Julia L F Goldstein

How Are You Changing the World?

Plastic Bags: To Ban or Not To Ban

Oct 21, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
It started with an announcement on the social networking site NextDoor: “Please join us for a meeting with the Director of Zero Waste Management…to discuss how to go about banning plastic grocery bags in Redmond.” Most posts on NextDoor generate a handful of replies. Some popular ones generate twenty. This post unleashed a torrent of discussion: 136 replies from 49 neighbors in my city.The initial replies simply said, “No thanks” and “Please don’t,” but the discussion soon became much more intense. To my neighbors’ credit, nearly everyone was reasonably polite while expressing their views, some of which were based on facts and some of which were opinions that didn’t necessarily mesh with the facts.With the flood of information swirling around...

Perception Versus Reality and Unlikely Allies

Oct 07, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
A story from Scotts Miracle-Gro illustrates the importance of transparency in communicating with customers, the challenge of distinguishing between perception and reality, and the difficulty that accompanies merely defending the science behind the story. It involves toxic algal blooms, a problem for which Scotts was unfairly blamed.I learned about this story by watching an engaging GreenBiz webinar this week, “How Storytelling and Partnerships Can Bridge the Gap Between Stakeholders and Science.” Not all webinars are worth the time it takes to watch them, but this was one of the good ones.Toxic algal blooms are a serious threat to water quality in the Florida Everglades, Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, and many waterways throughout the world. The source of these...

You Get What You Pay For

Sep 16, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Many people are of a mindset that goods should be inexpensive and services should be free. The problem with that approach is that you often get what you pay for. Cheap products break easily. Free services may not deliver what you need.Unfortunately, paying a high price is no guarantee of quality. The high-end Lenovo laptop I bought seven months ago, for example, has experienced multiple problems requiring me to send it out for repair. At least it’s still under warranty. If it doesn’t work properly when I pick it up this time, I am going to demand a refund from Lenovo.I’m writing this blog post on my old computer, which is frustratingly slow and sometimes cannot connect to the internet....

Hacks to Avoid Food Waste

Sep 03, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Last year my son took a high school course called Current World Issues, which aimed to tackle a huge array of problems facing society, each of which could warrant a course of its own. One problem, how to produce enough food for a growing worldwide population, got me thinking about the small ways everyone can do something about the huge quantities of food that are produced but thrown away every day.I kept a page from my local city newsletter that says, "Worldwide, it takes 2.5 billion acres of land just to grow the food we waste." Posting the page on my fridge helps remind me to do my part in avoiding food waste. I submitted two ideas that I've implemented in...

An Event Eclipses Everything Else

Aug 26, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
I have spent far too much time on social media and browsing the internet this week. Much of it has been in online conversation with friends I haven’t seen in years, discussing such important questions as:Where did you go to see the eclipse?Isn’t 98 or 99% almost the same as 100%? (Spoiler: no)How many hours did it take you to get home, and was that less than or greater than three times as long as the same drive would take on a typical day?The total eclipse on Monday was both a natural and a social phenomenon. Millions of people across the United States gathered in hundreds of locations in the path of totality to gaze at the sky in unison...

Taking Inspiration from Hummingbirds

Aug 12, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
On my trip to Vancouver, BC earlier this summer, I made a point to notice materials. Since one aspect of the visit involved conducting an interview for the book I’m writing on sustainable materials, this seemed appropriate. I also took time to be a tourist. While browsing the gift shop at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a collection of earrings caught my eye. Although I own plenty of earrings – at least 25 pairs – I decided I had to buy these. They advertise being made from lead-free pewter and handcrafted in Canada, and the hummingbird is supposedly a symbol of good fortune. How could I not buy them?

I have previously...

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Goals for Progress

Jul 15, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Last weekend I completed a triathlon, my fourth to date. When people hear the word "triathlon" many automatically think of the Ironman, a competition consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile (marathon) run. My event was much more modest: 0.75-mile swim, 22.5-mile bike ride, and 4-mile run. This is slightly shorter than an Olympic triathlon (1.5-km swim, 40-km bike, 10-km run) but longer than most sprint distance events. How is the triathlon related to the title of this blog post? Keep reading to find out. Reduce After seeing my times on the individual legs of the triathlon, I was a bit disappointed. I achieved my overall time goal, but I know there is room for improvement. The day after...

