Archive for April 2013 | Monthly archive page

Toyota was one of the first major manufacturers to embrace hybrid technology with their well-known Prius model. Now they are taking the idea of sustainability and green engineering one step further with the introduction of their ME.WE concept car. The sporty, compact vehicle uses a tubular aluminum frame and its panels are composed of polypropylene plastic. The body is completely recyclable, and at 1,653 lbs, very lightweight. The design allows the panels to turn the car from a sedan into a convertible, and an extendable rear deck can transform the configuration into a tiny pickup truck. The all-electric car is powered by four in-wheel motors and a lithium-ion battery mounted under the floor.

What really gets our knocks our viscose socks off is that almost the entire interior is covered in silky soft bamboo! In collaboration with French designer Jean Marie-Massaud, the concept was revealed at a Paris event this week. Sadly, the maker has no intention of mass-producing the car. OK fine, but if you’re feeling generous, I know a hard-working bamboo shopkeeper in San Luis Obispo who could use a company car…

It was a blindingly sunny April day in Paso Robles, and my friend Mitch and I were too distracted talking about the grape varieties growing on the vines around us that we completely missed our turn.

“Wait, was that it? So much for my keen sense of direction. The wolves will definitely think I’m a wussy human. Guess I’ll never make it as Alpha,” I said, as we pulled a U-turn.

After backtracking about half a mile, we found the side road leading to our destination: the W.H.A.R. Wolf Rescue. As we pulled into the dusty parking lot, we saw that the space was inhabited by a menagerie of other animals as the Rescue shares their property with Zoo to You, an educational traveling exotic animal program. Getting out of the car, we were greeted by a rush of blistering hot air and the screeches of birds and the snorting of a host of other beasts that we could not identify. We meandered our way past giant tortoise enclosures and a porcupine pen to the high chain-linked fence marked with the W.H.A.R logo. Opening the gate, we walked towards a tiny office sitting under a massive Live Oak amidst a cluster of covered fenced kennels.

As Mitch knocked on the little door plastered with pamphlets and stickers, I turned to scan the exclosure to my left and locked eyes with one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. Pacing the dirt and occasionally marking his territory was a pure white timber wolf. Long-limbed with a narrow snout and blazing yellow eyes, I immediately felt an energy that I could only describe as primal, old, and definitely wild.

As I turned back around to elbow Mitch and gratuitously point, our tour guide and founder of the Rescue, Kristi Krutsinger came out to join us. The woman could not have been much taller than 5’2” and yet she had a relaxed and strong countenance that you would expect from someone who cared for giant canines. That, I thought to myself, is definitely the leader of the pack.

For the next hour or so, Kristi took us around the facility, introducing us to the occupants and relating their names and histories. The Rescue began back in 1998 when she and her husband adopted Tundra and Chinook. Chinook was a purebred Alaskan Malamute and Tundra was a Malamute wolf mix. Strangely enough it was the mix that caused the most stress, but after a bout where Kristi established her dominance, an understanding was met and a hierarchy was established. Slowly, they began to expand the property where they kept the two, and took in other hybrids and wolves. Some came from owners who could no longer keep the high-maintenance animals, others from  rescues and control agencies.

The Paso Robles location is the Rescue’s second incarnation, as CalTrans had forced the nonprofit to be moved after purchasing the original space by eminent domain. Refusing to pay for the relocation, Krutsinger tapped into her background as a journalist and fierce nature as a woman who runs with wolves to convince the public and state to compensate her for the enormous undertaking. Currently, the Rescue is completely run by volunteers and sustained by tour fees and donations. Some of the hybrids are able to be adopted, although purebreds are never released as pets. The organization also takes ambassador wolves to community events such as schools or nature hikes that help to educate and dispel the myths surrounding the incredible creatures.

Tours for the W.H.A.R. Wolf Rescue are by appointment only, and can be scheduled by calling (805) 610.6109. Donations can be made through their website at www.whar.org. If you are looking to reconnect with a bit of wilderness and also support a fantastic cause, visit the Rescue in Paso Robles to meet up to 22 unique animals. After scratching the neck of a hybrid and getting a lick or two through the fence, I was elated for a good week afterwards. Hoping to run with the pack again some time soon, I am looking for any excuse to return.

