Friday, April 30, 2010

Capsule Apartments - When is Small Too Small?

Retired engineer Huang Rixin invested some 40,000 yuan in designing and
building eight 'capsule apartments'. Photos by Shao Xin / Southern metropolis weekly

Retired engineer, Huang Rixin, is the man responsible for creating and patenting "capsule apartments". Huang, 78, says he was struck by the study of the so-called Ant Tribe - a clustered settlement of college grads in Tangjialing village on the outskirts of the capital. In China, students and newly-graduated workers swarm to the outskirts of the large cities in order to be able to afford accommodation. They live in cramped living quarters often sharing with others. They became known as the Ant Tribe when it was noticed how closely their behaviour resembled that of ant colonies. A trip to Tangjialing further strengthened the old man's decision to do something for these students. "After all, they are the future of our country," Huang says.

He had heard about Japanese capsule hotels - each a plastic or fiberglass module, measuring 2 m (6' 7") by 1 m (3' 3") and 1.25 m (4' 1") high, where the occupant sleeps, watches a mini television or surfs the Internet through a wireless connection - and decided to adapt this.

"I used to be a senior engineer designing hydraulic power stations. Designing the capsules was like killing a fly with a spear," he says.

So Huang took the plunge and invested 40,000 yuan ($5,860) to build eight cubicles, 2.4 m (7' 11" ) long, nearly 1.6 m (5' 3") high, and 0.72 m (2' 4") or 0.92 m (3') wide. He converted the three 7.5 sq m (24' 7") rooms he rented on the top floor of a three-story building in Liulangzhuang, a small village in Haidian district.

Photo courtesy: China Hush

"Liulangzhuang is only two stops from Zhongguancun, where many graduates work. Rentals here are low as the area is located in the rural-urban fringe zone," Huang says. However, being so close to their place of work is a big bonus for many since many "worker ants" must travel hours a day on extremely crowded buses or other transit.

Compared to the coffin-size capsule hotels in Japan, Huang's capsule is relatively spacious, allowing most occupants to stand. The capsules themselves are extremely spartan with only an anti-theft door, a collapsible computer desk and Internet connection.

"I think this is more suited to college graduates, and less expensive," Huang says, adding that his aim is not to make a profit.

At first, Huang's concept received little serious interest. While there was a great deal of curiosity, most were doubtful of a unit less than 2 sq m where the only storage is at the foot of the bed or under it.

But things changed after Huang sent an e-mail to Beijing Youth Daily to present his idea. Suddenly, his capsule apartments attracted a lot of attention.

Last month, China's biggest Web portal held a publicity event, inviting prospective tenants to spend half a month for free in these capsules. Some journalists were also convinced to participate so they could provide a first-hand account of how it felt.

Photo courtesy: China Hush

Huang has now rented all eight capsules at a monthly rent of 200 to 250 yuan ($29-$37) each.

As one might expect, there have been many criticisms of the apartments; but, Huang responds: "The word 'comfortable' means different things to different people."

"If you are living in Tangjialing and sharing a small room with five others; or, if you are wandering on the street with nowhere to stay, then this place will definitely feel comfortable."

But...all is not sunny on the capsule apartment horizon. Already, some occupants are considering moving. They are finding the narrow space; lack of proper heating and cooling; lack of cooking facilities; and, lack of personal bathrooms to be too burdensome.

Huang remains a proponent of his own creation, "I hope real estate developers will realize that there are still many poor university graduates looking for a place to stay. I wish they would convert some of their unsold high-priced homes into capsule apartments to rent out."

Via China Hush and chinadaily

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Turkish Farmers Learn How They Can Reduce Water Usage by 50%

Agricultural use accounts for 72 percent of total water consumption in Turkey. Photo courtesy: Jennifer Hattam

I have written many blogs in the past on the developing global water crisis. In the next decade or so, water will become the new gold - in fact, it is already being called "liquid gold" by some environmentalists. I've discussed "Sana'a, Yemen: The First Capital City to die of Thirst", "Indian Farmers Commit Suicide as Drought Continues", "Drought Pushes Kenyan Nomads to The Brink" and many others.

Now it would appear that the message is getting through. We must start conserving water now; or, there will not be enough to go around later.

Summer in Turkey is fast approaching, temperatures are rising; and, already talk has started about whether there was enough rain and snow over the winter to keep the city's water taps full this summer or will there be days when the taps are dry.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and ETİ Burçak (a cookie and cracker manufacturer) formed a partnership in 2008 that aims to educate Turkish people about the impending threat of climate change. The project’s first major initiative will promote modern, water-conserving irrigation methods in the Konya area in Central Anatolia and then expand gradually to other agricultural centers in Turkey.

Studies done by the WWF and ETİ Burçak prove that making these improvements to the irrigation in the Konya region alone could save enough water to meet Istanbul's needs for up to three years.

Beginning this month, they will begin training farmers in the fertile region of central Anatolia called Konya to use modern drip-irrigation methods that has the ability to reduce water consumption by 33% - 50%. That's impressive!

Turkey uses more water for agriculture than most other countries. Agricultural use in Turkey sucks up 72% of the nation's water compared to 18% in household consumption and 10% in industry. Less than 10% of the irrigable land in Turkey is outfitted with water-saving irrigation techniques. According to WWF: "unsustainable water use practices in agricultural production are linked with the drying of lakes and rivers, declines in underground water levels, and rising soil infertility from a build up in salinity."

Konya is already finding out the hard way about having to suffer the consequences of unsustainable water practices. Their water use far exceeds the supply causing lakes and groundwater to dry up; both quality and quantity of food produced in the region to decrease; and, good grazing lands to be increasingly riddled with sinkholes and are giving way to desertification. To make matters worse, Konya is a closed basin system. While this drainage basin retains water, it doesn't have any outflow trapping the water in there. Temperatures in the basin are expected to increase between 2 - 6 degrees by 2030.

Already pilot irrigation projects in Konya and other Turkish farming areas have achieved water-use reductions of up to 50% on thirsty crops such as sugar beet, cotton, and corn. After training farmers and other members of the agriculture industry in the Konya area, WWF and ETİ Burçak aim to expand the effort to the country's other agricultural centers. Banks have been supporting the project by giving credit at low interest rates to farmers who are willing to purchase water-saving irrigation equipment.

"The threats of climate change are constantly increasing, and its impact has already started; therefore, it is crucial for us to start acting now," WWF-Turkey CEO Akın Öngor said at a press conference announcing the initiative. "If modern irrigation methods are implemented, there is a potential in the Konya area alone to conserve up to three years' worth of Istanbul's annual water supply."

Via TreeHugger and Daily News & Economic Review

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Don't Get Mad - Get Even: The Creative Way

This is a true story. So totally creative...

A city councilman in Utah, USA, Mark Easton, had a beautiful view of the east mountains until a new neighbor purchased the lot below his house and built a new home.

The new home was 18" higher than the ordinances would allow ruining Mark's view. So Mark, mad about his lost view, went to the city to make sure they enforced the lower roof line ordinance.

The new neighbor had to drop the roof line, at great expense and with tremendous effort.

Recently, Mark Easton called the city and informed them that his new neighbor had installed some vents on the side of his home...

Mark didn't like the look of the shutters and wanted the city to investigate.

When the city went out to investigate, this is what they found.

