Posts Tagged With: Technology

Futuristic Food Recycling

A really ladqvmwe8qzpicyuwgjlaerge portion of human’s waste stream is totally compostable, but a lot of us still don’t compost it for a variety of reasons and it ends up in a landfill. Zera Food Recycler is a futuristic solution (sadly, not quite a Mr. Fusion) that automatically processes food scraps into plant food in 24 hours. Unfortunately it is expensive right now and involves replaceable filters, but it is just the first step in a bringing another tool to reduce landfill waste online. It is great to see inventors asking the right questions. Can technology ultimately save us?

 

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GVGBC Luncheon: Save the Bay!

watershedJoin us at City Space in downtown Charlottesville at noon on January 12th to learn more about what local organizations are doing to help reduce the amount of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay through credits for reducing stormwater runoff and education.

Please read more and register for the event at GVGBC.org

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Bamboo Deck String Lights

Humans are predictable creatures. For some reason we feel more comfortable in places that are the right proportions and scale for the activity that occurs there. If you have found this post, then you are probably looking to make your deck more intimate, romantic, or inviting for reading, dining or talking. Lighting has long been used to “enclose” outdoor rooms to make the great outdoors feel more comfortable, and string lights have become a very inexpensive and effective way to do this.

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Bamboo Uprights

In order to get the deck lighting high enough to create a “roof” over a deck, the lighting needs to be 8 to 10 feet above the floor. Most decks have railing between 3 and 4 feet tall, so extra height will be needed to make the desired effect work. Bamboo is a very strong, extremely fast-growing grass that can grow in a large variety of climates, so it is a low-impact and in a lot of cases free choice for making the uprights (ie posts) that will hold the lights up. Above and beyond being very strong, renewable, and cheap, bamboo’s characteristic shape offers a few extra features that can reduce the amount of mechanical fasteners that you need to use.

Sourcing and Preparing the Bamboo

Do not plant your own Bamboo: the plant is not native in most locations and will quickly take over your yard and spread to your neighbors’. Look around where you live for a bamboo patch, chances are that the people whose property it is on will be more than happy to let you have a few twigs. If you are a bit shy, some garden centers may have it in stock.

Look for pieces that are between 10 and 14 feet tall, so that when the small top branches are cut, you will be left with a roughly 8 to 10 feet pole between ½” to 1” in diameter. On a deck, the number of uprights will either be the number of deck railing posts or every 6 to 8 feet. Cut the bamboo down close to the ground, then trim off all of the branches. When trimming the branches, leave ½” to 1” of the base of the branch attached to the pole, these branches sticking out just a little bit are how the string lights will be attached.

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Attaching the Bamboo Uprights to the deck

The way that the bamboo uprights are attached to the deck will vary based on the deck construction but the concept is the same for all decks. The pole needs two points of attachment to the deck to make it stable and sturdy. Special brackets (think tiki torches) are available for just this task, but they will probably cost more than the string lights themselves. If you do go this route make sure that they are made to withstand the outdoors or they will break or rust all over the place.

In my case the deck railing overhangs the railing posts by an inch, so a simple bracket would not work anyway. two 3” long pieces of notched 2” x 2” treated lumber per bamboo upright did the trick nicely. Drill a hole to allow for a zip tie to grab the bamboo and use two exterior deck screws to attach the pieces of lumber to the outside of the railing post. Attaching the bamboo is as easy as tightening the zip ties because the natural bulge every 8 to 12 inches along the bamboo upright will act as a positive stop and keep the upright from slipping downward with gravity.

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Choosing String Lights

There is now a huge variety of string lights available. When using bamboo uprights, the huge commercial bulbs with thick cords will look too large, so pick ones that have thinner cords and smaller bulbs. Incandescent bulbs are a waste of energy so luckily LED technology has come a long way in the past few years.

The first thing to consider is how bright do you want the lights to be. There are really only two choices: mood lighting and illumination. If you are just looking to make the deck a more inviting place, then mood lighting is all that you need, and if you only need mood lighting, then solar powered string lights are a great way to go. They always turn on at dusk, don’t require any outdoor electrical plugs, don’t cost anything to operate, plus they still allow for stargazing and watching fireflies. Outdoor lamps can be used to supplement the lighting in the areas and times that it is needed.

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If you must have more light, then you need to look into plug-in LED string lights. When looking for LED string lights, look for reviews online to make sure that they do not strobe; cheaper sets often flicker at 60 hz, which can drive your eyes insane and will completely ruin the effect of calm. Make sure they are rated for continuous outdoor use.

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The second thing to consider is the color of the light from the bulbs. LEDs are available in any color imaginable, so if you really want purple lights, go for it. I personally like the warm white type of lights (2700K) which produce a glow similar to incandescent bulbs.

