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Veerle's Sidenotes

A collection of thoughts on subjects of my interest.


January 16 2024
Home & Living

Clean Air In My Home

In a prior Sidenote, I discussed the significance of ventilation in our homes. This subsequent article addresses the unsettling reality that the air you introduce from outside may not be as clean as perceived. Given its invisibility and predominantly odourless nature, it becomes essential to visualise this by employing a device capable of revealing particulate matter (PM). Particulate Matter (PM) comprises solid and liquid particles suspended in the air, categorized as coarse, fine, and ultrafine.

Oudenaarde, Belgium.

Oudenaarde, Belgium.

Many people might not be aware, just as I once was, but currently, 98 percent of Europeans are affected by air pollution. The concentrations of particulate matter frequently exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 5 micrograms per cubic meter, with at least two-thirds of the population experiencing levels that are double the recommended threshold.

Particulate matter originates from combustion processes in the exhaust gases of diesel engines and industrial operations. It is also generated through chemical reactions with ammonia in the agricultural sector and the heating of buildings.

'Clean' Diesel & Petrol

There are still individuals and lobbyists who believe/promote that 'clean diesel' exists and that the newer ones with Euro 7 and Euro 6 standard are A ok, so we should continue to use them as technology solved the problems. A quick bicycle ride wouldn’t have to take long to reveal the stark reality of their cleanliness—or lack thereof. Petrol isn’t much better.

Wood

The burning of wood is another factor with a notable impact. One can only hope that it is beautifully dried wood and not fiberboard, plywood, painted wood. Trust me, you can detect the difference by the smell.

'Green' Pellets

Oh and let’s not forget the ‘magical’ green pellets. The marketing sounds wonderful. “Burning wood or wood pellets brings us a little closer to nature. It invites us to use energy more consciously. Because heating yourself with wood or pellets is CO2 neutral. It does not produce greenhouse gas emissions”.

The necessity to burn them still contributes to increased pollution exposure by adding more ‘Ultra Fine Particles’. To get a good idea of ​​how small these particles actually are, you need to know that one millimeter is one thousand micrometers and one million nanometers. The unit for the UFP concentration is particles/cm³. The unit for PM0.1 is micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³). Ultrafine Particle (UFP) particles are so minuscule that, upon inhalation, they enter your bloodstream directly and have the potential to cause damage anywhere in your body. See illustration below for context.

How particles enter the human body.

How particles enter the human body.

Every so often, I catch the scent of burning wood through the ventilation system when the wind carries it in the wrong direction, usually when one of the houses in the neighborhood decides to create a ‘cozy’ atmosphere by burning wood. If you ask yourself ‘which type of stove pollutes the least?’ You can find that out on the official site of the Flemish Environment Agency. (article in Dutch but you can translate it)

Premature Deaths

Roughly 300,000 premature deaths within the European Union are attributed to polluted air each year. Additionally, the burden is heaviest on the smallest lungs. Children, who breathe at a rate twice as fast and frequently through their mouths, face increased exposure to air pollution. Their proximity to the ground, where pollutants tend to accumulate, further heightens the risk. More than 90 babies die every week in Europe from air pollution (UNICEF).

A recent investigation conducted by the European Association for Medical Oncology (ESMO) indicates a potential association with breast cancer. While this connection has been proposed previously, a significant 20-year French study, involving thousands of women, now reveals that the risk of breast cancer rises by 28 percent with a 10 microgram per cubic meter increase in exposure to the most harmful dust particles—those smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). This difference is roughly equivalent to the contrast between rural and urban areas in Europe.

In September 2023, the European Parliament resolved to harmonize the EU standards of 25 micrograms per cubic meter with the more rigorous guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, the implementation of this adjustment is deferred until 2035, pending an agreement with the member states. The aim is to have no air pollution by 2050 in the interests of public health, ecosystems and biodiversity.

Air Purifier

That's enough introduction to finally address the topic I intended to write about. I felt it was necessary for you to better comprehend the context. As mentioned earlier, the initial step involves using a 'smart' sensor, such as the Ikea product called 'VINDSTYRKA'. This device features a straightforward color scale and a numerical indicator. Once you determine the pollution level, the next step is to purify the air using an air purifier. For now, let's focus on Ikea and discuss the 'STARKVIND'. While I can't guarantee its effectiveness, it is known to be an affordable option. To make it ’smart’ you need to add it to the IKEA Home Smart-app otherwise it’s just ‘dumb’ with a rotary and push button. The reviews are quite good. Just like the other smart products from IKEA, the underlying protocol for this smart air purifier is ZigBee. And that of course opens doors to other integrations. You also have support for Google Home and Google Assistant. There is also support for Amazon Alexa, Siri and Apple HomeKit.

Ikea Vindstyrka and Starkvind.

Ikea Vindstyrka and Starkvind.

I personally own the VINDSTYRKA, but for air purification, I prefer using the AEG AX 9. Although it's pricier than the Ikea model, I appreciate its aesthetic and, more importantly, its effectiveness. I acquired this device before installing a ventilation system, and it used to kick in almost every time I opened the windows. On numerous occasions I had numbers that were in the very poor scale.

