31 May 2008

Towards LEED Cities ~ More Greenscrapers & Greenspaces

Humanity is urbanizing rapidly, which can mean more sprawls, slums and worse. Or it can mean developing delightful, intense and vital cities with greenscrapers, roofgardens, parkspaces, widewalks, and better. As I've written about before, the MIT campus is a microcosm of the world at large, a small city in its own right, and the ideal place to learn about accelerating urban innovations by doing it, by weaving together multiple new and retrofitted LEED buildings to create a LEED Campus and, indeed, LEED Cities.

Towards this goal, some interesting elements I've run across lately, including the Better Streets plan in San Francisco, which is part of a larger Livable City initiative... On the greenbuilding front, Israeli Technion lecturer architects Tagit Klimor and David Knafo were honored for their design of this Wuhan, China Agro-Housing apartment complex such that every household has greenhouse gardens (we need whole neighborhoods of these things)... Jetson Green spotlights this Viñoly greenscraper approved for development in London... Note especially the Skygarden (seems totally enclosed though)... Finally, The Grist list of top Green Cities.

30 May 2008

The Prime Directive? ~ "First Contact" in Jungle

One of the more confusingly inconsistent elements of the fictional Star Trek TV universe is the role of the Prime Directive, the principle of non-interference in the internal workings of other civilizations, which, in the TV show, meant pre-Warp Drive extraterrestrial species. Of course Captain Kirk violated the Prime Directive every time it suited him, certainly whenever he encountered galactically-hot alien babes!-) But there is a serious philosophical core to the principle, a deep respect for the sanctity of social and individual rights. And I wonder how it applies to us "modern" humans as we increasingly encroach upon and engage with the last remaining Uncontacted Tribes such as these remote and isolated Brazilian tribesmen... In this particular case, both the Brazilian government and the NGO Survival International are advocating and working towards protecting the territory and autonomy of these people. But for most of human history, alas, the weaker and more "ignorant" group has gotten either decimated or assimilated or worse.

29 May 2008

E-Cigs ~ Of Course! So Obvious, And Yet...

E-Cigs or Electronic Cigarettes are so obviously the healthy electric alternative to the Surgeon General's prime sin that it's amazing I hadn't really thought this through till MIT colleague Vikash Mansinghka showed me his own E-Cig just now on the steps of 77 Massachusetts Ave (which, of course, is where I'm blogging this note from!-) The cartridges allow you to pick your degree of poison -- nicotine, of course, but likely any other neuroceutical of your choosing in the not too distant future! And, to ensure proper aesthetic joy, the tip has an embedded LED which glows-up with every inhale!

G.ho.st ~ One Palestinian-Israeli Joint-Venture

The New York Times today spotlights virtual computer software startup company G.ho.st in an article by Dina Kraft entitled Israelis and Palestinians Launch Web Start-Up. This kind of investment and bridge-building joint-venturing is very exciting because it's one of the better pathways towards regional peace and prosperity in the Vital Levant and the MENACA region broadly. In this light, I'm delighted to point out relevant and related MIT efforts, including Jerusalem 2050 and MEET, the Middle East Education thru Technology initiative.

I Will Derive !-)

Paul H from GeekPress spotted this delighter on Michael William's site. Cracked me up ;-) There are other spoofs of I Will Survive too, including Victor Navone's Alien Song... And, of course, Jesus Will Survive;-) Finally, homage must be paid to the original Gloria Gaynor!

28 May 2008

Barry Kudrowitz of MIT Toy Product Design on HighTechFever

I interviewed Barry Kudrowitz, founder & instructor of MIT Toy Product Design class on my HighTechFever TV show tonight. We discussed his latest class which just finished a few weeks ago -- culminating in PLAYsentations! -- and the ten product ideas student came up with, and the broader design and development ethos underlying his efforts generally. (Btw, nice little story in MIT TechTalk last year entitled Toy soldier: At play with Barry Kudrowitz, MIT toy designer) Key factoids: 80% of the students were freshmen thinking about what major to pursue; this was a Mechanical Engineering class... Tomorrow, 7/10 projects are presenting to a real client, the uber-toy company Hasbro. We'll see how many actually productize, of course. But the prospect, the very real chance of commercialization -- of an MIT freshman class project! -- is hugely compelling. In my opinion, not only are toys a fantastically relevant and attractive design challenge, but they embody the harshest design constraints MIT students all need to learn more about -- the hard-core need for extreme usability, ultra low-cost, special ruggedness, extraordinary safety, delight and attractiveness, and more. I suspect, however, that toy design is not perceived as "serious" enough for "real" education at the Institute (nevermind "real" research). But this couldn't be further from the truth: Play-That-Matters and ideation should be front and center and is the ideal rallying theme for a core intro-inspiration class and beyond!

