Monday, July 30, 2007

Urbanising the Mobile Homeless to Ownless

Now here's an interesting feature on a project that seeks to urbanise the homeless with newly designed 'mobile homes' that are very much a re-designed home-on-wheels (see picture above)

Suptopia - in 'Re-urbanizing the Homeless' - examines this project and has something to say on it:

Geotectura, the Israeli firm who designed the compact housing vehicle, implies this is a solution for the urban environment, and builds upon the psychological notion that a person can positively start from scratch in life, with nothing, and therefore exist in this space with a certain political environmental conscientiousness in mind. The two designers, Joseph Cory and Jacob Eichbaum say:

The Ownless unit is transforming the homeless terminology into a hopeful term. On the same tone of the modernist sentence: less is more the Ownless unit is declaring that less is home. And indeed - why not consume less if we can maintain the basic needs and freedom of mankind. Ownless unit is first and foremost a psychological state of mind saying that being in this situation is not the end of the world but rather adjusting with optimistic approach to a new situation. You can restart from nothing and build yourself again by hanging onto the important values and letting go the wasteful style of living.

Granted, the design is pretty cool. It has a pull out bed, special outer advertisement space for potentially making money, adequate storage space, lamps and lights, a hitch that allows it to be pulled by other vehicles; it allegedly provides security (though I wonder how these mobile cubicles on the street all the time can really be expected to be secure); the rooftop is lined with photovoltaic cells that charge batteries so it is not only pedal-driven but can move as a non-polluting vehicle, as well. It’s nifty, to be sure! But I am not sure that homeless people need nifty.

Mmm... undecided on this one...


Saturday, July 28, 2007

The micro-rituals of daily life

Joe Moran writes in The Guardian in 'Sociability survives in the micro-rituals of daily life' about levels of neighbourliness . He writes that:

Whether they are "close-knit" or "fractured", no one questions that communities exist and are a good thing. According to yesterday's report by the public accounts committee, antisocial behaviour causes "misery and despair" not to individuals but to "local communities", and these are "frustrated and concerned" by the lack of court action on Asbos. Meanwhile, the government has been advocating good design as a way of instilling a sense of community. According to its new "manual for streets", planners should ensure residential areas encourage walking and informal social interaction. This means creating more spaces to linger, like pocket parks - grassy areas with benches - and fewer dead-end layouts so that streets are "permeable" for those on foot.

One of the questions posed in the article is whether it is possible to design more sociable streets as the street as a social space is in long-term decline....


Friday, July 27, 2007

July 27, 1866 - Connecting Old World to New

This day in July 27th, 1866 the trans-Atlantic cable was successfully laid and first put into operation:

The idea of a trans-Atlantic cable had been proposed by many when it seemed technologically feasible, but the name of Cyrus Field, a wealthy New York merchant who eventually arranged for funding of the project, is the name that pops up most frequently in its early history. Field came on board in 1854, a year after the USS Dolphin completed a 1,600-mile sounding between Newfoundland and Ireland that revealed a smooth plateau, ideal for laying cable. Field convened a number of investors and the New York, Newfoundland and London Telegraph Co. was formed.

The cable was almost laid in 1855, but bad weather at sea and the refusal of a ship's captain to follow orders scuttled that attempt. Cable was successfully laid across Cabot Strait in 1856, completing a linkup between New York and Newfoundland. The cable was a third of the way home. Both the British and American governments agreed to supply additional funding for the project, and in 1857 success was nearly at hand when cable being laid by the USS Niagara snapped in heavy seas. Hundreds of miles of cable were lost and that, coupled with a bank collapse in the United States, caused the project to be shelved again.

More disruptions followed, including an interlude known as the Civil War, which soured relations between the United States and Great Britain when London openly sympathized with the Confederacy. By 1866, however, the war was over and a new ship, the 693-foot-long Great Eastern, was ready to lay cable. Weighing anchor after the shore end of the new cable was laid at Follhummerum Bay, the Great Eastern made a smooth passage to Heart's Content and the old world was joined to the new on July 27.

From: 'July 27, 1866: Trans-Atlantic Cable Connects Old World to New'


Monday, July 23, 2007

Over-heated Med stokes tourism fears

Today's Observer writes on how temperatures in southern Europe reach record heights to the point that traditional holiday destinations may soon become unbearably hot and dangerously dry... a sure affect upon Med mobilities and tourism:

Greece is now on a war footing against weather phenomena 'the likes of which we have never seen', the country's Public Order Minister, Byron Polydoras, warned this weekend.Polydoras was speaking as countries around the Mediterranean roasted, with temperatures soaring to 'furnace levels', as one meteorologist described it.

