Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Transit Oriented Business Idea

Back at the "Leading the Way Youth Summit" in Edmonton, all of the groups were given the task of presenting an idea to help revolutionize various aspects of transit.

My group had decided to pursue the topic of greening transit.  As a result we came up with the idea of crowd sourced deals oriented to those businesses that choose to locate in a TOD (Transit oriented development).  Similar to the deal of the day promotions through Living Social, Groupon,  transit would advertise a daily deal though an agreement with businesses located in a TOD. 

This would be a huge boon for businesses as transit users are all on foot and can easily swing in your store to buy your daily deal coffee.  No hassle with providing your customers with parking on your dime.  Businesses would see an upswing of transactions, and they get free advertisement through a public body that is used by 100,000 people daily.

This sort of arrangement would also benefit cities greatly as this deal would only apply to businesses within 800 meters (10 minutes walking distance) of a major transit station.   This would be a great encouragement for TOD's as all of your businesses are already located within your TOD.  People would want to live by their amenities and thus would be more likely to elect to live in a TOD, and utilize the conveniently located transit to go about their daily lives.

Such an arrangement would give municipalities the tool to help develop TOD's, and as a result citizens are living in concentrated areas cities do not have to spend tax dollars wastefully on inefficient sprawl.

Climate Action Requires a Thought

Governments around the world are not taking a strong enough stance to curtail climate change.  Governments will only take strong action to prevent climate change if their people are demanding action.  If people were to lend a thought for climate change once a day, and if news outlets generate the proportionate attention for possibly one of the greatest threats humanity faces in this age, governments would be quicker to act on climate change.

It is human nature deal best with the now, and it hard to give credence to faceless enemy a few years away.  This can be especially true in these days of economic hardships, where you are overburdened with more work with fewer resources while you worry about making your bills daily.  You may have your children's mouths to worry about feeding.

It will be inevitable that if we continue our current path that climate will soon be at the very forefronts of our thoughts.  Extreme weather events will continue to increase, and with that peoples homes destroyed, crops destroyed and people displaced.  As a result food prices will rise, it has been shown that as food prices rise so does people's frustration.  The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and the remaining Arab spring nations can all be linked to a preceding rise in food prices. 

It is inevitable that humans will rise up strong and hard against the enemy of climate change.  However we can help speed this up by giving Climate a thought but once a day, and help avoid the pains that will come by delaying action.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Urban Waste Management

It doesn't matter what city you are in you will likely see litter strewn across your urban landscape.  Some cities may be in better shape than others, this may be due to better due diligence and budgets for waste management. 

This may include procedures to ensure that civic employees check waste receptacles regularly and change out full waste receptacles or replace ripped bags.  This helps as the waste receptacles in a cities core can fill up quickly, and once full people will still add waste on top.  This waste is easy picking for a gust of wind which will spread the contained mess.  Which scenario do you think will take more effort and cost more money; changing out all the waste in one garbage bag or paying someone to clean the waste scattered across the city?  Why do more work when your citizens are willing to do the majority of the work themselves by placing the waste into the correct receptacle.

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On that note another way for cities to help manage their waste is to choose the appropriate waste receptacles.  As an example of a poorly chosen waste receptacle we shall turn to the minimalistic waste receptacles at the outdoor LRT station platforms in downtown Calgary.  Quite often due to podium-less design of downtown Calgary's towers, huge wind tunnels are created.  These wind tunnels pass by the garbage receptacles and invert the contents onto the streets.  I realize the minimalism of these receptacles is to help mitigate terrorist threats as you can see if any bomb has been placed in the transparent garbage bag, however the proper receptacle should be chosen to eliminate this avoidable occurrence.  These garbage bags should at the very least be weighted down.

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Most waste receptacles are built with an opening on the top for waste disposal, however this also generates the unwanted behavior of people digging through the contents.  This leads the way for those less fortunate to start digging through them for income earning drink bottles.  One way to avoid this is to again choose the proper receptacle.  The proper receptacle would close off the waste contents to outside interaction by using a hinged opening with a double wall similar to those on a vending machine opening that helps prevent theft.  Such receptacles have already been installed in Cochrane. 

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The ultimate way to ensure that the garbage stays off your streets would be for your city to install a suction powered garbage line tied into the garbage receptacles similar to those already installed in places like Sweden, and the one proposed for the City Centre Airport development in Edmonton.  These lines would be powered by powerful vacuums and would act similar to sewage lines instantly transporting your waste to the waste processing facility.  This sort of system would ensure that any waste that you place in a trash receptacle is instantly taken to the waste facility and is guaranteed to be kept of your street.  Another bonus of such a system is that you do not have large unappealing garbage trucks driving around collected garbage.  Such a system would see significant reductions in cost due to less wear on your city streets, less waste clean-up, and fuel and maintenance for garbage pick-up trucks.

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Coal 500MW Coal Plant in Alberta

The AUC has recently approved a new 500 MW coal plant at the H.R. Milner plant for Maxim Power.  That is bad enough as it is, but when you add on the fact that the AUC specifically fast tracked the approval process in order guarantee exemption from new Federal  coal plant emissions regulations.  The new federal regulations will exempt any new power plant from the emissions standards as long as it is commissioned before July 2015. 

