Recommended Reading

The universe is immensely large.
To try imagining how big, place a penny down in front of you. If our sun were the size of that penny, the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, would be 350 miles away. Depending on where you live, that’s very likely in the next state (or possibly country) over.
In our ever expanding knowledge of: animals are basically just like us. Rats appear to have empathy. Also in the article, rats will share food and give up chocolate in order to help another rat.

Who are the 1%? They tend to vote Republican even if they aren't more conservative. They tend to have far more education with a simple caveat - being highly educated doesn't guarantee vast membership in the top 1%:
This is not to say that college degrees guarantee vast wealth. To the contrary, only a small fraction of all Americans who report having a postgraduate education (1.5%) or an undergraduate degree but no postgraduate education (0.8%) fall into the top 1% category.
And Some videos in order of educational - funny.

Via Freakonomics:


Backlog of Readings

Stuff White People Like - #34 - Architecture.

The secret world of Trader Joe's.

Short mockumentary on plastic bag migration.

Letter grades for vehicle efficiency.

HP hold The Navy hostage to the tune of 3.3 billion (3,300 millions).

Apparently Microsoft thinks it's a good idea to let people pirate their stuff because, you know, it increases your market share. In fact, they didn't let people pirate Vista and it hurt Microsoft somewhat badly, or perhaps no one wanted to steal such a terribly designed OS.

The Chinese envision a double decker bus with cars passing underneath.

Young, single, childless women earn more than men their same age. So further proof that the vast majority of the wage discrepancy is due to the fact that womens' priorities shift after having a child.

Scientists have built a computer program that suggests potential research hypothesis after doing a complete reading of the relevant literature. Pretty awesome.

Short - it's actually quite hard to tell if someone is drunk.

Sustainable building at

Death Tax Part II

A while ago I wrote about the fact that this year the death/estate tax for 2010 would be repealed, and for a while it looked like Congress would fix it. Somewhat shockingly the law, part of the Bush tax cuts, is still in place. Just to make sure we're all on the same page - this only affects the very wealthy which I consider anyone who stands to inherit a million dollars or more. There are 3.1 million millionaires in the US or about 0.6% of the population, so that's who the Bush tax cuts were helping in this instance (trickle down theory still doesn't work).

Just as a refresher:
In 2000 anything over 1 million was taxed at 55% and in 2011 same rules, without adjusting for inflation, come back into play, and between those periods the law changed to 3.5 million and 45% and this year just nothing.

Freakonomics wrote about it, then Krugman picked it up and pointed to an article he wrote in 2001. They're both calling for wrongful death suites and the like when people pull the plug on granny in late December this year. Government tax policies will literally give incentive to people to commit homicide. Should be interesting.

Interesting retro photo website called Myparentswereawesome about peoples parents before they got married.

Apple is getting sued over a typical design flaw-cover up that they're denying. Basically when held a certain way the new iPhone 4 drops calls and Apple is refusing and sort of refund at the moment.

France is trying its hand at a sort of affirmative action that would bump the number of underprivileged/minority students from 10 to 30% at its top Ecoles. Which, by the way, if you get into you're basically guaranteed a good job for life. What I find interesting is that throughout the article the French repeatedly refer to their country as the most fair free place on earth... really? I got a real sense of racism and caste there - even from the young - that doesn't exist in the US.

Scientists have made the worlds most powerful xray that they are using to probe single atoms. They're trying to essentially take time lapse videos of how atoms behave in a number of ways but currently are running into problems of you know... the laser vaporizing the atom. This has huge implications for science though.

Wired runs an interesting series of cockpit photos.

Google purchases a travel search data aggregation company started by MIT scientists that is used by Bing, Kayak, and the like... oh, for $700 million. The FTC still has to okay the deal.

Eco Cities

This is Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (Map). The idea is to build a 2.3 square mile city starting from desert based on zero carbon emissions standards. It's designed by Foster and Partners and is actually getting built. Some photos can be seen here (the better ones are near the end), and here's its wiki page.