Need some more convincing that bamboo is the tops? The super-grass can not only clothe, feed and shelter, but it can also save lives. In Vietnam, where major floods are common, H&P Architects have created affordable housing made from local bamboo that is constructed atop recycled oil drums, allowing the buildings to float. The thatched homes are attached to the ground with anchors, keeping them in place when the waters arrive. The frames, roofing, and walls are arranged between steel piles, securing the structure. The floor is elevated, keeping animals outside was well as allowing space for the drums. Triangular cuts open the up the dwelling, creating cross-breezes and taking advantage of natural light. Horizontal doors open to form patios and awnings, but can be shut once the storms sweep through, keeping the inhabitants safe. Suspended bamboo planters on the outside walls help grow vertical gardens that can be used for food, and rainwater collection systems that have the option of being inactivated during wet weather. Each home can be configured to accommodate families of six, or expanded for more people. Able to be assembled on site, each costs about $2,000.

In the event of an earthquake, like the one that struck Central China in May of 2008, the government found themselves in need of temporary shelters. Bamboo to the rescue! Featured in San Francisco’s Urban Re: Vision five years ago, Ming Tang designed the beautiful Folded Bamboo Houses in order to provide protection from the elements. Lightweight, strong, and readily available, the plant was the perfect material of choice for his origami-inspired buildings. Poles are connected together in rigid, geometric shapes, creating modular forms that can be easily shipped and assembled to where they are needed most. Once built, they are then covered by post-consumer recycled paper.

When both earthquakes and typhoons hit, bamboo has literally got you covered. A group of Indian architects made up of Komal Gupta, Vasanth Packirisamy, Vikas Sharma, Sakshi Kumar and Siripurapu Monish Kumar entered plans for the 2011 Design Against the Elements Competition that envisioned an eco-community that consisted of a cluster of housing units, community centers, a library, meditation spaces, and green areas. They also added locations for retail, rainwater collection, greywater systems, and plantations to make the project a vibrant mixed-use living neighborhood. The three-story houses were built on stilts with an element resistant core that holds water and power lines, bathrooms, kitchens, and staircases. Living pods rotate out from the core, made completely of bamboo.

Happy April! It is time again to think globally and party locally with Earth Day 2013. Celebrated planet-wide on April 22, this year’s theme is “The Face of Climate Change”. With refugees fleeing environmental disasters in nations across the world, arctic and antarctic ice melting at an unprecedented rate, desertification, droughts, and massive storms, now is the moment for us all to focus on the issue of global warming. On the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day, San Luis Obispo will join communities everywhere in their care and praise of Gaia.

– El Chorro Regional Park will hold their annual free event on Sunday, April 21 beginning at 11am. RTA, SCAT and SLO Transit will be running free shuttles all day to the festivities. Climate conscious attendees are encouraged to carpool or ride their bicycles out to the park. This year, the Earth Day Fair will also include a Music Festival with Aaron Och, followed by Burning James & the Funky Flames, Al Millan & the Robots, Natural Incense and Funk in Public on the main stage, and Belly Yellers, SLO Ambassador Bentley Murdock and the Red Willows on the acoustic stage.

An opening ceremony by Pilulaw Khus, Chumash Ceremonial Elder, Medicine Carrier and Clan Mother of the Bear Clan of the Northern Chumash Nation will get the day started. The Fair will include a Clean Energy Zone, Kid’s Area, Eco Marketplace, Health & Well-being Center,Food Court and the Beer & Wine Tents. Special features include Garden Tours, Climate Change slide-show in the Oak Glen Pavilion by Stephen Hansen M.D from the Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.

– The 7th annual Earth Day Food and Wine Festival will take place starting at 2pm on Saturday, April 20 at Pomar Junction Winery and Vineyard. Over 200 vintners, cheese makers, olive oil producers, growers, and chefs will come together to display the best vittles the Central Coast has to offer. A Winemaker dinner will begin at 6pm with Chef Charles D. Paladin Wayne cooking at the Merrill Family Estate Wine Cellar. The fixed menu is $105 per person ($90 for members). Tunes will be provided by Guy Budd and the Gypsy Souls. Tickets can be bought through their website.

As a rule, I generally do not like give credence to nutty, right-wing conspiracy theories, but this particular issue has my bamboo knickers in a twist. It seems that Kansas, in an effort to give Dorothy a good reason to move back to Oz for good, has decided to introduce legislation that would outlaw sustainable development in the state. Bill 2366 was composed by the Committee on Energy and the Environment and seeks to outright halt progressive planning in its tracks. Why would Kansas be opposed to public transportation, energy efficiency, and a reduction in pollution? To some conservative circles, they mark Agenda 21 as a plot by the United Nations to redistribute wealth, violate rights, and trample personal freedoms.

