31 December 2010

Greenroofs ~ Essential for Future Eco-Cities...

Nice survey about Greenroofs... Be sure to check out my favorite greenroof, the Kaiser Center!

Robo Sushi ~ Japan's Kura Restaurant Chain...

Hiroko Tabuchi writes in the NYTimes about Kura restaurants, For Sushi Chain, Conveyor Belts Carry Profit...
"Efficiency is paramount at Kura: absent are the traditional sushi chefs and their painstaking attention to detail. In their place are sushi-making robots and an emphasis on efficiency. Absent, too, are flocks of waiters. They have been largely replaced by conveyors belts that carry sushi to diners and remote managers who monitor Kura’s 262 restaurants from three control centers across Japan. [...] Instead of placing supervisors at each restaurant, Kura set up central control centers with video links to the stores. At these centers, a small group of managers watch for everything from wayward tuna slices to outdated posters on restaurant walls. [...] Each Kura store is also highly automated. Diners use a touch panel to order soup and other side dishes, which are delivered to tables on special express conveyor belts. In the kitchen, a robot busily makes the rice morsels for a server to top with cuts of fish that have been shipped from a central processing plant, where workers are trained to slice tuna and mackerel accurately down to the gram. Diners are asked to slide finished plates into a tableside bay, where they are automatically counted to calculate the bill, doused in cleaning fluid and flushed back to the kitchen on a stream of water. Matrix codes on the backs of plates keep track of how long a sushi portion has been circulating on conveyor belts; a small robotic arm disposes of any that have been out too long. Kura spends 10 million yen to fit each new restaurant with the latest automation systems, an investment it says pays off in labor cost savings. In all, just six servers and a minimal kitchen staff can service a restaurant seating 196 people, said a company spokesman, Takeshi Hattori. “Its not just about efficiency,” Mr. Hattori said. “Diners love it too. For example, women say they like clearing finished plates right away, so others can’t see how much they’ve eaten.”
P.S. Here's latest update with tablet to order and on-demand robo-delivery of custom dishes...

Freedom Riders ~ De-Segregation Crusaders...

Thanks to Shelia Byrd from the AP for spotlighting Stanley Nelson's documentary Freedom Fighters...
"The film [...] recounts the 1961 crusade by daring young activists intent on ending segregated travel on interstate buses in the Deep South. [...] Most of the riders were college students coached in the art of nonviolent protest by veteran activists, including the Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr. The students, both black and white, knew they were risking their lives by traveling on Greyhound and Trailways buses into the rigidly and violently segregated South. Nelson said the great lesson of Freedom Riders is how ordinary citizens -- much like the hundreds of activists who rode into the South -- can bring about change. "It really says that this movement was a movement of people," Nelson said. "Nobody else will ever be a Martin Luther King. What Freedom Riders said is that you don't have to be."

Poverty Of Ambition ~ Kotkin on Malaise & Decay

New geographer Joel Kotkin writes in Forbes about The Poverty Of Ambition: Why The West Is Losing To China And India...
"The bigger problem facing Western countries, then, is a metaphysical one -- a malady that the British writer Austin Williams has dubbed “the poverty of ambition.” This lack of ambition plagues virtually every Western country. The ability to act has become shackled by a profound pessimism [...] Attitudes have consequences. The rising stars of the non-Western world -- from the United Arab Emirates to Singapore and China -- are building cities with startling new architecture and bold infrastructure. Their entrepreneurs are expanding their operations across the planet. [...] This divergence is not about resources; it is about the growing conviction in the West that moving forward is an illusion or, as the British academic John Gray’s puts it, “progress is a myth.” Victorian empire-makers and intellectuals, like their republican American successors, believed perhaps naively in the potential of humanity, economic and technological progress. Today our intellectual and political classes have gone to the other extreme. The West’s politics are in the grips of two profoundly retrograde mentalities. One, a small-minded conservatism [... And second, the] Left, which once portrayed itself as the bastion of scientific rationalism, increasingly embraces neo-druidism, a secular form of nature worship..."
Kotkin concludes with a rallying cry. Read it.

De Kusttram ~ Belgium's Full-Coast Light Railway

Belgium's Kusttram or Coast Tram is a light railway line going along the entire coast, between De Panne near the French border and Knokke-Heist near the Dutch border...
"At 68 km (42 miles) in length, it is the longest tram line in the world, as well as one of the few interurban tramways in the world to remain in operation. [...] The service makes 70 stops [...] with a tram running every ten minutes during the peak summer months, during which it is used by over 3 million passengers"
This year they celebrate 125 years of operations...

30 December 2010

Beaver Secrets ~ SpyCam Unveils Private Parts...

