In ‘ReNew’s ‘Browser’’ Category

Root simple

Browser – issue 124

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Lance Turner’s regular ReNew column on useful websites

Root Simple


For many people, modern life is very complex and busy, and one of the casualties of this is the skill of being ab­­le to DIY.
There are many websites aimed at the DIY crowd but most seem to be quite technology oriented—but not everything needs a high-tech solution!

Root Simple takes a more back-to-basics approach. The main area of the site is the blog section which contains dozens of DIY suggestions and projects, many of them simple and designed to reuse ordinary materials that are often thought of as waste.

For example, there’s lots of information on gardening, some great examples of simple but effective gardening techniques, and info on things you can eat that you might not have realised were edible—oxalis salad anyone?

In the food section there are some great recipes and in the ‘domesticus’ category there’s all sorts of interesting DIY stuff, such as home-made cleaners and fabric dyes, remedies and the like.

If you feel like you need to brush up on your basic household DIY skills, this is a good place to start.

Science Alert

While most science news websites are US or Europe-centric, Science Alert focuses on science being done in Australia and New Zealand.

As you might expect, the site covers science news from all areas, but, with climate science being so important nowadays, there’s a lot of climate-oriented science news here. Even in the other categories, such as life, health and technology, many of the news items pertain to planet sciences, as so many issues affect modern society and our general quality of life in some way.

From printing solar cells, developing better crops, the impact of introduced species and looking at the history of global warming, there’s lots of interesting snippets written at general reading level—the articles are not full of tech talk and obscure references like some science news sites.

There’s not just news reporting either; the site also features opinion pieces on many subjects, and there’s even a job finding category, although it’s not as well populated as it could be, with only 114 jobs listed when we checked.


Browser – issue 123

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Lance Turner’s regular ReNew column on useful websites

Public Laboratory


The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) is a community that develops and applies open-source tools to environmental exploration and investigation.

Using low cost DIY methods, a network of participants has grown with the goal of increasing the ability of communities to identify and take action on environmental concerns.

Anyone can participate, and in a number of ways, including adding to existing site pages, writing articles, improving documentation and organising local groups.

While most current participants are from the USA, anyone from anywhere can join and create a local chapter. There are already groups in Sweden, Chile, Lima and the UK, but none from Australia as yet.

For DIY types, the Tools section is the most interesting, with details on using everyday devices in practical projects—using a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner to measure indoor air quality is a great example!

While in fairly early stages, this sort of public collaboration site has enormous potential.


Green roofs have become quite a popular topic in recent years. A well-planned green roof can improve the thermal performance of a building considerably, while a poorly planned or maintained one can be more hassle than it’s worth.

The Greenroofs website labels itself as “the international greenroof industry’s resource and online information portal, with the goal to inform, promote and inspire the earth friendly technology of organic greenroof architecture through the interchange of ideas, projects, news, video, travel, research, organisation and government updates, marketing opportunities and exclusive features.”

That about says it all, and the site itself is full of interesting information on the subject, including latest news, guest features, hot trends, a list of recommended books on green roofs, events, employment opportunities, a green roofs video channel, green roof basics, products directory and more. While fairly US-centric, it’s a great example of what’s happening around the world.


Browser – issue 122

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Lance Turner’s regular ReNew column on useful websites

Map of Life


Earth is host to an enormous number of species of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, but do you know which animals live where? What critters are you likely to find if you explore the local parklands or even your own garden?

Map of Life is exactly what it says: an interactive map that tells you the animal life found in your area.

There’s not a lot to using the map—just select the zone radius and the type of animal you’re looking for, then zoom in and click where you live on the map (it uses Google maps and so works in the same way). The website presents you with a list of the creatures that live in your area, or you can opt to view tiled thumbnail images instead. Click any critter’s name or image and you will be taken to the wikipedia entry or another information page for that animal.

Cars of change

Like it or not, cars are a part of modern day life; until we radically reorganise our cities to be more walking and bike friendly, the majority of people will own a car. So it makes sense to make those cars as eco-friendly as possible.

