Here’s a new idea for keeping waterways clean, and wouldn’t you know, the idea comes from the Netherlands.

David Z. Morris reports at Fortune magazine that at the September “World Port Days conference, the Port of Rotterdam debuted a pair of aquatic drones to help the port operate more efficiently and cleanly. One is the Waste Shark, an autonomous vessel to gather waste from the port’s busy waters before it can be washed out to sea. …

“According to Silicon Angle, The Waste Shark can gather up to 500 kilograms of waste, or 1120 pounds, before returning it to a collection point. The vessel also gathers data about water quality, and designs more efficient collection routes as it learns over time. …

“The craft, developed by RanMarine, could help curb the mounting environmental threat of ocean waste. Last year, there were an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean, with 269,000 tons floating on the surface—and doing serious harm to ocean life.” More.

Those of you who followed Erik’s relatives’ summer sailing adventure from Denmark to the Mediterranean will recall how dangerous floating debris can be. Reminisce here.

Photo: RanMarine
The Waste Shark autonomous waste collector. 

Large quantities of clothes that are damaged in textile manufacturing end up in landfills. To organizations like Renewal Workshop, that seems like a waste. So they are stepping up to the plate, with real benefits to the planet.

“As discarded clothing piles up in landfills around the country,” writes the Huffington Post, “a handful of companies are trying to save some of those garments and give them new life.

“The Renewal Workshop is one of these. It takes shirts, jackets and other items damaged during manufacturing, then repairs and resells them for 30 to 50 percent off the original price, co-founder Nicole Bassett told The Huffington Post. Its goal is to prevent imperfect items, which traditional retailers can’t sell in stores, from being tossed in the trash. …

“Companies fighting clothing waste have their work cut out for them. The average American throws out 70 pounds of clothing or household textiles a year. Only 15 percent of that is recycled, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency. The other 85 percent ― around 13 million tons of textiles in 2013 ― ends up in landfills, where it decomposes alongside other solid wastes, releases greenhouse gasses and contributes to global warming.

“The Renewal Workshop is attempting to combat waste in the textile industry by ‘closing the loop,’ or trying to ensure new clothes are made from recycled or used garments. … It creates every single one of its products out of existing garments.

“The company partners with apparel companies like prAna, Ibex and Toad & Co, which are all outdoor clothing brands selected specifically for their commitment to sustainability, Bassett told HuffPost.

“The Renewal Workshop takes those brands’ damaged or returned clothes ― items with broken zippers, seam tears or missing buttons ― and then repairs, cleans and resells them at a discount.

“Apparel partners provide damaged items at no cost to The Renewal Workshop, and pay a partnership fee. When a customer buys a repaired garment, the partner business that provided it gets a portion of the sales, and the customer receives an item with the original company’s brand label and a Renewal Workshop label on it.” Read more here.

And ordinary folks can always help by giving old clothes to organizations that distribute nice ones to new users.

Photo: GaijinPot









In spite of the drought, Massachusetts trees displayed some of their best colors this year. I’m sharing one photo taken along the Concord River, another that barely does justice to this month’s reds and golds, and a third that intrigued me because the green leaves were pink only on their tips.

Other photographic offerings include a name shadow at Bondir restaurant, where we had lunch today, a pirate skeleton with his skeletal parrot in a Lowell bookshop/café, lovely plants in the café, an artist working en plein air, shadows of ivy trying to break into the house, and four book-themed scarecrows at the public library.

The first scarecrow was inspired by the book Strega Nona, the second by If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The third scarecrow promotes the library’s seed catalog, and the fourth celebrates the counting books.

Don’t you wonder how the library came to do all that work? There must be 20 scarecrows altogether. I’m trying to picture the meeting where the boss says, “We’re doing scarecrows for Halloween. Who volunteers to do what?” Or maybe it was more spontaneous. It sure looks like people had fun with it.















































Photo: The Genesis Center

I’ve been having the best time lately. I’m volunteering in English classes at three refugee agencies, assisting the classroom teachers. The nonprofits are all near one another in Providence.

Dorcas International is an official refugee resettlement agency. It offers a range of services not just for refugees but for other immigrants and for native-born people living in poverty. At Dorcas, I help a teacher work with students who have just arrived in the United States. Most of them know no English at all, and some never went to school in their own countries and are just learning to write.

We have students from Myanmar, the Dominican Republic and Cape Verde, among others, but they are not all refugees. In fact, the majority of families being resettled by the State Department in Providence right now are from Syria and the Congo.

I read in the paper today that 80 percent of the refugees that have entered the United States this year are children, but I work with adults.

The Genesis Center is not a government resettlement agency, but it works with refugees and other immigrants on English and on job skills. It has a great culinary program and places many people in jobs. It also has a day-care center. The students I work with at the Genesis Center are generally a bit farther along in English.

