Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lego Man Prank Call

I really couldn't help myself.

I also have a cool website I stumbled across that has great animated vids: The Hyde Tube

Latest in Stimulus: 'Cash for Refrigerators'

Coming this fall, a clunkers-type program to boost sales of energy-efficient home appliances will authorize rebates of $50 to $200

Click here to find out more!

A $300 million cash-for-clunkers-type federal program to boost sales of energy-efficient home appliances provides a glimmer of hope for beleaguered makers of washing machines and dishwashers, but it's probably not enough to lift companies such as Whirlpool (WHR) and Electrolux out of the worst down cycle in the sector's history.

Beginning late this fall, the program authorizes rebates of $50 to $200 for purchases of high-efficiency household appliances. The money is part of the broader economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year. Program details will vary by state, and the Energy Dept. has set a deadline of Oct. 15 for states to file formal applications. The Energy Dept. expects the bulk of the $300 million to be awarded by the end of November. (Unlike the clunkers auto program, consumers won't have to trade in their old appliances.)

"These rebates will help families make the transition to more efficient appliances, making purchases that will directly stimulate the economy," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement announcing the plan. Only appliances covered by the Energy Star seal will qualify. In 2008, about 55% of newly produced major household appliances met those standards, which are set by the Energy Dept. and Environmental Protection Agency.

The money can't come soon enough for the home appliance industry, which is mired in an unprecedented sales slump that began when the housing market cooled in 2006. Since then that slump has worsened considerably. Shipments of washers, dryers, refrigerators, and ovens dropped 10% in 2008 and are down 15% through July, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. "It's brutal," says Raymond James (RJF) analyst Sam Darkatsh.

a marketing push around rebates

The leading appliance makers have felt the pinch. Whirlpool of Benton Harbor, Mich., which controls about 40% of the U.S. market, has seen its sales drop 20% through the first two quarters of this year. North American shipments for its Stockholm-based rival Electrolux, meanwhile, have dropped for a dozen consecutive quarters. Both companies have laid off hundreds of workers, and General Electric (GE) mulled shutting down an entire refrigerator plant earlier this year until deciding to keep it open with a reduced workforce.

Not surprisingly, appliance makers cheered the news. Electrolux spokesman Tony Evans calls the federal program a "great opportunity to encourage consumers to replace their old appliances." Lately, cash-strapped consumers have chosen to repair, rather than replace, hobbled dishwashers and other water-intensive appliances, according to industry analysts. Electrolux says it is readying "aggressive" marketing programs that will run parallel with the rebates, and it's reasonable to expect appliance makers and retailers will devise additional discounts to amplify the rebates' appeal. "We will be ready to go when the new incentive programs hit the market," Evans said.

Unlike the popular, $3 billion cash-for-clunkers vehicle program, which ends on Aug. 24, there's no guarantee that hard-hit consumers are prepared to plump for new washers, stoves, and fridges. The federal outlay will piggyback on rebate programs for energy-saving appliances that have existed for years in more than 25 states, but which have largely failed to spur demand. Home improvement retailers like Home Depot (HD) and Lowe's (LOW) have also offered deep discounts on big-ticket appliances lately, with little impact.

"The cash-for-clunkers [program] had a discernible value proposition for the consumer, because he knows how much his [clunker] is worth," says Darkatsh, the Raymond James analyst. "With appliances, there is no trade-in. You can walk into Home Depot and get a great deal on a home appliance any time you want one. Why would it drum up sales now?" Laura Champine, an analyst with Cowen & Co. (COWN), agrees. "I'm not sure if it will be as powerful as cash for clunkers because there is something compelling about that $4,500 discount," she says. "Also, a new car is more fun than a new dishwasher. So I'm not sure if it will be as much of a driver, but any driver is welcome right now."

Stock Market Overreaction

Analysts also believe that the stock market's reaction to the program is overblown. Whirlpool's shares rose 6% on Aug. 20 when news of the program circulated, and climbed another 5% the following session. "That's silly," says Darkatsh. He estimates that in a best-case scenario the rebates will equate to about $240 million in incremental sales for Whirlpool. But that's unlikely, as it assumes that every American buying under the voucher program would not have done so otherwise. "The vast majority would have bought them anyway," as purchases of appliances such as fridges and washing machines are far less discretionary than, say, cars or big-screen televisions, Darkatsh says.

The recession's ability to blunt the program's impact was underscored by a call to the California Energy Commission to discuss its approach to the rebate program. The entire state office is on unpaid furlough each Friday in August; no one picked up the telephone.

