Punxsutawney Phil stuck his head outside on February 2, 2013 (Groundhog Day) and did not see his shadow. So that famous woodchuck announced to the world that winter was over and spring would arrive soon. A few days later we had the worst snowstorm in decades. So much for looking to a rodent to predict the weather.
The organizers of this yearly groundhog event (since 1886) claim 75 to 90% accuracy. The mayor wears a formal tail coat and top hat for this big event. Phil saw his shadow 98 times, no shadow 15 times, and no record 10 times.
Yet in 2005, 18,000 people gathered at Gobblers Knob, Pennsylvania to see if he would see his shadow. In 2001, the rodent’s weather prediction was displayed in Times Square. In 1995, he was on the Oprah TV show. His actual record is 37% accurate.
So far this year, we have had one of the worst winters with snowfalls and cold. The reality of global warming is that the storms are more violent and more frequent. The jet stream is making bigger and bigger gyrations and even Texas has had a huge snow storm.
Predicting the weather is really a skill and a science and a gamble. For our Famous Rodent Phil, flipping a coin would have been more accurate. The Old Farmers Almanac is another well known weather predictor. This year they predicted the east would be cold and snowy and the west warm and dry. Better than the rodent. They use a secret formula developed in 1792 for which they claim 80% accuracy.
Based in New Hampshire, the Almanac has all kinds of useful information, which, before Google, farmers really needed. Like when its warm enough to plant the peas. (In Ireland it’s when you can sit naked on the ground.) Also the tides and the full moon - most useful if you had to sail out of the harbor. I enjoy what vegetables to plant, when, and when to double crop. And the old faama’s “wisdom” is most amusing. I learn things too.
When farmers get together, it is said that they always talk about the weather, because that’s what determines their crops’ success. The Old Farmers Almanac was really necessary when everyone farmed, sowed and reaped, and milked the cows each day. Lots of info has been lost by us urban folks. (Like, do you know how many tits a cow has?) In 1981 Weatherwise Magazine found their weather predictions about 52% accurate.
Well, March has finally come, and spring is on the way. As I write this, this February’s 3 feet of snowfall is finally melting. But are winter’s troubles over? It depends on how you feel about the Ides of March.
Ruth S. Foster is a landscape consultant and arborist.
It should come as no surprise that the future of home control comes from the same mind that created the iPod. Tony Fadell's Nest is redefining home control, much like the iPod and the iPhone have redefined our connection to music, the internet and the connected world.
Nest came about as Fadell was tackling his dream home project and growing frustrated by the lack of home control options on the market that were smartphone app-ready. Balking in the face of $500 HVAC control that were clunky and unresponsive, he and software developer Matt Rogers cofounded Nest and released a digital thermostat of the same name in October of 2011.
With Nest's second generation thermostat now on the market (it became available in October 2012), the company is getting some high praise for a device whose round design is a throwback (deliberate or not) to the analog thermostats of old.
Nest is light years ahead of any competition in the space. The simplified design features a knob you can turn to adjust the temperature and a display. That's it. No up or down arrows. No "program" or "end of day" buttons to click and hold and fiddle with to set programs and schedules. That's what the app is for.
That's if you need to do any setting at all. The best part of Nest is that it "learns" the occupants' schedules within a few days of installation and will start automatically adjusting the temperature accordingly. It can also detect when the house is empty, and will lower the temperature then, too.
Preliminary estimates suggest Nest has already save owners from using 225 million kilowatt-hours of energy -- or $29 million in energy costs.
It gets 100% of its energy from solar panels and 100% of its water from rain harvesting. It's the Bullitt Center office building in Seattle, and with its recent opening it is being considered the greenest office building in the world.
The 50,000 square foot building adopts principles from the Living Building Challenge, a model for sustainability that demands a building minimize its impact on the planet while imparting a sense of beauty on the environment in which it is built.
The building's most prominent feature -- its roof -- spans far out from the building itself in order to house the many solar panels needed to harvest power in Seattle's less-than-ideal climate. The roof performs double-duty, too, by capturing enough rainwater to send 56,000 gallons to a cistern in the basement. According to the building website, the Bullitt Center is the first one in the US to use only harvested water to meet all of its water needs. As the water gets captured, it runs through an advanced filtration system that first treats the water with chlorine (per federal regulations) but then filters the chlorine out.
Will the Bullitt Center design inspire a new generation of homes? We can certainly hope.
The building currently houses the Bullitt Foundation, an environmental foundation run by Earth Day founder Denis Hayes. Additional tenants are in the process of moving in.
The world is changing in this year. We do not wake up anymore and go out to milk the cows. A century ago, 90% of people farmed. Today it's about 2%.
The steam engine played a part, as did the oil industry, rural electrification during the recession of the 1930's, multiple wars, their technological advances, reliable birth control, and scientific farming.