Temperatures are likely to reach 43C in the shade this week, making this the hottest summer on record for Greece in the past century. Macedonia has declared a state of emergency. Spain, Italy and France are experiencing droughts that are measuring up to become the worst on record.

According to the most recent bulletin from the French government, the situation remains 'preoccupying', with recent rain in the north failing to replenish subterranean reservoirs.

Many politicians now fear the Mediterranean coast may soon become too hot to sustain a viable tourist industry.

Read full article: Over-heated Med stokes tourism fears

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Global Car Industry Still 'Upwardly Mobile'

The world's auto manufacturers produced a record 67 million vehicles in 2006, putting more cars on the road than ever before, according to a new Vital Signs Update from the Worldwatch Institute. While global production grew 4 percent last year, China increased its production by nearly 30 percent, overtaking Germany to become the third largest producer. As Worldwatch Senior Researcher Michael Renner says - 'America's car addiction is becoming a global phenomenon with no sign of reversing'!

Read the full Worldwatch Report - 'Planet Gets a Lemon as Global Car Industry Revs Up'

Surely not a good sign: governments say 'pay more green tax', then they allow industry growth in transportation sector - mixed messages anyone?


Thursday, July 19, 2007

A City That Buys its Citizens Their Bikes

Now here's a novel approach to getting the people of a city to move over from using cars to bikes - buy them their own bikes! Well....nearly... lets call it subsidised renting:

The program, paid for by an outdoor advertiser in exchange for the exclusive use of 1,628 urban billboards, allows people to rent the large gray bicycles at a rate 1 euro ($1.38) a day; a week pass costs 5 euros ($6.90) and a yearly subscription, 29 euros ($40). The fee gets you a maximum of 30 minutes' bike use at a time; ride for longer in one trip, and there's a small incremental fee. The time limit is intended to keep the bikes in circulation; however, you can use the program as many times as you like within the period for which you've bought a pass.

The program is part of an effort by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë, who is aiming to reduce car traffic in the city by 40 percent by 2020. The number of bikes in Paris has increased by 50 percent in the last six years; thanks to the principle of critical mass (the more bikers there are, the safer they are), the number of accidents has stayed roughly the same.

Read full story here in NYT


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Urban Manifesto: Factors that make a city great

In this intriguing 'researched' article into what makes a great, livable city, the folks over at Monocle magazine have come up with their 'urban manifesto' - printed here in the IHT:

Before we go any further, however, we should start by defining a few terms. For avoidance of doubt, this is a quality of life survey and should not be confused with a ranking of the world's best financial centers, a listing of the top cities to be an expat or a rating of the leading centers of innovation. Our focus is firmly fixed on identifying the components and forces that make a city not simply attractive or wealthy but truly liveable. Researched over a three-month period, our quality of life survey is 50 per cent scientific (we'll come to our metrics shortly) and 50 per cent subjective (sometimes a place just rubs you the wrong way and you're not quite sure why). We feel the combination of raw data mixed with opinion offers a more accurate picture of urban environments than just relying on numbers. Indeed, the whole concept of liveability couldn't be more subjective territory...

...This left us with 20 cities: Paris, Hamburg, Stockholm, Auckland, Kyoto, Honolulu, Vancouver, Helsinki, Madrid, Zürich, Melbourne, Tokyo, Geneva, Singapore, Montréal, Munich, Copenhagen, Sydney, Vienna and Barcelona.

Read full article - 'Urban Manifesto: Factors that make a city great'


Digital Planet 16 July 2007

This week's Digital Planet has a relevant audio-post on how emerging car-to-car technology is allowing us to drive faster and more safely.

Download here

Monday, July 16, 2007

Smart meters to curb energy use

This article in The Guardian discusses how the UK energy supply industry will begin to roll out a £20m trial to encourage households to curb their use of gas and electricity and reduce Britain's emissions of greenhouse gases:

Some 15,000 homes will be equipped with so-called smart meters, allowing consumers and suppliers to track energy use, cutting out the need for meter readings and estimated bills. Another 8,000 homes will be given stand-alone display units, which show consumers how much electricity they are using and what it is costing but which do not pass on information to the energy supplier. Another 17,000 will get advice on how to economise.

Sounds like a move to increase public participation and reflexive feedback practices.