While it operates less frequently now due to the ventilation system filters also capturing particles, it still plays a vital role in my home. Indoor activities also generate particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, by burning tobacco, wood and candles and cooking with gas. This device will make it apparent how harmful these activities can be.

Clean Air In My Home

The AEG AX 9 display is straightforward, indicating the current mode and color scale that you are in. By connecting it to an app, you gain access to more comprehensive data such as PM 1, PM 2.5, PM 10 levels, humidity, temperature, and TVOC (Total Volatile Compounds). TVOC measures gases emitted by certain solids and liquids, and you can track all the above mentioned metrics over hours, days, and months.

The AEG AX 9 iPhone app.

The AEG AX 9 iPhone app.

Dyson also has the Dyson Pure Cool.

What Else Can You Do?

The biggest of them all is ’Stop burning stuff’.
Walk, cycle or use public transport or share vehicle wherever possible. If you want to reduce the footprint of your food focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local. A must read by Hannah Ritchie. Eat less meat, particularly beef. Personally I only eat meat 3x a week now. When I do, I stick to 100 gram a day rule and it’s mostly chicken. Before I start doing this I consumed meat 7 days a week and in larger amounts. Honestly I’m not missing it at all.

Oudenaarde photo from Unsplash by moon-app .com

January 04 2024
Cycling

2023 In Numbers

This might sound contradictory. You see, I'm not particularly fond of lists, rankings and such. I’m more of a numbers, data, statistics person. Numbers, in particular, captivate my attention during walks and bike rides. During my walks I usually listen to podcasts, but when cycling, my focus remains on the road. I frequently challenge myself with small estimations, such as predicting the precise time of arrival or estimating distances between points A and B. During walks, I might estimate the number of 'macadams' when approaching the 30 km sign in the village or a specific intersection—quirky things like that.

As mentioned, statistics are always enjoyable, and here's what Strava has compiled for my 'Year In Sport 2023.' Inspired by the captivating article by Scott Boms, I decided to craft my own illustration:

infographic datasheet showing data & numbers from my Strava activities of 2023 infographic datasheet showing data & numbers from my Strava activities of 2023

Ever since I own an Apple Watch, my focus has been on completing my activity rings, which entails engaging in at least 20 minutes of exercise each day, burning 560 calories daily, and standing up for a few minutes every hour. Personally, the daily stand goal holds particular significance for me, especially since I spend extended periods sitting while working. The watch prompts me to stand up if I haven't done so within the hour, a health-conscious feature in my opinion. I strive to meet the other goals daily for overall well-being. According to my Apple Watch, I have successfully closed all rings for the past 543 days. However, there was one day I recall when I forgot to charge my watch properly 🤦🏼‍♀️, disrupting the counting as certain rings remained unclosed on that day.

I'm thrilled to have achieved the set goal of riding 12,000 km again. However, we faced some challenges during the Summer and early Fall, with periods when we couldn't go for bike rides due to ongoing construction and installations around the house. Instead of being ahead of our usual schedule, we found ourselves behind when the wet and windy Fall weather set in. Since around mid-October, the weather has been consistently dreadful, with an unprecedented number of wet, windy, and grey days in 2023. Despite the challenges, we persevered. After each ride, we had to clean our bikes. Fortunately, the fenders provided substantial protection for both the bike and our apparel, but even with them, the bike ended up dirty after every single ride.

Photo of some of the many flooded meadows in Wontergem, a place nearby home

Photo of some of the many flooded meadows in Wontergem, a place nearby home

Fingers crossed for better weather in 2024 🤞🏼. Unfortunately, the first few days of this new year haven't been promising, with a few storms and heavy rain, even posing a flooding threat in our nearby neighborhood. However, next week I see some dry days with periods of sunshine showing up in the forecast, along with freezing temperatures. It’ll be cold for sure to ride my bike, but I don't mind as long as there's sunshine.

December 29 2023
Renewables

Tall Swedish Wooden Wind Turbine

The world's tallest wooden turbine, recently activated by the Swedish startup Modvion near Gothenburg, reaches a height of 150 meters (492 feet) from the ground to the tip of its highest blade. At its summit, a 2-Megawatt generator is now in operation, contributing electricity to the Swedish grid and powering around 400 homes.

Modvion’s first commercial wooden wind turbine tower has been built just outside Skara, Sweden.

Modvion’s first commercial wooden wind turbine tower has been built just outside Skara, Sweden.

Externally, the Modvion wooden turbine closely resembles its steel counterparts, with both featuring a robust white coating for weather protection. Additionally, they share blades primarily composed of fibreglass, linked to a generator that generates electricity as the blades rotate. However, it is only upon entering the tower that the distinctions become apparent, notably in the form of walls adorned with a curved raw wood finish.

The robustness of the tower emanates from the 144 layers of laminated veneer lumber (LVL) comprising its thick walls. Modvion has adeptly manipulated the strength and flexibility of the walls by altering the grain of each 3mm-thick layer of spruce. The company's co-founder refers to this technique as their "secret recipe".

In the outskirts of Gothenburg, at the factory, the slender layers of wood undergo a process of bonding (glued) and compression to create the curved sections. These assembled pieces are transported to the site, where they are adhered together to form cylinders, subsequently stacked on one another to construct the tower.

