In most asylum buildings, the administrative portion - which usually lies at the center - is the most robustly constructed and sturdy area of the building.  In the Walters Building at Rochester State Hospital, however, it is anything but - whereas most of the building is in a condition that is absolutely fit for rehabilitation, the administrative wing (which held the medical/surgical and dental offices, x-ray suite, etc) is anything but.  Here, water damage through the shattered roof has pulled down reddish-pink insulation, dropping it onto a carpet of moss, ferns, and small plants.  The flourescent lighting banks have drooped, creating a weird, roller-coaster-esque feel.  An oddity in an odd building.

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Big animals like whales and sea lions stay warm in cold waters by having thick layers of insulating blubber. But smaller mammals, like beavers and sea otters, have a different mechanism for staying warm – their thick fur traps air near their skin, keeping the cold water at bay. Researchers used flexible, 3D-printed “hairy” surfaces to see how hair density, diving speed, and fluid viscosity affected the amount of air trapped between hairs. This enabled them to build a mathematical model describing the physics, which can now be used to predict, for example, the characteristics needed for a hairy wetsuit that could keep surfers warm in and out of the water. For more on this research check out MIT News’ video, and for a closer look at sea otter fur – not to mention a healthy overdose of pure adorable – check out the video below.  (Photo credit: F. Frankel; video credit: Deep Look; research credit: A. Nasto et al.)

Your Internal Fiber Optic Network

The above image is an SEM of a section through the sciatic nerve, showing Myelinated Nerve Fibers (axons). Myelin (blue) is an insulating fatty layer that surrounds the nerve fiber (brown). This increases the speed at which nerve impulses travel. Much like the insulation on household wiring, myelination helps prevent the electrical current from leaving the axon. It has been suggested that myelin helped permit the existence of larger organisms (like humans) by maintaining agile communication between distant body parts.

Click to see more Myelinated Nerve Fibers

Myelin is formed when Schwann cells wrap around fibers, depositing layers of myelin between each coil. The outermost layer consists of the Schwann cell’s cytoplasm and is known as the neurolemma or sheath of Schwann. During human infancy, myelination occurs quickly, leading to a child’s fast development, including crawling and walking in the first year. Myelination continues through the adolescent stage of life.

View scans showing Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease where the protective myelin sheath is attacked by the immune system, due to what is thought to be a virus or defective gene. When this myelin covering is damaged, nerve signals slow down or stop. This results in a variety of symptoms including muscle spasms, loss of balance and coordination, numbness, and muscle weakness.  

Image above © Steve Gschmeissner / Science Source

Japanese Students Create Brilliant Straw Home Heated by Compost 
On Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

Japanese students at Waseda University have designed and built an innovative straw house that produces its own heat through agricultural fermentation. During the cold months, dried straw is composted in acrylic cases within the house using the low-odor Japanese “bokashi” method. The fermentation naturally heats up the house by generating 30° celsius heat for up to four weeks.

The project, called “A Recipe To Live,” stands in the coastal town of Taiki-cho in Hokkaido. It was designed by students Masaki Ogasawara, Keisuke Tsukada and Erika Mikami to follow the natural cycles of the dairy farm town, which features many straw pastures.

During the hot summer months, the natural shelter dries straw inside transparent window shelves. These shelves serve as “heat shield panels,” and they release cool moisture as the straw dries. In the winter months, the straw is composted indoors to produce a source of heat through microbial fermentation. The house’s grass walls need to be changed a few times throughout the year, but they provide a natural system of heating and cooling that requires zero energy.

Photos by LIXIL

#Japan #compost #straw #bokashi #heating

Insular - Adrian Cornejo - 2014 

Glass Jars, Sanitizing Gel, Charcoal. 

Jars are filled with sanitizing gel and a chunk of charcoal is suspended within each. Over time the contents of the jars act on one another fouling the gel and charcoal. The gel is replaced and the process is repeated until the chunk is completely inert and the gel remains untainted. This is symbolic of the psychological effects of living within an insulated environment. 

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Tiny House GIANT Ice-sickles! Watch your head!

We recently moved to the Colorado Rockies after being evicted from Denver. So far we’ve seen temperature lows of -9 degrees and over 48 inches of snow! This is our first cold winter in the tiny house. Read below for tips on how we prepped our tiny house for winter.

Tiny House Cold Climate Prep

Insulation. The first ingredient to a warm tiny house is insulation. We insulated our walls, roof and floor with rigid foam. We estimate our total R-value is R-18. If we could do it again, we’d probably splurge for spray foam to get a little more R-value. If you’re planning on living in your tiny house in an extremely cold climate, its a good idea to add an extra layer of insulation on the outside of your walls, like Mark Wipfli did in his Alaskan Tiny Home.

Skirting, The coldest part of our tiny house is the floor. To save a few bucks, we built a snow skirt around our trailer. We also purchased tire covers for extra protection.

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Our propane water heater vents through the floor and our wood stove has a floor air-intake. It’s important to keep these vents clear so that the appliance can function properly. We dug air holes in our snow skirt so that those pipes could vent/receive oxygen.