Its fine that we need power and that some of it will have to come from dirty sources for now, however at least make them follow the regulations.  Lets not give Maxim Power free reign to be exempt from protecting regulations for the average joe.  These regulations ensure that everyone has at least some form of protection against dirty air.  These regulations are at least a step in the right direction, and Alberta cannot even force a company to adhere to them.  What for?  For a lousy few bucks, what about the millions of dollars of money that will have to be spent on medical care for those living and breathing the poor air quality. 

This new regulation will not even apply to Ontario, you want to know why?  Ontario is shutting down all of their coal plants.  So what does Alberta do?  We do business as usual and pander to the dirty industry billionaires seeking billions more. This is very disappointing news, please get the word out.  Its time that we start moving forward and start investing in renewable energies and the health of Albertans.

An element of fun in Transit Design

One of the downfalls with public transit can come with the fact that most transit agencies are government owned.  We all know that governments are burdened with the regulations and responsibility to spend their tax payers and thus voters dollars wisely.  On top of all of this there is a vocal portion of our society that decries any or all tax dollars not spent on the bare minimum of road maintenance or snow clearing, public art and infrastructure for sustainable modes of transportation are not worthy investments.  Transit therefore is most designed with a purely utilitarian purpose.

All humans need some form of fun or dynamics to help us trudge through our day.  Our city planners should be given a bit more free reign to think outside the box for transit solutions. Our transit systems could be vastly improved we would dedicate a little bit more energy towards designing systems that incorporate a bit of fun but still meet all of the necessary safety and regulatory needs.

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This sort of thinking has already taken root at a station in the Netherlands.  This station has a slide built to the side of access stairwells.  This is a great idea as who doesn't secretly wish to relive our days as a child.  Not only that but it allows you to get to the trains faster, this is much faster than taking the stairs.

When I was in Mexico, musicians were allowed to board the buses and play a quick ditty on their guitar.  Music is always a great way lift someones spirits, and more provisions should be made to allow musicians on public transit.  You could enforce rules that would only allow a musician to play for a short period of time in non-peak hours.

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Transit stations should also be designed with creative or interactive features, such as this piano stairwell in Stockholm.  These stairs work as a real piano, and they found that people would actually prefer to take the stairs as opposed to the escalator right next to it. 

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A great way to enliven our transit systems to allocate more space for art, such as these legs at Southgate station in Edmonton.  City planners should not only make accommodations for official public art but for grass root public art spaces as well.  This could be a wall that a different artist is allowed to adorn each month.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Business Case for a Cargo Bike

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Over at Treehugger  they have an article about a brewery in Colorado that uses a cargo bike to transport their kegs to client.  This is a fantastic idea that many businesses overlook.  North americans vastly underestimate the value of a bicycle.  After an initial albiet small capital investment, there are very little operating costs to run a bicycle.  Bicycles require very little maintenance, and no fuel and can last forever if properly maintained. 

In this case Equinox Brewing had to source a specific design for their bicycle to prevent turbulence to the brothy goodiness contained in the keg.  This is another idea often overlooked by prospective businesses, most people would never think to retrofit a bike to serve a second purpose.  As you can see it can be done, and you can significantly lower business costs.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Water Savings From A Rain Barrel

The water that comes out of your tap required extensive quantities of energy and your tax dollars to clean, and pump.  The water that exits your taps is safe to drink, and should not be used for anything else. 

An inexpensive way to save water is to install a rain barrel under the rain spout from your roof.  I have touched on this before, however I wanted to provide you with some numbers of how much water you could actually save.  The roof of my house is 14m x 10m,  this produces an area of 140m².  Calgary's average rainfall in April is 51.4 mm.  This means that 51.4 mm of rain would fall on the entire area of your roof and down your rainspout.  This means that an April rainfall of 51.4mm would produce 7m³ of rain.  This is equal to 7,000L of water, this is enough water to water a 6 m by 6 m vegetable garden for month.  Or half of your entire backyard lawn.

This amount of water would have cost $7 in your underpriced Canadian system.  A typical rain barrel will run you $80.  However you can find repurposed plastic drums/rain barrels for $40.  Or a plastic 50 gal garbage can costs $20. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cyclist Dooring

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Imagine you are cycling along a roadway to your right you have a row of parked cars.  To your left you have an automobile lane.  You are whisking by when suddenly a car door has opened in front of you, a split second and your bike slams into the door flipping yourself head over heels.  You hit the ground and things go black.  Dooring is a common cause of injury and death for cyclists, and unfortunately when I Vancouver I had witnessed a poor lady get struck by an opening door.  Fortunately the lady was not thrown off her bike in this case. 

It is impossible to tell if the owners are still in their parked vehicle, and whether they have just parked their vehicle or if they are about to leave.  Dooring comes as a result of motor vehicles operators not properly shoulder checking before they start to open their doors and exit their vehicle.  Cyclists do not have many options in this case, if they try and evade to the left they run the risk of being hit by a travelling vehicle.

