Thursday, December 18, 2008

Morning: After a fall rainstorm

Even in Southern California there are delightful, crisp days when the sun comes pouring in the south windows to take off the chill. The trellis overhang allows the winter sun to come in, and in the hot summer it blooms with trumpet vine flowers to provide shade and keep out the heat.

The trees and plants temper the environment when they're planted strategically, and the fruit-bearing trees and shrubs (Pomegranite!) are drought tolerant, too. Nothing like the right kind of garden to spend the long summer afternoons in, watching our local wildlife darting around in the mulch and through the branches.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

From the Gadget Lab at Wired: Antikythera

An ancient Greek computer comes back to life. A British museum curator has built a working replica of a 2,000-year-old Greek machine that has been called the world's first computer. Featured on the History Channel in December 2004, the complete reconstruction now also has further inscriptions replicated. A Conference was held on it in 2006 in Athens. See the article, a video and historical links here.History reaches to us in the present, in many forms. Just like the Intihuatana - the sun's hitching post at Machu Picchu - the brilliance of early cultures in understanding the cycles of the natural world led to astonishing constructs that expressed the nature of the physical world. This knowledge was used to harness a place and its resources to human purpose. Its purpose carried human meaning as well as consequences of use and its influence on the natural environment.

Is it possible in this era to now capture the intelligence that will allow humanity to inhabit the earth in balance? Can we take biomimicry to the next level in human affairs? Can we express our purpose so that it benefits all living things and embraces life instead of destroying it?

Update 12/7/16: Built by more than one person on the island of Rhodes, it shows that the ancient Greeks were apparently even further ahead in their astronomical understanding and mechanical know-how than we’d imagined.

Update 11/13/18:  While scientific study continues,  the discovery has drawn attention to both the existence of this ancient ‘calculator’ and its amazing history.

Update 1/27/19: In 1900, sponge divers stranded after a storm in the Mediterranean discovered an underwater statuary on the shoals of the Greek island Antikythera. It turned out to be the wreck of a ship more than 2,000 years old. During the subsequent salvage operation, divers recovered the remnants of a puzzling clocklike contraption with precision-cut gears, annotated with cryptic symbols that were corroded beyond recognition. For years, the device lay unnoticed in a museum drawer, until a British historian named Derek de Solla Price rediscovered it in the early 1950s and began the laborious process of reconstructing it — an effort that scholars have continued into the 21st century. We now know that the device was capable of predicting the behavior of the sun, the moon and five of the planets. The device was so advanced that it could even predict, with meaningful accuracy, solar or lunar eclipses that wouldn’t occur for decades.

Update 3/24/21: Scientists may have finally made a complete digital model for the Cosmos panel of a 2,000-year-old mechanical device called the Antikythera mechanism that's believed to be the world's first computer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Coalesce & Tragedy of the Commons

A timely article about the evolution of capitalism by Hazel Henderson of Ethical Markets can be found on the Corporate Social Responsibility Wire. The importance of evaluating investment systems against several benchmarks, not simply dollar tracking, is important in our now global society:
"Money is merely one form of information, and now the pure information-trading platforms are providing the needed extra bandwidth for trading, e.g. e-Bay, Craigslist, Freecycle and thousands of similar electronic trading systems, cellphones, and local scrip "currencies" used to match needs and resources and clear local markets starved of credit. Wall Street's single-minded focus on money led to its demise. Money was equated with wealth and ignored all the other forms of wealth, from human skills and ingenuity to the productive systems of nature in which all economies are embedded. Money, like gold, will remain a useful store of value and medium of exchange, but now as part of a new broader, more inclusive regime dominated by pure, information-based markets."
A former corporate executive now restrained for the benefit of the commons.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sustainability: A Permaculture approach to whole systems

Sustainable principles
are critical to the design of human environments that interconnect with nature. This includes the approach to studying the site and
implementing principles of environmental vectors in order to maintain the system's integrity. An early proponent of this kind of design analysis, Ian McHarg, lays out his methodology in Design With Nature.

