- Thefts puncture Paris bike scheme – More of Paris' Velib bicycles are being stolen or vandalized than expected. Not sure what their expectations were, but it is pretty annoying for basically every bike in the network to have been either stolen or damaged in only 18 months. The vandalism is probably impossible to stop (since it can be carried out while the bikes are locked in their stands) but the theft should be preventable with secure stands, and aggressive enforcement of responsibility for a bike while you've got it checked out (i.e. if the bike doesn't come back, your credit card is immediately charged for the total value of the bike, or possibly even more). I also can't help but wonder if the same functionality could be implemented with much, much cheaper bikes, especially in a city as flat as Paris. Singlespeeds with fenders and a basket, maybe 100 Euros each? With an RFID tag embedded – and put all the smarts in the racks. (tagged: bicycle bike cycling transportation paris velib )
- Google Power to the People – Google developing tools to allow you to disentangle your own energy use, when the datastreams from smart meters come on line. Making this information easy to comprehend, pricing electricity to displace demand from the peak times, and allowing the largest energy users to schedule their use in an automated way could (without even changing anything physically) have a large impact on the amount of power generating capacity we (don't) need. (tagged: energy google sustainability green open data transparency )
- WattzOn and Wesabe Join Forces – This is the post that made me wish the Elevations Credit Union was more internet savvy. I want to be able to apply all these big-brotherly tools to myself! (tagged: open data transparency energy wesabe wattzon money finance )
- Numbrary – A library for numbers – mass quantities of publicly available data, mostly (entirely?) from the US Government. In a hopefully usable and searchable form. Many automatically generated charts and tables. (tagged: data transparency government statistics open )
- Mayapedal – People building useful human-powered bicimaquinas, in Guatemala, where human labor is still a common prime mover: washing machines, coffee de-pulpers, corn de-grainers, grain mills, blenders, concrete microvibrators, etc. One kind of appropriate technology. There's also some YouTube videos on them, e.g.:
- Humanity In Motion – An incredible montage of what bicycles can be: safe, enjoyable, cheap, convenient, everyday transportation for young people and for old, for families, in a city largely unpolluted by the exhaust and noise of cars. (tagged: bicycle transportation amsterdam netherlands photos )
A relatively thoughtful piece from The New York Times Magazine on the risk metrics used by Wall Street, especially the now notorious Value at Risk (VaR). However, it still seems like neither the author nor the risk managers they interviewed really get what Taleb is saying. Or possibly they’re just not willing to admit the implications of what he’s saying: that market outcomes, especially when investing is focused on the short term, are dominated by so-called “rare” events. And that the consequence (as one of the managers even says outright), is that a lot of the investment banks don’t really have a business model.
Except, of course, for the fact that they can count on the public coffers if they all arrange to go bankrupt simultaneously. Better, in this case, to fail in a conventional way along with everyone else, and be bailed out, than to play your own game for the long term, like Warren Buffet, and either succeed unconventionally, or have to take responsibility for your own failures, which are then likely not to take place at the same time industry wide.
We’re playing the same game of fat-tails chicken with Earth’s climate, and that story will eventually have the same ending if we are unable to generalize the lessons of this relatively innocuous financial disaster.
The SEC will soon require machine readable reporting of all financial data, using an XML based markup language known as XRBL (the eXtensible Business Reporting Language). Holy crap. Yes, this could have been done a decade ago in theory, but apparently it takes some serious mess to get anyone thinking at the SEC. Probably bad for Morningstar‘s financial-data-silo business model, but good for just about everyone else. Will spur a lot of financial transparency, as machines can be easily utilized to find patterns and irregularities in corporate and mutual fund reports, in near real time. I don’t think most people give this kind of development the credit it deserves. Long term, machine readability of all law and legal requirements will change the face of regulation, democracy, and ultimately, law itself.
Trying to keep track of all the shenanigans innovation going on at the Federal Reserve is difficult. Econbrowser and Interfluidity among others have been trying to help… but every time I read about how our money system works, I find my head spinning in incredulity. And that’s just when I’m reading about how it’s “supposed” to work. It’s been getting more confusing lately.
Change.org is a kind of public idea tourament. There are a bunch of different subsections: agricultural policy, government reform, energy, etc. Readers vote and comment on the ideas, and the top few ideas in each category advance to the next round. Larry Lessig has submitted Citizen Funding of Congressional Elections whereby only public money and small contributions can be applied toward election campaigns.
