Alt-Pace Makers

Green shoot in the desert - growth in adverse conditions

When Simple Gadgets
Solve Complex Problems

Every once in a while, we choose to focus on small, alternative branches of scientific research, dedicated to our survival on this planet as a radically different, more benign species; works of wonder highlighting the ingenuity of the human spirit… Just kidding.
We do, however, come across examples of brilliant ideas, of simple but effective ways of overcoming the appalling conditions faced by billions, depleted of the most vital needs, such as breathable air, drinkable water, and a reliable charger for their cellphones.
The curious thing is, these inventions are all around us, and many seem interconnected, as if the same drive to develop a greenhouse in the middle of the desert, irrigated by desalinized seawater, also brought about a bottle that does all the desalinization on its own.
From a sterilizer that draws its power from the sun, to a shirt that can turn into a battery. There’s also ways that may enable manholes to charge electric cars, and yes, a cellphone charger powered by another bottle, actually any bottle. If there’s a want, there is a wheel, or something to that effect.
For now, though, we’ll restrain from reporting on the latest uses of body fluids as an alternative way to fossil energy. Yes, you’d be surprised about how much there is out there to report. Almost as much as what’s been generated as we speak. But we’ve done that before, so we’ll leave it for another time.
If there’s one common denominator of all these ingenious contraptions is that they’re deceptively simple but reach out to the needs of millions. While we agonize whether our stay on this planet is still viable, without detonating it first, some are busy making amendments with humanity and treating nature as an ally.

How can you grow food in the middle of the Sahara? Try using saltwater, wind and solar power, and some new technologies and you’re halfway there. The curiously named Sahara Forest Project has done just that, Continue reading

The Heat & the Mordant

New Ways New Yorkers Find Bikes,
Mosquitoes & Flip Flops Annoying

If you live in this city, you’re bound to be a five-borough complainer. And if it’s about the weather, in itself a subject capable of making a screeching whiner out of even the most pious nun, any unexpected change is greeted here with grinding teeth and clenched fists.
That’s how last week’s heat wave brought together three predictable features of the season to an unhealthy boil, as this fair town bubbled with nasty epithets galore and vituperative profanities thrown at flying biters, fatigued riders and unwashed walkers alike.
For even though there aren’t many redeeming qualities about mosquitoes who show up uninvited at outdoor cookouts and private cocktail functions, they should be expected to be an integral part of this town’s ‘gorgeous mosaic.’ Still, thank goodness someone always finds a new way to get rid of them.
As for New York’s tardy entrance in the row of world-class cities with a liberal tilt towards biking, as with everything else here, it got kind of complicated. And many blame Mayor Bloomberg, a man who’s yet to see a corporate logo he doesn’t like, for turning this green idea into a factory of another kind of green for its sponsor.
On top of that, or rather, underneath it all, there are those distraught by someone else’s exposed toes, which let’s face it, after a few miles of accumulated street grime, are indeed an unflattering sight. But to drive pedestrians to loudly make deleterious observations about each other’s personal hygiene? Who knew?
It’s all part, of course, of the unduly sense of entitlement and delusion shared by Manhattanites and their kin, who wish to believe they preside over whatever happens around, and have no qualms saying something about it; the do-you-have-a-problem-with-that? kind of attitude that we all so dearly embrace and like to brag about.
As we approach the zenith of the season, baking sidewalks and sweaty subways included, we thought that now would be as good a time as ever to, what else? complain a little about things we have absolutely no Continue reading

Furry Tales

Rats vs. Nukes, Stray Cats vs.
Florida & a Dog Lovers’ Bacteria

For thousands of years, no other trio of animals have been so close to us. Whether you love or abhor their company, most of us have at least one funny story to share about a rat, a cat, or a dog we’ve met. But behold, for furs always fly when one fails to recognize their own stripes.
Some stories may start with a flamboyant set up: so a rodent, a feline, and a canine walk into this bar and… We’d rather tell you about the environmental bent of Japanese rats; the furious fight over southern feral cats; and a bacteria type that only people who love dogs carry.
To be sure, that’s not a threesome that you’re used to seeing mentioned in the same sentence either. Except, maybe, as the title of some obscure flick. And cats’ undisputed dominance of the Internet, viral video division, is inversely proportional to our own aversion, or general failure to fully understand, rats, mice, and the vermin attracted to our provisions since immemorial times.
With dogs, though, it’s another story, one that usually invokes feelings of companionship, loyalty, and not a small penchant for being subservient to our most spurious interests. It all points to our bottomless guiltless ability to subjugate animals in order to prevail in our daily grind against our own species.
If we could, for a moment, see the natural world through unbiased eyes, perhaps we’d have the clarity to recognize that having been bestowed with a sense of moral, we’re the first ones to betray it. And all other living beings are muted witnesses to our nefarious sense of supremacy and self entitlement.

The final and sad toll of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which struck Japan’s Pacific coast in March of 2011, was close to 16,000 dead, with thousands more injured and officially missing. To that, one may add now a few rats, unsung heroes of an ongoing battle between environmentalists and government bureaucrats.
Along with death and destruction, another scary consequence of the catastrophe was the meltdown at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex provoked by the tsunami. It not just disabled the plants, but to this day it’s still generating radiation to Continue reading

Quantum Leak

Urine To Power Generators
May Also Create Brain Cells

News about bodily functions hardly excites us. More than a matter of taste, there’s not really much point into reducing our humanity to its mechanical underpinnings. Unless, of course, you’re part of the medical community. Or make crass jokes for a living. Or are in high school.
But amid the flood of depressing news, 2012 had at least two stories worth our urge to celebrate: one, about four African girls who developed a urine-powered electricity generator; the other, about research to reprogram cells found in urine into neurons to fight disease.
While the generator is ready and, depending on funding, may fulfill a huge huge gap in clean energy, the research is still in its initial, albeit promising, stages. Both, though, beat anything a teenager, or a comedian, or both, could possibly do with such lowly source of material.
The year had, naturally, its share of sophomoric stories about er… bladder discharges. Such as the boxer known for drinking his own ‘product,’ who scored a major victory on the ring, just a few weeks ago, and a publicity stunt in Brazil, for a urinal that sounds like an electric guitar when used.
For the record, we’re not uptight about it, if there’s a point about even mentioning urine. Two years ago, some bars in the U.K. had a game of ‘hit the spot‘ and watch it power an ultra-quick video game on the screen in front of the user. Those who enjoy spending time in the restroom, liked it.

By far, though, the most depressing news about it was Michael Phelps‘s confession (as if we needed to know) that most swimmers (that means, he for sure, and others he wouldn’t mention by name) have the habit of peeing in the pool before competition starts. So much for telling our kids how gross that is.
That’s right, the winner of a record 22 Olympic medals, is not nearly as accomplished as a public role model outside the water. His golden opportunity to remain silent was not just missed, but also enough to Continue reading