Agenda 21 was a framework established at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janiero back in 1992. The seemingly innocuous document outlines goals for cities across the globe to ensure that future generations are able to live in communities that protect and promote human health, ensure a stable economy, and protect the planet from further damage. Tea Partiers and other opponents see these suggestions as a far-reaching government takeover that could lead to socialism, fascism, and a top-down dictation of how our cities should be constructed. Never mind the fact that green infrastructure has a lot of grassroots support from other private citizens and businesses, there are those who view Agenda 21 as an evil, big-government menace that will turn Main Street America into a dystopic nightmare.

So, why worry at all about what this section of the electorate thinks? Because they are vocal enough to give credence to legislation that could seriously affect enlightened development for an entire state. Bill 2366 was proposed by Dennis Hedke, a geophysicist who has professional ties to 30 oil and has companies in Kansas. Smacking of a blatant conflict of interest, he told Bloomberg reporter Tom Randall that he was urged to bring the bill to the legislature by a dozen or so individuals, although he failed to mention who those people were or what issues had concerned them.

Luckily the bill will not be signed into law any time soon as the Kansas 90-day legislative session ended without hearing document. Hedke may pursue the subject again next year. If so, it could set a dangerous precedent for lawmaking around the country. Now that this mindset has reached the public domain, those of us who support sustainability should be aware of this growing movement that could hinder intelligent urban planning and green technology investments. Otherwise, entrenched business interests could use the fear and misguided notions of a vocal minority to compromise with the welfare of a country already struggling a number of environmental woes.

 

Here in San Luis Obispo, we are proud to have a thriving bike culture. From our monthly Bike Happening to the Tall Bike Posse and Little 500, we are lucky to live in a town where there are cyclists committed to fun, safe riding, and fitness. Chances are, if you live here on the Central Coast, you either know or are related to one of these bike nuts. If you are looking for a great gift idea for the wheeled warrior in your life, look no further. Here are some strange and wonderful gadgets for your pedal person.

Trotify- For the Monty Python and equestrian fan in all of us, we present the Trotify, a contraption that takes advantage of the humble coconut shell to make your bike sound like a horse. The wooden device sits on the front wheel of your rig and creates the sounds of hoofbeats as you pedal. Trotify comes flatpacked, and can be easily shipped and assembled at home. Currently, the designers are waiting for a 1,000 minimum order, and your Trotify would not make its way out of the stable until March 2013. However, for only about $20, it might be worth the wait to turn your frame into a fiery steed.

MindRider- I can’t think of many cyclists that at one time or another wished that motorists knew what they were thinking. The thought-controlled MindRider helmet brain waves to control red and green LED lights that signal emotions and levels of concentration. Developed by MIT animator and computer programmer Alrene Ducao, the helmet takes advantage of a EEG sensor and NeuroSky Mindset to control the lighting display. Green denotes a calm and collected demeanor, red means high stress, and flashing red blinks a warning signal to others on the road. The next incarnation of MindRider is slated to include more LEDs, proximity sensors, wearable visualization, and possible wireless technology that can connect with other helmets to monitor traffic and accidents.

Bike Zone- Cycling at night can be dangerous for even the most experienced of riders. The Bike Zone is a an ingenious gadget that creates a laser-projected area that extends a meter away from the bicycle as well as animated right and left turn signals. The Bike Zone easily attaches to the frame with a magnetic coupling, and wirelessly connects to the signal switches on the handlebars.

 

Human beings produce a stunning amount of trash. Each year, so much of our garbage reaches the oceans that it has been swirled by the waves into enormous islands of refuse. So massive are these deposits, that as of April 11, our collective mess will be named as its own country by the United Nations cultural and science agency, UNESCO. The Garbage Patch will encompass five areas of floating rubbish in the North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Indian Ocean. The territory will have its own flag and boast a population of 36,939 tons of garbage.

The effort to designate the Garbage Patch as a country was led by Italian architect, Maria Cristina Finucci.

“I found out about the tragic islands made of plastic, but they were treated lightly by the scientific community,” Finucci told the newspaper, La Stampa. “The only thing we can do now is to stop them from getting bigger,” she said.

The inauguration ceremony will take place at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, complete with bottle caps and plastic bags  littering the floor. While the problem of marine pollution is indeed a serious and colossal problem, there are ways in which you can simply alter your lifestyle to give the planet a little relief.

