Thursday, April 05, 2012 10:56 AM
they may be, mushrooms have been making headlines as of late. It turns out the
fungi kingdom is capable of fixing some of our species’ biggest environmental
gaffes, and boosting the economy while it's at it. Paired with a little human
ingenuity, mushrooms could be our ticket to a viable
waste sites “so steeped in oil, dioxins, and other chemicals that hardly
anything can grow on them,” fungi have become part of a plan for accelerated clean-up, reports Michael J. Coren for Fast Company. Under the guidance of Mohamed Hijri, a biologist and
professor at the University of Montreal, a few of nature’s heavy-hitters
will be introduced to such sites to work their magic. First, willow trees will
be planted densely to absorb heavy metals. The trees will then be burned, their
ashes used as food for fungi and bacteria able to metabolize petrochemical
waste. Fungi selection is still underway, but has a big payoff. A process that
might have taken hundreds of years (or longer) can be accomplished in just a
are also linking young entrepreneurs to a green living, writes Sarah Stankorb inGOOD.
Inspired by a class in business ethics, would-be consultants and investment
bankers Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez instead opted to invest in closing the
food-to-soil loop. During their final semester, the young men began growing
mushrooms in a bucket of used coffee grounds. With a little legwork and a $5,000
grant from UC Berkeley, they soon had a deal to collect grounds from a west
coast chain, Peet’s Coffee, in which they would grow mushrooms for northern
California Whole Foods stores. Soon their company, Back to the Roots, was making money for both grounds collection and mushroom sales. As
if that weren’t enough, they’re giving away the used grounds (complete with
mushroom substrate) to local gardeners for compost.
of the beneficial uses of mushrooms is not entirely new. Mycologist Paul Stamets
has been working to bring awareness to the possibilities for decades. He made
major breakthroughs in 2008 with his TED talk, "Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world" and
acknowledgement from Utne Reader,
which named him one the 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World. Looks like his
ideas have spread, taking shape in inspiring new
Image: Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) mycelium growing in a petri dish on coffee grounds. By Tobi Kellner, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 03, 2012 2:07 PM
Chances are you know someone sweating under serious financial debt. It might even be you. I’m fresh out of college and have student loans looming over my shoulder.
The hardest part of getting out of debt, in my opinion, is keeping everything straight and organized. Lenders send about ten letters a week, often with confusing or conflicting information. Due dates get pushed back to pay the electric bill. Online resources are separated by account, and it’s hard to synthesize it all. And finally, there are a legion of private companies that want to “help” you with refinancing and consultation services. Well, good riddance to all that, I say!
ReadyForZero, a new online resource recently profiled by Fast Company, tries to make paying down debts less baffling through data synthesis, minimal visual design, video game theory, and psychological mind hacking.
Here’s how it all comes together. When you sign up for the free website, you plug in account information for your credit cards, bank accounts, student loans, mortgages, etc. (Presumably, the company will find some way to monetize the data it uses, but it claims your information will never be sold. Also, the site seems to have Department of Defense level security.) ReadyForZero knows that the Internet is addicted to infographics; thus, the site uses illustrative graphs and visualizations to clearly display your financial information. You can then use slider bars to calculate different repayment schemes and how it will affect your income, savings, and interest. Playing off of popular web-based games like Farmville, ReadyForZero sets benchmarks and goals to beat (also sort of like badges on Foursquare), turning debt repayment into essentially a really responsible video game. Finally, the company is trying out little tricks to help you manage your spending habits. For example, they provide stickers to place over your magnetic strip and credit card number that remind you of what you’re buying—and of the lingering debt you’re trying to eradicate.
This is probably not the right tool for everyone. But for those that like to visualize the problem without all the cluttering details and who aren’t worried about the company’s access to your financial information, it could make a life-changing difference. I’m signing up when I get home tonight.
