Boing Boing 

Power To the People

As a huge fan of FlowingData, NPR and electricity, I'm super excited about this interactive map that gives you a clear view of the structure of the U.S. power grid. Clicking through, you'll see how areas of the country currently are (and aren't) connected to one another, what's in the works to improve the system, and why that matters (a lot) when you start talking about alternative energy sources. Good stuff.

In this picture, you can see the yellow lines that really seem to do a good job of efficiently linking up the whole country. Those power lines haven't been built yet. In the interactive part, you can take those off, revealing a clearer view of our current transmission infrastructure that looks more like a series of occasionally connected river systems than a grid.

John Muir, naturalist and maker of odd inventions

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John Muir, Sierra Club founder and Yosemite savior featured in the new Ken Burns docoumentary, was a fantastically creative maker too! The Sierra Club has posted details about several of his inventions, including an alarm clock that knocks the leg out from under the bed, and his mechanical study desk, pictured above, that "would automatically light his lamp and fire, open the right book to study, and then change books after half an hour." "Was John Muir a Mad Scientist?" (Thanks, Orli Cotel!)

Lamp that runs on human blood

Mike Thompson's "Blood Lamp" is a single-use lantern that draws its energy from a drop of your blood, making you consider the cost of energy in a uniquely personal way.

For the lamp to work one breaks the top off, dissolves the tablet, and uses their own blood to power a simple light. By creating a lamp that can only be used once, the user must consider when light is needed the most, forcing them to rethink how wasteful they are with energy, and how precious it is.
Blood Lamp (via Cribcandy)

Vietnamese junkbot builder

17 year old Phan Van Mam 19 year old Vu Van Thang is a prizewinning Vietnamese roboticist who builds beautiful working junkbots from household trash:

- Vu Van Thang, 19, from Thai Binh province has won one of the five top prizes at the National Creativeness Competition for Children and Youth 2009 for his robot made entirely from items found in the trash.
Recycled robot wins top honor (Thanks, Samiksha!)

Handmade mud school in Bangladesh

Hugh sez, "This school in Bangladesh has tunnels for reading and playing and sunny, colorful porches. They can be built by hand by the people of the village (including the kids who will attend). The young designer, Anna Heringer, is a finalist for the Curry Stone Design Prize, given to individuals or groups for design solutions that addresses social justice."

Handmade Building (Thanks, Hugh!)

(Image: Kurt Hörbst)

Dumpsterologist radio documentary

Dominic from CBC Radio sez, "Darren Atkinson is a husband, a father, a musician... and a dumpster diver. If he's not playing drums for a living, he's diving into industrial waste bins, looking for treasure. This is work. This is his 'job'. He sells what he can, or trades thrown-away goods for services and favours. But can a self-confessed - and possibly obsessed - 'dumpsterologist' make a living from the cast-offs of our consumer society?"

Darren is an old pal of mine, and I've written about his amazing life and ethic for Wired and Forbes. This is fantastic radio documentary on him!

The Hunter Documentary

Direct link to MP3

Nuclear transport trucks in US look surprisingly like regular old trucks

Over at Wired's Danger Room blog, news that an environmental nonprofit has obtained photos of the Department of Energy's "specially designed trucks" used to transport nuclear material around the United States. They pretty much look like any other transport truck, which is a little creepy, considering what they contain while they're rollin' down the highway. Just this week, a similar vehicle carrying missiles overturned -- so, safety concerns are in the air right now. Snip:
"The trucks carrying nuclear weapons and dangerous materials such as plutonium pass through cities and neighborhoods all the time and the public should be aware of what they look like," says Tom Clements of the Friends of the Earth group based in Columbia, South Carolina, which obtained the photos through a Freedom of Information Act request. "Release of these photos will help inform the public about secretive shipments of dangerous nuclear material that are taking place in plain view."
Here's the original news on the Friends of the Earth website.

Detroit houses being eaten by nature

The Sweet Juniper blog has a gallery of abandoned Detroit houses that are being overcome by the foliage around them, trees and shrubs and plants growing around, on and in them.

Feral Houses (via Neatorama)

Update: Crap, this is a duplicate. Ah, c'est la vie. Enjoy it again, for the first time.

Big-ass flying boats full of water save LA from fiery doom!