27 May 2008

The First Immortal ~ SF as Speculative Futures

I was chatting with several MIT colleagues from our Campus Sustainability Initiative about the power of storytelling to inspire and help people imagine possible futures. And, of course, the world of science fiction is tremendous especially for spotlighting technological possibilities and helping people imagine societal changes stemming from new discoveries and inventions. Well this got me thinking about my favorite science fiction works including Heinlein's Time Enough For Love, Haldeman's Forever War, Asimov's Foundation Series, Stephenson's Diamond Age, and Halperin's The First Immortal. Since Jim Halperin's been so kind as to place it online for free, I decided to read it again just now. Great stuff! Imagining a nanotech-enabled world where cryonics has worked and cryopreserved humans are revitalized. Highly recommended. I also loved his first novel, The Truth Machine, imagining perfecting lie detection technologies and the consequences for society, an idea which in no small measure influenced me to co-create the MIT Neurotechnology Ventures class.

26 May 2008

Beyond Our Cradle! Ourbots on Mars!

Yes! Another landing on the next planet over!

Empowering Amputees!

Maxwell Fornah and Victor Musa, both with the Single Leg Amputee Sports club of Sierra Leone, play soccer-football and inspire thousands to move beyond their particular handicaps. Oscar Pistorius, the double-prosthetic South African, is another bright light for those currently perceived as "handicapped"... What I find most important is the mobility-empowerment ethos represented by Goutam Reddy, and his fellow MIT folks, all part of the Developing World Prosthetics effort in collaboration with Jaipur Foot in India. Throughout the world, and especially places like Sierra Leone, there's tremendous need & opportunity...

25 May 2008

Update on Ambani's Greenscraper

Binyamin Appelbaum blogs on Boston.com about Mukesh Ambani's family skyscraper, A $2 billion dollar home. I first wrote about this last December, spotlighting a couple earlier designs for Ambani's Greenscraper, but here we have the latest visualization. I'm a little surprised that private skyscrapers are not a more frequent thing given the boom in urbanization and the growth of vital cities. In any case, I admire the greenscraper aesthetic and hope that we'll see more buildings incorporate vertical gardens, greenroofs, and so forth.

23 May 2008

African Choppers (and other Toys!)

AfriGadget spotlights some great DIY toys made out of spare & surplus elements! Reminds me of Arthur Ganson's Kinetic Sculptures at the MIT Museum! Check out these African Choppers and more... Stay 'tooned for DIY instructions!

Clay Shirky ~ Engaging the Cognitive Surplus

Thanks to White African for introducing me to this video of Clay Shirky at Web 2.0 expo where Shirky discusses the hundreds of billions of thinkcycle-hours currently absorbed by classic consumption-only media (e.g. broadcast TV) and the ways this is increasingly redirected towards participatory-production and sharable media. Shirky's unit of comparison is the roughly 100 Million thinkcycle-hours that went into creating the entire Wikipedia opus. Check it...

African Private Equity ~ Development Partners International Fund

William Wallis of the FT wrote today articles entitled Africa pioneers in private equity initiative and Veteran investor hits at rock star debt drives about the exciting new €400 Million fund by investment partners Miles Morland and Runa Alam called Development Partners International. DPI intends to invest in the relatively underappreciated countries of Africa, including Angola, Algeria, Ethiopia, Libya, and Mozambique. (See also Timbuktu Chronicles post on this topic).

22 May 2008

Solar Glass ~ Who Will Own This Multi-Billion US$ Sector?

All buildings need coatings, whether brick or concrete or, increasingly, glass. If glass, why not Solar Glass, a photovoltaically active variant of the norm which converts some fraction of incident photons to electrons. Surely all buildings, especially those in sunny Middle Eastern, African, and other equatorial regions should be clad with Solar Glass! But who will be the suppliers? The current PV companies like Evergreen or Q-Cells or Sharp or the others. Or will it be Building Materials rockstar companies like Vitro, Asahi, or Saint Gobain...

Tragic South Africa ~ Misguided Violence; Extraordinary Injustice

As if Apartheid wasn't enough, now we have one band of "black" southern africans assaulting another. This is even more clearly evil because it's no longer simplistically macro-colonial legacy and skin color, but rather it's micro-economic choice and internecine tribal warfare plain and simple. And disgusting. The Al Jazeera coverage spotlights the ultimate irony of white Afrikaner policemen protecting Mozambiqean and Zimbawean immigrants from "native" South Africans... What we really need is competent policies encouraging massive economic development in South Africa and the SADC region. The whole area should be as thriving -- on a per-capita economic basis -- as California or Chile or Australia or south coastal China. There should be no economic reason at all for violence. Everyone can and should prosper together.

