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mmmm…sexy vacuum…..

May 8, 2007 3 comments

dyson_win.jpgi have this thing well designed products. it’s not just that they look sexy, although that contributes to their appeal. it’s that they work really well. oftentimes a really sexy looking product has had the same care put into its physical form as to its user interface and user experience. additionally, such a product usually costs more than its competitors. by that logic, a well-designed lovely looking product tends to be more expensive. a few examples could be just about anything produced by apple (mac, ipod, forthcoming iphone), high-end furniture and architecture, books, foods, cars. this equation (good looks + good UI = better but more expensive) can be used for mostly anything. there are occassional exceptions to the rule, such as IKEA (although their products are not always the highest quality) and yellow tail wines (great label and bottle design, good wine, cheap). but generally this equation rings true. for this reason i tend to save my money to buy the more expensive and better product because not only is it prettier to look at, but also easier to use and more reliable.

this brings me to the point of this post. i’m having an affair with a dyson vacuum cleaner. all juvenile jokes aside, this is the most amazing piece of household cleaning equipment i’ve ever seen. first of all, it’s concept is brilliant – do away with the filters and bags b/c those require replacement and degrade performance. instead, separate the dirt from the air through extremely high powered suction. simultaneously clean the air with a HEPA filter so that your air is cleaner coming out than it was going in. combine that with a beautiful housing with ease of use (swivel heads) and you have an amazing design product.

now, i don’t have a dyson – not yet. at the moment i’m using a shitty $30 cordless vacuum i bought from target to essentially suck dog hair off the floor. it does that job ok, but there is plenty of stuff left on the floor that i only pick up by either sweeping or mopping. also, this vacuum is pretty much useful solely for wood floors. it surface cleans the rugs, but you know there’s stuff down there that doesn’t want to come out. in fact, just the other day i rolled up on rug to find a fine layer of dirt beneath it – dirt that had worked through the woven rug and hadn’t been sucked up by the vacuum. i’ve decided that when we move into our new house, i will buy a dyson vacuum. not just for me and my allergies, but for the baby. yes, that’s the trump card to end all trump cards. i need to keep a cleaner house and maintain better indoor air quality for the baby, and the only way to do that, obviously, is with a dyson. 🙂

Categories: design, health

ipod + nike = pretty sweet

April 16, 2007 Leave a comment

gearpackage20060912.pngi decided recently to start running again, as it will help tone more of my entire body than just riding my bike does. gotta get rid of that flabby belly, you know. being a tech geek, i decided to buy the ipod + nike attachment since it’s only $30. i wasn’t going to buy a pair of $100 sneakers just to make this thing work, so i started checking out some of the many DIY (do-it-yourself) solutions found online. i would have been perfectly happy doing that, had i not come across the nike outlet store at the round rock outlet mall while snapping pics for a theory paper. i needed new sneakers if i was to start running anyway, since my current pair is 3 yrs old and the shocks are likely worn out. i found the cheapest nike ipod compatible sneakers for $50 – one of the lance armstrong 10/2 sneakers.

so yesterday i read the instruction manual, transferred some of LCD Soundsystem, Muse, Lemon Jelly, Shins, and Radiohead to Cindy’s ipod nano (i couldn’t run to country, sorry), slipped the accelerometer component inside the new nike shoe, and attached the wireless component to the ipod nano. everything worked like a charm. scrolled through the menu to nike + ipod, told it to start a basic workout (open ended, instead of a timed or distance based workout) and got running.