A ginormous amphibious air tanker called the Martin Mars just made a massive water drop over Mount Wilson, the hill northeast of Los Angeles where the century-old Mount Wilson Observatory and nearby TV, radio and cell phone towers are all located. The World War II-era flying boat literally water-bombed the peak today to douse flames from the Station Fire, which has burned 127,000 acres (the largest in LA County history).

Here's an LA Times pic of this bad boy in action over Mt. Wilson. Snip from the accompanying story:

Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Martin said, "We are going to burn, cut, foam and gel. And if that doesn't work, we're going to pray. This place is worth a lot, but it's not worth dying for. "

In a worst-case scenario, firefighters were expected to retreat to the safety of the observatory parking lot or seek refuge in the concrete and steel basement of the 105-year-old, 100-inch telescope observatory. A Martin Mars air tanker, also known as a Super Scooper, dropped 7,500 gallons of water on Mt. Wilson.

In previous BB posts about the LA fires, I mentioned these giant 747s that have also been spurting water from the sky, to extinguish the blaze. Wired has a nice photo gallery of those guys in action here. And Popular Science has some interior shots of the 747s. Spoiler: they are friggin huge inside.

The managers of the observatory are now very optimistic that the historic site will make it okay.

Below: Astronomer Mike Brown has been tweeting while the area around the Mt. Wilson Observatory burns, and he spotted the WWII flying boat in action.

Picture 37.jpg

Straight Outta Mordor: Notes from the LA Fires


(Photo: Dave Bullock, more here, click image to enlarge). Yes, they come every year, but the 2009 fires are now being reported as the largest ever in LA County's history. 122,000 acres and counting (the land mass of San Francisco and Las Vegas combined, with room to spare). Watching the blaze from a seaside rooftop last night was like gazing out at a distant, roiling Mordor.

Two firefighters died. Today, a quick Twitter scan reveals ambient "air-fear," worries over E.T's house, gay porn stars vowing to soldier on while studios scorch; confusion between snow and ash; citizens afraid their cars have developed dandruff overnight, and cigarette smoking as training. The web yields many a moody video of "pyrocumulus" and slow-moving doomclouds, and abundant photosets.

The hundred-year-old Mt. Wilson observatory is a site of huge importance in astronomy history. It's seen its share of blazes. And last night, it was as if the observatory webcam had suddenly plopped down on the surface of the Sun. Communications towers nearby carry signals for every major TV channel in LA, as well as a number of radio frequencies. The site is still at risk.

Some of what I'm following: On Twitter, hashtag #stationfires. @LATimesfires is doing a nice job. And Load this KML in Google Earth for a comprehensive data set. Please share other resources of note in the comments.

Todd "Telstar Logistics" Lappin is wowed by the giant planes we're using to fight the fires. Snip:

Aviation history was made today as a Boeing 747 Supertanker made its debut drop on a live wildfire.

Tanker 979 is a specially modified Evergreen 747 configured to carry 20,500 gallons of retardant, enabling it to lay down a fire line as much as three miles long from an altitude of 300 to 600 feet.

Things are slowing down today, as temps ease and humidity rises. The fire chief just downgraded the Station Fire status from "angry" to "cranky." But containment is still only at 5%, and officials say the fires won't be fully controlled for two more weeks. For now, my advice for fellow LA residents? Don't inhale.

TIME on unsustainable farming practices

Nothing new in here for slow/sustainable food junkies, but it's wonderful to see this discussion expand beyond Noteworthy in that it's an easy item to forward to friends and relatives who won't have the patience or inclination to read through a dozen Boing Boing posts on the matter, or subscribe to Ethicurean. Snip:
Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won't bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He's fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he'll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That's the state of your bacon -- circa 2009.
Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food (TIME, via Wayne's Friends List)

Contrafactual history of Jimmy Carter's green space-race

Matt sez, "Sasha Pohflepp created a wonderful counter-factual history of a USA where Carter beat Reagan and created a 'space-race' for renewable energy and planetary engineering. Regine from We-Make-Money-Not-Art has the story..."

The project asks how visions like these are being created in the public imagination but also how they are being reflected by the economy and by individuals. In the case of weather modification, people are modifying their cars into lightning harvesters to participate in the experiments, both scientifically and commercially. The car presented in the model below is a modified Chevrolet El Camino that has been fitted with a lightning rod and various electrical equipment like variable resistors and capacitor banks to store the electricity from a lightning strike. Drivers are then able to sell the stored electricity at any one of the drive-through energy exchanges, which have opened around the zone.

