Upcyling, Downcycling, Recycling

When I replaced the cushions on my glider (see previous post), I dropped off the old cushions at the upholstery shop for a few days. When I came to pick up the new cushions I wondered what the shop did with the old ones. The answer was just as I feared. They threw them away, along with all the miscellaneous torn, stained, and faded fabrics their customers bring in for replacement. Wouldn't it be better to recycle them? Of course, but that takes time and money. The shop owner would be happy to separate recyclable materials into a specific bin if someone would come by and pick it up. That's the story behind a lot of do-good actions. Make it easy, and preferably free, and people will do it.

Changing the Fabric

When I was expecting my first child, I bought a high-end Dutalier glider and ottoman. It was one of my favorite pieces of furniture - just as comfortable for sitting and reading a book as for rocking a baby.  But that baby is now in college (and his younger brother is in high school) and the original cushions have seen better days. We moved in 2014 and thought of selling or donating the glider, but we didn't want to part with it. So we installed it in the living room of the new house. A few months ago I finally decided to reupholster the cushions. They were really worn out - torn, faded, and just not fit for public viewing. And the living room is one of the first places people see when the come into my home.

Changing the World, One Flower Arrangement at a Time

Floral foam was a great idea when it was invented in 1954. It keeps cut flower arrangements moist for days while providing structural support to allow designers to create impressive displays. But 1954 was a long time ago. Today's senior citizens were children. Mr. McGuire had yet to tell Benjamin that the future was in "plastics." We as a society were blissfully ignorant of the health hazards inherent in the many novel materials that American ingenuity had brought into our daily lives.

Owning up to Responsibility

How can we as a society teach our children to take responsibility for their own actions when huge corporations refuse to take responsibility for theirs, even in the face of threats to human health? I recently read a New York Times article called "The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare." The author tells the story better than I can, so I encourage my readers to follow the link. But here are some takeaways:

The Seafood is Safe - or is it?

 was relieved to read that Alaskan fish has tested negative for radioactive isotopes iodine-131, cesium-137, and cesium-134. Testing in 2014, and now this year, confirms no measurable levels of these isotopes. In case anyone has forgotten why scientists are testing fish for radioactivity, it's related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster following the tsunami in Japan in 2011. Personally, I wasn't worried about radiation in my Alaska king salmon, but perhaps some people were. 

Blowing Smoke

High-tech Dutch fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht has created a dress that blows smoke when anyone gets close. Now, that could come in handy when walking in the wrong part of town, as well as prove interesting at a cocktail party. The dress is made from 3D printed lace made of polyamide and TPU 92A-1, a thermoplastic polyurethane that is the first flexible 3D printed material.

What Makes Clothing Smart?

I'm researching smart textiles for a client, and one of the first questions is how to define smart textiles. Everything these days seems to be claiming intelligence - our phones, our cars, our watches. I found this amusing definition: "They [smart textiles] can be described as textiles that think and respond to a situation." Wow. And I suppose the category of "ultra-smart textiles" covers those with an IQ over 130. 

Fun With Acronyms

In an effort to keep up on news related to the beats I cover, I have several Google Alerts set up. One of them is "CZT," which is shorthand for cadmium zinc telluride (CdZnTe). This material is similar to the semiconductor cadmium telluride (CdTe), which is used in thin film solar cells. CZT is also a semiconductor and it is useful for detecting radioactive materials. This is important for homeland security, in order to screen for overseas shipments that may contain a dirty bomb, and also in medical imaging, to monitor radiation dosage.

The Dangers of Sitting All Day

The news over the past couple of years is that sitting is especially unhealthy. I read an article in Runner's World awhile back that said sitting is as bad for your health as smoking! So what is a writer to do? Get a standing desk, of course, and perhaps a treadmill to go with it. There's a whole store near me devoted to desks designed for standing or walking, called appropriately "Work While Walking." At the moment I'm going back and forth between sitting at the beautiful maple desk I bought for my home office almost 15 years ago, and standing at the kitchen counter with my wireless keyboard and mouse on the counter and my laptop perched on a cereal box so the screen is at the right height.

It's not pretty, but I can stand. Unfortunately, at certain times of day the sun (yes, even in Seattle) glaring off the backyard barbeque is blinding.

The situation is not ideal, but I'm reluctant to part with my desk. It's real wood, it's a lovely piece of furniture, and I paid good money for it. Standing desks don't look as good, and they don't come with drawers and filing cabinets and hutches. I looked into getting a contraption that I can connect to my desk to give me a higher work surface, but the hutch (see photo) gets in the way.

My lovely home office, which is apparently hazardous to my health.

It is possible to get a standing desk made from bamboo, which is a material I like, so long as it is not growing out-of-control in my backyard. At my old house I had carpet torn out and bamboo flooring installed. I like that bamboo is a renewable resource (although I have read information saying it's not as green as marketing literature would have you believe) and looks great. But bamboo desks are expensive.  I'm not sure what to do.

Particle Board

Despite what you might think after reading my introductory post, I am not always enamored of engineered materials. So when the design consultant asked whether I wanted the plywood upgrade for the interiors of the new cabinets in my laundry room, I said yes. Even though it's just a laundry room. Even though there is particle board in my kitchen cabinets (not my choice - they were there when we moved in). I'm happy with this 20-year-old house we bought last summer, but there are definitely things I want to change. Like the laundry room. I can't understand why no one ever put in a laundry room sink when the room is plumbed for it. Now, I could buy one of those ugly plastic utility sinks, but this is a room in my house, not a workshop outdoors or in the garage. Hence the cabinets and plywood versus particle board.

Why the plumbing and no sink?

Particle board is an interesting invention, and it has some advantages, the main one being that it is inexpensive. Also, it can make use of waste material - wood shavings, even sawdust - so it could be considered environmentally friendly if it weren't for the binders put in to hold all those shavings together.   Particle board is held together by a formaldehyde-based resin. Formaldehyde is a nasty chemical, a known carcinogen that can cause both acute and long-term health problems. Of course, by the time particle board gets made into cabinets, the chemicals have probably fully cured and aren't outgassing noxious fumes into the home. Still, it is something I would rather do without.

Particle board is also much denser than wood, which makes for very heavy cabinets. Since I'm hiring installers and don't need to lift the cabinets myself, perhaps it doesn't matter, but it's another reason to go with plywood.  The strength-to-weight ratio is much better.

I had some other materials choices to make for the laundry room. The exteriors of the cabinets are going to be maple, but I'm having them painted a lovely light grey that is apparently somewhat trendy. In a decade or two when grey looks so 2015, I can always repaint the cabinets.

For the countertop, I was tempted by something really cool: recycled glass. The showroom had some designs with bits of blue and green in them that had great artistic appeal. But I decided it was too sparkly and splashy for the laundry room and went with quartz. Quartz is durable, stain-resistant, and comes in some great looking patterns that will coordinate nicely with the painted cabinets.

Eventually when this whole project is finished, which will probably take a couple of months, I will post before and after photos.

Welcome, readers!

As a freelance writer, I figured it was about time I had a blog. People have asked me about my blog, and I've been sort of embarrassed to say I don't have one. It's time to fix that. To some extent I've needed to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but here I am. My underlying theme has to be materials. That's been the focus of my technical interests ever since college, when I took an introductory Materials Science course and became fascinated with the concept of engineered materials, the idea of being able to tailor a material's properties and function, and decided I had to get an advanced degree in materials science.

So I may write about anything from cool technology gadgets to home improvement, but there will be a materials angle somewhere in the story.