the scientific revolution. The “clamor” prevailed around the time of Galileo Galilei, more than a half century after Nicolaus Copernicus, on his deathbed, published the heliocentric model in 1543. Copernicus’s calculations surpassed all others in their ability to describe the observed courses of the planets, and they were based on a far simpler conception. Yet most people would not accept heliocentricity until two centuries after his death.

Read the rest of this at Physics Today. It's a really fascinating piece, filled with neat science history about the controversy surrounding heliocentrism. There's also some information on another "controversy" where science ended up being debated through a political lens: Einstein's theory of relativity.

Via Steve Easterbrook

Image: Geocentrism FTL, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from smailtronic's photostream

TOM THE DANCING BUG: The Lorax Speaks for the Trees, and Now the SUVs

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