The Golden Institute found a way to modify freeways and harness the energy which would otherwise be lost through braking when a vehicle exits the freeway at a velocity of about 55 miles per hour. Now, vehicles are equipped with magnets. As they exit the freeway at high-speed, the cars are gradually slowed down employing the Lorentz force as they pass through a series of induction-coils. The coils are typically operated by a franchise like Chuck's Café and if used effectively can get the driver a discount on a cup of coffee.

The Golden Institute (Thanks, Matt!)

Keeping the Googling Good Life Going in a Post-Box Store era: Doug Fine

We covered Doug Fine's radical off-the-grid lifestyle experiment last year on Boing Boing TV -- embed above. He is the author of Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living, and he's still going strong out there on the Funky Butte Ranch. When he's not out in the fields turning the compost heap or feeding chickens, he's working on his next book, which I'm looking forward to reading. Doug has a thought-provoking piece out in this Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, here's a preview:

I have a fiancee and a son to provide for, so I decided to take a hard look at our prospects for survival if our consumer safety nets went away. For now, my green lifestyle choices at my remote 41-acre outpost in the American Southwest are optional. You know, growing lettuce instead of buying Chilean. Using organic cotton diapers instead of buying Pampers. But what if one morning in, say, 2049, I wake up to milk my goats and find out that supplies are no longer streaming in from China and California? What would I do if both box stores and crunchy food co-ops suddenly were no more? In other words, I'm examining my place in a hypothetical post-oil, post-consumer society 40 years in the future.

Now, I'm not rooting for such a thing. Slave labor, forest depletion, climate change and global resource wars aside, globalization has a lot going for it. I love that I can email a musician in Mauritania and ask to download his latest album. And anyway, lots of people still see globalization as the economic model for the foreseeable future. But when I was covering the former Soviet Union as a journalist in the 1990s, every single person I met told me that they'd thought pigs would fly before the Politburo crumbled.

On My Ranch, Ready for the Great American Meltdown (Washington Post)

Fresh Greens: Better LEDs from Salmon (yep, the fish), Vegetarian Killer Robots, and More Green Oddities

Each week we're bringing you some of our favorite posts from our friends over at TreeHugger. Enjoy!

Fish are the Secret Sauce for Better LEDs
What happens when you mix fluorescent dyes with salmon DNA? Awesome lighting!

Killer (Veggie) Robots for the Military
It can drive and feed itself, but veggie style. We aren't that ready to go Terminator yet.

Australians + Bikes + Hip-Hop Videos = Hilarity
Would you ditch the car and hop on a fixie after seeing this video?

Ginormous Solar Flowers with Free Wi-Fi Taking Over US Cities
Six lucky cities will get some ridiculous looking solar flowers for a little free wi-fi and rest time. Is your city on the list??

Why we should(n't) go to space -- Kim Stanley Robinson

Here's Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the stupendous Red Mars books, in the Washington Post explaining why we shouldn't go to space -- and why we should.
The creation of a cosmic diaspora is just one argument for putting humans in space -- a bad one. But now, as human-made climate change has thrust us into the role of stewards of the global biosphere, new reasons, good ones, have emerged. Indeed, keeping our space ambitions relatively local -- within our own solar system -- can help us find solutions for the climate crisis.

It has been said that space science is an Earth science, and that is no paradox. Our climate crisis is very much a matter of interactions between our planet and our sun. That being the case, our understanding is vastly enhanced by going into space and looking down at the Earth, learning things we cannot learn when we stay on the ground.

Studying other planets helps as well. The two closest planets have very different histories, with a runaway greenhouse effect on Venus and the freezing of an atmosphere on Mars. Beyond them spin planets and moons of various kinds, including several that might harbor life. Comparative planetology is useful in our role as Earth's stewards; we discovered the holes in our ozone layer by studying similar chemical interactions in the atmosphere of Venus. This kind of unexpected insight could easily happen again.