Tall Swedish Wooden Wind Turbine

Through the utilization of wood and adhesive, it becomes feasible to construct towers in smaller, more conveniently transported modules. This approach, they assert, will significantly simplify the construction of exceptionally tall towers and facilitate the transportation of components to challenging locations. Modvion has a patented solution, which enables transport on ordinary roads, with ordinary trucks.

Wood enables building higher towers at a lower cost, which makes wind power more efficient since winds are stronger and more stable higher up. That gives you more electricity from each permit to build wind turbines.

- Otto Lundman

The wooden turbine from Modvion not only provides a sustainable alternative but also touts a carbon footprint that is negative in comparison to its steel counterparts. Modvion asserts that opting for wood over steel eradicates the carbon footprint of wind turbines entirely, turning them carbon negative. This is due to trees extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while alive, and when felled, the carbon becomes stored in the wood. The crucial point is that as long as the wood avoids rotting or combustion, the stored carbon remains sequestered. Modvion's tower, crafted from approximately 200 sustainably farmed spruce trees, underscores a dedication to responsible forestry practices.

In the future, Modvion envisions constructing even taller turbines and strives to establish a facility manufacturing 100 wooden modular turbines annually by 2027. Their ambitious goals, including a vision for 10% of global turbines to be wooden within a decade, align with the industry's increasing dedication to sustainable energy solutions.

Photos by Modvion

December 05 2023
EV

Polestar 2

The conclusion of my Polestar 2 lease is approaching fast. Reflecting on the past three years of driving electric, I ponder the overall experience. What has ownership been like, and do I plan to retain it?

EV Driving

I've been immersed in the world of electric driving for even longer if we take my previous Volvo V60 T8 into account. However, that car introduced some *real* range anxiety, boasting only a 42 km all-electric range in optimal conditions. In a peculiar incident, the car even declined to operate in all-electric mode, displaying a warning on the dashboard: "Aged fuel. Start engine to consume fuel." I had to deplete the fuel reservoir before I could resume electric driving. Nevertheless, let's return to the discussion about the Polestar and the rationale behind choosing this car.

Why Polestar?

The primary factor influencing my decision was the company itself, particularly its leadership by a designer. What sealed the deal for me was the way it positions itself in the market, emphasizing transparent and open communication about its climate ambitions. The second compelling reason was its aesthetic appeal. The moment I saw the announcement, I was convinced that this would be our next car. All of this was decided well before I even had the chance to take it for a test drive.

How Was the Ownership Experience?

My initial experience behind the wheel was at a Polestar event in Kortrijk, and fortunately, it exceeded all expectations. This car is truly fantastic to drive, boasting excellent build quality. It's a Magnesium variant equipped with a dual motor, delivering 300 kW / 408 hp. The acceleration is impressively fast, taking just 4.7 seconds to reach 100 km/h. The Polestar 2 cabin is quiet, especially so on winter tires. Pilot Assist works great and is trustworthy. Geert even uses it on all roads. It's the type of car that you eagerly anticipate driving every time you step into it.

The ownership experience had its share of hiccups, particularly in the initial stages. The TCAM Module exhibited erratic behavior, leading to an unstable internet connection and, at times, a complete lack of data—quite problematic given the car's reliance on it. Fortunately, the module was replaced a couple of times, all covered under warranty. The resolution to these issues came when there was an improvement in network coverage, ultimately addressing the connectivity issues.

I encountered one significant problem when the car abruptly refused to function, leaving me stranded in the middle of an intersection. Subsequently, the car had to be towed to the garage, where it was determined that the issue lay with the printed circuit board. In each of these instances, I was provided with a replacement car. My trust in the brand remained steadfast, largely owing to the exceptional service and customer support from ACG Polestar Ghent. The service there is truly top-notch, with incredibly helpful staff. I never experienced frustration when reaching out or visiting, thanks to Isabel Vanhulle and her excellent team! They now also have Polestar spaces.

Overal the experience these past 3 years has been lovely with some room for improvement on the phone part. Just remember that I was an early adopter.

Software

Let's delve into the software, a crucial aspect of the ownership experience. The system operates on Android Automotive, and the current state of the car is vastly different from its 2020 counterpart. Over time, I've received numerous 'over the air updates' that have not only refined the car but also introduced new features. The most significant improvement has been the enhanced efficiency of the car, achieved through meticulous tuning of the motors. In the early stages of ownership, most of my rides consumed 25 kWh/100 km or more, considering the car's 19" tires. Nowadays, it's not uncommon for me to achieve 17 kWh/100 km, marking a notable improvement in overall efficiency throughout my ownership. Overal efficiency the last 5000km has been around 19 kWh/100 km.

Polestar homescreen on Android Automotive.

Polestar homescreen on Android Automotive.

Another crucial aspect of owning an electric vehicle is the software that manages predictions about your range when inputting a destination into the navigation system. The mapping itself is powered by Google, ensuring a top-tier experience. The battery management is notably reliable, consistently providing slightly conservative estimates, usually a few percentage points below the actual capacity. I have complete trust in the system and am comfortable pushing the charge level to around 10% or even lower.

