Tag Archives: Education

New green energy course inspires high school seniors from across the country

I always look at MIT’s stuff whenever the world gets me down and I feel like giving up.  There is so much innovation and enthusiasm there that my hope gets restored.  Thanks MIT!

New green energy course inspires high school seniors from across the country.

Max Finkelstein Wows them at Rideau Roundtable event

image

About 60 paddlers and environmentalists got together yesterday to see renowned paddler, raconteur, and author Max Finkelstein speak about his latest adventure paddling the Big Muddy (Mississippi) with the American adventurers that rowed across the Atlantic.

image

Max was at his casual best, evoking

Continue reading Max Finkelstein Wows them at Rideau Roundtable event

Local Leader: Max Finkelstein, canoeist, author, river conservationist | ottawariverkeeper.ca >

Are you an avid or wanna be paddler? Join Max, a world renowned paddler, at a Rideau Roundtable event on Sunday, January 25th at Ben Franklin Place in Nepean’s Centrepoint where he presents his experiences on the Big Muddy (the Mississippi) following paths taken by traders centuries ago.

Local Leader: Max Finkelstein, canoeist, author, river conservationist | ottawariverkeeper.ca >.

Please pass a strengthened Reform Act (and similar changes in every province)

Here is a message I received from Elizabeth May, OC, MP and leader of the Green Party of Canada. It lays out clearly a major problem with Canada’s democratic institutions.


From: Elizabeth.May@parl.gc.ca [mailto:Elizabeth.May@parl.gc.ca]
Sent: Tuesday, December 09, 2014 8:14 AM
To: [protected]
Subject: RE: Please pass a strengthened Reform Act (and similar changes in every province)
Thank you for writing about Conservative Member of Parliament Michael Chong’s Private Member’s Bill C-586, dubbed the Reform Act. I fully support his bill. In fact, the proposal to remove the requirement for the party leader to sign nomination papers, as originally written, was the key issue addressed in my Private Members Bill C-503, the Democratic Local Nomination Act, tabled in May:

http://elizabethmaymp.ca/legislation/c-503

With all the talk these days about the Senate and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), it is easy to forget that we actually live in a democracy. In Westminster Parliamentary Democracy, it is Parliament—as representatives of the citizens of the country—that is sovereign. Not the Prime Minister, not the PMO, not the Party, not anyone else.

It has been a consistent trend in recent Canadian governments, across party lines, to shift the balance of power away from Parliament to the PMO. What this has left us with is an elected dictatorship, a Parliament not accountable to the people, and a feeling of radical impotence by Canadian citizens who no longer see Parliament as an effective defender of their rights and needs.

In this political climate, Michael Chong’s Reform Act comes as a breath of fresh air. This bill seeks to restore power to the grassroots, to the Canadian people, in granting local people the right to choose who will represent them in Parliament. While we also desperately need electoral reform, to remove First Past the Post, this bill addresses a crucial parliamentary reform — ending the tyranny of leaders.

Democratic reform is a non-partisan issue. None of these changes affect any party more than the other. It is true that these changes will change the way the party functions but this will be a positive change if it means returning power to the hands of the people. And, as Mr. Chong has been reminding us, this bill is not about adding anything new to our democratic system, but about returning to old practices that were not formally enshrined in law.

It will take support from across all parties to pass this bill. While it has passed Second Reading, Members of Parliament need to know that people will be watching to see how they cast their final vote. Please keep up the pressure on the NDP and the Liberals so that they will support this bill. With all opposition parties on board, we will have the maximum pressure on Conservative back-bench MPs to vote for the bill.

A list of Members of Parliament can be found here:

http://www.parl.gc.ca/MembersOfParliament/MainMPsCompleteList.aspx?TimePeriod=Current&Language=E

As I said on CBC “Power and Politics” recently, “Canadian democracy is on life support and Michael Chong’s bill is CPR!”

Thank you again for writing.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth May, O.C., M.P.

Member of Parliament for Saanich–Gulf Islands

Leader of the Green Party of Canada

JD Power – Builder Satisfaction Survey – Methodology concerns

Here is an e-mail I sent to the “ask-us” link from the JD Power web site about their survey methodology for “New-Home Builder’s Customer Satisfaction Survey”. I haven’t heard anything back from JDPA, but I will update this post if I do.

