Category Archives: Linked List

A better kind of fracking?

David Biello, writing for Scientific American:

Here’s another use for fracking: expanding access to hot rocks deep beneath Earth’s surface for energy production. In April Ormat Technologies hooked up the first such project—known in the lingo as an enhanced geothermal system, or EGS—to the nation’s electric grid near Reno, Nev.

Outgrowing the Traditional Grass Lawn

Ferris Jabr, writing for Scientific American:

Even though I’d always loved gardening—growing vegetables in particular—the prospect of watering and trimming a sizeable carpet of grass week after week did not excite me. Mowing had been an occasional chore in my childhood, not a regular responsibility. Besides, what was so bad, really, about a weedy lawn? You could still walk and sit on it. And it was kind of more interesting—certainly more varied—than a conventional grass lawn.

The Great Sahara Sea That Almost Was

Ron Miller, writing for io9:

In 1874, Captain Francois-Elie Roudaire, a geographer in the French army proposed a daring idea. No doubt inspired by the successful completion of the Suez canal a few years earlier, he suggested the creation of a 120-mile-long canal that would connect the Mediterranean Sea to a part of the Sahara Desert in Algeria that lies below sea level. The result would be the flooding of more than 3000 square miles of territory. Roudaire hoped that such a huge body of water would not only allow ships to navigate into the interior of North Africa, it would also significantly change the local climate. All at a cost of a mere 25 million francs.

Contrast that with Atlantropa, which sought to shrink the Mediterranean to give Southern Europe and Northern Africa more land.

Bringing nature to schools

Keitaro Ito, writing for The Nature of Cities:

There has been so much building and housing in Japan that we’ve lost open space and natural areas. Where will children learn about nature? Where do they engage with the nature world? To solve this problem, we wanted to design biotopes within school grounds. These spaces would serve as both play and engagement areas. They also serve real ecological functions as natural areas.

A cautionary tale from Louisiana

John Schwartz, reporting for the New York Times:

“This protective buffer took 6,000 years to form,” the state board that oversees flood-protection efforts for much of the New Orleans area argued in court filings, adding that “it has been brought to the brink of destruction over the course of a single human lifetime.”

The lawsuit, to be filed in civil district court in New Orleans by the board of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, argues that the energy companies, including BP and Exxon Mobil, should be held responsible for fixing damage caused by cutting a network of thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals through the wetlands. The suit alleges that the network functioned “as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water to intrude into freshwater areas.

“What remains of these coastal lands is so seriously diseased that if nothing is done, it will slip into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of this century, if not sooner,” the filing stated.

Drill, baby, drill.

In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters

David Leonhardt, writing for the New York Times:

Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data shows, with the odds notably low in Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus. By contrast, some of the highest rates occur in the Northeast, Great Plains and West, including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota.

“Where you grow up matters,” said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and one of the study’s authors. “There is tremendous variation across the U.S. in the extent to which kids can rise out of poverty.”

An "official" view of the Midwest

Bill Rankin:

After using Google to find 100 different maps of the Midwest (with a preference for those with some official organizational status), I simply overlaid them all. The result is not a map of the Midwest as we might imagine it to be; it is instead a map of the Midwest as a complex and fragmented administrative category.

At least this one doesn’t include Washington State. But Georgia? Come on.

Where is the Midwest?

As a born-and-raised Midwesterner, this cracks me up. 

What’s the Midwest to you?

That’s the question design and planning firm Sasaki Associates is asking visitors to its new exhibit, “Reinvention in the Urban Midwest,” which opens at the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) Space this week. The project includes an interactive survey that contains a timeless challenge: Draw the geographic boundaries of what counts as the U.S. Midwest.

The map drawn by people who have spent 75-100% of their lives in the Midwest—that’s the real Midwest.  I don’t know what some of the other people were thinking. Especially the person (people?) who included Washington State. What?

(As an aside, I’m intrigued by the exhibit and hope to attend sometime soon. I’ll report back.)

Man loves transit, spends 18 years in jail

Darius McCollum is obsessed with transit. The 48 year-old, who has Asperger’s syndrome, has spent 18 years in prison as a result of various transit-related crimes, none of which have resulted in anyone being harmed (or anything, as far as I can tell).

Sean Gardiner, reporting for the Wall Street Journal:

“I just love everything about it,” he said in a July 9 interview at Rikers Island jail. “I love the atmosphere, I love the lights, I love the signals. I love the fact that it’s moving all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There’s nothing negative I can say about the transit system.”

Mr. McCollum traces his fascination with trains to when he was stabbed at school at the age of 12. Afraid to return to class, he rode the subways all day and befriended a motorman who eventually let him hang out in the crew room at the 179th terminal not far from the McCollum family’s home in Jamaica, Queens.

Had things been handled differently a long time ago, at the time of his first arrest, I bet that McCollum would be a model MTA employee instead of a prisoner.

Urban Observatory

If you’re reading this blog, you have to check this out. Compare, side-by-side-by-side, variables such as population density, traffic, and open space for three cities at a time. The list of available locales spans the globe.

Aqueducts—the new rail trail?

Ellen Ishkanian, reporting for the Boston Globe:

Since state officials first unveiled the plans just over a year ago, “no trespassing” signs that were posted along the out-of-service MWRA aqueducts are coming down and slowly being replaced with new trail markers that authorize public, nonmotorized recreational use. The change opens new venues for walking, hiking, jogging, biking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

“This is huge,” said Frederick Laskey, executive director of the MWRA. “There’s a whole hidden infrastructure . . . that is being opened up for people to use.”

