The Solutions Just Keep Coming

I continue to be amazed at the speed which the world is moving towards alternative energy. (And equally frustrated at the lack of data showing this — just checked the World Bank numbers to see if they’ve updated them since the beginning of the year. Nope. Can’t wait till January till I can update the numbers!) I know, I know, you’re hearing lots and lots about fracking and shale gas, tar sands, giant coal reserves just found in north-western Mozambique, and then more about fracking and shale gas.

But the future of energy will not be in one direction but will be in hundreds. All at once. Kind of crazy but true.

One of those might just be this: Liquid air ‘offers energy storage hope‘. And then this: Petrol from air: Will it make a difference? One story tells how a guy in his garage in the U.K. has demonstrated a viable way to store power by super-cooling air, which can then be compressed into tanks and released later to power turbines. Sounds nuts, but it actually works. It involves removing the carbon from the air so it is mostly nitrogen (which air is anyway) which brings me to the second story which involves combining the carbon pulled out of air with water to create a petroleum product. So if these two get together, we’ll literally be able to pull energy out of air. (And does this mean, we could “mine” the smog around Delhi and Beijing for carbon?!)

We’re already looking at pulling energy out of dirty water — US researchers build ‘waste water generator’ — so why not air?

But my favorite alternative energy source (which the Komai team featured recently on their blog and I’m linking to here — thanks, Komai!) is this: Tiger Energy. The source, parents across the planet can confirm, is probably inexhaustible.

What other innovations haven’t we even heard about are coming soon?!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. The tiny island of Tokelau has just completed a shift from almost total reliance on diesel power to meeting 100% of its electricity needs with solar.  This seems to be a trend not necessarily related to sea level but more to ease of access to power sources. The Isle of Eigg in the UK has been experimenting with wind and hydro sources. And an island located 1500 miles off the coat of Spain has been leading the way for a while now.  The problems associated with access to power also became very clear during Superstorm Sandy. I am wondering if some of the people who lost power over those days will be considering alternative energy in their future storm preparation plans. 


Hacking for a Better Government

Have you ever stood in line at the DMV or any other government office, and just thought, why can we land a man on the moon but we can’t have efficient government services? I’m not talking corruption. Just plain basic efficiency. With all those trillions of dollars/pounds/euros/yen/yuan going into all those coffers worldwide, and with the marvels and wonders of modern tech, why do we still have traffic congestion, urban blight, and potholes?

Well, believe it or not, help may be on the way. And not just here in the U.S., but worldwide.  In fact, grass-roots tech-enabled activism might have started in Kenya, where Ushahidi was born out of the need to map incidents of violence and peace efforts in the 2008 post-election unrest.

There is a catch, though. That catch is You. In order to make our governments work better, the citizens of those governments need to voice their concerns. Fortunately, that is becoming as easy as typing a text message.

Here are a few of the organizations making it happen:

  • Code for America – Where’s My School Bus?, Adopt-A-Hydrant, and Textizen are just a few of the apps created to help people communicate with and better use government services.
  • Random Hacks of Kindness has volunteers all over the world taking on a wide variety of issues. They’ve created Person Finder which was used in the Haiti, Chile and New Zealand earthquakes, and Ad Hawk, which identifies the sponsor of political ads. RHOK has recently teamed up with Transparency International to work on new ways of using technology to fight corruption.
  • Neighborland – This is a fun way to make a difference by sharing ideas about what’s needed in your neck of the woods; gathering support; and then making your project happen. Some of the ideas that have taken off include a Food Truck Festival and Bikeway Signage. Neighborland has also partnered with Code for America fellows in Austin to generate ideas for the Code Across Austin Civic Hackathon.

I can’t wait for the app that solves the Los Angeles traffic problem.

Thanks for stopping by,


Peace and Jobs

Have you ever thought that the real answer to war might just be decent jobs for those in conflict areas?

If you have (or you’ve had similar thoughts), then you’ll like bPeace, an organization dedicated to creating a million jobs in conflict areas, and active in Rwanda, Afghanistan, and El Salvador so far.