Be careful how you interpret the results of this survey as it is currently conducted.


From:   [Hidden] 
Sent: Thursday, April 17, 2014 9:09 AM
To:  [Hidden]@jdpa.com’;  [Hidden]@jdpa.com
Subject: Builder Satisfaction Survey

Hi:

I took part in one of your builder surveys (the Canadian New-Home Builders Customer Satisfaction Survey) a number of years back; in fact, results of an earlier version of the survey formed a large part of the reason I bought my house in the first place. The idea of the survey is a very good one, but the survey methodology is fatally flawed.  You send out the survey within the first year of occupancy, when the builder is still on the hook to fix deficiencies.  A longitudinal survey would be far more useful.  Similar metrics, but taken at the 6 month mark, the 2 year mark, the 5 year mark and the 7 year mark (just as the Tarion warrantee expires).  This would help you see what owners think about their builder once the hidden problems start to rise to the surface. 

I gave my builder,  [Hidden] , a glowing reference when I responded to your survey, but if I were asked again, my response would be far different and I would be able to provide real examples of poor service and cut-corners.

Without this type of long term look at satisfaction with home builders, the survey is misleading at best. 

Sincerely,

 [Hidden] 
 [Hidden address] 
 [Hidden] ONT

Foldscope paper microscope can diagnose malaria, costs 50 cents – Technology & Science – CBC News

I am always amazed at how imaginative people can be.  The TED.com blog is full of stories and videos of interesting people with amazing things to say; and so are universities.  You will find a number of entries on my blog site that are based on something amazing that has been developed for the third world by the folks at MIT.  This entry is about an idea originating at Stanford University.  I came across it in an article by CBC.CA (Foldscope paper microscope can diagnose malaria, costs 50 cents – Technology & Science – CBC News)  that explains how Professor Manu Prakash came to create a microscope made almost entirely out of cardboard that can be used to diagnose a multitude of diseases like sleeping sickness, malaria and schistosomiasis in the developing world where access to laboratory equipment is extremely limited.

Imagine if everyone that contracts one of these debilitating illnesses could be quickly diagnosed and treated!  This is the type of story that I love to see because it opens up the mind to all sorts of opportunities.

The original CBC story describes the microscope better than I can, so I won’t go into the details here, but I do also want to post the direct link to Dr. Prakash’s TED talk so that you can see him and his invention. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Making investment practices more sustainable – Another great TED talk

I have thought a lot about the vocabulary we use when we speak about issues.  Much of the language we use comes to us courtesy of Economists.  We speak of consumers or clients rather than citizens.  We speak of economic debt and deficit to the exclusion of the discussion of social, cultural, environmental or infrastructure debt and deficits.  We speak of healthy economies rather than healthy people, or healthy environments.  And we rarely ever focus on important issues like fun or happiness.

This vocabulary poses a number of real problems for us. One very real problem is that if we use economic terms to describe our problems, the solutions we find will be limited to those that offer economic value.  This is the old problem where having only a hammer in your tool belt tends to make every problem look like a nail.  In the long-term, if we are to really deal with important issues in a constructive way, we have to change the way we speak to reflect our real values.  This type of culture change takes time, and, if science is to be believed, we don’t have a lot of time before the chaos starts.

In the meantime, we can at least frame our economic arguments in terms that demonstrate that sustainability is at the heart of long-term economic success, and that is done brilliantly in a TED talk (embedded below) by Chris McKnett from 2013.

TED talk on affects of wealth on personality

TED talk on effects of wealth on personality

This excellent TED talk describes how wealth can change the way we look at the world.  The first few minutes are devoted to the type of tests that the researchers used to tease out the differences in perception between rich and poor but the real meat was in the last half of the talk where the real world implications of the differences are explored.

It reinforces the need for positive reinforcement of good behaviors (behaviors that decrease inequality) and ends on a note of optimism.  The only problem is, will the people who need to listen to the talk take the time to do so.

 

What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!

earthship brighton
figure 1: Earthship Brighton (Photo credit: ivanpope)

Have you ever heard of the concept of an “Earthship“?  I was introduced to the concept by my brother-in-law about 14 years ago and was blown away.  What is an Earthship then?  In a nutshell, an Earthship is an Eco-friendly home, made predominantly from recycled materials, designed to be as close to “off-grid” as possible.