The apartment building comes to America

Christopher Gray, writing for the New York Times:

In November 1869 The New York Tribune carried a notice that “Mr. Rutherford Stuyvesant’s new building … is now rapidly approaching completion. It is an attempt to introduce in this city the style of house-building almost universal in Paris, that of including several distinct suites of rooms under a single roof. This is wholly different from the plan of the tenement house.” What motivated Stuyvesant, then 27, is not known.

Tesla Aims to Charge Electric Cars in Five Minutes

Kevin Bullis, reporting for Technology Review:

Straubel says Tesla has been able to rapidly improve charging because it designs and builds all of the key components itself, including the chargers, the electronics for monitoring the battery pack, and a cooling system for the battery. They’re all optimized to work together in a way that’s not easy for systems built to accommodate many different models of electric vehicles.

Whole-widget design and engineering have come to the automotive industry. 

"Regenerative" cities

Lorna Howarth, writing for the Ecologist:

So, what is a regenerative city – ‘Ecopolis’? It is one that relies primarily on local and regional food supplies; it is powered, heated, cooled and driven by renewable energy, and it reuses resources and restores degraded ecosystems. This is diametrically opposed to how many cities are currently run: they use resources without concern for their origins or destination of their waste products; they emit vast amounts of carbon dioxide without ensuring reabsorption and they consume huge amounts of meat produced mainly with imported feed, often from devastated rainforest regions.

Self-sufficiency is a laudable goal—people have been chasing after it for eons, in part because they chafe at the idea that they should have to depend on someone else for something critical to their survival. This is no different, it’s just draped in green garb.

The issue I have with these sorts of proposals is that they flout perfectly obvious trends. The world is becoming more interconnected, not less. There’s evidence that globalization can help, not harm the environment. It also fails to acknowledge the potential for internecine conflicts in a balkanized world where cities and regions don’t have to get along with one another to survive. Connections, not independence, will get us out of this mess.

Technology As Our Planet’s Last Best Hope

Fred Pearce, writing for Yale e360:

The modernists wear their environmentalism with pride, but are pro-nuclear, pro-genetically modified crops, pro-megadams, pro-urbanization and pro-geoengineering of the planet to stave off climate change. They say they embrace these technologies not to conquer nature, like old-style 20th century modernists, but to give nature room. If we can do our business in a smaller part of the planet — through smarter, greener and more efficient technologies — then nature can have the rest.

It’s hard to argue with that, but as Pearce goes on to point out, the line between modernists and “mainstream”—I would say “traditional”—environmentalists isn’t always that clear. He suggests that a healthy debate between the two would be illuminating, forcing us to question what we want and how we’ll get it. 

I think there’s a third, unaddressed dimension here, one that doesn’t make for great copy but is an inevitability with such black-and-white cases: the reality will turn out to be something grayer. Perhaps I’m too much of a pragmatist, but I like to draw on both traditional and modern environmentalism. A bit of Thoreauvian inspiration to guide our Jobsian innovations.

The two cultures of intellectuals and farmers

Anne Buchanan, writing for Aeon:

The super-specialisation required by an ever-expanding knowledge base does have consequences, beyond mere spats over academic funding. Public health administrators know little about medicine; postgraduates in science studies or bioethics often have very little training in science; geneticists might never have seen a living example of the animal whose genes they study; liberal arts graduates have little idea how to interpret the weekly newspaper stories touting the discovery of genes for this or that disease. Yet the dominance of science and technology over other aspects of our society in the US has become clear in recent times. And this dominance introduces an important layer of artificiality that comes between most people in the industrialised world and the more nuanced natural world in which they actually live. To most people in the industrialised world, food might as well be made by machines, not by plants and animals, so little is the communication and understanding between city and country.

Farms of the Future Will Run on Robots and Drones

Taylor Dobbs, writing for NOVA Next:

Mulligan Farm is one of many farms leveraging high-tech equipment and precise field data to increase crop yields and efficiency. While the self-driving tractors make for a fantastic show, they are just the beginning. Precision agriculture is still in its early stages. If these were the early days of the personal computer revolution, Mulligan Farm would be a small garage in Silicon Valley in the 1970s. And like that moment in history, the possibilities for precision agriculture today are seemingly endless.

A Trip Through the 1893 Chicago World's Fair

Matt Novak:

The 1893 World’s Fair (officially known as the World’s Columbian Exposition to honor the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in North America) was the fair to end all fairs. It was the fifteenth such exposition in the world, and only the second in the United States. Built on Lake Michigan, nothing about the White City was small; the 40-acre, 230-foot tall Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building was at the time the largest enclosed space ever built. But the scope of its buildings pales in comparison to the legacy of technological progress it left behind.

It’s estimated that 1 in 4 Americans saw the Columbian Exposition in 1893, which is astounding when you consider that it was only open for just 6 months. Why do I wish I was one of the teeming millions (27 million by some estimates) who saw the Fair? Sure, there was gorgeous Beaux Arts architecture (which inspired Frank Baum when he imagined The Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz) priceless works of art, towering statues and plenty of food vendors. But there was also The Future. 

"Real-time" satellite imagery

Six hours isn’t exactly real time, as billed, but it’s pretty quick for anyone this side of a government security clearance.

Climate change is making private heat islands for people of color

Susie Cagle, writing for Grist:

A new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives digs deep under the sidewalks and streets that are soaking up all this new heat in our cities — and finds that not all neighborhoods and racial groups are faring equally. According to the research, blacks, Asians, and Latinos are all significantly more likely to live in high-risk heat-island conditions than white people.

It’s all about trees (or lack thereof).

(Thanks to PSM Reader Paul Beard.)