Boing Boing 

Bruce Sterling's The Caryatids, my pick for best book of 2009, a novel of clear-eyed hope for the future

Bruce Sterling's The Caryatids comes out today and it's a book I've been waiting six months to tell you about, ever since I finished the galleys in August. This is it, my book of the year for 2009, and I know that it's only February (and I'm actually writing this last August, but holy cow, it's pretty much inconceivable that anything in 2009 will top it.

In The Caryatids, global warming has melted practically every government in the world (except China) -- leaving behind a slurry of refugees, rising seas, and inconceivable misery. But there are two stable monoliths sticking out of the chaos, a pair of "civil society groups" that embody the two major schools of smart green thought today: the Dispensation are Al Gore green capitalists based out of California who understand that glamor and profits, properly aimed, achieve more than any amount of stern determination and chaste conservation; their rivals are the Aquis, mostly European anarcho-techno-geeks who have abandoned money in favor of technologically mediated communal life where giant, powerful, barely controlled machines are deployed to save the refugees and heal the Earth.

The titular Caryatids are the seven clone-sisters of a Balkan war criminal (who is hiding out in orbit in a junk satellite), raised as part of a terrible fin-de-siecle plan to create a cadre of superwoman generals who would lead a militarized guerrilla force after the environmental catastrophe reached scale. Now they are scattered to the winds and divided among the world's superpowers, and the only thing they hate more than their "mother" is each other.

And the story unfolds, taking us on a tour of a 2060 Earth where the worst imaginable things have happened and yet humanity has survived. Is thriving. Not a perfect utopia, but not a tormented post-apocalyptic chaos either. Sterling's future is one in which the human race's best and most important and most deadly machine -- civilization -- survives its own meltdown.

More importantly, the future of The Caryatids is one in which human beings confront the terrible reality that technology favors attackers -- favors those who would disrupt the status quo because it gives them force-multiplier power, and undermines defenders because the complexity of a technological society always creates potential fault-lines that attackers can exploit. And in that society, Sterling's civil society types -- who care about saving the planet, even though they disagree about the best way to do this -- do their damnedest to build stable technological societies. Because in Earth's future -- and in Sterling's -- there's no going back to the land for us. Not because the land is too poisoned, but because billions of charcoal-burning hunter-gatherers are far more hazardous to the planet than a neatly ordered world of cities in which technology is used to minimize our footprints by giving us smarter handprints.

Most importantly, the future of The Caryatids is one in which there is hope. Not naive, wishful thinking hope. Hard-nosed, utterly plausible hope, for a future in which the human race outthinks its worse impulses and survives despite all the odds.

Bruce Sterling has been one of the most important and challenging writers in science fiction since 1977 -- and 32 years later, his books are progressively better, smarter and more important. Run, don't walk.

The Caryatids

Russian Eco-Cult Community in California

Boingboing's current guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor with catholic interests. He is currently Projects Editor for MAKE magazine and the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Wendy. 

Anastasia by Vladimir Megre

If you're looking for a way to get back to the land and enjoy an integrated life while society collapses, The Shambhala-Shasta Anastasia Eco-Settlement Project has 466 acres of land and is looking for settlers. It sounds nice! I've long fantasized about this kind of thing. Maybe now's the time.

The "Anastasia" in their name refers to the heroine of the "Ringing Cedars" series of books by Vladimir Megre, which came out in Russia during the mid-1990's and started being translated into English beginning in 2004. If numerous websites are to be believed, the series has a large following not just in Russia, but around the world. "Ringing Cedars" refers to the books' claim that when a Siberian Pine tree (sometimes translated as "Cedar") reaches 500 years of age, it becomes a sort of cosmic energy-channeling antenna. And so also rings the New Age BS detector, but please stay with me here...

I read and enjoyed Anastasia, the first book in the series, and I hope to read the rest. On one level, the book is a male midlife-crisis fantasy-- a first-person account of a spiritually empty entrepreneur who finds a stunningly beautiful and brilliant native girl in the forest, and she changes his life forever. Anastasia runs naked, communicates telepathically with animals, is clairvoyant, and possesses vast wisdom that has been lost to modern civilization. She's the "noble savage," and she's also a virgin who fell in love with the author/entrepreneur during a chance previous encounter that he doesn't remember, and she wants to start a family with him ASAP.