The City Council said the vents can stay since there are no ordinances referring to shutter design.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bananas - The Most Popular Fruit (Herb) in The World

Photos courtesy:

Reprinted from, EpidemicFun and Care2

The true origin of Bananas, world's most popular fruit, is found in the region of Malaysia. By way of curious visitors, bananas traveled from there to India where they are mentioned in the Buddhist Pali writings dating back to the 6th century BCE. In his campaign in India in 327 BCE, Alexander the Great relished his first taste of the banana, an usual fruit he saw growing on tall trees. He is even credited with bringing the banana from India to the Western world. According to Chinese historian Yang Fu, China was tending plantations of bananas in 200 CE. These bananas grew only in the southern region of China and were considered exotic, rare fruits that never became popular with the Chinese masses until the 20th century.

Eventually, this tropical fruit reached Madagascar, an island off the southeastern coast of Africa. Beginning in 650 CE Islamic warriors traveled into Africa and were actively engaged in the slave trade. Along with the thriving business in slave trading, the Arabs were successful in trading ivory along with abundant crops of bananas. Through their numerous travels westward via the slave trade, bananas eventually reached Guinea, a small area along the West Coast of Africa. By 1402 Portuguese sailors discovered the luscious tropical fruit in their travels to the African continent and populated the Canary islands with their first banana plantations. Continuing the banana's travels westward, the rootstocks were packed onto a ship under the charge of Tomas de Berlanga, a Portuguese Franciscan monk who brought them to the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo from the Canary Islands in the year 1516. It wasn't long before the banana became popular throughout the Caribbean as well as Central America. Arabian slave traders are credited with giving the banana its popular name. The bananas that were growing in Africa as well as Southeast Asia were not the eight-to-twelve-inch giants that have become familiar in the U.S. supermarkets today. They were small, about as long as a man's finger. Ergo the name banan, Arabic for finger. The Spaniards, who saw a similarity to the plane tree that grows in Spain, gave the plantain its Spanish name, platano.

It was almost three hundred and fifty years later that Americans tasted the first bananas to arrive in their country. Wrapped in tin foil, bananas were sold for 10 cents each at a celebration held in Pennsylvania in 1876 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Instructions on how to eat a banana appeared in the Domestic Cyclopaedia of Practical Information and read as follows: "Bananas are eaten raw, either alone or cut in slices with sugar and cream, or wine and orange juice. They are also roasted, fried or boiled, and are made into fritters, preserves, and marmalades."

Note: The banana plant is not a tree. It is actually the world's largest herb!

Banana containing three natural sugars – sucrose, fructose and glucose combined with fiber, a banana gives an instant, sustained and substantial boost of energy. Research has proven that just two bananas provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout. No wonder the banana is the number one fruit with the world’s leading athletes. But energy isn’t the only way a banana can help us keep fit. It can also help overcome or prevent a substantial number of illnesses and conditions, making it a must to add to our daily diet.

Anemia: High in iron, bananas can stimulate the production of haemoglobin in the blood and so helps in cases of anaemia.

Blood Pressure: This unique tropical fruit is extremely high in potassium yet low in salt, making it the perfect food for helping to beat blood pressure. So much so, the US Food and Drug Administration has just allowed the banana industry to make official claims for the fruit’s ability to reduce the risk of blood pressure and stroke.

Brain Power: 200 students at an English school were helped through their exams this year by eating bananas at breakfast, break and lunch in a bid to boost their brain power. Research has shown that the potassium-packed fruit can assist learning by making pupils more alert.

Constipation: High in fibre, including bananas in the diet can help restore normal bowel action, helping to overcome the problem without resorting to laxatives.

Depression: According to a recent survey undertaken by MIND amongst people suffering from depression, many felt much better after eating a banana. This is because bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin – known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier.

Hangovers: One of the quickest ways of curing a hangover is to make a banana milkshake, sweetened with honey. The banana calms the stomach and, with the help of the honey, builds up depleted blood sugar levels, while the milk soothes and re-hydrates your system.

Heartburn: Bananas have a natural antacid effect in the body so if you suffer from heart-burn, try eating a banana for soothing relief.

Morning Sickness: Snacking on bananas between meals helps to keep blood sugar levels up and avoid morning sickness.

Mosquito bites: Before reaching for the insect bite cream, try rubbing the affected area with the inside of a banana skin. Many people find it amazingly successful at reducing swelling and irritation.

Nerves: Bananas are high in B vitamins that help calm the nervous system.

Overweight and at work? Studies at the Institute of Psychology in Austria found pressure at work leads to gorging on comfort food like chocolate and crisps. Looking at 5,000 hospital patients, researchers found the most obese were more likely to be in high-pressure jobs. The report concluded that, to avoid panic-induced food cravings, we need to control our blood sugar levels by snacking on high carbohydrate foods (such as bananas) every two hours to keep levels steady.

PMS: Forget the pills – eat a banana. The vitamin B6 it contains regulates blood glucose levels, which can affect your mood.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Bananas can help SAD sufferers because they contain the natural mood enhancer, trypotophan.

Smoking: Bananas can also help people trying to give up smoking, as the high levels of Vitamin C, A1, B6, B12 they contain, as well as the potassium and magnesium found in them, help the body recover from the effects of nicotine withdrawal.

Stress: Potassium is a vital mineral, which helps normalise the heartbeat, sends oxygen to the brain and regulates your body’s water-balance. When we are stressed, our metabolic rate rises, thereby reducing our potassium levels. These can be re-balanced with the help of a high-potassium banana snack.

Strokes: According to research in “The New England Journal of Medicine”eating bananas as part of a regular diet can cut the risk of death by strokes by as much as 40%!

Temperature control: Many other cultures see bananas as a “cooling” fruit that can lower both the physical and emotional temperature of expectant mothers. In Thailand, for example, pregnant women eat bananas to ensure their baby is born with a cool temperature.

Ulcers: The banana is used as the dietary food against intestinal disorders because of its soft texture and smoothness. It is the only raw fruit that can be eaten without distress in over-chronic ulcer cases. It also neutralises over-acidity and reduces irritation by coating the lining of the stomach.

Warts: Those keen on natural alternatives swear that, if you want to kill off a wart, take a piece of banana skin and place it on the wart, with the yellow side out. Carefully hold the skin in place with a plaster or surgical tape!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Santa Clara County to Ban Happy Meals

Photo courtesy: Life

It is becoming obvious to anyone who wishes to look, that fast-food is more unhealthy for us than we have ever admitted. McDonald's, in particular, has taken the brunt of the wrath of the anti-fast-food movement. I have to admit that I feel being forced to eat at McDonald's is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment.

A short while ago, I did a blog on an experiment done with a McDonald's Happy Meal. The Happy Meal was purchased, taken home, unwrapped, photographed, and set a shelf for a year. After one year had passed, another photo was taken of this Happy Meal that still looked remarkably edible after one year. Real food should rot - this did not.

I did another blog about a fellow who went to an unnamed burger chain and bought 10 burgers. He took them home and used only the grease on the burger patties to reproduce the Mona Lisa on a canvas one storey high.

In fact, that video was so good, it deserves to be repeated.

Santa Clara County in California, USA has taken an unusual and progressive stand on behalf of the health of the children of that county. They have banned Happy Meals entirely; as well as, any toys or other such promotions for unhealthy children's meals. From now on, the children of Santa Clara County will no longer be tempted to eat high fat, unhealthy meals because of the toys or gadgets inside the meal.

Officials are hoping this will mean healthier children and less obese youngsters. While there are many who feel this ordinance will benefit the young people unable to make their own choices, some see it as totally out of line and an infringement on our rights to eat and/or feed our children what we choose.

