Building the World

March 17, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Green Toasts need to be Greener

Green beverages need to be greener: microplastics found in soda, beer, and bottled water. Image: wikimedia.

It’s a day when you may toast with a green beverage. Or perhaps you might drink bottled water, as a convenience or maybe to avoid polluted tap water? Bad news: tests on branded water drinks found 10 plastic particles per liter. SUNY Fredonia’s Professor Sherri “Sam” Mason evaluated major brands, finding plastic in virtually all the samples. Bottlers and processors responded with assurances that their factories use the best filters. Mason commented “It’s not about pointing fingers at particular brands; it is really showing that this is everywhere. Plastic is pervasive and it is pervading water.” The New River of England addressed Thames water in a public/private venture: will new cooperative initiatives remedy the findings of the Natural Environment Research Council? The SUNY-Fredonia study evaluated waters marketed by Coca-Cola, Gerolsteiner, Nestle, Pepsi.  Types of plastic found: polypropylene, nylon, and polyester. Over 500 billion beverages in plastic bottles were sold in 2016: one million bottles per minute. There are, as yet, no regulations on microplastics. Previous studies revealed plastic in tap water, soda, even beer. So if you are one who raises a glass of green today, take note.

Mason, Sherri. “Beads of destruction.” TED Talk on micro plastics in the Great Lakes.

Shukman, David. “Plastic particles found in bottled water.” 15 March 2018. BBC

Tyree, Chris and Dan Morrison. “INVISIBLES: The plastic inside us.” Orb Media

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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March 11, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Spring Forward!

“Daylight Saving Time.” Transparency by Daniel FR. Wikimedia.

Did you spring forward, overnight? Daylight Saving Time(DST) refers to advancing clocks in the springtime. The first national practice of adjusting timepieces to lengthen summer evenings began on 30 April 1916, in Europe. It was not long after the very notion of time zones had been adopted by the world. Transport led to temporal coordination. Noting accidents when trains from opposite directions tried to coordinate during the early days of the United States Transcontinental Railroad, using runners carrying little slips called “flimsies,” Sandford Fleming, chief engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway, suggested a world time zone system, described in “Terrestrial Time.” The idea was adopted at the 1884 International Prime Meridian Conference. Daylight Saving Time (DST) was proposed in 1895 by New Zealander George Vernon Hudson, an entomologist who wanted more time in the evening to observe insects. What will you do with your extra hour?

International Prime Meridian Conference text:

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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March 3, 2018
by buildingtheworld

80% of Tap Water Contains Plastic – Can You Design a Solution?

Innovation challenge: design a personal straw – with filter. “Drink with Straw” by Martin Belam, 2006. Image: wikimedia.

A recent study found an alarmingly high percentage of tap water has microscopic plastic fibers. In the United States, 94% of drinking water sample contained micro plastics; worldwide, 83%. The particles are so small, most filters can’t catch them: micro plastics may even cross human digestive tracts to enter organs. Could filters lead the way? Wole Soboyejo and team designed a new microporous and nanoporous water filter. Askwar Hilonga, winner of the Africa Innovation Prize, Royal Academy of Engineering, also designed a water filter based on nanotechnology. With increasing bans on plastic straws, innovation markets may open to new kinds of straws. Now is a good time for innovation. Submit your design for a personal straw – with filter.

Annan, Ebenezer, Kwabena Kan-Dapaah, Salifu T. Azeko, Wole Soboyejo. “Clay Mixtures and the Mechanical Properties of Microporous and Nonporous Ceramic Water Filters. Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering 28 (10): 04016105. May 2016. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)MT.1943-5533-0001596.

Brooke, Kathleen Lusk. “Make Your Next Straw, The Last Straw.” 26 January 2018. Building the World Blog.

Hilonga, Askwar. “Africa Innovation Prize, Royal Academy of Engineering.” YouTube:

Shmurak, Susannah. “Are There Microplastics in Your Drinking Water?” 24 November 2017. eartheasy.

Timmons, Mark. “Removing micro plastics from drinking water.” March 2017.

Tyree, Chris and Dan Morrison, “Plastic fibers pervasive in tap water worldwide, new study shows.” 2017. Deutsche Welle

Victor, Daniel. “Bans on Plastic Straws in Restaurants Expand to More Cities.” 3 March 2018. The New York Times.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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February 25, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Olympics: Speed and Innovation

Speed Skating Pictogram: wikimedia.