The concept of Earthships arose in the halcyon flower-power days of the 1970s in various states in the southern USA.  The concept seems to have developed by Michael Reynolds, an architect from New Mexico.  As you can see in the linked Wikipedia article, his idea was not without problems, but it was, none-the-less revolutionary.  Michael has a website where he educates about, demonstrates and promotes the Earthship technology.  The site has designs for a number of systems that an Earthship needs if it is to meet code (see figure 2, below). Continue reading What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!

How to submit a privacy complaint with the Privacy Commissioner

English: Bell Canada logo (1977-1994)
If you feel that your privacy has been, or is being, violated by someone or some organization, you can file a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner for Canada.  If your complaint is with a federal government department or agency, you can file the complaint under the Privacy Act.  If it with the private sector, you have to file the complaint under PIPEDA (the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act).

If, for example, you are concerned that Bell Canada (and now Virgin Mobile) are going to be collecting massive amounts of information about your surfing habits, your television habits, your calling habits or your texting habits, you may wish to make a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Continue reading How to submit a privacy complaint with the Privacy Commissioner

Some links to interesting environmental sites

One of my colleagues at work sent me this list of ten interesting environmentally-related web-pages. He recommended them to me and suggested I take a look at them. You may wish to take a look at them too. Thanks Phil!

http://www.marine-conservation.org/

 

Marine Conservation Institute is a leader in the global movement to protect and recover the integrity of vast ocean areas.

We use the latest science to identify important marine ecosystems around the world, and then advocate for their protection, for us and future generations.

http://worldwildlife.org/

centre
centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For 50 years, WWF has been protecting the future of nature.

The world’s leading conservation organization, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United States and close to 5 million globally. WWF’s unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature Continue reading Some links to interesting environmental sites

Conservation International – A blog to make a difference

One of my colleagues showed me this site today and it looks really good.  This is a link to their blog page.  This group has some pretty high priced help on their roster.  From Harrison Ford to Hillary Clinton, they seem to have the bases covered.

One of the environmental movement needs more of is “good news stories” and this blog is replete with them.  One that immediately attracted my attention is on a new initiative to stop poaching of African elephants.  The article includes a video on the subject with the aforementioned celebrities.  Worth a read.  Don’t forget to bookmark the page.

Being green can sometimes be as simple as following the frog

The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal
The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may be an advertising pitch, but there is some truth to it.  The Rainforest Alliance has put together a cute pitch that TED.COM has nominated as one of the 10 best ads of the year.  The ad shows you what you don’t want to do to be green, and then goes on to show you one thing that you can do to make a difference.  The advertisement is to “Follow the frog” which refers to purchasing goods that bear the Rainforest Alliance’s frog logo which indicates that the product was made in a way that meets the certification standards set out by the group.

Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit with the mission to “… works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.”

Now, you may note that this approach runs counter to the approach promoted by the “Story of change” people but I think the green movement is probably large enough to embrace more than one strategy for saving this beautiful world.

Why not visit their site or just watch the ad here:

Aggressive Driving – Some observations from the peanut gallery

Close Call... Don't Drive Angry / Baynard County
Close Call… Don’t Drive Angry / Baynard County (Photo credit: Phil’s 1stPix)

I often hear pundits decrying the aggressiveness of drivers.  It is hard to disagree with the premise that aggressive driving is bad, but the picture isn’t as simple as the pundits would have you believe.

For one thing, not all aggressive driving is “actively aggressive”.  The pundits rarely discuss the passively aggressive drivers, like the folks that drive in passing lanes.  They also often fail to look for root causes for the driving aggression.

I have been thinking about this issue for a long time and think I have a few suggestions on how to reduce aggressive driving.  My suggestions are in the form of tips and I have organized these suggestions around four possibly overlapping groups of people … 1) the aggressive drivers themselves, 2) traffic planners, 3) other drivers and 4) law makers.  There probably isn’t much new here, and I hope it doesn’t appear to be condescending, but aggressive driving is an issue that has been bugging me for years so I wanted to add my two cents to the conversation. Continue reading Aggressive Driving – Some observations from the peanut gallery

The Story of Change : a new video from the makers of the “Story of Stuff”

This video is all about empowerment. It is all about acting on our commitments…to the environment, to social justice, to each other. It is about supporting our government’s initiatives for becoming a “World Class Regulator“.