An example of applying this analysis in our local Southern California foothills to arrive at a solution integrating permaculture is to use watersheds in their natural state, collect the
excess during rainy season and channel that into urban areas. These (exisitng) urban areas then need to reuse and recapture the water and return it to the aquifer below as a means of storage for urban use. This completes the cycle and replenishes the aquifers at the same time that urban systems are rebuilt and enhanced. In this way the built environment can be regenerated and replaced in a manner that actually reduces the human footprint, providing economic investment opportunities as well. This is known as the "soft path" infrastructure approach.
An issue that's been a local problem with aquifer recharge systems and grey water use has been LA's draconian regulatory framework about it in the early 1990's, covered here in the LA Times. With regulatory reform and intelligent development of these systems, plus urban bioswales that are installed by sustainable landscapers and non-profits, this region can rebuild its infrastructure to deal with a dry future. Orange County's integrated water and waste management strategies have paid off in this manner

We have to become part of the natural world again, in an intelligent way that lets us bring the human gift to the natural order, as stewardship. This approach is best implemented with a "triple bottom line" view of economic growth, as well as an understanding of the limitations of the natural resources and the implications for development sprawl.
From Lee Barnes (former editor of Katuah Journal and Permaculture Connections), Waynesville, North Carolina:

Permaculture (PERMAnent agriCULTURE or PERMAnent CULTURE) is a sustainable design system stressing the harmonious interrelationship of humans, plants,
animals and the Earth. To paraphrase the founder of permaculture, designer Bill Mollison: Permaculture principles focus on thoughtful designs for small-scale intensive systems which are labor efficient and which use biological resources instead of fossil fuels. Designs stress ecological connections and closed energy and material loops. The core of permaculture is design and the working relationships and connections between all things. Each component in a system performs multiple functions, and each function is supported by many elements. Key to efficient design is observation and replication of natural ecosystems, where designers maximize diversity with polycultures, stress efficient energy planning for houses and settlement, using and accelerating natural plant succession, and increasing the highly productive "edge-zones" within the system.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Contemporary Architecture and urban context

There is a local Pasadena issue that's creating a conflict in the community regarding appropriate design for a property expansion in the City Center. It's the proposed expansion for All Saints Church, next to the City Hall. My discussion emphasizing the need for a vision as an opportunity for a design response is posted here.

New structures are commonly integrated into existing structures (ruins!) in Europe, but they respect the prior construction/design and "knit together" the old and the new contemporary design vocabulary. An example is Carlo Scarpa's Castelvecchio restoration/addition in Verona. I've been there twice now, have a lot of resource books on the guy, have been to almost all of his structures in Italy.

My photos:

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Silos of the BIMs

The role of technology should really be to improve communications between people and improve task efficiencies. People can quickly and easily solve problems when the appropriate technologies are put into place, which need to be intuitive and speak the language of the specific profession involved. However, the myriad digital gadgets and software exist mainly to drive sales in our free market economy. Mis-applied and complex systems that don't interface simply add to a ballooning cacophony of informational noise.

What has yadda, yadda, yadda done in terms of streamlining work effort?

Beyond nada. When you manually deploy digital technology, it multiplies the work effort exponentially, instead of controlling it. It literally explodes. That's not understood yet, for some reason, probably due to the advertising push for all of the tech toys.

This is why the business model of a management portal that restricts communications to specific channels and responds only to those channels for professionals was premature. People don't get that part yet, and are chasing chat/text and mashups. Beyond overload, nothing has priorities, which we all know from CPM charts, etc. requires an org structure which communicates the mission-critical stuff, then appends the little stuff so only the folks involved with that part have to deal with it.

This is the achilles' heel of the big BIM software packages and all the complex interactive platforms being pushed by IAI. There's no priority organization of design
and planning process, it's just all one huge blob of information being pushed at architects and contractors that's unmanageable except by teams of CAD jockeys. The managers need a communication system appended to an engineering/design system that's grounded in ESRI information-capable databases from which to begin the engineering. It needs to be simple, graphic and organized to follow the methods used to comply with the State Practice Act, beginning with design sketches that continue all the way through to building construction, commissioning, and post-occupancy evaluation. The emphasis on a digital replica of the actual structure is a direction that serves the building maintenance and construction cost management to the detriment of the process that paves the way for effective decisions about the property or the project and its scope and design. It limits the approach to problem analysis, and produces necessarily canned solutions, which are appropriate in some areas but not in many others.

The intuitive feedback loop is critical, and that means a
communication system. This communication can more effectively deploy virtual machine technologies instead of the old database silos, and be graphically interactive as well. Here's a screenshot from my earlier development of this approach:

I am dumbfounded at the lack of understanding of how simple technologies deployed in effective structures can magnify the "social networking" impact of new avenues of communication. It's the Google model instead of the Microsoft model. Or perhaps, more appropriately, an open-source/Mozilla approach; the new Chrome "browser" application is an example of this evolving model.

A baby step has been taken by the interoperability agreement between Bentley and Autocad, at long last. The old software model is finally beginning to accommodate the real industry needs.

Probably will take years before everybody gets it.
I hate to be a pessimist, but when you have eyes you have to see.