Return to the Heavens, for the Sake of the Earth (via Making Light)

New research on shark repellents

Chemist Eric Stroud is the proprietor of SharkDefense, a company that develops new shark repellents. His aim is to protect sharks from people, keeping them away from trawling nets and fishing lines. Apparently, approximately 12 million sharks are accidentally ensnared each year. Some of Stroud's experimental repellents are extracted dead sharks themselves. The odor, which smells like stinky feet, is quite abhorrent to the sharks. From Smithsonian:
 500 Sdlogo1 Magnets made from iron, boron and neodymium are another promising repellent being developed by SharkDefense. Eric Stroud discovered their repellent potential by accident. According to Stroud, he and colleague Michael Hermann were playing with magnets near a research tank containing lemon and nurse sharks. After spotting a broken pump, Stroud set a magnet down on the tank’s side, and the sharks took off. He thinks that the magnets may overload the sharks’ Ampullae of Lorenzini. These tiny pits found along a shark's head are used to detect faint electrical signals emitted by prey, in the same way a doctor uses an EKG to detect the electricity generated by your pumping heart. The magnets are unlikely to cause pain, says Richard Brill, a SharkDefense collaborator at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. He and others hypothesize that it’s equivalent to a bright flash of light. You wince because it’s overloading the visual receptors in your eyes. “It’s the same idea with the sharks, except it’s overloading these electrical receptors, “ Brill says. Stroud has been using stationary magnets so far, but he also sees potential in spinning magnets, which generate a greater magnetic field.

Stroud and his team are also working with electropositive metals, which produce a current when placed in seawater and also possibly affect sharks’ electromagnetic sense organs. Scientists are testing the metal repellents as a solution for the dogfish bycatch problem. Researchers found that the metals, when attached to fishing lines, reduced shark bycatch by 17 percent in Alaskan fisheries. But when the experiment was repeated in the Gulf of Maine, the results were negligible. “We think the dogfish are just going after two different preys,” says Stroud, who is completing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Seton Hall University. Rice speculates that the metals may not affect Northeast dogfish because the sharks are using smell more than their Ampullae of Lorenzini to detect prey.
"Stopping Sharks by Blasting Their Senses"

Fresh Green: Worst Packaging, Human Shrub Attacks English Town, and More

alanfreshgreen.jpg Photo credit: scrapthispack @ Flickr Note: Each week we'll be bringing you a roundup of fresh green topics from our friends over at TreeHugger. Enjoy! Packaging Design At Its Worst Poor packaging design and ridiculous examples of over-packaging come in all shapes and sizes, but it doesn't get much worse than these individually-wrapped bananas. Human Shrub Attacks Town Citizens of Colchester beware! Take to your houses. A creature from the swamps has been filling empty planters and baskets with brightly-coloured marigolds and begonias, last seen wandering the streets carrying a sign saying "Save the Roses." Your Eco-Wood Might Be Illegal Thinking of buying sustainably harvested wood from Brazil? Check the label, could be illegal wood passed off as eco-certified. 6 Ways To Defuse Anti-Cyclist Road Rage If you are a cyclist and the victim of Auto Road Rage, there are a number of things you can do to keep the peace. I like #5, don your best plumage.

Attention philanthropy: shining lights on human rights, urban planning, citizen media and renewable energy

Alex from WorldChanging sez,

We've just released our 2009 "Attention Philanthropy" grants, our effort to shine a light on awesome work that's undeservedly obscure. 100 nominators from around the world helped us find amazing projects in fields as diverse as human rights, urban planning, citizen media and renewable energy. There's a day's worth of interesting reading just going down the whole list, but even a quick visit will probably turn you on to some cool things you didn't know existed.

Attention philanthropy is a gift of notice. In a noisy world, deluged in advertising, overrun with PR flacks and crowded with the superficial, one of the biggest barriers to success for a small, good idea or noble enterprise can simply be getting noticed in the first place.

Here's your chance to do a simple, good thing. If the work you find on these pages inspires you, learn more. Visit their websites, contribute to their projects and, above all, help us spread the word far and wide.

Attention Philanthropy 2009 (Thanks, Alex!)

Eco-friendly textile coffins

 Images Swaledale
A textile company and coffin manufacturer are jointly introducing a new line of coffins made from wool or organic cotton. From a press release:
This is an innovative coffin and something completely new for the alternative coffin market, but the use of wool in burials is nothing new. The Burial in Wool Act of 1667 made it a legal requirement for the dead to be buried in woollen shrouds in an attempt to boost the struggling woollen industry of the time. With the current social eco agenda, rising concerns on the environmental impact of burials and this innovative product, the industry has come full circle.”
And from the description of the casket seen here, the Swaledale model:
The Swaledale coffin is made in Yorkshire using pure new wool, supported on a strong recycled cardboard frame. Wool is a fibre with a true "green" lineage that is both sustainable and biodegradable. The interior is generously lined with cotton and attractively edged in jute.