Synthetic Biology 4.0 ~ Next Conference in Hong Kong...

The Synthetic Biology 4.0 Conference organized by the BioBricks Foundation will be in Hong Kong this October. Highly recommended. I was just chatting with Prof Drew Endy about the emergence of the field and he was especially interested in the geography of synth-b innovation, namely where the centroids of activity are. TechLink's Adrian Fay suggested the promising potential of Latin America in this regard, especially Brazil and Argentina, both stealth powerhouses in biology, chemistry, and the life sciences generally. Perhaps we'll see SB5.0 in Buenos Aires in 2009!

Vital Cities ~ Expanding Global Urban Network

While writing the other day about Freetown, Sierra Leone as an emerging market entrepot, I thought about some of the most amazing global vital cities, including...

Global Priorities ~ Bjorn Lomborg Weighs in...

In an opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal entitled How to Think About the World's Problems, Bjorn Lomborg argues for essential investments in social goods and services with the highest social and economic return on investment. Vitamin and mineral supplements for sub-saharan babies, TB treatments, generic drugs for prevalent treatable ailments in developing countries, peacemaking and peacekeeping to avoid the ravages of civil war, sub-saharan infrastructure including dams and civil waterworks in Ethiopia and the Sahel. And more.

MIT Technology Venture Zone ~ Upcoming Alexandria Addition

The Globe spotlights developer Alexandria Real Estate's just announced intentions to build a $1b lab complex planned for Cambridge. This will be an exciting addition to the Technology Venture Zone surrounding MIT and is part of the ongoing economic and urban regeneration of the neighborhood as I documented in an Xconomy article entitled How Kendall Square Became Hip: MIT Pioneered University-Linked Business Parks. To help visualize the patch-work quilt of technology-business parks around the Institute, I created this simple map (live Google maps mashup coming)...

21 May 2008

Panama Canal ~ Infrastructural Gigaproject

The Panama Canal is one of the great infrastructural creations of the modern world. Zip through it...

Ben Gulak ~ Uno Inventor in MIT Class of 2012

MIT homepage today spotlights newly incoming Freshman Ben Gulak, inventor of the Uno, a Segway-like motorized unicycle and winner of invention awards. David Chandler's written about Ben in a story entitled Incoming frosh numero 'uno' on invention list.

20 May 2008

Freetown ~ Emerging Market Entrepot

Freetown, Sierra Leone is a currently underappreciated emerging market entrepot. As I posted yesterday, Sierra Leone is at the bottom of the list of global locales -- today -- but I'm convinced that this great natural harbor will become the Hong Kong or Sydney or San Francisco or Vladivostok of West Africa. What can we do to accelerate things and help, by maximizing progress, to transform this key city?

Emaar Strategic Move ~ Low-End Housing...

As documented today by the FT in an article entitled Dubai group to help region's poor with move into social housing, Emaar, the Dubai-based global real estate and property development giant announced a move into low-end housing. Very compelling and empowering to peoples in target markets Morocco, India, Pakistan, Egypt and the Palestinian territories, all part of the emergent MENACA region.

Pulsejet Bike !-)


19 May 2008

Where To Start...

I just stumbled upon this pretty brutal map showcasing best and worst places worldwide. Well, if you, like me, are interested in advancing our Millennium Development Goals, I respectfully suggest that the "bottom" list is a good place to start. Meaning: If we can figure out what works there, the rest is relatively easy... If you want a larger list, check out Paul Collier's Bottom Billion book.

18 May 2008

17 May 2008

Euvin Naidoo ~ Investment in Africa, Continent of Opportunities

South African investment banker Euvin Naidoo at TED on Africa as an investment opportunity...

Eleni Gabre-Madhin ~ Ethiopian Market Making

Ethiopian Eleni Gabre-Madhin at TED talks about Building a commodities market in Ethiopia...

Profits and MicroFinance

The Economist latest issue has an article entitled Poor people, rich returns: Is it acceptable to profit from the poor? spotlighting the anti-capitalist socialist core of many microfinance NGOs including Nobel Peace Prize Winner Yunus. The disputes revolve around Compartamos, the Mexican microfinance bank that went public last year, and their supposedly monopolistic explotative practices and lending rates. BusinessWeek last December quotes Yunus blasting Compartamos as well.

DIY Ping Pong Gun ;-)

Make your own Ping Pong Gun ;-)
Ping-Pong Pistol - Funny videos are here

Gapminder's Slum Insight ~ Towards Solutions...