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The solution, its simple if you are parking please do your job to ensure everyone's safety and shoulder check before you attempt to exit your vehicle.  The best solution however would be for cities to provide the proper cycling infrastructure.  Provide a separated bike lane with clearly marked door zones.  In the above image you will notice the actual green bike lane on the left, to the right white diagonal lines indicating a door buffer zone between the cars and the bike lane.  So please encourage your cities to design and build your roads properly to guarantee the safety of every one.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Open Sourcing Designs

In these days of corporations and proprietaries our laws are great for protecting the interests as such, however they do not do much in the way of protecting consumers or promoting sustainability.  Suppose the company that built your phone went out of business?  What if your phone then broke?  How do you get your phone fixed when the manufacturer has shuttered their doors for good?  You could go to third party repair shop, but this may not always work as they do not know your phones design or where the parts come from.

One way to get around this problem would be for companies to open-source their designs, especially if they go out of business.  This way if they go belly-up, you do not have to resort to simply chucking out their product when it is in need of maintenance. 

Facebook has taken the lead by open sourcing the design of their data centres.  Why might Facebook do this?   Why would Facebook invest their money and time to develop a more efficient data centre, only to reveal the design to others such that they do not have to spend the same amount of time and money to develop the same or less efficient product?  That's just it isn't, we spend so much time fending for ourselves that we actually make things more difficult for ourselves.  If we were to open source all designs we would be to save an immense amount of energy and time duplicating the same work. 

When Facebook open-sourced the design of their data-centre they allowed other companies to save the time and install the more efficient design (using 22% less materials and 94% less energy) right of way.  This is energy savings that can be made right away as opposed to figuring out your own design. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Couch Surfing

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If you are a travel fanatic like myself a great way to save a little money and help the environment is to couch surf.  If you are not familiar with couch surfing, it is the practice of sleeping on someones spare couch (bed, air mattress, hammock, floor) for free rent most often.  In fact I recall a story about a man that lived in New York that did this. 

If you want to take part in this glorious act of mooching  is a great website.  You can find couches available all over the world.  This website requires couch owners and couch seekers alike to register.  This is very key to ensuring that both parties can stay safe.  Once someone has stayed at a persons couch they can also verify that it is as advertised, as you will notice with the verified notifications next to the majority of listings.  Some listings may require that you pay some rent or contribute to dinner, most often many of the couch owners are looking to meet new people.

This is a great way to meet new people, and reduce your impact, and stay in different and local residences.  

Surfing couches reduces your in a couple of ways, you are occupying space that would normally otherwise be vacant (the heating load per person in that residence is reduced etc.)  There are vasts quantities of spaces just begging to be used.  Also since you are not staying at a hotel there is less of a perceived demand for hotel rooms that would sit empty the fast majority of times.  Hotels also have very high standards of safety and sanitation and thus will most likely wash towels and sheets regardless of their state of cleanliness. 

Well anyways happy couch surfing!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Canadian ecoENERGY Retofit Renewed

Have you wanted to make some economical and sustainable improvements to your house, yet you don't quite have the capital to go ahead with it?  The Canadian government has renewed the ecoENERGY Retofit program.  This program has been established to help encourage Canadian households to improve the efficiency of their homes.  The programs set out to do this by offering rebates for various household improvements.  This program is great for those with older houses, the best way to cut your utility bills is to improve the efficiency.

In order to be eligible for the program you must register with the program and then undergo a pre-retrofit evaluation.

The program is broken is several different categories:

  1. Heating systems
  2. Cooling systems
  3. Ventilation systems
  4. Domestic hot water equipment
  5. Insulation
  6. Air sealing
  7. Windows/doors/skylights
  8. Water conservation
 Some of the easier retrofits include (rebate value in brackets):

  • Installing a digital thermostat ($40 for 5)
  • Installing low flow toilets ($65 per toilet, up to 4)
  • Replace your doors and windows ($40 per unit)
  • Air seal your place to meet Evaluation requirement ($190)
  • Attic Insulation ($250-$750)
  • Install a drain water heat recovery coil ($95-$165 per unit)
  • Replace your hot water heater ($315-$375 per unit)

Calgary LRT Improvements

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Calgary's LRT is finally starting to modernize.  I was quite taken back when I moved from Edmonton to Calgary to find that the fare machines at Calgary's LRT station did not offer change.  Edmonton's fare machines are not all that futuristic, and they only allow you pay with cash.  At least Edmonton's fare machines allowed you to use bills and gave change. 

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Until recently the vending machines at Calgary LRT stations did not offer change, the machines still do not still accept bills.  However the machines do accept credit cards, and will soon also accept debit cards.  Calgary will eventually roll out a smart card next year, which will help eliminate the waste associated with single and monthly fares.

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Calgary is also making another improvement to their LRT stations.  The stations are being retrofitted with LED passenger information signs. These signs will provide another level of information for patrons, such as messages detailing delays.  Calgary currently has 3 branches, soon to be four next year and these signs will help by displaying the destination of the arriving train.  These signs are of a great benefit for the hard of hearing, and even for those who are not in loud environments.  Also with installation of GPS on the trains which started in April, these signs will be able to display real arrival times of your next train. 

