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  • Never Home Alone

    first_imgEvery single one of us — those of us who lives indoors — is cohabiting with all manner of living uninvited guests: bacteria, fungi, insects, plants, and even rodents. And many of them appear “in nature” only inside our homes. Wouldn’t the healthiest home be the one purged of all these interlopers? The answer, according to Rob Dunn, is a resounding no. Rob Dunn, professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University, has been researching this particular habitat — our homes — for most of his professional career. His new book, Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live, is a fascinating research-driven story of academic adventure. I am serious: this book is the first nonfiction page-turner I have read in a very long time.RELATED ARTICLESIndoor Microbes and Human HealthAll About Indoor Air QualityCommon Sense On Mold Guests that play a role Chapter by chapter, Dunn makes the case for the important role all these guests play in indoor habitats. And that is key: we like to think of our homes as completely separate environments just for us, decoupled from the “wild.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and (as conveyed in Chapter 1, “Wonder”) no one has so relentlessly studied our indoor environments since Antony Leeuwenhoek: [Paraphrased from Dunn] – Sometime in 1676, Leeuwenhoek walked the block and half to the market to buy black pepper. He did not sprinkle the pepper on his food. He carefully added a third of an ounce to a teacup of water, checking on the peppercorns again and again. After three weeks, Leeuwenhoek made a pivotal decision: he examined the now cloudy water with a very crude microscope and saw “…an incredible number of very little animals of diverse kinds.” Unlike many scientists then and since, Leeuwenhoek focused on the world around him, mostly in his home and neighborhood: fleas, flies, fungi. More than four hundred and fifty years later, Dunn made a pivotal decision of his own: not to study alluring and exotic tropical or remote mountain habitats, but instead to study the humdrum home. Quotes that provide a glimpse of the book’s topics Everyone in the building community should be thanking Dunn for that decision. Here, chapter by chapter, are reasons why: Chapter 2: “The Hot Spring in the Basement.” This chapter is focused on thermally tolerant bacteria in tank water heaters and gene sequencing: “The results [of gene sequencing to identify all manner of species in samples] would prove surprising. They were surprising both in terms of the many species we found and in terms of those that were missing.” Chapter 4: “Absence as a Disease.” Chapter 4 is largely about a study of Amish and Hutterite children in the U.S.. The author discusses the practice of traditional agriculture by the former and industrial agriculture by the latter, and their drastically different incidence of inflammatory diseases, and immune systems: “Imagine there is a certain number of bacteria to which you need to be exposed to stay healthy… [T]he more plants and animals and soil you interact with, the more likely you will pick up some of those key bacteria. The fewer kinds you are exposed to, the less likely you get the right ones, the ones that activate your innate immune system…” Chapter 5: “Bathing in a Stream of Life.” This chapter is all about just what lives in our showerheads and how different the species are based on how “treated” the water is: “The showerhead is one of the simplest ecosystems in your house… The average showerhead has dozens…of species in it… some microbial strands that may make you sick; others may make you happy… “But what, then, should you do about your showerhead? We don’t know yet, but I’ll [Dunn] tell you what I think … I think that while some Mycobacterium species are beneficial the average species is a little bit of trouble, particularly for immune-compromised individuals. I think that these bad-news Mycobacterium species become more common the more we try to kill everything in our water, and in doing so, kill off Mycobacterium’s competition.” Chapter 6: “The Problem with Abundance.” This chapter focuses on biological growth associated with building materials and particularly research by Birgitte Andersen, an expert on the fungi of houses at the Technical University of Denmark: “[Andersen found that] … Neosartorya hiratsukae was on every single sheet of drywall, regardless of type, regardless of which store it came from, and regardless of which company it was made by.” [This fungus has recently been implicated in the complex mix of causes of Parkinson’s disease.] Chapter 7: “The Farsighted Ecologist.” This chapter at first seems to be about camel crickets and their long association with indoor habitats, but as the quote below reveals, it’s really about the nature of scientific endeavor: “What I’ve [Dunn] taken away from our work, so far… is that when you see a species in your home, you should study it. You should pay attention. Don’t assume someone else has already figured everything out.” Chapter 8: “The Problem with Cockroaches is Us.”  It’s pretty obvious what this chapter is about, but Dunn’s assessment of these truly despised insects is not as obvious: “Whatever the reason we don’t like them, we really don’t have that much to fear from them. German cockroaches can carry pathogens, it is true, but not any more so than your neighbors or children carry them. Also, no cases have yet been documented in which someone has actually gotten sick from a pathogen spread by a cockroach, whereas people get sick from pathogens spread by other humans.” An indoor garden Every chapter in this book is a revelation about where we live, who we live with, and their roles in our health and wellbeing. Rob Dunn’s work can be summed up with this quote from Chapter 3:“What we really want in our homes is a kind of garden. In a garden you kill the weeds and pests, but you take care of the diverse species you are trying to grow.” Maybe Taunton Press can work with Dunn on merging Fine Homebuilding with Fine Gardening, using GBA to cultivate healthier approaches to how we think and act on indoor environmental quality. Read this book; you may never enjoy learning quite as much.   In addition to acting as GBA’s technical director, Peter Yost is the Vice President for Technical Services at BuildingGreen in Brattleboro, Vermont. On January 1, 2019, Yost will bid BuildingGreen adieu and open his new consulting company, Building-Wright, in Brattleboro, Vermont. He has been building, researching, teaching, writing, and consulting on high-performance homes for more than twenty years. An experienced trainer and consultant, he’s been recognized as NAHB Educator of the Year. Do you have a building science puzzle? Contact Pete here.last_img read more