In cases where the remaining charge isn't sufficient to reach the destination, the car suggests suitable charging stops, providing information on available stalls and the required charging time. These are insights gained through experience. Those who express concerns about spending two hours charging likely haven't had much EV experience. Charging the car to 100% is uncommon because the process slows down significantly from 80% onwards. Personally, I typically charge to 60%, 70%, or 80%, depending on the destination.

With an EV, your approach to travel planning evolves. Stops align with natural breaks for activities like using the restroom, relaxing, eating, or grabbing a drink. Most of the time, you end up needing to hurry to prevent overcharging. It's surprising how quickly 30 minutes pass, and the gained range is often more than enough.

Charging destination to Polestar Sweden.

Charging destination to Polestar Sweden.

The Phone Application

One aspect that didn't quite meet expectations was the phone application. Its functionality was severely limited, often leading to frustrating experiences. For instance, when the car was charging in the village on a discounted tariff, attempting to check the remaining charging time resulted in the app failing to refresh correctly. It displayed inaccurate charge levels or timed out. No way to get a notification when charging was done. Another instance was with pre-conditioning the car, where clicking would lead to multiple timeouts before actually working. After nearly three years, they've finally launched version 4 of the app recently, a complete rebuild that now operates seamlessly and as anticipated. It's almost amusing when they announce the release of a phone that seems so unnecessary and doesn't align with their environmental goals when they need that long to get an app running as it should. We don’t need more, we need less!

Version 4 homescreen of the iPhone application.

Version 4 homescreen of the iPhone application.

Will I Stay with Polestar?

I had hoped for the Polestar 4 to be a smaller car, but unfortunately, that's not the case. In my sincere opinion, Polestar's inclination towards larger cars seems somewhat at odds with their environmental aspirations. I understand that people love BIG SUV’s but sometimes you have to be brave and be a leader and steer people in a different direction with a well thought out offering. So no I not will extend my lease.

I'm returning to Volvo! My upcoming car will be an EX30—the smallest Volvo yet and at an affordable price. Similar to my approach with the Polestar 2, I placed the order without seeing it in person or test driving it. It should be in my hands by April. Will test drive it in January.

November 13 2023
Home & Living

Air quality CO2 PPM's

The underestimated invisible item that is so important to our overal heath. Good ventilation has been undervalued for years. Honestly, before the pandemic, the concepts of CO2 and PPM were a mystery to me. I didn't pay much attention, except for the occasional practice of ventilating rooms by opening windows for about 20 minutes each day, albeit without a clear understanding of CO2.

What Is It?

CO2 stands for carbon dioxide and levels are measured in PPM (Parts Per Million). Before I started measuring I had no idea that air quality in closed spaces deteriorates very quickly because contaminated air is barely noticeable. The tighter your house is sealed, the quicker the air quality tends to decline. It could be argued that an older, more drafty house benefits from natural ventilation. I use to live in such a house, very costly to heat in winter and overheated in summer. 

How Do You Know?

The initial step is acknowledging the presence of CO2 in our living spaces. For example by using measuring equipment such as the Netatmo Healthy Home Coach or the Smart Home Weather Station, it is possible to map CO2 and take action to prevent high CO2 concentrations. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that a room should be ventilated at least twice a day, preferably in the morning and evening. That's what I attempted, but frankly, it falls short. Why? Well, it hinges on the wind intensity and the speed at which fresh air circulates. In high winds, you can sustain a satisfactory level for longer, but in calm conditions, the space swiftly reverts to an undesirable level. 'Quickly' here refers to a matter of hours with two persons occupying the room, contingent on how well-sealed your house is. Perhaps you've observed a distinct odor in certain houses or rooms, that's the result of stagnant air. I particularly experienced this in my bedroom after a night's sleep, I admit, feeling somewhat embarrassed. I'm pretty sure that ppm levels reached 2000 or more.

The Smart Home Weather Station also works with Apple Home.

The Smart Home Weather Station also works with Apple Home.

Is CO2 Dangerous?

Yes and no, CO2 in itself is harmless or, as scientists say, inert, non-flammable and non-toxic. Yet, an elevated concentration of CO2 within a room disrupts the absorption of oxygen in our bodies, and this occurrence is undesirable. As this displacement happens, the body transitions to reduced energy consumption throughout the day, resulting in specific issues like fatigue, headaches, diminished concentration and worsening of allergies (hay fever, food allergy, etc.). In my case you can also add a stuffy nose to the previous list. Another indicator of elevated CO2 levels often manifest itself as sleep issues, with notable symptoms such as waking up feeling restless, experiencing poor sleep quality, fatigue, and headaches. Thanks to the installation of a ventilation system, I can confidently attest that the overall living comfort has significantly improved. I no longer endure frequent headaches, a fatigue feeling in the afternoon or a stuffy nose, and, best of all, my sleep pattern has seen a remarkable improvement. Details about the system, the reasons behind its selection, and the steps I took will be addressed in a subsequent article.

The governmental department (FOD Public Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment) in Belgium says if the CO2 concentration is lower than 900 ppm (or 500 ppm above the outside concentration), we consider the room to be well ventilated.)

CO2 Meter Card

The CO2 level allows you to map the degree of ventilation. On the CO2 meter card below you will gain a better insight into the PPM values and what these values mean.

Air quality CO2 PPM's

Is It *the* CO2?