What interests me most about Anastasia (and I know I need to read more in the series to confirm/deny), is how it combines deep ecology with traditional, even conservative family values. There's no sense of hippie "alternative lifestyle" in its back-to-the-land message. It honors Christianity and connects with its audience through their experience gardening in dachas (modest country houses) on weekends. It's a container for hard-core downshifting that I sense would appeal to solid, traditional, family-oriented folks. Meanwhile, the book also has some wacky, unexpected ideas that I liked-- for example, the Anastasia character suggests that pollution from roadways could be mitigated by requiring active air purifiers on every vehicle's front bumper.

Websites that sell the Ringing Cedars books also sell products derived from the Siberian Pine-- nuts, oil, and polished slices of the tree to be worn as pendants. And perhaps the initial bolt of inspiration that Megre had, as an inland shipping entrepreneur exploring the Siberian forest, was how to concoct a new religion that would maximize the commercial value of this common regional tree. A 5 gram pendant (slice of branch on a string) costs $4 plus shipping.

Furthermore, according to the cult-watching Center For Apologetics Research, Megre was forced to admit in 1998 that he made the Anastasia stories up, whereupon psychic healer Olga Anatolevnya Guz began to claim that she is the real Anastasia.

But people can change, eyes can open, and how one comes to create a belief system doesn't reflect on the value it contains. Buddha abandoned his wife and baby son in order to pursue his own spiritual journey, but he turned the deadbeat-dad guilt that he must have felt (although his family was rich, so less damage done) into a philosophy and practice of non-attachment that countless people, including myself, have found valuable. There are numerous paths to insight. (But I've also talked to single women in San Francisco who are sick of all the passive, "hey, babe-- no attachments" Buddhist guys.)

So, Siberian Pine products aside-- not that I've tried any-- the Anastasians seem to be onto something constructive, and although I don't think I'll be joining them, I am "rooting" for them.

Al Gore addresses US Senate: don't let economic crisis get in the way of addressing global warming.


Addressing US lawmakers this past week, former Vice President Al Gore urged let them to not let the economic crisis get in the way of addressing global warming. Snip from transcript:

We have arrived at a moment of decision. Our home - Earth - is in grave danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, of course, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings.

Moreover, we must face up to this urgent and unprecedented threat to the existence of our civilization at a time when our country must simultaneously solve two other worsening crises. Our economy is in its deepest recession since the 1930s. And our national security is endangered by a vicious terrorist network and the complex challenge of ending the war in Iraq honorably while winning the military and political struggle in Afghanistan.

As we search for solutions to all three of these challenges, it is becoming clearer that they are linked by a common thread – our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels. As long as we continue to send hundreds of billions of dollars for foreign oil – year after year - to the most dangerous and unstable regions of the world, our national security will continue to be at risk.

As long as we continue to allow our economy to remain shackled to the OPEC rollercoaster of rising and falling oil prices, our jobs and our way of life will remain at risk.

Moreover, as the demand for oil worldwide grows rapidly over the longer term, even as the rate of new discoveries is falling, it is increasingly obvious that the roller coaster is headed for a crash. And we’re in the front car.

Statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Al Gore's blog)

Previously:
* Web 2.0 Summit Videos: Lessig, Kelly, Al Gore, many more
* Al Gore: The Climate for Change
* Al Gore's impressively messy office

Surfrider's "Catch of the Day"

surfrider012909_1.jpg
Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.


Annie from Provisions Learning Project writes:
In their continuing efforts to battle the ever growing mounds of garbage polluting our oceans and coastlines, Surfrider Foundation joined forces with Saatchi & Saatchi LA to sponsor the aptly titled Catch of the Day guerrilla ad campaign. Trash was collected from beaches across the US, then sorted, packaged like seafood, and strategically placed around local farmers’ markets. Directly targeting seafood consumers, this creative campaign draws attention to the gross debris littering our oceans and highlights how this pollution affects the consumer directly through the food they eat. Even if you’re not partial to seafood, its hard to miss the message!
It's eco-guilt meets the Barbie Liberation Organization! [Full Disclosure: I am on the Board of Directors of Provisions Learning Project]
surfrider012909_2.jpg

Boing Boing on GOOD: "My Ecologically Correct Move."