Matt Walker, Editor of the BBC's Earth News, writes in Secret lives of baby American beavers filmed that...
"Using discrete video cameras, scientists have been able to study the long-term natural behaviour of beavers "at home" in their lodges. The tiny, waterproof cameras, inserted into beaver dens, show that beavers lead very different private lives when at home than when outside. At home, the animals are surprisingly co-operative and scientists have even recorded baby beavers growing up. "Much of what we know about beavers and their use of dens is limited to questions like 'what times of day do they go in and out of the den'", says Cy Mott, a biologist at Kentucky Wesleyan College, in Owensboro, US. "Simply because, until recently, we haven't had the technology to follow their behaviour within the den without potentially disturbing natural behaviour." [...] The researchers used special "probe" cameras that do not disturb the beavers to record the animals' behaviour in 23 colonies over the course of more than a year. [...] "one of the most interesting things we didn't find was aggression within beaver colonies," Prof Mott told the BBC. [...] "To our knowledge, our study is the first to use long-term video data to follow behaviour for months at a time, over successive years, and even during the period from birth of beaver kits until they disperse to find territories of their own," says Professor Mott."

BIG's Bjarke Ingels ~ Studio Banana TV Interview

Thanks to Architecture Lab for spotlighting this Studio Banana TV interview with Danish designer-architect Bjarke Ingels... Plus check out some of his BIG & KiBiSi building designs... And their BIG archicomic manifesto, Yes Is More... Finally, here's Ingels speaking about Yes Is More at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

The Unlimited Child ~ Toys for African Creches...

Videojournalist Ruud Elmendorp posts about The Unlimited Child...

29 December 2010

Mega Builders ~ The Largest Container Ship!

I love Discovery shows! Here's Mega Builders on making the Eugen Maersk, the world's largest container ship...

R.I.P. Ronald Herrick ~ World's First Organ Donor

Sad to hear Ronald Herrick passed away (left in photo). Over a half-century ago he voluntarily made medical history for the sake of his dying twin brother Richard (right in photo). Writes Bryan Marquard in the Globe...
"On Dec. 23, 1954, Dr. Joseph Murray removed a kidney from Ronald and implanted it in Richard. Years later, Murray shared a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work. For the Herrick twins, the results were more immediate and personal. Ronald gave Richard about eight more years of life. [...] Mr. Herrick knew he was risking his life by volunteering for surgery that had never been attempted. [...] "It was just one of those things that was kind of out of this world, I thought," he told National Public Radio in 2004 for a report on the 50th anniversary of the transplant. "It was something that hadn’t been done before, you knew nothing about it. So I thought about it a long time... My stomach was churning many a morning going to school." In an autobiography, Murray recalled those moments when it seemed that the transplant team held its breath. "There was a collective hush in the operating room as we gently removed the clamps from the vessels newly attached to the donor kidney," he wrote. "As blood flow was restored, the patient's new kidney began to... turn pink. There were grins all around." With an identical twin as a donor, the kidney was a perfect fit."
And today there's a thriving organ donation process, we're getting ever better at preserving organs for donation and even regenerating artificial replacements.

Rise of the Megacities ~ Spotlighting Dhaka...

Check out the first of GlobalPost's five-part series on urbanization by Erik German and Solana Pyne, Dhaka: fastest growing megacity in the world, spotlighting Bangladesh's capital city...
"The World Bank says Dhaka, with its current population of 15 million people, bears the distinction of being the fastest-growing in the world. Between 1990 and 2005, the city doubled in size -- from 6 to 12 million. By 2025, the U.N. predicts Dhaka will be home to more than 20 million people -- larger than Mexico City, Beijing or Shanghai. Mass migration, booming populations and globalized trade are swelling cities worldwide, but these forces are perhaps more powerfully concentrated in Dhaka than anywhere on earth -- offering a unique window on an urban planet soon to come. “You are seeing the early future of the world..."

Cerdà's Grid ~ Fascinating Barcelona Eixample!

Gaudi's Sagrada Família in Barcelona is in the middle of a fascinating district, the Eixample...
"...characterized by long straight streets, a strict grid pattern crossed by wide avenues, and square blocks with chamfered corners (named illes in Catalan, manzanas in Spanish). This was a visionary, pioneering design by Ildefons Cerdà, who considered traffic and transport along with sunlight and ventilation in coming up with his characteristic octagonal blocks, where the streets broaden at every intersection making for greater visibility, better ventilation and (today) some short-stay parking space. The grid pattern remains as a hallmark of Barcelona, but many of his other provisions were unfortunately ignored: the four sides of the blocks and the inner space were built instead of the planned two or three sides around a garden; the streets were narrower; only one of the two diagonal avenues was carried out; the inhabitants were of a higher class than the mixed composition dreamed of by Cerdà. The important needs of the inhabitants were incorporated into his plan, which called for markets, schools, hospitals every so many blocks."
I especially like the octagonal blocks with each corner at an angle allowing for building aesthetics like these... And even high-angled ends where the diagonals cut thru...There are pitfalls, of course, including the inaccessible inner courtyards, frequent intersections, monotonous over-similarity, and inadequate planning for parking and transit. But on balance, there's a lot to learn from this plan! In any case, check out more about the vibe of Eixample and the city generally from these videos from Barcelona...

28 December 2010

Smart Mobiles Ramp ~ Meeker on State of Web

Thanks to Isaac De La Pena for spotting Mary Meeker's State of the Web presentation. I especially liked this way of visualizing the epic ramp of the smart mobiles-enabled 'net...