We’ve looked at a few sites dedicated to the latest in eco-cars, the electric vehicle, but Cars of Change takes a slightly different tack—it examines not only EVs, but other technologies such as biofuel vehicles, hybrids and ultra-efficient internal combustion engine vehicles.

It includes a collection of articles on current and emerging vehicle technologies, and how those technologies affect our modern lifestyles. You can browse through the complete list of features, or check out the Perspective category, a collection of reviews and opinion pieces. Plus there’s a News category as well.

There’s the usual advertising (someone has to pay for the website) and you can also subscribe to the printed magazine Green Car Journal, whose editors run the website.


Browser – issue 121

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Electric cars are for girls


Touted as a ‘mostly painless guide to electric vehicles and conversions’, this website is dedicated to explaining everything about electric vehicles including politics, conversions, batteries and even electric drag racing.

The site consists of a blog, with posts about all sorts of stuff EV related, as well as a number of fixed pages that cover various topics. The categories listed down the left-hand side include areas such as EV advantages, electric car history and the like.

There’s a section about building your own EV, otherwise known as an EV conversion. The key questions, such as motor sizing and what batteries to use, are answered. The pages on the various components should cover the basic questions most people will have about what makes an EV go.

Dotted throughout the site are useful videos, with EV experts talking on a range of EV-related subjects.

The whole site has a very conversational style. While not the most extensive EV resource out there, it is a great place to get news, inspiration, ideas and opinions about EVs, including EV advocacy, without being bamboozled by technical jargon.

Like most EV websites out there, this one is hosted in the USA and so is fairly US-centric, but most of what applies there also applies here.
One exception is the topic of neighbourhood electric vehicles (NEVs)—these are low-speed vehicles designed for use only in local neighbourhoods and so exempted from crash testing standards. Australia is yet to have an NEV vehicle class, or towns and cities where they can be safely used.

Earth Techling

There are quite a few techie websites out there, and many look at green technology on and off, but Earth Techling is green technology oriented, so there’s plenty to keep the green techie interested.

Earth Techling is a commercial online publication and includes some ‘sponsored’ articles (a nice way of saying advertorial). But despite this, there’s some interesting stuff to be found on the site.

Like many sites such as gizmag and treehugger, Earth Techling has a news section, an ever-growing list of posts on all manner of topics, from biofuels, solar technologies, electric vehicles and other greener transport options, to recycling and many other subjects.

The features section includes sub-categories such as how-tos, buying guides, interviews, previews (mostly of possible upcoming tech advances) and columns, many of which are cross-posts from other sites.

The green events section is a little sparse and is mostly US-oriented anyway, but it is interesting to see what’s happening around the world.

On the right of the site there’s a topic channel list; clicking on a topic will bring up the most relevant posts and articles without having to search.

Of course, there’s also the usual Facebook and twitter feeds—what site would be complete without those!

Earth Techling may be a commercial online publication, but it is worth checking out.


Browser – issue 120

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Future Sparks


Future Sparks is a Green Cross Australia project aimed at providing teachers and students with information about climate change, what we need to do to adapt to it and how to make changes in our lives to help prevent it.

The site encourages students to ‘get their thinking caps on’ and come up with ideas and solutions to help the planet—and make videos of their ideas so that others can benefit.

The site also touches on social problems, such as wealth and energy inequality. It explains how we currently use energy, what clean energy is and how we can move towards a clean energy future rather then the status quo of fossil fuel use.

The site details why and how the climate is changing, with links to resources from CSIRO and elsewhere.

There are numerous videos that help get the message across in a simple, clear and concise way. Maybe all the climate change deniers need to have a look.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a child-oriented site without some form of interactive competition, and kids can enter their ideas either as videos or just by writing them down—you don’t need to be a budding Steven Spielberg to enter! There are plenty of online resources to help entrants make the best entry they can.

Lastly, there’s an area designed for teachers, where interested teachers can have a chat with an expert, access a list of resources including lesson plans and many fact sheets, and learn how they can host a community show-and-tell event for showcasing students’ ideas.

