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.