The future is finally starting to arrive in Calgary.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bicycle Infrastructure in Vancouver

I recently went on a trip to Vancouver, as a part of our trip we rented bicycles and toured the city for 8 hours.  That's right we rode our bikes around for 8 hours, it was highly convenient and did not have any accidents or close calls.  I would like to reflect on some the things that Vancouver has done right for cyclists. 

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Often cities will create a separate sign to indicate that there is a bike route along a certain road (as pictured above.)  Well Vancouver does this but they also do something else which is quite clever. 

Someone very smart at city hall in Vancouver realized that they have to put up address signage anyways, so why not take on a little bike symbol if it a bike route.  This way if you need to find a road that is bike worthy you only have to go a block to look at the street signage. 

Almost all cities tend to treat bicycles as automobiles, when they are not.  There are many laws that should not apply to bicycles.  Cyclists are exposed to the elements, so the longer you have to wait at a light the longer you freeze, get wet from the rain/snow, or are blown from the winds.  Cyclists are also self powered, so if you have to stop every block for a stop sign you lose your momentum every time and it becomes tiring especially if you are going uphill.  Cyclists with their bikes only weigh at most 250 pounds, we will not cause the high levels of damage that a car weighing 2000 lbs will. 

Well thankfully someone over at Vancouver realized this and placed priority bicycle crossing signals at a few intersections.  It is not simply enough to place a priority signal at an intersection, Vancouver also placed one specifically for bicycles at intersections.  These were flush with the road such that when you pull up you can simply reach over and push the button, you do not need to disembark your bicycle and clamber onto the sidewalk.

Reused rails and stones acting as a crosswalk.

A third thing that was very prominent in Vancouver was use of interesting and dynamic streetscapes.  Vancouver would at least provide bicycle stands (many cities cannot even get this basic step down), but they would also provide interesting bike stands.  If you want people to live downtown and keep your city vibrant you have to give something back, one way to do that is to make it a place that people want to stay. 

So often we find that cities like to think they are the only city on the planet and that they cannot copy what others are doing because it won't work here.  Get your head out of the sand, all cities face the same problems it about time that we start working together to solve them.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Community Tool Libraries

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My girlfriend and I moved into a basement suite in Calgary almost a year ago.  The house is fairly old, and when winter rolled around I discovered a number of deficiencies with the property.  I did not want to wait for my landlord to fix the problems, and decided to undergo some non-structural but highly beneficial alterations.  However I found that a number of the improvements I wanted to go about required some tools more than a basic hammer or screwdriver. 

My only options were to borrow or buy the tools I needed.  As we had moved from Edmonton to Calgary we did not have any friendly faces to borrow from and Edmonton was too far.  I loathed having to buy tools as I knew I would only need to use it once.  Regrettably I only had one real option and that was to buy the sometimes expensive tools new.

Recently I have had the pleasure of discovering the The Good Life Community Bike Shop in downtown Calgary.  As the snow melted and the air thawed I started riding my bike to work.  This is great for the environment, unfortunately it is not so great for my bike.  My bike has been put through its paces, I commute 50 minutes 5 days a week which includes a gargantuan valley and hill.  Since I have started biking again I have broken an axle, and had to replace my brake systems, straighten my tire. 

Fortunately I had done some digging around and discovered The Good Life.  The Good Life is a donation based not for profit community bike shop.  They provide several bike stands and all of the tools you need to fix any problem with your bike.  The Good Life also has countless used parts from retired bikes such as bearings to wheels and frames that are available at a discounted price.  The great thing is that I did not need to buy the tools, I would simply just head on down to the shop on the weekend and fix my bike.  Like a library I was able to go in and borrow a tool to fix my bike, a Tool Library of sorts.

I would have liked this scenario to been available for all of my household needs.  A community could pool its money to purchase one or two sets of all of the necessary household tools and create a Community Tool Library.  An annual fee would be paid to maintain the tools and replace retired tools when necessary.  You would have an account with the library and can borrow the tools for a limited time. 

If you needed hedge trimmers, a manual push lawn mower, garden spades, a rake, shovel you could walk 10 minutes to your closest community tool library.  When I needed a special screwdriver, various different wrenches to fix my toilet, adjust my car battery terminals, install a digital thermostat or insulation I could have saved myself the time, money and space by going to a tool library.  I found that some of the tools I needed, I only needed for one time.  Those tools are now sitting in my house taking up space that it wouldn't normally have.  I also had to spend time finding the right tool, as the new products at your local Home Depot come conveniently wrapped in packaging which prevents you from testing the screwdriver to see if it fits.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Physical Vs Virtual Waste

Many people lately like to make the argument about the negative affects behind electronics.  People love to point out how data centers are huge energy demons, and that power comes from dirty coal.  Do you see whats wrong with that statement? 
First of why are we still generating our power from coal, when have plenty of viable renewable alternatives?  Electronics such as your cellphone, computer, or camera do not care where they get their power from be it coal, wind or solar.  Don't get me wrong, data centers do use an immense amount of power, and the majority of power plants on this planet are coal based, however this is way that it is set up now.  Your electronics have the great potential to have a negligible impact, your energy source is not set in stone.  Your electronics will be manufactured from renewable energies and will use renewable energies, we will get there, the speed at which we arrive depends on how vocal you can be to sway your local politicians. 