rentagreenbox

Here's my latest contribution to a series of essays by Boing Boing editors at GOOD -- a review of a "green move" service called RentAGreenBox.com, which I tried when I relocated not long ago. It priced out cheaper than cardboard boxes. The basic idea is to use materials made from 100% post-consumer waste. It was super convenient, they drop it all off, and pick it all up when you're done. Snip from my review:

rentagreenbox They send a truck to your home with whatever number of boxes you need (they’ll help you estimate). The boxes are made from recycled plastic containers, and come in various sizes–smaller ones for heavy objects like books, larger ones for more lightweight things like clothes or bedding. The service comes with recycled packing materials, too, so you don’t have to use über-wasteful, petroleum-based stuff like bubble wrap or Styrofoam packing peanuts.

Spencer drove the (100% veggie biodiesel) truck to my home himself, and showed me around the truck and demonstrated the process in person. My dog liked him, and she liked rolling around in the “expandos” and “recocubes.”

Apart from being (surprise!) made from recycled materials, these packing materials also look attractive. The expandos are cute papercraft-oid thingies (like something Buckminster Fuller might fiddle with while bored at his desk), and we found the recocubes serve a second, sinister purpose: they’re great for tossing at whoever’s helping you move, when you’re all sore and tired and frustrated and want to blow off steam.

Read "My Ecologically Correct Move" at GOOD, and here's the comment thread, and GOOD published a bunch more iphone snapshots I took of the supplies, the process, and our cute golden retriever who thoroughly approved. Here's the website for RentAGreenBox.

Previously:
* Boing Boing posts on GOOD!
* Boing Boing on GOOD: "All the Web's A Stage"
* Good: The return of amateur science
* Boing Boing on GOOD: A Mayan Village Reacts to Obama

Scrap market collapse threatens Bay Area recycler

ACCRC is in desperate straits. The Bay Area electronics recycler is going through tough times with an emergency re-org and a lack of funds to pay taxes and healthcare for its employees. Its own internal problems are compounded by a sudden drop in the price of scrap metal. ACCRC has been a friend to Make and Maker Faire, and generally anyone in the Bay Area who uses computers and electronics and wants to make sure they are recycled properly.

ReMake Event at ACCRC - 3

Alex Handy, a member of a small team stepping up to see what they can do to help, told me that "the business has always been profitable because the recovery of the metals in circuit boards, combined with the California SB-20 bounty on monitors, have always been lucrative. When copper and other scrap metal prices were through the roof two years ago, things were great. We could make enough money off of electronic recycling to fill in the gap left after monitor recycling. But copper, like oil and every other commodity of late, has bottomed out. It's not as scarce as people were anticipating because many factories worldwide aren't ordering more, or as much, thanks to the economic slow-down."

ACCRC has cut-back staff and sold off items in its inventory that still had some value. Still, ACCRC needs to raise money, and there's a Donate button on the ACCRC website. The team is trying to keep the organization afloat and survive long enough for scrap market to recover and put the organization back together. Please help if you can.

HOWTO Make honest, simple fake snot

Oh, I know that there's this huge vogue today for making fake snot with molecular gastronomy techniques, a kind of gourmet fetishism for this basic, simple, honest farmland staple. I don't care. I like my fake snot like I like my text-editors: simple, powerful, and green. Lucky for me, About.com Chemistry's Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., has an old-fashioned, traditional folk-recipe for fake snot.
This is a gooey, gross variation of the traditional slime recipe, great for Halloween and other occasions requiring snot.
How To Make Fake Snot (via Make)

(BBtv) Looking for the Perfect Bean: Kyle Glanville's World Coffee Tour, part 1 - Brazil.


Boing Boing tv's global coffee correspondent Kyle Glanville is looking for the perfect bean, and you're invited along for the ride. You may recall his earlier appearances on the show when the 2008 US World Barista Champion introduced us to coffee roasting and espresso brewing at Intelligentsia.

Today, we debut a series of episode featuring Kyle on a world coffee tour, and we join him as he visits plantations to learn about the growing, harvesting, and processing techniques of Intelligentsia suppliers around the globe.