Gapminder produced A Slum Insite video about urbanization and especially slums... We urgently need urban innovations of all flavors -- plus rule of law, titleization, infrastructure investments, financial services and more -- to craft viable scalable slum solutions.

Paul Farmer ~ Challenges of Global Health Delivery

Just viewed this piece by 60 Minutes on Paul Farmer & colleagues with Partners in Health. While I certainly admire Dr Farmer's innovative and generous spirit and the fantastic, I'm troubled by the focus on treating symptoms and not root causes. What are impoverished people doing having even more babies they can't afford, for example? And this anti-capitalist insistence that everything healthcare-related be "free" when, in fact, that simply means someone else gets the bill.

15 May 2008

Undersea Resort & Bath ;-)

I want one! Although perhaps made out of continuously-seamlessly bonded acrylic instead of panelized. And, of course, such living quarters requires an appropriately aquatic bathroom as well;-)

Diagnostics-For-All ~ Winner of MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition

Congratulations to Diagnostics-For-All (DFA), winners of the $100,000 Grand Prize in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. Xconomy's Bob Buderi writes a nice review of proceedings and spotlights the other track winners. I was very pleased that both DFA and ClickDiagnostics, the Development Track winner, are both case examples of Developmental Entrepreneurship at its finest at MIT, a theme I've been proud to help incubate and grow here. ClickDiagnostics, for instance, is one of the dozen-plus alum companies from my joint Media Lab-Sloan class since 2001.

12 May 2008

Glorious Africa ~ Great Map!

Again from Saharan Vibe, this time a great map of the continent as part of a survey post entitled African Identity -- What is it?

African Cities

Half of humanity is now in cities and more are migrating. We need the urban innovations, slum solutions, and developmental ventures which will make these all thriving cities. Saharan Vibe spotlights many of those cities in Africa, a rich tapestry of possibilities, including Luanda & Monrovia...

Frostbite Fingers !-)

Goofy, dorky frozen hand. But interesting possibilities ;-)

11 May 2008

MIT Energy Rockstars!

Newsweek spotlighted the MIT Energy Club in a Periscope article entitled At MIT, the Greening of Young Minds by Daniel McGinn. Nice to see club co-presidents Daniel Enderton and James Schwartz pictured. And to have a practical example showcased of students helping MIT Walk-The-Talk. Club founder Dave Danielson -- MIT Material Science & Engineering renewable energy rockstar alumnus and now venture capitalist -- conveys the intensely practical and commercially-grounded ethos of the Institute in the face of global energy challenges...
Most of our [members] really believe in the power of the tools of capitalism to solve the problem.

Every City Should have a Pretty Woman Guide ;-)

In an apparently highly controversial new publication, Pierre-Louis Colin reveals the inner secrets of Parisian pretty women. As BBC videomentary entitled Pretty Woman of Paris Guide spotlights, "just as every region has its gastronomy, every quartier has its feminine speciality." Multiple articles abound commenting neutrally, negatively, and positively about this "racy" and politically incorrect guidebook!

Victorian Computing ~ What Might Have Been the Age of Steamechatronics

Along with the abandoned prospect for future Chinese worldwide sea explorations in the 1400s following those led by Zheng He, the unbuilt mechanical Difference Engine by Charles Babbage is one of human history's most remarkable Might Have Beens. Had Babbage been able to successfully construct this computer in the 1800s, an entire steam-powered age of computing, semaphorics, and other elements might have happened which we only later achieved in the 1900s. Imagine history accelerated by a century! (Of course, science fiction authors have long done this, leading to the entire genre of Alternate History). Here's the Difference Engine... The Computer History Museum has more info, an actual working modern replica built to Babbages specs, plus nice little video of this machine.

09 May 2008

Ever More Efficient GDP

In the latest Economist, an article entitled Energy efficiency: The elusive negawatt spotlights improved efficiency, and in particular “energy intensity” -- the amount of energy required to generate each dollar of output. This de-materialization of economic output (and hence growth) is important viz our Dr Doom discussion from yesterday about sustainability and economic growth. But there's much more to be done in this several hundred billion dollar emergent sector.

08 May 2008

ICT4D @ MIT ~ Mobile++ Tech at the Tute!

I was delighted to see the finale session of the MIT D-Lab on ICT for Development -- i.e. Information and Communications Technology -- today! 8 MIT student-teams and partner organizations in 7 developing countries, are designing and deploying new uses of mobile and other information technologies to tackle some of the most pressing problems in developing countries.