Source: Fast Company
Image by Vectorportal, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 18, 2011 3:58 PM
Bicycling through city streets at night entails swerving around pot holes, dodging careless drivers, and crossing your fingers. Bike lights are crucial for any serious urban cyclist, but most products on the market do a poor job of illuminating the asphalt and alerting motorists to the presence of bicycles. Revolights, an innovative Bay Area-based start-up, hopes to, well, revolutionize the world of bike lighting.
Revolights are basically blinking LED bulbs mounted to the front and rear wheel-rims. Like a car, the lights are white in the front and red in the back. What makes them special is a small magnet also installed into the bicycle’s fork, which communicates with the LED system—mostly indicating the bicycle’s speed. As the cyclist accelerates, the lights are programmed to blink in clusters as they reach either the front or back (white and red, respectively). At cruising speed, Revolights’ timing makes an approximately 2-foot-long, solid band of light. (Watch the video below.)
Revolights solve a number of night riding problems. As Fast Company’s Alissa Walker points out, they can help “drivers to understand the full length and size of the vehicle.” Further, “the light doubles as a headlight for the biker improves upon most bike lights which just flash or shine without much assistance to the rider.” These two elements are critical: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2008 report on bicycle safety, 58 percent of reported bicycle accidents are collisions with motor vehicles (70 percent of those on account of inadequate side visibility, the report claims) and 30 percent of accidents are personal falls. In other words, this is an area that is in dire need of innovation. Optimistically, Walker speculates that, “[b]y mimicking the light arrangement on a car, it also might help drivers to see bikes as a car’s equal.”
One downside is the battery life, which is a mere four hours for the front light and a little longer for the rear. But according to the project’s Kickstarter page (funding is still open), they plan to develop Revolights that are powered solely by wheel rotation.
Source: Fast Company
Thursday, July 07, 2011 10:39 AM
How much is a pound of cigarette butts worth? A San Diego-based environmentalist will give you $3 for them.
Androgynous fashion model Andrej Pejic walks the runway in men’s and women’s fashions for Brazilian designer Lino Villaventura. Which look do you favor?
Has a businessman from Denver committed the biggest green scam in history?
Want some fresh toxins with that strawberry shortcake? Methyl iodide on California strawberry fields gives you one more reason to go locavore and organic this summer.
Before you head to the beach this weekend, check out Guernica’s list of 10 States Where You Should Think Twice Before Jumping in the Water.
How fewer smokers led to a public health problem in Arizona.
These 27 maps show the cartographic history of Africa.
If “I love that book” is your only pickup line, then e-readers have effectively destroyed your love life.
Strange bedfellows: The intellectual libertarians at Reason released Canadian singer-songwriter Lindy’s video for “No-Knock Raid,” which graphically shows the accidental violence typical of unannounced drug raids. Cannabis Culture follows up with an interview parsing Lindy’s politics. While you’re at it, check out rapper Pharaohe Monch’s short film for “Clap (One Day),” which dramatizes a no-knock raid gone tragically wrong.
Fast Company takes a deeper look at Matt Damon and Water.org: "Our vision is clean water and sanitation for everyone, in our lifetime…So we better get to work."
What would you do if you were stuck overnight at Dallas-Fort Worth airport?
Image by indi.ca, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 23, 2011 12:59 PM
It has been raining off and on in Minneapolis for five days straight. Last night the city dipped into the low 50s, which exacerbated the needling wind and drizzle. It’s the end of June. What happened to the glorious summer? Weatherman, if we’re going to have the few tolerable, fleeting months stolen, could you lie to us? Or at least pretend to be a little optimistic?
That’s the motivation behind Optimistic Weather, a new Android application designed by Nation that glosses over the daily forecast’s more disheartening details. And what’s more, whenever you scope out the next day’s forecast, the app always predicts a splendorous sunny day.
“The idea for the app came out of a conversation we were having in the studio about how wrong some online weather services appeared to be, and that it would be interesting if there was a service that lied to you when the weather was going to be rubbish,” Nation designer Tom Hartshorn told Fast Company. The design firm is fittingly based in London, a city known for its dismal weather, dry wit, and delusional positivism.