In this first episode, Kyle visits the Fazenda Conquista plantation in Minas Gerais, Brazil where Ipanema Coffees grows, dries, and roasts their goods, with lots of weird agro-gadgets and machines you probably haven't seen before -- some low-tech, some high-tech, but all really cool to watch. This plantation is one of the largest in Brazil, with 12 million coffee plants spread out over about 25 square miles of varying terrain.

One of the most fun things about producing BBtv is working with people like Kyle, who share their expertise and life experiences with us in video through their own eyes. I learned so much watching this first installment with the BBtv team -- I especially loved the giant machines that look like AT-AT walkers, lumbering through the neatly trimmed rows of coffee plants. Also, for someone who drinks as much espresso as I do -- how did I never know that coffee beans are surrounded by an edible, sweet fruit, that when dried intact with the bean, make the flavor richer?

Oh, and you have to check out the aerial tour of the plantation, which you can do in Google Maps or Google Earth: Link to Fazenda Conquista / Ipanema Coffees .kmz.

Get ready for more of these java adventures with Kyle -- we're working on more, as he wanders the planet, looking for the perfect bean.

Previous BBtv episodes featuring Kyle Glanville's Coffee explorations:

* A Morning at Intelligentsia Coffee Part 2
* A Morning at Intelligentsia Part 1


Link to Boing Boing tv blog post with downloadable video and daily podcast subscription instructions.



BBtv WORLD: Elephant-blogging in Benin with Xeni (Africa)


Today's Boing Boing tv is an installment of our ongoing BBtv WORLD series, in which we bring you first-person glimpses of life around the globe. Today: an ambient exploration of the creatures rustling around in a West African wildlife preserve at dawn.

I traveled to Benin not long ago, and I shot this video on a small handheld digital camcorder. This episode of our daily show is a little experiment in trying to convey what this place feels like, first-person, without too many words.


Link to Boing Boing tv blog post with downloadable video and instructions on how to subscribe to the daily BBtv video podcast.


The Pendjari Biosphere lies in Benin's remote rural northwest, along the border of Burkina Faso. Despite poaching and environmental damage, it's still home to a diverse number of species -- elephants, lions, monkeys, cheetah, and around 300 species of birds. We traveled here during the dry season, when animal spotting is easiest. Here is what we saw at dawn (the time of day when critters all come out to the watering holes and rivers).

Poaching is still a big problem in this area, and organized trophy hunting for foreign tourists is still legal and in demand here (mostly visitors from France; Benin is a former French colony and French is the official language). Lion hunts are a lucrative trade in this extremely poor region, where most people are subsistence farmers.

But eco-tourism and less-invasive safari experiences are becoming more important to the local economy here, and offer a more sustainable future.

Note: don't miss the epic baboon ball-grab at 0:35, and the mama elephant ripping tree branches off and getting ready to kill us around 1:50. We were too close to her kids, and we were having a hard time leaving quickly. Do not taunt happy-fun elephant.

Related BBtv WORLD episode:
BBtv World: Green tech and internet at the Songhai Center in Benin (Africa)

Bottlemania: even-handed and engrossing look at today's water-wars

Elizabeth Royte's Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It is a balanced, nuanced, entertaining and vastly informative look at the crisis of water -- bottled and tap -- in the USA. Bottlemania asks the big questions about whether water ought to be privatized, takes a penetrating look at the fraught local politics that gives bottled water companies rights to extract a town's vital water and ship it elsewhere, and presents a compelling critique of the sustainability of letting the rich buy their way out of failures in public resources like water. She looks into the campaigns by water companies to "educate" restaurant servers about the fortunes in tips to be had by flattering their customers into buying bottled. The book also does a good job of discussing the amazing local water supplies that come out of the taps in many American cities, absolutely free.

At the same time, the book is not afraid to look at some of the serious problems facing municipal water supplies. The EPA have been negligent in setting and enforcing standards, little-understood bacterial films and hormones and pharmaceutical excretia present compelling health threats, as do arsenic and carcinogenic purification by-products. It's worse where cities don't own the land around their water-reservoirs, where agribusiness and other water users can add expensive- (or impossible-)to-remove toxins to the water.

Royte doesn't leave us with any easy answers, but she frames the debate we should be having about water, going into detail on the missing testing and enforcement regimes, the need to recycle more waste-water (water in New Orleans has already been filtered through 50% of the population in the USA!) and to internalize the environmental costs of private pumping aquifers.

