TSA improving the airport experience through music

Christmas card "Happy Christmas!" wi...
The TSA at LAX will sing you a merry Christmas. Image via Wikipedia

The airport can be a stressful and harried space, and usually isn’t helped by security. However, at LAX that same security crew is hoping to make the airport more, well, jolly:

Travel isn’t usually a highlight of the holidays, but at Los Angeles International Airport some of the Transportation Security Administration workers enjoy the season so much they sing.

True to its duties, the LAX TSA Chorus isn’t joking. Its singers are actually TSA employees who don Santa hats during the holiday season and perform in the middle of the airport.

Ray Matute, the director of the chorus, tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Audie Cornish that the quizzical looks the singers get from hassled travelers soon turn to smiles.

“It really puts the good face — and the human face — of TSA on the map,” he says. Matute’s passion for music led him to found the chorus a few years back. “It gives all of us creative people here within the organization an outlet.”

During its 45-minute show, the chorus sings the usual Christmas carols — Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Silver Bells — but also slips in some of the singers’ own favorites, like What a Wonderful World and You Are So Beautiful.

There’s video of the chorus performing during last year’s holiday season here, with a report from USA Today.

more at NPR: At LAX, TSA Workers Sing Cheer Into Holiday Travel


Hooray for play, sailing edition

A scan of a picture in this month’s Sailing World Magazine featuring one of my old college professor’s boats as part of the Whidbey Island Race Week this past summer.

I love the fact that the article headline is advocating and encouraging play, rather than competition or adventure.

Happy to see some healthy, outdoorsy, environmentally friendly play get some attention and respect in a nationally syndicated magazine (even if it is already preaching to the choir).

architecture · design · environment · health

Building a smoother ride to recover

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...
Understanding environmental impacts like vibration can have a positive affect on patient recovery. Image via Wikipedia

I happened upon this tweet today:

@AIASeattle Did you know floor vibrations can affect patient outcomes?

Um, why no, no I didn’t. So I dug around a little bit and affirmed that, in fact, structural vibrations can in fact have an impact on patient recovery:

“Noticeable vibration leads many to fear structural collapse, although such fear is unwarranted in most cases because of the small displacements and stresses produced. Noticeable vibration is nevertheless undesirable in many occupancies because of its adverse psychological effect…It has been observed that continuous vertical floor oscillation becomes distinctly perceptible to people when peak acceleration reaches approximately 0.5 per cent g, where g is the acceleration due to gravity. People in residential, office and school occupancies do not like to feel distinct continuous vibration…

Continuous vibrations, defined here as vibrations lasting more than about 10 cycles, can arise from the periodic forces of machinery, from certain human activities such as dancing, or from vehicle traffic nearby. They can be considerably amplified when the periodic forces causing vibration are synchronized with a natural frequency of the structure – a phenomenon called resonance.”

Not only is shaking a problem, but there is also more and more research coming out that discusses the effects of the overall environment on a care-givers’ professional performance as well as a patient’s healing process:

“In a review of more than 600 articles, researchers found that there was a link between the physical environment (i.e., single-bed or multiple-bed patient rooms) and patient (e.g., fewer adverse events and better health care quality) and staff outcomes (e.g., reduced stress and fatigue and increased effectiveness in delivering care).

“There have been five other significant reviews of the literature relating to the physical environment and patient outcomes. Nelson and colleagues10 identified the need to reduce noise pollution and enhance factors that can shorten a patient’s length of stay (e.g., natural lighting, care in new/remodeled units, and access to music and views of nature); according to their study, patients can benefit from the skillful utilization of music and artwork. Ulrich and colleagues7 found research that demonstrated that the design of a hospital can significantly improve patient safety by decreasing health care associated infections and medical errors. They also found that facility design can have a direct impact on patient and staff satisfaction, a patient’s stress experience, and organization performance metrics. Three other reviews found that hospital design, particularly when single-bed rooms are employed, can enhance patient safety and create environments that are healthier for patients, families, and staff by preventing injury from falls, infections, and medical errors; minimizing environmental stressors associated with noise and inefficient room and unit layout; and using nature, color, light, and sound to control potential stressors.11–13

The Seattle branch of the AIA (that’s the American Institute of Architects) has hosting a talk specifically about how to design better, less drum-like floors, but is a nice indicator of how serious architects, designers, and other groups are taking this need to design and create better care facilities:

“Vibration criteria for hospital floors have become more stringent in the 2010 Edition of the Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities (the FGI Guidelines). These new vibration requirements will increase structural construction costs in Healthcare construction. Understanding vibrations sources, criteria and benefits of different structural and non-structural approaches will provide healthcare designers with effective strategies to mitigate vibration issues and minimize cost impacts of the new requirements.”