When a massive thunderstorm is on the way, for example, the app muses: “What? Is this the end of the world? Any chance the thunder gods will get tired and this will just go away?”
You can download Optimistic Weather for free from the Android Market.
Source: Fast Company
Images courtesy of Nation.
Thursday, April 07, 2011 12:24 PM
Sure, we love our laptops and iPads, but they’ll never have the romance of a typewriter. Check out this gallery of authors and their beloved machines.
A cultural history of the river baptism.
It was announced yesterday that later this year, Glenn Beck will end his show on Fox. Sojourners—one of Beck’s progressive targets over the years because of their radical idea that Christians could be and should be committed to social justice—has rounded up a number of their responses to the blubbering, bullying Beck.
Save NPR! But please put PBS out of its misery.
Looking to explore uncharted waters? Travel 36,201 feet under the sea in billionaire Richard Branson’s deep-sea submarine.
The autism-vaccine debate is not over yet.
Fast Company points to a fascinating series of infographics detailing how America describes itself in dating profiles. (Teaser: Looking for naughty fun? You might consider moving to West Viginia or New Mexico.)
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 1:14 PM
Couples have more options than ever when choosing the right contraception for their relationship: There are pills and patches, IUDs and surgeries, shots, diaphragms, and sponges. Recently, researchers have even made significant advances in the development of male contraception. All of the choices make the latex condom seem rather, well, old-fashioned—which is good reason for prophylactic pushers to give the condom a 21st century makeover.
Sir Richard’s, a condom startup whose slogan is “Doing good never felt better,” donates one condom for every condom bought on the shelf. The company has a clever ad campaign, to boot. Sir Richard’s, reports Fast Company’s Cliff Kuang, “is advertsing its wares not by promises of hair-pulling, nail-scratching pleasure, but rather economics. Simply put, it costs so much to have a damn kid that you better not have one by accident.” “Suggested Retail” stickers on the product packaging remind shoppers that a child's diapers cost more than $1,000 per year and that a Bugaboo stroller retails nearly $900. The company’s street advertisements mention the cost per year of sending a kid to college; in a stark font, the posters are inscribed with reminders like “The Dalton School - $35,300 per child/per year.” Ouch.
New York City recently unveiled a smart phone application called “NYC Condom Finder,” which uses your phone’s GPS to locate the nearest free-condom dispensary. “Considering that there are 3,000 such venues throughout the city,” writes Good’s Cord Jefferson, “it’s unlikely a person would ever be very far from a gratis prophylactic.”
One legitimate concern, applicable to both Sir Richard’s and the New York City Department of Health initiative, is that these marketing tricks may only resonate with affluent consumers, ostensibly those who’ve already received plenty of sex education and can afford smart phones. “[W]e’re seriously doubting that many unexpected parents end up with Bugaboos and tuition bills from Chapin,” writes Kuang. “Smart as the [Sir Richard's] campaign is, it probably needs more than a little of the everyman touch to truly be relevant. After all, having a kid is expensive, no matter if it’s a silver spoon or a tin spoon in their mouths.” In an ad campaign from a few years back, Trojan took that everyman approach and reminded men that if you’re not serious about contraception, you’ll get thrown into the pig pen.
Sources: Fast Company, Good
Image courtesy of Sir Richard's.
Thursday, January 27, 2011 10:20 AM
Want to know what challenges the Internet will face in the near future? Check out the list of the top five over the next five years, according to the judges of the annual Webby Awards.
Does it even make sense to own a house? Well, yes . . . in some places.
Can the excess heat from a crematorium be put to better use? Of course, one town in England says: Heat the community swimming pool with it. Always thinking on the bright side, Good asks, “What better way to cap off a life well-lived than by literally keeping your neighbors warm?”
Need help feeling patriotic? Look up! Bald eagles are on the move.
If your New Year’s resolution involves being more creative, get inspired by some everyday artists who have vowed to make something new each day. Author and creativity guru Noah Scalin made a skull a day for an entire year.
Obsessive, stalkerish fun: Portroids.