  • Demons, Demos and Dolls: Kinect for Windows Moves Into The Real World

    first_imgDevelopers are beginning to take Microsoft’s Kinect sensor out of the living room, using it to create everything from animatronic demons to “green screened” PowerPoint demonstrations. While gamers can play dozens of games for the Xbox console using Kinect, there’s been a slower adoption of Kinect for Windows, the $220 derivative that’s still considered a development product. The sensor still ships with a warning that it should only be used with an application developed with Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows Commercial SDK. Instead, for Kinect for Windows has been showcased more as a research tool, with everything from a fun app that turns people into virtual objects, to a recent update that allows “clicking,” panning, and scanning. Outside the home, Microsoft’s vision is to use Kinect as the “eyes” of wall-sized displays, tapping into its ability to potentially recognize faces and track movements as a new form of natural interaction.However, other developers have their own ideas about what Kinect for Windows should be used for.PersonifyEvery night on the evening news, a meteorologist stands in front of a green-screened weather map and tells her audience what to expect the next day. Personify takes that technology into the conference room.What Personify does, according to the company’s chief executive, is combine the best of the worlds of videoconferencing and presentation software like PowerPoint. Using Personify, a presenter stands in front of his notebook PC, scrolling through his presentation through the use of gestures. But Personify wasn’t designed for in-room presentations; instead, the software displays the presenter’s slides to the customer over the Internet, superimposing the image of the presenter on top of the slides. “We absolutely need Kinect to do this,” Sanjay Patel, the chief executive and co-founder, said in an interview. Kinect’s camera strips out the background – whether it be a desk, a wall, or a coffee shop – without the need for a “green screen”. Personify Live, the company’s Web service, costs $20 per month, Patel said. Customers can also buy a bundled, Kinect-like Asus Xtion Pro Live for $200, including three months of service. The software will also be compatible with an upcoming depth camera from Logitech, which Intel has promoted as one of the future directions of the PC.Next up? Consumer apps, so users could conceivably dance in front of a picture – or video – of their favorite scene or pop star, Patel said.Distortions UnlimitedEach year, the “haunt” industry tries to outdo itself around Halloween, with the goriest, scariest, psychologically disturbing “attractions” possible, from aliens to zombies and everything in between. Distortions Unlimited decided, with a bit of prompting from Microsoft employee Todd Van Nurden’s two sons, to design a spook that actually reacted to the viewer.The demon waits – for blood! (Image Source: Distortions Unlimited via Microsoft)Of course, anyone could reproduce that same effect by dressing up in a bloody shirt and a chainsaw. Developing a lifelike fourteen-feet high demon master, as well as a pair of smaller hellhounds, was a different story. Distortions Unlimited embedded a Kinect for Windows sensor connected to a ruggedized Lenovo M92 workstation to the demon’s belt that could track viewers and send commands to the hellhounds via wired Ethernet.The hounds whimper when they see children but growl when they see adults, using the Kinect camera to detect height. Up close, Kinect’s skeletal tracking was used for more fine-grained interaction.“The Kinect technology the potential to be one of the tremendous leaps for industry,” said Ed Edmunds, president of Distortions Unlimited, in an episode of Making Monsters, a Travel Channel show about the haunt industry. (Unfortunately, the clip doesn’t show you the final project, but does give you a bit of an idea how it all works.)Mattel’s Barbie Dream ClosetIf you visit a Bloomingdale’s store in New York, you might have a chance to try out Swivel, which scans your body using a Kinect and allows you to “try on” clothes. Swivel also launched a version at the recent National Retail Federation trade show to show off a close-up technology that allows users to “model” sunglasses and makeup.A similar technology was developed by Gun Communications and Adapptor, which developed, “Barbie the Dream Closet,” a promotion which toured Australia during the summer of 2012.A screenshot of a Barbie Dream Closet promotional video. (Source: YouTube)A Microsoft case study of the Dream Closet describes it as a “larger-than-life hot pink, sparkly closet with an augmented reality ‘mirror’ that contains virtual outfits from the past five decades.” Using gesture-based controls, children could browse through the closet and select outfits. Kinect for Windows determined the position and orientation of the user, and the application rescales Barbie’s clothes for a custom “fit”. Assuming that the child was over a minimum age, the Dream Closet allowed them to take a picture and post it to Facebook. And if Mom wanted to participate, the software allowed for that, too.Interestingly, Kinect’s not alone in this space. Me-Ality, which sells sizing stations that look like the full-body scanners used in airports, also claims it can offer virtual sizing.There’s no guarantee that shoppers will feel comfortable scanning themselves with Kinect, or projecting themselves in the middle of their PowerPoint presentation. What is true, however, is that machine vision such as what Kinect provides is a foundation for a new wave of innovations that would have been unheard of a few years ago. 4 Keys to a Kid-Safe App markhachman Tags:#games#Kinect#Microsoft 5 Outdoor Activities for Beating Office Burnout 12 Unique Gifts for the Hard-to-Shop-for People… Related Posts 9 Books That Make Perfect Gifts for Industry Ex…last_img read more

