Saturday, August 27, 2011

Walking for Watts: Sneaker Insole Harvests Electricity, Could Power iPhone

Article at

From the article:

Researchers in Wisconsin have designed a sneaker insole that captures the electricity generated by the walker’s steps, reports Mother Nature Network.

Right now, Krupenking and Taylor are estimating between 1 and 10 watts.

The researchers say that no direct physical connection is required to bridge the insole and the wireless device.

David Foster Wallace on a Desert Island (Comic)

image from

Friday, August 26, 2011

Got Toxins in Your Home? Get Ferns. (Short Article)

Picture from

From the article:

Indoor volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde can contribute to allergies, asthma, headaches, and so-called “sick building syndrome”. 

The World Health Organization estimates that toxic indoor VOCs represent a serious health problem that’s responsible for more than 1.6 million deaths annually … and a shocking 2.7 percent of the “global burden of disease”. (Commentary: I find these numbers a little hard to believe)

Now, a team of scientists from South Korea and the University of Georgia have ranked 86 plants in order of effectiveness at removing volatile formaldehyde from indoor air (Kim KJ et al. 2010). 

Lead author Kwang Jin Kim cited the benefits: “It is evident from our results that certain species have the potential to improve interior environments and, in so doing, the health and well-being of the inhabitants.”

Abstract from the original paper (a little too sciency for most?):

The efficiency of volatile formaldehyde removal was assessed in 86 species of plants representing five general classes (ferns, woody foliage plants, herbaceous foliage plants, Korean native plants, and herbs). Phytoremediation potential was assessed by exposing the plants to gaseous formaldehyde (2.0 μL·L―1) in airtight chambers (1.0 m3) constructed of inert materials and measuring the rate of removal. Osmunda japonica, Selaginella tamariscina, Davallia mariesii, Polypodium formosanum, Psidium guajava, Lavandula spp., Pteris dispar, Pteris multifida, and Pelargonium spp. were the most effective species tested, removing more than 1.87 μg·m―3·cm―2 over 5 h. Ferns had the highest formaldehyde removal efficiency of the classes of plants tested with O. japonica the most effective of the 86 species (i.e., 6.64 μg·m―3·cm―2 leaf area over 5 h). The most effective species in individual classes were: ferns—Osmunda japonica, Selaginella tamariscina, and Davallia mariesii; woody foliage plants—Psidium guajava, Rhapis excels, and Zamia pumila; herbaceous foliage plants—Chlorophytum bichetii, Dieffenbachia 'Marianne', Tillandsia cyanea, and Anthurium andraeanum; Korean native plants—Nandina domestica; and herbs—Lavandula spp., Pelargonium spp., and Rosmarinus officinalis. The species were separated into three general groups based on their formaldehyde removal efficiency: excellent (greater than 1.2 μg·m―3 formaldehyde per cm2 of leaf area over 5 h), intermediate (1.2 or less to 0.6), and poor (less than 0.6). Species classified as excellent are considered viable phytoremediation candidates for homes and offices where volatile formaldehyde is a concern.

Kim KJ et al. Variation in Formaldehyde Removal Efficiency among Indoor Plant Species. HortScience 45: 1489-1495 (2010) Postharvest Biology and Technology  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Amazing Shadow Art (Pics)

More pics at

SMBC: Solipsism (Webcomic)

From the brilliant webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Hidden Hunger: How much can farming really improve people's health (Short Article)

 From the article:

In 2008 the Copenhagen Business School asked eight eminent economists to imagine they had $75 billion to spend on causes that would most help the world. Five of their top ten involved nutrition: vitamin supplements for children, adding zinc and iodine to salt and breeding extra micronutrients into crops (like those sweet potatoes). Others included girls’ schools and trade liberalisation.

The missing nutrients bite wide and deep. Education levels drop (malnourished children concentrate poorly); earning-power weakens. Even marriage chances wane: malnourished boys marry women of lower educational levels when they grow up.

The success stories are instructive. In 1990 a charitable organisation called Helen Keller International started to encourage market gardens in Bangladesh, providing women (mostly) with seeds and advice. By 2003 (the year of the latest available research), four-fifths of families in the target area had gardens, against 15% in the whole country. Almost all women and children were eating green vegetables three times a week, compared with only a third beforehand. And vitamin A intake had soared. Projects like this work because they improve what people like to eat anyway.

Policymakers can also try to increase women’s control over farming decisions (in some countries, only men may own land or get agricultural credit, for instance). They could boost research into more nutritious non-staple crops; and provide clean water and better transport, which especially benefits kitchen gardeners, because their produce goes off. 

image from 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

UK riots: What turns people into looters? (BBC News)

From the article:

Numbers are all important in a riot and the tipping point comes when the rioters feel in control, he adds.
"You cannot riot on your own. A one-man riot is a tantrum. At some point the bigger crowds confronting the police realise that they are in control."

"Humans are the best on the planet at imitating. And we tend to imitate what is successful. If you see that people are walking out of a shop with a widescreen TV and trainers, a certain kind of person thinks why shouldn't I do that?"

Workman argues that some of those taking part may adopt an ad hoc moral code in their minds - "these rich people have things I don't have so it's only right that I take it".

For most, the motivation is the thrill, with the "free stuff" just a bonus. But not for the ringleaders who manipulate the mob to target high-value shops.

"If you compare it to the riots in the 1980s, there's a lot more stuff you can loot easily, such as portable electronic gadgets, mobile phones and flatscreen TVs.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Everyday Things You Never Knew Had Names (from Buzzfeed)

An article for word junkies. Do you know what the metal part of a pencil is called, or the plastic caps at the end of shoe laces? Do you know that the lights you see when you press on your eyes have a name?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Nature Objectively Aids Healing (Article)

From the article:

“… post-surgery patients resting in rooms overlooking trees recovered better and faster than those in rooms with a view only of a brick wall … [and] women with breast cancer who walked in a park, watched birds or tended gardens recovered more quickly and were in better spirits than those with little or no contact with the natural world.” (McKinney J 2011)

Three years ago, University of Michigan scientists reported on two “experiments that show that walking in nature or viewing pictures of nature can improve directed-attention abilities … thus validating attention restoration theory.” (Berman MG et al. 2008)

Encouragingly, those who had the most stress reported the greatest relief from time in relatively untamed nature.
However, those who needed nature the most were the least likely to seek it out:
“the more worries about money and work a person had, the more stressed a person had felt during the last year, the less energetic s/he had felt, the lower was the number of visits to the favorite place (during the last 6 months) and the lower the typical level of restorative experiences.”
Also check out this previous blog post

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Capsule Hotels Make it Affordable to Stay Downtown in Large Cities

These hotels claim that they can achieve prices as low as 25$ per night for prime central locations in cities. A little cramped but who goes to Miami to sit in their room?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Greener Airports: Merging Nature and Technology

 From the article:

Passengers will also find several sustainable applications in the park. For example, you can recharge your mobile phone by hopping on one of the bicycles that are used to generate energy. LED lighting is used wherever possible and sunshine and daylight enter the park through tube lighting and fiber optics cables. Article has more pics also!

Image from