Midwest 45s serves up a motherload of obscure soul, funk, and gospel grease from the heartland.
Had your fill of the rat race? Why not buy yourself a firetower? Or a desert island? Or maybe you've always dreamed of owning a used bookstore on wheels; here's your opportunity.
They bury elephants, don't they? Take a tour of the final resting places for a bunch of displaced pachyderms.
While Christians and the “new atheists” go head to head in the culture wars, they’re missing a larger phenomenon: the animistic beliefs that pervade much of the developing world.
China is showing signs of greening up its act, but a legacy of pollution haunts some areas. A powerful 40-minute video report from Yale Environment 360 tells the story of Chinese villagers who band together to fight back against factories that are polluting their town, and government officials who are allowing it.
Source: The Huffington Post, Good, Fast Company, Ready Made, Yale Environment 360, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Thursday, October 21, 2010 2:00 PM
Every week we share links to stories, articles, and other interesting things we’ve come across online for you to enjoy over the weekend. It’s the utne.com crockpot; we add the ingredients for a great online meal.
The Walrus has composed a photo essay documenting the lives of a small community of Mennonites residing in Manitoba, Bolivia. The colony of 2,000 recently suffered a shattering scandal when it was discovered that a gang of men had drugged and raped between 60 and 140 women in the community.
We’ve been enjoying Peter Terzian’s crisp, personal, decidedly nontrendy writing at the music blog Earworms, where he posts YouTube clips of favorite musicians from the ’70s through today along with engaging mini-essays. Terzian’s tastes run toward pop, folk, and rock but still range pretty widely, from Joni Mitchell to Led Zeppelin to Belle & Sebastian.
A new army of female rockers is showing the guys how to wield an ax.
Newsweek has a fun roundup of clips of embarrassing voicemails left by public figures (think Brett Favre, Alec Baldwin, etc.) have left on answering machines.
Read about the Frozen Zoo, a project that collects and preserves the genetic material of rare and endangered animals.
Novelist and short story writer Lorrie Moore rhapsodizes about The Wire in The New York Review of Books.
Two from Fast Company: As the influence of Lance Armstrong’s Livestong organization continues to grow and the allegations continue to swirl around the man, one writer asks, “Is Livestrong's greatest asset also its greatest risk?” And, a profile of the rapper and—thanks to Coca-Cola—pop star K’naan, exploring his journey from playing with grenades as a child to writing the song at the center of Coke’s World Cup campaign.
On the sixth-month anniversary of the Gulf oil spill, environmentalist and essayist Terry Tempest Williams offers a very different portrait of the region and its people than you might hear on your nightly news (if you hear anything anymore) in her comprehensive essay, “The Gulf Between Us,” for Orion.
Monday, October 18, 2010 5:00 PM
Conan O'Brien has more than 1.7 million followers on Twitter. Jay Leno has fewer than 100,000. To say that Conan has a younger audience—and therefore an audience more likely to use Twitter—would be an understatement, as well as a path well-beaten. Nonetheless, Conan's use of social media to rev up the hype around his new show on TBS has been impressive. Using the name Team Coco, O’Brien has dived head first, reports Fast Company, and “dominated…the digital age.”
Starting with the website TeamCoco.com—“[t]he source of all things Conan”—O’Brien has used all the tools at his disposal for promotion: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Google Maps (to track his large blimp around the country), and YouTube to promote his new show. By creating web videos for announcements—which are then promoted via Twitter, et al.—like the name of his new show (“Conan” or “Conaw”?) and whether or not Andy Richter would be joining him on TBS, O’Brien has created a place for viewers to get all the information they needed while he was away from their TV screens.
Never mind the self-promotion and all that, though. What makes Conan O’Brien popular in these new venues is what has always made him popular: He’s hilarious. Just read some of these Tweets:
After 9 hours driving from drug store to drug store, it hit me: no one sells Columbus Day decorations.
The Nobel Prize in Science has gone to scientists who created an ultra-thin carbon. Actually it's normal thickness, but wearing stripes.
