Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Biomimicry in House Temperature Control

I was reading about endotherms and ectotherms in an ecology textbook yesterday and the idea struck me that houses themselves can be looked at as either 'endotherms' or 'ectotherms' with regards to how temperature was being controlled in them.
Earth building
Earth building

Endothermic Houses

A house that uses an air conditioner would be considered an endothermic house, since it uses internal means to regulate its temperature. Like endothermic organisms, which consume a lot of energy (and food) to regulate their internal body temperature, an endothermic house would be using a lot of energy (electricity) to regulate the temperature inside it as the air conditioner works. Endotherms also consume even larger amounts of energy to regulate their internal temperate when the external temperature is more extreme. This is the case too with 'endothermic' houses, which consume growing amounts of energy as the temperature outside the house becomes more and more extreme.

Ectothermic Houses

Ectotherms, on the other hand, use external means to regulate their body temperature. Ectothermic houses thus would be the ones that do not have an internal heating or cooling system but rather use external means to regulate their 'body' temperature. Ectothermic houses can use angle to the sun, angle to wind, air vents and a number of other strategies in order to help regulate their internal temperature without consuming too much energy to do so.


Organism also make use of insulation in the form of fur, feathers, skin and fat to help reduce undesired body temperature loss or gain. Similarly, houses can make use of such powerful strategy in order to help regulate internal temperature without need for expending energy. This could be for instance in the form of thick walls that slowly absorb and store heat to name just one insulation strategy.


By employing techniques used by ectotherms rather than endotherms as well as insulation, houses can be designed to consume much less energy than ones that are much more energy hungry as endotherms.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Birdwatching in Cairo

Last April I joined a group of birdwatchers during a Birdwatching City Walk that took place in the Heliopolis suburb of Cairo. Despite the heat of the day, I enjoyed the walk and learned a lot from it, not to mention meeting some interesting new people who were fond of nature.

The birdwatching city walk was co-organized by Nature Conservation Egypt (NCE), an Egyptian NGO aiming to conserve nature, and Earth Keepers which is a grassroots initiative promoting sound ecological practices that was born through a collaborative effort from plant and nature lovers living near and around a street garden in Heliopolis.

House Sparrow
House sparrow
Photo by Watter Al Bahry
Even though birdwatching has been practices in Egypt yet the novel thing this time was to carry it out in the city! Watter AlBahry, wildlife photographer, Administrative Officer at Nature Conservation Egypt and co-founder of Egypt Geographic, led the group pointing to various birds and identifying them to us, handing over binoculars to us and distributing bilingual (Arabic and English) booklets containing photos and names of birds found in Egypt. Watter was later joined by Mr. Ahmed Riad, a long time birdwatcher, also from NCE, who further provider us with knowledge about birds, their types and their behavior. It was just brilliant!

Olivaceous Warbler
Olivaceous Warbler
Photo by Watter Al Bahry
Among the birds identified during that day were:
  1. House sparrow
  2. Bee-eater
  3. Common bulbul
  4. Kestrel
  5. Olivaceous Warbler
  6. Hooded Crow
  7. Laughing Dove
  8. Feral Pigeon
From among the very interesting pieces of information that I had learnt on that day was that birds that forage in groups often have specific patches and areas in which they control. That is, each group of birds have their own spots of land in which they forage. In the past, I had thought that birds just fly about and eat from anywhere. I never knew that each group of birds had their own areas. It is like dogs which have territories that they defend in clans.

I also experienced the notion of identifying birds first through their songs before actually spotting them with binoculars or with the naked eye.

Photo by Watter Al Bahry
The idea of having birdwatching inside the city was great. I live the concept of urban ecology. I do hope that we repeat such a birdwatching day in the city once again and expand it further!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ecology and Design Thinking

I've recently attended a design thinking workshop which got me thinking about how ecology and design thinking can be integrated. My first thought was that the study of ecology and natural systems could help a lot in designing a sound ecosystem and thus ecology could inform the process of design thinking in how to design for a sustainable harmonious ecosystem that mirrors the laws of nature.

A second though on how to integrate ecology and design thinking, which is not too far from the first thought, is that design thinking can be an interesting approach to use when attempting to design actual environmentally sound systems that are ecologically resilient and sustainable.
Design thinking process
Design thinking process
I think that the study of design thinking would be a good step for me forward in order to get me closer to my ultimate goals which is effecting change in the current system through installing appropriate interventions which would lead to a more ecologically sound environment for humans to live in harmoniously and thrive in a sustainable way.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Heterogeneous Environments and Urban Design

One of the main reasons why I am studying ecology, besides it being my main passion, is to try and get inspiration from ecology on how to design our life in accordance to the laws of nature.

I was just reading in Ecology: From Individuals to Ecosystems and came across this sentence: "There are no homogeneous environments in nature." I previous quote from the same book read:
It comes as no surprise that a plant utilizing sunlight, a fungus living on the plant, a herbivore eating the plant and a parasitic worm living in the herbivore should all coexist in the same community.
Those quotes reminded me of civil engineer once saying on TV that when designing a housing project it is not appropriate to design such project to be inhabited by doctors only or by engineers only. The community must have a mix of people from different backgrounds in order to function properly as people need one another.

Genena Mall at night
Genana Mall
Looking at Genena Mall, which is only two streets away from where I live, I find that as time passed by and along the years as more and more people come to visit it a community of peddlers selling cheap stuff has started to develop around the mall. They sell all sorts of stuff from food to clothing to odds and ends. They sell on the cheap.