As with other “stuff” video, this one makes its point in the same clear logical fashion, taking us from being environmentally conscious but isolated islands to empowered actors in a movement to make a better world for us all. It does it using the same cheeky style, replete with stick figure art and snappy dialog.

This “Free Range Studios” production joins the rest of the Story of Stuff projects as another great teaching aid. It reminds us to get together, to get involved and to become activists in our own lives.

Scientific American Article about the Dangers Associated With CF Light Bulbs

Scientific American Article about the Dangers Associated With CF Light Bulbs

As a follow-on to my earlier article about various technologies for lighting your home, I wanted to post this link.  As the date for conversion of all light bulbs from incandescent looms near there is a lot more is being said about the safety of CF bulbs.  Scientific American, known as a source of reliable information that is accessible to the common citizen, has written an article that describes the dangers associated with disposal of broken fluorescent bulbs. 

Exercise – not only does it save energy, but it saves you too!

You may think it a bit of a stretch to link exercise to the environment, but I think it is pretty appropriate.  What got me thinking about it was an article on CBC.ca that pointed to the following YouTube video.  I hope that after watching the video you agree with me.

The video is by Toronto’s Dr. Mike Evans and as CBC’s article pointed out, it has gone viral on YouTube (it has now had over 1.6M hits).  Both the video and the article about it on CBC.ca refer to the health benefits of exercise for all of what ails you (hence the name “magic pill”).  The video is reminiscent of the videos on the “Story of Stuff” channel on YouTube.  While doctor Evans makes his very compelling argument in favour of exercising at least 30 minutes a day (and he notes that more is better to a limit) he draws images on a whiteboard that capture your attention and make you want to listen to the message.  I am not certain if he is any way associated with the Story of Stuff people, but the style of drawing and the humourous and interesting facts he injects into the discussion sure remind me of their excellent environmental pieces.

What interested me most was the fact that even the most moderate exercise (only 11 minutes per day) provided a huge benefit to many of the body’s critical systems.  The first 30 minutes of exercise seems to get you the biggest bang for your sweat buck.  After 30 minutes the benefits accrue in decreasing amounts, but they still accrue. 

Want to find out what sorts of problems you can alleviate with the magic pill of exercise?  Take 6 minutes and watch the video.  You won’t regret the investment in time… I sure didn’t.  You will instantly see why it went viral.  Send a link to the video on to your loved ones. 

Oh, what was the tie in to the environment you ask?  Well, if you are walking, running or cycling everywhere, you aren’t burning fossil fuels, and I think we can all agree that lowering your carbon footprint benefits the environment.

As a final postscript, remember to keep checking back to the “Story of Stuff” channel to see if they have added anything new.  Their environmental stuff is fantastic and it is great for all ages.

And thanks again to CBC.ca for providing me with another excellent learning experience.

Hybrid cars – one buyer’s thoughts

IMA-equipped Honda Civic Hybrid.
Image via Wikipedia

Back in 2009, my family bought a 2010 model year Honda Civic Hybrid. The chart in the dealership, which was produced by an independent tester, gave the Civic a rating of 60 miles per imperial gallon (mpg) in the city and 66 mpg on the highway. A review of the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) website seems to confirm this rating.

NRCan’s site gives the “mileage” of every car sold in Canada by year. It is supposed to be based on testing that simulates a fuel economy for a car that is driven 20,000 km per year. Presumably the test would simulate real-life conditions including the number of occupants, and a variety of weather and geographical conditions, but it isn’t clear from their web site. The mileage for my car the 2010 Honda Civic Hybrid is given here: http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/tools/compare/compare-results.cfm and it confirms the 60/66 rating given at the dealer.

My question is, what drugs were the testers on when they came up with these figures? We have been using the Civic for almost two years now and we have never come close to those figures. I grant you, that the test figures are likely for the “average” driver, but even so, we have rarely got better than 6.1 l/100km. That works out to about 46.3 mpg. This is a far cry from the 63 mpg (combined city and highway) that we were supposed to get.