The LA Times reports:
Happy Meal toys and other promotions that come with high-calorie children's meals will soon be banned in parts of Santa Clara County unless the restaurants meet nutritional guidelines approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors.

"This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children's' love of toys" to sell high-calorie, unhealthful food, said Supervisor Ken Yeager, who sponsored the measure. "This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes."

The point being made here is that proponents of the decree maintain that using toys to make unhealthy foods more desirable creates a psychological reward for eating badly; while, allowing toys only in healthy choices rewards children for eating well.

I may be old-fashioned; but, what happened to eating healthy meals without any kind of reward because it's the right thing to do (and your parents said so!) Children today do not receive the benefit of homemade food they way I or my children did. We didn't get money to buy lunch at school or the corner grocery store. We took a lunch that was prepared at home with good, nourishing food.

Weigh in readers! Do we need these things banned or should parents take more control and responsibility for their children's eating habits?

Via TreeHugger and Los Angeles Times

Sunday, April 25, 2010

So Easy Even a Pug Can do It!

A really cute little video about recycling starring "Puglet" as the conscientious recycler.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Five Health Food Substitutions

Reprinted from Care2

Swapping popular fruit and vegetables for their less common counterparts can greatly improve the healthiness of diets. Even if you already maintain a healthy diet, there are some simple switches that you can employ to greatly boost the average intake of phytonutrients–the substances in fruit and vegetables that help to protect the body from conditions such as heart disease and cancer. According to findings presented at the 2010 Experimental Biology conference this week in California, the data highlights the importance of “not only the quantity but also the significant impact the quality and variety of the fruits and vegetables you eat can have on your health.”

The idea is that by swapping some of your staples, you increase the variety of crucial nutrients required for maximum health and longevity. Since variety is so important, I’d suggest not going for a 100 percent replacement–but as you can according to availability, locality and season. Here are the five “powerhouse” alternative foods the researchers suggest you get into your mix:

All photos courtesy: Care2

1. Sweet potatoes for carrots

One cup of cooked sweet potatoes provides 1,922 micrograms Retinol Activity Equivalents (mcg RAE) of beta carotene, double that of carrots, and 16 times that of broccoli. Sweet potatoes have four times the US Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) for beta-carotene when eaten with the skin on. Sweet potatoes are a wellspring of vitamin E, and they are virtually fat-free, which makes them a superior Vitamin E source. (Most Vitamin E rich foods, such as vegetable oils, nuts and avocados, contain a hefty dose of fat.) Sweet potatoes provide many other essential nutrients including Vitamin B6, potassium and iron. They are virtually fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium. One cup (200 grams) of cooked sweet potatoes has 180 calories.

Sweet potato fries & sweet potato pie (one of my all-time favourites)

2. Kale for spinach

Kale has the highest antioxidant level per serving of any other fruit or vegetable. Kale has exceedingly high ORACs (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, the measure of a food’s antioxidant level–the higher the ORACs, the more antioxidants the food has), and has about three times as much lutein as spinach. Eating the recommended five-a-day servings of fruits and vegetables will ring up around 1750 ORAC units, but several studies suggest that antioxidant intake be increased to between 3,000 and 5,000 ORAC units to have a significant impact on plasma and tissue antioxidant capacity. A serving of iceberg lettuce contains an ORAC value of 105, a serving of kale has a whopping 1770! Kale can be used in any recipe that calls for spinach.

Info on kale here.

3. Raspberries for strawberries

Raspberries possess almost 50 percent higher antioxidant activity than strawberries, three times that of kiwis, and ten times the antioxidant activity of tomatoes, according to research conducted in the Netherlands and published in the journal BioFactors. The biggest contribution to raspberries’ antioxidant capacity is their ellagitannins, a family of compounds almost exclusive to the raspberry, which are reported to have anti-cancer activity.

Recipe: Vegan Raspberry Crisp

4. Papaya for oranges

Papayas are an excellent source of Vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, three strong antioxidants. It has been ranked in the Top 5 fresh fruits (along with guava, watermelon, grapefruit and kiwifruit–well ahead of oranges, apple, and bananas), rated on six key nutrients: vitamin C, folate, potassium, iron, calcium, and fiber plus carotenoids.

Papayas are also rich in enzymes that stimulate stomach secretions and aid digestion. They contain protein-digesting enzymes including papain and chymopapain, and are low in fat and are a good source of fiber–they are also a very good source of calcium, potassium and Vitamins A and B.

Recipe: Papaya Lime Sorbet

5. Watercress for other greens

Watercress is a better source of vitamins C, B1, B6, K, E, Iron, Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc, and Potassium than apples, broccoli, and tomatoes. By weight, watercress has more calcium than milk, more vitamin C than an orange and more absorbable iron than spinach (spinach is high in oxlactic acid, which blocks the natural absorption of iron). A single 4-ounce bunch of watercress has more than a full day’s RDA for potassium.

Recipe: Springtime Watercress Soup

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cactus to Purify Water

Not just for storing water. Photo courtesy: Philip Condit II/Stone/Getty

Science has made a new discovery with regards to the prickly pear cactus. While cactus have long been a known source of water for those lost in the desert, it has not been officially recognized until now that an extract from the prickly pear is effective at removing sediment and bacteria from dirty water.

Many water purification methods introduced into the developing world are quickly abandoned as people don't know how to use and maintain them, says Norma Alcantar at the University of South Florida in Tampa. There is also the costs associated with these methods - many communities can't afford to maintain the equipment properly; and, it eventually fails.

Ms. Alcantar and her colleagues decided to investigate the viability of using an old (19th Century) Mexican method of purifying their water. They used the thick, gel stored in the leaves of the prickly pear cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica. This cactus is found globally.

The cactus uses the mucilage - the thick gum in the middle of the leaves - to store water. The team extracted the mucilage and mixed it with water to which they had added high levels of either sediment or the bacterium Bacillus cereus.

Alcantar found that the mucilage caused the sediment particles to join together and settle to the bottom of the water samples. The gum also caused the bacteria to combine and settle allowing 98% of bacteria to be filtered from the water (Environmental Science and Technology, DOI: 10.1021/es9030744). They now intend to test it on natural water.

Householders in the developing world would only have to boil a slice of cactus to release the mucilage and add it to water in need of purification, says Alcantar. "The cactus's prevalence, affordability and cultural acceptance make it an attractive natural material for water purification technologies."

While many are looking at this as a possible breakthrough in the ever growing crisis over the availability of ample, clean drinking water, Colin Horwitz of GreenOx Catalysts in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, says many issues remain. He points to the question of how much land and water will be needed to grow cacti for widespread water purification; and, wonders how households will know when and if all the bacteria have been removed.

Via NewScientist

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ginger Wolf Looks Like Red Fox on Stilts

A five-year old wolf is the toast of a wildlife park in Cambridge, UK because of it's incredible ginger coat.

The rare creature, named Ruby, resembles a giant fox thanks to her bright red hair and is causing quite the storm at her home in Hertfordshire.

Visitors to her enclosure at Shepreth Wildlife Park are left as shocked as the other animals who sport the common grey and white coat.

Photos courtesy: MailOnline

Zoo manager, Haley Kelly, said: "When people see Ruby the first time they say "what on earth is that." I was the same."

"She is a beautiful specimen but doesn't look like a wolf. She's compared to a large fox or dingo.