The best way to green our world is make your electronics more efficient, so if we were to invest more money in the abysmal research for better batteries, we could can make our electronic impact even smaller.

The best thing about electronics is that you do not have to cut down trees that provide your oxygen and clean your air to write something down.  We can carry whole libraries in a 6" by 8" window, you can call up any information on the spot which is handy in ensuring that we get the work done properly.  Electronics allow us to eliminate the physical waste from our world, we do not have to rape our world of its precious resources.  The less waste we have the less likely it is that it won't get recycled, as a result your city is spending less on waste management and more on LRT or social needs.   With your government spending less on physical waste management, you spend less on taxes.

Electronics are not perfect right now, they should be built to be more repairable.  Your laptop should be built for easy disassembling, which allows you to switch out broken parts quickly and electronic waste management companies can easily extract and recycle all of the valuable materials.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Water Issue

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Treehugger has this great infographic displaying some of the stats concerning our increasingly dire water situation.  Those of us in the developed world have it easy, we can turn the tap and have water to drink it any time we want.  We have invested countless dollars building water treatment plants which clean the water the we flush down our toilets.  Our refuse does not end up tainting our waterways, and we literally do not have to eat where we shit. 

Quite often many of us forget how fortunate that you are to when we take excessively long showers or we spray our drive ways.  One billion of your fellow human beings are going without access to clean water every day.  The following is a charity that specialize in providing access to clean water for those with out it. 

This charity is good as the operating costs are covered by sponsors, this means that 100% of your donation goes to what you intended it to.  Providing the proper water sanitation helps the environment as well.  This means that human fecal matter will not make its way into the water untreated, humans as well as animals do not get sick drinking contaminated water.  Having the proper infrastructure in place prevents humans from taking drastic measures to ensure their survivability, and this poses a reduced threat for the environment.  Please take the time to donate and help one of your neighbours, do not kid yourself even one dollar will make that much more of a difference.  A water project only costs $5,000, $20 provides one person with water, and $1 provides 5% of that.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

USB Solar Charger

Quite often people think that there is nothing they can do since they cannot afford a $15,000 PV solar roof array.  Actually its quite the opposite, there are thousands of low tech and inexpensive opportunities for you to save the environment and your wallet.  Do not be a pessimist, any sort of action will make a difference.

I had recently ordered a Solar USB Charger from Brown Dog Gadgets after hearing about them on TreeHugger. 

Most of the packages from Brown Dog also come disassembled so if you happen to have a love for using your hands, a soldering iron you can build your very own USB solar charger.  However if you are not the adventurous sort you can order the final package, most products are fairly inexpensive around $30 for 7V.  The solar chargers work with all devices, and until recently were not able to support Apple products (As usual Apple leads the way in being very anti open sourced and physically make their products unable to work with other non-apple products).  If you are getting one of these for an Apple product, make sure you get the proper version.

Brown Dog also has the cool idea of housing the devices inside a recycled Altoids tin.  I decided to take the plunge and assemble my own device.  The package was fairly simple parts wise; two AA rechargeable batteries, a USB component, some wires, 7V solar panel, and a diode.  I must warn you than if you are constructing your own solar charger that these packages do not come with the Altoids tin for whatever reason, however luckily I found a soft case that will house my charger. 

The construction was fairly easy, it only took me 2 hours max, with a total of 6-8 solders.  And it worked!  I plugged in my Nexus S smart phone and it was charging.  I have however not had the chance to completely charge a device with the solar charger, the website however states that a full charge takes several full days of sunlight, and they were able to run an Ipod of just the incoming solar power, as well as make a call. 

This device will be very handy for myself, as I will try and strap it to the outside of my backpack as I walk around while travelling.  This way I will always have an backup source of power and can always make a phone call.  The device is also small, which is good for the ultimate portability.  Most devices now a days can all be connected via USB, so this device has the ultimate adaptability.  On top of all of this, the device also charges two AA batteries.  After the batteries are charged you can take them out and place them in another device (GPS, radio, flashlight), and substitute two uncharged batteries.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tricking your bike ride out!

Going green isn't always about the stats, or the moral gratifications.  Going green is about having fun as many people have already discovered.  I am sure some of us have heard of Pimp-my-Ride, or know friends that talk about tricking out their ride.  People get excited about their cars, and they try to show them off to the world. 

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New mufflers will be added to make them louder, lights installed inside and underneath to obtain that cool look, body kits, spoilers and rims will be installed.  Cars are polished to shine in million different colors.

The same principal can be applied to tricking out your bicycle, and I don't understand why more people don't.  A bike can run as low as $100 up to a grand.  A bike is physically smaller too, a car has 12 square meters of surface area to dress up, whereas a bike has one.  You can spend more time making your bike as awesome as you can.  You only have so much space for your canvas and thus you have more time to devote creating a better a product.  Its time you got excited about a bicycle, which celebrates a healthy life.

