Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cities Under The Microscope and From A Balloon

There have been a number of articles on cities passing my screen lately, but from varying perspectives. Another of the approaches of this weblog is to combine those different concepts together. The concepts in this post go from the technical to the artistic and from the abstract to the personal.

Science Magazine takes a special look at cities in February.
Science, Volume 319, Issue 5864, Cities dated February 8 2008, is now available:

Video Special: Cities
Cities VideoSee a special video introduction to this week's special issue on the science of cities and

Science Podcast Join host Robert Frederick for interviews and stories on the environmental costs of biofuels development; the 2009 U.S. science budget; reproducing in cities; good monitoring relationships;

In this week's issue of Science: SPECIAL ISSUE:
Reimagining Cities by Caroline Ash, Barbara R. Jasny, Leslie Roberts, Richard Stone, and Andrew M. Sugden

The TEDBlog on the other hand introduces us to Jaime Lerner , who has a maverick flair and a strategist's disdain for accepted wisdom and who re-invented urban space in his native Curitiba, Brazil.

He talks about how to revolutionize bus transit, awaken green consciousness in a populace accustomed to litter and blight, and change the way city planners and bureaucrats worldwide conceive what's possible within the tangled structure of the metropolitan landscape.

It is David Macaulay of The Way Things Work fame, who, in his TED Talk, provides a personal connection with one city in particular:

His love and fascination for Rome dates to his days as an architecture student, but found the path to his book Rome Antics took some unusual (and frustrating) turns. Through failed pop-up designs, scribbled-out title possibilities, surreal sketchbook pages (think "Piranesi meets Escher"), and rambling storylines, Macaulay details each step of his winding journey toward completion of his illustrated homage to the city.

Excepts from -David Macaulay: All roads lead to Rome Antics

I draw to better understand things. Sometimes I make a lot of drawings, and I still don’t understand what it is I’m drawing.

I also make drawings to help people understand things. Things that I want them to believe that I understand. And that’s what I do as an illustrator. That’s my job.

So I’m going to show you some pictures of Rome. I’ve made a lot of drawings of Rome over the years. These are just drawings of Rome. I get back as often as possible. I need to. All different materials, all different styles, all different times, drawings from sketchbooks, looking at the details of Rome. Part of the reason I’m showing you these is that it sort of helps illustrate part of what I go through with trying to figure out what I feel about Rome and why I feel it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Promises Of New Discoveries And Global Impacts

Wired Science through Wired: Top Stories has two stories on World's Scientists Converge on Boston for AAAS.
The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science attracts more than 8,000 scientists for discussions and presentations of all types. Wired Science provides full coverage from Friday through Monday.

with the hopefully outlook that the World's Largest Science Gathering Promises New Discoveries, Global Impacts.

Thousands of scientists will spend five days in Boston discussing global climate change, disease and the future of the developing world. It's the world's largest general science conference.

All this is related to AAAS Annual Meeting now ongoing in Boston. This weblog now has a blogroll (located near the bottom of the left hand column), which includes the Science Magazine News Blog, Findings who will be doing their own blogging on the conference.

Comparison and contrasting is one of the means this weblog uses to better understand issues and one of particular interest is the difference in approach to these issues between Wired Magazine's more popular appeal and Science Magazine's more academic appeal.

Seeds of Intention Fruit Of Action

Thought for Wed, 13 Feb 2008 via Buddhist Thought of the Day on 2/13/08

No matter what one does, whether one's deeds serve virtue or vice, nothing lacks importance. All actions bear a kind of fruit.

- Buddha...

Good Intentions:Biofuels / Bad Consequences: Worse Than Gasoline And Better As Food?

One technological development with the worthwhile intentions of helping to improve the environment and to lessen the economy's dependency on foreign oil was the move from petroleum based fuels to biofuels. Unfortunately, as there so often is, there are unintended consequences.

One debate is centered around Food versus Fuel. Some sample articles are included in this online folder. It is not the purpose of this post to take a side, but to understand better the challenge in realizing what is necessary to create benefit without unintentionally creating harm elsewhere or at the very least to have a net benefit.

The Economist raised the issue for this weblog's consideration.

This year biofuels will take a third of America's (record) maize harvest. That affects food markets directly: fill up an SUV's fuel tank with ethanol and you have used enough maize to feed a person for a year. And it affects them indirectly, as farmers switch to maize from other crops. The 30m tonnes of extra maize going to ethanol this year amounts to half the fall in the world's overall grain stocks.
BusinessWeek Magazine also reported on the Food vs. Fuel debate.
Corn is caught in a tug-of-war between ethanol plants and food, one of the first signs of a coming agricultural transformation and a global economic shift. Ever since our ancestors in the Fertile Crescent first figured out how to grow grains, crops have been used mainly to feed people and livestock. But now that's changing in response to the high price of oil, the cost in lives and dollars of ensuring a supply of petroleum imports, and limits on climate-warming emissions of fossil fuels.

The other articles in the folder take sides regarding the issue but not merely for or against. Other possibilities are explored including technological ones., one of the articles in the online folder, informs us that,

Bruce Dale, an MSU chemical engineering and materials science professor, notes that ethanol can be made from cellulosic materials, like farm waste, instead of corn grain.
Now more hurtles appear for this technology of best intentions.

Wired Science on via Wired: Top Stories reports that Studies Say Biofuels Worse Than Gasoline
According to two studies published this week in Science, when all relevant factors are accounted for, biofuels produce more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.
The same issue was reported on in the Los Angeles Times By Staff Writer Alan Zarembo.
The conversion of forests and grasslands into fields for the plants offsets the benefit of using the fuel, researchers find. Greenhouse-gas output overall would rise instead of fall.

