As The Future Melts Away

I’ve always been a sucker for a good time lapse.  This one strikes me as a time lapse within a time lapse.  It’s half a day, compressed into less than 5 minutes, with people flitting around like moths, posing for pictures with an ice sculpture of the future.  Only the time lapse eyes of the camera can see what’s happening.  And by the end the passers by probably can’t even tell what the message might have been.  But the art is a piece of time lapse too.  A century or a millennium compressed into a day of melting.  Even that is a stretch for our attention span.  Even the 5 minute video seems long and slow.  How can we create a society with a more meditative mindset?  With an attention span that reflects the extent of our impacts in deep time?


Anti-drone street artist arrested in NYC for satirizing NYPD

A street artist in NYC has been arrested on 56 counts of forgery in connection with his campaign this fall, putting up posters around the city that satirized NYPD’s potential use of drones for surveillance.  Forensics teams and a counter-terrorism unit were deployed to apprehend him, at lord knows what expense to taxpayers… which would seem to justify his point about police overreach and the surveillance state.

Climate Change and the Insurance Industry

As the entire eastern seaboard slowly recovers from its lashing by Sandy, insurance companies are bracing for the hurricane’s aftermath and the possibility of another Katrina-scale loss.  If there’s any major incumbent business with an incentive to publicly acknowledge the risks and costs of climate change, it’s the insurance industry, and especially the re-insurers — mega-corps that backstop individual insurance companies by pooling their risks globally.  These companies can do the math, and what they’ve seen over the last couple of decades is a steady upward trend in both the number of extreme weather events and the resulting insured losses that they’ve been on the hook to cover.  The situation is well summarized in a new report from Ceres, entitled Stormy Futures for U.S. Property/Casualty Insurers.  They suggest that insurers face an existential risk from climate change.

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A Transnational School in NYC?

Chris Whittle is starting transnational school in NYC. A majority of the students will have at least one foreign born parent. All students will be taught half the time in English, and half the time in either Mandarin or Spanish. Actually, he’s starting the schools in 20 major cities around the world, all on the same curriculum and teaching model, hoping to hold on to the kids when their parents are shuttled all over the world for careers and ambition.  It reminds me of the neo-Victorian phyle in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age.  What kind of new old boys (and girls) clubs will this kind of childhood education create?  How will this kind of school compete with the high quality gray market educations now on offer?

Industrial Scale Urban Farming in NYC

TED fellow Viraj Puri talks about his Brooklyn rooftop farming startup.  Gotham Greens has ~1500 square meters of hydroponic greenhouses producing herbs and salad greens in a very controlled environment… somewhere between a farm and a manufacturing facility.  The system is solar powered, and can operate all year long.  They currently produce ~100 tons of food a year, and they believe the business is viable at least in the urban foodie context.  I was happy to see Puri readily (repeatedly) admitting (or even pointing out) that the system cannot scale up sufficiently to provide a large proportion of the city’s overall food requirements.  This is in stark contrast to the idea of Vertical Farming, which is clearly bunkum — once you’ve covered the roofs with greens, there’s no more farming to be done unless you pipe in light somehow, which is much less efficient than simply farming where the light is naturally.

Just out of curiosity… I wonder how much food could be produced in Brooklyn at full capacity?  And roughly how much does the city eat?  The land area of the borough is 183 km^2 and it has 2,500,000 residents, or roughly 75 m^2 per person.  Their production of 100 tons/1500 m^2 is roughly 66 kg/m^2 per year.  So if the entire area of Brooklyn were producing like this greenhouse, you’d get nearly 5000 kg of food per person per year.  The average American consumes about 1000 kg of food per year, so if you were able to use 20% of the borough’s area, you’d be close to meeting demand… at least by mass.  Gotham’s 59kW solar array probably takes up ~590 m^2 (100 W/m^2 is typical of solar cell power production) and only provides part of the operation’s power.  Probably there’s other infrastructure too that’s not actively producing food, so say they’ve got about half their total area dedicated to actual plants… then you’d need to get up to 40% of the land area being utilized to get 1000 kg of greens per resident per year.  However, most of the 1000 kg that we actually eat is a lot more energy dense than lettuce.  I wonder how many calories per m^2 one can get out of these setups, and what the most productive crops would be?  Honestly I’m surprised at how large the potential production is.  I wonder what the actually available rooftop area is?

Links for the week of March 19th, 2010

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Links for the week of Jul 30th

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Continue reading Links for the week of Jul 30th