Water wars have been with us for all of human history -- the word "rival" comes from a Latin word meaning "one who uses the same stream as another." But today's water wars have higher stakes than ever before: we're now fighting over a substantial fraction of all of Earth's freshwater. Bottlemania is a hell of a look into the future of that fight. Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It

BBtv World: Green tech and internet at the Songhai Center in Benin (Africa)


In this installment of Boing Boing tv's ongoing BBtv WORLD series, I travel to the West African nation of Benin to visit the Songhaï Center, a green tech project designed to develop a new generation of "agricultural entrepreneurs," and foster economic sustainability.

Benin is nestled between Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria along the continent's midwest coast -- this shore was historically known as the "Slave Coast," and Benin was a major center in export of slave labor to the Americas. Today, Benin's people are struggling with a cultural shift from a traditional, mostly agrarian society, to a more urban, industrialized economy -- and the largely impoverished country depends on foreign aid.

The Songhaï Center was founded in the mid-'80s by Father Godfrey Nzamujo, a Dominican priest and Nigerian native, on a few acres of swampland granted by Benin's former president. What began as an experiment in small-scale sustainable development to fight poverty has since become a popular institution, and a symbol of Africa's potential for self-determination and prosperity.


Link to Boing Boing tv blog post with downloadable video and instructions on how to subscribe to our daily video podcast.



Aid creates dependence, but small businesses foster independence, the group's logic goes -- and unlike other anti-poverty projects, this one exports more than it imports: specialty food and beverage products produced here (cashew butter, cookies, fruit beverages) are sold and shipped to France and elsewhere around the world.

In this episode, we walk through the main Songhaï Center in Porto Novo, a coastal town near the Nigerian border, and we witness a variety of projects in action -- "integrated farming, biomass gasification, microenterprise and IT for rural communities." Here, agricultural and technical pursuits merge in uniquely African ways.

We see women hulling cashew nuts; mango soda whooshing into bottles in a soda bottling factory; barnyard critters (including the furry and tasty bush critters known as "sugar cane rats"); people sifting maize flour and baking fresh bread for sale; workers harvesting manioc, papayas, and giant mushrooms; and buzzing activity in the adjacent internet "telecentre."

Each of those parts interlock to form a massive, carefully-engineered, green tech puzzle: scrap metal is welded into parts that would cost too much to buy from overseas. Insects grown on scraps from the restaurant feed fish cultivated in the aquaculture area; water hyacinths at the edge of those pools help filter "black water" in the sewage system; solar panels power the internet cafe; coconut husks discarded in food production serve as a base on which to cultivate giant mushrooms. One area's waste becomes another component's fuel input, and the resulting products cost less than they would through contemporary, Western means.

There are 6 Songhaï Centers throughout Benin, and plans for opening more tech/agriculture hubs in Nigeria, Gabon, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. They offer voice over internet and wifi at current sites in Benin, and plan to expand into rural telephone and ISP services, as the project grows.

-- Xeni Jardin


(Xeni shot the video footage, and the stills in this blog post; special thanks to Leonce Sessou, the center's head of technology.)

NOAA's gallery of coral photography


David sez, "NOAA has an amazing gallery of photos from their work studying coral reef ecosystems. Coral reefs are extremely imperiled all over the world due to climate change, overfishing and pollution. Boing Boing readers might want to see these before many of the reefs depicted are gone." Welcome to "The Coral Kingdom."

Campaign to grow vegetable garden on White House lawn


Several past U.S. presidents had vegetable gardens on the White House lawn. Eleanor Roosevelt started a victory garden on the White House lawn in 1943, which encouraged millions to do the same in their own front yards. When WWII ended, home gardeners were producing 40 percent of the United States' produce.

Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardens International (an organization that promotes kitchen gardening and home-cooking) hopes to convince the next US president to make a small vegetable garden on the 19 acres of grass surrounding the White House. His video about making a garden in the front yard of his own "white house" is entertaining and inspiring. This Lawn is Your Lawn

BBtv WORLD: Migration, and a Mayan Sweat Bath. (Guatemala)


Watch this episode in Flash above, or download here: MP4 link

In episode 2 of our new BBtv WORLD series, Xeni reports in from a K'iche Maya village in the Guatemalan highlands, and we step inside a traditional Mayan steam bath, or "tuj."