The Refugee Dream Center was more recently established than the other two. It was founded by Omar Bah, a refugee who had been a journalist in Gambia and who had to flee when his articles on human rights garnered him death threats. Bah’s nonprofit is small so far, but its focus on helping people after the four months or so that they receive government assistance is needed. At the Dream Center last week, I worked with a woman newly arrived from Haiti and another from Burundi who has lived in Providence about a decade.

Pretty much all the students act grateful for the help, and it’s a treat to see a face light up when the penny drops. In January, closer to home, I plan to take a training to co-lead small conversation groups.

Did I mention I’m having a lot of fun?

Photo: The Daily Star
A temporary refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese town of Marj near the border with Syria.

Tina Rosenberg has an interesting op-ed at the NY Times about how aid groups in Lebanon are making life easier both for themselves and for the refugees that have flooded the country.

“Consider Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million people that has taken in probably close to 1.5 million Syrians fleeing their civil war. …

“In 2004, 99 percent of the world’s humanitarian aid came in the form of commodities: sacks of grain, stacks of blankets, building materials. Last year, that number had fallen to about 94 percent, according to a committee financed by Britain’s Department for International Development to study how best to use cash in humanitarian aid.

“Cash is catching on. A decade ago, the United Nations World Food Program was trying out cash in a few pilot programs. Now cash makes up a quarter of the organization’s portfolio …

“Since it’s easier, safer and carries less risk of corruption to provide cash electronically instead of handing people envelopes of bills, mechanisms should exist for debit cards or cellphone banking. …

“It’s no problem in Lebanon, a middle-income country known for commerce. … Here’s how it works: Each needy Syrian refugee family gets a banking card. Family members use it to shop for food at the 450 participating stores and markets; a family of five gets about $135 per month. …

“Many humanitarian groups in Lebanon help with sanitation systems and other in-kind assistance. Many run schools, or provide skills or business training. The cash is intended to address (a little; it’s not really enough to live on) refugees’ most urgent problems: What’s for dinner? Where am I sleeping?

“ ‘There is nothing that could replace cash,’ said Alan Moseley, the Lebanon country director for the International Rescue Committee, a member of the Lebanon Cash Consortium. ‘If we provided shelter materials, clothing, food or direct rent subsidies, it would be more costly to deliver and people would be getting things they don’t necessarily need.’ ”


Moisés Rosas is an organ grinder in Mexico City. According to Azam Ahmed at the NY Times, Rosas’s art is not as popular with the public as it used to be, and that makes some folks wistful.

“ ‘This is a dying art,’ Mr. Rosas said as he turned the dull metal lever of his instrument, wrenching out a troubled squawk. ‘The youth don’t really value us.’

“So it goes for Mexico City’s organ grinders, among the city’s more curious class of street performers. For years, they were beloved by residents, but now they are in a gloomy mood, convinced that their art — and a central part of the city’s culture — is fading away. …

“They are losing fans. Many young people, forced to listen to their music while out at a restaurant or in a square, pay them to leave. The ranks of older patrons, who recall the organ grinders with nostalgia, are thinning.

“Then there is the competition, which has multiplied in recent years. There are break dancers, mimes, movie characters, musicians, artisans and the afflicted, all vying for spare change.

“Worse, there are the superheroes.

“ ‘Don’t even get me started on them,’ [Luis Román Dichi Lara, the head of the organ players’ union], said. ‘You place yourself in the perfect spot, start your music and, boom, here come Thor, Batman and Spider-Man.’

” ‘They intimidate us,’ he said. ‘There’s like 15 of them. They just kick you out.’ ”

But people who want to preserve the culture are supportive, Ahmed reports.

“On a recent evening, Carlos Martínez dropped a few coins in the hat of Sergio Pérez, an organist midway through his evening shift.

“ ‘Not many people help them,’ said Mr. Martínez, 44, an office worker. ‘I don’t really like to listen to them that much, but if no one gives them money, they won’t survive.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Thelmadatter
Barrel organ player in the Zocalo Mexico City.

The Great Blue Whale

When I was a child, the great blue whale was the attraction I most looked forward to seeing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Now my grandchildren look forward to it.

But in an article on the website called Seeker about how the whale gets cleaned every year, I learned that the model I saw was not anatomically correct.

“The original model was based on measurements taken by American Museum of Natural History scientists in the 1920s. The measurements were of a dead female blue whale captured by a whaling station in the southern Atlantic, and although the artists who crafted the whale followed the original records, there were anatomical inaccuracies, likely because the whale that the scientists examined was already decaying. …

” ‘It was the wrong color. It had bulging eyes, probably due to decomposition,’ [Melanie Stiassny, curator for the Department of Ichthyology] said. In 2001, artists adjusted the body color and flattened the whale’s eyes, also adding a navel that had originally been omitted.

“Today, the [whale] resembles living blue whales more closely than before. However, while scientists’ knowledge of blue whales has certainly improved, there is still much about these giants that remains elusive.

” ‘We still don’t know how many blue whales are out there,’ Stiassny said. ‘We don’t know exactly where they go to breed. They still remain one of the great mysteries of the ocean.’ ”

More at Seeker.

Art: Richard Ellis