Air Quality Citizen Science: Measuring Pollution with an AirBeam

Los Angeles Library card holders can check out an air quality monitor and participate in a crowd-sourced science project to monitor and map air quality.

I checked out a portable monitor at the Central Library, called an AirBeam, that measures two kinds of particulate pollution and feeds the results to an app on your smartphone. The AirBeam looks at two different sizes of particulate matter: PM2.5 and PM10. PM2.5, the smaller of the two, comes mostly from burning gasoline, diesel fuel and wood. PM10 (which, somewhat confusingly, includes PM2.5 particles) comes partly from fossil fuel but also consists of dust from agriculture, construction, wildfires and pollen.

The AirBeam has a loop which I attached to my belt, allowing me to take the device on my morning dog walks. The period in early August that I took measurements was unusually good for Los Angeles in August due to a mild weather. Only on one day did smoke from a distant fire up the central coast give me a reading that air quality officials would deem as “unhealthy”. It should be noted that there is actually no level of particulate matter that is “healthy” but, even without human activity, there would still be some particulate matter.

The app gives you both a graph of your readings and a map view, in this case from a walk I took down to the always congested 101 freeway. Everyone can view results via the web on this map.

You can also use the AirBeam to make stationary measurements indoors. Indoor particulate matter consists of things such as cigarette smoke and mold spores. Thankfully we seem to have good indoor air quality.

The real promise of the AirBeam and the LA Library’s lending project lies in creating a hyper-local mapping of pollution as well as creating a kind of air pollution literacy. With a lot of people wandering around with these monitors we might be able to identify pollution hot spots in need of attention. While there is more to air pollution than just particulate matter, I also feel like I have a better idea of what air quality reports mean and almost a nose for it.

In addition to the AirBeam, the LA Library also has a number of other kits you can check out to monitor mosquitos, light pollution, water quality, biodiversity, and heat island effects. They also have curriculum materials to support these kits if you’d like to make these part of a school project.

Weekend Linkages: Bass Face

Meme found on the interwebs (not sure where). Totally agree about Trader Joe’s!

On the Origin of the Bass Face

Demonstrating neighbourhood-scale civic infrastructure for social, ecological, economic, and climate transition

A school for “radical attention”

The rock’s the star: meditative film about a Cornish stone goes global

A Kali Mirch Paneer Pasta Recipe from Pijja Palace

Pentagon’s Budget Is So Bloated That It Needs an AI Program to Navigate It

Mr. Charlie’s: The Vegan Fast Food Joint that Looks Familiar But is Unlike Anything You’ve Seen Before

Keep a Rye Starter!

I took a pizza class at Josey Baker Bread in San Francisco this month and picked up a great tip from the instructor, JB pizza baker Caitlin (sorry did not get a last name!). She told us the bakery keeps a rye starter. This has two advantages: rye is more active so your starter will have a higher likelihood of success and you’ll always be ready to make a rye loaf. If you want a white or whole wheat dough all you have to do is add white or whole wheat flour and a spoonful of your rye starter.

I keep a small amount, like three tablespoons of starter on hand that I feed every day. When I want to make bread I do a build overnight and the next day I’ll have the quantity I need to bake a loaf or make pizza dough. This week I switched my starter over to rye using the small amount Caitlin gave us. I’m baking a loaf today and it’s rising like crazy.

As to the pizza we made in the class it was probably the best I’ve ever had. It’s a quirky pie: the secret is a dark, almost burnt crust brushed with garlic olive oil and sprinkled with Maldon salt. They keep the toppings simple as not to distract from the cracker-like sourdough crust. They have a pizza night at the bakery every Monday from 5 to 8 in case you don’t want to roll your own.

Pepper’s Ghost

Looking for an easy Halloween display that uses stuff you might have at hand?

In this video Joshua Ellingson shows you how to create the 19th century Pepper’s ghost effect using an iPad, some plastic film and a glass container. YouTube is full of pre-made Pepper’s ghost videos so you don’t even need to shoot anything.

If you want to go deeper there’s a free version of a video DJ type program called VDMX that you can download and Ellingson also has some videos on how to hook up old TVs to a laptop to create bigger Pepper’s ghost setups.

I’m thinking of doing a simple Pepper’s ghost for the huge trick or treat crowds in our neighborhood. How huge are those crowds? Most years we run out and close early at about 300 little customers. Many of our neighbors are in the film industry and put up some truly wonderful displays that likely account for the crowds. It’s always a fun evening.