Links for the week of February 26th, 2010

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Links for the week of November 28th, 2009

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Links for the week of November 20th, 2009

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Links for the week of November 15th, 2009

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Links for the week of September 11th, 2009

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Shared Links for May 24th

  • Math and the City – The same scaling laws seem to apply to both cities and organisms: infrastructure requirements per capita (or per unit body mass) go down as population (size) go up. Not so surprising, since both cities and bodies are connected to themselves by networks of wires (neurons) and tubes (pipes, transportation, blood vessels) (tagged: urban design economics sustainability transportation infrastructure biology )
  • Sustainable Transport that Works: Lessons from Germany – A 60 page report on how Germany has transformed its urban transportation systems over the Post-War period, moving toward more public transit and bicycle infrastructure, the costs, benefits, effects, etc. What has worked, and what hasn't. (tagged: bicycle transportation policy urban design system:filetype:pdf system:media:document )
  • NASA Gets Out of Satellite Servicing Business – And good riddance. Yes, the capability was amazing, but expensive and unnecessary. For the price of *each* Hubble servicing missions, we could have launched an entirely new Hubble-class telescope on a rocket. The shuttle is a solution in search of a problem. Someday we'll have a real reason to send people into space — e.g. long term scientific exploration of Mars, or if we're lucky, the beginnings of a two-world civilization — but until then, we're just going around in circles, and forking over hundreds of billions unnecessarily to the aerospace industry. Better them than the banks… but that's really no argument to stand on. (tagged: space nasa politics policy )
  • Buying farmland abroad: Outsourcing's third wave – I don't know how anybody can think this is going to work long term. The whole point is to have food when there's a crisis, but in case of crisis, these deals are going to go down hard, unless those on the receiving end are willing to deploy their militaries on foreign soil to protect their investment. Which isn't impossible, but certainly doesn't seem like a great deal for anyone. (tagged: agriculture food china africa sustainability economics trade )
  • Crack Gardens – No, not gardens in which you grow crack, gardens growing out of cracks. A little creative jack-hammering opened up some fissures in this concrete slab, out of which a garden now grows. An homage to the tenacious plants that will take our cities apart when we leave. (tagged: gardening urban design art )

Genes are sentences and genomes books

It’s really a pleasure to talk to smart people who don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.  I think it forces you to come up with the best analogies and metaphors.  The most essential explanations.  It turned out that Sally read my post on watching the Long Now synthetic biology debate, and so she went and watched it too.  We talked about it on and off over a walk today, and I ended up making this analogy, which I liked a lot.

Every gene is like a sentence.  It’s the smallest unit of biology that expresses a meaningful biological idea, in the same way that it’s hard to say something interesting without constructing a whole sentence.  Of course, more complex ideas require many sentences to convey, and similarly, metabolic pathways require many genes to encode.  A genome is like a whole book, conveying a large system of interconnected biological ideas into a coherent entity.

Synthetic biology is the business, or art, of writing new biological books, using only sentences that you copied from somewhere else.  It’s as if you were given the complete works of Shakespeare, and told to write a new play, using only his own lines, but reorganized however you saw fit.  With a big enough library of books, it would be possible to pick and choose sentences, paragraphs, or entire sections or chapters, to convey pretty much any idea of your own, in someone else’s words, especially if your idea had anything to do with love, or loss, or war, or the human condition in general.  As it is now, we’re just making variations on a theme, inserting whole chapters from Moby Dick into some tract by Nietzsche or a poem by Lao Tze, but we’ll get more subtle and creative as time goes on.

Continue reading Genes are sentences and genomes books

Shared Links for May 11th

  • Where can you get Cheap Natural Fertilizers and Soil Amendments? – A nice concise list of natural sources for garden nutrients, when your compost pile just isn't quite enough. (tagged: gardening food organic fertlizer compost biology )
  • Pinko bastion spawns capitalist solution to solar financing – Boulder city/county passed the same kind of property-tax based financing of energy efficiency (and solar) improvements on the Nov. ballot too – modeled on Berkeley, but with enabling legislation at the state level (to avoid the kind of lawsuit Berkeley had to fight over whether or not they had the power to issue such bonds). The biggest worry I had in reading the Boulder initiative though, was that they had not yet come up with a good mechanism for ensuring that the improvements which were being proposed (more insulation, solar hot water, whatever) would necessarily save enough energy in order to justify the value of the bond being created. Hopefully they’ve fleshed that metric of value out much better by now (in both Boulder and Berkeley) and it’s not possible to abuse it… otherwise I suspect you’ll get deployment of faddish fixes (e.g. sexy-sexy PV instead of solar hot water, or better insulation, or super-windows, etc) instead of the best energy improvement per dollar invested. (tagged: finance capitalism investing energy efficiency sustainability green solar berkeley boulder bonds )
  • Campaign for a Car-Free Lincoln Park, Pt. 2 – A lack of car-free options for arriving at Lincoln Park, coupled with poorly lit, unsafe parking far away from the park's main attraction means everyone just drives their cars all over the park, on the grass. Across the street, the DMV has a huge parking lot which is totally unused after business hours, which is when the park gets the overwhelming majority of its use. Why not (gasp!) timeshare the DMV lot? Hopefully no small children have to get crushed by the marauding death machines for someone in the state and city government to take this idea seriously. (tagged: cars parking transportation urban planning design )
  • FlyingConcrete – Beautiful biomimetic architecture. Curving vaulted ceilings and stairways. Rounded sleeping nooks and pillars like trees. Traditional rectilinear construction is so boring. This is lightweight concrete (cement with perlite, pumice, and other lightweight filler added instead of sand and gravel) laid up on a mesh that's been shaped such that when the cement hardens, it's a load bearing compressive structure. (tagged: architecture art concrete design construction buildings sculpture )
  • Drew Endy and Jim Thomas Debate Synthetic Biology – An unusually good discussion about the future of biotechnology, and maybe the only time I've ever really seen the "debate" format work, and elicit relatively thoughtful interaction. I think they're both dancing around the fundamental question though, of to what extent (if any) society even *gets* to make a choice on this topic. (tagged: biology biotech genetics technology science future debate longnow engineering )