"A normal grey wolf would never have met a maned wolf before. It would be quite a shock for both of them if they ever came face to face."

Dubbed by animal-lovers as the "Red Fox on Stilts", Ruby's species of maned wolf come from the grasslands of South America.

Zoo keepers introduced the red-coated wolf to visitors this week, replacing two tradition-coloured grey wolves.

Ruby joined the zoo after being shunned by her pack at Banham Zoo, near Diss, in Norfolk.

Mrs. Kelly added: 'She has been very quiet and staying at the back of her enclosure.

"But she will hopefully come out of her shell soon. Her previous keeper described Ruby as extremely playful."

She replaces the grey wolves Odin and Iskha, both of whom died earlier this year.

The maned wolf, whose closest living relative is the bush dog, is found in Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru.

Ruby has arrived as part of the European Endangered Species programme and zoo keepers plan to introduce her to a mate later this year.

Via MailOnline

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

10 Products to Ban From Your Home

Photo courtesy: Care2

Most people are, by nature, cautious about the things they will let in their home. However, most people also believe that if the government has approved it; and, it is available to the general public, then it must be safe. Couple that with the pressure exerted on consumers every day via TV, internet and radio commercials that the health and safety of the family lies in the products used. One of the most dangerous untruths around is that absolutely every surface in the house should be cleaned daily with this miracle spray that will protect the family from dirt, grime, bacteria - implying that parents that don't use these products are exposing their children to horrendous health implications.

Nothing is further from the truth!

Air fresheners, disinfectants, and cleaners found under your sink are more dangerous than you think. For example, mix bleach with ammonia and you’ve got a toxic fume cloud used by the military in WWI. And they weren’t cleaning kitchens.

Here is a list of the ten products you should ban from your home – forever – along with suggested alternatives.

1. Non-Stick Cookware
When non-stick pans were first introduced into American households in the 1960s, they were thought to be a godsend. Gone were the days of soaking pans for hours and scouring pots with steel wool. In the forty years since then, however, we’ve learned that the ease of cleaning comes at a steep price: the coating that makes Teflon pans non-stick is polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE for short. When PTFE heats up, it releases toxic gasses that have been linked to cancer, organ failure, reproductive damage, and other harmful health effects.

Teflon pans that burn give off gasses that have killed pet birds in other parts of the house; so, I have to wonder what they are doing to me.

The problems with PTFE-coated pans seem to occur at high temperatures, so if you must use Teflon, cook foods on medium heat or less. Avoiding non-stick pans altogether is the safest option. If you’re able to do so, try anodized aluminum, stainless steel, or cast iron pans with a little cooking oil. SustainLane reviewers like LeCreuset cast iron pans and more cost-effective ones like Lodge Logic. Using a lower setting on the stove will reduce the chances that your food will burn, which is how it usually gets stuck to pans the first place. If you’re worried about the extra calories cooking oil adds, try baking or steaming your food. More tips and safer alternatives here.

2. Plastic Bottles
By now you’ve heard of dangers of BPA in those ubiquitous neon water bottles. BPA mimics the effects of hormones that harm your endocrine system. While the company at the heart of the controversy has switched to BPA-free plastic, those aren’t the only toxic bottles. Single-use plastic bottles are even worse for leaching chemicals, especially when you add the heat of the sun (think about bottles left in your trunk) or the microwave. Aside from the fact that bottled water sold across state lines is not as regulated as tap water, the bottles themselves are spawning grounds for bacteria and are a source of needless waste. Each year, more than one million barrels of oil are used to manufacture the more than 25 billion single-use plastic water bottles sold in the U.S. Choose a reusable, stainless steel or glass bottle instead.

3. Conventional Cleaning Supplies
These routinely make the top ten lists of worst household offenders. They contain toxic chemicals that negatively affect every system in your body. All purpose cleaners often contain ammonia, a strong irritant that has been linked to liver and kidney damage. Bleach is a powerful oxidizer, which can burn the skin and eyes. Another danger lies in oven cleaners, which can cause chemical burns and emit toxic fumes that harm the respiratory system. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that more than 120,000 children under the age of five were involved in incidents involving household cleaners in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available.

To protect you and your family from the hazards conventional cleaners pose, choose non-toxic, or natural cleaners. SustainLane reviewers have particularly enjoyed Method and Seventh Generation, which are commonly found on supermarket shelves. Bon Ami is a safe alternative to Comet and Ajax. If you have the time and want to go the extra mile, you can even mix your own using common household items like vinegar and baking soda. Make a non-toxic cleaning kit.

4. Chemical Insecticides and Herbicides
Since the purpose of these products is to kill pests, you can bet that many of them have ingredients in them that are also harmful to humans. For example, the active ingredient in Round-Up–a weed-killer popular with gardeners–is known to cause kidney damage and reproductive harm in mice. And cypermethrin, one of the active ingredients in the popular ant and roach-killer Raid, is a known eye, skin and respiratory irritant and has negative effects on the central nervous system.

There are several companies that sell natural and organic weed- and pest-control products. Buhach makes a natural insecticide from ground chrysanthemum flowers that controls ants, flies, fleas, lice, gnats, mosquitoes, spiders, and deer ticks, among other pests. Boric acid is an effective, natural solution for cockroaches as well; sprinkle it around baseboards, cracks and other places likely to harbor roaches. For weeds, check out E.B. Stone Weed-N-Grass or try spot-spraying with household vinegar. Learn more about getting rid pf pests naturally.

5. Antibacterial Products
The widespread use of antibacterials has been shown to contribute to new strains of antibiotic-resistant “super-bugs.” The Center for Disease Control says that antibacterials may also interfere with immune system development in children. Triclosan – the most common antibacterial additive found in more than 100 household products ranging from soaps and toothpaste to children’s toys and even undergarments–accumulates in the body. In a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group, 97% of breast feeding mothers had triclosan in their milk, and 75% had trace amounts of the chemical in their urine.

Make it your goal to be to be clean, not germ-free. People who are exposed to household germs typically develop strong immune systems and are healthier overall. Avoid buying antibacterial products or soaps containing triclosan. Soap and water is really all you need to clean most things. There are plenty of eco-friendly hand washes and other cleansers that are safe for you and easy on the planet.

6. Chemical Fertilizers
These are notorious for causing damage to our water supply and are a known major contributor to algal blooms. Whenever it rains or a lawn is watered, the runoff goes straight into storm-drains, and untreated water is dumped into rivers, streams, and the ocean. This causes an imbalance in delicate water ecosystems, killing fish and degrading water quality.

If you have a lawn, choose organic fertilizers rather than chemical ones.

As another alternative to harsh chemicals, consider starting a compost pile to create nutrient-rich soil for your flower beds and vegetable gardens. You’ll be creating your own inexpensive fertilizer just by letting food scraps and yard trimmings sit. An added benefit: it’ll also help divert waste from landfills.

7. More Bulb for Your Buck
A Compact Fluorescent (CFL) bulb uses just a fraction of the energy regular light bulb uses. When your current bulbs burn out, swap them with CFLs, and start calculating your savings. General Electric has an online calculator that shows you just how much money you can save by making the switch.

One caveat of the low-energy bulb is that it contains mercury. Even so, CFLs are still your best bet, according to EPA Energy Star program director Wendy Reed. Coal-fired plants are the biggest emitters of mercury. Using CFL bulbs means you draw less power from the grid, which means less coal is burned for electricity. Because of the mercury, take precautions when disposing of these CFL bulbs. Rather than throwing them in your household trash or curbside recycling bin, take them to a hazardous waste collection or other special facility.