David Hasselhoff was kicked off of “Dancing With the Stars.” He should stick to singing. I mean acting. I mean…
Of course, those could have been posted by writers or assistants. But there’s no substitute for O’Brien’s delivery, which is on full display in his YouTube videos.
Right now Utne is just shy of 12,000 followers on Twitter. At 1.7 million, Coco’s got us beat…for now.
Source: Fast Company
Monday, October 18, 2010 4:22 PM
Boxed Water is Better, an upstart company based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is trying to think inside the box to address the ecological concerns presented by the bottled-water industry. The company seals carbon-filtered water in cartons not unlike those you might find your milk or orange juice in.
The packaging itself is, at first glance, quite impressive. Any given Boxed Water carton is made from 76 percent renewable resources—meaning trees—that come from well-managed forests, according to the company. Before filling they are shipped flat to cut down on transportation waste. Cartons are even recyclable, but not all recycling facilities are able to handle them.
In a conversation with Treehugger.com blogger Pablo Päster, bottled water sustainiability expert and founder of Ecomundi Ventures Alex McIntosh worries that, while many aspects of boxed water are appealing, some questions have not been answered. McIntosh presents a number of unanswered questions about boxed water:
Have they conducted a life cycle analysis of their specific material and manufacturing process? Have they done a comparative study versus other packaging and water source options? Does their packaging contain non-paper elements (thus making recycling more difficult)? How does their water sourcing value chain compare with other models in terms of water, energy and wastewater?
Fact Company Design's Suzanne Lebarre has some hyper-practical concerns. "Imagine jogging with a milk carton or trying to put it in your purse after you've already opened it," she writes. "You might as well stick a hose in there." Boxed Water acknowledges that their product is not yet perfect, notably that choosing tap water is probably the most environmentally conscientious way to drink.
Fast Company Design, Treehugger
Image courtesy of Boxed Water is Better.
Monday, October 18, 2010 1:54 PM
It’s no secret that American car companies were in the direst of straits just a couple years back. The economy had careened off of a cliff, decades-old pensions stifled the industry’s growth, and compared to stylish, alternative-fuel imports, the American vehicles seemed homely and downright desperate. American car companies needed some cosmetic (and reconstructive) surgery. Trying to reinvent itself and restore its battered image, Ford Motor Company focused on building the car for the next century.
Part of Ford’s rebranding experiment entails reducing the fleet of autos and marketing them as “hip.” Describing this shift, Ford CEO Alan Mulally comes off as earnest and playfully out of touch, like an octogenarian wearing baggy pants and listening to hip hop. “I mean, we had 97 of these, for God's sake!” Mulally told Fast Company, pointing at a list of old models. “How you gonna make 'em all cool? You gonna come in at 8 a.m. and say, ‘From 8 until noon, I'm gonna make No. 64 cool? And then I'll make No. 17 cool after lunch?’ It was ridiculous!” But Mulally didn’t need to look too far past his peers, passersby, and pop culture to know what new devices are the epitome of sophisticated cool: smartphones.
Sync, digital communications software already installed in some Ford models, is the link between automobiles and Androids. The software is programmed to keep you connected during your commute. “Ford is transforming the car into a powerful smartphone,” writes Fast Company’s Paul Hochman, “one that lets you carry your digital world along with you and then customize it.” So far, Sync allows you to make phone calls without taking your hands off the wheel (or wearing a dopey-looking Bluetooth device, for that matter), listen to Pandora radio or audio news stories, and navigate with driving directions sent from another computer. Ford autos are even equipped to read your Twitter feed to you. Just think: no matter how awful traffic is, you’ll know what non-events currently have Kanye West in a tizzy.
The other auto makers have caught on, and Kia, Audi, and Mercedes are all working on their own syncing technology. “[Ford] obviously have a big lead," Thilo Koslowski, auto analyst at Gartner, told Fast Company. "But sometimes being a first mover doesn't pay off. Think of Apple. There were plenty of MP3 players in the market before it introduced the iPod. For Ford, the burden it has put on itself is to keep innovating.”
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