The rush to grow biofuel crops -- widely embraced as part of the solution to global warming -- is actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions rather than reducing them, according to two studies published Thursday in the journal Science.

This follow the same path as other stories in this weblog of attempting to fijavascript:void(0)
Publish Postnd solutions to problem but not fully understanding all of the ramifications, especially concerning healthcare

. I don't see it the same though as Alex Tabarrok does as,
The law of unintended consequences is what happens when a simple system tries to regulate a complex system.

Rather I see it as multiple complex systems competing, or more as limited humans trying to place their narrow intentions on a disinterested world. Good intentions not withstanding, the question of actual benefit still remains and it will likely still be difficult to ascertain whether the final outcomes were unintended or not.

Unintended Consequences Or Not?

Dorf on Law: Unintended Consequences?

While the nature of Unintended Consequences may perhaps be agreed upon, the determination as to when the term is to be applied is less certain.

Columbia Professor Michael Dorf has a different perspective on the actual root causes of the apparent consequences of the ADA laws cited by Freakonomics in their post Toward a Better Understanding of the Law of Unintended Consequences. He quotes Washington University of St. Louis Law Prof. Sam Bagenstos from a 2004 article in the Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law:

In particular, I find quite plausible the argument that the 1990-1991 recession pushed an unusually large number of people with disabilities out of the workforce and onto the SSDI rolls--an argument pressed by the economists John Bound, Timothy Waidmann, David Autor, and Mark Duggan--though it is difficult empirically to disentangle that phenomenon from the effects of the ADA. Moreover, whatever the ADA's short-term effects, it seems likely that the statute's net long-term effects on employment or people with disabilities will be positive.
Professor Dorf goes on then to say:
Dubner and Levitt could be forgiven for not reading all of the relevant law review literature; they are after all, not legal academics or lawyers, and disciplinary boundaries are often substantial. But even if they were unaware of the Bagenstoss piece, surely they must know of the whole book on the subject that Bagenstoss was reviewing, as it is very much a work of economics.

In addition to the factors Bagenstoss cites, one might also note---though Dubner and Levitt fail to do so---that discriminating against disabled persons at the hiring phase is also illegal.

The original post on Unintended Consequences? at Dorf On Law goes further into both sides of the argument via the comments section.

Andrew Gelman, also at Columbia University, who also commented on both the Freakonomics post and a related one by Alex Tabarrok , put forth the idea that,

the concept of "unintended consequences" is so appealing that I think it's often applied to settings where the consequences actually were anticipated and intended, at least by some of the parties involved.

Although hindsight is supposed to be 20-20, it can be difficult to say after the fact what the relevant factors were and whether or not they were intentional. There are other issues now ongoing in the world where the question of consequences is once more being raised and the question of intention can be put forward now. However, even when intentions are known and supposedly for the best by all involved, the consequences can still be far from desirable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Collaboration Moving Masses Through Compassion

This new TED video featuring Howard Rheingold makes a timely appearance with the recent posting on the influence of the few on the thinking of the many in culture. It can also arguably fit with the also recently blogged on concept of unintended consequences.

Previously, I quoted Seth Godin as saying.

One more reason not to obsess about the A list in any media category. Worry instead about people with passion and people with lots of friends. You need both for ideas to spread. That was Malcolm's point all along.

I agree, but it's actually the concept of passion and people that I agree with, not what is Malcolm's Gladwell's point. I am even more sure that it is not Duncan Watt's point. Also raised a point regarding what had been said about the quality of feedback to and from a subsystem within a larger (information) system when dealing with unintended consequences.

What was missing from these discussions was the concept of collaboration. Both the posting on Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point and the posting on Unintended Consequences raised by the Freakonomics involved basically unilateral communications or at least the appearance of it.

If there was two-way communication, it was not conscious, purposeful nor intentional. The example of inter-ethnic violence cited by the British Psychological Society Research Digest blog, featured in past posts best illustrated the disruptive capacity of this, while the most illustrative example of decentralized crowd wisdom collaboration was undoubtedly Cosmic Variance's starlings used in a previous post to discuss greed and the human condition.

I realize that statistically we can see trends moving in certain directions and ignore the actions of the individual. But I am also reminded of the words of Krishinamurti.

Monday, February 11, 2008

History of Visual Communication | Myth of Dream Communication

This was put aside for a while without fully realizing how cool it actually was. Besides the link below provided by Jason Kottke, there are others links resulting from some more web-mining.

Elif Ayiter is a lecturer at Sabanci University and PhD candidate at Planetary Collegium.

Sabanci University is a private research institution located in Istanbul, Turkey. Founded in 1996, it is the only college in Turkey that offers a liberal arts undergraduate curriculum.

Planetary Collegium
is a research center where artists, theoreticians and scholars from many parts of the world meet to develop their research into new media arts. The hub of the Collegium is based in the University of Plymouth, with nodes in Zurich, Milan and Beijing. This network provides support for research at the highest level. The PhD is awarded by the University of Plymouth.

I found what has to be one of her most beautiful works at Architecture + JeanRicard Broek's blog.

This woman's work is to my lay person's mind very extremely impressive, both aesthetically and functionally. The entire Google Reader link is here from I fully expect to see a TED video featuring her at sometime in the future.

Bookmarked for some weekend reading: The History of Visual Communication...from rocks and caves to the avant-garde to the computer. (via girlhacker) (link)

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Excellence = Joy In Work

The secret of joy in work is contained in one word - excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.
Pearl S. Buck, 06/26/1892 - 03/06/1973
US author, Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize Laureate