8. Air fresheners
Just like cleaning supplies, these are incredibly toxic and can aggravate respiratory problems like asthma. Even those labeled “pure” and “natural” have been found to contain phthalates, chemicals that cause hormonal abnormalities, reproductive problems and birth defects. Try simmering cinnamon and cloves to give your home an “I’ve-spent-the-whole-day-baking” scent, and leave a few windows open to let in fresh air. You might also boil a pot of water on the stove with a few drops of your favorite essential oil, or use an essential oil burner.

9. Flame Retardants
A common flame retardant that was used in mattresses–polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE)–is known to accumulate in blood, breast milk and fatty tissues. This chemical is linked to liver, thyroid, and neuro-developmental toxicity. According to the Environmental Working Group, new foam items often do not contain PBDEs, but foam items purchased before 2005 (like mattresses, mattress pads, couches, easy chairs, pillows, carpet padding), are likely to contain them. Household furniture often contains flame retardants and stain repellents that use PBDE’s as well as formaldehyde and PFOA (the same chemical used in non-stick cookware).

If you are in the market for a new mattress or sofa, ask manufacturers what type of flame retardants they use. Look for products that don’t use brominated fire retardants. Organic Abode sells natural and organic furniture. If you’re looking to keep your existing mattress, but make it safer, use a cover made of organic wool to reduce PBDE exposure. You can find organic furniture and interior decor here.

10. Plastic Shopping Bags
Remember: Like diamonds, plastics are forever. Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s a giant mass of plastic twice the size of Texas that’s floating 1,000 miles off the coast of California. In the United States, only two percent of plastic bags are recycled, which means that the remaining 98 percent is dumped into landfills or blown out to sea. According to Californians Against Waste, the City of San Francisco, which recently banned plastic shopping bags, spends 8.5 million dollars annually on plastic bag litter.

The good news is, we can easily decrease our plastic bags use. Bring in your own reusable cloth bags when you go shopping. If you have kids, ask them to remind you to bring them. Or keep them in a place by the door where you’re most likely to remember them on your way out.

Via Care2 and Divine Caroline

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bacteria Mats May be Good For Fishing

Photo courtesy: Teske Lab

For the past decade, one of the largest collaborations to investigate marine biodiversity, the Census of Marine Life has trolled the oceans to identify, catalogue and examine all oceanic life. This collaboration was carried out by 2,000 scientists from more than 80 countries.

During this intensive, global study, 5,000 new species have been identified. Some species thought to have gone extinct have been rediscovered; and, one study looked at an area of the deep ocean that was no bigger than the size of a small bathroom and discovered 700 new species of crustaceans.

The study officially concludes in October; but, preliminary results were released this month.

Probably the largest and most significant discovery was a giant mat of string-like bacteria deep in the ocean off the coasts of Chile and Peru. This huge mat is the size of Uruguay or the US state of Alabama.

The fact that this mat of bacteria has been discovered in prime fishing waters has not escaped the notice of the researchers. They are now speculating whether this mat may contribute to the rich, thriving fisheries found in these waters.

"Some 50 percent of the world's fish catch comes from fisheries off the west coast of South America, where the biggest of these bacterial mats are found," said Dr Víctor Ariel Gallardo, vice-chair of the Census of Marine Life Scientific Steering Committee.

The megabacterium Thioploca spp. is string-like in appearance and measures about 2-7 cm (.8-2.8 in) making it visible to the naked eye. The mat discovered off the South American coast measures an astounding 130,000 sq km (80,778 sq mi).

Flourishing under oxygen-deficient conditions, the bacteria feed off toxic hydrogen sulphide. Hydrogen sulphide is produced when organic matter degrades without oxygen. Where there is no oxygen, large whitish mats of Thioploca spp. can be found at 50 to 200 metres deep. Scientists believe that Thioploca spp. is ancient - at least 2.5 billion years old - and most likely covered the oceans' surface back then when there was no oxygen at all.

"There are fossils of bacteria from that time that are very similar to what we find now," said Gallardo.

Scientists now hypothesize that these mats may now exist in many of the oceans' deeper, oxygen-poor zones and may extend along vast tracts of ocean floor, covering thousands of kilometers.

Other smaller mats have been found living on sulphide chimneys near Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador, off the Pacific coasts of Mexico, Panamá, Costa Rica and near Namibia, which is also known for its abundant fisheries. The mats have also been found in "dead zones" created by agricultural run-off and salmon farms.

"Fishermen sometimes can't lift nets from the bottom because they have more bacteria than shrimp," said Gallardo. "We've measured them up to a kilo (2.2 lbs) per square meter."

While the link between the bacterial mats boosting fish populations is not totally clear yet, what is clear is that microbes - which make up 50 to 90 percent of all marine biomass - are crucial in regulating the planet's atmosphere, climate, nutrient recycling and decomposition. According to Census estimates, there may be a "nonillion" individual microbes in the seas - that's 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (with 30 zeroes) and weighing the equivalent of 240 billion African elephants. Who would've thought such small critters could be so hefty?

Via TreeHugger and InterPress Service

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Natural Step

Reprinted in part from Care2

The video's content is based on The Natural Step, a sustainability framework and organization first developed 20 years ago by Karl-Henrik Robèrt. Dr. Robèrt, a Swedish doctor and cancer scientist, was treating a lot of children with cancer. He couldn’t help but notice how families, care providers and the community came together quickly, efficiently, and with compassion to coordinate resources to make a difference for sick kids. This was in stark contrast to the emerging confusion and debate over the health of the planet. Sound familiar?

The principles in the video are at the heart of The Natural Step's work with communities, businesses and governments all over the world. The four rules may be be simple, but they are not easy:

1. Reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and heavy metals.

Whether or not you believe in human-caused global warming, our use of fossil fuels takes a huge toll on the health of living things. Can we learn to look at the use of fuel and heavy metals through a lens that recognizes both the finality of the resource and the consequences of their extraction, transport, and incineration?

2. Reduce our dependence on synthetic chemicals that persist in nature.

Chemicals such as dioxins, PCBs and the insecticide DDT do not break down easily or harmlessly once discarded; rather they contaminate soil, water, and air. Can we adopt the precautionary principle, and require companies to prove that a product is safe before it is brought to market?

3. Reduce our destruction of nature.

From overfishing to deforestation to destroying wildlife habitat, human actions are interfering with the balance of nature. Biodiversity is key to our flourishing; by contributing to the destruction of species we might as well be gnawing off our own legs.

4. Ensure that we are not stopping people globally from meeting their needs.

This principle applies not only to ensuring that people have the capacity to feed and shelter themselves, but that they can do so in safe working conditions and receive a living wage for their work. This fourth rule clarifies the absolute link between environmental justice and social justice, and that our tribe is only as healthy as the weakest among us.

Can we learn to nurture the planet as we would a family member who needs our help? Can we recognize that healing the planet is the same as healing ourselves? Can we make every day Earth Day?

Via Care2

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rodan, The Lovesick Stork

Photo courtesy: Care2

Every once in a while a great love story comes along - one that shows the lengths that one one partner will go to in order to maintain the relationship. This is such a story. It is the story of a deeply committed couple, Rodan and Malena.

No distance is too far for Rodan, the lovesick stork.

Making the trip from South Africa to Croatia every spring, the male bird travels 13,000 km to see his beloved female partner, Malena, who is disabled and unable to fly, reports Britain’s Metro.