PyeongChang’s Olympics saw gold, silver, bronze, and a glimpse into the future. Some parts of the Olympic and Paralympic Games received 5G coverage. KT and Intel were among the providers; after the Olympics, AT&T will debut 5G in Atlanta, Dallas, and Waco.

Every era of civilization might be characterized by its predominant mode of transport; perhaps the Internet is the road of our time, it’s new fast lane: 5G. Three decades after COMSAT launched satellites, AT&T began developing an industry standard for interoperability of wireless communication with partner Nortell. As a result, GSM became the standard. Today’s interoperability certification is TETRA. The result? Driverless cars, smarter cities. Should the United States Interstate System open a tetra lane for autonomous vehicles? The Critical Communications Association (TCCA), coordinating public safety and disaster response, might suggest, next to the tetra lane, a sportsway with charging stations, segway and bike lanes, and walking routes. Boston might consider building the first link, in cooperation with the Central Artery, part of the Interstate: nickname, 5Greenway.

Instant takes time. The first idea for 5G dates to April 2008 when NASA and Machine-to-Machine Intelligence (m2mi) partnered, termed by some as the “commercialization of space.” The Memorandum of Understanding was only the third in NASA’s history. Stated goals included: “Under the agreement, NASA and m2mi will cooperate to develop a fifth generation telecommunications and networking system for internet protocol-based and related services. The cooperative effort will combine NASA’s expertise in nano sensors, wireless networks, and nano satellite technologies with m2mi’s unique capabilities in software technology, sensors, global system awareness, adaptive control and commercialization capabilities. Fifth Generation, of 5G, incorporates Voice Over Internet Protocol, video, data, wireless, and an integrated machine-to-machine intelligence layer, or m2mi, for seamless information exchange and use.” In December 2017, 5G was approved by the 3GPP international wireless consortium. The United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union will consider the system in 2019.

Next Olympics: 2020 Tokyo. Japan launched high speed train system Shinkansen for the opening of the 1964 Olympics. Speed has always been a winning characteristic of Olympic gold. What kinds of speed, including 5G, will we see in 2020?

3gpp. “First 5G NR Specs Approved.” 22 December 2017.

3gpp. “Drafting and publication of GSM Specs…in the pre-3GPP era.” 3gpp: The Mobile Broadband Standard.

Goldman, David and Betsy Klein. “What is 5 G?” 29 January 2018.

m2mi. Machine to Machine Intelligence Corporation, “Safe, more livable, and efficient Smart Cities: The Internet of Things.”

NASA. “NASA Ames Partners with M2Mi For Small Satellite Development.” 24 April 2008.

“Olympic Visions: PyeongChang 2018.” 10 February 2018. Building the World Blog.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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February 20, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Straws that Filter Bacteria and Parasites

“Bunch of drinking straws.” Photographer: Nina Matthews. Image: wikimedia commons.

Over two billion people in the world don’t have safe drinking water. Death from water-borne diseases takes more lives than violence and war. The answer may be in the humble straw, fitted with a filter. LifeStraw, for example, looks like a regular drinking straw, but inside are filters that can catch anything larger than  two microns, enough to block 99% of parasites, and bacteria that cause cholera, typhoid fever. LifeStraw was started by Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen who inherited his grandfather’s uniform manufacturing factory; instead, Fransen rebuilt the machines to make a straw with the steel mesh filter that was successful in wiping out guinea worm disease, which went from 3.5 million in 1986 to 25 in 2017. Partners include the Carter Center. The New River of England delivered clean water to London when the Thames needed help; Rome’s aqueducts saved the future of Rome when the Tiber became threatened by poison. LifeStraw has been used in disaster relief in Ecuador, Haiti, Pakistan, and Thailand. Present projects include an initiative to bring clean drinking water to students in locations including Kenya. LifeStraw won a design award at MoMA.

Carter Center. “Eradicating Guinea Worm Disease.” March 2014.

CFEG. “Mikkel Westergaard Frandsen: 17 Next Generation Family Enterprise Leaders to Watch in ’17” Cambridge Family Enterprise Group

Garvett, Zaria. “The miraculous straw that lets you drink dirty water.” 5 March 2018. BBC Future.

Katayama, Lisa. “Fighting Water-Borne Disease in Africa, and Making Millions in the Process.” 25 March 2011. Fast Company. 