Attaching the String Lights to the Bamboo Uprights

This is by far the easiest part of the process. Be gentle when hanging the string lights, especially with the solar powered ones. Pick a height on the bamboo uprights that looks right (start with 8 feet if you can’t decide), and wrap the string lights one turn around each bamboo upright above the closest branch to the desired height, then push the loop down to the branch and notice that the bamboo branch provides a stop so that the lights can’t slide down the upright.

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If you want your string lights to hover above the deck and attach the your house you have to get a little creative. Is it best not to drill any more holes in your house than there already are, and coincidentally most houses have attachments on the side like gutters or radon pipes that can be used to attach the lights to. Pay attention to any sharp objects that could cut the light string so use things like spring links (carabiners) to make the attachment to the house less straining.

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I hope that this has given you some more ideas about how to create an outdoor room that invites you to enjoy the outdoors.

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UVA Sustainability Days

Thursday11/13 & Friday 11/14 UVA Sustainability Days
Events start at 9:30 am Thursday and end by 2pm Friday.  See schedule for exact times and locations
Take part in UVA Sustainability Days to celebrate and innovate sustainable solutions on Grounds. There will be sustainability-themed events such as a Poster Competition, Film Screening, Zero Waste Workshop, Panel Discussion, Hoos Talking Green, and much more! Please RSVP, as space is limited for some of the events.  Free.  Info. and RSVP at http://www.virginia.edu/sustainability/u-va-sustainability-days/

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Natural Swimming Pools

If the idea of a chlorinated pool makes your skin itch, then maybe a pool filtered by plants is the way to go. The plants are chosen very carefully to do certain functions in the cleaning process and integrated into the pool system. The affect can be quite a bit more stunning and organic than any pool that you’ve ever seen.

Check out the full article here: http://landarchs.com/natural-swimming-pools/

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Site Solar Shading Survey App How-to Guide

The first thing you need to do before building any sort of solar-powered project is to figure out how much sun the site receives. Trees, mountains and houses can all block solar energy from reaching whatever you have collecting it. In the olden days you would go out to the site armed with a compass, protractor, cardboard, string and a washer and plot out the obstructions on paper. Now we have some slick apps for android phones and tablets to help us. Here’s a guide for making a Solar Site Survey Chart using apps for android with a little post processing on a computer.

1. Use the Solar Shading app to make a new project and trace the solid horizon. Follow the directions for the app; there is no need to repeat them here.  Make sure that the program knows your position or things will be thrown off. It is important to trace just the mountains and other solid things that aren’t going anywhere because you certainly can’t change those. Use the share icon in the app to export the pdf of the report; it is useful as it is, but we’ll do more with it later.

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2. Use the Solar Shading app to make another new project and trace the “green” horizon. This time, trace the outer edge of all the trees and any other objects that aren’t completely solid. Use the share icon in the app to export the pdf of the report; again, it is useful as it is, but we’ll do more with it later.

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3. Download all of the reports from your phone to a computer.

4. Download a clean solar chart online for the survey location from http://solardat.uoregon.edu/SunChartProgram.html

Sun Chart - Charlottesville

5. Use Photoshop, GIMP, or another image editor that allows the use of layers to superimpose and line up the solar chart made in step 4 over the chart that the app made in step 1. On a new layer use the paintbrush and masks to make a clean horizon on the chart. Hide the chart from step 1.

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6. Now bring the solar chart that the app made in step 2 under the chart built-in step 6 just like you did in step 5. On a new layer use the paintbrush and masks to make a clean “green” horizon on the chart. Hide the chart from step 2. Put some text to let everyone know where in the world the survey was taken and you’re done.

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7. Doing the survey with the less expensive augmented reality apps SunPlan and Sun Surveyor is a similar process, but is more labor intensive. Use the app to take augmented reality screenshots to create a panorama on a computer later. I like to turn on the winter and summer solstice sun paths in the app because it gives a nice reference point when using them later. It’s a good idea to take a panorama even if you used the Solar Shading app to make the solar chart because it shows what the obstructions are. They are the most valuable together.

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8. Turn the images into a panorama using a panorama maker program like Microsoft ICE. The augmented reality pieces confuse these programs pretty badly, so it’s not going to be flawless. Let me know if you find a way to get a cleaner panorama!

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9. Download a clean solar chart online for the survey location from http://solardat.uoregon.edu/SunChartProgram.html

10. Open Photoshop, GIMP, or another image editor that allows the use of layers to open the chart made in step 9 side by side to the panorama made in step 8. On a new layer use the paintbrush and masks to make a clean horizon on the chart from step 9 using the panorama as a reference. On a new layer use the paintbrush and masks to make a clean “green” horizon on the same chart using the panorama as a reference. Put some text to let everyone know where in the world the survey was taken and you’re done.