When I look at the United States government website I their numbers are closer to my results. they show 40 miles per US gallon (mpgUS) city and 45 mpgUS highway which is about 43mpgUS combined. That equates to about 51 miles per imperial gallon (or only 85% of the NRCan mileage estimates) which is getting better, but it still ends up being about 5 mpg high by my experience.

So what are these testers doing. I assume that they must have only a single driver, and that they must be always on a flat road, with no head-wind and they must be accelerating at a snail’s pace. If I want to approximate these ratings, I would need to get an 100 pound driver driving downhill with a tailwind and the car in neutral.

While I never really expected to get 60 mpg, I did expect better than the 43 mpg that we are getting. Am I expecting too much to ask for mileage approximating the promised rating? I don’t think so. I would likely have bought the car anyway, given that I am interested in the environment, but I don’t like being lied to. If the “independent” tests were to be even remotely useful they should be achievable by the majority of the drivers under normal conditions.

Now, I know I have ignored things like the benefits to the environment, but I have also ignored things like the total cost of ownership (maintenance of the batteries over time) and the cradle to grave costs of the car in terms of cost of building, cost of transportation, use by the consumer and cost of disposal.

But when it comes to strictly the way the cars are advertised, where is the truth of the situation? I sure don’t know? I do know that I feel ripped off! What about you?

Not everything environmental is about new technology…sometimes it is doing what we do in a smarter way.

Sometimes being environmentally friendly means using new technologies like solar and wind power, but sometimes it is simply about doing what we have always done, but doing it in a smarter way. 

URISA, an association of GIS professionals, has an annual competition for students in the GIS field to produce papers and posters on using GIS to solve real world problems.  One group in Maine has used GIS technology to model how to reduce the cost of transportation of recyclables from collection locations to the processing plants.  They will still be using the same technology to collect the recyclables, but they will be reducing the distance that they are transported, resulting in an enormous savings in CO2 generation and a reasonable savings in cost.  This will be especially valuable if we ever move to a “mining” paradigm for dealing with recyclable waste.

To read more about how they propose to do this I recommend that you read Minimizing Transportation Costs with Location-Allocation Analysis: An Application to Recycling « GIS and Science

This is yet another example where students have come up with innovative solutions to problems that we have lived with for ages.  Maybe there is hope for us yet!

Solar Thermal – What to do when the power goes out!

I spent 6 months living in Kathmandu back in the 90s.  It was commonplace for the power to go off each evening for 2 or more hours and to cope with the outages everyone had battery backups and gas-powered generators. 

But over here in Canada we have never needed battery backups or generators to keep things running.  The electrical system is far more reliable here than it was in Nepal in the 90s.  That being said, we do still get the occasional power outages but for the most part they are little more than an inconvenience.  The same cannot be said for solar thermal systems when the power goes out.  Continue reading Solar Thermal – What to do when the power goes out!

Forever Plastic: Basic Tip for Recycling Plastic – Doc Zone | CBC-TV

CBC Television
Image via Wikipedia

Given the interest in solid waste policy in the City of Ottawa at the moment, now might be a great time for you to brush up on some recycling facts.  CBC has a page and a video with some interesting information that might inform and entertain you.

Forever Plastic: Basic Tip for Recycling Plastic – Doc Zone | CBC-TV

The Story of Stuff Project – or why did I need this do-dad again?

Logo of the International Bottled Water Associ...
Image via Wikipedia

Want an interesting way to explain to kids how consumer demand is created?  Want to get some interesting facts about bottled water? What to know what cap-and-trade really means and whether it is a good thing or not?  Want to know what all our electronic toys cost the planet? Why not mosey over to the “Story of Stuff Project” for some short, entertaining clips that are ideal for explaining difficult topics in simple English.  It’s suitable for kids and adults and, while it doesn’t always provide the answers to life’s woes, it helps you start asking the right questions.  Two thumbs up!

Undergrads bring energy education to Ghana

In another piece from MIT press, here is a story about how some MIT undergrads brought alternate energy education to schools in Ghana.  Now if we could only get the education here in Canada…

Undergrads bring energy education to Ghana.