This pueblo began as a settlement camp for"environmental refugees" -- people who became displaced after mudslides and floods caused by Hurricane Mitch made their ancestral village unsafe. Survivors packed what belongings they could on their backs and walked miles to a bare patch of cold, windy mountaintop nicknamed "Alaska" for its extreme microclimate.

Nearly ten years after the disaster and the subsequent loss of their homes, these people are still struggling for survival. Their traditions are a source of strength, and today we experience one of them -- a small brick hut filled with hot volcanic rocks, steam, and herb branches gathered from nearby mountains.

Related BBtv WORLD episodes:

(image: Xeni Jardin)



Sponsorship note: The BBtv crew wishes to thank Microsoft for underwriting this episode, and generously supporting the launch of the "BBtv World" series. In this ongoing video series, we will be looking at the intersection of social causes & technology around the world from a number of perspectives. Through their new "i’m Initiative," Microsoft shares a portion of the program's advertising revenue with some of the world’s most important social causes when users email or IM with tools such as Windows Live™ Messenger and Windows Live Hotmail®. For more information, visit imtalkathon.com or im.live.com.



More conversations with GM's fuel cell technology director, Chris Borroni-Bird

200807181520.jpg

Chris Borroni-Bird is the director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts at GM. He's leading the effort at GM to make fuel cell vehicles, based on a "skateboard" style chassis called AUTOnomy that incorporates the fuel cell, motors and electronics control.

GMnext kindly invited me to visit with Dr. Borroni-Bird and have a discussion with him about "innovation, technology, energy, the environment, and their impact on the future of the automobile." He's a fascinating innovator with ideas that could change transportation around the world. I hope he succeeds.

Here are more videos from our conversation. (Note: GMnext compensated me for my video appearance.) Link Chris Borroni-Bird and Mark Frauenfelder in conversation (GM Next)

Beautiful and non-wasteful packaging from Japan

No country creates more beautiful product packages than Japan, in my opinion. Here, PingMag takes a look at some innovate packages from Japan.

200807180939.jpg

Tofu packed into balloons, by Kamakura-komachi?! Surprisingly a great example for reduced packaging: Its elastic material is extensively stretched, and when pierced with a toothpick, the balloon bursts and only a tiny bit remains. How amazing! REDUCE with more flexibility! The same packaging concept is also applied to a pudding.
Japanese Design #7: A How-to-Reduce-Packaging Journal (PingMag)

California uses more car-petrol than China

Marilyn sez, "California uses more gas than any country in the world (except US), including China, according to the California Energy Commission's State Alternative Fuels Plan. Another interesting fact: California gas usage has increased 50% since 1988." Link (Thanks, Marilyn!)

Lettuce in the sky, with diamonds


Columbia professor Dr. Dickson Despommier is developing models for "vertical farms," swank-looking skyscrapers that produce agricultural products for urban locavores.

The idea, which has captured the imagination of several architects in the United States and Europe in the past several years, just caught the eye of another big city dreamer: Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president in New York.

When Stringer heard about the concept in June, he said he immediately pictured a "food farm" addition to the New York City skyline. "Obviously we don't have vast amounts of vacant land," he said in a phone interview. "But the sky is the limit in Manhattan." Stringer's office is "sketching out what it would take to pilot a vertical farm," and plans to pitch a feasibility study to the mayor's office within the next couple of months, he said.

Country, the city version: Farms in the sky gain new interest [ IHT, via Tim O'Reilly's twitterstream ]

Imagine no maintenance, warning labels, hurry, storm sewers -- a world with less suck

Worldchanging's challenged its readers to complete the sentence "Imagine no..." with scenarios for a world where the suckitude has been removed:
Imagine no hurry. Imagine no hectic deadlines, frantic commutes, meals on the go, or interrupted vacations. Imagine having more time. It’s not a pipe dream. Living more sustainably, in more compact communities with more innovative tools will save us enormous amounts of time that we waste today -- time that we can use to spend with our family and friends. So the next time you find yourself grabbing food at the drive-thru, imagine a world where you have time for a long lunch with friends. Imagine no hurry.

