Friday, September 30, 2011


Microlending has been an efficient way to start small businesses in developing countries.  Samuel Adams has been providing $10,000 loans to startup businesses.  An NPR report provides the basics on Samuel Adams Microloans.  They provide the loan and the basic expertise in starting a small business.  Other corporations sitting on cash reserves may wish to follow their lead.  They could focus on businesses that use and distribute their products.

The books Switch and Influencer cover some of the same topics for initiating change.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Physics for Future Presidents and climate change

Recent update: UC Berkeley has issued an independent analysis of the temperature data noted in this news report on World land temperature rise from Bits of Science. The Berkeley data concur with NASA and NOAA and HadCRU from the UK showing a 1 degree temperature rise since the 1970s. 

Richard Mueller is a Physics professor at UC Berkley.  His lecture series on Physics for Future Presidents is available online through YouTube. This lecture below focuses on climate change.

His book Physics for Future Presidents is very accessible guide for the general public covering nuclear issues and energy policy.  He has a companion text book for classes Physics and Technology for Future Presidents.  Information on both can be found at Mueller books.  Warning the link is visually dull but the content is informative.

Energy efficient car test track to open in 2012

GE fleet services will be opening a vehicle test track in Eden Prairie for individuals to try out new energy efficient vehicles.  In a report from My Perfect GE Capital sponsors EV test track, the plans for a new test track are laid out.  It is the first track in the US to be open to non fleet customers.   Further reporting is available from Rick Kupchella's news site

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Infant Asthma and Mold Exposure

Researcher Tiina Reponen, has found an association between infant exposure to mold and the development of childhood asthma.  CNN reports that Indoor mold poses greatest asthma risk for babies.  The study found the usual association between damp building environments and increased asthma.  The authors suggest that families with infants take care of areas of mold growth and  water damage in their home and limit infants exposure to that environment.  This is an abstract of the article in August, 2011 issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.  A relatively clean and dry environment is a good place to support a health infant.

The Family Handyman offers tips for people doing their own step by step mold remediation.  Because of the relative complexity of the task, homeowners will often want this work done by and outside professional.  If antimicrobials are used in the mold remediation process in the state of Minnesota,  the outside firm must be certified in the use of Category I Antimicrobial Pesticides.  This is a link to the Manual available from the U of Minnesota bookstore.

A photo micrograph of Aspergillus niger  Photo N. Carlson

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Converting ideas into action

I am listening to an audio book on Making Ideas Happen written by Scott Belskey the founder of Behance.  In the book, Scott advocates that meetings should be only as needed, brief with action items summarized at the end.  Long meetings kill productivity.  If the meetings purpose is only to impart information then it should be done via email.  He also discusses the steps needed to act on an idea and follow through.  Ideas are not in short supply.  The skill to put these ideas into action is.

Further information is provided at the 99% website.  The 99% is derived from Thomas Edison's quote that genius is 1% inspiration 99% perspiration.  An article Big Innovation Lives Right on the Edge of Ridiculous Ideas from the IDEO group focuses on converting ideas into action.  They describe how they incorporate play into their work process.

This falls into the category of sustainability because so many good ideas die before they get realized and so many bad ideas live too long before they should be killed off.  This is covered in the 10 Laws of Productivity on the Tips section of the website.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Brewery waste mycology for energy and feed

Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives (ZERI) has an interesting article on making the most of the waste produced during beer production.  Beer: Making bread and mushrooms describes the traditional biproducts of beer production and innovative ways of making value added products from the waste, including edible mushrooms, livestock feed and  fuel (carbon monoxide and methane).  The article also notes that the international market for mushrooms exceeds that for coffee.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Happiness and Grit

I came across two very good websites exploring why some people succeed in life and others fail.  There appears to be a combination of grit and the ability to connect with other people that matters much more than IQ or what someone gets on a standardized test.  People need to learn how to deal with failure and learn from it to be successful.  A BBC program on the Happiness Formula provides a good introduction.  There is also a web page on Authentic Happiness by Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.  Registration is required in order to take the free self assessment tests on this page. 

Happiness fits into the category of sustainability.  The short term pursuit of selfish pleasure is usually destructive.  The long term quest for happiness usually is constructive and self sustaining for the person and those that come in contact with them.  We can take joy in a sense of play with others.

Reverse image photograph of trees and leaves central Minnesota  Photo -N. Carlson

Using mushroom mycelia to make packaging material

This particular TED talk fits with this sustainable mycology blog perfectly.  Mushroom mycelia can used to create a polymer that can be used to produce packaging material from biomass such as oat hulls, cotton waste and other local materials. The material is biodegradable and will not remain unchanged in the environment like styrofoam.  Follow the link to view the TED video Eben Bayer: Are mushrooms the new plastic?

Eben Bayer's TED Talk

New York Now news segment - on the firm Ecovative Design

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Climate influences behavior

V. George Mathew offers up a provocative description of the influence of climate on Environmental Psychology,  He postulates that people in warmer climates tend to be lazy.  People in cold climates tend to be good planners and very combative and people in temperate climates tend to be more in harmony with the environment.  He discusses the pathology of a poorly planned urban environment suggesting the need for more green spaces to provide a better environment for people. I have found that a walk in a park or a nicely designed Japanese Garden reduces my stress and gives me a better prospective on the world.