Sticking Our Heads in the Sand? We Shouldn't Have To

Jul 01, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Peter Holgate conveys an air of confidence without seeming arrogant. His desire to achieve something “consequential” with his third startup drove him to found Ronin8, a company whose mission revolves around changing the world by changing e-waste processing. I met with Peter in his Vancouver, BC office recently to interview him for the book I’m writing on sustainable materials management.Since e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, the topic plays an appropriately important role in my book. In his book Making the Modern World, Vaclav Smil writes, “all wasteful uses of materials have both economic and environmental costs.” Nowhere is this perhaps clearer than with the proliferation of electronic devices and their subsequent disposal. Far too many...

Jargon and Acronyms: Beware

Jun 18, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
I read a blog post recently that started with an analogy to laying tiles, something most people can grasp, but then shifted to engineering jargon. Any reader who can understand the second half of the blog post has no need for the simplified explanation in the first half. Any reader who needs the simple version to understand the concept will likely get lost trying to read through to the end of the post. This post was from a company I respect, whose blog posts are usually excellent, but in this case, I think they missed the mark.This strikes me as a perfect example of the challenge of understanding your audience. Are you writing for engineers who are experts in your...

Is There Lead in Those Pipes?

Jun 03, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
One cold January day, I came home to water running down my driveway. It hadn’t rained in days, so I knew something was wrong. Forgetting to put the Styrofoam insulator over the front yard hose bib before the freezing weather hit was definitely a mistake.  I opened the garage door, and my teenage son greeted me with, “I came down to the garage to get a screwdriver and noticed water spraying out of the wall, so I turned off the water supply to the house.” I’m glad we trained him in emergency procedures and am impressed he was able to remember and use his knowledge in a real situation. Still, it was time to call a plumber.  Unfortunately, when the temperature doesn’t...

How Many Worms Would It Take?

May 20, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
If 100 wax worms can devour 92 milligrams of polyethylene in 12 hours, how many wax worms would it take to consume 100 plastic bags per day? Assume each bag weighs 8 grams (I weighed one), and the worms eat constantly at the same rate for 24 hours. Read to the end of this post for the answer.Wax worms – the larvae of wax moths – usually end their lives as fish bait. But perhaps their existence could serve a higher purpose. In the wild, wax worms eat beeswax, much to the chagrin of beekeepers and anyone who cares about the importance of bees to our ecosystem. As Spanish scientist and amateur beekeeper Federica Bertocchini found out accidentally, the worms...

It all started with a conversation

May 06, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
What began as a simple conversation about book publishing in February led to me being glued to my cell phone the past few days, listening to as much of the Nonfiction Writers Conference as possible live while rushing to and from meetings. Thank goodness, the sessions were recorded so I can catch up on those I missed.The conference had me fluctuating between feeling inspired and feeling overwhelmed.Yes, I can write an enthralling book that tens of thousands of people will want to buy! But how is anyone going to find out it exists?Yes, I can create a plan and complete my book this year! But how am I going to manage that while running my freelance writing business, training for...

Living in an Anthropocene World

Apr 21, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
I just added a new selection to the “books I recommend” section of my website, and this time I’m explaining why I chose it. The Unnatural World by David Biello caught my attention when I was in the public library looking for books with advice for nonfiction authors. It was part of a featured selections display, where the images of leaves on the cover and the title drew me in. I checked it out immediately and bought my own copy soon after I started reading.Biello’s message – that we are living in the Anthropocene Era, in which humans control the planet’s environment and which may date to as long ago as the beginnings of agriculture – asserts itself throughout the...

