K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Archive for May, 2010

May 28 2010

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The case for non-toxic buildings

Why we should stop using known cancer-causing chemicals now

I find it difficult to write about anything except the Gulf Oil Spill. In fact, I started writing about it only to find there was nothing hopeful to say. Obviously, the story is still unfolding, but it is clear this will be the worst environmental disaster in history. If any good comes from it, it will be a radical rethinking of how we view our relationship to oil, drilling and energy. And I am still not sure why the people who spilled the oil are in charge of the cleanup.

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I do know that oil “spill” is too timid a word for such a disaster. I am currently leaning toward calling it an oil “transfusion.” For some wonderful coverage on the oil spill, I strongly encourage you to look at this incredible infographic on the spill.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

In addition, the Big Picture has an incredible archive of images from the spill.

This site allows you to compare the size of the oil spill to your city or state. You’ll notice how the spill is larger than the entire state of Connecticut.

While I will reserve my words about the spill for a few more weeks and once the full impact is known, it has gotten me thinking more and more about our toxicity on our environment. After all, the Earth itself is a self-contained system. We don’t make new water, new mass or new energy. Everything here on Earth has always been here. Speaking from a Physics standpoint, all we do is transform things from one state to another. Matter into energy, energy into matter.

The systems of Nature have evolved to a perfect balance. We call this balance “environmental equilibrium.” From this balance we get the services that Nature provides: filtering our air, cleaning our water and absorbing our waste. Unfortunately, mankind’s impact on the planet has overwhelmed these systems. The planet simply cannot keep up. If we “toxify” the planet, we have no other alternatives.

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I used to think that Cigarette Manufacturers were evil. After all, they were selling things they knew to be dangerous and full of cancer-causing chemicals. For years, they denied it, dragged their feet and funded lobbyists to stall legislation.

But are architects, designers or builders any better?

We specify products that require you to wear gloves and a mask during installation. We line the floors, walls and ceilings with products we know contain nasty chemicals. In fact, the entire painting industry knows its products are bad for us. Paints contain chemicals called “Volatile Organic Compounds” or VOCs. Why do you think that every major paint manufacturer is now offering at least a “low-VOC” version of the product?

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Where are the gloves and masks for the people who stay behind and have to live and work in these buildings? When I ask manufacturers about this, they defend their products. Unlike cigarettes, you cannot point to the formaldehyde in that one piece of furniture and say that was the cause of your cancer. But the collective exposure to thousands of chemicals in your home and office all contribute to your cancer risk. Although the death rate for cancer has dropped, thanks to early detection and treatment, the incidences of cancer continue to climb.

We spend 80-90 percent of our time indoors. We spend another five percent in our cars, and apparently, we hate going outside and hate fresh air. Asthma rates have tripled in adults since 1980. In children, whose developing lungs are not as strong, asthma has gone from the seventh leading chronic illness, to number one in less than 20 years. The poor quality of the indoor air is largely responsible for this staggering increase.

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The quality of the indoor air in your home is likely to contain more than 10 times the number of toxic pollutants as the air outdoors. During a painting project, that number can increase to 1,000 times that of outdoor levels. By switching to healthy finishes containing low or zero VOCs, you can greatly improve indoor air quality and remove some major health risks for you and your family.

If you’re wondering where to start, target the two biggest sources of poor indoor air quality: VOCs and formaldehyde.

By choosing healthier finishes, unneeded chemicals and toxins are prevented from entering our air, land and water. Making the simple change to a healthy paint will reduce some of the 69 million gallons of harmful chemical paints that end up in our nation’s landfills each year.

People with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) or a severe sensitivity to chemicals will want to avoid placing formaldehyde in their home. Formaldehyde is used as a glue in most wood products. MCS sufferers will likely develop dizziness, headaches and sneezing from formaldehyde exposure.

The California Air Resources Board has reported that one in 10,000 Californians will develop cancer from exposure to formaldehyde. Since it is a “sensitizer,” exposure to formaldehyde can actually make you more sensitive to other chemicals. When buying any new wood cabinets or furniture, demand formaldehyde-free products. By not bringing new formaldehyde into your home, you’ll reduce the grave risks for you and your family.

Why specify toxic materials at all? Simply because they’re cheap? Doing so makes us as guilty as those cigarette manufacturers.

Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including Green$ense for the Home.

May 27 2010

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Moving your business to the Cloud: Part 2

Effective online collaboration allows you, your employees, customers and partners to share critical business information with each other from anywhere in the world. It means shifting computing tasks and storage from local desktop PCs and company servers to remote systems across the Internet.

Two applications that I will review first claim to give you easy access and searchability from anywhere.

Evernote
Evernote can be used to jot notes, create to-do lists, clip entire web pages, manage passwords and record audio. Free users have access to all the tools, recognition and synchronization, but are limited to a 40MB monthly upload allowance. Phone apps make your files more mobile. I tried the Blackberry app and I wasn’t very impressed. I recently got a new Palm Pre and love the application on it. I think the iPhone app would be very similar.

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While the voice notes feature may be fine for some, I personally don’t have a need for it. Evernote does have text recognition capabilities. If you have a business card scanner, Evernote will make the text in your image searchable. This might be the best way to keep all those business cards you collect organized. If tracking expenses is important to you, you can scan or snap a picture of receipts and file them under specific headings in a receipt notebook.