I have a special attachment to Afghanistan. I’ve written a novel set partly in Kabul, which I began just before 9/11. It’s pretty much done at this point (and I’m looking for an agent, publisher, etc…) but the country will always have a special place in my heart because of the extraordinary history, culture and people I’ve come to know. My book focuses on the very harsh conditions Afghan women are living under, but also on their resilience, resourcefulness, and fierce drive towards a better future for their children and their country. So bPeace‘s Afghan initiative, initially geared towards women but now also including men, spoke to me immediately.

bPeace pairs entrepreneurs from conflict areas with experienced business people in developed countries (and they are looking for skilled volunteers in certain areas to help “advocate” in developing these businesses if you’re interested). Here’s a small sample of some of the businesses bPeace has helped foster in Afghanistan (with the number of jobs created so far in parentheses):

  • Mobina is running two radio stations and received coaching from an Allentown, PA, journalist (28);
  • Maryam is teaching women to grow raisins (Afghanistan was once the world’s second-largest exporter!) and got a little help with packaging design from a New York graphic designer (10);
  • Nasima is working to revitalize the silk industry with new designs (the country lies along the famous Silk Road) and has partnered with a Connecticut importer to create an international market (49); and
  • Guljan’s chutney and tomato paste operation has received valuable pricing advice from a Bar Harbor, Maine, businesswoman (39).

Despite the constant barrage of negative press from all directions on this small central Asian country, bPeace is steadily showing one very effective way towards peace.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Talking Our Way to a Better World

I think I’ve figured it out. The way to a more equal world for both men and women I mean. It’s really simple.

Talk. Then talk more. And keep talking!

And network, market, exchange ideas, information, maybe even recipes or photos, but keep communicating. Sometimes it’s at a networking meeting, sometimes it’s a conversation on an elevator. Sometimes it’s even via Facebook chat, or Skype, or Twitter. (Chellie Campbell, author of The Wealthy Spirit, had a great piece on the value of talking/networking recently.)

There are, always shocking to we women in the West, countries where women are not allowed to speak very much. I suspect, besides the myriad of political, cultural, religious and discriminatory reasons for this, there is another one lurking underneath, and that is that, when women start really talking and communicating, wow, can we get things done!

One of my favorite examples of what happens when women are empowered and speak out is very visible in this short video from The Hunger Project:

THP recently started a Cause on Facebook to encourage people to have one conversation about how empowering women can help end poverty. All you have to do to participate is talk.

I have to admit that sometimes talking and speaking out is a challenge for me. A lot of times I just assume that the people around me are on the same page as me, and it comes as a huge surprise when I suddenly discover they aren’t! I’m also shy, afraid of making mistakes, of looking like an idiot, of being hurt, all those and more. But watching the video of the woman above puts all those excuses into perspective.

And I took the THP pledge and have had several conversations already!

So, talk, talk more, and then talk some more!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Creativity as the Future of Work

With all the turmoil in the global job markets these days, one question is becoming more and more pressing for me and I suspect to many other people as well: what will the jobs of the future look like? (And concurrently, how can I ensure my employment security?)

The bad news is that, probably in less that 20 years, there won’t be “jobs” as we know them today. Instead, most of the rote, manual labor stuff will be performed by robots although probably overseen by humans for a while.

Where does that leave us? The one arena that robots will never be able to compete with humans is in something that we don’t always value much: Art, in all its many forms – dance, music, painting, sculpture, novels, poetry, song, architecture, design, woodworking – as well as Art applied to almost anything else you can think of – science, mathematics, physics.

In pockets of the developing world, whether by necessity or design,  some people seem to be leapfrogging the whole doomed, industrial-revolution thing altogether. How many of us have purchased beautiful crafts that are hand-made from a country in Latin America, Africa or Asia? We are supporting these creative women and men in their artistic endeavors in very poor societies. But, then we find ourselves needing a lamp and buying some generic product at Home Depot (yes, usually made in China, but which is also starting to see the need to move beyond sole reliance on Industrial Revolution-type economic models)!

I’ve been following a wonderful blog now for a few months focused on handmade goods from all over, and tying that focus into a sustainable living context. Besides being sustainable, environmental, socially responsible, and fashionable,, is also just very cool.

They have recently wrapped up a trip to several countries across two continents with fabulous results:

One thing we might have to get used to here in the “developed” world is that our lead in all sorts of creativity is going to get intensively challenged. That’s okay by me — one strict rule about creativity is that the more the better!

So what is your art? What makes your heart sing?

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. In defense of us developed-world types, there are some signs of hope especially in the Maker Faires, bespoke and crafting movements which are making great progress in moving the generic, mass-produced stuff off to the side. See, etc..!