My opinion is that the rebate and trade in programs sound like a much better investment than throwing out stimulus checks because they can often solve several problems at once in terms of removing harmful tech from the environment and making sure that items are properly disposed. I believe that a lot of our environmental problems are caused by the fact that there are no uniform standards of sanitation, and I think progress could be made environmentally, economically, and in materials manufacturing to rethink how we implement our sanitation programs. I would love to see OSHA pick this up. I think that if we even set up public recycling programs that would be a great way to create jobs, provide access to information about how to protect the environment through community and government initiatives and create accessibility to this service to those who would not otherwise be able to afford it. I think we should shoot for it. Battery disposal, tech disposal and materials reclamation. Ideally if implemented properly this could also provide reverse engineering training or the recovery of materials processed in Chinese and Japanese manufacturing that can be used to create or underbid Chinese factories in materials resourcing in production here. Worse comes to worse, we recycle it and sell it back to them.

The Challenge for Green Energy:
How To Store Excess Electricity

For years, the stumbling block for making renewable energy practical and dependable has been how to store electricity for days when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. But new technologies suggest this goal may finally be within reach.

by jon r. luoma
Source: environment 360

“Why are we ignoring things we know? We know that the sun doesn’t always shine and that the wind doesn’t always blow.” So wrote former U.S. Energy Secretary James Schlesinger and Robert L. Hirsch last spring in the Washington Post, suggesting that because these key renewables produce power only intermittently, “solar and wind will probably only provide a modest percentage of future U.S. power.”

to read more click here

I'll be very interested to know how they resolve this issue. I don't think that the creation of batteries is the right solution though unless we can find away to create rechargeable units and create accessibility to powering stations because as of yet there are very limited resources to ensure their proper disposal. Why hasn't the U.S. or the IEEE addressed this issue yet? There is obviously a need with the rising usage of electronic devices for some sort of disposal program, but with the operating costs it seems that the United States government could be creating jobs by setting up a publically funded program that addresses these issues or provides grants to a corporation that wants ot pick up the project under the stipulation that they provide equal access. I think the more intelligible way to go for energy storage would be to simply store the energy as heat, or find a way to store the energy with magnets. But that's just my opinion. I'm not really an authority on the subject, I just imagine that there are better ways that we can be doing this, and it would have to be done with some sort of overhaul of our current system.

Plastic Breaks Down in Ocean, After All -- And Fast
Carolyn Barry
Source: National Geographic News
August 20, 2009

Though ocean-borne plastic trash has a reputation as an indestructible, immortal environmental villain, scientists announced yesterday that some plastics actually decompose rapidly in the ocean. And, the researchers say, that's not a good thing.

The team's new study is the first to show that degrading plastics are leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A into the seas, possibly threatening ocean animals, and us.

Scientists had previously thought plastics broke down only at very high temperatures and over hundreds of years.

The researchers behind a new study, however, found that plastic breaks down at cooler temperatures than expected, and within a year of the trash hitting the water.

The Japan-based team collected samples in waters from the U.S., Europe, India, Japan, and elsewhere, lead researcher Katsuhiko Saido, a chemist with the College of Pharmacy at Nihon University in Japan, said via email.

All the water samples were found to contain derivatives of polystyrene, a common plastic used in disposable cutlery, Styrofoam, and DVD cases, among other things, said Saido, who presented the findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C., today.

Plastic, he said, should be considered a new source of chemical pollution in the ocean.

Cooking Up Plastic Soup in the Seas

The toxic compounds the team found don't occur naturally in the ocean, and the researchers thought plastic was the culprit.

The scientists later simulated the decomposition of polystyrene in the sea and found that it degraded at temperatures of 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).

Left behind in the water were the same compounds detected in the ocean samples, such as styrene trimer, a polystyrene by-product, and bisphenol A, a chemical used in hard plastics such as reusable water bottles and the linings of aluminum cans.

Bisphenol A (BPA) has been shown to interfere with the reproductive systems of animals, while styrene monomer, a derivative of styrene trimer, is a suspected carcinogen.

The pollutants are likely to be more concentrated in areas heavily littered with plastic debris, such as ocean vortices, which occur where currents meet.

(Related: "Giant Ocean-Trash Vortex Attracts Explorers.")

Plastic Breaks Down Fast

About 44 percent of all seabirds eat plastic, apparently by mistake, sometimes with fatal effects. And 267 marine species are affected by plastic garbage—animals are known to swallow plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish in mid-ocean, for example—according to a 2008 study in the journal Environmental Research by oceanographer and chemist Charles Moore, of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Now, it seems, they also face the invisible threat of toxic, plastic-derived chemicals.

Once Styrofoam, for example, breaks down, the tiny polystyrene components start to sink, because they're heavier than water, Moore said. "So it's likely that this styrene pollutant is prevalent throughout the water column and not just at the surface."

Along with Moore, David Barnes, a marine ecologist from the British Antarctic Survey, doesn't think the Japanese team's lab results can be applied uniformly across the ocean, however. Water temperatures are typically much cooler than the 86 degrees Fahrenheit in the study, he said.