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Like cars, bicycles also come in many shapes and forms.  You are not just limited to a utilitarian mountain bike, you can make your bike fit your personality and flaunt it.  You can even spruce a mountain bike up as well.

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You can trick a bike a bike as simply as you want.

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Or you can go as extravagant as you want.
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You can go classic.

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You can make eye catching changes to the actual frame. 

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

How is your Driving Subsidized?

People like to point out how their taxes subsidize public transit, art, or anything that is not automobile related and that it is contributing to their high taxes.  However this is quite hypocritical, as automobiles have been heavily subsidized ever since the first rubber tires hit the road.  I would like to go over some of the ways that your societies subsidize automobiles. 

There are the more obvious and direct subsidies such as public investments in automobile infrastructure.  I am sure we have all heard of an infamously super overpriced interchanges being built in your town for 100 million bucks a pop.  The sad part is that they spend all of this money on these interchanges, and frequently you will find very little in the way for accommodations for transit, pedestrians and cyclists.  The city of Edmonton has allotted $150,000,000 for road infrastructure for the 2011 year.  Your typical road costs $400/m for a 4 lane road, with your typical block being 100 meters this means that the strip of road in front of your house cost $40,000.  You will have to repave this strip of road typically every 10 years, this is a cost of $4,000/year for a one block segment of roadway.  That is a pretty lousy return on your investment, especially since the majority of roads in Canada are free.  Most roads in Canada do not have a toll, this means that the costs of laying the asphalt are not recuperated.  To put this in perspective, there are 41,000 km of paved roads in Alberta. This means that every 10 years $16 Billion is being spent to repave all 41,000 km of roads in Alberta.

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Automobiles have to be parked somewhere when you go somewhere, so quite often parking is provided.  A surface parking stall runs for $15,000 and an underground stall for $25,000.  This is a pretty big investment just to allow a 2 tonne piece of machinery to sit there and get sweltering hot in the sun.  Parking is everywhere, just think about your local grocery store.  You probably most likely remember having to go through the large oversized parking lot in order to get to the actual store.  The fact is that these "big-box" stores seem to have an obscene amount of parking available, much more than is needed for the majority of the time.  Its most likely that this parking is free too, this means that your local businesses are subsidizing automobiles too, and quite heavily too when you consider a parking stall costs $15,000, not to mention the costs for cleaning and snow removal.  A typical parking lot of 50 stalls would cost $750,000, where as it would only cost $3,500 for bike racks enough for 50.  You local business could be investing this money by supporting the local economy, or simply making their business cooler but no they have to spend it on asphalt.

Automobiles are also subsidized whenever the snow needs to be plowed, and the roads sanded.  In 2008 Edmonton spent $15,000,000 on snow plowing, $11,000,000 on sanding, and $5,000,000 on snow storage.  This is a total of $31,000,000 being spent every winter to make your roads drivable. 

There is of course the matter of Automobile manufacturers in Eastern Canada being bailed out for $3.5 billion dollars because they did not understand that a business model of fuel heavy trucks and SUV's will not sell well these days anymore.  Not only that but, corporate greed wins again and Canadians will be on the hook for $1.7 Billion, as GM has decided not to pay back the full generous loans.  So Canadians will have to foot the bill for helping a corporation get back on its feet, feels good to help people out doesn't it.

There are of course some of the not so obvious ways that automobiles are being subsidized, the Oil Sands are being subsidized by the Canadian government by the tune of $2 Billion per year.  I will never understand why a companies that are making billions of dollars in profits, why they would require billions of dollars in help.  On top of all of this the Albertan government has been handing out millions of dollars to help the Oil Sands meet environmental standards which are required by law.

A not so obvious source of automobile subsidies happen everytime someone checks into their local hospital due to their lack of exercise.  You do not get exercise when you drive an automobile, and this lack of exercise leads to obesity, heart and cardiovascular problems, hip and bone problems, and breathing problems.  The number people leading these sedentary lifestyle is on the rise, and cars are a part of the problem.  With the rise of more hospital visits, you subsidize this through higher taxes and possibly your health.  Our health care systems are being overloaded with problems that could easily be fixed if everyone exercised more.  When you actually need to visit the hospital for something serious, you may find yourself waiting due to the other solvable problems. 

There are of course also the subsidies that you lend in the way of your climate warming.  The CO2 emissions and pollutants from automobiles are degrading your local and global environment, which leads to higher food prices, lower health and higher risks.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Giving Car Lanes New life

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I am sure you have had distasteful experiences walking down streets like the one pictured above.  These wide 4-6 lane roadways that are impossible to cross except at an intersection, and are often extremely windy since there are no barriers, just a block of pavement between sidewalks.  You may remember how much room the vehicles had and how little room was left for the sidewalks forcing you to step off into the muddy grass when ever a pedestrian approached you from the opposite direction.  These streetscapes are not pleasant and offer little other than racetracks for the two tonne manchines that travel the length. 