Dongtan (great article) outside of Shanghai (Map). This is designed by Arup and looks like it isn't getting built.

Both of these cities propose to construct a more sustainable built environment by starting from scratch and avoiding the milieu of mistakes that generally plague typical development. It's a novel approach for sure, and the research done for Dongtan is incredible. Here's a bit from the Wired article on how density was determined for Dongtan:

"Their first decision was big. Dongtan needed more people. Way more. Shanghai's planning bureau figured 50,000 people should live on the site — they assumed a green island should not be crowded — and the other international architects had agreed, drafting Dongtan as an American-style suburb with low-rise condos scattered across the plot and lots of lawns and parks in between. "It's all very nice to have little houses in a green field," Gutierrez says. But that would be an environmental disaster. If neighborhoods are spread out, then people need cars to get around. If population is low, then public transportation is a money loser.

But how many more people? Double? Triple? The team found research on energy consumption in cities around the world, plotted on a curve according to population density. Up to about 50 residents per acre, roughly equivalent to Stockholm or Copenhagen, per capita energy use falls fast. People walk and bike more, public transit makes economic sense, and there are ways to make heating and cooling more efficient. But then the curve flattens out. Pack in 120 people per acre, like Singapore, or 300 people, like Hong Kong, and the energy savings are negligible. Dongtan, the team decided, should try to hit that sweet spot around Stockholm.

Next, they had to figure out how high to build. A density rate of 50 people per acre could mean a lot of low buildings, or a handful of skyscrapers, or something in between. Here, the land made the decision for them. Dongtan's soil is squishy. Any building taller than about eight stories would need expensive work at the foundation to keep it upright. To give the place some variety and open up paths for summer wind and natural light, they settled on a range of four to eight stories across the city. Then, using CAD software, they started dropping blocks of buildings on the site and counting heads.

The results were startling. They could bump up Dongtan's population 10 times, to 500,000, and still build on a smaller share of the site than any of the other planners had suggested, leaving 65 percent of the land open for farms, parks, and wildlife habitat. A rough outline of the city, a real eco-city, began to take shape: a reasonably dense urban middle, with smart breaks for green space, all surrounded by farms, parks, and unspoiled wetland. Instead of sprawling out, the city would grow in a line along a public transit corridor."

Why had no one done this before?

These cities are essentially huge experiments which require both a huge purse and some optimism that people will flock there. Which I think they will if they're done right, and of course if they're cost effective it'll be pretty incredible. My only reservation is that the cities are planned all at once which is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing being things like Masdar City's raising the entire city on concrete piers so that all transportation can take place underneath. This sort of design feature is only available if you plan everything beforehand, or at least it's many times cheaper to do so. The curse is a bit harder to explain, but it takes the same vein as a free market versus a socialist economic system type argument. It isn't easy to determine exactly what people are going to want in a city. Whole parts of it may fall into disuse if the preferences of future inhabitants aren't interpreted properly such as was the case with Boston's West End.It was demolished because it was considered a slum although not by residents. Yet it worked and people lived there in a functioning community whereas it was replaced by and urban renewal project that served few and was considered excessive.

I tend to think of cities as a sort of biological organism that is constantly growing, contracting, dying, and regenerating. The buildings are the cells, the streets the capillaries, the highways and subways the veins and arteries, and people the blood cells moving about bringing life to everything. I'm skeptical that any amount of planning can fully account for the complexity that time brings to the development of a city. Then again maybe if built small enough (Masdar City is not huge) it may be possible. Perhaps it can be expandable or maybe just the infrastructure could be built with zoning requirements similar to the New Urbanism ideas of Seaside, FL. Either way it should be interesting to see how these perform as they come online.

Income Ineqaulity, Revisited With an fMRI This Time

I don't get this... Okay, so some scientists at Caltech found that the human brain responds to income inequality in a new and fascinating way; sort of, but first a side note.