Independently tested and accredited for strength and weight bearing, the Swaledale's unique design combines the highest environmental standards with an attractive and soft feel. Designed to differ from the traditional wooden coffin, it offers a contemporary style with comfortable handling. The concept is completed with a personalised embroidered woollen name plate. All the materials used in the Swaledale coffin are readily biodegradable and suitable for cremation and all types of burial.
Hainsworth "Natural Legacy" coffins

Sandia Labs' new SunCatcher power system resembles Magritte painting


The news release from Sandia National Laboratories says the SunCatcher power system (above) unveiled at the National Solar Thermal Test Facility today is the result of a design partnership with Stirling Energy Systems and Tessera Solar. But I think they really designed 'em with Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte. Yes, I know he died in 1967, but the gubmint's secret art-zombie time travel machines address that matter. Duh.

DOE loans Tesla $465M to build "Model S" - Ford got $4.9B, Nissan $1.6B under same program


Via Wired's Autopia blog:

The Obama Administration will lend Tesla Motors $465 million to build an electric sedan and the battery packs needed to propel it. It's one of three loans totaling almost $8 billion that the Department of Energy awarded today to spur the development of fuel-efficient vehicles.
Feds Lend Tesla $465 Million to Build Model S (Wired: Autopia, via @timoreilly)

More coverage: NYT, SJ Merc, NPR. Related: Tesla's Fantasy Valuation (Reuters)

Plastics industry releases anti-cloth-bag FUD study

The Canadian Plastic Industry Association commissioned a study concluding that using cloth bags is bad for your health because they're full of bacteria (and certainly not because using cloth bags is bad for the profitablity of Canadian Plastic Industry Association members!). They hired an ex-health regulator (Dr. Richard Summerbell, Director of Research at Toronto-based Sporometrics and former Chief of Medical Mycology for the Ontario Ministry of Health) to say that cloth bags put you at risk of "skin infections such as bacterial boils, allergic reactions, triggering of asthma attacks, and ear infections". Of course, it's bullshit, and the regulator who traded his credibility for a consulting fee should be ashamed of himself.
Um, yeah except that coliform isn't an indicator of really anything in a shopping bag. It's a great indicator of water quality, but not great for food (coliforms are all over the place, including on produce). And mean relatively nothing.

The lack of real data is probably why it was reported in CFU/ml (a water measurement -- pretty hard to tell what a ml of a shopping bag represents). The most telling data was that no generic E. coli or Salmonella was found.

Are reusable bags really a food safety concern? (via Consumerist)

When the Engineer Gardens

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

As with every spring, the rains fall, the sun shines, and I remain hopelessly inept as a gardener. Or, maybe, "inept" isn't quite the right word. "Lazy" and "impatient". There, that's the ticket. So, despite fantasizing repeatedly about the wonderful life we would lead if only we got around to putting in some vegetables this year, my husband and I have never gotten around to putting in some vegetables. At best, we keep the lawn mowed and free of vehicles on blocks.

But that may be changing because, last week, Baker brought home a copy of The All New Square Foot Gardening guide, a book written by a retired engineer, which manages to make home veggie patches appealing to both my laissez-faire approach to plant life, and Baker's (who is, himself, an engineer) tendencies towards efficiency-obsession and Maker glee. The book promises to help you grow more, in less space, with less work. OK, I'm game.

The basic idea is that most people try to garden like they're making a miniature farmstead---with wide rows, hills and furrows, plowed into the earth of your backyard. And, frankly, all that adds up to a pain in the ass. Tilling sucks. Your dirt probably isn't ideal for growing things. You get weeds that need to be dealt with every day. The watering process wastes water and usually ends up with some plants drowning and other plants parched. And all you want is a freakin' salad.

Square-foot gardening, on the other hand, is all about eliminating those problems. Instead of tilling the dirt and pumping in fertilizer, you build a big box, put a liner on the bottom, and fill it with a mixture of peat moss, vermiculite and compost. Great soil. And no weed seeds to sprout up.Because you make the box small enough to reach everything without stepping in the dirt, your soil stays aerated. Because you don't have to weed, you can grow plants from fewer seeds, closer together, with each box broken down into neat, anal-retentive grids. The idea of a garden that can be plotted out on graph paper is already making Baker salivate.