Trains, Planes, Automobiles, and More

Mar 18, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
What do electric buses, wood veneer, circadian lighting, and insects on airplanes have in common? All these topics, and many more, came up at the GoGreen Conference in Seattle on March 16. I attended the conference as a member of the press, and I did publish a piece in 425 Business magazine on March 1, based on an interview with a presenter. But I wasn’t there on any specific assignment. I came to learn and to meet people. Some of the people I met asked if I was going to publish a write-up of the conference. I will satisfy people’s curiosity and share some nuggets that I learned.Heavy-duty vehicles like buses are driving the trend toward electrification of vehicles. Diesel...

Why writing a book is like making a jigsaw puzzle

Mar 02, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
A friend of mine told me recently, “Writing a book is like making a jigsaw puzzle. It’s hard to get started, and it comes together slowly at first, but it gets faster toward the end.” He had it somewhat right, but not exactly. As a writer who also enjoys jigsaw puzzles, I had to take it further. The analogy works in a much deeper way than my friend had considered. My husband and I made this puzzle in a weekend. It's only 500 pieces.

Especially for nonfiction, you need to start with a thesis and an outline. The outline is like the border of...

Three Haikus for a Winter Morning

Feb 03, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
Yesterday, February 2, was Groundhog Day. Apparently, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and predicted six more weeks of winter. It certainly looks and feels like winter here in the Seattle area. In Pennsylvania, however, where he lives, Phil’s prediction may not come true.According to the National Weather Service, the next three months are supposed to be colder than normal in the northwestern part of the U.S. from Washington to Minnesota. But the entire East Coast and the South are expecting warmer than normal temperatures. These predictions are in line with data from January 2017. Some TV news program showed a map yesterday color-coded with national averages for the month that just ended. The Northwest was blue, 8 degrees below average, the...

Getting the Lead Out

Jan 06, 2017 by Julia L F Goldstein
It is astounding that decades after we removed lead from gasoline and paint, there is still lead in the water supplies of many cities around the world. Lead pipes older than today’s senior citizens still supply water to millions of people. In the U.S., the problem extends far beyond Flint, Michigan. Water systems in all 50 states have shown excessive levels of lead. The EPA has published information about lead in drinking water. If you’re concerned, you can request a report from your local utility and have the water in your home tested, but these avenues may or may not yield reliable results.January 5, 2017 marks the anniversary of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder belatedly declaring a state of emergency, so...

3D Printing of Metals: Is It Really Printing, and Does That Matter?

Dec 04, 2016 by Julia L F Goldstein
While visiting the Fabrisonic booth at the IDTechEx Show recently, I was compelled to ask whether a process that welds thin metal foils together should really be called 3D printing. The question is, what defines 3D printing? It's a buzzword that gets attention and sounds a lot more exciting than "additive manufacturing," even though additive manufacturing is technically a more correct phrase for the variety of methods through which 3D objects are being "printed." Fabrisonic creates 3D parts using ultrasonic welding. Ultrasonic vibration effectively scrubs the oxides off the surface of metals, allowing foils of the same or different metals to bond automatically without added heat. The process does operate at a slightly elevated temperature, but far below the normal melting...

What Goes into a Solar Car?

Nov 22, 2016 by Julia L F Goldstein
I started attending the annual IDTechEx Show in Santa Clara, CA in 2011 when the primary focus was printed electronics, which was a perfect match for my role writing a column on printed electronics for Industrial+Specialty Printing Magazine. The industry has for the most part failed to live up to its promise and hype. In 2013, the year in which my column disappeared when the magazine ceased publication, people were quipping that the only company making money in printed electronics was IDTechEx.In recent years, the show has expanded its focus to a huge range of emerging technologies. Some of the co-located topics may appear to have little to do with each other, but a keynote from the Nuon Solar Team...

When is a green cup not really green?

Nov 04, 2016 by Julia L F Goldstein
Starbucks missed an opportunity. The company recently introduced a limited-edition "green" cup with much fanfare. The cup features a design created by a Seattle-area artist, Shogo Ota. The artist's story is compelling, as is the idea that we are one global people. There is something impressive about a complex design created from a single line of ink that contains images of 132 faces. The overall effect is striking. But why didn't Starbucks take advantage of the "green" theme to make this a reusable plastic cup?