Yes it is the same CO2 that scientists are worried about. Annually, human activities release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural processes can absorb, leading to a progressive increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere is primarily attributed to human activities, particularly the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and deforestation. These activities release large amounts of CO2, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

As an illustration, when I was born, the atmospheric CO2 concentration stood at 324 ppm. At the start of this year, a highly reliable measuring station in Hawaii recorded 415 ppm. This station has diligently measured CO2 concentrations since 1957. In the span of just my lifetime, there has been an increase of 91 ppm. Examining the data reveals a substantial spike since the industrial era (pre-1800s), with estimates placing it at around 280 parts per million (PPM) during that period. We know this thanks to ice core data. Ice cores extracted from glaciers and polar ice caps preserve air bubbles that contain samples of the atmosphere from different periods.

Air quality CO2 PPM's

You can read more about the 'Mauna Loa Observatory' in Hawaii at 'ask NASA climate'. Next up I'll talk about another invisible home intruder 'air pollution' and what you can do about it.

October 19 2023
Inspiration

Get Outside

Engaging in outdoor activities offers numerous benefits, a consensus among scientists worldwide. Stepping away from your desk, moving, inhaling fresh air, and soaking in natural daylight provide multiple advantages for both your body and mind.

Get Outside

I have no idea about figures worldwide but in Flanders for example 6 in 10 people spend less than 15 minutes outside every day. For those who do not have to be outside for work, that number increases to 8 out of 10! Within the group of indoor workers, 7 out of 10 feel a sense of longing for the outdoors during their workdays. Nonetheless, they do express their commitment to compensating for this by engaging in additional outdoor activities over the weekends.

Nature as a Healing Prescription

What if your doctor prescribed nature instead of medication? Research indicates (detailed look at The Lancet) that a stroll in the park, a trek through the woods, or a weekend getaway in nature can significantly reduce stress levels and blood pressure, lower the risk of conditions like asthma, allergies, and cardiovascular disease, and enhance your mental well-being. For instance, doctors in the Shetland Islands have been recommending beach visits as a therapeutic remedy for both physical and mental ailments.

So, whether it's sunny or raining, ensure you get your nature fix. Even in inclement weather, the wonders of nature can still work their magic.

What's the Ideal Walking Time?

Devoting just two hours a week to outdoor activities can already make a positive impact on your health. A 2019 British study revealed that individuals spending 2 or more hours in natural settings each week enjoy better health and enhanced mental resilience. To boost your health, a brief half-hour daily stroll in the open air is more than sufficient.

Light, Fresh Air, and Physical Activity

Taking a daily 30-minute walk accomplishes three beneficial objectives simultaneously: it exposes you to natural light, provides a breath of fresh air, and ensures you get some physical exercise. Why is daylight so crucial? Your body requires a daily dose of it to regulate its biological clock effectively.

The outdoor air you inhale during a brief walk is also vital for your overall well-being. It contributes to maintaining healthy airways, reducing stress, regulating blood pressure and heart rate, and enhancing your mood. Moreover, walking serves as a valuable form of exercise in your daily routine. Research has demonstrated that walking enhances cognitive functions, as it allows your brain the necessary space to process information and generate new ideas/inspiration. This physical activity also triggers the release of endorphins in your body, promoting a sense of well-being, while benefiting your circulation, muscles, and joints.

Avoid Prolonged Sitting

For individuals with desk-bound occupations, it's advisable to break up prolonged periods of sitting by taking brief breaks every half hour, in addition to your daily walk. This practice provides an added health benefit.  This is one of the reasons I have such an affection for my Apple Watch. The device reminds me to stand up every hour and keeps me motivated to complete all those activity rings daily.

October 05 2023
Home & Living

Santa Teresa 34

Indulging in a bit of daydreaming never hurts, does it? Picture this: We're embarking on a move to the beautiful island of Mallorca, settling into a charming early 20th-century townhouse nestled in the heart of Soller. If money were no obstacle, how do you envision this dream home? 😊

Let's find out!

Our journey takes us to the central square of Soller, where we encounter 'Santa Teresa 34,' a 123-year-old townhouse that bears witness to the rich history and traditions of this quaint coastal town. This magnificent residence was initially commissioned by a wealthy entrepreneur from Puerto Rico, who integrated numerous refined design features, including a meticulously crafted stone facade and a breathtaking spiral staircase, to name just a couple.

The interiors feature a mix of custom-designed furniture, curated designer furniture and well-sought-out antiquities.

The interiors feature a mix of custom-designed furniture, curated designer furniture and well-sought-out antiquities.

The spectacular spiral staircase is one of the defining features.

The spectacular spiral staircase is one of the defining features.

Santa Teresa 34

Renovating a structure of this caliber is truly unique, a mission undertaken by the Mallorca-based couple behind Durietz Design & Development. They have established a prominent presence in the Spanish residential design arena, specializing in the conversion of historic properties into distinctive, fully furnished homes meticulously crafted for resale.

Santa Teresa 34 is a project born out of love with an extraordinary amount of time devoted to respectful restoration, custom-designed furniture, curated designer furniture and well-sought-out antiquities.