"We're talking about, effectively, what happens in [zones] of tropical and some subtropical coasts. And there, [the] study may be very important," Barnes said.

Ocean as "Plastic Soup"

Plastic hits marine creatures with a double whammy, Moore said. Along with the toxic chemicals released from the breakdown of plastic, animals also take in other chemicals that the plastic has accumulated from outside sources in the water.

To read more click here

A lot of people don't realize that a lot of this could be eliminated by using reusable containers. As convenient as it is to make and dispose of plastic, taking the extra 30 seconds to wipe out a reusable dish saves energy, transportation costs and the environment. I started first by taking my own mug to the coffee shop and buying collapsible cutlery from the outing store that can be reused again. I'm also a fan of decorative chopsticks. I also buy the kraft cheese slices in the plastic container so that I can reuse the containers to take sandwiches for lunch. The also make a great portion control apparatus for stews and casseroles, can be upcycled decoratively when taking friends and neighbor's food among other things. Being more mindful of how this kind of stuff can be reused can often make a huge difference.

U.S. company hopes to make fuel from sunlight, CO2
Mon Jul 27, 2009 6:15pm EDT

Source: Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. start-up Joule Biotechnologies hopes to make commercial amounts of motor fuel by feeding engineered organisms high concentrations of carbon dioxide and sunlight, its top executive said.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company, which launched on Monday, hopes to make up to 20,000 gallons per acre of fuel a year by late 2011 or early 2012 at prices competitive with $50 oil. It concentrates sunlight in a solar converter, directing it and carbon dioxide to engineered organisms to make fuel similar to ethanol.

"This is the first solar company that is producing liquid fuel as opposed to electrons," said Joule President and CEO Bill Sims. He said Joule is different from companies that make biofuels from plants because its process does not need a lot of land to grow food and energy crops like corn or switchgrass.

"This is definitely not a biofuels company," Sims added.

He would not reveal what the organisms are, only saying they are not algae, another life form companies are experimenting with to make biofuels. In addition, Sims said the organisms do not need fresh water but can be grown in both brackish water or graywater, which is nonindustrial waste water from sources like baths and washing machines.

Joule, which has less than $50 million in funding, is one of dozens of companies hoping to make motor fuels from sources other than corn.

Making ethanol from that grain has been criticized for needing a lot of water and land and helping to lift food prices. Some companies hope to make cellulosic ethanol, or fuel from the tough woody bits of plants like switch grass and poplar trees, but progress has been slow.

The federal government offers incentives for companies to blend advanced fuels into gasoline and mandates for the such blending rise annually.

Sims said since the Joule organisms absorb the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the fuel could eventually play a role in efforts to cut such emissions. He hopes the company will be allowed to generate carbon credits from making the fuel, which should help keep the cost of producing the fuel competitive with oil.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Christian Wiessner)

to read more click here

I'll be watching this one very closely. I've been making the argument for some time that this is the direction we should be moving. Even if these first trials don't work, knowing what we know about the process of photosynthesis and it's conversion into CO2, this seems the most practical and viable long term solution. Although if we introduce more CO2 into the environment, we're going to HAVE to start replanting again. I would be interested in seeing any research done with working models in a controlled permaculture eco system. I bet the two would work very well together.

Hamburg’s Eco-City: Sustainable Creative-Industrial Complex
by Roberta Cruger, Los Angeles on 08.24.09
Source: Design & Architecture
Buzz up!

hamburg eco-city photo
Rendering of repurposed structures and turbine towers in Hamburg's new eco-city.

On the forgotten shores of Hamburg’s Harburg Harbor, once busy with ship building, the site of a former comb factory has been repurposed to house an eco-minded development, combining a modern futuristic look with restored historic buildings and classic industry architecture. While Germany's environmental initiatives are ahead of the curve, from creating green jobs to organic fast food, this is the country’s first eco-city. Transforming a previously bustling industrial area into a sustainable development is real urban renewal. With Phase I complete, the next stage is even more ambitious.

wind turbine tower photo

As westerly winds blow off the North Sea, two large wind turbines on top of the high-rise towers will generate more than 10% of the complex’s power. Solar water heating offsets the use of natural gas and powers the lighting as well as capitalizing on natural light. Eco-friendly and reused materials from the previous structures have been used in the construction and passive design techniques reduce energy consumption by 30 percent. Green roofs slow storm water runoff and green beltways on the second level include vertical gardens to enhance outdoor recreation. Over 40 percent of the total space is open air with pedestrian-friendly plazas.

eco city plaza photo

TecARCHITECTURE, which specializes in sustainable hi-tech designs, “inspired by structures and processes of nature,” teamed up with ARUP engineering for this state-of-the-art project, embracing environmental/social/economic principles. It’s designed to achieve the highest certification from three global green building rating systems – LEED, BREEAM and the German Sustainable Building Council (GSBC). When the final plan is complete, ten structures will bring large-scale industry and creative start-ups together with spaces from studio-size to warehouse and production facilities.

eco city hamburg photo

The first tenant, Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG, a manufacturer of printing presses, feeds Hamburg's vital publishing business and its interactive showroom displays the advances in environmental printing methods.

