Solar Panels Help Crops Grow

Solar panels on grass
Solar energy is the future and it keeps getting better. Not only are renewables cheaper than destructive gas and coal energy they also have other positive effects. Recently it’s been discovered that solar fields can be used as a really good place to grow crops. This is counterintuitive as the solar panels block the sun which plants typically love and to service the panels there needs to be a pathway where crops would thrive.

However, by planting shade-tolerant plants beneath the panels it means workers can still do their job and the plants can do theirs. The plants do well in the shade thanks to the ambient light and the increased humidity from the panels themselves. Neat!

The researchers see potential here (and in similar “agrivoltaics” experiments elsewhere) that is worth investigating and optimizing. Solar panel installations may not be compatible with the machinery used to harvest many crops, and boosting the panels higher off the ground costs extra. But there are configurations for certain crops in certain areas that can make a lot of sense. Farmers could save water, make money from a solar lease, and might even find that workers are much more comfortable and safe working under some shade—all while allowing solar arrays to expand in those areas without competing for land with agriculture.

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Run a More Innovative Company Through Suggestions

Interview

To make a company more efficient and innovative all that’s needed is a suggestion box. It turns out that listening to employees can increase the effectiveness of a company no matter how you do it. So if a suggestion box is too old school you can use a Slack channel or any other form of open communication. I’m sure this technique of listening to people who actually put the effort into a task can be applied elsewhere too.

Micah Johnson of GoFanbase, Inc., shared with Small Business Trends that his company created a Slack channel where employees can submit their ideas. Tomer Bar-Zeev of IronSource said that 24-hour hackathons enable his innovation team to break from their usual projects and work on entirely different, new projects. At my company, JotForm, we hold weekly Demo Days to give employees a forum to explore their ideas, no matter how far-fetched.

Even a system as simple as a suggestion box can be highly effective. Just ask Charlie Ward, the engineer who used Amazon’s digital suggestion box to submit his idea for free shipping, which eventually formed the basis of Amazon Prime. As journalist Brad Stone wrote in his book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos was reportedly “immediately enchanted by the idea.”

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A Diverse Diet may Starve some Cancers

beans

Cancer is awful and destroys far too many lives, but what if we can help people survive by augmenting their medicine with better diets? New research is revealing that a diverse diet could help people essentially starve cancer. To be very clear: a diet change will not defeat cancer. The key takeaway here is that some medication can be more effective if matched with a diet that promotes healthy cells in your body which also stymies the development of cancer cells. We still have a long way to go when it comes to fighting cancer, but new developments every year help us on this healthy journey.

Seventy percent of T cells — the body’s most potent cancer-fighting immune cell — live along the gastrointestinal tract, making them highly sensitive to what you eat and what medicines you take. Over the last five years, scientists have started to understand how the gut microbiome influences T cells and the immune system, and how that can affect health and disease.
The general consensus seems to be that more diversity in gut bacteria is better, and, many of the studies looking at what the gut of a cancer treatment responder looks like differ in terms of which types of bacteria are present, driving home that no single strain is overly important. The one consistent finding is that people with more diversity in their gut bacteria seem to have better responses to immunotherapy.

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Toronto’s Bloor Bike Lanes Boost Local Businesses

Bicycle

Despite being only 2.4 kilometres long the bike lane on Bloor street in Toronto was heavily contested. It was debated in local politics for decades and was only declared permanent recently. During the debate car drivers demanded the “right” to occupy land at the expense of others while maintaining an unhealthy and dangerous urban design. Thankfully, city councillors chose the safer bike-friendly design. Businesses argued that their customers drive to their stores and that due to the bike lane their business will fail. Thankfully this was incorrect. A study released last week revealed that, like everywhere else, bike lanes actually bring more money to small businesses.

Problem, research strategy, and findings:
Bike lane projects on retail streets have proved contentious among merchant associations in North America, especially when they reduce on-street parking. A limited but growing number of studies, however, detect neutral to positive consequences for merchants following bike lane implementation. In 2016, the City of Toronto (Canada) removed 136 on-street parking spots and installed a pilot bike lane on a stretch of Bloor Street, a downtown retail corridor. Using a case–control and pre–post design, we surveyed merchants and shoppers to understand the impacts of the bike lanes on economic activities. We find no negative economic impacts associated with the bike lanes: Monthly cus- tomer spending and number of customers served by merchants both increased on Bloor Street during
the pilot.
Takeaway for practice: Our findings are consistent with an improving economic environment at the inter- vention site. Downtown retail strips may therefore be suited to tolerate bike lanes and even benefit from increased retail activity. Pre and post surveys can provide valuable insights into local economic impacts of streetscape changes affecting merchants along city streets, especially where access to sales data
is limited.

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Autonomous Objects

tape and tool

The sharing economy should be about sharing more than profits. At least that’s what the thinkers behind the sharing economy called for in the early days of the term; however we’ve seen it evolve into a profit-driven notion like rental cars and the ever-questionable AirBnB. Frustrated by this greedy turn in the sharing economy the people at Good Robot started Autonomous Objects (AO). AO is similar to the tool library except there are no physical locations for the service, instead the tools are listed and tracked on an ethereum blockchain. The tools live in the houses of the borrowers until the next borrow shows up.

Why Autonomous Objects?
Autonomous objects are objects with freedom: they can’t be owned because they are part of a commons. This is an important and deliberate choice, because while ownership and its assumptions have been very valuable for our society, these assumptions have also dismantled many a successful commons. We try and avoid that problem by ensuring the objects in our system have genuine autonomy. Every object even has its own web page and even a ‘bank account’ (more about that later). Autonomous objects are public goods that can be enjoyed, used and shared by anyone. But they also need kind-hearted people to help, care for, fund, and protect them too (a guardian). Anyone can help, and best of all, if you like an autonomous object enough to donate to it you can help it spawn new offspring. Once an autonomous object accumulates enough donations in its ‘bank account’ it will purchase new copies of itself (its children) to share with the world!

Check it out!

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