Update 7/27/20: A substantial number of leading AEC firms wrote an open letter to Autodesk CEO

Update 7/28/20: Architecture firms to Autodesk: We're no longer happy with Revit

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

Judge Orders YouTube to Give Data to Viacom

Posted: 03 Jul 2008 08:00 PM CDT from
Crooks and Liars, by Nicole Belle

(Re-posted here 04 July)

It’s a brave new world, I tell you…

New TeeVee:

If you wanted to keep your obsession with hyperactive YouTube phenomeon “Fred” a secret, you’re in for some bad news. A federal judge yesterday ordered that records of every video watched on YouTube be handed over to Viacom as part of its ongoing $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against Google.

According to the ruling:

The motion to compel production of all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewed on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website is granted.

In case you were wondering::

Defendants’ “Logging” database contains, for each instance a video is watched, the unique “login ID” of the user who watched it, the time when the user started to watch the video, the internet protocol address other devices connected to the internet use to identify the user’s computer (”IP address”), and the identifier for the video.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is up in arms over the ruling and has a breakdown of how this decision may actually violate federal law.

(See the entire article with comments at New Tee Vee)

This appears to have spurred the evolution of Chrome and Firefox add-ins that run in "no-track" mode...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Many Eyes on Energy in the USA

Looking at energy consumption in the USA, by type, in 2005 from the DOE data set, which I created in Many Eyes

Types of Energy Use by State 2005 Many EyesIf you click on "all maps" button for the map chart, some interesting comparisons emerge. Very clearly, the eastern US is heavily reliant on older fuels, such as coal, burning wood, oil heating, etc. as opposed to the western US which has the cleaner fuel development. In all scenarios, California and Texas stand out as huge consumers of energy of all kinds. That's why California's leadership in renewable energy and solar development is so important: SCE's solar-roof program along with LADWP and others will quickly provide a means of shifting new power into existing power supply infrastructure without building massive new generating plants. Not only that, the burden of purchase and maintenance of these "virtual power stations" falls on a huge consumer base.

What's interesting here is the bottom line on distributed power (hub structure, not linear transmission - far more efficient from the standpoint of power drop, etc. but requires dynamic management of power loads). Apparently the new State energy regs are having an effect, as well as the transmission grid bottleneck and the lack of permissions to pursue coal-fired plant development in Arizona...CO2 technology to capture carbon is too new yet.

The coal industry is on the defense, of course, and is mounting its strategy and public campaign here on America's Power. Much of our electrical power comes from burning coal, one of the most cheap and abundant processes, but also the dirtiest and most inefficient.

Further information on energy consumption can be found on the Energy Information Administration website.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Further Adventures of a Space Cadet

As you may know, Google posted a very fun "April Fool" project in 2008 called "Virgle the Aventure of Many Lifetimes", with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin presenting, and joined up with Virgin founder Richard Branson. Original page is at Also included is the Virgle Channel featuring Branson.

Key to this concept is understanding that to achieve this vision, there must be some major on-orbit infrastructure to support construction, development and launch of
these exploration initiatives. My 1979 thesis outlines this strategy in a Relevance Tree and shows how a Low Earth Orbit platform, working in concert with lunar mining and large vehicle production outside of earth's gravity well allows for effective use of labor and materials, as well as providing "many futures" rather than just one projection line (dotted). This permits industrial development and production of energy facilities using solar power, which can be beamed to earth as well as used on-orbit. This removes the carbon production cycle from the earth's atmosphere because major construction activity, mining and energy production are done outside of the atmosphere, and pollution from launch, manufacturing and transit are also off-planet. There is also a serious need for the earth observation platform rehabilitation, especially now that tracking global warming and its effects are a crucial dataset. Additional important needs for a low-earth orbit presence are space debris removal and asteroid tracking/deflection.

If the US military budget could be used for this constructive effort in concert with other countries, we could avoid the massive waste on useless military hardware and overblown budgets for failed political interventions, and actually increase the GDP significantly while the government contractors still get their contracts. Win-win. Note the April 20 NYT article about how contractors are "fed" massive contracts and manipulated by the Pentagon. MESSAGE MACHINE; Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand

"Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves. But collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration's war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized."
This approach to shifting military expense to where it is most effective in US long-term security interests fully supports the (Secretary of Defense) Gates doctrine.

The STAIF conference is where the REAL industry development is happening for studies of the components of human habitation in space. They accept research papers from folks in the industry, and have had some very interesting scenarios presented of human habitation development and on-orbit infrastructure for space exploration.