For those who live in Seattle, there is a class on December 14th, 2011.

I’ve found some great examples of designing better medical facilities, but I’d love to hear about other projects you’ve seen, experienced, or even read about. Leave a comment with your thoughts.

architecture · community · environment

How The “Internet Of Things” Is Turning Cities Into Living Organisms

I used to be a technology journalist, and got to read a lot about the different ideas for the supposed “smart grid” that was supposedly going to reduce waste, alert emergency workers faster, and make our lives better. A few years later, it looks like it really might be happening!

With a little help from what’s called the Internet of Things, engineers are transforming cities from passive conduits for water into dynamic systems that store and manage it like the tissues of desert animals. By using the Internet to connect real-world sensors and control mechanisms to cloud-based control systems that can pull in streams from any other data source, including weather reports, these efforts enable conservation and money-saving measures that would have been impossible without this virtual nervous system.

Marcus Quigley, principal water engineer at the infrastructure engineering firm Geosyntec, has been tackling this problem using hardware from Internet of Things company ioBridge, whose Internet-connected sensors have been used in everything from location-aware home automation to tide gauges that tweet.

It may sound like a trivial problem, but the EPA estimates that the U.S. has $13 billion invested in wastewater infrastructure alone. More importantly, the majority of America’s largest cities–more than 700 in all–dump millions of gallons of raw sewage into our waterways every time it rains, because their sewer and stormwater systems were designed a century ago.

More at…

How The “Internet Of Things” Is Turning Cities Into Living Organisms

anthropology · behavior · community · Uncategorized

Getting the locals on board is key to conservation

An ethnic Adivasi woman from the Kutia Kondh t...
You're looking at the face of sustainable conservation. Image via Wikipedia

Great post from the Human Directions of Natural Resource Management:

Indigenous peoples are key to preserving the world’s forests, and conservation reserves that exclude them suffer as a result, according to a new study from the World Bank.

Its analysis shows how deforestation plummets to its lowest levels when indigenous peoples continue living in protected areas, and are not forced out.

Across the world millions of tribal people are conservation refugees, but the World Bank says its evidence shows ‘forest conservation need not be at the expense of local livelihoods.’

Using satellite data from forest fires to help indicate deforestation levels, the study showed rates were lower by about 16% in indigenous areas between 2000-2008.

Read more at It’s Official – The Key To Conservation Lies With Indigenous Peoples

This is something Woodland Park Zoo, Izilwane, and many other non-profit organizations have been working on for years, so it’s nice to see the World Bank back them up.

So, the next question is what can be done to support local, indigenous groups to protect and care for their natural surroundings? Most groups want to preserve their environments and keep them handy for the next generation, but it is simply economically not viable, at least not how they see it.

anthropology · architecture · brain · disease · environment · psychology

Thinking by Design: Scientific American

Illustration for Design Portal.
What makes some objects more appealing than others? Image via Wikipedia

One of the biggest pieces to having an enriching, relaxing, invigorating, or overall non-stressful space is what you put into it. There has been lots of research into creating better work spaces, medical spaces and homes, but it can be hard to quantify some of this research; after all, it’s hard to quantify “feeling better.” So it’s nice to read about one team in Vienna that is doing just that, by trying to figure out which objects people like more than others:

Each person’s aesthetic taste seems distinct, and yet that perception belies a large body of shared preferences. Our team at the University of Vienna, among others, has sought to unravel the patterns and principles behind people’s emotional reactions to objects. Although trends drive certain design decisions, scientists have identified fundamental properties of the mind that consistently dictate which products people tend to like and dislike. Psychologists are now better equipped than ever to explain how you came to choose your belongings in the first place. They can also begin to decipher why you continue to love certain purchases long after they have lost their initial shine, whereas others land in the trash.

more via Thinking by Design: Scientific American.

According to their work so far, we like big, round things, but also like things to be symmetrical. It’s pretty well established that we like symmetrical faces, so it makes sense that our tastes in other areas would follow. We also like things that are familiar but not exactly the same, old with a kick maybe.

While none of this is ground-breaking insight per say, it confirms what psychologists, architects and designers have known for years but didn’t necessarily have a good scientific reason when asked why.

I’m curious what other insights other groups have found when looking at design and aesthetics form a neurobiological standpoint. Know of any good ones? Post them in the comments below!

community · environment · play

It’s PARK(ing) Day!

Park(ing) Day in Indianapolis
Park(ing) Day in Indianapolis. Image by DanO'Connor via Flickr

Today in Seattle, S.F., and other major cities, activists are taking over one or several parking spaces and turning them into parks!