The loving storks cozy up, mating and raising their new chicks (they have produced 32 offspring so far) and teaching them how to fly. Rodan then departs to spend the winter months in South Africa and returns on exactly the same day, the following spring.

Locals in the small village of Slavonski Brod in Croatia thought crippled Malena would almost certainly die when she was shot by a hunter in 1993, but thanks to the Vokic family, whose roof she lives on and her ever faithful partner, Rodan, she has survived for over 17 years.

Reunited again last week, Rodan was more eager than ever to see his love, arriving two hours earlier than usual. “It was clear they were pleased to see each other,” said one local to the Romanian Times. Stjepan Vokic added, “He knows he needs to return home because Malena is waiting for him.”

The storks have become so famous in the village that it’s not only Malena that waits anxiously for her partner to return, local residents and reporters gather round to welcome the tired bird home every March.

Via Care2

Friday, April 16, 2010

You'll be Surprised at What Was Found in a Whale's Stomach

Photo by The Seattle Times/Mike Siegel. Pam Martin with Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network examines a dead gray whale that washed ashore in the Arroyo Beach neighbourhood in West Seattle.

A nearly-mature whale, 37’ long, was found stranded on a shore in the Arroyo Beach neighbourhood of West Seattle. Researchers and scientists are examining the contents of the whale’s stomach in an effort to try to determine the cause of death. What they found in the whale’s gut surprised everyone.

Photo courtesy: Cascadia Research Collective

Fifty gallons of stomach contents were sifted through and examined. While most of it was real food – algae and other materials common to a gray whale’s diet – they also found more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape and a golf ball.

There can now be doubt that the ocean is nothing more than a liquid landfill. The only ray of light is that the trash made up only 2% of the total contents; however, that is still 2% too much. Researchers are maintaining that this plastic did not cause the whale’s death.

Cascadia Research says: "It did clearly indicate that the whale had been attempting to feed in industrial waters and therefore exposed to debris and contaminants present on the bottom in these areas."

Gray whales are bottom feeders getting their nutrition from the sediments in shallow waters. They filter out small organisms as food; but, apparently can’t always filter out our plastic pollution.

Researchers are currently studying the whale’s carcass to find the cause of death. There are several reasons that could be the culprit; starvation being the most likely. The theory that three whales that died in April during migration appeared emaciated from not being able to get enough food to eat in Alaska doesn’t work for me. I believe the plastic in the whales’ stomachs prevented the whales from being able to get enough nutrition. A stomach can only hold so much and the plastic can’t always leave the stomach taking up valuable room that should be digesting food.

I favour the theory that says chemicals, pollution and plastic in the water are responsible. The results should be available in a few weeks.

Whales are not the only victims of plastic. More and more seabirds are becoming victims also.

Chris Jordan documents animals ingesting plastic with fatal consequences. This is the decomposed body of a chick that has been mistakenly been fed pieces of plastic by its parents.

The following video shows a dead pelican chick having its stomach contents analyzed. Not for the super sensitive.

Via TreeHugger

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hurricane Katrina Responsible for More Dolphin Births?

Photo courtesy: fotolen

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters to strike the USA. The loss of life and property was inestimatible both on a human level and on a financial one.

However, it appears there was one positive result from this. A recently-published study reveals that the hurricane may have set the stage for a baby boom in the dolphin population along the Gulf coast.

During the years following Katrina, biologists observed a sharp increase in the number of bottlenose dolphin calves. Due to the storm, the local fishing industry sustained enormous damage to their commercial vessels causing fishing to decline. Scientists believe that consequently the amount of prey fish available to the dolphins increased.

The study, published in Marine Mammal Science, shows a marked spike in dolphin calf births following the hurricane. Before Katrina, the local bottlenose dolphin calf rate was 1%; but, in the years following Katrina, the numbers increased dramatically to 6%. The study suggests that since during this period 87% of the commercial fishing fleet was either damaged or destroyed, the increase in prey fish available to be eaten gave the dolphins increased energy for reproduction.

An excerpt from the report states:
Commercial fisheries landings and recreational fisheries landings decreased by 48% and 42%, respectively between 2005 and 2006 for Gulfport and Biloxi harbors. This decrease in recreational and commercial fishing, similar to the effects of creating a marine reserve, could have resulted in increased prey availability for dolphins within the area.

The scientists are also considering the fact that the hurricane was responsible for a much higher mortality rate among calves than was usual. They speculate that this could have resulted in an unusually high number of fertile females in the following mating season.

Researchers plan to continue studying the reproductive habits of bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf. It would appear that scientists now believe that we haven’t previously understood the full extent human activity has on the ecosystem.

To date, we have refused to acknowledge that the more fish we take from the ocean leaves less fish for species such as dolphins. What we have acknowledged is that reduced fishing has led to an increase in dolphin babies. Hopefully, we manage to make the leap to realization that fishing must be regulated more than it is; that somehow we must find a way to eliminate catching non-targetted species; and, somehow we must learn to live in harmony with our marine friends.

Via TreeHugger

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

10 Reasons For Drinking Water You May Not Have Thought Of

Photo courtesy: pixmac

Everywhere you look - there is advertising and/or information on the necessity to drink 8 glasses of water a day. Is this true? I tend to jump on the bandwagon that claims that 8 glasses of pure water a day is the minimum you should be drinking. Any pop, coffee, tea, fruit juices, vegetable juices, etc. are in addition to, not instead of, the water you drink.

However, there are many people who say that 8 glasses may not be necessary for many people. There are even dieticians, nutritionists and medical professionals who claim that drinking the 8 glasses is not necessary as most of the pure water you require is contained in the fruits and vegetables people eat.

Some people may not require the 8 glasses of pure water a day; but, they are in the minority. There is lots of moisture in fruits and vegetables; but, a lot of the water is cooked out of the vegetables. Check it out. Put some veggies in a pan, turn on the heat and watch. Within a minute or so, you will see liquid on the bottom of the pan that could only have come from the veggies. This, then, turns to steam which literally cooks your veg in its own moisture.

Fruit is a better source as we tend to eat fruit raw and many of them are naturally juicy - apples, peaches, watermelons, cantelope...

Researchers estimate that half of the world’s population is chronically dehydrated. And in America, that level is even higher at 75% of the population. Inexcusable! We live in a water-rich country, North America; and, there is absolutely no reason why every man, woman and child should not have access to clean, drinking water.

1. Your blood is over 80% water and needs water to make healthy new blood cells.

2. Your bones are over 50% water and need water to make healthy new bone cells.

3. Drinking more water actually helps lessen pain in your body by getting your lymphatic system moving. The lymphatic system is a network of nodes, tubes, vessels, and fluid that move waste out of your tissues. It requires water to function properly.

4. Water helps to eliminate wastes and toxins from your body through the lymphatic system, kidneys, and intestines.

5. Water lubricates your joints, helps reduce joint pain; and, protects against wear and tear.

6. Water regulates your metabolism; so, if you’re overweight chances are you may need more water.

7. Water balances body temperature.

8. Water helps to ensure adequate electrical functioning so your brain and nervous system function properly. Your brain and nervous system send out electrical signals to function properly. Researchers estimate that your brain gives off about the same amount of electricity as a 60 watt light bulb. So, there’s some truth to the image of a light bulb going on when someone has a good idea.