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February 16, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Do you sing in the shower?

Take the 2 Minute Shower Challenge. Image: “Animated waterdrops,” wikimedia.

Do you sing in the shower? Studies indicate 80% of us do. That quirk of human hum might help to save Cape Town, and maybe other places, too. South Africa’s famous city is suffering from three years of scant rainfall, coupled with rapid urban expansion. While solutions to the water crisis such as desalination of sea water, improved ground water collection, and other water engineering innovations are in development, residents have been asked to limit water use to 50 liters (13 gallons) per day. Cyrene, ancient Greek city-state, was founded in response to persistent drought on Thera (Santorini). Climate migrants fled the parched land to build a new city abundant of water and replete with potent silphium, a magic plant that appeared to foster science, arts, and even amatory expressions. Rome, when suffering a water crisis, built aqueducts to bring water to the city, enough for drinking, bathing, and water sculptures, honored by composer Resphigi in The Fountains of Rome. Music now inspires South Africa’s vision for honoring and saving water. “People like to sing in the shower,” observed Mariska Oosthuizen, head of brand at Sanlam, South African investment firm, that invited musical artists to create two-minute songs, free for download:


  • Kwesta, “Boom Shaka Laka
  • Mi Casa, “Nana
  • GoodLuck, “Taking It Easy
  • Fifi Cooper, “Power of Gold
  • Francois Van Coke, “Dit raak Beter
  • Jimmy Nevis, “Day Dream
  • Rouge, “Deja Vu
  • Desmond & the Tutus, “Teenagers
  • Youngster, “Wes Kaap
  • Springbok Nude Girls, “Bubblegum On My Boots

80% of residential water use happens in the bathroom. Showers use 10 liters (2.6 gallons) per minute.  Do you sing in the shower? Take the 2 Minute Shower Challenge and join the chorus in praise of water.

Kammies, Kieno  “MiCasa releases 2 minute shower song to save water.” 17 November 2017.

Sanlam.”SA’s biggest artists are singing to save water. Are you?”

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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February 10, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Olympic Visions

PyeongChang Olympics, motto: “Passion. Connected.”  Image: wikimedia

PyeongChang 2018 opened with ceremony and a hopeful promise of peace. Throughout history, Olympics have offered a window into the future. Japan built Shinkansen, the fast-train system, to open ten days before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, garnering plenty of users and publicity.  Japan had a history of transport consumer involvement: in 1929, the country held a naming contest for new trains: Fuji and Sakura won public approval. London’s 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games inspired Laurence Kimball-Cook, a 25-year-old university student, to found PaveGen, generative floors that produce electricity when stepped upon. The West Ham Tube Station, leading to the Olympic stadium, lined with 12 electric pavers, activated by one million footsteps, powered the station. Hospital lobbies see an average of 250, 000 steps – enough to power 10,000 mobile phones; dance floors could light up nightclubs; campus students could walk in the light. What innovations will PyeongChang introduce? One glimpse into the future may be 5G preview. KT (formerly Korea Telecom), along with Intel, LG U+ Samsung, highlighted bobsledding and figure skating. TimeSlice created 3D in the Ice Arena. For those not in the stadium, NBC and Intel provided an app for VR views.

Captain, Sean. “The Winter Olympics Will Be A Coming-Out Party for 5G.” 8 February 2018. Fast Company.

Intel. “Experience the Coolest Games on Earth.”

KT. “KT becomes Olympics Partner.”

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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February 2, 2018
by buildingtheworld

90% of Ocean Plastic comes from 10 Rivers

Plastic is a relatively recent innovation but disastrously successful. In 1950, 2.5 billion people on the planet generated 1.5 million tons of plastic; in 2016, 7 billion of us produced 300 trillion tons. Five trillion is now in the oceans, with toxic effects. But there is hopeful news. The United Nations will soon meet to empower Communities of Ocean Action, furthering Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14. On the agenda may be a recent study finding that improving ten rivers could reduce ocean plastic by half. Here are the rivers, please see map:

Rivers near cities carry the most plastic. Will Los Angeles lead an effort to reduce microbead pollution? Image: wikimedia.