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Site Solar Shading Survey Apps

The first thing you need to do before building any sort of solar-powered project is to figure out how much sun the site receives. Trees, mountains and houses can all block solar energy from reaching whatever you have collecting it. In the olden days you would go out to the site armed with a compass, protractor, cardboard, string and a washer and plot out the obstructions on paper. I’ll let Builditsolar.com describe how to do that in detail: http://www.builditsolar.com/SiteSurvey/site_survey.htm

Here’s what an old-fashioned solar survey looks like:

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Thanks to google sky map, everyone now knows that smartphones and tablets have all the sensors that one would need to make one of these charts digitally, plus a camera. The burning question is which app works the best and how do you make a chart with this technology? We pitted a few against each other using the same android smart phone hardware and here are the results. There is also a guide for creating this chart using some of the apps mentioned below.

1. Solar Shading: For the purpose of making a site solar survey chart, Solar Shading is by far the most capable app for android, which makes sense because it is the only one specifically designed to make this chart. The interface is a bit harder to get used to than the other apps, but it is by far the most powerful. You trace the obstructions to the sun either using the crosshairs with the camera or looking down the edge of the phone/tablet. Once you’ve completed tracing the horizon for a complete circle, the app generates the solar chart as well as two graphs showing the solar power generated and the penalty that the obstructions are causing during each month of the year. This app is easily the fastest way to accomplish the task and provides great looking reports, so it can be done at several locations on a site to find the optimal location on a site for a solar collector or a passive solar house. The only downside is the $16 price tag.

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 2. Sun Surveyor: This is an “augmented reality” application that displays sun paths and/or moon paths on the camera preview. This is the smoothest, most polished, and most feature rich of this type of app that was tested. The 3D compass, compass calibrator, and map view are nice additions to your smartphone toolkit. The augmented reality view shows any sun or moon path that you would like to display, as well as degree grid lines, which are very helpful in building a solar chart back at a computer using the images captured with this application. These images can then be taken back to a computer and obstructions plotted onto a chart if needed. This is a nice companion to the Solar Shading app to have pictures for later reference that are geographically referenced. This app carries a $6.49 price tag.

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3. SunPlan: A little Less polished than Sun Surveyor, the augmented reality view works almost identical to it. Sunplan doesn’t have the 3D compass, Map view or moon information, but it has a shadow compass. At $3.99, it’s a little easier on the wallet if you don’t need the vast array of sun and moon data.

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4. Helioserver: Works similar to the solar shading app, but the interface is confusing and not very polished. It probably does a lot of heavy lifting in the background, but only gives you an output of what direction to point solar panels; I wasn’t able to accurately come up with reference points from the output to plot the data onto a chart. I couldn’t figure it out, not to say it can’t be done.If it works for you, the $1.33 price tag is certainly the cheapest.

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Conclusion: After actually doing a few surveys with all of the software, I personally choose to use the Solar Shading app to do the heavy lifting. Its professional looking output can be imported directly into Photoshop and excel. It collects real data in a couple of minutes so that several locations can be investigated to find the optimal solar site location in a short amount of time. I also use Sun Surveyor and SunPlan to get a good panorama of the site for reference further down in design. They are both very similar, so use Google Play’s 15 minute refund policy to try them both out before you decide which one you prefer.

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Biomass Generator

Next time that a big storm hits your town and knocks out the electrical grid, don’t think about how nice it would be to have a gas guzzling, smelly generator to run you fish tank and lava lamps. Think instead of a biomass generator. This interesting technology has seen some  advancements that have made biomass power generation a hands-off operation that users expect from their emergency equipment. Of course, the technology can be used for all sorts of power needs. All Power Labs is a company leading the way in developing this clever technology; they have an interesting past and a bright, progressive future.

The generator first converts woody biomass (like wood chips, acorns, corn husks, etc.) to a gas; this is certainly the most complected step which this guide explains much better than I can. An engine is then used to burn that gas to produce mechanical or electrical power.

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Turning Straw Into Buildings

Strawbales are an excellent insulation material and because of their density, are also excellent thermal mass. They are also a rapidly renewable resource. Up to this point, however, they have been on the fringes of building technology because of the time it takes to build with the material. ModCell has come up with a viable way to turn stawbales into super-insulated building panels for commercial and residential use. They claim that these panels are zero carbon or better to create, which is infinitely better than rigid insulation can even think to claim. Brilliant!

modcell panels

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Solar Powered Portable Stove

The gosun stove is the best thought out simple solar food cooker I’ve seen! It looks like this is going to be a reality soon as they got 5 times the funding they were looking for to get it started. Campouts, tailgates, off the grid parties, third world countries and greenies everywhere will love this.

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