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If you are lucky you may have a slightly altered streetscape than the above, you may have curbside parking flanked with close proximity buildings.  If you are a business owner that happens to flank one of these streets, and you realize the ineffectiveness of the streetscape there are options for you.  Even if you do not own an adjacent business and are simply a concerned citizen you can rent out one of those parking stalls for a couple of hours, or a whole day depending on the going rate for parking.  (Make sure you check with your local bylaws to ensure that you will not get in trouble.)  You can turn a piece of your Siberian roadway into a slice of paradise.
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It can be as simple as barricading the parking stall to create a temporary bike parking lot to make up most likely for the lack of bicycle lock-ups.  This way people have a safe place to park their bikes and shop at the local stores.  Bikes do not end up cluttering the already cluttered and claustrophobic sidewalks.  

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You could go slightly more complicated and utilize the parking stall to create a 15 ft by 5 ft green park. You could install potted plants and seating, creating a peaceful escape from the sea of asphalt.  You give people a place to sit down, where seating is probably lacking on a cluttered sidewalk.  You give people an opportunity to stop and relax in your neighbourhood.

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If you are the owner of a restaurant, cafe, or bar you could set up or extend your patio.  If you were to do this once a week, once a month or even once a year it would give potential patrons another reason to visit your street.  Suddenly your street becomes an attraction, and people may realize what a mistake it is to be dedicating 45% of our public space to automobile infrastructure.

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You could take this a step further and organize a festival for your street, in which you collaborate with other business owners to convert your street into an entertainment destination once a year such as the Lilac festival in Calgary or the Al Fresco in Edmonton.  Both festivals utilize the surrounding businesses and have vendors for various gifts, foods, along with a beer gardens and live outdoor music.  You could also set up a weekly farmers market such as the one on 4th st in Edmonton, in which the street is taken back from the cars and the local economy is supported.

Monday, May 23, 2011

How to Present a Sustainable Arguement

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Leading the Way Youth Summit 2011.  One of the game changing speeches that I encountered came from Dan Dolderman a environmental psychologist from Toronto.  Dan provided us with the tools to present our environmental arguments.  In this excerpt I would like to outline some of Dolderman's main points.

Floating Head
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Environmentalism comes with a lot of finger wagging which poses the risk of coming across as the annoying parent or as the teacher from Charlie Brown whom is only heard in mumbles.  When we talk to people we tend to talk to them as floating heads.  We speak to people as if though we are trying to sink information directly into their brain, as if their brain is some sort of computer that processes information.  We assume that people are rational, and if we feed them with the information, the statistics, that the good behavior will follow.

If people were truly rational beings and were these utility calculators, then we wouldn't have problems such as drug addiction, gambling, alcoholism, and even donations to aid organizations.  I was wondering why Dan included donations in his list, upon further thought if humans were truly logical beings we would hold onto our money to further our own benefit.  None of these conditions would exist if humans were purely logical computers.  The same can be said about our imminent danger with climate change, the logical thing to do in the face of climate change danger poses is to stop it and ensure your own survival.  

What are we actually trying to do when we are communicating, from a psychology perspective we are trying to get neurons to fire.  So essentially we are speaking to their entire central nervous system, you are communicating to their entire body.  It is not just about getting words across to the brain, it is about getting the experience across.  Psychologists have found that what is going on with your body affects what is going on in your mind.  When you feel cold you tend to feel sadder, and when you feel warm you tend to feel happier, Hot/Cold go hand in hand with intimacy and rejection.  So when a patients would remember a time when they were rejected by some one, they would remember a colder room than those that were not.  In experiments where people were purposefully not passed a ball, and a sense of rejection was created, the patients were craving for heat. 

It has also been found that it only takes one word to change the entire meaning of your argument.  Dan used the example of the republican voters in the states rejecting a "fuel tax" (27%) and accepting a "carbon offset" (65%).  Everything else about the statement was kept the same, and this does not make any sense if we are strictly rational information processing utility calculators.  This indicates that it is more of an emotional reaction to the word tax. 

Rider on a Large Elephant
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So when we are communicating to people we are not really talking to this disembodied head, but rather a rider on a very large elephant.  The rider is the rational, logical component of us and the elephant is the emotional component underneath us.  At the end of the day if the rider wants to go this way and the elephant really wants to go the other way, the rider really has no choice. 

When you present people with the imagery of the world ending due to climate change, the fires, the rising waters, you are actually being counter productive.  When you wave danger in front of someone, you scare them, so when you scare the elephant the elephant does not ask what it can do about the danger.  Instead the elephant wants to get away from the fear, fear has the primary effect of people not wanting to be scared anymore.  They could solve this by saving the world, they could also do this by rejecting your message.  When people are afraid they tend to seek security, they tend to be less open minded.  The less open minded they are, the less risk there is that they might be wrong.  In the face of fear people retreat to the familiar, the status quo.  One of things that is familiar to people is their characteristic way of seeing the world, and stereotypes.

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Psychologists have found that it not necessarily the message that you are delivering, but the appearance of the person delivering the message that is important.  People overwhelmingly agreed with the same message the came from the same person in a suit than one that looked like a hippie. 