this was my first run in years, so despite the fact that i warmed up and stretched, my legs still felt really tight. i ran around the neighborhood and around the UT Intramural Fields. it was so much nicer to run on grass instead of concrete. i started remembering some of my techniques / mindsets from when i ran cross-country back in high school. the only problem was that this time i was listening to music. i honestly am not too sure about listening to music while i run – which is obviously a big component of the this nike + ipod kit. i think part of my enjoyment of running (or how i used to enjoy it) was setting the pace to a song in my head, repeating that beat/refrain, and slowing it down or speeding it up based on my gait. when listening to music, the music sets the pace. that can be good, i suppose, at keeping your speed higher rather than lower, but the music would have to keep the same beat. the nike + ipod can be set to not play music and just track your running, so the whole point could be moot – it will still allow you to play your powersong, though, which is essentially a preset song of your choosing that’s meant to give you that extra mental boost when you’re running your last straightaway (or whatever).

an equally great component of this nike + ipod thing, aside from tracking your pace, distance and calories burned for the entirety of your workout, is the online community. the first time you sync back to itunes after using nike + ipod, it asks you to register w/ the nike + ipod website. once you do that, all of your stats are sent to and maintained at this website. you can draw and track your running routes through the embedded google maps interface. you can browse workout song collections (of course you can buy them on itunes as workout imixes). you can browse all of your runs – and it even gives you a line graph of each runs progress charting speed v. distance. you can browse other people’s stats, and view who has run the most or the fastest or whatever else by week, month, or ever. you can look for a partner to compete w/ anywhere in the world. you can set personal goals – my first goal is to run a 7:35 mile at least 5 times in a month. i’m that out of shape – granted i slowed to a walk for a minute or so mid-run, but my average mile on this 2 mile run was over 11 min.

there are loads of other features, and it’ll probably take me a little bit of time to fully appreciate how this works and to acclimate myself to the workout. the nike + ipod is a great attachment at the very least for tracking your progress – better than a cheap accelerometer and an excel spreadsheet b/c of the tools found w/in the online community.

Categories: health, music, web

Step It Up: reduce carbon emmissions

April 3, 2007 Leave a comment

the Step It Up website is really slow right now, so i can’t completely understand who or what they are – but the basic gist seems to be public involvement and education to get congress to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions.  their target is 80% reduction by 2050.  that’s ambitious for the US b/c our govt. is loathe to do anything – at least the Bush Admin. is.

just today Bush held a press conference, and one of the questions posed was in regard to the recent Supreme Court decision that it is the EPA’s responsibility to set carbon emission guidelines for the US – this came in relation to setting emission reductions for vehicles.  Bush then replies that his administration has done a smashing job addressing global warming and that there they’ve produced a plan that only needs to be approved by Congress.  what’s the plan?  pushing ethanol instead of gas.  that is not a plan, and ethanol is most definitely not the answer.  in fact, i’m rather against corn-based ethanol.  not only is it an inefficient way to produce ethanol (sugar based ethanol produces far more energy), it’s merely a kickback to america’s farmers.  i’m all for helping out an industry if it’s in the best interest, but this is not.  first of all, encouraging corn production is going to result in a single-crop industry, which will be ripe at some point for a major blight.  then it will encourage genetically modified corn – and of course the genetically modified corn can’t be kept under control and will eventually infiltrate the food supply.  additionally, falling back onto corn ethanol won’t encourage auto makers to increase fuel efficiency – such a simple thing that would save so much gas.  and it also does nothing to support research and implementation of alternative fuels such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, wave hydroelectric, etc.

in fact, Bush replied that he won’t support any type of carbon emission capping because it will hurt the American economy, and that in order to move forward with carbon reduction the country must be prosperous in order to pay for research and technology to reduce carbon emissions.  catch-22.  if China and India don’t jump on board w/ the same restrictions imposed on the US, then he won’t support any restrictions – they would more than offset any of our reductions.  so by this logic, we shouldn’t do anything until they also come to the table.  what about lead by example?  what about thinking of the health of our country and its citizens, and the greater world for that matter?  what about our quality of life?  the US is the leader of the free world, and has been the moral arbiter of the 20th c.  obviously the Bush Admin. has kind of screwed that up moving forward, but they maintain that their actions are moral.  so how is this not the most pressing moral issue facing modern civilization?