Ominous Parallels: Bread and Circuses ~ Gas Tax Holiday

Commentators have rightly referred to the McCain-Clinton "gas tax holiday" as "over-pandering" and "poll-driven gimmickry". Those two crass & cynical politicos are certainly heirs to the immoral mantle of Caesars past. As Juvenal first wrote a couple thousand years ago...
Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions - everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses
The Wikipedia reference here is tersely spot-on...
Juvenal here makes reference to the Roman practice of providing free wheat to some poor Romans as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power through popularity. [...] "Bread and circuses" (panem et circenses) is an ancient Roman metaphor for people choosing food and fun over freedom. It often appears in commentary that accuses people of giving up their of civic duty and following whichever political leader offers to satisfy their decadent desires.
This is why "democracy" is not necessarily a totally great idea.

The Agricultural Fraction of Worldwide Labor

Ecological Footprint World Maps

First the World Consumption Cartogram... And here Ecological Creditors and Debtors, where the Greens are Ecological Reserves Dark equals > 50% of biocapacity, Light equals < 50% of biocapacity. The Reds are Ecological Deficit, with Light equals < 50% of biocapacity, and Dark equals > 50% of biocapacity...

The Sustainability of Economic Growth ~ Material vs Intangible Economics?

I sat in on today's Sustainability Lab (S-Lab) class at MIT Sloan School of Management, for a session run by Professor John Sterman, the self-described "Dr Doom" and head of the System Dynamics Group. His topic today was can continued economic growth and sustainability occur together? Put simply, if everyone on Earth tried to live the literal lifestyle of modern Americans, we would need 5-10 planets worth of resources and carrying capacity. Therefore, if economic growth meant the same material flows and consumptions per capita worldwide, then sustainability and growth are irreconcilable. Professor Sterman shared both class survey data and general stats showing that people generally have become conditioned or acculturated to the notion that they always need more -- especially more physical, material goods -- and that this is inherently unsustainable, with our collective ecological footprint obliterating the Earth several-fold.

One alternative perspective is that modern economic growth is increasingly post-industrial and enabled by ever less-impactful technologies, ever more intangible goods and services, intellectual capital, creativity and non-rival goods and increasingly services. And therefore the material fraction of the global economy will saturate and become an ever smaller percentage of the total. To give some sense of the trendlines here, take a look at these two long-term charts, first showing sources of economic activity (this is in just the US; clearly the global percentages still have a huge agricultural sector, at least in employment terms)... And second showing fraction of people employed per sector... To close the class, Professor Sterman played a stirring speech by Robert F. Kennedy challenging the ways we measure our Gross National Product, especially what's included and what's not. Especially in an age of valuable intangibles, intellectual capital, and the creation of post-industrial value, we very much need to properly account correctly...

Beyond UPOP ~ MIT's Chris Resto Moves On!

MIT's Chris Resto just had a going away party! Best known in Institute circles for his work as founder director of UPOP, the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, Chris has personally influenced some 1,000 undergraduates for the better through real-world experiences and professional development. On the side, with co-author Ian Ybarra, Chris wrote the Recruit or Die book helping companies identify and attract the best talent. Chris has been a great friend and colleague and I look forward to future collaborations as fellow alums helping out alma mater!

NextBus @ MIT ~ Replacing ShuttleTrack...

Very good to see MIT Saferide replacing ShuttleTrack with the NextBus service as written up by The Tech in an article entitled Saferide Will Use New NextBus Tracking System Starting In July. It turns out I suggested the original proposal to iCampus for the ShuttleTrack idea to Bhuwan Singh (RIP) back in the early 2000's. Bhuwan talked the later student PIs into taking it on and it's pleasing to see it get going as an example of MIT campus as a transportation-solutions testbed. But ShuttleTrack became ill-maintained and flaky, so it's great to see NextBus.

Low-Tech, High-Impact ~ Amy Smith & D-Lab @ MIT

Today's Christian Science Monitor has a nice piece on Amy Smith and the D-Lab family of development, design, and dissemination classes!

07 May 2008

Karl Ruping of IncTANK on HighTechFever

I interviewed Karl Ruping, founder and managing partner of IncTANK, on my HighTechFever TV show tonight. We discussed his latest seed-stage venture investment activities, including emergent efforts in neurotechnology and biodiagnostics. We discussed previous investments including Agrivida, AgaMatrix, and VehicleSense among other things. Also touched on the power of physical place and the fantastic developments afoot in Kendall Square.

Super Slo-Mo Video ;-)

The unstoppable Paul Hsieh from GeekPress points out this lovely Gizmodo video, super slo-mo of (what else) Diet Coke and Mentos!