After playing with it, I think it might be great for gathering personal clippings but not the best option for group collaboration. A library of “inspiration” pictures with tag words would keep your photos in one place and serve as a little extra insurance should your computer crash and you accidentally lose data. Another great option for bloggers would be the ability to collect material for posts on the fly.

Evernote also has Geo-tagging capabilities, which would be great on a trip where you might be taking a lot of pictures and they all start to run together in your head and you can’t tell perhaps one cathedral from another.

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Currently, my favorite way to use it is for organizing recipes. This realization happened when my mother told me she wanted to get all her recipes in one place. I instantly thought Evernote would be a great solution. The ability to add tags to notes makes the dishes searchable by ingredients or other terms such as “easy” or “party food.” I add pictures to my recipe notes—since I eat with eyes—and that helps me when I might be planning a menu but am not sure what I feel like having.

ZumoDrive
ZumoDrive works a little differently from Evernote because it actually creates a virtual drive for up to 2GB of your data (free version) for sharing. The software lets you link documents, music and pictures from your Windows, Macintosh or Linux computer.

The limited size of the free version means your whole music library won’t be accessible nor will all of your photos. Frequently used files can be stored locally on your smart phone or netbook for offline access.

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ZumoDrive encrypts the data on their own server. While this is good, I have read reviews that claim this is by no means very secure for sensitive data.

Accidentally deleted files can be recovered from the virtual recycle bin. Files that are modified are automatically backed up, and support for tracking previous versions is offered.

ZumoDrive is mostly used as a way to get 2GB of music storage virtually on your phone or netbook. The music can be streamed to your phone’s player without using up any memory. I had some problems getting the music to sync properly. I will keep playing with this because it seems like a much easier way to get songs on your phone without having to physically sync it each time.

I am disappointed in the lack of help that can be found on the ZumoDrive site. They also don’t keep their blog updated with tips and tricks for using their software. I think it’s worth a look but if you get frustrated you might like one of the next two cloud computing options I review.—Ann Porter

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May 26 2010

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Reality is subject to change without notice

Thanks to our design assistant, I’m frequently reminded about how much has changed since I started in the business. Not that she points it out, but I do, and explaining it to her reminds me of all the old-timer’s stories we rolled our eyes at. That really hurts.

For example, she doesn’t really comprehend a time when we didn’t use computers for design work. She doesn’t hand-draft, nor does she calculate much without a pre-built spreadsheet. (Nor does she remember the days when 20-20 came with about a dozen 5-1/4-in. floppy installation disks.)

She expects most small orders to arrive—complete—within a couple of days and gets miffed when they don’t. “There are plenty of other companies to choose from,” she says. I still marvel that there are more than two.

She knows there wasn’t always a Web; she simply doesn’t understand. She looks horrified when I tell her we used to use catalogs, and magazines—for everything. Or how we waited for the reps to visit to find out what the latest trends and products were.

Or how, a decade ago, the web changed our lives: A former boss paid a small fortune to join a new website that listed all the latest major appliance specifications for immediate downloading. (Via phone modems, of course.) No more sagging shelves filled with out-of-date, or worse, incorrect appliance specs. No more dashing to the appliance store to check measurements (providing that the store had the actual appliance.) No more fine print: Appliance specifications are subject to change without notice, so there, pbthbhth. (Your interpretation may vary.)

I’m saving that one for the right “And we walked uphill both ways in the snow, sister!” moment.

What’s interesting is that that same decade I just mentioned above represents the difference in age between the two of us. That’s how far our field has come.

I’m holding out for another 10 years to see her expression when she starts teaching her own design assistant. I can’t imagine where we’ll be then, but I’m sure hoping I can keep up.

Until next time~

Kelly

May 25 2010

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Mixing charity with business

Saturday morning I went to see a new client at their home to talk about their new kitchen. I had already talked to her on the phone the other day and told her that my first consultation at her house bears a cost. And that they have to save 200 children’s lives.

At $.50 per dose, the polio vaccine can save one child’s life in the world and the Rotary Clubs of the world deliver it. I happen to be the president of our local Rotary Club. A year ago, I started charging all prospective clients $100, which would go to the Rotary, if I took a couple of hours of my time to go to give them ideas for their kitchen projects. Over this year, I have raised more than $4,000.00 doing this. Only two people have declined and I have politely refused to go see their home. I figure that if they are that skeptical about me, the cause and paying me anything like a hundred bucks, this $50,000-plus project ain’t gonna go so well either. Most people actually think it’s a grand thing to do and are appreciative that I thought of letting them participate in this way!!

We do give our time a lot to folks who are just pokin’ around, so why let it go for free when you can do something like this? Who are you to let them steal your time and ideas and expertise on your subject and make no investment at all? Isn’t two hours of your life worth asking them to save some kids’ lives? That’s a “holy-mackerel no-brainer!”

Did you know? Rotary is the biggest and oldest “all volunteer” service organization in the world and the only other NGO (non government organization), besides the Red Cross, that has a permanent seat at the United Nations and is almost wholly responsible for eradicating polio from the planet!? Only four countries are left with outbreaks, and through some pretty tricky alliances, those countries are getting slowly immunized.

I don’t know if I’ll get the kitchen job, but I do know before I even get in my car, the lives of 200 kids will be saved as a result of the clients’ heart and of my plying my craft and just asking for their help. Everyone wins big.

Mark Brady