so what it comes down to is a grass roots movement to bring the US more inline w/ reality and the rest of the world.  this movement has obviously been gaining momentum recently, as green this and sustainable that makes headlines every other day – heck, i’m graduating architecture w/ a specialization in sustainable design!  just recently, TXU was bought out and 8 of 11 proposed coal power (fast-tracked by Gov. Perry) plants were scrapped due to massive opposition, and the 3 remaining now look like they’ll be required to be clean coal.  it really makes you wonder about the energy crisis doomsday scenario pushed by TXU if those plants were not to be built.  in fact, i was at the anti-coal rally here in Austin the other month.  it’s only by being vocal that anything will happen.

so if anybody here in Austin wants to join me at the Step It Up rally on the capital steps on April 14 from 12-2p, your body and voice are appreciated.  if you’re not in Austin, Step It Up rallies are occurring all over the country on  April 14.  go to  stepitup2007.org to find out the location for your local rally.  get involved!

catch some pzizz

February 13, 2007 Leave a comment

a new study from Harvard shows quite a definitive link between naps and lowered death rate. they’re not sure the link yet, but they believe it’s through the lowering of stress that their study group had death rates 2/3 lower than those of a control group (those that don’t take naps). current recommendations are that if you can take a midday nap, do so, w/ their guidelines describing at least 3x weekly naps of 30 min or so.

right on! i completely agree – i’ve been taking midday naps w/ a relative consistency since this past September, and i love it. i feel refreshed mentally and physically, w/ more energy for getting back to work than what a cup of coffee does for me (though i’m not against both…). it seems to be fairly common knowledge, or sense, that naps make you feel better and think and act better, but for some reason it’s unacceptable in western capitalist society (even the AP article describes would-be nappers as “office slackers”).  mediterranean society has the right idea w/ siestas. i don’t know how, but i’m going to try to somehow maintain a 20 minute daily midday nap when i start working, several times a week at the least.

i started napping successfully when i got hold of this software called pzizz. they sell hardware (basically a portable media player) that only produces their ‘nap’ songs, but you can also download it as i’ve done. pzizz isn’t just nature or ambient sounds – it combines soothing suggestive therapy as well. all of that is well and good, but the great thing about pzizz is that it generates the nap each time you listen to it, so that you can’t get used to a certain audio pattern. w/ a static song, it would be very easy to get used to the sounds and it wouldn’t be long before it would become ineffective as a sleeping aid. pzizz makes a different song every time, all ambient and soothing. i generally take a nap 2-3 times a week and very, very rarely have any trouble falling asleep, resting, and waking in the 20 min time frame. you can also specify the time of your nap, the volume of the voice, and the volume of the music. there is also a separate ‘sleep’ setting if you don’t want a nap. you can also export the naps as mp4s for audio playback on a portable media player, such as ipod – which is what i normally do.

the only issue that i have when taking a nap is blocking out noise. i normally nap in the library or my home office, where noise is kept to a minimum, but it really helps to have good headphones that will focus your attention on what you’re listening to. i feel this way about any time of music i’m listening to, but it obviously is more important if you’re trying to rest. i use shure headphones, which use ‘noise cancellation technology’ – basically the speakers/ear buds have built in ear plugs. they’re great in that regard – i actually keep my volume setting as low as it can go on my ipod when using these headphones. the sound quality is also very good (i’m using the lowest quality of shure headphones – quality is apparently incredible when you move into the $500 range).

so, if you want to nap, i highly recommend pzizz. if you don’t want to shell out money for it (i grabbed a free copy through a promotion), grab a pair of headphones or ear plugs, and take a nap anyway – it’ll make you feel better and you’ll live forever.

