Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Ride Program

Happy New Year!! It's a night when most of us might have a drink or so - but it's important to get home SAFE and sound. Whether that means taking transit, having a desginated driver, or waiting around for a cab - you gotta make sure your ride is taken care of.

One of Discovery's top 12 Biology stories of 2006 is about some wierd little worm that has evolved to have no mouth, no guts, and no excretory organs. Instead, it has a series of bacteria living beneath its skin which cooperate with each other and with the worm to somehow create energy for the worm and get rid of it's waste. What do the bacteria get out of the relationship?
Well, a place to hang out - and a free ride, obviously!

See y'all in 2007!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Full of beans

Soy-based substitutes aren't just for meat anymore. Forget pretend salami, veggie hotdogs, and tofurki...

(I don't mind tofu... but Tofurki?? It sounds so wierd. I may just have to try that one day. )

Now you can have soybeans in your home. Literally - a new soy-based adhesive may soon be replacing formaldehyde-based ones in engineered wood like plywood and particleboard.

Formaldehyde isn't nice - it's been associated with irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lower airways. Oh yeah, and some studies suggest it might case cancer - like nasopharyngeal, nasal, prostate, lung, and pancreatic cancers as well as leukemia. Even though there's still a bit of uncertainty about those results, it just sounds all-round bad. And people who work in construction often have much higher exposures than you and I, who simply live in our homes and sit on our decks sipping Margaritas...

Anyhoo, the idea of soy protein adhesives has been around for a while - but they weren't durable enough until someone figured out they could crosslink the protein with some kind of resin to make the adhesive look more like what a mussel uses to stick itself to the bottom of a boat.

And those little bu**ers do not like to let go.

A bean, informed by a mollusk, might improve your bedroom floor. Wierd. But true.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sheer Lunacy?

Is is possible to pander to materialists and simultaneously save the world?

Maybe - a company called Ecoist makes all its stuff - handbags, belts, placemats, and accessories - from recycled materials . If you buy a bag, they'll plant a tree. Not only is this a great idea, but the bags are actually pretty swish-looking.

If I wasn't still full from Christmas dinner my favorites would probably be the bags made from candy wrappers (I am an afficionado of treats of all kinds after all)... but I'm also partial to the ones made of Luna bar wrappers - since I associate those with hangin' out in the backcountry and plus their ingredients are 70% organic.

Too bad I rarely carry a hadbag (I'm more of a backpack girl, myself). Maybe I'll get me some placemats instead.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

You know you want one...

I just bought someone two chickens for Christmas. I was thinking about getting the goat - but I decided that it was probably more than I was willing to spend.

Quoi on earth is she talking about, you're asking yourself. Well, I went shopping at Oxfam Unwrapped... where the money I spend goes directly to fund projects in developing nations that involve the gifts I chose. So in Ethiopia, women are being trained in poultry production. It's part of a program that

"is aimed at increasing women’s economic wealth, their ownership and responsibility in managing household assets and their involvement in decision-making that affects their lives and their community"

Sounds good to me. Basically, the women who sign up get to start out with twelve chicks and enough grain to feed them for a year.

Apparently the local market for both chickens and eggs has improved over the past few years...

...although it's not clear which improved first.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mon(k)ey Business

I was walking down Queen St. the other day when I was offered a free reusable shopping bag by a rep from Telus. I confess to taking it - and I also confess that it was mostly because he said there would be a chocolate bar inside.

Since then, I have seen people carrying these Telus bags all over the place. Are they just handing out zillions of the bags over the course of several days, or are people really going to use this feebie? If so, it's magnificent marketing on the part of Telus. As Pat put it: you wouldn't really want to carry around a bag with the Rogers Telecommunications logo... but that Telus monkey is pretty cute!

Inside my bag I found (yes, my chocolate bar - which by the way tasted a lot like wax), plus some lime green wrapping paper and little gift tags featuring the abovementioned cute monkeys. Telus colour scheme: yep, Telus logo: nowhere to be found.

My first thought: I could actually use this, which might assuage my guilt about accepting a bag of stuff I don't need that required energy to produce and will otherwise end up as landfill.

My second thought: Telus is infiltrating my Christmas and I will be facilitating subconscious advertising to anyone who sees a gift I wrapped in green or tagged with a monkey.

So now I'll face the conundrum: do I use my shopping bag and thereby save plastic bags but advertise for Telus? Do I use other reusable shopping bags and chuck this one, thereby refusing to advertise for Telus but contributing to Toronto's already ridiculous waste management problem?

Honestly - I could have avoided this with just a tiny bit of willpower... and as if I don't already have enough chocolate around at this time of year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

World's Coolest Online Magazine

I've mentioned Inkycircus before - the bestest girl-nerd blog ever. I mean, where else will you find posts about people who acted out mitosis in a swimming people (and videotaped themselves!), or how insecticide might be the secret ingredient in Stradivarius violins. I mean, neato.

Well now there's a MAGAZINE!! Hurrah. It's called Inkling Magazine. Click on over, people, it's way cool.

And watch the upcoming articles carefully ;) You never know who might be contributing...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I've got worms

I love Christmas carols and hymn - I really do. They remind me of how excited I used to feel around this time of year when I was a kid: just about bursting with anticipation. There's something really nice about just knowing all the words and being able to sing them with alomst anyone - a very "community" kind of experience.

But. For almost a week now I have had a fragment of some Christmas tune I don't really know stuck in my head:

..Willie, play your fife and drum, Robin [something, something hum a bit here];Tu-ra-lu-ra-lu, Pat-a-pat-a-pan...