My presentation in 2003 was right behind Harrison Schmitt's proposal for a lunar mining colony, presented again later in San Francisco last year in February:

Monday, March 31, 2008

Jean Nouvel awarded 2008 Pritzker Prize

From the Los Angeles Times 3/31/08, a quote from Nouvel:

"For me, every building is an adventure," Nouvel said. "Every project is an adventure. I research every project. I talk to a lot of people. Every building has a relationship to the climate, to the wind, to the colors of the buildings around it. I arrive at a concept with all the parameters in place. When I have all of these constraints, I begin. Without constraints, architecture does not exist. You are a sculptor."

Nouvel said he is determined to resist what he views as the homogenization of world urbanism.

"When you go around the world, you see all the same buildings, and you feel like you're in the same place," he said. "I fight all the time for the specificity of architecture. I fight against global architecture. While some architects aim for a standout," Nouvel said," the designs of his buildings are inseparable from their settings."

"I feel like every site has a right to have an architectural aesthetic," he said. "Architects today try to create a little world, a petit monde, a micro monde. It's important to try to create a building in its context. "Every building must be the "missing piece of the puzzle. It must impossible to put the building in another place," he said. "That is my criterion."

An interior video of his ground-breaking Arab Institute in Paris, among others, is here

It's an adventure going up inside after watching the patterned wall's steel "irises" close down in unison as the sun hits the south wall. Paris, 1997.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

State of the World 2008: Innovations for a Sustainable Economy

Update March 2009: State of the World for 2009, Into a Warming World, How to Survive Climate Change, is now available. Key strategies are discussed for dealing with the consequences of 200 years of industrial development and resource consumption.

Download chapters from the World Watch Institute, State of the World, published in January 2008, which discusses the means of developing sustainable economies and benchmarking progress in terms of natural capital. Interactive discussions and key strategies are listed, also.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ecology of Commerce in Industry, an example

About: Ray C. Anderson, Founder and Chairman, Interface, Inc.

The story is now legend: the "spear in the chest" epiphany Ray Anderson experienced when he first read Paul Hawken's The Ecology of Commerce, seeking inspiration for a speech to an Interface task force on the company's environmental vision. Fourteen years and a sea change later, Interface, Inc., is nearly 50 percent towards the vision of "Mission Zero," the journey no one would have imagined for the company or the petroleum-intensive industry of carpet manufacturing which has been forever changed by Anderson's vision. Mission Zero is the company's promise to eliminate any negative impact it may have on the environment, by the year 2020, through the redesign of processes and products, the pioneering of new technologies, and efforts to reduce or eliminate waste and harmful emissions while increasing the use of renewable materials and sources of energy.

See the story at the Interface website, now a Vision Statement for manufacturing carpet

Industry Week article at

Friday, February 29, 2008

Galapagos National Park & Marine Reserve

Galapagos, located on the Equator at the juncture of the East & West trade winds, the Humboldt and South Equatorial currents, and the tectonic fissure of the Nazca and Cocos plates, is a forge of new life forms. At 600 miles from Ecuador, it is isolated enough that the evolutionary vectors in simple ecosystems and the few animal populations are visible right before your eyes. The stunning oceanic vistas, volcanic peaks and lava shores with low-growth tropical forest, empty of human habitation, is an immersion in the natural world that is rare today. Peace and connectedness, life and death, rhythms of storm, rain and sun, remind me of the vital essence being lost to human development. View a panorama here. Fortunately, it is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was encouraging to learn that these established ecological reserves are able to trump industrial development vectors once they are established, such as the Gulf of California at Baja, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is the focus of port and rail proposals to accommodate shipping needs for products produced and consumed between China, US and Latin America. The Nature Conservancy is also establishing projects in Baja's Sea of Cortez.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Artist's presence dissolves into the earth

Take a look at the January/February 2008 issue of Orion magazine and read about Healing Sculpture: Art installations that help restore damaged watersheds, by Daniel McCormick. Sculptures sited in watersheds act as silt traps that allow rivers to heal. These sculptures slowly dissolve as the stream banks stabilize and nature takes over.

See the article at Orion

Friday, January 4, 2008

And peace on Earth

My Christmas greetings and New Year's hope for a new approach to global trade and diplomacy, as well as our ability to create sustainable places. We're in dynamic balance with all of nature's forces, and "technology" seems to be helping us recognize that. Earth studies assisted by satellite imagery and GPS data that reveals geography and terrain, water flows and weather can help us "Design With Nature" as Ian McHarg has famously written. GIS databases are helping us to see and understand our impacts in the natural and urban environments.

This image is from South Africa; the bush has supported a stunning array of wildlife and native peoples since before the birth of humanity in Africa.