A while ago I posted about an experiment where monkeys were given different rewards for the same tasks (pressing a lever a certain number of times). As long as the reward was the same, either a grape (preferred) or cucumber, the monkeys would keep working, but if the researcher gave one monkey a cucumber and the other a grape the monkey given the cucumber would soon refuse to work. If only these experiments were done prior to the Fall of 1917... it reminds me of Pike's work post John Rock (holy tangent). The point of all this being that insights into this sort of thing are both to some degree innate in at least primates and not unknown.

So back to the Caltech work. The researchers basically found that people who were better off/richer responded with greater brain activity (were happier) when less advantaged people were given money as opposed to themselves. That is, rich people felt better/reacted more strongly when poor people were given money instead of themselves. The researchers then extrapolate that this must be due to some sort of altruism. But the evidence against altruism is piling up fast. Even searching for it scientifically at this point is to some extent and act of faith.

Isn't it more likely that the rich people reacted more strongly because the poor people getting something means that the less advantaged people are then less likely to seek out the rich and take their stuff? Or to put it like an evolutionary psychologist, which of course I'm not - Caveman makes a kill and the hungry people start staring uneasily. Wouldn't it be nice if they got some meat of their own so that they'd leave you alone? I don't know, maybe I'm completely wrong. Obviously more testing needs to be done.

Why are different disciplines, even within one field such as psychology, so unwilling to look for explanations beyond their own scope? How does this change? I'm finding that very few people care to take on issues too far beyond art or design within architecture, and that crowd would be in charge of everything if they could.


The irony of "green" technology (I just dislike the term, not the idea) is that you still have to plunder the earth to make the stuff. Here's how we'll be getting all that lithium from the Bolivian Andes.

This is an article about some newly researched bio-materials. The last three slides are of a sponge animal...? Their internal skeletal structure is glass. Really obscenely strong, better-than-anything-we-can-build glass. So many implications for anything from nanotechnology to aeronautics and architecture.

The courts say that cops using tasers to force victims/citizens/suspects to comply with the officer's will will from now on be frowned upon... in certain places.

Humorous article about how cheap economists can be. Good ending too. I loved that Milton Friedman would call reporters back collect, so classic.

GDP is still one of the best predictors of overall happiness for a nation.

I love when researchers have to prove something that all of us deviants already know. Apparently the clearer a liquor is the less of a hangover you get - shocking.

Monkeys Participate in the Free Market

Or - I'm a right wing pundit.

Seriously though. From Aid Watch via NPR:

"In a recent experiment, a team of scientists trained a vervet monkey to open a container of apples, a task no other monkey in her group could do. She was well-compensated for this service by the other monkeys, who began to spend a lot of time grooming her (apparently, grooming is the monkey unit of exchange). Then, the scientists trained another monkey in the group to get the apples, and the “price” for the service (ie the amount of grooming the apple-providing monkeys received) went down. NPR Correspondent Alex Bloomberg explained:

[W]hen there was a monkey monopoly on the skill, the monkeys paid one price. But when it became a duopoly, the price fell to an equilibrium point, about half of what it had been. And this all happened despite the fact that we’re talking about monkeys here. Monkeys can’t do math.

What’s the point, other than research studies are really bizarre? Acquiring a sought-after new job skill leads to a higher income, even among monkeys. And, monkey markets can still set prices, even though the market participants can’t add, sign contracts, or talk. And, perhaps, complex markets can be the product of an unintentional, spontaneous order: Out of the chaos of many monkeys running around hitting one another on the heads, pulling nits off each other’s fur, following only the simple rules of monkey hierarchies and monkey appetites…a functioning market emerges."

Of course this serves my ideas which is why I'm drawn to this study. None the less, it is interesting supporting evidence for the existence of a market economy in the absence of any structured economic system. As I've said before - a market economy is what happens when nothing else exists to take its place. Although I understand the many downsides of capitalism, it is essentially brutal evolution after all, I don't understand the criticism. It's just what is. No one criticizes the water cycle or electromagnetism, so what gives? My hunch is that it's another case of people confusing/not understanding issues (as if I really do either). It's like getting mad at Muslims when really you're mad at extremist religions.