The watering solution is particularly slick. Instead of moving around a sprayer that never seems to successfully dampen the full area you've aimed it at (and chucks water onto places that don't need it), you hook up a pipe system to your box and screw in the hose. Plant stuff than needs lots of water closer to the pipe, and stuff that needs less further away. Then you can turn the water on (at a lower pressure than you'd use for spraying) and let it trickle down.

I'll be honest, as the wife of an engineer, I end up poking a lot of fun at the hyper-planning, "let us sit down and work out the numbers before we toast that bread" mindset. But it's all in fun. I promise. You engineers can be as detail-oriented as you want to be, as long as you keep offering up great solutions like this.

Image of a nicely gridded-up square foot garden courtesy shygantic, via a Creative Commons license.

Virgin America: Now, with Absinthe.

Starting in May, the airline that offers Boing Boing Video episodes as an entertainment option, the same airline that allowed us to name one of their planes "Unicorn Chaser" -- well, they're going to start serving absinthe in the skies. At left, the "herbal liqueur" company's spokesfairies, who may or may not appear magically in the seat next to you.

Le Tourment Vert's website offers some interesting cocktail recipes, including "Corpse Reviver II."

Fun facts about this beverage: yes, it is legal in the USA. Yes, it contains thujone. I do not know if it will cause you to hallucinate, but it is indeed brewed with wormwood. More about Le Tourment Vert (in French: "The Green Torment") from absinthe aficionado website

INGREDIENTS (as found in all traditional absinthes) Holy Trinity: Anise, Fennel & Grand Wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium). Plus, it contains aromatic herbs including Sage, Rosemary and Coriander. Le Tourment Vert contains the maximum dosage of thujone currently allowed by the United States Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
Incidentally, Virgin America (which today started service to/from Orange County) is also expanding the number of craft in its fleet that offer in-flight WiFi. Absinthe + internet + idle time? Can't wait to read the mile-high tweets that result.

What To Do This Earth Day

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

Energy Circle, a sort-of Consumer Reports for cost-effective energy efficient gadgetry, announced a new project today that I find absolutely fascinating.

We have been monitoring our home energy use for several months now, using our preferred whole house energy monitor TED, The Energy Detective. With Earth Day 09 as our starting point, we are going to make our electricity use public on EnergyCircle. We have adapted the TED to make it capable of streaming our household's data directly to the Internet. (A somewhat sophisticated hack inspired in part by Limor Fried and Phillip Torrone's Tweet-A-Watt. We'll open source it in the next day or so).

What I love most about this, is that the building in question isn't the sort of green industry "House of Tomorrow" thing that bears more resemblance to Epcot Center than to the places you or I live now. By following Energy Circle's data, you'll see how the average American home uses energy, and you'll see the changes in energy use that happen (or don't happen) when the bloggers try out new energy-saving ideas and products. In fact, they're not just posting all this data, they're annotating it. You'll know whether that spike in use is their dryer or their hot water heater. And you'll know what was going on behind-the-scenes to cause a dip in use.

But, beyond being a really cool experiment, does this matter? Hell, yeah. What you'll be seeing at Energy Circle is a living example of how consumer awareness of energy use cuts consumer energy use. And that's a big, fat, hairy deal. According to the DOE, electricity use in one average single-family home accounts for more CO2 emissions than two average cars. Studies have found that monitoring home energy use, and giving the people who live there access to that information, can end up cutting use by anywhere between 5-to-15%---and those reductions connect directly back to the amount of CO2 being pumped into the air.

Very zippy stuff, indeed.

Happy Earth Day!

 Wikipedia Commons 9 97 The Earth Seen From Apollo 17
Here's the Blue Marble, on December 7, 1972. From NASA:
View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon. This translunar coast photograph extends from the Mediterranean Sea area to the Antarctica south polar ice cap. This is the first time the Apollo trajectory made it possible to photograph the south polar ice cap. Note the heavy cloud cover in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible. The Arabian Peninsula can be seen at the northeastern edge of Africa. The large island off the coast of Africa is Madagascar. The Asian mainland is on the horizon toward the northeast."