Appropriately called a Creative-Industrial Environment with its mixed use of entertainment and business, this latest eco-city complex is walkable from public transportation and easily biked to. Phase II includes a high-rise office building, hotel, restaurant, and retail spaces to convert the area into a destination spot along the Elbe River.

More on eco-cities: here

This site has a lot of great stories and visuals for great initiatives people have been working on to integrate sustainable technology and architecture into communities.

10 Reasons to Buy Your Fruits & Veggies at Your Local Farmer’s Market

Category: Healthy Foods, Natural Health, Organic Living
Author: Dr. Group @ 11:22 am

Source: Global Healing Center

Which of these two scenarios sounds more vibrant for overall quality of life and health?

The wind on your face, the sun on your skin, you talk with a local farmer about the size and taste of this year’s harvest of peaches, as you pop a slice in your mouth. After tasting several different varieties, you choose your favorite one, walking away with a great memory of the farmer in your mind.

Or… You stand shivering in the freezer section at your local mega-mart, your eyes begin to glaze over from the halogen lights and the neon-colored cardboard boxes containing substances claimed to be food products? You decide on the one with the least amount of additives and make your way to the self-check-out line, excited to get in your car and out of the supermarket.

Clearly, most of us would agree that the first scenario, at the local farmer’s market, is much more appealing than a trip to a big chain grocery store. But what, besides the aesthetic factor, are some of the other benefits of supporting your local farmers market? The following article will highlight just a few of the many reasons why shopping locally, from flesh-and-blood farmers, is always best.

1. Buying Locally

Buying from your local farmer allows you to support local agriculture. This means that the food you are eating comes from nearby, and does not require us to waste lots of energy and petroleum to ship the food half-way around the world. You are eating food in your own environment, where it has perfectly-created nutrients for your specific climate and region. You are also supporting the environment by reducing the usage of fossil fuels.

2. Cheaper Organic Fruits & Veggies

You can find a variety of fresh, organic produce at more affordable prices than in a supermarket. There are also many farmers that carry products that are not technically “organic,” (as this is a costly and often beurocratic-heavy process), but have many low-priced foods that are pesticide and herbicide free. The advantage at a farmers market is that you can actually talk to the farmer, learn about their methods, and then decide for yourself and in most cases they will allow you to come and visit their farm.

3. Supporting Your Local Economy & Farmers

You are supporting human beings and the local economy, not massive agribusiness GMO food conglomerates.

Not only will your money be staying in your area, but you will happily please the farmer that worked to grow that food. Your belly will remember the farmer’s smile as they handed you that juicy peach.

4. Eat Seasonally

By shopping at the local farmers market, you will eat seasonally, fresh and ripe. This is another great way to increase your overall health. Supermarkets offer too much variety and the food is picked before it has ripened decreasing the vitality. The body does not need to be eating imported pineapple in the dead of a Montana winter!

5. Safer Foods


Food from your local farmers market is generally safer. Remember the recent outbreaks of E. coli in bagged spinach? These things happen mostly in large industrial settings, where business-men work to mass produce food, preserve it and bag it in mass amounts.

6. Fresher Fruits & Veggies

The food from your local farmers market is, quite frankly, fresher. Because it was grown locally, there is a good chance that the apple you buy from the farmer was picked a few days ago. This is virtually impossible in a big supermarket.

7. Great Variety

There is usually an amazing variety of fruits and veggies at your local farmers market. Each farmer may have his own method for growing tomatoes or peppers. This is something that never happens at a grocery store.

8. Better Taste

There is no doubt that locally-grown foods just simply taste better. You will never be able to eat a carrot from the grocery store again!

9. It’s Healthy!

There’s just no way around it, eating fresh, locally-grown fruits and veggies are great for your health.

Buy yourself some local honey, which is sold at most local farmer markets. It has just the right components for allergy prevention in your neck of the woods, not to mention it’s tasty!

10. Most Importantly — It’s Fun!

We stated it in the beginning, but farmers markets are just plain fun for the whole family. Meeting your local community is an excellent way to feel connected to the world around you, increasing health for body, mind and spirit.

Or Just Start Your Own Organic Garden

An even better solution would be to grow your own food by creating an organic garden in your yard or even on your balcony. Of course, this will take extra time and money, which alot of us seem to lack these days.

Why do you shop at your local farmers market? Let me hear your reasons.

~Dr. G


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