9. Water alleviates dehydration.

10. Every cell and organ in your body requires adequate water to function properly.

So, one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve your health is to start drinking more pure water every day. Be sure to drink water an empty stomach or you’ll simply be diluting your digestive enzymes and making your digestion less effective.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

That's a Wrap!

Photo courtesy: B. Alter

Japan has been using the ancient art of furoshiki for centuries. It is a pleasant alternative to the paper-wasting, environmentally-unfriendly tradition of wrapping gifts in wads of paper and ribbon.

What is furoshiki? A 'furoshiki' is an oversized square piece of material that has been dyed in any number of colors, hues and patterns. These cloths are used for carrying and storing things, wrapping gifts, spreading on the floor, or even decorating a room. When it comes to gift giving, these cloths are the best. They can be folded so that a handle is made from the same cloth that is covering the gift.

The name literally means 'cloth for the bath.' It was popularized in Japan in the 17th century, when people needed a way to carry their toiletries to the public baths.

Lush has taken the art of furoshiki and applied it in their stores. They call it knot-wrap and it has proved to be very popular. They started by transforming 45,000 vintage scarves into colourful, reusable wrapping. Imagine being able to use your gift wrapping as an accent scarf – wonderful!

Photo courtesy: B. Alter

Lush was working in conjunction with "re-wrap" - a group working with Indian co-operatives to make fair trade textiles. This UK-based company has been so successful marketing the organic cotton knot-wraps sold in the Lush stores that they have been able to employ a social worker, finance children's education and make plans to construct a new building for their operation.

Photo courtesy: Informap.Japan

There are many, many different intricate wraps and folding for different-sized packages. Think of it as “cloth origami”.

The Japanese Environmental ministry is pushing it as an environmental way to reduce plastic bag usage at the same time maintaining an old and worthy tradition.

Hopefully, the idea of using fabric or other reusable materials as gift wrap will catch on and make a marked reduction in the amount of gift wrap used. One of the items I used to wrap my gifts in (before I realized I was so cool!) were dish towels. I have also used pages from magazines that were going for recycling (big, colourful, glossy pictures in there), paper bags (I used crayons for the decorative touches), or anything else that came to mind. Your environmentally-friendly friends will love you.

Via TreeHugger

Monday, April 12, 2010

Do We Never Learn?

Photo courtesy:

Approximately one week or so ago, I posted a blog detailing how the Shen Neng 1 had run aground in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef; and, a marine disaster was in the making from the leaking oil. The danger is the cheap, glue-like oil the shipping companies use to power their immense carrier ships.

The Great Barrier Reef along with all its corals, whales, giant clams and other marine life is in the path of a "coal highway" to China that may see shipments jump 67% by 2016. It should be noted here that when the Shen Neng 1 hit the sandbank on April 3, 2010, it was travelling at full speed and carrying 68,000 metric tons of coal and 975 tons of fuel oil.

Trade at Gladstone port in Queensland, Australia where the Shen Neng 1 took on its load may rise to about 140 million tons - mostly coal - by 2016, according to Gladstone Ports Corp. Chief Executive Officer Leo Zussino said in an interview.

“It’s only a matter of time before a serious oil spill occurs unless we have a better system for regulating the traffic,” said Peter Harrison, a professor at Southern Cross University in New South Wales who has studied the impact of oil pollution on coral reefs for three decades. “It’s a difficult place to navigate.”

The Great Barier Reef is a unique microenvironment. It is a breeding ground for humpback whales, contains the world's largest collection of corals, is home to more than 1,500 species of tropical fish; and, is host to more than 200 kinds of sea birds.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has stated that Australia may tighten up onitoring of vessels through the reef in addition to requiring more pilots to guide the ships. However, Bob Brown, senator and head of the Australian Greens Party, said companies are "making a coal highway" out of the reef.

Now, in addition to the coal, Gladstone will be the port of departure for liquified natural gas (LNG) beginning in 2014. It is estimated that LNG vessels leaving the Gladstone port by mid-2016 will be carrying approximately 10,000,000 tons annually of LNG according to the port operator. Most of this gas will be going to Asian markets. Among the companies planning to build LNG terminals at Gladstone are BG Group Plc, Santos Ltd. and Origin Engergy Ltd.

Normally liquified natural gas is an incredibly stable product with only a few risks; however, one of the very few risks is Rapid Phase Transistion (RPT). RPT occurs when cold LNG comes in contact with water.

Shenzhen Energy Transport Co., owners of the Shen Neng 1, said in in an April 8, 2010 statement that the planned route was "entirely within legal waters" and that the Shen Neng 1 was off course when it hit the Douglas Shoals. The shoals are about 100 km (60 mi.) off the northeast coast of the reef. Shenzen Energy Transport Co. was unable to explain why the vessel failed to make a scheduled easterly turn causing it to run aground.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said an initial report on the incident will take about four weeks.

“This case has been a warning, a shot across our bow,” said Harrison at Southern Cross University. He went on to add that the use of pilots who know the reef, which is more than 3,000 km long, should be compulsory for all vessels passing through the area.

The Shen Neng 1 isn’t the first large vessel to collide with the reef. The Doric Chariot ran aground in 2002. The Doric Chariot left the Hay Point port north of Gladstone bound for India according to the Reef Marine Park Authority. Miraculously, he vessel was able to be refloated nine days later without the loss of either fuel or cargo of coal. A report from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau shows that while a pilot was aboard the Doric Chariot, he fell asleep.

The Malaysian container ship Bunga Teratai Satu collided with the Sudbury Reef near Fitzroy Island east of Cairns in 2000. No oil was released in this incident.

However, it would appear that the wreck of the Shen Neng 1 may make up for all our previous good luck. David Wachenfeld, the marine park authority's chief scientist, says that as many as 4 tons of fuel has already spilled and been treated with dispersants. He added that a white plume comprised of sand, pulverized coral and rock mixed with toxic paint from the ship's hull had become visible around the stranded vessel.

Accidents on the reef have fallen in the past 10 years, said Gladstone Ports’ Zussino, who is also chairman of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Still, “low risk obviously is not good enough,” he said.

“We’ve got to protect the reef,” Prime Minister Rudd announced on ABC radio. It’s an Australian asset and provides 60,000 tourism jobs, he said.

Jeff Singleton, spokesperson for Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, points out the proposed shipping regulation changes surrounding the reef would have to be approved by the International Maritime Organization.

The number of “major” incidents at the Great Barrier Reef has been limited to three or fewer a year, compared with 10,000 journeys through the area annually, amid improvements in shipping safety measures, said the Barrier Reef’s Wachenfeld. “That’s a pretty damn good safety record, but obviously as shipping increases, the risks increase.”


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Raw Honey

A few blogs ago, I wrote about the healing properties of raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized honey. What I didn't mention was the difficulty in obtaining truly raw honey; so, I've decided to put out an appeal to my readers to share the names and addresses of anyone they know that sells raw honey.

It doesn't matter what country you live in, I have readers in many countries. Just leave the information in the comments section and I will do a small blog with suppliers of raw honey.

I live in the Greater Vancouver Regional District of British Columbia, Canada; and, I got my honey from:

Chris Bright
7180 - 152 Street
Surrey, BC
V3S 3L8

Tel: 604-599-7292
Fax: 604-599-7265


Chris is a great guy and is always willing to talk about the benefits of raw honey (especially relating to allergies!)

Quotable Quotes

"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."

- Dan Quayle, former U.S. vice-president.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Lightbulb That Lasts Two Decades?

General Electric has unveiled a light bulb they say will last 17 years.

