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

 Assets Sierraclub Blogs A 9 6 5 A965E1A3-F652-4F93-A20F-C0E1815D618F Images Clock 20090925084014 400
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:
BlueTruck1.jpg
"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!

2.jpg
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

3866681301_4e98522524_b.jpg

(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:

6a00d834543b6069e20120a591f0ec970c-500wi.jpg
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 alt.food.michael.pollan. 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:
burger.jpg
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

fresh-greens-july-28.jpg
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)