And that's all I know. And it's not even a great song. Heck, it's not even a traditional carol. And it's driving me crazy!

This type of thing is called an earworm. It's a great name for a REALLY IRRITATING THING.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A thing as lovely as a tree?

*sounds of Christmas carols playing softly in the background...*

Ahh, Christmastime. I'm thinking of smells of gingerbread and nutmeg, mulled wine, pine needles, and PVC fixed with lead.

*sounds of needle being scraped off record* ... What?!

Ah yes. I read an article today saying that most artificial Christmas trees are made of PVC - polyvinyl chloride, which is a known carcinogen at the very least. And lead, which is a developmental and reproductive health hazard, is apparently used to stabilize PVC compounds, so it might be in your fake tree as well.

So if you have an artificial tree, don't chew on it.

And real trees? Well, nice to think that they're out there sucking in some of that excess carbon dioxide while they're growing to be nice and perfectly conical for us - but sadly, they will just release it back into the atmosphere as they decay after you throw it out. Not only that, but depending on where you buy your tree, it might have been treated with insecticides or pesticides.

So if you have a real tree, don't chew on it.

And if you aren't Christian, thank goodness. You get out of all of this bringing-a-tree-inside stuff which is a really weird tradition when you really think about it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cereal Cars?

Got any flax in your car? How about soy? Sugar cane? Corn? Nope, I'm not asking if you've been to you nearest organic-foods store. Actually, some major vehicle manufacturers are substituting bio-based products like flax, abaca fibers, and soy-based foams to make the fabric and seat cushions in cars - reducing dependence on petroleum-based products and (hopefully) lowering the carbon emissions required to make the bits and pieces that go into your vehicle.

Toyota, Honda, and (I'm a little weirded out by this, but hey, willing to applaud) Ford are the leaders in making sustainable and healthy changes to some of their cars. In addition to adding stuff that sounds like it belongs in a health nut's cereal to their seat cushions, they are also trying to reduce the amount of plastic and PVC (polyvinyl chloride, a nasty chemical that's notoriously difficult to recycle) they use. This should also reduce the off-gassing of unhealthy chemicals into cars. Chemicals that trigger allergies or cause ong-term health effects. (Uh, yeah. So. That new-car smell? Not exactly good for you.)

Despite these moves, an Ecology Centre Report still only gives out a top grade of C+ (to Toyota). Clearly, there's lots more to be done.

Bring on the granola!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fun with words, meet climate change

Yesterday I heard a radio announcer attribute a quote to "Don Quixoto". I'm not sure if it was him or my ears, since I'm pretty sure the dude in question is actually called Don Quixote. Whose "real name in the book" (if that makes sense) was Alonso Quixano. And really, the author is Cervantes. I mean, who do you actually cite when the words were spoken by a fictional character who adopts a new name?

Anyway, so I'm listening to the radio and thinking, ...huh? ... "Don Kyoto" ????

I'm thinking this might be a character who does not see wind power as the solution to our greenhouse gas emissions woes.

Or, a guy who thinks it's possible to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions but he doesn't really have the right tools for the job and most people think he's completely mad.

Either way, here in Canada, Don Kyoto is definitely a fictional character.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Know Your Audience

There was a time when I was doing a lot of procrastinating (I was supposed to be preparing for my comprehensive exams) that I got a little addicted to the Oprah Winfrey show.

I like that she takes up important "causes" - because millions of people listen to her and follow her and believe every word that comes out of her mouth. I couldn't stand the giveaway shows and the celebrity-who-is-shilling-his/her-latest-offering shows. In the end, I just got a bit tired of Oprah. Besides, I finally got back to work - so I haven't tuned in in ages.

But when I heard that Al Gore was going to be on Oprah yesterday to talk about his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, I had to turn on my TV.

Possibly Al Gore has never watched Oprah (gasp!) , but I'm not sure that he had a great read on his audience. Oprah's audiences relate best to the human condition: tragedy, heroes, struggles, victories.

And Al Gore was talking about infrared radiation. And going through his slides at warp speed.

When I turned it off they were starting to get into "how this affects YOU" a bit more, but overall I felt pretty disappointed. I think a major opportunity to communicate to the driving-everywhere, disposable-item-loving, well-meaning-but-oblivious crowd was missed.

Image from NASA via the National Space Science Data Centre.
(This site is not endorsed by NASA)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Erm, if Big Tobacco could just butt out?!

AUGH! Those slimy Tobacco industry types have generated horrible, deceptive communications tactics that have inflitrated the consciousness of a bunch of other industries.

First, it was global warming. Now, Gooderich Corporation and other polluting companies in California have adopted those same approaches in an effort to avoid dealing with perchlorate in drinking water. They have even hired a public relations firm that was used by Philip Morris - to develop an anit-regulation campaign. And they're churning out stuff that looks like scientific evidence of the safety of California's drinking water supply - but is actually poorly constructed science intended to implant doubt in the public mind.

Apparently Gooderich, which had a factory in Rialto, about an hour ouside of LA, decided to dispose of tonnes of rocket fuel in the late 1950s and early 1960s. And so they put in in a giant, unlined pit behind the factory. Natch, the stuff seeped into the water supply. Which is a huge drag, considering how precious water is in California.

In Rialto, they figured out that the water was contaminated over ten years ago. And Gooderich is still tryng to weasel out of the cleanup.

The company may be rich, but "good" doesn't even come into it.