Archive for June, 2009

Update on the water softeners

2009/06/29 Comments off
Hard Water distribution in the U.S. (Image credit:Wilkes University,

Hard Water distribution in the U.S. (Image credit:Wilkes University,

So I mentioned earlier (over here) about the conflict, albeit not very widespread yet, facing consumers concerning effective detergents and hard water. Water softeners increase the salinity of the waste water which could lead to needing more water downstream to counteract the effects of the salts or other water quality issues. It’s also a question of money—treating that water becomes more expensive. We should all know by now that California is in a pretty serious drought and one of their solutions for protecting the water supplies that they have is to ban certain types of water softeners. So the water softener companies are up in arms. No surprise there. But Californians are going to have to make tough choices about their future; fresh water is a finite resource and that isn’t going to change regardless of how awesome Californians think they are. (Side note: I’ve lived a few places were the bad driving was always blamed on those damned Californians but I have never really been so afraid for my life on a 10 minute commute than I have been here in the midwest and surrounded by good ‘ol local boys. So at least there’s that.)

Something to remember:

Technically speaking, there is no reason why water softening can not be done by a central water distribution entity instead of at point of use. (treehugger)


US coastal populations largely don’t “need” softeners. They might want them as a convenience or maintain them as a habit, but in general it is a luxury. (treehugger)

Being a small fish in the grand scheme of things, I tend to be very annoyed with lobbyists that show such blatant disregard for reality. Maintaining the status quo at all costs surely can’t be the best long term strategy. If they spent even a fraction of the money the spend on lobbying on research for better products, the world would be a better place.

via treehugger.


A more realistic display of nature

2009/06/27 Comments off

An art installation at the Schonbrunn Zoo in Vienna is just that (although still probably cleaner than reality). Zoos and aquariums are artificial all the way—it’s an idealized (if it’s a really good zoo) view of the natural world and one that contributes to this notion that nature is untouched by humans (like national parks are these pristine places unaffected by man or something). So we go to these places and see these habitats and come away thinking “wow, the ocean is really beautiful. bright and clean.” when the reality is that a) nature just isn’t that perfect and b) there are really very few, if any, places that are unaffected by us.

The question, then, is whether presenting these environments in a more realistic way, with representations of pollution, can be an effective way to engage people about the environment. Especially those people that don’t have easy access or a desire to go out to a ‘real’ piece of nature. That juxtaposition between the ideal and the reality could be a powerful tool if done well. Or maybe it would be better to present both? Have a sort of before and after set-up where you can see the ideal, the goal of conservationists, next to the reality? I’d think that just showing the polluted state, while powerful, might be too close to the fear-mongering that makes people turn away from direct action, assuming that the world is too far gone, just look at it!, and the problems so overwhelming that they do nothing. But the ideal only sets what might be unrealistic goals for a lot of the world now and the failure or perceived failure when trying to attain that ideal might also cause some damage—the sort of feeling that it’s either way too difficult to achieve that goal so why even try or to focus so much on achieving the pristine that we overlook meaningful solutions to achieve a more realistic man-nature relationship.

art imitates life

art imitates life

My last thought is that instead of saying things like “untouched by civilization” or using “civilization” as a proxy term, we should make the message more personal and more immediate. Like “untouched by us” or something. Using civilization seems very distant and very different from the way I know I think of my immediate surroundings (even though I live in what is charitably called an urban area but is in reality some of the first suburbs in the town). When I see “civilization” I start to associate the solutions and the onus of providing those solutions on The Man; that it’s somehow something that I can’t really affect. So we’re back to framing the conversation.

via Coastal Voices.

Categories: environment Tags: , , , ,

Irrigation and the ISS

2009/06/26 Comments off
Irrigated fields in Egypt as seen from the ISS

Irrigated fields in Egypt as seen from the ISS

This is like two parts awesome and five parts scary. Awesome because it is a very graphic photo from the stars. Scary because I’d swear I can see sand dunes in this image. Where’d the water come from? Where’d the soil come from? Sure, the center pivot saves water, but that still has to take huge amounts of water.

Only in Australia

2009/06/25 Comments off

Wallabies are getting into the poppy fields, getting stoned and then hopping in circles. Wallabies “getting as high as a kite”. I have to agree with Bioephemera—best BBC story ever.

This is where a picture is really necessary. Seriously, stoned wallabies bouncing around in circles—that needs to be on one of those despair posters or something:despair_sanity


2009/06/22 Comments off

It seems to be in the air these days. Here it is, briefly, in an XKCD comic:

Take wrong turns. Talk to strangers. Open unmarked doors. And if you see a group of people in a field, go find out what they’re doing. Do things without always knowing how they’ll turn out. You’re curious and smart and bored, and all you see is the choice between working hard and slacking off. There are so many adventures you miss because you’re waiting to think of a plan. To find them, look for tiny interesting choices. And remember that you are always making up the future as you go.

My experiences with it involved rather aimlessly turning off of the nicely numbered streets in the Medium-sized Midwestern Town (MMT) I had just moved to. Basically, on my way to some store or something (something with no expected start time), I would randomly turn onto a side street and try to find my way back to somewhere I knew. It did help that we follow the north-south = numbered, east-west = lettered street name conventions, but still. What I managed to learn is that you can’t go very far without running into a church, suburbs are just as boring even if they’re 40 years old, and the places of interest are really not that interesting.

If I lived in Manchester, I would absolutely join the Loiterers’ Resistance Movement. Maybe I’ll start a chapter in MMT. Although, there’s not a whole lot of interesting things to find outside of the corn fields.

And all of this is based on this:

Guy Debord, Guide Pychogéographique de Paris

Guy Debord, Guide Pychogéographique de Paris (via diy cartography)

I’m not sure that I agree with the DIY Cartography application of psychogeography. It doesn’t have that dérive (“purposeless drift through the city” from the New Statesmen, link below) kind of sentiment; it seems more like a forced march through the senses. But to each his own.

A few links for your psychogeographic amusement:

The Manchester Zedders

Loiterers’ Resistance Movement

And an article in the New Statesmen.

Boom boom from above

2009/06/22 Comments off
Matua Island eruption courtesy of NASA

Matua Island eruption courtesy of NASA

For some reason, it makes me want an ice cream sandwich. Awesome.

Categories: Science Tags: , ,

Sometimes research is art

2009/06/20 Comments off

As seen in these photos:toddforsgren1Birds caught in the mist nests of researchers before being released back into the world. By Todd Forsgren (via mint).

Categories: Science Tags: , ,