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What do open sensor networks mean for you and your community?

ImageRecently an interesting project started on Kickstarter.  It’s called the Air Quality Egg.  This is a low-cost air quality sensor that allows you to connect it with a community led air-quality air quality network and participate in the air-quality discussion.  The device itself detects CO and NO2 concentrations which are indicators of urban air pollution.  The device then sends its data to a base station which uploads the data in real-time to Pachube, an open data service for community data-sharing.

What are the implications of this type of network?  How does this sensor network help the fight for environmental justice?  How will open sensor networks change the face of journalism?  Here is a great article which talks about how these open-sensor networks may change community activism and journalism.

This project shares several similar ideologies to the Community Voicebox.  It is exciting to see that the with open sensor devices we can now add tangible data to the air quality conversation in our city.  Instead of talking about local polluters, we can document them.

Look out for an Air Quality Egg on the CVB quad this coming season!

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Sinus Survival

Do you think about your sinuses very much? If you suffer from allergies or headaches then you might, but most people don’t really consider them until they become a problem. I recently have been having problems with my sinuses. I have headaches, frequent colds and stuffy noses. I started reading more about what my sinuses are and what they do, and it’s pretty fascinating. Bear with me as this might get a bit medical…

The sinuses are hollow areas in the head. There are four pairs of sinuses but the largest are the Frontal sinuses, which are above the eyes, and the Maxillary sinuses which are on the sides of the nose. Scientists don’t know exactly why we have sinuses, but the general theory is that they are an area which can moderate the air we breathe by warming cold air, adding moisture and filtering particles. Scientists also believe that they makes our head lighter so that we can be more agile. Your entire respiratory tract is covered in a thin mucus membrane or mucosa. The same membrane in your lungs is also in your sinuses. This membrane serves as the first line of defense against airborne pollutants and circulates between and pint and a quart of mucus every day to filter out pollutants. Humans inhale about 23,000 times a day which corresponds to about 3,000 gallons of air. People who live in heavy industrialized areas and especially areas with coal-fired power plants inhale a number of pollutants every day including particulates, oxides of sulfur, oxides of nitrogen, hydrocarbons, ozone and carbon monoxide. Of these pollutants the ones that cause the most trouble are particulates. These can come from a number of sources including roads, construction sites, farm fields, factories, power plants, fireplaces and car or bus exhaust. These are especially harmful to cyclists because they are filtering many more times the amount of pollution than pedestrians. When these larger particles are inhaled they become lodged in the nose and sinuses. In these heavily industrialized areas it is like a fine sandpaper is rubbing your lungs 23,000 times a day. These particles cause sinus irritation and inflammation. When the sinuses become inflamed, they cannot drain properly and become open to infection because there is no movement. Gross hunh?

Did you know that sinusitis is the most common chronic condition in the United States? It is one of the most common reasons for doctor visits. If we add asthma, bronchitis and allergies to sinusitis there are well over 90 million people in the United States suffering with a chronic respiratory condition. One in Three of Americans suffers from a chronic respiratory condition. In his book, “Sinus Survival: The Holistic Medical Treatment for Allergies, Colds and Sinusitis”, Robert S. Ivker talks about the devastating effect of particulate pollution. He says, “In 1993, calculations derived from studies at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Harvard School of Public Health estimated that 50,000 and 60,000 deaths a year are caused by particulate pollution. This number far surpasses that of any other type of pollutant and is one that rivals the death toll from some cancers. The most harmful particles are small – less than 10 microns in diameter – and are produced chiefly from industrial plants and to a lesser extent from the exhaust of diesel vehicles.”

Are we missing something?? We spend millions of dollars on health care, antibiotics, finding cures for cancers, and quitting smoking, but little time addressing the causes of these problems. Why is it so difficult for us to draw personal connections between the ailments of our lives and the health of our environment? Often times we can understand and comprehend how serious the pollution problem is, but then somehow separate our own personal health from it. We must understand how much this affects our everyday lives! How many of you are affected by a respiratory condition?

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Bringing the Voicebox to the people!

Hello Voicebox community!! We’ve been busy over here brainstorming and thinking of ways the Voicebox can become a better community tool, but in the meantime we had a chance to bring the CVB out for its maiden ride!

Riding down the Stearns Quarry hill

We cruised down to Stearns Quarry in Bridgeport for an overcast afternoon of interviews, insights and innovation. Our good friend Steve Vance came along to document the experience. If you aren’t familiar with Steve Vance, he writes for two incredible transportation blogs called The Grid, and Steve Can Plan. Steve was there to support us with the project and to see how Chicago drivers would react to a pedal car. People loved it! Drivers were generally positive and courteous.

Interview with an energy efficiency expert

Overall we had a great day, and picked up a few really insightful interviews. We spoke with many Bridgeport residents from people who had lived there their entire lives to those who had recently arrived, or were just visiting. We also had a chance to test out a rough prototype of a canopy, which consisted of a tent rain-fly, a few plumbing fixtures and some zip ties. Although not perfect it did keep us dry during a sudden rainstorm! Make sure to check our map for the new interviews and stay tuned for more news!

The Voicebox in Chicago

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The Community Voicebox Featured on Inhabitat

Check out this great write up we recently received on the Inhabitat blog!

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Thinking inside of the box…

Here at the Voicebox we’ve been thinking about how to build up our platform. How will our mobile community space look? How will it work? We’re been thinking about tent poles, welded frames, sun shields and windscreens. I’ve been getting really inspired by the work of Jay Nelson and Kevin Cyr.

Jay Nelsons "Golden Gate" 2009: a mobile surf camper for one.

Both are artists dealing with individual, mobile spaces but in very different ways. I feel that these objects reflect our inner desire for independence and mobility. Although not always practical, these pieces speak to the part of me that has always been interested in exploration and mobility.

Kevin Cyrs "Camper Bike", a sculptural piece built in April 2008.

These pieces are very personal but how can these ideas translate to a mobile community space? We feel that wide, open spaces can accommodate many people at once, and a way to block out the sun is essential. We need both accommodations for the driver and passenger as well as community members who want to contribute their voice. Tents with fiberglass poles have been very viable to use because of their low cost, ease of construction and light weight. Stay tuned for how the Voicebox will start to take shape!

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Here at the Voicebox we have been talking a lot about sociability. We feel that the new rise of social connectivity combine with digital media has created a new generation of social gathering, grassroot campaigning and democratization. How will these new forces affect our lives? The rise of user-generated content has never allowed so many to have voices heard across the globe. For generations we have had representative governments that claim to represent the ‘voices of the people’ but it’s difficult to represent everyone. According to local Chicago designer John Paul Kusz there are two common approaches to understanding to identifying common goals:

“The Traditional Approach
…often encourages one viewpoint to
prevail and be accepted by others.

It is implied there will be winners and
losers. Common interests are often
analyzed and partitioned into parts.

The Expanded Approach

…goes beyond any one individual’s
understanding. The goal is to do what is
right for all.

We all win by exploring complex and
difficult issues from many viewpoints.
Meaningful dialogue facilitates the whole
by organizing the parts, rather than trying
to pull the parts into a whole.”

We believe that with the amount of media that we can produce and consume as humans has become great enough to process massive amounts of data and viewpoints that allow for expanded dialogues toward solving common problems. The Community Voice Box recognizes that there is a new opportunity for democratic societies to to work towards justice using expanded dialogues and embrace the realm of ‘local knowledge’ as emerging and prevalent.

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