If you are a teacher or a student interested in environmental issues in education, this is a good site to check out.


Greenluv is a green-oriented lifestyle website aimed at supporting and promoting the creative people of the world who do their thing in a green manner.

To quote the site: “We’re into good design, delicious-n-nutritious food, and inspiring art, but we feel like all of these things become way more interesting when crafted in a environmentally and socially responsible way.”

We couldn’t agree more, so recommend that anyone with a green leaning (and you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t have one) check out this site for some great creative ideas and products.
The site appears quite new, with fewer posts and articles than you would expect from an established site, but we expect this will change as the site grows and matures, as all such websites have done over the years.

The main categories are design, food, fashion, home, DIY and arts. There’s also a Giveaways area where you can go into the running to get a freebie just by leaving a comment.

There are some really impressive projects on the site, such as furniture made from old guardrails from the Golden Gate bridge, a DIY cork trivet and some cool DIY lampshades made from bamboo. Many of the posts are very brief, with links back to the more detailed original source websites, which makes a lot of sense as there’s no point duplicating other websites’ posts word-for-word.

While this site probably won’t appeal to the more techie DIYers out there, if you have an arts and crafts leaning and like great looking projects and products with a green bent, then this is a good site to drop by.


Browser – issue 119

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The Fifth Estate


There’s a huge number of environmental news and reporting sites around now, but not many sites are local to Australia. The Fifth Estate is one that is.

As they put it, “The Fifth Estate is an online newspaper for green buildings and sustainable development. A website by and for passionate people and motivated companies who are determined to harness the power of the built environment to save the planet.”

The Residential section features news articles explaining how the latest developments affect the average homeowner.

There’s a Jobs section where environmental positions are listed regularly, as well as news on who is working where in the world of sustainability organisations.

For those of us who don’t have time to read their sustainability news in detail there’s a section called Briefs where the news items are, well, abbreviated to just a paragraph or two, while the What’s On section has a fairly extensive list of upcoming events.

The Spinifex category covers public, social and ethical news, and has some excellent reading, such as why is it that millions of people who have mobile phones are still using kerosene to light their homes?

The Business section, of course, covers more business-oriented news and there are many other categories that you need to scroll to the bottom of the site to see, such as Design and Technology, Arts and Letters, Politics and Policies, and numerous others. Of course, there is considerable overlap between categories but there’s plenty to read on this site. You can also sign up to have the newsletter emailed to you.

Living Greener

Living Greener is a Federal Government website put together to help everyone reduce their environmental footprint in simple and easy steps.

It is divided into several broad categories, such as saving energy, saving water, reducing and recycling waste and travelling smarter.

Each category has subcategories such as energy efficient appliances, insulation, rainwater use, greener building materials, motor transport, cycling and the like. Inside each of these you will find simple ideas, tips and solutions on reducing the environmental footprint of your day-to-day activities.

There’s also a complete index of all the actions you can do under the Take Action tab. If you are looking for financial assistance in changing to a greener lifestyle, click on the Rebates & Assistance tab, select your state and you will be presented with all the rebates that are available to you, such as solar energy feed-in tariffs and water tank rebates.

People can contribute their own stories to the site. At the time of writing there were 18, but anyone can add their ideas, along with photgraphs, just by clicking the ‘Contribute’ button—no logons or signups are required.

A list of guides on topics such as greener home entertainment, reducing energy bills, a home buyer’s guide, a home renovator’s guide and a number of others also feature on the site.

If you are looking for simple ways to green up your lifestyle, or just want to share your tips and ideas this is a good place to start.


Browser – issue 118

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There’s quite a few environmental news sites around, but many of them lack technical knowledge, and so the reporting can be less than accurate (and is sometimes just nonsensical!).

Cleantechnica is one of a number of blog style websites run by Important Media—as they put it, they are “a decentralized, niche blog network, dedicated to covering those issues which are important to our collective and individual well-being, from humanity’s survival to human happiness.”

Of course, one of those areas is technological innovation in greener and more sustainable technologies. The latest renewable energy developments such as more efficient, cheaper solar panels, policy decisions that promote and advance renewables, transportation technology and many others are covered by the huge number of posts on the site.