- Christoffer Du Rietz

This property is comprised of both a primary residence and a detached guest house, set amidst a lush garden and an expansive pool area that separates them. Thanks to its generous floor plan – the main house spanning 550 square meters and the guest house covering 50 square meters – Durietz Design & Development was able to effortlessly create a total of six bedrooms, each complete with a double bed and a private ensuite bathroom. There's also a wine cellar, a guest house, a home office, an open-plan kitchen, two living room areas with open fireplaces, and an Italian-inspired pool.

The outcome is truly remarkable, an interior that radiates a serene and soothing ambiance. Just to inform you, it's currently available for purchase, and the listing is marked with 'Price on Request,' which speaks for itself.

The tinted-oak kitchen and bathroom cabinets were custom-designed by Durietz Design & Development in collaboration with local kitchen maker Cocinart.

Photos by Durietz Design & Development

September 19 2023
EV

Motocompacto

This adorable electric scooter pays homage to the Honda Motocompo fuel-powered scooters from the 1980s. When fully folded, it resembles a suitcase, making it convenient to stow in your car's trunk or take it on public transit. Weighing in at 18.7kg/41.3lbs, it's light enough to lift comfortably, aligning perfectly with the demands of modern urban mobility.

With a top speed of 24km/h/15mph, a maximum range of 19.3km/12 miles, and a peak output of 490 watts, it possesses ample power to serve as a first- and last-mile solution, designed to meet the evolving needs of urban mobility. Honda says it reaches it topspeed in 7 seconds. Its suitcase-like shape also provides an ideal canvas for stickers, decals, and custom logos, guaranteed to turn heads!

Motocompacto

Fits Any You, Any Where.

No word if the Motocompacto will be launched in Europe. All I could find is that it will be available in the US for $995 in November via selected Honda dealers. Make sure to take a look at the animation demonstrating how everything folds together. It's truly delightful!

September 07 2023
Cycling

Hammerhead Karoo 2

Since you're subscribed to my Sidenotes, I assume you're aware of my deep passion for cycling. Around 2009, I acquired my first GPS cycling gadget, the Garmin Edge 500.

For years, my loyalty was exclusively to Garmin Edge GPS devices, including the 500, 800, and 1000 series. Despite my loyalty, I encountered several issues, such as software glitches and the power button wearing out over time. During that period, Garmin seemed to be the top choice with no real competitors. However, this landscape has changed for quite some time now. I've been using the Hammerhead Karoo 2 for the past few years, and I cannot express enough how satisfied I am with this device.

Hammerhead Karoo 2.

Hammerhead Karoo 2.

The contrast from the past is simply immense for me. Let me begin by highlighting the vast difference in navigation. When I was using Garmin devices, encountering overlaps in the route often led to confusion and uncertainty. The default "turn guidance" with prominent white arrows would appear as a turning point approached, causing distractions and a close-up view of the map. Personally, I disliked this feature, as I prefer maintaining a comprehensive overview of the roads.

In that state, the comprehensive overview of the route was lost, and to make matters worse, it was riddled with flaws, occasionally even directing you in the wrong direction. It was only after several months that a friend (Jered Gruber, to be exact) enlightened me about the possibility of switching off the turn guidance: "I always ride like that. I just see my line and I follow it." Great, problem solved, right? Well, not quite, because I have numerous routes with overlaps, especially the MTB ones. To cope with this, I used to memorize all the overlapping turns before starting and jotted them down on paper, keeping it in my back pocket as a backup. However, even with these precautions, things often took unexpected turns, leading us into adventurous experiences where roads would abruptly end in impassable fields or encounter roadblocks, forcing us to deviate from our planned route, resulting in a real mess to get back on our route.

Image by Alex Cohen.

Image by Alex Cohen.

Since I began riding with my Karoo 2, all those previous issues have completely vanished. Now, I still follow a yellow line on the screen, but this line comes with helpful direction arrows. However, the real game-changer is the map itself, which is by far the best I've ever experienced. It beautifully differentiates between roads with bike lanes, off-road trails, paths, and major roads with bike lanes, each marked with distinct colors and clear indicators. Even our regional biking network (Knooppunten netwerk) has its own purple colored lines. And when you are about to ride on an off-road segment, you'll get a warning that the road will go off-road counting down the remaining distance until your back on the hard surface.

In addition to the exceptional map, another aspect I appreciate about the Karoo 2 is the regular software updates that bring continuous improvements and new features. One particular feature that I've grown to adore, available for quite some time now, is the option to ride a route in reverse. It's become a favorite of mine, as it gives the sensation of exploring an entirely new route. In stark contrast, I struggle to recall any notable feature updates on the Garmin Edge devices throughout all these years. Moreover, the outdated GUI look reminiscent of the 90s has been a constant bother for me as a designer. If the device operated according to my preferences, the outdated GUI look wouldn't bother me as much, but unfortunately, I was frequently annoyed by its performance.

Hammerhead Karoo 2

Another problem I faced was the battery percentage issue. During long rides, it often became a concern, and I even encountered troubles when uploading my rides to Strava. However, since I started using the Karoo 2, I haven't experienced a single issue so far (knock on wood). The interface is aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly, and well-thought-out, and the touch screen functions seamlessly. I particularly appreciate the simple logic behind it, and the recent update that directly displays the sensor icons (speed, cadence, heart-rate, etc.) at the top of the screen is fantastic. It allows me to quickly see if they are properly connected, indicated by the icons turning green.