Read full article - '£20m trial of smart meters could help curb energy use'


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Moving Objects by Thought

The Discovery Channel News has a short yet revealing article on new brain-machine interface technology that can be used to move objects by thought alone - the new world of sensor technology:

Underlying Hitachi's brain-machine interface is a technology called optical topography, which sends a small amount of infrared light through the brain's surface to map out changes in blood flow. Although brain-machine interface technology has traditionally focused on medical uses, makers like Hitachi and Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co. have been racing to refine the technology for commercial application.

Hitachi's scientists are set to develop a brain TV remote controller letting users turn a TV on and off or switch channels by only thinking. Honda, whose interface monitors the brain with an MRI machine like those used in hospitals, is keen to apply the interface to intelligent, next-generation automobiles.

The technology could one day replace remote controls and keyboards and perhaps help disabled people operate electric wheelchairs, beds or artificial limbs.

Read in full in 'Brain Device Moves Objects by Thought'


Friday, July 13, 2007

Medical Tourism

Looks like the trend in medical tourism is increasing...!

The trend goes beyond the waves of "health tourists", including many Britons, who fly to Malaga for a cheaper hip replacement or a shorter waiting list than back home. All the Norwegians have to do is get the approval of their doctors, fill in a few forms and they are eligible for six weeks to a lifetime stay near Benidorm, at the expense of Norwegian tax payers.

Read more in - 'Norway looks after its elderly - in Spain'

TxTs warn of flooding in China

In this article it tells of how the Chinese used texting to warn 150,000 of flood danger:

More than 150,000 people in southwest China survived an early morning flood thanks to timely government warnings delivered by mobile phone text messages, loudspeakers and door-to-door visits.

"The flood was so sudden I would have drowned if I had not received the messages," said Zhang Xue'an, a resident of Qujiang in Quxian in Sichuan Province.

He began to receive messages on his mobile phone on July 3, and was told by local flood control authorities that a flood was only a few days away. He bought biscuits and bottled water, which proved very useful when his home was flooded three days later and water and gas supplies were cut off. About half of the 150,000-strong residents in Qujiang have mobile phones, which means text messages are a very rapid means of spreading flood information.

Read in full via Smart Mobs - 'Chinese govt. uses texting to warn 150,000 of flood danger'


Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Smarter Car

And 'smart' cars just seem to be getting smarter... here's the latest from some work from IBM:

Vehicles are getting smarter all the time, thanks to a combination of sensor and wireless communications technologies. Car manufacturers say that tomorrow's drivers will be assisted by a wealth of safety information generated by vehicles that can talk to not only each other but to the roadway itself. But with so much data often comes information overload. And that's why computing giant IBM has launched a project to help the driver get the right information at the right time.

IBM calls the research initiative collaborative driving, and the company says it's designed to prevent accidents and reduce traffic congestion.

Full article at TechReview - 'A Smarter Car'

Biofuels 'to push farm prices up'

In terms of the clean fuel debate, it has now got to the point where 'good intentions' have perhaps been hijacked by 'corporate intentions' in order to monopolise biofuel supply, with the obvious consequence to crop growing.

It's worth reading this article from BBCNews titled 'Biofuels 'to push farm prices up'':

According to the report, co-written by the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), biofuels will have a major impact on the farming sector.

Even without demand for the "green" fuel, recent falls in output - thanks to drought and low stocks - will keep prices high, the report added.

The study predicts prices will rise by between 20% and 50% by 2016.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Paris to offer cheap green car renting

It appears that Paris' mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, recently announced live on radio that he is to introduce a new system to offer cheap eco-friendly car renting to its citizens, in a very similar structure offered as for bicycles, such as in Barcelona (see earlier post):

The service, defined as "as-you-wish rental of non-polluting vehicles" would require citizens to register and obtain a card. With that card, they would be able to take a vehicle at one of the hundreds of stations available and drop it at one near their destination. The deployment of this system is scheduled for several years, due to the complexity of the project (for instance, Barcelona's bicing system has been deployed in 4 months - and they're bikes).

Read in full in: 'Paris (France) to offer cheap green car renting'

Sentinels at Sea

This article for PopularScience titled 'Sentinels at Sea' describes how an offshore screening system will put a 14-mile buffer zone between ports and deadly cargo, in order to protect 'terrorist' devices entering countries via sea cargo:

To security experts, the immense cargo ships that ferry more than 11 million containers into this country annually are potential Trojan horses—each one could easily harbor a WMD, such as a dirty bomb. Typically, only once the ships have been unloaded is their cargo subjected to random inspections and radiation scans. "There is an urgent need to effectively screen cargo before it reaches the ports," says Charles Meade, a senior scientist at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank.