But Cleantechnica is just one of a network of like-minded websites. These include the personal transport site,, which deals with more environmentally benign products and business ideas,, which covers food and how it relates in our current world, and a number of other sites, all dealing with sustainability, social issues and similar. There’s enough material in these sites to keep you reading forever!

ALA stands for the Atlas of Living Australia. As you might expect from the name, this site is a repository of information regarding the species of flora and fauna across Australia.

The great thing about this site is that you can simply enter your location into the search system and it will show you all the species in your area. The results are categorised into types and you can select individual species and learn more about them and see where they occur in your area.

You can also search on larger regions such as by state, and the results are given in categorised ‘tile’ format, with the name and a thumbnail image of each species.

Species maps can also be created, where you select the region you want to look at and add species you want displayed. Once the map is displayed, the colours can be customised so that maps with more than one species are easy to interpret.

There’s plenty more to explore in this site, including complete natural history collections and where you can go to see them (such as local museums and the like).

There’s themes and case studies on particular species and they have even developed a Citizen Science web application to help naturalist groups and researchers collect species observation information from volunteers.

If you want to know what critters and plants you are sharing your part of the planet with then this is a great place to start. Everyone interested in Australia’s wildlife should have this site bookmarked!

wikihow for browser

Browser – issue 117

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Lance Turner’s regular ReNew column on useful websites


Almost everyone at one time or another wants to know how to complete a practical task, be it fixing a bike tyre or cooking a particular dish for the family get-together.
Wikihow is touted as the how-to manual that you can edit. Just like other wikis, anyone can update and improve information in articles on the site, view all previous versions of each article or start new articles.

Many of the articles have videos attached, as well as a list of tips and warnings, plus related articles and even a list of suggested articles that need writing.

Topics on the site are wide and varied, with categories including arts and entertainment, cars and vehicles, computers and electronics, food and entertaining, health, hobbies and crafts, travel, relationships, pets and animals, business and finance, holidays, and just about anything else you might want to know how to do.

There’s some great articles on the site, including how to save a laptop from liquid damage, using a multimeter, assorted articles on various aspects of bike maintenance (why pay the bike shop to do simple jobs!), make a flaxseed smoothie, how to make and use a solar oven and many others.

If you want to learn more practical skills, this is a good place to start. There’s not always a lot of detail but each article is a guide to get you started.

Electrical and electronic circuits surround us in our everyday lives, but very few people know anything about them. If you want to be a DIY-er and do your own DC wiring or make your own useful electrical or electronic devices then you are going to need a grounding in electrical and electronic theory.

The All About Circuits website aims to give you exactly that. It starts off as simple as possible, explaining basic AC and DC theory covering concepts such as conductors, insulators, and electron flow, voltage and current, resistance and various other concepts.

It then continues on to AC theory, including phases, waveforms, complex numbers, inductance, capacitance, filters, transformers, multiple phase signals, power factor, metering and more.

It then moves to detailed descriptions of semiconductors including all the common types like diodes, bipolar transistors, FETs and the like. Amplifiers and motor drives are covered, although the inverter section was empty when we last checked.

Next comes digital electronics including number systems, logic gates, ladder logic, boolean algebra, counters, shift registers, analogue-to-digital and digital-to-analogue conversion and others.

There’s a very useful reference section, a detailed experiments section where you can put your knowledge to good use, and even a series of worksheets so you can check your memory. There’s even a heap of videos for those who find them to be a better learning tool, plus a very active forum section.

All up, this is an excellent place to start if you want to learn about electricity and circuits in a practical way.

This article is from ReNew 117
Skeptical science for browser

Browser – issue 116

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Lance Turner’s regular ReNew column on useful websites


We all know a climate sceptic, someone who refuses to accept that humans have had any effect on the Earth’s climate. We also know the lengths some sceptics will go to in order to avoid the facts on climate change (when it becomes fanatical, they can be considered denialists).