I apologize if it may come across as a rant towards Garmin, but I must be completely honest about my experience. The difference between my previous devices and the Karoo 2 is so immense that I can't help but rave about this remarkable device and the brand as a whole. Initially, I bought the Karoo 2 at a discounted price since my friend Geert had already purchased the Karoo 1. The Karoo 1 was a significant improvement over my Garmin Edge 1000, but it had some room for enhancement, mainly regarding its size. However, when the Karoo 2 was launched, it was the perfect solution, and we both decided to get one. To sweeten the deal, I received an extra heart-rate strap or a discount with my purchase (I can't exactly recall). When I faced issues with the strap as it stopped working, the support team promptly sent me an improved replacement for free. These new straps outperformed the Garmin ones by lasting much longer. Although it's a shame that one of them got misplaced somewhere in my house, I'm still on a quest to find it—a total mystery indeed.

If you are looking for an excellent GPS device, I can highly recommend the Karoo 2.  Currently, you get a 50% OFF on a Heart Rate Monitor with your order if you use the code 'K2-HRM'. In case you wonder, I am not sponsored by Hammerhead for saying this.

August 22 2023
Nature

Nature-inclusive Building

I wasn't familiar with the term initially, but after reading about it, everything falls into place. Extensive research consistently points in one direction: people not only enjoy better health but also greater happiness in green environments. Furthermore, with careful design that incorporates hiding spots and habitats with native greenery, we can contribute to the well-being of birds, hedgehogs, butterflies, bees, and numerous other wild creatures. This approach is known as 'nature-inclusive'.

I recently came across the plans for the 'Faunahuis', a versatile nature facility within Bos t'Ename, a nature reserve located in the Flemish Ardennes (Belgium). The nature farm should evolve into a prime example of nature-inclusive and eco-friendly architecture, exclusively utilizing renewable construction materials like wood, straw, and clay sourced from the nearby surroundings. It will serve as an educational space for students to immerse themselves in nature, a refuge for Natuurpunt employees, and a haven for a diverse array of wildlife.

Here's another example found in the construction of the Belgian pavilion, known as "The Green Arch," for the 2020 Dubai Expo. This remarkable pavilion seamlessly combines rich green vegetation with cutting-edge solid wood architecture. Its core purpose is to serve as a blueprint for sustainable progress, paying homage to the regenerative circular economy. It achieves this by utilizing biobased and geo-sourced materials, integrating bioclimatic principles and renewable energy sources, and emphasizing the preservation of biodiversity and the natural environment.

The Green Arch Belgian pavilion Expo Dubai, 2020 by Assar inclusive architecture.

The Green Arch Belgian pavilion Expo Dubai, 2020 by Assar inclusive architecture.

Not Well Known

It's worth noting that nature-inclusive building practices are still gaining traction in Flanders. Countries like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are considerably ahead in the field of nature-inclusive construction. For example, in the Netherlands, nesting boxes are a legal requirement in new-build homes. This approach not only promotes animal-friendly building but also plays a crucial role in preserving biodiversity.

Nature-inclusive construction is fundamentally about creating a hospitable environment for various forms of wildlife, including mammals, birds, as well as vital insects like butterflies and bees. However, its scope extends far beyond that. Embracing nature-inclusive principles yields numerous additional benefits. Your surroundings transform into a greener space and therefore more climate-resistant, providing natural cooling, and fostering a habitat for a diverse array of life forms.

Things You Learn

For instance, I appreciate having large windows to let in ample light as it enhances my well-being, but it's essential to recognize that for birds, windows are a leading cause of fatalities. An American biologist named Daniel Klem Jr. estimated that in the United States alone, between 100 million to 1 billion birds perish annually due to collisions with windows.

It's interesting to note that opponents of wind turbines might present a different perspective. The house sparrow is one of the significant casualties of the construction industry. In Brussels, its population has declined by a staggering 95 percent since 1992, and in Flanders, there has been a 42 percent decrease since 2007.

On a personal note, my garden used to be devoid of house sparrows. Several years ago, I initiated a feeding regimen using all-season seeds, and over time, I cultivated a garden that fulfills some key preferences of house sparrows, like hedges and shrubs for shelter. Additionally, I ensured there was water nearby for drinking and bathing. Although they didn't appear right away, with persistence, a pair eventually arrived, and through patient observation, they transformed into a family that now returns each year. Over time, the group has expanded to about 15, and it's truly delightful to witness the young sparrows being nurtured and learning the ropes.

Things You Can Do

De-paving is the starting point for everything, as most people likely understand by now. Following that, an abundance of greenery, ideally in layers, from ground covers to plants and shrubs, all the way up to trees. If you then refrain from using pesticides, avoid fertilizers, and reduce mowing, you're well on your way. Nature takes care of the rest, if you permit it.

Creating Nesting Sites

Numerous aesthetically pleasing options exist to offer nesting spaces for wildlife. For instance, when planning your home, you can consider incorporating built-in nesting stones. These special bricks, designed to replace standard bricks, serve as ideal nesting spots for birds, butterflies, bees and bats. If you haven't included this feature in your initial design, you can also choose to install birdhouses.