  • Watch | Kashmiri family speaks on shutdown in the Valley

    first_imgThe Kashmir Valley has been under a shutdown for the last three months.While landline and postpaid mobile phone services have been restored across the valley, all internet services continue to remain suspended since 5 August.Most of the top level and second rung separatist leaders have been taken into preventive custody, while mainstream politicians including two former Chief Ministers — Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — have been either detained or placed under house arrest.Meanwhile, the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir has been bifurcated into Union Territories.A Delhi-based Kashmiri family speaks on what they saw in the Valley.last_img

  • Ram temple a symbol of self-respect: VHP

    first_imgThe Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya is a symbol of Hindu religious sentiments and self-respect, Vishwa Hindu Parishad secretary general Milind Parande has said.Speaking to the media in the city on Sunday, Mr. Parande termed the Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya title suit as “the victory of truth” and a result of the struggle and sacrifices made by lakhs of Hindus. “As the Supreme Court has asked the Central government to organise a trust for the construction of the temple, we hope that the government soon takes steps for it,” he said.The VHP secretary general also took on the Kerala government on the Sabarimala temple controversy, saying it is the intent of the ruling party to hurt the religious sentiments of Hindu devotees.“The VHP does not worry about being a part of the trust committee, but we believe that the construction [of the Ram temple] should be done according to the wishes of Hindu society… The temple should be constructed with the money of Hindu society as it’s the Hindu society’s temple, and it should not become a government temple,” Mr. Parande said.Given that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has decided to file a review petition against the Ayodhya verdict, Mr. Parande said it was their right to file a review petition, although the decision of Supreme Court was very balanced. “They had the time in the 40-day hearings to prove that the disputed land had a Muslim graveyard or it was an empty land, but they failed to prove it.” He said if the AIMPLB thought the demolition of the Babri mosque was illegal, it should also think of the temple at that site, which he claimed was demolished before the mosque.Mr. Parande said neither the VHP nor the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas had asked for any donations for the temple construction in the recent times, and warned people not to believe in rumours.Hee also accused the Communist Party of Kerala of hurting religious feelings of Hindu devotees by trying to portray the Sabarimala temple issue as one of discrimination towards women.The VHP secretary general also accused the Kerala government and Christian missionaries of wanting to hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus, for which, they are using the Sabarimala issue. Mr. Parande was in Mumbai to attend an annual function of a home for cancer patients managed by the VHP.last_img read more