Run by physicist John Cook, Skeptical Science is a great site, available in 20 languages, that aims to ‘get skeptical about global warming skepticism’.

The website is basically a large collection of the usual anti-global warming arguments and statements sceptics like to trot out, followed by reasoned analysis showing where these arguments have gone wrong.

You can view the arguments by type or popularity, the most popular blaming the sun for everything of course. There’s a section of useful graphics, available in high resolution, on things such as global average temperatures, solar activity versus global temperature and other interesting data.

There’s also a downloadable Scientific Guide to Global Warming Skepticism and smart phone apps and Firefox plugins for the major platforms that give you the latest tweets and comments from the site (see the review on the next page).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Skeptical Science is the sheer number of other sites trying desperately to discredit John and his site. While a few of the criticisms have some merit (everyone gets things wrong sometimes), they usually add nothing to the debate.

Most of us have come across biodegradeable plastics at some point, and some of us even go out of our way to buy products made from them instead of petroleum-based plastics. But how much do you really know about green plastics, and what are they made from? is an information site on eco-friendly plastics. Here you can find the latest news, such as new uses for bioplastics, who’s making them and how they are doing it. Read how a group of students from a US high school developed bioplastics suitable for use in athletic shoes or find out when and where the next bioplastic event is to be held.

There’s a discussion area where you can have your questions answered or read solutions to others’ queries.

The most interesting part of the site was the one and only video posted so far which describes how to make simple bioplastic at home from just four common household ingredients.

While this site is quite new and doesn’t have a lot of content as yet, it’s a great start and will hopefully expand into a very good resource for all things bioplastic.

This site also has a sister site, (without the hyphen), which is a wiki-style site with more general info on bioplastics, their history, properties, use, how they are manufactured, which companies are making them and which countries are promoting their use.

This article is from ReNew 116
ifixit for browser

Browser – issue 115

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Lance Turner’s regular ReNew column on useful websites


Many readers of ReNew will have an interest in what makes their various electrical and mechanical devices tick. Whether it’s your mobile phone, PC or car, knowing how it works and even how to fix it can save you time, money and reduce your environmental footprint by making your devices last longer.

With the resurgence of DIY interest around the globe of late, there’s been a lot of websites springing up dedicated to those willing to have a go fixing things themselves. Ifixit is one such site. Touted as “the free repair manual you can edit”, it is a bit like an specifically for repair information.

New online repair manuals can be created (really just a series of pages of information, with photos) covering a range of subjects, including phones, PCs/laptops, home appliances, cars and many other day-to-day devices. Existing manuals can even be edited online to improve the information they contain and correct any errors, so the manuals are continually evolving.

The other sections of the site include troubleshooting guides, complete teardowns of equipment (great when you want to know what’s inside your new laptop but are too scared to open it up) and there’s even a parts and tools store.
If you have a gadget or device that needs fixing and don’t know where to start, try this site. There’s a good chance someone has already fixed it and posted the information, saving you from having to buy a replacement device.

We live in a world where ‘stuff’ (everything you use, every day) has never been cheaper. Indeed, many devices we use every day are so cheap it costs more to fix them, if they are even repairable, than it does to buy a new one. In effect, cheap products have created a throw-away society.

Despite their price, devices such as mobile phones, computers and TVs are more complex than they’ve ever been, so why are they so cheap?

The answer to this can be found at the Story of Stuff website. Here you will find an animated movie that explains the many hidden costs in the lifecycle of the average electronic device, and who really pays for those costs.

Despite a few small technical inaccuracies, the movie and related information on the rest of the site is a real eye opener and should be mandatory viewing for anyone who buys ‘stuff’. There’s download areas and ‘get involved’ info too, and also their own YouTube channel.

The site has five separate subsites: electronics, cosmetics, bottled water, cap and trade and ‘stuff’. While the site is US-based and talks about the US, Australian issues are pretty much the same—we buy the same products, we keep our stuff for around the same length of time before throwing it out, and we have just as few recycling systems as the US.
So if you’re a consumer (and we all are, no matter how hard we try not to be), then this site is a must see.

This article is from ReNew 115