Demo wall built-in bricks at Acasus, Provincial Center, West Flanders.

Demo wall built-in bricks at Acasus, Provincial Center, West Flanders.

Around the house

Green: provide enough green in your garden with plants, shrubs, flowers and trees. Don't have a garden? Then a facade garden or a roof garden is also a good solution! Ivy and vines have the capacity to reduce the temperature of a wall by as much as 15 degrees, which is a significant benefit, particularly in urban areas where the impacts of climate change are more pronounced.

Incorporating solar panels on your green roof can increase your yield by an extra 4 to 6 percent.

Green roofs have enormous potential as they provide food, shelter and breeding grounds for various animals. Always choose native plants, trees and shrubs. Green roofs also offer cooling benefits both inside and outside the building. The vegetation acts as a heat buffer, providing insulation that keeps the interior up to 4 degrees cooler during the summer, eliminating the need for air conditioning. This can result in electricity savings of up to 7 percent.

Incorporating solar panels on your green roof can increase your yield by an extra 4 to 6 percent. This is due to the fact that solar panels achieve their best performance at 25 degrees, and each degree beyond that temperature could result in a potential power output reduction of up to 1 percent.

Even during heatwaves, a green roof doesn't exceed 35 degrees in temperature, significantly cooler than a black roof, which can reach scorching temperatures of up to 80 degrees in direct sunlight. Moreover, there are winter benefits too, as heating costs typically decrease by an average of 3 percent.

Feeding systems: Animals eat their food in different ways. See which animals live in your area, and adjust your systems accordingly.

Water: Provide a water source. That can be something small such as a water dish, but you can also resolutely go for a wadi or shallow pond.

What benefits animals also benefits humans. There's substantial evidence demonstrating that things like birdsong, for instance, have a calming and stress-reducing impact. Absolutely accurate. I find immense pleasure and relaxation in waking up to the melodious song of the blackbird, for instance.

July 31 2023
Cycling

The Badger Divide

The journey from Glasgow to Inverness spans an impressive 339km, encompassing epic mountain passes, forested trails, and crossings over lochs and rivers, all amidst the breathtaking landscapes of the Scottish Highlands.

The Badger Divide captured by Jered Gruber.

The Badger Divide captured by Jered Gruber.

The name "Badger Divide" is a clever wordplay, inspired by the well-known bike-packing route in Baja, California, called the "Baja Divide." On a bicycle, the Badger Divide promises a fantastic off-road adventure, featuring more than 5000m of altitude gain. Here's the route on Ride with GPS.

I’ve never experienced anything like it on a gravel bike - and I dream of the next time, if there ever will be a next time.

- Jered Gruber

Last year in the fall, my photographer friends Ashley & Jered Gruber embarked on this incredible adventure. Jered's storytelling skills are unmatched, and I can't do justice to the tale, so I highly recommend reading it for yourself. It's an unforgettable photographic journey you won't want to miss! But if reading or looking at pictures isn't your thing, don't worry; there's a captivating movie about it as well, which you can watch below.

July 11 2023
Music

Tycho - Time to Run

Scott Hansen, also known as Tycho, is an artist I've been a fan of for quite some time, and I regularly enjoy his music while working. Recently, he resurfaced with a refreshing new piece titled "Time to Run."

Tycho - Time to Run

This particular track represents Tycho's first original release in a couple of years, apart from his noteworthy collaboration with Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. In this latest creation, Tycho ventures into new artistic territory by embracing a band approach, while remaining faithful to his fundamental artistic principles.

"Time to Run" features Zak Brown on the guitar and Kaelin Ellis on drum. Tycho embarks on a new rhythmic direction, while maintaining his distinctive atmospheric synthwork, resulting in a more uplifting journey than his well-known sound. The mixing contributions of Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear add an enchanting touch.

In a statement, Tycho shared his profound connection between music and meditation, which has been a constant presence in his life and served as inspiration for the song. He reflected on his past as a competitive runner and how he would mentally replay loops of songs to manage the stress of races, focusing on rhythmic elements to find a sense of calm and maintain his pace. Tycho expressed that running has provided him with a unique form of clarity, a deeply human experience that fosters a profound connection between the mind, body, and nature. With "Time to Run," he endeavors to translate these ideas into musical expression.

My goal was to approach the composition from a new angle and let the rhythmic elements take the lead. I cast the melodic elements that have come to define the Tycho sound in a new light by juxtaposing them against a new foundation that takes cues from funk music.

- Scott Hansen aka Tycho

Accompanying the release of the track is a captivating music video directed by Patrick Elmore, which beautifully weaves together the overarching theme of running with a nostalgic energy. The video captures the excitement of spectators, the guidance of coaches, and the watchful eyes of officials as the runners gather at the starting line. As the race begins, the runners disappear into the surrounding woods, symbolizing their escape from the pressures and physical exertion of the moment. Despite the intense strain, the music carries them forward, fueling their relentless drive to keep running without looking back. Ultimately, the storyline of the video encourages viewers to liberate themselves from the burdens imposed by others, inspiring a sense of serenity and fulfillment. This message is embodied by the subject of the video diving into a refreshing natural pool of water, symbolizing a moment of liberation and tranquility.

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