Categories: health, work

allergies in Austin

September 29, 2006 1 comment

oh, and one more thing: allergies are insane right now. i just heard on NPR yesterday that Austin ranks 12th in the nation for worst allergies (1st goes to Raleigh, NC). fall allergies are kicking in for everyone, and both cindy and i have felt for 3 days now – only realizing yesterday it was allergies.austin allergy

i’ve been wondering if it’s allergies b/c of new fall plants coming into bloom, or allergies b/c all of the other plants that have been brown and dead all summer (that had bloomed in the spring) are perking back to life b/c of the recent rains? our wisteria vines and fig tree have all regenerated in the past 2 weeks, w/ new branches and leaves, due to the nice bit of rain we’ve finally received after 2.5 dry months.

Austin Allergy Forecast

Categories: Austin, health

indoor noise pollution

April 22, 2006 4 comments

today i am set to write one of my two remaining papers for Society, Nature, and Technology – a class i took an incomplete in last semester b/c i could not catch up w/ all of the missed work due to Solar Decathlon. i was also really burned out and exhausted, so that was another reason i didn’t finish the work, and is one of the reasons i took off the semester to work. anyway, enough analysis – it’s time to write!

my first paper in the class was a small meditation on technology a la Heidegger. my final paper in the class was an exploration of the current state of automated home systems – what brought them to fruition, what their future might be, and what blocks them from gaining a significant foothold in modern houses. i’ve occassionally posted my thoughts on that, and once even had a home automation installation specialist from thailand post a comment! perhaps i’ll post my papers in the future…

today, though, i am going to focus on indoor noise pollution. not many people even think about the amount of noise that we have to contend with inside our offices and homes. that noise generally comes from HVAC, lighting, and computers, though there are certainly other items that create noise. most people disregard the associative noise as not worthy of attention, or a necessary component of modern life. but i intend to show that such noise contributes to an atmosphere that can lower concentration levels and heighten anxiety. many people will think that this is tree-hugging hippy ranting, but why is it, then, that people have to go out to the quiet country to relax? why do we need to take vacations in serene settings? sure, we want to get away from it all, but one of the most significant differences between our modern surroundings and undisturbed nature is the constant background hum of various mechanical devices designed to ‘enhance’ our quality of life.

of course, nature is chock full of it’s own noise, albeit a very different kind of noise. modern mechanical noises tend to be constant, whereas ‘nature’ tends to be sporadic. modern tends to inhabit sound frequencies not normally found in ‘nature’ – when was the last time you mistook a brook or wind blowing through leaves for an air-conditioner?

additionally, offices (moreso than homes) are very likely above the acceptable decibal range for indoor noise pollution. all modern buildings are designed to meet a threshold of noise – generally accomodating for mechanical equipment. due to improper design and maintenance, loads of buildings exceed that noise threshold. just this past week i was building a model in the office of our partner architect, and the entire time i was amazed at house loud the ventilation was as it escaped the vents. this leads to my next component – the advance of newer methods to distribute ventilation will allow new systems to be designed to reach lower maximum noise thresholds.

that’s a tall order for a 5 page paper, so perhaps it will be cut into two papers. either way, it’s something that is near and dear to my heart. ACTUALLY, maybe the second paper will deal with outdoor noise pollution in regards to road traffic (buses and trucks) and lawn maintenance (lawn mowers, leaf blowers, weed wackers)! i hate those things! i’m pretty sure that somewhere in my future will be the passage of a law banning leaf blowers from earth…

artificial light is killing you!

March 14, 2006 Leave a comment

since this non-scientific article has no major data to back it up, i’ll take it at face value as an interesting article that i personally believe to be truthful. why? it makes sense to me. it seems logical. if this came out in Nature or some other medical journal, it would certainly make me seem less a gullible treehugger than a realistic and concerned citizen of the modern world.

anyway, the gist of it is that artificial light has indirectly resulted in the myriad of maladies plaguing modern man. the lack of sleep during dark hours apparently knocks us out of sync w/ our circadium ryhthms. no surprise there. what i found interesting, though, was the referral to early Earth organisms’ use of night-time darkness to repair dna damaged by daytime UV radiation. hmmm…

Shortness of Dark at DamnInteresting.com

Categories: health