Recycle: Making sure your recyclables end up in the blue bin not only keeps trash out of the ocean, but cuts down on the energy needed to produce more new material. As an added bonus, all of your bottles and cans add up to earn you a little extra cash.

Be aware of packaging: Where you have the option, try and buy items that aren’t overloaded with plastic shells, tons of cardboard, or encased in enough metal to look like a tank. Look for foods and durable goods that use recycled content or biodegradable materials.

Ditch single-use items: Most of the trash gyres consist of plastic bottles and flimsy plastic bags. Make a fashionable and sustainable statement by bringing your own cloth bags to stores, eating utensils to take-out restaurants, and coffee mugs or water bottles to your favorite cafe. And check out Bambu Batu’s growing selection of reusable cups, bottles and utensils.

Volunteer: Lend the planet a helping hand and volunteer to clean up your local park, beach, or watershed.

Get involved: Have a favorite restaurant that still uses styrofoam? Does your town allow plastic bags and bottles? Successful petitions have been made to large companies like Jamba Juice to switch their cups, and towns across the US have begun to ban materials harmful to the environment. It can be done!

 

Jayson Fann Spirit Nest

There are times when all you want to do is shed the trappings of a modern life and head for the trees. Californian artist Jayson Fann understands the desire to reconnect with nature in a direct and meaningful manner. Through his Spirit Nests, the artist constructs giant structures inspired by birds. Using local sustainably-harvested woods, each dwelling is completely unique to its location. He begins construction by finding the wood on site, and strips the branches of leaves and twigs, scattering them to reduce the risk of fire. Fann then fits each piece of wood into spiraled pattern, using the tension of the configuration and counter sunk screws to hold the composition together. To support the nest, he builds a base that is capable of supporting a 2,000 lb load.

Fann has created nests for a variety of places throughout the state, including the famous Esalen Institute and Treebones Resort in Big Sur. In addition to his installation work, he also runs the cross-cultural arts organization, Big Sur Spirit Garden. Located between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, the facility offers arts education courses, training, and booking for special events. It boasts three outdoor stages, sculptures, murals, tropical gardens, and of course, the famous Spirit Nests. Hoping to foster understanding, creativity, and connection through the arts, the Big Sur Spirit Garden and its unique projects embody the energy and vitality of the region.

Here at Bambu Batu, we have a great appreciation for natural fibers. Yet, there are some textiles that it can be a little hard to wrap our heads around. Case in point: hagfish slime. Yes, scientists have been working on developing thread from the defensive mucous of the eel-like marine animal. It turns out that the goo is affordable, abundant, and rivals spider silk in strength. Researchers at the University of Guleph in Canada were the first to take a good long look at a substance that most people do their best to avoid.

The slime contains a number of proteins that are 100 times thinner than a human hair. After isolating the threads, the scientists found that they were 10 times stronger than nylon. The team will not have to only rely on harvesting the substance from hagfish as they can engineer bacteria to synthesize the proteins. Efforts to make spider silk this way has met challenge as the proteins are larger and difficult for the bacteria to create. Goats had been modified to produce the proteins in their milk, but using mammals greatly increases the cost of the material.

One of the advantages to the slime lays in the fact that it can become a durable, organic alternative to petroleum-based cloths like polyester or Kevlar. And, if you really think about it, could wearing sea snot be all the much more gross than sporting silk? Would you wear a suit of slime?

 The human population has an addiction to plastics, and it is a habit that sends tons of debris into the ocean each year. While governments and nonprofits have been struggling to find a solution to our marine mess, a 19-year-old aerospace engineering student at TU Delft has invented a device to help remove plastic pollution. Boyan Slat is the mind behind the Ocean Cleanup Array, a project that would combine large floating booms with anchored processing platforms that could gather debris for processing and recycling. Networks of these systems could be placed around floating garbage patches around the world, potentially being able to remove 7,250,000 tons of rubbish in five years. The array would be powered by the ocean’s currents, allowing marine life enough time to escape and avoid becoming trapped along with the plastics.

Slat’s design currently only exists on paper, but has already won such awards as Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology. He also presented his concept at TedXDelft last year, and has since founded a non-profit to take the idea from imagination to implementation. At the moment, the Foundation is seeking financial backing as well as support for its scientific research. While the Ocean Cleanup Array would not be able to remove the total amount of trash we dump into our waters each year, it is an encouraging step towards reversing our petroleum footprint. Along with a shift in how we produce and dispose of our materials, the global community can begin to turn the tide on how we treat our ocean ecosystems.

 

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