Japanese Garden Como Park St. Paul 2009  Photo - N. Carlson

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thorium nuclear energy

While I was researching a geology talk for a local Girl Scout Troop I came stumbled upon research showing some initial promise for using Thorium in a nuclear reactor.  In Forbes, William Pentland writes about a Thorium energy breakthrough covering some of the basics for energy production.  The Weinberg Foundation is promoting Thorium as a safer alternative to Uranium based nuclear power.   James Murray posted an article about NGO fuel safe Thorium nuclear reactors.  The chief benefits appear to be shorter half life nuclear wastes, lower water use, smaller scale, the waste is not useful for bomb production.  China is currently developing a Thorium based reactor.

Kirk Sorenson's TED lecture on Thorium as a nuclear fuel for a  future lunar community and on earth

More information can be found at

I'd be interested in a further discussion of the pros and cons of this technology.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New alloy uses waste heat for electrical generation

This is another interesting article in Finance and Commerce.  New research by U of MN professor Richard James has discovered a possibly new method of energy conversion.  The alloy of nickel, colbalt, manganese and tin can generate electrical current from small changes in temperature. It becomes magnetically charged when heated. I can see other applications for energy recovery coils in building exhaust streams.   

When the metal is heated it becomes magnetized as shown in the video above.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reducing solar energy costs

The U of MN is working with 3M the Department of Energy and others to develop more efficient and lower cost thin layer solar film that will replace the more expensive silicon based chips.  The goal is to achieve cost parity with current energy production. The article on Cutting Solar Energy Costs is featured in Finance and Commerce.  I hope that the researchers will provide an update on their progress at the upcoming E3 conference on November 7, 2011 at the U of MN McNamara Center.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Troubled Times

This is the tenth Anniversary of September 11, 2001.   It has been a rough start to a new century with the country at war for over 90% of it.  This Fountains of Wayne song Troubled Times is about relationships but it also works for the difficult times that we have as a country.  It also applies to our local U of MN football team and Coach Kill who became ill at the end of  last nights game.

We are defined by how we deal with adversity.  I've found when the present moment is really awful, like your house has just been filled with flood water, that it helps to shift the time perspective to a longer view.  This flexible time perspective is covered in a book called the The Time Paradox and has been helpful to me in deliberately choosing the appropriate time perspective for a given moment in the day.  Being fully present in the moment without distraction when being with a friend or helping someone works.  Focusing on a brighter future when the present state is unpleasant helps get through the rough patches.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sustainable Walkway


This is a link to another really good TED talk about the conversion of the NY highline rail system to an elevated pedestrian walkway.   Robert Hammond talks about building a park in the sky.  I am fascinated by changes in environment that cause people to change their behavior.  This is the intersection between sustainability and the field of environmental psychology.

Building a Parkway in the Sky - Robert Hammond

Friday, September 9, 2011

Change and the committed Sardine

The 21st Century Fluency project has a Committed Sardines blog the describes how to change
 a large organization by getting 10 to 20 percent of the people moving that direction like sardines.
 It is much faster than getting the attention of the whale or the whole institution.  The application
for sustainability and higher education is relevant.  It also makes the task of instituting change in
a large organization more manageable.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Unintended consequences

This is a fascinating TED talk on Unintended Consequences by Edward Tenner.  He describes several examples of unintended consequences throughout history.  One that caught my attention was the destruction of tape drives because of the tin in the biocide for cooling tower water.  Mr. Tenner suggests that we take advantage of the information from the unintended consequences because "Chaos Happens."  We need to be less critical of mistakes that we do not intend to happen because they can make our lives better.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sustainable Trail Markers

A friend of mine has developed sustainable trail markers for use in areas with a high fire risk.  He has incorporated traditional hobo symbols and placed them on large rocks.  The result is both artistic and functional.  You can view some of his work at What's that Rock?

This is the hobo symbol for good water  Photo -  B.D. Schaap

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New Wind Turbine U of MN Morris

The U of MN Morris (UMM) Campus hosted a dedication ceremony for a second wind turbine for the campus on Saturday September 24th.  This is a slide show of the ceremony.

This is a link to the UMM campus sustainability web page.  The campus and experiment station are doing cutting edge research on wind to hydrogen to ammonia generation.  They are also using corn stover to generate steam for the campus.

Monday, September 5, 2011

E3 conference Energy Economy and Environment

The E3 conference on the latest renewable energy innovation will be held November 7th at the McNamara Alumni Center at the U of Minnesota campus.  This year’s E3 conference showcases current technologies, environmental benefits and market opportunities in renewable energy, specifically focusing on renewable energy success stories from corporations and individuals around the world, as well as within the University of Minnesota.  

I have attending the conference in the past and found it to be a good place to find out about cutting edge research on renewable energy development and to meet the people doing the research. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Infrared Thermography

I recently took a class on infrared Thermography offered by Fluke. Fluke has several online training sessions for free at Thermal Imaging Online Seminars.    I did not know about the use of IR thermography in preventative maintenance for mechanical and electrical systems.  I primarily us IR thermography for finding water damaged building materials after a water event.

IR photo of a water leak on a wall is shown in blue. A red heat source is also in the wall.  Photo - N. Carlson

I also have posted an  Infrared thermography quiz and photos at Quizlet.  Please use the pretest feature and set the pretest screen size to be larger for the best viewing of the IR pictures.

Quizlet online fungal training

I've posted several online Quizlet exams related to mold identification at this site: Fungal Quiz Links
Bracket fungi growing on logs  Photo - N. Carlson
The Quizlet site provides a very simple method of putting a quiz online and also has a large library of tests available for anyone to post.  Let me know if there are other fungal or indoor air topics that could be added.