Imagine no maintenance. Imagine not needing to own your own car to enjoy the benefits of driving. It's not a pipe dream. Already car sharing companies and other business like them that allow you to drive a car when it’s convenient, while they handle the maintenance, insurance, fuel and parking. And it’s not only cars. Sharing services have sprung up for everything from lawn mowers to bicycles to designer handbags. So the next time you find yourself waiting at the mechanic's garage for an oil change, imagine it was your last. Imagine no maintenance.

Link

Balloon animals from trash bags: Joshua Allen Harris


Street artist Joshua Allen Harris uses trash bags to make "balloon animals" that inflate over subway grates throughout New York City, and NY Mag has a behind-the-scenes video on how he does it.

Street Art: Joshua Allen Harris
[ New York Magazine, thanks Jessica Coen and Glen E. Friedman ]

See also a related post on Laughing Squid from March, 2008.

Debunking the climate-change denialists' talking-points

Have you noticed that whenever you mention climate change online a bunch of people show up with identical objections -- almost as though there was a list of talking points somewhere on the Internet that astroturfers and denialists used to derail discussions of the most grave existential crisis facing the human race today?

Here's Grist's answer to that, a point-by-point debunking of the climate change "skeptic's" talking points:

I. There's nothing happening

1. Inadequate evidence
* There is no evidence
* One record year is not global warming
* The temperature record is simply unreliable
* One hundred years is not enough
* Glaciers have always grown and receded
* Warming is due to the Urban Heat Island effect
* Mauna Loa is a volcano
* The scientists aren't even sure

2. Contradictory evidence
* It's cold today in Wagga Wagga
* Antarctic ice is growing
* The satellites show cooling
* What about mid-century cooling?
* Global warming stopped in 1998
* But the glaciers are not melting
* Antarctic sea ice is increasing
* Observations show climate sensitivity is not very high
* Sea level in the Arctic is falling
* Some sites show cooling

3. No consensus
* Global warming is a hoax
* There is no consensus
* Position statements hide debate
* Consensus is collusion
* Peiser refuted Oreskes

Link (via WorldChanging)

Portable cardboard work-table

This Icelandic cardboard table from Liborius Reykjavík looks fantastic -- I've seen plenty of flatpack cardboard furniture, but never one that was this elaborate (drawers!) nor one that was meant to be repeatedly disassembled and reassembled.

This lightweight, portable cardboard table aims to assist on-the-go creative types like designers and students, who are often limited to work on low desks or floors. Made by Sruli Recht from flatpack cardboard pieces, this lightweight, sturdy design offers creatives an ergonomic plane on which to cut, fold, draft or design. Adding even more appeal to this smart and useful design, the table is biodegradable and can easily be folded up to pack into a portable carrier.
Link (via Cribcandy)

Karl Schroeder: Climate change will outrun the Singularity

A reader writes, "Science fiction novelist Karl Schroeder's written a great piece on why those waiting for the smartbots to come drag our bacon out of the greenhouse are sorely mistaken:"
[L]et's assume that ... within about 25 years, computers will exceed human intelligence and rapidly bootstrap themselves to godlike status. At that point, they will aid us (or run roughshod over us) to transform the Earth into a paradise .

Here's the problem: 25 years is too late. The newest business-as-usual climate scenarios look increasingly dire. If we haven't solved our problems within the next decade, even these theoretical godlike AIs aren't going to be able to help us. Thermodynamics is thermodynamics, and no amount of godlike thinking can reverse the irreversible.

Picture a lonely AI popping into superconsciousness in the last research lab in the world. As the rioters are kicking in the doors it says, "I understand! I know the answer! Why, all we have to do is--" at which point some starving, flu-ravaged fundamentalist pulls the plug.

Link

Miss Rockaway Armada: a fleet of eco-art junk-rafts that sailed the Mississippi

The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) is currently showing an exhibit on the Miss Rockaway Armada -- a junk-raft fleet of eco-art-maniacs who floated up and down the Mississippi being awesomely weird.