What Not To Do This Earth Day

Maggie Koerth-Baker is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. A freelance science and health journalist, Maggie lives in Minneapolis, brain dumps on Twitter, and writes quite often for mental_floss magazine.

National Geographic News has a great little slideshow up today, featuring photos taken on the first Earth Day, back in 1970. They're calling it "Bell Bottoms and Gas Masks", but "Saving the Planet in Double-Knit Polyester" would also be a good title.

The information that goes along with the slideshow is fascinating, particularly if you've ever wondered what happens behind-the-scenes of a national-scale political movement. It's a little awe-inspiring to see the pics of thousands of people on the Mall in D.C. and then realize that it was all put together by nine people with a $125,000 budget. Oy.

But I think the photo that stood out the most to me was this one, taken the day after Earth Day.

So there's your cynical, cautionary tale for the day, kids. As you get up to Earth Day antics today or this weekend, do remember that what you leave behind for the cleanup crews and the landfill matters every bit as much (if not more) than the fact you attended the rally to begin with.

Photo by Bob Daugherty/AP, posted under fair use.

Yoga "Eco Mat" Review: PrAna Revolution (Attention-Conservation Verdict: I Dig.)

I have practiced yoga on and off since I was a teenager, but in recent years, more off than on. Recently, when friends, colleagues, and family all seemed to be pointing out with greater frequency that I seemed particularly stressed (read: a total pain in the ass to be around), I made a commitment to switch that back to "on." It's been pretty great. I'm happier. The more I practice, the more centered I feel, physically, mentally, emotionally. And, the less of a total pain in the ass I am.

Yoga isn't about the accessories, and I loathe the idea that you have to have just the right gear, just the right teacher, just the right whatever to practice. You don't. But a good mat can really help. So when I got back into the groove of regular practice, I checked out a bunch of different mats -- from the ultra-thick black ones, to the "towel" kind folks like to use with "hot yoga," to the thin cheap synthetic ones. I have a stack of 8 of them sitting in the corner in this room, as I type this review.

But I've found my favorite now -- the just-released Revolution "eco" mat by PrAna.

It's sticky enough to help grip your fingers, palms, soles, and toes when you're doing balance poses -- and, truly, every pose involves some element of balance. It's 30" wide, much wider than standard mats and better fit for taller yoga students like myself. It's lightweight enough that I can carry it comfortably on my back in the cool little carrying sack they sell. It's thick enough that I don't feel the need to add extra cushioning during practice on poses that can be hard on the bones. It's made of all-natural materials, so I'm not investing in future landfill cruft. The sticky part took a little getting used to in poses where I tend to drag the tops of my feet accross the mat in transition from one asana to the other, but now that I've been with it for a few weeks -- I don't know, it's like sleeping in a nice new bed, or moving into an awesome new home. It's familiar now, and just feels like an extension of my body.

I recently met PrAna creative David Kennedy, a friendly surfer who pops a mean Adho Mukha Svanasana. We practiced together (it was one of the most enjoyable BB review demos I can recall). I asked him to talk with us about some of the engineering considerations that went into the mat's design.

His reply follows, after the jump.

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Super Mario mosaic table

Ivan covered this found coffee-table with a pushpin Super Mario mosaic (protected by plexiglass) and painted and decorated the legs to match. Apparently pushpin mosaics are unexpectedly hard on the thumbs.

Super Mario Coffee Table (Thanks, Ivan!)

Lovely kinetic baby toys made from reclaimed wood and plastic

Sprig toys are lovely, heavy-duty and made from reclaimed plastic and wood in a shop in Colorado. The toys are kinetic and drive their internal motion from their wheels, not batteries.

Out in the backyard lives a magical world called Sprig Hollow.

Our friends Bee and Butterfly, the architects of Sprig Hollow, specifically designed all the farm vehicles for maximum utility in water, sand and garden environments. All of the vehicles at Sprig Hollow come equipped with detachable tools and water-resistant materials in order to sustain play and expand possibilities. The playful, cartoon-like designs of our chunky vehicles, characters and play sets make them irresistible to preschoolers, and parents love the eco-friendly, kid-powered construction. So jump into a place where imaginations blossom as preschoolers and their grown-ups play and learn in the fresh air! Recommended for ages 3 and up.

Sprig Toys Sprig Toys manufacturer's site (via Babygadget)