PARK(ing) Day is an annual, worldwide event that invites city dwellers to transform metered parking spots into parks for the day. PARK(ing) Day in Seattle happens to fall on the first day of the [Seattle Design] Festival.

We’ll be partnering with the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) at their impromptu “park.” Drop by and join us in a Festival photo/design activity open to everyone.

SAM will also be offering an all-ages, hands-on artmaking activity; an artist-designed Cornhole game (bean bag toss); and a noon concert by James Whetzel, classically trained on the sarod and tabla.

More via the Seattle Design Festival, which is going on from the 16th until the 25th!   The festival is also pretty relevant since its goal is to explore our environments, how we use them, and how to make them better.

I was able to go see the Seattle exhibit last year, but unfortunately am parked at work today, so go see it and report back. Last year they had lots of games and give aways, and maps featuring the many parks that are scattered around the Seattle metro area.

anthropology · behavior · culture · environment · Nature

New Research Reveals the Nature of America’s Youth | The Nature Conservancy

Interesting study to keep you motivated while I’m off in the woods:

Kids are spending less and less time outdoors. Why? We’re becoming more and more wired in and dependent on technology:

There is a growing disparity between the time kids spend indoors wired to technology and the time they spend outside enjoying nature. The vast majority of today’s kids use a computer, watch TV, or play video games on a daily basis, but only about 10 percent say they are spending time outdoors every day, according to a new nationwide poll from The Nature Conservancy.Why? Lack of access to natural areas and discomfort with the outdoors are two primary factors identified by the Conservancy’s poll.The poll was conducted from July 28 through August 4, and asked 602 kids between the ages of 13 and 18 about their attitudes toward nature, outdoor activity and environmental issues.

more via New Research Reveals the Nature of America’s Youth | The Nature Conservancy.

One easy solution is to limit electronic time for youngsters, and ourselves for that matter.

And yes I recognize the irony of sharing this information via an electronic-based blog.

emotion · environment · mental health

Giving my brain time to breathe

The M54 motorway near Wellington viewed from t...
Off into the wild blue yonder this week. Image via Wikipedia

I will be on vacation this week, as sort of a decompression from summer and respite before I jump full on into Fall, Winter, and all that ensues.

I intend to spend as much time as possible in nature, listening, smelling, seeing, and overall experiencing the amazing world that is around me. Spotting animals, smelling trees, water, flowers, and moss, feeling the crunch of leaves and rocks beneath my feet, hearing the wind blow through the leaves and listen for animal calls, and taste the heat in the hot afternoon sun and cold at early dawn.

I encourage everyone to take 20 minutes sometime between now and when I get back to just go outside, find a comfortable, quiet place to sit – under a tree, near some water, on the street corner near your house – and just listen, smell, taste, and watch. Listen to all the noises. What’s the closest noise, what’s the farthest noise? How many animals can you spot? How many different smells can you pick up? Breathe fully into your lungs and slowly let the air out, feeling it work its way through your nose, throat, and lungs.

Give yourself this 20 minute vacation, even just once this week, and I guarantee your environment will feel fuller, richer, and you’ll feel more in tune with your surroundings.


architecture · community · environment · happiness · health

Seattle Neighbors Fight Stormwater Pollution by Building Rain Gardens · Oregon Public Broadcasting

This post is a total plug on my part of an activity meant to encourage people to go out and get their hands dirty, improve their environment, and help nature at the same time: Rain gardens!

Gardening season is coming to an end for most of us, but it’s not too late to plant a rain garden for this winter’s torrents.

Rain gardens are becoming more popular, especially in places like Seattle with significant rain and run-off, and I suspect also because they’re very low maintenance; you simply plant, water them until they’re established, and let nature to the rest. They also make the neighborhood look nicer than just having a strip of grass between your car and the sidewalk.

The West Seattle neighborhood is actively encouraging residents to plant rain gardens:

The gardens are part of a campaign by Washington State University and the non-profit Stewardship Partners. Their goal is to install 12,000 rain gardens in Puget Sound communities by 2016. So far, more than 700 gardens have been installed (see a map of them) and more are being added every week.

“Twelve thousand gardens will absorb approximately 160 million gallons of stormwater each year,” said Stacey Gianas, who is with Stewardship Partners.

That much water would fill 250 Olympic swimming pools. And its stormwater, which washes over roofs and streets, picking up all kinds of pollution. Usually that contaminant-filled water runs into storm drains that empty into waterways and rivers.

more via Neighbors Fight Stormwater Pollution by Building Rain Gardens · Oregon Public Broadcasting · EarthFix.

Rain gardens can be as small as a couple of feet, or take up the entire yard. They also promote wildlife (the good kind!) to stop and visit.