Just Kool it

Famed architect Rem Koolhaas says a lot of smart things in this WAPO sitdown. Here he responds to a question about cities in the age of cyberspace and smart technology like self-driving cars and the Internet of Things becoming large neural networks that will develop their own mind and consciousness:

Koolhaas: If we simply let cyberspace run its course to a future determined by Silicon Valley, those libertarian-minded engineers will paradoxically lead us to cities shackled by algorithmic conformity. It would be a neural network, yes, but one that operates in lock step.

Like many of my friends, I am a car fanatic. So we have been looking very closely at the development of self-driving cars. What we know without hesitation is that self-driving cars will only work at the price of total conformity of every member of society. Such a system of mobility will depend on everyone behaving with no exceptions. As exemplified by self-driving cars, there is a built-in authoritarianism in this managed space of flows we call cyberspace.

More and more people are becoming uncomfortable with such a future.

He also thinks LA is the protype city of the future.

Image: De Rotterdam mixed use towers, next to the Erasmus Bridge, by OMA

Approaching your commute

It’s one thing to say, “It’s not a bad drive, all considering,” or to actually mean it when you boast, “It’s usually less than an hour each way,” such have we arranged our difficulties that status, relative isolation, and even our means of transport characterize self-worth as much as taste or wit. And this is self-perception, generated through the lens of the times in which we live. Over a barrel, sacrifice of one’s happiness can go all but unnoticed such that alternatives can never be considered, much less under the motivation of broader, planetary considerations. It’s just not possible for many to think about doing something different because of carbon emissions or global warming. For better or worse, it has to be personal:

The majority of mortals, Paulinus, complain bitterly of the spitefulness of Nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, because even this space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live. Nor is it merely the common herd and the unthinking crowd that bemoan what is, as men deem it, an universal ill; the same feeling has called forth complaint also from men who were famous. It was this that made the greatest of physicians exclaim that “life is short, art is long;” it was this that led Aristotle, while expostulating with Nature, to enter an indictment most unbecoming to a wise man—that, in point of age, she has shown such favour to animals that they drag out five or ten lifetimes, but that a much shorter limit is fixed for man, though he is born for so many and such great achievements. It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. But when it is squandered in luxury and carelessness, when it is devoted to no good end, forced at last by the ultimate necessity we perceive that it has passed away before we were aware that it was passing. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it. Just as great and princely wealth is scattered in a moment when it comes into the hands of a bad owner, while wealth however limited, if it is entrusted to a good guardian, increases by use, so our life is amply long for him who orders it properly.

Emphasis added to words from Seneca, from a wonderful book he wrote in A.D. 49 after being recalled from exile on Corsica. It’s full of useful reminders, if not insights, on the very personal level of you. I’m not telling you to slow down or live closer to work. We should believe that we’re not going to change our behavior on the basis of anything external, but also that doing so for ourselves can bring a multiplicity of benefits.

Terrifically Boring


The movements on the Green energy front (What does it mean?) have become complex, obscured tea-leaves reading exercises and here’s another one that will get little attention though it rolls disparate dynamics into one [silent] scream:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday unanimously rejected a proposal by Energy Secretary Rick Perry that would have propped up nuclear and coal power plants struggling in competitive electricity markets.

The independent five-member commission includes four people appointed by President Trump, three of them Republicans. Its decision is binding.

TL;DR – the commission endorses markets. ‘Sustainable’ was an iffy signifier until people. Started. Making. Money. Or put another way: Guy comes into his shrink’s office after a hundred sessions and the doc lays it all out. Everything comes down to: It doesn’t matter which green we’re talking about. They both point to the same place. Ugly, perhaps, and maybe not inevitable enough to happen in time. So parades and grandstanding will seem a little gratuitous and a kind of devolution at the hand of the money power. Again, hate the irony, not the player.

Image: future skate park?

Perfect Cases in Point

We wish they were more rare. But just as rising wages are bad news for business(?) and solar most horribly spells doom for coal, word in the oil game is that consistent catastrophes are needed for oil to remain strong:

The weakness comes at a time when speculators have started rebuilding bullish positions after a sell-off last month, betting the market will tighten in the second quarter. Yet, Brent physical oil traders say the opposite is happening so far, according to interviews with executives at several trading houses, who asked not to be identified discussing internal views.

“We need to see the market going really into deficit for oil prices to rise,” Giovanni Staunovo, commodity analyst at UBS Group AG in Zurich, said. “If this is temporary, it could be weathered, but it needs to be monitored.”

The weakness is particularly visible in so-called time-spreads — the price difference between contracts for delivery at different periods. Reflecting a growing surplus that could force traders to seek tankers as temporary floating storage facilities, the Brent June-July spread this week fell to an unusually weak minus 55 cents per barrel, down from parity just two months earlier. The negative structure is known in the industry as contango.

There’s a new word for you. And yes, many of the other words they use are the ones you know, with commonly agreed-upon definitions. I know one needs a lot of sophisticated financial knowledge to really get the subtleties of these economics, but is the overall message really lost? Of no consequence whatsoever? Yes, we can play terrible music on beautiful instruments, just as we can vote against our interests and condemn ourselves with our own words ( though it really isn’t necessary to do all three at once). Thanks to Bloomberg for delivering the straight dope in the top story today. It’s important, you know? Just like it will be to move past the market riff, as I hope to soon.
And also, the term ‘oil futures.’ FY, irony.

Lego my LIGO

Congratulations to the scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory for the discover that confirms a fundamental premise of how gravity operates:

Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity predicted gravitational waves 100 years ago. The theory states that gravity—the warping of space and time by mass—would manifest as ripples.
The waves detected by LIGO came from the collision of two black holes more than 1 billion years ago.
Physicists have long had indirect evidence that such infinitely tiny waves exist, but never had technology capable of detecting and measuring them. A gravitational wave is about 10,000 times smaller than the width of a proton.

