Friday, 9 March 2012

Hacking and Re-purposing

Marshall McLuhan in his 1964 book Understanding Media wrote, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” It is combating this tendency to be controlled by the technology that we have made that hacking is truly about.

It is a shame that the mass media, no doubt inspired by the broadcasting industry afraid of losing control of its copyrighted material, have consistently portrayed hacking and hackers as criminal. Yes, breaking into someone’s mobile phone or computer and stealing their information is bad. Yes, trying to bring down Sony by hacking into their credit card database is not helpful. These hacks are the exceptions. Most hacking is about sharing, open information and about finding new ways to use technology.

The Hacker ethic is:

•    Sharing
•    Openness
•    Decentralization
•    Free access to computers
•    World Improvement

These are noble goals. A good example of the hacker ethic is found in Open Source Software. This is code without copyright that can be used and changed to help programmers. For those without the money to buy Microsoft, Adobe etc. software Open Source Software is an important resource. Sharing drives innovation in the digital world.

Hackerspaces are places where hackers meet to work on their projects and share ideas. Hackerspaces contain not only computer hardware but also machine tools, carbon brushes, soldering equipment and a vast array of equipment.

In a hackerspace it is not only computer geniuses that are at work. These places provide the equipment to bring in broken TVs, type writers, washing machines etc. and to not only repair these machines but also to find new uses for them; to take parts from thing to make another. It is fighting the trend noticed by McLuhan: it is taking control of the technology that threatens to limit our world view. We shaped the tools and should continue to shape the products of those tools.

Re-purposing or hacking also has an important environmental implication: the natural resources in terms of metals, man hours, carbon emissions that go into making a TV should not be lost when the TV becomes obsolete or broken. The broken TV has many components that can be recycled and reused. Sustainable interiors can be made containing equipment fashioned from hacks. This lowers the carbon count of the interior and empowers the consumer.

We should all study hacking at school. Indeed as natural resources dwindle we might well be forced to by future events.

Here is a good video showing what goes on in a Hackerspace.

Here is a list of hackerspaces -

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Environmental Pros and Cons of uPVC Windows

In the UK and Ireland they are known as uPVC windows; in the USA and Canada they are known as vinyl windows or rigid vinyl windows. Both appellations refer to windows whose frames are made from unplasticized polyvinyl chloride. It is a strong plastic. The windows normally have double glazing and are the industry standard in North America, the UK and Ireland because of the superior insulation they provide. But are uPVC windows really environmentally friendly?

Pros of uPVC windows

There are several advantages of using uPVC windows as opposed to other types of windows such as wooden frame windows or aluminum windows.

1) uPVC, rigid vinyl or vinyl windows greatly improve the insulation in a room. In the summer they prevent a room heating up and in the winter they trap heat in a room. This is due mostly to the layer of air between the two panes of glass in double glazing. A small insulation benefit is also found in the plastic which is a poor conductor and tends not to transfer much heat or cold between inside and out.
2) Wooden frame windows need yearly maintenance. The wind and rain damages the wood. Too much humidity and the wood swells and too little and the wood cracks. The paint peels also and needs touching up. In contrast uPVC is impervious to any type of weather. They are virtually maintenance free for their lifespan of 25 years. Aluminum tarnishes but doesn’t rust. The problem with aluminum frames is that the metal provides very little insulation. They also tend to bend out of shape easily.
3) Wooden frame windows obviously involve chopping down trees to make. They could thus be considered to be non-environmentally friendly.
4) uPVC windows usually come with sophisticated locking systems that provide much better security for a home than wooden or aluminum frame windows.
5) Finally, uPVC windows come nowadays in all colors and specifications to fit the look of any home.

Cons of uPVC windows

1) The main problem with uPVC windows is the production and disposal of uPVC. Factories that make uPVC products emit dioxins that have been connected to serious illnesses such as cancer for the people living near these factories. uPVC has been traditionally very hard to dispose of in an environmentally friendly way. They usually end up in land fill sites where they slowly leech chemicals into the soil.
2) uPVC is a petro-chemical product. This means that uPVC production is reliant on gasoline supplies. In other words, uPVC is not a sustainable resource.
3) uPVC windows could give off toxic fumes in the event of a fire.

These are the major objections with uPVC windows. These are serious objections that have led to some municipalities in Germany and elsewhere in Europe banning uPVC from the construction of new public buildings.

The argument has slightly moved in favor of uPVC windows thanks to advances in technology. The Japanese have developed the Vinyloop system and the Europeans have invented a similar Texiloop system to safely recycle unwanted uPVC. These are closed systems that reduce the uPVC to materials that can be disposed of without harming the environment.

The German company Veka has gone one step better. They have built a factory in Thuringia in Eastern Germany that can recycle uPVC products and use the recycled material to make new uPVC windows. They now sell uPVC windows with a promise to collect them at the end of their lifespan for recycling. This is a major breakthrough and is just another example of how Germany leads the world in many ways when it comes to environmental issues.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Guide to Mold

Mold is a green interior design issue

Mold is a problem that affects the indoor air quality of a home and so mold falls within the remit of green interior design. There is a lot that can be done in terms of the design of an interior as well as the maintenance of an interior to stop mold forming. This post is a guide on how to stop mold forming in your home and how to deal with mold once it has formed in an environmentally friendly way.

Health problems caused by mold

Mold is caused by spores in the air. It is impossible to eradicate spores from the air. Mold needs moisture and oxygen to form. Once mold is growing on a natural material such as paper, wood, insulation or carpet it poses a health risk to inhabitants. It can trigger attacks of allergic rhinitis; it can cause respiratory problems; and it can cause asthma attacks.

Dealing with the root cause of mold

The main cause of mold is a leaky water source. Either a pipe is burst or leaking or a wall is letting in the damp. Before you can effectively deal with mold you have to deal with the water problem in a home.

The green way to clean mold

To get rid of mold you have to clean it with water and a detergent. Normal detergents contain chemicals that pollute. Choose an earth friendly detergent or alternatively use vinegar or bamboo vinegar. Both these liquids are acidic and are capable of killing mold.

If mold is growing on a hard surface such as flooring it is possible to clean it off. If the mold is growing on an absorbent surface such as a curtain, ceiling tile or wall paper it is necessary to replace the mold affected material as the mold will grow back no matter how many times you wash it off.

Precautions to stop mold forming in the home

To prevent mold forming in a home you should take the following precautions:

1) Make sure the home is properly ventilated. Either open the windows regularly or use the fan on your programmable thermostat to move the air around the house.

2) Use extractor fans in places where lots of moisture is generated in a home. These areas are normally the kitchen and bathroom.

3) Keep an eye on humidity levels in the home. Ideally the humidity should be between 30% and 60%. To reduce humidity levels you can give a room a blast of cold air from an air-con unit. You can also place bamboo charcoal around the home to absorb excess humidity from the air. If you live in an area with a hot and humid summer than it is recommended that you install a programmable thermostat that can deal with de-humidification. Two good models for this are the Honeywell RTH8321 VisionPro 8000 that uses the air-con unit to control humidity and the Honeywell Prestige HD that can control a separate de-humidifier unit.

4) Bamboo is naturally anti-fungal and so is highly resistant to mold forming. Using bamboo blinds instead of curtains and bamboo flooring instead of carpet are both good precautions for preventing mold forming in the home.

If you follow these guidelines you shouldn’t have a problem with mold. Whatever you do don’t let mold spread through your house. It will affect your health and severely reduce the worth of your home.