We are now, in 2013, on the threshold of another huge societal change - the digital age. Computers steal our time and our privacy. While milking those cows would anyone have thought that computer mega-giants (like Google) would be selling our search engine information to marketing companies?
We have instant access to all of human wisdom on search engines. And information overload. Unfortunately, we don't know whether it's true, or who wrote it, or what they're trying to sell us.
We communicate constantly and easily with anyone, anywhere, who has a cell-phone, and even with dozens of people at a time. We send our most intimate thoughts of the moment (think Twitter) to the whole world. (It helps to have a good agent so that it makes money.)
Everybody multi-tasks. Dinner table conversation is shared with cells phones. No longer is this the world of serious Jeffersonian dinner table conversation. Today, we can relate to others, instantly, through the written word on a little machine that eats electricity.
The world is changing and our thinking has to change too. We garden differently. We may value "organic" even if its more hearsay than science. We choose the fashionable buzz words "ecology" and "green," which are good, but often need more science and cost-analyses.
It was only 30 years ago since the first commercial cell network started. The first internet worm infected computers 5 years later. In 1990, a government panel linked human activities to global warming. Yet some folks still choose to not believe it, despite the weird weather and stronger storms.
In 1999 West Nile Virus invaded the US. Today, it's a widespread disease spread by culex mosquitoes. My local Mosquito Control Unit scientist ( with 26 towns) told me that the mosquitoes prefer the blood of the thrush family, especially robins and the robin population has increased by 25%. After the babies leave the nest, the mosquitoes go after humans because Mother nature picks whatever blood is easiest.
Wetland preservation, global warming and storms increase mosquito habitats. This year, my area had the most cases of West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis it has ever had, and I am so glad my state supports scientific mosquito monitoring units to keep our environment safer.
This year, we did not go over the meadow and through the woods to grandma's house in a one horse open sleigh, although I still have unused Christmas cards with pictures of that mythical memory. Today, we are into brain plasticity among other unimaginable scientific discoveries.
We are just beginning to understand the many microscopic organisms in our soil, our plants and even ourselves. The ecology of our planet and how will we grow enough food for all the people on earth.
What will be new this year? More reliable science about actual complex ecological systems we have only scratched the surface of. For gardeners and ecology buffs, it will be a fascinating, learning year.
With last summer's record heat and prolonged drought still fresh on our minds, we bring you news of the WaterStep M-100 Chlorinator. This may just be a game changer.
The device is the result of a collaboration between GE, the non-profit WaterStep and a handful of volunteers. Built in the garage of GE engineer Steve Froelicher (and with help from fellow engineer Sam DePlessis), the M-100 has been over a year in the making.
Essentially, the invention uses electrolysis -- generated by table salt and a car battery -- to produce chlorine gas, which then disinfects contaminated water to make it drinkable.
According to the organization's website, the M-100 Chlorinator is capable of generating enough chlorine to disinfect 38,000 liters of water per day -- enough for about 10,000 people.
What does this have to do with home improvement, you may ask? Those of you living in the central states who took the brunt of last summer's droughts know the seriousness of the water shortage issue. If last summer was as portentous as some would have us believe, a device like the M-100 may be a must-have for communities in the future. Or, if things get real bad, individual homes.
Are you looking to make some positive changes around the home in 2013? Why not start here?
1) Stay Organized. Was 2012 a year of accumulation? You're not alone. Our consumptive society values materialism but doesn't seem to encourage making space for the new acquisitions. The result is a home better fit for Hoarders than for Beautiful Homes. But we want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, so we're offering these de-cluttering tips for 2013.
2) Lower Bills. No beating around the bush. Your home has a leak. An energy leak. All that hot air is escaping, and it might as well be dollar signs. Take these 4 steps in the first month of January and use the money you save to do something nice for your family.
Get an Energy Audit. This will ultimately save you significant time and will give you the best information on where you should be addressing leaks, cracks and energy loss locations.
Add some more Insulation. Specifically, insulate your water heater, your pipes and attic spaces. There's heat being lost in those areas all winter long, and only you can put an end to it!
3) Be Handy (er). You can do it! Pick up a hammer. Rev that drill a couple times. Okay, now put them both down and come back to the computer. We're going to give you 3 DIY projects that will set you down a path of empowerment and home improvement. If you've done all 3, good for you! Are you available Sunday? We're putting up drywall.
Install a Below-Counter Water Filter. There are very few tools and steps involved in this one. In fact, a sharp mind could probably just follow the instructions and get 'er done. But the visual tutorial can help, too. Bonus: you get to help the planet by eliminating bottle water in your home!
Inspect and Repair your Gutters. In truth, this project isn't that difficult. But the height factor makes it deserving of a more moderate rating. Whatever you, practice safe ladder climbing and consider doing this one with a partner.
Install Crown Molding. This projects can frustrate even the experienced, so take is slow, forgive yourself for little mistakes, and measure twice!
Have you made some improvements already? Tell us about them!