You could say that the real work begins now, plotting out the next moves in this new direction. But that unnecessarily plays down the magnitude of this accomplishment. It took real work to get this far. 100 years later, Einstein was right. Now there’s a ripple.

Image: impression of a gravitational wave generation, via the BBC.

All’s Fare in Love and Mass Transit

126th-anniversary-eiffel-towerIn honor of today’s Google doodle of the anniversary of the Eiffel Tower, a word from the fair city – more than a mot, several in fact, on encouraging more transit use and social integration:

What if it were possible to travel as much as you’d like by train or bus within Connecticut, from Stamford to New Haven, Hartford, New London, Waterbury, Danbury, Putnam, and hundreds of other towns, and then to travel within them, all on one transit fare card at the monthly price of just $76?

That’s what, in essence, will occur beginning in September in Île-de-France, the region that surrounds and includes Paris and which is practically the physical size of Connecticut—albeit far more populous and benefiting from a far more extensive transit system.

The plan is to eliminate the current five-zone transit fare system for people holding weekly or monthly passes and replace them with a universal, unlimited fare. The universal card will apply to virtually all transit services within Île-de-France, which is the most populous region in France, with 12 million inhabitants spread over 4,638 square miles (for comparison, the city of Paris proper has 2.3 million residents in 41 square miles, and New York City, which has a universal fare card for Subways and buses, is 305 square miles).

Meanwhile, back at the front… of moving forward with big ideas that help people and planet. Nearer the rear, let’s make sure we continue to wage the battle on whether high speed rail makes sense and against climate scientists lining their pockets with melting glaciers.

The Way We Develop

plosOneSEStories we tell children about a long ago time and place, a verdant, green land with cities and towns that glistened within their limits and only slipped beyond those with the greatest care and caution. Linked by tiny roads and fast rail lines, seen from the air the denser areas were surrounded by neat parcels under cultivation. It all looked so orderly and organized to work properly, if not effectively. Oh, yes, then there was that other meaning of denser:

Giant urban sprawl could pave over thousands of acres of forest and agriculture, connecting Raleigh to Atlanta by 2060, if growth continues at its current pace, according to a newly released research paper from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We could be looking at a seamless corridor of urban development,” said Adam Terando, a research ecologist with the USGS and an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University who was the study’s lead author.

The development will engulf land from North Carolina to Georgia, and possibly spread to Birmingham, Ala., “if we continue to develop urban areas in the Southeast the way we have for the past 60 years,” he said.

Combining USGS demographic modeling with North Carolina State’s High Performance Computing Services and analyzing the data for six years, Terando and his five co-authors estimated that urbanization in the Southeast will increase by up to 190 percent.

See also, the Myth of Progress for further edification. That orderly view is also available, but you’ll have to make arrangements to take a different route.

Image: The Southeast U.S. region used in this study. (Terando et. al/PLOS One)

Running on Air

If you are watching the NAT&TCAA basketball tournament, you’re seeing a lot of swanky car commercials, especially for upper high-end models from Benz and BMW. The one above is for some super duper 2014 model that you can’t buy yet, and probably can’t afford at all, but it makes the case underscored by the ads punctuating breathless timeouts between the basketball action: dramatic innovations in styling for an utterly archaic propulsion system.

Nothing has changed in the way these amazing chariots propel themselves down the asphalt. Exotic wood inlay on the dashboard? check. 19-speaker surround sound? you bet. HD reverse cameras so you don’t have to turn around to back down the magisterial driveway? Available even in the cheap-O models, nowadays.

Do we think about the fact that the fuel they use and that fuel’s effects on the world remains exactly the same, even with all of the fantastic engineering available?

The fact is it’s easy not to think about this, to nod along with incremental MPG stats while we drool over the nice lines and sleek interiors. But this news from Peugeot made me think about it:

In January, Peugeot announced that it had developed a car that ran on air. It officially launched the Hybrid Air vehicle to the world at the Geneva motor show this month, and revealed that it would be in production by 2016. The car did not solely run on air, of course; the new technology was twinned with a petrol engine. But Peugeot believed that it had significant advantages over battery-powered electric hybrids, such as a Toyota Prius. Their cars would be cheaper to buy, for a start, and extra savings would come from a fuel economy of around 81 miles per gallon.

So what has MB and the ultimate driving machinists been doing this whole time? Makes you wonder.

The Electric Car Evil

Incoming, via Doug at BJ. So the NYT takes a hit out on Tesla Motor Company, but the Tesla says, “Not so fast:”

Data released by Tesla Motors late Wednesday night directly contradicts a damning review of the automaker’s Model S sedan by The New York Times.

Tesla claims the data, pulled directly from the electric sedan’s on-board computer, proves that New York Times reporter John M. Broder never completely ran out of energy during his extended drive of the Model S, despite his account to the contrary.

Broder’s trip in the Model S began outside of Washington, D.C., ran up to Norwich, Connecticut and then down to Milford, Connecticut over the course of two days. The drive was intended as a way to evaluate Tesla’s newly installed Supercharger stations, which allow Model S owners to top off their batteries for free at solar-powered charging stations lining major thoroughfares along the east and west coasts.

Building batteries is hard; building businesses that purvey renewable transportation options, harder still. I’m not sure who is right in this instance, but conventional wisdom against cars that do not run on legacy energy will be hard to overturn. There’s always an easy story for an editor to assign – show how it doesn’t really work. Not until they appear in a novel where the lads take a cross-country jaunt in an EElectric Buick will the tide even begin to turn. I wonder if horses worked the same media advantages against the Model T.