October 22, 2012

One may have a worse view from a work window

A Day in the Life of a Fire Lookout. from Gary Yost on Vimeo.

This beautiful video features Gary Yost who is working as a volunteer fire lookout at Mount Tamalpais, California. It seems like one may have a worse view from a work window.
I've been a Marin County Fire Department volunteer lookout for two years and deeply love the mountain and the peace it brings to us here in the Bay Area. Perhaps this 6-minute video will convey some of the emotions I feel when sitting (and sleeping) on her peak.
Here's another video from the same mountain and photographer:

Mt. Tamalpais Fog Timelapse Tests from Gary Yost on Vimeo.

October 19, 2012

Creative ways to clear landmines

One often forgotten threat to humans around the world is landmines. Nearly 20,000 people are being killed by them each year, and many more are being crippled. One can currently find 110 million landmines across 70 countries. To make a landmine, you have to pay $3, but its is 50 times more expensive to clear one. Here are some creative ways to clear landmines:

Mine Kafon
The Mine Kafon is a new way to clear landmines, and has been designed by Massoud Hassani. He was born in Afghanistan so one can clearly understand why he wants to solve the threat of minefields. Roughly 10 million landmines have been buried throughout Afghanistan. So to solve the problem, Massoud Hassani designed the Mine Kafon which is a device that you roll out on a mine field. The device will now roll though the minefield as it is powered by the wind, and when it hits a mine, it will simply explode. But the entire device will not be destroyed, some parts can be used again to build another device. It features a GPS navigator so you can see where it has been rolling around before. One problem is that it will not clear the entire minefield since you can control it, but it will clear maybe 50 percent of the landmines, and that will save lives - or you can clear the rest of the field with another more dangerous method.

The Mine Kafon (teaser) from Callum Cooper on Vimeo.

The Danish company Aresa made a genetically modified flower that was supposed to detect mines in a minefield. To clear a minefield, you planted plants on the minefield, and when one of the plants came in contact with nitrogen dioxide (a compound released by decaying chemicals used in explosives), the plant would change its color to red. The company has now been given up the idea to continue with this project, but I believe that it was a good idea, and someone else could perhaps continue with it.

The HeroRat is a trained Gambian pouched rat, and the rat is not a kamikaze rat, the rat will probably survive the process since the rodent is using its excellent smell to find landmines. They are being trained by the company Apopo, and one rat will cost €6,000 to train, and the training will take 6 months.

Source: BBC, WorldChanging

October 11, 2012

Martyn Ashton on a road-bike


I'm currently owning a French Sunn mountain-bike, and one of the reasons to why I bought a mountain-bike and not a regular racer is because I once believed that you couldn't ride with a road-bike in the forest. I thought that the mountain-bike was more all-around. Now, I've been proven wrong!
Martyn Ashton is the rider in the video and he's a mountain-bike rider, but he's now found a Pinarello Dogma 2 which is the road-bike that won the 2012 edition of Tour de France. The bike is handmade in Italy and you have to pay $16,000 to get one. 

Source: ESPN

How to hack the air

In 1989, NASA released a report with the name "Interior landscape plants for indoor air pollution abatement." The goal of the report was to research different indoor plants to see if they could be used as a tool to solve indoor air pollution problems on Earth. The indoor air pollution has its own name and it's "sick building syndrome." The report estimated that 30 percent of all the buildings are suffering from this sick building syndrome.

The background to this problem is as follows. In the 1970s, a series of energy crises occurred. The worst crises of this period were the oil embargo of 1973 when several countries in the middle east didn't want to supply the US with oil because the US supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War, and the 1979 crisis caused by the Iranian revolution. The result was that the price of oil increased with several hundred percent.

Because of these high energy prices, everyone decided to reduce the fresh air exchange to improve the energy efficiency of the buildings. The workers in these new buildings began to complain on various health problems, such as itchy eyes, and headaches. What contributed to these problems were a combination of the airtight sealing of the buildings, and the design and manufacturing of the equipment and furnishings used in the buildings.

The best solution to these problems is to use indoor plants. The Indian researcher Kamal Meattle gave a Ted talk in 2009 with the subject "How to grow fresh air." He began his research when he became allergic to the pollution from the air in New Delhi. You can measure air pollution with AQI, where 0 is no pollution and 500 is then highest level of pollution. An AQI below 50 is considered to be good, and above 200 is considered to be very unhealthy. The AQI in New Delhi is between 320 and 380, or hazardous on the AQI scale. Do you think this sounds bad? Then visit Shanghai, China, where the AQI could be 600.

Kamal Meattle came to the conclusion that he needed three types of different plants to clean the air in his indoor environment. In total, he would need about 12 plants to be able to live in a sealed bottle without any ventilation. This was per person, so if you are three persons living in the house, you will need 36 plants. But if your city AQI is lower than the AQI in New Delhi, and if you don't live in a sealed bottle, you will not need that many plants. A common rule is to use one plant per 100 feet^2 (9 m^2) of house. Kamal Meattle also installed 1200 plants in an office building, and the result was that the number of headaches decreased with 24 percent.