Now Florida start-up SeaAway has developed a security system that would move cargo screening 14 miles offshore to the safety of the open seas. The plan calls for pairs of 100-foot-wide platforms anchored outside the world's major ports. Equipped with an array of sensors and unmanned surveillance drones, the system monitors for chemical, biological and nuclear traces as ships travel between the platforms.

It seems that 'sea mobility' is overdue for some attention...


Monday, July 09, 2007

Connected cars 'promise safer roads'

There are increasingly more articles and information coming out on car communications and safety, mostly around car-to-car (or V-to-V) technologies. Here's a good piece from BBCNews:

The Car-2-Car Consortium's system, which includes GM's Vehicle-to-Vehicle project, combines three technologies - a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) antenna, a wireless data system and a computer that interprets the information it receives.

GPS tracks the position of the car while sensor data from the car - such as speed, direction, road conditions and if the windscreen wipers are on and if the brakes have been stamped on - is monitored by the on-board computer. A wireless system similar to existing wi-fi technology - based on the 802.11p protocol - transmits and receives data to and from nearby cars, creating an ad-hoc network.

Data hops from car to car and the on-board computers can build a picture of road and traffic conditions based on information from multiple vehicles across a great distance. Cars travelling in opposite directions can share information about where they have been and so informing each other about where they are going.

Read in full at - 'Connected cars 'promise safer roads'

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Mapping the spread of disease

The Engineer Online notes that IBM has created software technology that can map the spread of disease across the world:

The software, known as Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modeler (STEM), was created to help scientists and public health officials understand the spread of disease and design more efficient contingency plans in a health crisis. It is available from the Eclipse Foundation through the Eclipse Open Healthcare Framework Project (OHF).

After three years of research, STEM was created to quickly produce epidemiological models for how an infectious disease, such as avian flu, is likely to geographically spread over time.

It would create graphs to show the spread based on factors that include population, geographic and macro-economic data, airport locations, roadmaps, travel patterns and migratory routes around the world.

Read full story in 'IBM maps diseases'

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

New ways for people with disabilities to control devices

Now here's something to really shake your bones about - literally! NewScientistTech reports that researchers Lin Zhong and Michael Liebschner at Rice University in Houston, Texas, want to use the human skeleton to transmit commands reliably and securely to wearable gadgets and medical implants. Their research, the report says, could also lead to new ways for people with disabilities to control devices such as computers and PDAs:

Wireless radio signals are already used to control gadgets and implants, but these can suffer interference from Wi-Fi and other sources. This makes them unreliable and, in the case of medical implants, potentially dangerous. They can also be hacked by anyone with an antenna, Liebschner points out.

So the Rice team decided to investigate using sound instead of radio waves. Bone is known to be a great conductor of sound, but so far it has only been used to transmit analogue signals in applications such as checking how bone is healing after a fracture, and in hearing aids that transmit sound from outside the skull to the auditory nerve.

This is worth a read, over at 'Bones could allow data swaps via handshake'


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mirror Worlds

Now this is really something to both fascinate and worry us (if it goes ahead!) - it is about the US military creating an alternate 'simulation' world to ultimately include all six-billion nodes (thats us - 'people') in order to model future events, responses to disasters, wars, etc:

The DOD is developing a parallel to Planet Earth, with billions of individual "nodes" to reflect every man, woman, and child this side of the dividing line between reality and AR. Called the Sentient World Simulation (SWS), it will be a "synthetic mirror of the real world with automated continuous calibration with respect to current real-world information", according to a concept paper for the project.

"SWS provides an environment for testing Psychological Operations (PSYOP)," the paper reads, so that military leaders can "develop and test multiple courses of action to anticipate and shape behaviors of adversaries, neutrals, and partners".

To accomplish this simulation, the DoD will have to cross some serious privacy concerns, especially as:

Alok Chaturvedi wants SWS to match every person on the planet, one-to-one...Chaturvedi insists his goal for SWS is to have a depersonalised likeness for each individual, rather than an immediately identifiable duplicate. If your town census records your birthdate, job title, and whether you own a dog, SWS will generate what Chaturvedi calls a "like someone" with the same stats, but not the same name.

Of course, government agencies and corporations can add to SWS whatever personally-identifiable information they choose from their own databases, and for their own purposes. And with consumers already giving up their personal information regularly to websites such as MySpace and Twitter, it is not a stretch to imagine SWS doing the same thing.

Maybe you remember a book that came out in 1991 called 'Mirror Worlds, Or, the Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox...: How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean' by David Gelernter... back then everyone thought it was a fantasy........