Pearl River




Inland rivers near cities are the major delivery systems of plastic to the oceans. If the trend continues, by 2050 the oceans will have more plastic than fish. Will the Yangtze River, part of the Grand Canal of China, develop a pioneering model to address the 727 million pounds of plastic carried by its water, perhaps creating a program in honor of the Grand Canal? The Yangtze is home to half a billion people: would a school-based program raise awareness and offer ways to reduce plastic? Also part of the Grand Canal: Hai and Yellow rivers. China may include the issue in the Maritime Silk Road. The United States is also a contender: it won the dubious honor of being the only industrialized western country to make the top twenty plastic polluters list.

Best, Shivali. “Shocking report reveals that 95% of plastic polluting the world’s oceans comes from just TEN rivers including the Ganges and Niger.” Daily Mail. 11 October 2017.

Sahagun, Louis. “Microbes a major problem in L.A. River.” Los Angeles Times. 25 January 2014.

Schmidt, Christian, Tobias Krauth, Stephen Wagner. “Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea Helmholtz-Center for Environmental Research (UFZ), Leipzig, Germany. 11 October 2017. Environmental Science & Technology, Volume 51, Issue 21, Pages 12246-12253. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est7b02368.

United Nations. “UN’s mission to keep plastics out of oceans and marine life.” 27 April 2017.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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January 26, 2018
by buildingtheworld
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Make Your Next Straw, The Last Straw

Make your next straw, the last straw. Image: wikimedia commons.

Americans use 500 million plastic straws – every day. Just to get the picture: that’s enough to fill 127 school buses. Every day. Each person in the United States will statistically use 38,000 plastic straws between the ages of 5 to 64. Most straws end up in the oceans. Why? Even when recycled, most plastic straws are too light, dropping undetected through recycling sorting filters. All waters, even with straws and microbeads, flow to the oceans where 70% of seabirds now have plastic in their stomachs. Plastic bags have been the subject of concern for decades, but plastic straws are among the top ten items found in marine debris. It’s easy to say NO. Mention your preference during your order: “And, no straw, please.” If a straw is required (there are many important medical and special needs), compostable plastic straws may offer a sustainable choice.  Individually, many people carry a personal water bottle or coffee cup; why not consider BYO straw choices like bamboo or stainless steel? A personal straw could address the safety of sips. Here are some straw styles suggested by Strawless Ocean.

Grenier, Adrian. “The Strawless Ocean Initiative.” Interview with Project Earth correspondent Nicholas Ibarguen on how individuals and restaurants could stop using plastic straws.

Schmidt, Christian, Tobias Kraut, S. Wagner. “Export of plastic debris by rivers into the sea.” Environmental Science & Technology 2017, 51 (21), 12246-12253.

“Strawless in Seattle” demonstrates how a city can go strawless. Enter your town in the competition

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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January 19, 2018
by buildingtheworld

Cities as Destiny

Cities may rebuild the world. Image: “Cirrus sky panorama.” Image: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos.

We started talking about all these things that we could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge,” said Eric Schmidt, CEO of Alphabet. Sidewalk Labs, subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, won a public competition to design a part of Toronto’s waterfront. Some of the proposed winning ideas:

Sidewalk Toronto:

  • heated pedestrian lanes to melt snow;
  • self-driving bus system;
  • taxi-bots and van-bots for shuttles;
  • transit and bike-shares;
  • street side parks and public spaces;
  • tunnels for utilities, making grids easier to reach and repair.

Throughout history, cities have espoused new visions. Baghdad was drawn in three concentric circles during a vision. Singapore was the spontaneous agreement for an economic and cultural nexus, celebrating diversity. Brasilia was the first urban design built to be seen from the air. Will Toronto take the next step to realizing a new vision, if chosen as Amazon’s HQ2? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau termed the project an “innovation hub.” Some question sensors and data collection, also planned, challenging Sidewalk Labs’ claim: “privacy can be baked into the design.”

Which 20 cities made the short-list for Amazon’s HQ?. Image: München Tram 20. Wikimedia commons.

Toronto, along with Boston, made the short-list for Amazon’s second headquarters. Boston’s note: “We would like to move Boston forward in the process so we can continue to learn more about your community, your talent, and potential real estate options.”  Holly Sullivan, Amazon. While 19 cities in the United States made the list, one Canadian city joined the elite twenty: Toronto. Toynbee, in Cities of Destiny, explored cities that shaped history. What are your ideas for the future of the city?

Wingfield, Nick. “Amazon Chooses 20 Finalists for Second Headquarters.” 18 January 2018. The New York Times.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

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