Not sure how well this kind of system can work. Many of the highest rated ideas don’t sound very productive…
The US road to recovery runs through Beijing says Asia Times Online, and Thomas Barnett emphatically agrees. Everyone is talking about how to reorganize the global economy, but mostly the discussion is about how to most efficiently export our recently collapsed model of growth to the developing world. Better this time around for sure, we say, but not fundamentally different in any way. The Chinese need (and want, it turns out) more domestic consumption and consumer debt.
The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
Governor, State of California
California State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: Support: AB 1358 (Leno)
I am writing to encourage you to lend your support to the Complete Streets legislation (AB 1358) which has just cleared the state assembly. Changing the built environment within our cities to accommodate non-automotive modes of transportation is a crucial step that California must take in reducing our per-capita greenhouse gas emissions, as well as helping our citizens to reduce their dependence on increasingly expensive foreign petroleum products.
As gas prices have risen, more people than ever in California are choosing to leave their cars behind, and explore cycling, walking, and public transportation options. Unfortunately, all too often they discover that their cities have been designed and built with little consideration for those who are not driving. I know, because I have been commuting by bicycle in southern California since 1993.
Complete streets aren’t just about cyclists though, they’re better for the elderly, and for children too, as well as those for whom car ownership, maintenance, and insurance are a significant economic burden.
I was recently disappointed when the LA Metro board refused to commit to spending a portion of the money to be raised by the proposed sales tax increase (measure R on the ballot this fall) on pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Per dollar invested, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure moves more people to and from their destination than any other mode of transport. The climate and topography of southern California are gentle, and ideal for cycling and walking, but apparently, our city planners will not invest in that infrastructure unless they have been mandated to do so by the state. I hope you will help create that mandate by signing AB 1358 into law when it crosses your desk.
Zane A. Selvans
Last week Congress left DC for its summer vacation without extending the federal tax credits for investments in renewable energy. This is an abject failure on the part of our elected representatives. Without these tax credits, the booming renewable energy industry will grind to a halt come December 31st. Already, companies like EI Solutions in Pasadena, that design and build large solar installations, have been forced to stop signing contracts for projects that cannot be completed before the end of the year. For years these tax incentives have been renewed only on an annual basis, and sometimes only at the last minute, or even retroactively, making it impossible for the industry to develop long range business plans and investments.
At the same time, we reliably subsidize the mature, well capitalized, and fabulously profitable domestic fossil fuel industries, encouraging our dependence on polluting, finite, and often foreign resources. This doesn’t make any sense, because the oil, gas, and coal companies already have they capital they need to make investments in additional production capacity, but they choose not to, and instead return their profits to their shareholders. On the other hand, tax credits for renewables currently make or break the industry.
Which should we be doing? Pouring money into the pockets of ExxonMobil shareholders, or fostering the emergence and growth of a domestic, renewable, clean, energy industry, that can provide thousands of new jobs in California. I think the choice is clear. Evidently, Congress feels otherwise. An army of lobbyists paid by the fossil fuel industry has made sure of it. We don’t have to depend on fossil fuels forever, but unless we demand change from our elected representatives, they are going to keep listening to the campaign contributions.
Michelle and I just finished reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. It was good. He can get a little rambling at times, but overall it was entertaining and enjoyable. The book follows the relationships between people and four plants, through history. The four plants are: apples, tulips, cannabis, and potatoes. It pairs with them four desires, respectively: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control. The connections are more than a little tenuous, but the histories are certainly worth examining. The apple chapter in particular has inspired me to learn more about hard cider (since it turns out that’s largely what Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman’s apples were used for, all across 19th century America). And who can resist an examination of cannabis’s relationship with humans, written at least partially while stoned?
One theme Pollan has touched on repeatedly, in this book and his others, is the competition between Apollonian and Dionysian impulses in nature and society. Apollo representing order and control, Dionysus wildness and chaos, both being utterly necessary for civilization to be dynamic and persistent, for knowledge to increase and broaden through time. E.g. our Apollonian monocultures of Russet Burbank potatoes are vulnerable because of their uniformity, but are also productive and economically efficient. The Andean potato farmers of antiquity grew dozens of different varieties in different micro climates, all the while allowing the plants to hybridize with the local wild potatoes, maintaining a possibly less productive, but certainly more diverse and robust system of potato cultivation, in which new biological innovation was constantly taking place, and in which the farmers were well protected against catastrophic collapse in any one year… unlike the potato farmers of Ireland in the 1840s. The potato chapter in particular focuses largely on a very recent interaction with the potato: the introduction of a genetically engineered variety called the “New Leaf” by Monsanto, that produces Bt toxin to guard the plant against the Colorado potato beetle and other insect pests. Continue reading We need more Dionysian Science