Dan also provides the a solution of the opportastrophe,  present the catastrophe as an opportunity.  This is a re-framing exercise instead of focusing on the catastrophe, instead focus on the opportunity of the situation.  Ronald Reagan had the statement that the world would be able to get over its problems, if only aliens would attack the world.  If aliens were to attack the world, the entire world would put aside their differences and come together to fight the common enemy.  Aliens would be the common enemy and would unify humanity.  Climate change is kind of like this, climate change is an enemy that is affecting all humans.  You could reframe climate change as an opportunity for change. 

Not only do you have to say that this is an opportunity to do something, you also have follow it up with something tangible such as "here's how we are going to do it".  One of the ways that we can find solutions to climate change is the idea of six degrees of separation.  With such social media networks such as Facebook, or linked-in it is relatively easier to find a connection between any two people in the world than it was in the past.  With these connections you are bound to find someone that has a solution to the problem, on the other hand you can also change the opinion of groups of people if you can change the opinion of the right person through your networks. 

When you are communicating to people there are only a few things that are important, what information do you need to get from the public, to the public, and what behaviour do you want to change.  You have to obtain feedback from communities and find out the sort of things they are willing to do, and what behaviours they are willing to change.  You can get the information from the public through focus groups, interviews, surveys or informal conversations.  Some information you may want to find out is: what do they feel like they can achieve, what do they feel like is within their control, what do they feel would be easy, would be hard, as well as how they think others would perceive those actions.  This last point is important, because it could be that people are too embarrassed to act due to the perceived notion of backlash from their peers.  It just takes a little bit of fear to hold you back, the fear of being judged.  When we beat our peers over the head with the information about climate change, it could be the fact that they are simply too embarrassed to do anything about it because they do not know what to do. 

If we can someone's foot in the door acting on sustainability, this is not negligible and we should not treat it as such.  If you can get someone to start thinking about recycling, it could evolve so that they start thinking about their other unsustainable behaviours.  It is also important to obtain feedback to your ideas, you may never know how and why people are reacting to your ideas until you ask them.   There is two main purposes for asking the public, to obtain feedback, and to create some bias.  If you can get someone's foot in the door, they are just a little bit closer to saying that they are an active community member.  You can obtain useful information such as personal motivators to getting involved (why/why not), or their willingness to get involved.  You have to make sure that when you design a program that you do not build it from the outside and try to assimilate, but rather that you build it within using the feedback of the people and ensure that it won't be rejected due to a sense of outsider intervention. 

When you are trying to get information to the public you have to avoid the "curse of knowledge."  You have to remember that when you are explaining a concept to someone, they may not have the same experiences and knowledge which allows you to understand it seamlessly.  For example if you were to clap the Happy birthday song, only 2-3% of people would recognize it.  This is due to the fact that they do not know what you are thinking about, they do not have song in their head like you do.  You have all of this extra information, so to someone other than yourself it only sounds like a clap, but they do not recognize the beat.  You know the significance of the message however your listeners in the audience do not. 

In order to get over the "curse of knowledge"  keep your message simple, emotional, concrete, and tell stories.  " Our mission is to put a man on the moon."  To make your message simple, try to sum up your point in a sentence or two.  Do not give people choices, people do not like making decisions.  When you have two good alternatives to studying, people will choose to study since they do not want to decide.  The more decisions you give people the less happy they are.  Throughout history we had fables, legends, myths, urban legends, people like stories.  Provide people with visual images as opposed to stats,  instead of telling people how much CO2 they produced show them how big of a hole in their wall it would create.  Everyone can respond to a visual, they can say they do not want that big of a hole in their wall and do something about it.  When you are telling people about all the problems in Africa you can tell them directly, or you can tell a story about a little girl named Amy who is going through hardships in Africa.  When people do this they can double the amount of money they make, tell the emotional story.  You actually make less money when you introduce stats into your emotional story, your rider is thinking about the stats and your elephant thinking about the emotions.  You are making your two parts fight, and it muddies things up. 

Frame your point as a WIIFY (Whats in it for you). Personalize your message towards your audience, include you, your.  Make your audience think about the message in terms of themselves.  Humans are built to look out for their own self-interests, and everyone can understand something from their point of view.  Make people care, not believe. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011


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My girlfriend and I have recently started composting for our very first time.  We both came from families that composted as well, with my parents owning two composting bins.  You never really know how much of an impact composting has on your waste levels.  Since we are vegetarians, basically any waste that is produced from our food can go directly into the composting bin.  Since starting our compost we have seen basically zero waste going into the trash can,  we of course still have a gross amount going into our recycling.  The beautiful thing is that we also make vegetable soup stock with left peelings, and once we are done with that we can throw it into the compost, the ultimate recycling.

It goes to show that it really should be mandatory for cities to have to compost, the city of Edmonton already does this.  When the trash comes into the Edmonton waste facilities, the compostable materials are separated and contributes to Edmonton 60% waste recycle rate.

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We also have a great mini bin for the kitchen, so that you can collect more compost material, instead of having to carry the waste out to the composting bin every day.