This phenomenon has caused trouble to the main mall as it competes, in a way, with the 'decent' stores inside the mall that pay high rent or have paid for expensive shops. It also gives a less classy image to the otherwise upscale mall. A common way to 'remedy' this is to crack down on such illegal merchants through the local police.

In my opinion, and in light of the quotes above from the ecology textbook, I see that the real problem was in the design of the system itself. The mall was designed to cater for upscale clients through relatively expensive stores and completely ignored the rest of the community whether buyers or sellers who would naturally be part of the market ecosystem.

I do not have a specific solution in mind for this situation. All I know for now is that the design of that and other similar malls does not lead to resilience and does not comply with the laws of nature. Natural laws thus force themselves upon such broken design through the gradual buildup of illegal peddlers surrounding the mall which in turn leads to the use of excessive energy to repel such undesired 'parasites'. Had the system been designed in the first place to be more holistic based on the principle of inclusion rather than exclusions a more resilient community would have been there. Perhaps Dina Amin from Selouk could give us her design perspective on this one and shed light on the behavioral side of it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Science of Ant Communication

I have just finished reading The Science of Ant Communication (how ants talk to each other) a free ebook by Pamela Paterson who has a master's degree in science. The interesting thing is that the ebook actually contains the same book written twice, once in an everyday layman language for the general public and then again another version written in a more scientific language for the specialists. I read both yet enjoyed the simplified version more. I guess she has written the more scientific version first then simplified it into the easier-to-read version later.

I found a few interesting things in this short ebook. She says that ants communicate with one another using various means one of which is through pheromones which are chemicals secreted by a number of different glands in present in the ant's body which are then picked up by other ants through their olfactory sense (sense of smell). Ants can also produce sounds, despite them not having ears, yet they sense the vibrations that travel through the ground. They produce the sounds not through a vocal apparatus like humans and other animals but by moving specific parts of their bodies same as like with some other insects.

The Science of Ant Communication
The Science of Ant Communication
It was interesting to see in the book that there are so many different kinds of ants and that they differ greatly in their habits yet still share common methods for communication. I also liked to know the specialization of ants in the ant kingdom, some of them act as guards, other scouts for food, still others clean their nest while others go out for foraging and bringing food to the nest. And of course there is the all respected queen ant same as with bees which have a queen (which some arguably call the mother in case of the bees).

One of the things that also interested me was what is called tandem running where two ants walk together in the direction of the source of food while one of them being the leader and the other the follower. The leader 'teaches' the follower how to reach the source of food. This tandem running results in slower movement yet helps the ant that is following to learn and be able to later inform the other ants and act as the leader in the next trip towards the food source with a different ant that would now act as its follower. I noticed in the references section at the end of the ebook a reference to a paper titled Teaching in tandem-running ants which made me very interested due to the word "teaching" in it.

Another interesting this she mentioned was that ants do not speak to one another directly but rather give signals that increase the probability of other ants carrying out a certain behavior. Furthermore, they may use more than one method of communication simultaneously in order to make their message get through more strongly and hasten the response from other ants.

There are so many other interesting things found in this tiny ebook that are worth reading. I recommend reading the part written in layman language rather then the one written in a more scientific one, unless you are specialized in the field.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Growing Moringa in my Balcony

Having bought a pack of Moringa seeds from the Sahara Exhibition that was held in Cairo last month I selected a suitable day for planting them where the moon was in a suitable zodiac. I watered thoroughly and waited. I waited for several days and there were no signs of anything germinating. I kept my fingers crossed for a week and more yet nothing still happened. I started to worry but still had hope. Upon visiting my pots in the balcony a few days ago I discovered that 3 of the seeds have actually germinated and shot up superbly. Two days ago I found that a fourth seed has also germinated while the others grew taller and a bit bigger. I rejoiced!

Today I Googled for [harvesting moringa] and came across this interesting article about harvesting Moringa leaves. I'm planning to harvest some leaves and try to make tea out of them when the plants are a bit bigger. I had tasted Moringa tea before and it tasted wonderful!

Moringa leaves
Moringa leaves
Having Googled a few days ago for [growing moringa] I came across this webpage about growing Moringa from which I learnt that the variety I am growing is called Moringa Oleifera. I realized this from the picture of the seeds present in that webpage. The other type of Moringa, that I am not growing, is called Moringa Stenopetala, which is actually the one I had tasted the tea of several months ago.

I hope my moringa trees start growing rapidly and I start harvesting their leaves to make tea out of them and perhaps eat the leaves as well!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gecko in my Balcony

When I first witnessed a gecko darting across the wall in my balcony I had a strong adrenaline rush and ran away quickly in fear. I was afraid that it could be harmful causing any diseases or so. After checking online, I realized that geckos are pretty harmless and even kept as pets by some.

I started being less fearful of geckos after learning about their harmless nature. They kept coming to my balcony time and again to visit the plants I was growing in pots in my balcony.

green gecko
Green Gecko
Although I have lost my fear from geckos, except from the really large ones particularly when they run so fast, yet they seem to still by absolutely terrified upon seeing me. I tried once and again to approach them slowly to win their trust but without succeeding. I even tried to calm down my thoughts thinking that maybe they sense one's own energy and probably perceive things through their senses in a different way than humans do. It still didn't work, yet.

I have noticed that after watering the plants they tend to come. I noticed that they come for humidity. I realized later that after watering the plants some humidity loving insects flourish in the soil inside the pots and the geckos seem to feed on them hence their appearance after I water the plants.

I'm still unable to enjoy looking at them or observing them. I only manage to get a very brief glimpse of them every now and then as I enter the balcony and see them suddenly darting by hiding behind some pot as I enter.