Less Space, the Final Frontier

Ask Umbra’s pearls of wisdom on apartment dwelling

Dearest readers, Sometimes when I’m down in the stacks researching answers to your latest dilemmas, I enjoy taking a stroll down Ask Umbra archives lane. Here are some shiny tidbits I culled from my past advice on making the most of renting a small urban abode. Have any of your own sustainable apartment living tips or stories? Let me know in the comments section below or shoot me an email. Go with the low-flow.Even if your landlord isn’t up for investing in low-flow toilets, you can still adapt your toilet to reduce the amount of water used when flushing by …


Smart meters save energy, water, and dollars

Flickr via Pink Sherbet PhotographyThe other day I came home to find a colorful flyer on my front door proclaiming, “Your meter just got smarter.” While I was out and about in Berkeley, a worker from my utility, PG&E, slipped in the side gate and gave my old gas and electric meter a digital upgrade. So-called smart meters allow the two-way transmission of electricity data and will eventually let me monitor and alter my energy consumption in near real-time. I’ll be able to fire up an app on my iPhone and see, for instance, a spike in watts because my …

How 'bout them Apples?

Apple’s new iPad is deep green, but a planet saver? Nope.

The iPad.Photo: Apple This post is reprinted courtesy of The day that gadget-lovers have been waiting for with bated breath for months if not years has finally arrived. On Wednesday, just after 10 a.m., Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad — something along the lines of a blown-up version of the iPhone. Weighing 1.5 pounds, just half an inch thick, and 11 inches tall, the iPad aims to be the Next Huge Thing for technology, making it possible to play music, watch movies, read books, and run all the other tens of thousands of apps available in the Apple’s application …


SmartPlanet is not going green

SmartPlanet is a newish venture from CBS Interactive. It promises to cover many of the topics that Grist readers (and staffers) care about. But there’s no mention of “green” on its About page, and barely a mention of “eco.” That would not have been true just a year or two ago. Finding ways to talk about these things–without relying on played-out buzzwords–is going to be a key task for drawing folks into the Great Big Project That Needs a New Name. And a fun challenge for creative wordmonkeys, Photoshop wizards, marketers, etc. Welcome to CBS Interactive has unveiled a …

a house divided

Would you trade a bigger house for more happiness?

In New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s column on Sunday, he recounts the story of then-14-year-old Hannah Salwen and her dad Kevin, and how a chance encounter with a homeless man catapulted their family into swapping their high-end home for a more modest abode and donating half of the proceeds to charity. Just reading that story either gives you the warm fuzzies (“So generous, so inspiring!”) or the heebie-jeebies (“Not everyone has that luxury, the show-offs”). To push you a little more toward the warm fuzzies, I’ll point out that not only did the Salwen family’s “sacrifice” fight hunger in …

A grow-your-own jobs program

[UPDATED] While the big cats cower, time to build robust food economies

Here, kitty, kitty, kitty! While the Democrats hide, time to grow our own jobs program.Photo: Kevin Collins via Flickr[UPDATE at bottom of article.] I have a big, strapping cat who’s infamous for darting under a couch and cowering when a dog, even the tiniest, enters a room. Well, a yipping toy poodle has entered the Senate from the state of Massachusetts. Never a bold bunch, the Democrats have gone into full-on retreat, spooked by the loss of Teddy Kennedy’s Senate seat. While the economy continues to unravel, Obama responds by declaring a freeze on “non-discretionary”–i.e., non-military–spending. That’s not a bold …

Feeling flush

Ask Umbra on toilet paper, dryer balls, and Twitter

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, Is it more environmentally sound to throw tissue paper in the toilet or in the trash?  I’m disturbed by how much toilet paper is used by one family alone and wonder just what it takes to remove all that paper from the sewage system and from the waste stream. I would really appreciate your advice about the best way to dispose of tissue paper. L.S.Mill Valley, Calif. A. Dearest L.S., Oh, bathroom quandaries — they perplex my readers and force me to employ no end of euphemisms.   I’m going to assume from …

food politics film of the year, animation category

Why you should go see ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’

“I’ve got an idea”: Mr. Fox and friends fight the power.  I’m writing a post that I shouldn’t have to write: a plea to get you, political-minded foodie that you are, to go to whatever lengths necessary to see Fantastic Mr. Fox. How do I know you haven’t? Because the box-office numbers stink: the film has grossed just $20 million domestically since being released in November. That’s a decent weekend for a superhero blockbuster. Even adding foreign receipts–$17 million–the film hasn’t made back its $40 million budget. Forty million bucks sounds like a king’s ransom to me; but it’s equivalent …

what should eau do?

Ask Umbra on perfume bottles, wax paper, and alternative beverage bottles

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I am a child of the consumer age, but I try to live by “reuse, recycle.” I have a lot of fancy perfume bottles that are now empty. They are very heavy glass, and it seems I read that the return on the energy spent to melt them down is not worth recycling them. Can you solve this conundrum? Patricia M.Seattle, Wash. A. Dearest Patricia, How fancy are we talking? Antiques Road Show fancy? How I would delight in watching one of my readers discover that her glass bottle was in fact …

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