Links for the week of September 4th, 2009

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Continue reading Links for the week of September 4th, 2009

Links for the week of August 20th, 2009

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Continue reading Links for the week of August 20th, 2009

Links for the week of Aug 14th

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Continue reading Links for the week of Aug 14th

Shared Links for May 26th

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 )

Shared Links for Apr 3rd

  • Stealing Commodities – Our infrastructure is (unwittingly) built around the assumption that the materials it is composed of are, and will remain, cheap, and not worth the trouble of stealing. If this assumption breaks down, copper power lines start disappearing from the desert, and iron manhole covers begin to vanish in the night. Problematically, the raw materials (even when valuable) are still only a small fraction of the value of the infrastructure, meaning replacement costs are high. If commodities were to remain "expensive" in the long run (i.e. worth stealing), how would we re-design our infrastructure systems? (tagged: sustainability economics security infrastructure commodities )
  • Dyson as Sociologist? Death Trains, Values, & Climate Action – Not sure I know quite what to make of Nisbet's take on Dyson. I agree that the catastrophe narrative is dangerous, and much prefer Richard Alley's precautionary point of view, but I really think Dyson is catastrophically wrong on this, and potentially dangerous as a figurehead, whether knowing or unknowing. (tagged: climate science policy propaganda politics )
  • Argentine economics and maker culture – An interesting and personal look at mass production vs. local/handmade goods based on currency strength and protectionist trade barriers. Where labor is cheap, the food and goods are often unique. Where it's expensive, you get mass production. Makes me want to bike S. America. Again. (tagged: economics argentina local money food )
  • China Out to Dominate in Electric Cars (and Why Not GM) – A short chronicle of GM's missteps toward electric vehicles, and China's long view of the same. Honestly, I don't care much who does the dominating, so long as somebody gets this market going. (tagged: cars transportation technology economics china )
  • Oregon’s mileage tax experiment – If you can imagine an America in which vehicle fuel economy increases with time (despite the fact that our national fleet today gets the same mileage as a Ford Model T), then eventually, funding road maintenance with a gas tax becomes a problem. Instead of taxing the fuel, you need to directly tax the road usage – miles driven, normalized by some kind of wear-and-tear factor for a given vehicle. Thus, the idea of a VMT (vehicle miles traveled) tax. Political suicide, you say, but it worked in this (politically insulated) trial in Oregon, and is going ahead gangbusters in the Netherlands and other nations, coupled with GPS enabled congestion charging, and time/location dependent parking fees, it could go a long way toward making personal transportation costs transparent and efficiently priced. (tagged: transportation privacy taxes vmt cars oregon policy )

Shared Links for Mar 4th

I want a city like this

Why is it that new housing developments in the US are filled with giant cookie-cutter houses crammed in next to each other, and burdened with ridiculous covenant requirements of lawns and four car garages, without a grocery store in walking distance?

Why can’t we have places like Freiburg’s Quartier Vauban?  (pictures on Flickr, and another, and another)  5000 people, and one main street with a speed limit of 30 km/hr, smaller side streets meant primarily for bikes and walking.  No parking on private property – all cars have to be stored in the structures at the margins of the development.  40% of the households have no car.  A light-rail connection to central Freiburg (which is all of 2 miles away).  600 on-site jobs of various kinds, including the grocery store that’s within walking distance of the entire community.  Lots of different kinds of (mostly smaller) living spaces.  Vegetable gardens and fruit trees.  Public playing fields and parks.

*sigh*

Too big to fail is too big, period

With the collapse of Bear Stearns and the US automakers and airlines tanking, and the prospect of a trillion dollar bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and who knows how many other large lenders, all because they are, putatively, “too big to fail” (by which is meant, obviously, not that they are so large as to be incapable of failing, but that they are so large as to make the consequences of their failing worse than the immediate, visible consequences of bailing them out), I’ve started wondering if perhaps what we really need is an update to our anti-trust laws, to the effect of: if you’re too big to fail, you’re just plain too big.

Instead of allowing corporate juggernauts to form, and then eventually being “forced” to save them from their own follies, why not just keep these captains of industry small enough that we never need to save them. The Feds already have to approve the bigger mergers and acquisitions – they already have this power by-and-large. Keeping our companies a little smaller would increase competition, and diversity within the corporate ecology of our markets. GM doesn’t want to make fuel efficient cars? Fine – their small-cars division can spin off and do its own thing. Sink or swim in its competition with Toyota, while GM itself just sinks, into an ever shrinking ocean of $150 oil.

Instead, we give taxpayer cash to large companies that have made bad business decisions, and absolve them of their obligations to pay the pensions they promised to their lifelong employees. We inflate the dollar and erode both our spending power, and our savings, while simultaneously crippling the long term competitiveness of our biggest industries. I don’t think the marginal increase in productivity from economies of scale that happens between being a $20 billion company and a $40 billion company is really worth it, if it means we’re all eventually on the hook for bailing out the $40 billion company, when we wouldn’t have to shovel mountains of cash at the two $20 billion companies… one of which might actually have made some good business decisions.

How important is local food?

From a purely climatic point of view.

Assuming the following:

  1. For each calorie of food you consume, the equivalent of 9 additional calories worth of gas were burned to get the food to your plate (this is industrial food production).
  2. You eat 2000 calories per day.
  3. Your car gets 30 miles per gallon.
  4. Each gallon of gas contains the equivalent of 30,000 calories worth of energy. Continue reading How important is local food?