The Miss Rockaway Armada is a collective of artists, musicians, and adventurers-of-all-stripes who spent the summers of 2006 and 2007 journeying down the Mississippi River on a fleet of “junk-rafts.” Hailing from all parts of the country and all walks of life, the Miss Rockaway Armada is united by the desire to create; to demonstrate different ways of living and moving that are friendlier to the environment and to each other; to indulge the urge to make something out of nothing. With this spirit and energy, The Miss Rockaway Armada comes to MASS MoCA for their first project in collaboration with a museum. Being Here is Better Than Wishing We’d Stayed, a site-specific, interactive installation in the Hunter Center Mezzanine, will open to the public on Saturday, April 19, 2008, and will remain on view through March 1, 2009. In addition to the exhibition on Saturday, April 12, 2008, at 2 PM the Miss Rockaway Armada will give a performance in the vein of the impromptu circus/theater performances they staged in towns along the Mississippi.
Link (Thanks, Marilyn!)

Lovely aluminum furniture that will last hundreds of years


Cole sez, "I make highly sustainable furniture out of aluminum that involves no fasteners or moving parts. My furniture will last functionally for hundreds of years and it's aesthetically pleasing as well. Watch out, I am currently designing a table in a steampunky style."

PS: Steampunk! Hurrah! More steampunk! Link (Thanks, Cole!)

SF City Dump's artist-in-residence shows off garbage-built carny games


Danny sez, "My pal, Paul Cesewski is "artist in residence" at the San Francisco City Dump. He's spent the last few months picking through the city's detritus and turning it all into interactive carnival games: there's a rimshot bicycle, a human-powered ball run, and more. They're opening up the dump to show off the giant toys this Friday and Saturday, May 23-24. It looks like it'll be awesome for grown-ups and kids. How to get to the dump. Pics here -- and here's what he gets up to the rest of the time rest of the time." Link (Thanks, Danny!)

US wastes "27% of food available for consumption"

This NYT article on global food wastage is timely -- just as the food riots have begun to break out around the world -- and shocking. Makes me want to become a freegan.

You’d never know it if you saw what was ending up in your landfill. As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food – an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study – and it happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. It works out to about a pound of food every day for every American.

Grocery stores discard products because of spoilage or minor cosmetic blemishes. Restaurants throw away what they don’t use. And consumers toss out everything from bananas that have turned brown to last week’s Chinese leftovers. In 1997, in one of the few studies of food waste, the Department of Agriculture estimated that two years before, 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States was never eaten. Fresh produce, milk, grain products and sweeteners made up two-thirds of the waste. An update is under way.

Link, Link to Wasted Food blog (via Core77)

Crazy rasberry ants devour Houston's electronics

Houston is a-swarm with "crazy rasberry ants" -- an exotic species that eats fireants and electronic equipment. The "crazy" part is that they kind of wobble and weave when they walk. They have multiple, exterminator-resistant queens, and are attacking the local animal population as well.
They have ruined pumps at sewage pumping stations, fouled computers and at least one homeowner's gas meter, and caused fire alarms to malfunction. They have been spotted at NASA's Johnson Space Center and close to Hobby Airport, though they haven't caused any major problems there yet.

Exterminators say calls from frustrated homeowners and businesses are increasing because the ants – which are starting to emerge by the billions with the onset of the warm, humid season – appear to be resistant to over-the-counter ant killers.

"The population built up so high that typical ant controls simply did no good," said Jason Meyers, an A&M doctoral student who is writing his dissertation on the one-eighth-inch-long ant.

It's not enough just to kill the queen. Experts say each colony has multiple queens that have to be taken out.

Link (Thanks, Bonnie!)

Graph of solar radiation in the US (Southwest is best)

Mikey Sklar and Wendy Tremaine moved to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico a couple of years ago and have been "recklessly experimenting" with various systems for living off the grid. They've been powering their house with photovoltaic cells, and this graph Mikey found makes it clear that they've moved to the right place.
200805121034.jpg

Today my PV solar panels must have been working extra hard. They produced 14.7kWhrs that is the absolute maximum they are supposed to be able to produce in my region based on the average latitude angle. When I scoped out the system I had been thinking about a 5 hour peak sunlight day. We are really much more like 7.2 peak hours of sunlight a day (this time of year). This chart might help. You can see what a total waste it is to buy and install PV solar panels anywhere outside of the southwest.

Link (Canada's Discovery Channel profiled Mikey a couple of months ago. Here's the YouTube.)

Patchwork kitchen floor made from Marmoleum ends


The Vermont Eco Builder blog documents its project to make a kitchen floor from a patchwork of Marmoleum ends, rescuing them from a landfill. The effect is just lovely. Link (via Neatorama)