"This is a bulb that can virtually light your kid's bedroom desk lamp from birth through high school graduation," says John Strainic of GE Lighting.

The 40-watt light bulb named the "GE Energy Smart LED" is scheduled to become available to consumers in 2011. GE states that the bulb will consume 9 watts, provide a 77% energy savings and be approximately as bright as 40-watt incandescent bulb.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Well, there is one slight hitch. Since these bulbs are supposed to last for nearly two decades, sales will plummet; but, prices will soar. What goes up, must come down or vice versa. Be prepared to spend between $40-$50 US a bulb. Yup, $40-$50 a bulb a pop.

What is even worse is that we might be legislated into buying these bulbs. Call me paranoid; but, I see the thin edge of the wedge happening here.

In April, the Canadian government announced it would ban inefficient light bulbs by 2012. The U.S. also plans to wean its citizens off inefficient light bulbs between 2012 and 2014.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Did You Know That...

A polar bear named Debby, who recently passed away in a zoo in Canada, is thought to be the longest living of her species. Debbie was 42 when she died in November 2008 at the Winnipeg, Manitoba zoo. Wild polar bears usually only live half that long.

Alfred Nobel was the Swedish technologist credited with inventing dynamite in 1866-67. He became very rich as a result and bequeathed his wealth to a foundation that would offer prizes for contributions to science, literature and the promotion of peace.

There's a lot of power in a bolt of lightning. One stroke discharges from 10 - 100,000,000 volts of electricity. An average lightning strike has 30,000 amperes.

The South African Sandbox tree could be dangerous. When its fruit is ripe, it explodes so forcefully that its seeds are sent flying 15' from the main trunk, and the noise is so loud, it can scare passers-by.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Quotable Quotes

"There is no drop of water in the ocean, not even in the deepest parts of the abyss, that does not know and respond to the mysterious forces that create the tide."

- Rachel Carson

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This Should Scare The Socks Right Off Your Feet!

This is the typical exterior of a Wal-Mart

HOW BIG IS WAL-MART? Wal-Mart is one of my favourite institutions to hate. They make an obscene amount of money on the backs of their under-paid, over-worked employees. They have descrecated an ancient Indian burial mound for part of their developments, been found guilty of misleading labelling, and many of their products are sourced from places that use child labour and inhumane working conditions. Read on...and weep!

1. At Wal-Mart, Americans spend $36,000,000 every hour of every day or $864,000 a day.

2. This works out to $20,928 profit every minute!

3.. Wal-Mart will sell more from January 1 to St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) than Target sells all year.

4. Wal-Mart is bigger than Home Depot + Kroger + Target + Sears + Costco + K-Mart combined.

5. Wal-Mart employs 1.6 million people and is the largest private employer. And most can't speak English. Remember the sourcing of products from countries that allow child labour and inhumane working conditions.

6. Wal-Mart is the largest company in the history of the World.

7. Wal-Mart now sells more food than Kroger & Safeway combined, keeping in mind they did this in only 15 years.

8. During this same period, 31 Supermarket chains sought bankruptcy (including Winn-Dixie).

9. Wal-Mart now sells more food than any other store in the world.

10. Wal-Mart has approx 3,900 stores in the USA of which 1,906 are Super Centers; this is 1,000 more than it had 5 years ago.

11. This year, 7.2 billion different purchasing experiences will occur at a Wal-Mart store. (Earth's population is approximately 6.5 billion.)

12. 90% of all Americans live within 15 miles of a Wal-Mart.

13. The value of product for Wal-Mart passing through the port of San Diego each year is more than 93% of ALL countries Gross National Product (GNP)...and that is only ONE port ...and only one way that Wal-Mart gets it's stuff.

14. Of the 1.6 million employees, only 1.2% make a living above the poverty level. Another example of Wal-Mart's concern for it employees.

15. Wal-Mart's head office is located and centralized in Bentonville. Due to this fact, there are more millionaires per square mile there than any place on Earth.

16. The official U.S. Government position is that Wal-Mart's prices are no lower than anyone else's when compared to a typical family's weekly purchases. That's the view of the statisticians at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) responsible for calculating the consumer price index (CPI).

17. 92% of everything Wal-Mart sells, comes from China. Another 4% comes from Chinese-owned companies in the U.S. or in third world countries. There have been many scandals involving Chinese-sourced products: unsafe lead levels in toys, melamine-tainted milk scandal; and, many others.

18. Wal-Mart and MOST large companies, take out life insurance on it's employees, without their knowledge. If an employee dies, ALL the insurance monies go to the companies (NOT the family). i.e. An employee making $18,000 per year, dies, and the company might make as much as $1 million. Most often these monies is put into a fund they have nicknamed the "Dead Peasant Life Insurance Policies", and is used to pay out executives as bonuses. (A common practice, unknown by the common man.) Pretty damn disgusting, if you ask me. (Another example of how Wal-Mart care for its employees.)

19. Wal-Mart now averages a "profit" (not sales) of $36 billion per year. How about giving the 98.8% of your employees you are allowing to live below the poverty line a raise? Statistics show you can well afford it.

20. Let Wal-Mart bail out Wall Street. If not, consider shopping someplace else.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Did You Know That...

The two sayings "saved by the bell" and "graveyard shift" share a common heritage?

"Saved by the Bell" came about centuries ago when medicine was not as accurate as it is today. Unfortunately, it was found that the occasional person was buried alive due to medical error. In an effort to rectify this, people were buried with a bell line tied to their finger at one end and a bell at the other. The theory was that if the deceased were not really deceased, when they woke up and realized where they were, they would move around, the bell would ring and they could be rescued. It did prove successful in a couple of cases.

For the first several nights after a burial, someone was paid to stay in the graveyard throughout the night listening for the sound of the bell. If the bell rang on their shift, they summoned help and the "deceased" was rescued. The person doing this job was referred to having "the graveyard shift".

Monday, April 5, 2010

Inventive Idea - Just Not Quite There Yet

Photos courtesy: Yanko Design

We've all done it. Most of us will do it again. We forget, or are too lazy, to pack a lunch so we grab something on the go. By now, we feel guilty (***gasp***)about the cost of buying lunch out (again!); so, we try to go for nutrition to assuage our guilt. Salad and a yogurt - yep, sounds healthy (and relatively guilt-free).

While most places are savvy enough to pack a fork with that take-out salad, not so for the yogurt. Trying to eat your yogurt with your fork is similar to trying to carry water in a bucket with a hole in it. By no means satisfactory; but, then neither is trying to drink your yogurt from the container (which seems to be the only other option).

This where Yanko Design comes in. One of their designers, Cho Hye-seung, has come up with what he calls the Yogurt Spoon Package Design. When you take the lid off the container, you are able to fold it into a spoon. The instructions are on the side of the container. Clever design, inventive way to make packaging more useful and/or minimize the amount of plastic used during fast-grab lunches and/or reduce the necessity for a plastic spoon when enjoying yogurt on the go.

There is; however, one flaw in the design. I like a clean lid on anything I am going to eat or drink due to possible (if improbable) contamination during the lid-removal process. If I was going to use the lid as a spoon, I would want that lid spotless and sanitary - hence, the flaw.

The solution Yanko Design came up with was wrapping the entire container in yet another layer of plastic. Overkill in my opinion. All that is required is that the lid itself be protected. However, the designer is to be applauded for thinking "green" and trying to develop a product that adds less waste to the environment.

Let's hope this type of thinking goes viral!