When you have realized that you need to use indoor plants to clean the air, you need to choose which plants to use since some are better than others. You also need to check if the plant is dangerous to your kids and your cats, how often you need to water them, and if they can survive in darkness or if they need sun light. You can find a complete list here: List of air-filtering plants. Remember that a plant may be considered to be non-toxic to your cat, but your cat may still get sick if the beast eats all of your plants.

A plant that is considered to be easy to take care of is the Snake plant (mother-in-law's tongue), it cleans everything except ammonia, but it is poisonous to your cat. It was also on the list used by Kamal Meattle in his experiment.

Snake plant. Source: Wikipedia

Another plant that is easy to take care of is the Spider plant, but it is less good at cleaning the air, but it is non-toxic to your cat.

Spider plant. Source: Wikipedia

The best air-cleaner is the Peace lily, but the plant needs water regularly, and it is poisonous to your cat.

Peace lily. Source: Wikipedia

So the task to choose an optimum plant is clearly not an easy one. I myself bought a Spider plant last week (the price of the plant was like $10 so an healthy environment is clearly not expensive), and I'm currently trying to hunt down a Snake plant. The apartment is small, and the AQI is within reasonable levels, so two tough plants will hopefully be enough.
Source: The New York Times, ASPCA, Using houseplants to clean indoor air

October 7, 2012

Slow and steady wins the race

A new book by the author Jim Collins is out, and it's called Great by Choice - Uncertainty, chaos, and luck - why some companies thrive despite them all. The book is basically part 4 in a series of books on why some companies are different from other less good companies. I've used two of his earlier books: Good to great and The fall of the might, when I analyzed the rise and fall of the company Digg. The new book analyzes why some companies are surviving a state of chaos, such as the credit crunch of 2008, and spikes in the price of oil, while other companies perish under the same conditions. One thing we know for sure is that the chaos in the world will continue, as it always has, but how can you prepare yourself and company when the next chaotic event occurs?

One example of a company that has endured misery in the period 1972 to 2002 is Southwest Airlines. The company began with three airplanes, and if you had invested $10,000 in the company in 1972, you would have had $12 million by the end of 2002. The return of the stock was 63 times better compared with the stock market. How did Southwest Airlines survive despite all the events that occurred during the period, including fuel shocks, strikes, recessions, terrorist attacks, when so many other airlines have struggled for their survival?

To find out why, one can travel back in time to 1911, and visit the explorers who was about to make a race towards the South Pole in the Terra Nova Expedition. The race would be of equivalent length as if you would have traveled from New York to Chicago, and back again. One would make it, and the other would make it to the South Pole, but didn't make it back home again. The one who would make it was the Norwegian Roald Amundsen who said:
"Victory awaits him who has everything in order - luck people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time - this is called bad luck."
Amundsen arrived in December 1911, 34 days before his competitor the Brit Robert Falcon Scott. They were both of the same age, and had roughly the same experience, so why did Amundsen make it?

The first big difference between the two was that Amundsen was better prepared. Amundsen took the bicycle from Norway to Spain just to practice how to survive, he lived like a shipwrecked even though he wasn't, he studied the maps and stories from previous expeditions, and he lived with Eskimos who knew how to survive in a  rough environment. Scott on the other hand was a Royal Navy Officer and didn't practice in the same way. He decided to choose horses instead of dogs, he brought with him motor sledges that were untested. The result was that the horses died, and the motor sledges stopped working in the cold, so Scott had to drag his equipment by himself. Meanwhile, Amundsen's dogs were traveling at high speed toward the South Pole. Thanks to his studies of the maps and previous expeditions, Amundsen could find a more efficient way to the South Pole.

Foreseeing unexpected events. Before the race had begun, both team built supply depots on the way to the South Pole. Amundsen decided to place black flags in a wide array around his supply depot, so he was sure that he wouldn't miss it if there was a storm. Scott on the other hand placed only one flag at his depot. Amundsen stored three tons of supplies for his five men and could survive if he missed a supply depot, while Scott stored one ton of supplies for his seventeen men and couldn't miss one of his supply depots. Amundsen brought four thermometers, while Scott brought only one and that one thermometer would eventually break.

The 20 mile march. Each day, the goal of Amundsen was to travel a distance of between 15 and 20 miles (24-32 km). If the weather was bad, he tried to travel 20 miles, and if the weather was good, he traveled 20 miles and rested the rest of the day to regain his energy. Scott didn't have any goals at all. If the weather was good, he would go as far as possible until he was exhausted, and if the weather was bad, he would sit in his tent and wait for the good weather to come back.

Amundsen at the South Pole. Source: Wikipedia