Windows. While great for letting in natural light, windows are terrible insulators. We have fourteen double-pane windows in our tiny house, and that’s not counting two skylights and our half-glass front door! For extremely cold climates, such as Alaska, installing triple-pane windows (or opting to have fewer windows) is e a good idea. Before the temperature drops below zero this winter, we are going to purchase thick insulating drapes or place foam pieces over our windows.

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Fresh Water. For now, we are filling our 40 gallon fresh water tank every 3-4 days from a nearby spigot on the property. Guillaume and I are also considering purchasing a heated hose, since we have access to power. With a heated hose, we could stay hooked up to the spigot and would no longer need to fill the tank. This is what Brittany Yunker does in her Washington based tiny home. In the warmer months, we would send our heated hose off to MakeSpace – a wonderful tool for storing items that are not needed year-round.

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Grey Water. Luckily, we are parked next to a large wooded area on private land, so we simply pour our grey water into an isolated area. We use all biodegradable soaps, so the environment is not damaged by our grey water. In fact, I like to think it’s a great way to recycle! As a note, we do not condone disposing of grey water illegally. Check with your local zoning laws and/or dispose of your grey water responsibly.

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Propane. So far we haven’t done anything different to our propane tanks (located on the tongue of our trailer). Some people have suggested we wrap foam around our propane tanks to keep them warm, and we might do that. Amazon also sells propane tank blankets.

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Composting. We use a composting toilet, so thankfully we don’t have to worry about black water. I am interested to see how our compost tumbler fares in the cold climate, but so far it’s doing okay.

Humidity Prevention. Condensation is the enemy. Most tiny home owners like to keep a window open or a skylight vented at all times to reduce moisture problems, but that’s not very efficient in cold climates. Our wood stove acts as a dehumidifier, and we also purchased an electric dehumidifier for the winter season.

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Accurite Weather Station. Photo:

Weather Station. Because we are obsessed with keeping our house warm and dry, we purchased a weather station to help us monitor our interior climate. We love it! Plus, it’s really great to know how cold it is outside before gearing up in the morning.

Diesel Truck. Lastly, our truck does not love being parked outside in cold weather. We try to run it on a daily basis, but some mornings it won’t start at all. We are working on a solution – such as keeping it plugged in, fuel conditioner, winter oil, engine heater, etc. Here are some tips for keeping a diesel truck warm in the winter (without a garage).

Next up, Heating our Tiny Home!

Tiny House Cold Climate Prep We recently moved to the Colorado Rockies after being evicted from Denver. So far we've seen temperature lows of -9 degrees and over 48 inches of snow!
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Why Mercury isn’t the Solar System’s hottest planet

“The blanket-like effect of the clouds and atmospheric gases lift our planet’s climate into the temperate zone where life-as-we-know it has thrived for so long. Yet early in the Solar System’s history, with a cooler Sun and a much thinner atmosphere, Venus was probably similar in temperature to Earth’s today. It likely had the same potential for life and biological processes, but a runaway catastrophe created the permanent inferno that’s inhabited our sister world for billions of years.”

If the Earth didn’t have any global warming at all, our planet’s mean temperature would be 255 K, or about -1º Fahrenheit: the mean temperature of the Antarctic continent. As it stands instead, our planet is much warmer than that, owing to the warming, insulating effects of the atmosphere, which is largely transparent to (incoming) visible light, but traps a fair amount of the (outgoing) infrared radiation. This effect is even more spectacular on our inner, sister planet, Venus. While Venus might be more reflective and twice as far from the Sun as Mercury, its greenhouse gases and insulating cloud layers are so effective that it’s actually the hottest planet in the Solar System, outstripping Mercury day or night.

Muscovite sheets

Muscovite is a mica mineral dominated by aluminum in its structure. Mica minerals have some very neat properties – they have strong bonds between silicon and oxygen atoms that extend outwards in 2 directions, but only weak bonds between big potassium ions in the third direction. Mica minerals like muscovite are therefore extremely strong in 2 dimensions and weak in the third; they can be peeled off in very thin, transparent sheets, like those seen here.

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Snow Insulation

Pack on a blanket of snow around your overwintering plants to keep your garden nice and cozy until spring weather arrives.

My article, on Hobby Farms

The autumn weather this El Niño year was long, warm and drawn out, so winter came as something of a surprise when it finally set in. Although this kind of mild, waffling weather is nice for us humans, it can wreak havoc on plants and their cycles of dormancy.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, the best thing for the summer health of the garden is the piling on of snow in the winter. Cycles of indecisive weather, characterized by freezing and thawing, are rough on root crops and bulbs in particular and can make trees and shrubs heave and crack.

Snow is an excellent insulator and maintains a relatively stable temperature underneath. The greatest killers of plants in winter are bitter-cold winds and desiccation (drying out), and snow cover protects plants from both. When the insulating snow blanket melts in spring, it also gives plants the boost of moisture they need to start making the most of the growing season.

Read more on Hobby Farms