27 December 2010

Made Land ~ Cities on Landfills & Reclamations

Beyond Boston, I'm very interested in other cities built on Man-Made Land. For example, much of the SF Bay Area... Hong Kong at large and especially in the core area surrounding Victoria Harbour... The island nation of Singapore... Dubai has ambitions...
Even tiny Monaco might surprise you...

Boston Landfills ~ Timelapse Anime Map...

Nice anime map of The Sequence of Landfill Projects in Boston...

Body Issue ~ US Women's Water Polo @ ESPN...

Very nice to see the USA Women's Water Polo team photo by Art Streiber for ESPN The Magazine...

Snowcam ~ Blizzard 2010 Timelapse...

Lovely timelapse of the snowpocalypse... Thanks François Girodolle for the spot via Marc Sicard.

26 December 2010

Epic Hong Kong ~ Picturing Past and Present...

Joyce Hor-Chung Lau's NYTimes piece on the Historic Hong Kong Building Hosts Photo Festival included this 1880s photo of the Peak across Victoria Harbour... The vista looks rather different nowadays! The inverse perspective is also lovely... As it was back in the day!

Off-Grid Africa ~ Sustainable Energy Solutions...

Elisabeth Rosenthal's piece African Huts Far From the Grid Glow With Renewable Power, in the NYTimes Beyond Fossil Fuels series, spotlights the emergence of sustainable solar and other energy solutions to bring first light to those previously living without electricity...
"As small-scale renewable energy becomes cheaper, more reliable and more efficient, it is providing the first drops of modern power to people who live far from slow-growing electricity grids and fuel pipelines in developing countries. Although dwarfed by the big renewable energy projects that many industrialized countries are embracing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, these tiny systems are playing an epic, transformative role. Since Ms. Ruto [in Kiptusuri, Kenya] hooked up the system, her teenagers’ grades have improved because they have light for studying. The toddlers no longer risk burns from the smoky kerosene lamp. And each month, she saves $15 in kerosene and battery costs -- and the $20 she used to spend on travel. In fact, neighbors now pay her 20 cents to charge their phones, although that business may soon evaporate: 63 families in Kiptusuri have recently installed their own solar power systems."
And more solutions are emerging. Be sure to check out our MIT alumco's addressing this opportunity, including Global Cycle Solutions, EGG Energy, STG International, Sanergy, and SULICO. And see the accompanying NYTimes Power off the Grid videoreport...

Sanctuary ~ Remarkable Japanese Manga Story...

One of my favorite manga -- which, btw, is not for the underaged, the ethically puritanical, or any otherwise delicate souls -- is Sanctuary by author Sho Fumimura and artist Ryoichi Ikegami. It's the epic story of Chiaki Asami and Akira Hojo, two Japanese friends since childhood who transform their country, one rising through the political machine, the other via the Yakuza underworld. There are many dramatic and salacious aspects to the story, but one has especially intrigued me -- the bold move by Hojo to decriminalize the Yakuza gangs and have them go legitimate...This is a work of fiction, of course, but the idea of decriminalization and legitimization of criminal organizations is fascinating and I wonder if it's actually doable without endless pitfalls and failure modes (i.e. fronts, laundering, etc).

Big Bang Big Boom ~ Epic Stop-Motion Anime...

Thanks to Sam Lubell for spotting The Coolest Video, Big Bang Big Boom wallpaint-o-mation by street artist Blu...

Pop-Up Cafés ~ Reclaiming Curbside Park-Lanes

Just saw these pop-up cafés in curbside parking lanes on the CUNY Sustainable Cities blog! They point to several photos on the Architects Newspaper blog. These cafés go...
"...where the sidewalks are too narrow for traditional outdoor seating. The program follows this summer’s first pop-up café on Pearl Street which saw a row of parked cars replaced with planters, bamboo decking, tables and chairs, modeled on San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program program which allows for six-month trial parking spot takeovers. The two restaurants that paid for the Pearl Street project reported that the new public café space brought in more business, plus “some beauty to the street."
Lovely and lively! Streets should not be for storage! Reclaim the lane!

Amazing Manhattan ~ Nice Aerial Perspective!

Happened upon this aerial perspective on Manhattan, NYC...

25 December 2010

Segstick ~ DIY Self-Balancing Powertool Scooter!

MIT's Shane Colton shows how to build a Segstick self-balancing scooter... out of powertools and spare parts! Describeth he on Instructables...
"Literally some kind of broomstick I found in the MITERS workshop. It is powered direct by two DeWalt cordless drills chucked to two 6" wheels. The controller is an Arduino. Additional supporting devices include an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) from Sparkfun and two motor drivers from Pololu."
Word.

24 December 2010

PhotoCity ~ Multi-Player Geo-Game w/ Cameras

Thanks to hypr3D co-founder Tom Milnes for pointing me to PhotoCity, the multi-player real-world geo-game played with mobile cameraphones with the goal of photo-stitching together 3D models of buildings and landscapes!

Traffic ~ Road-Charging, Congestion-Pricing, etc?

Traffic: Into Reverse Robert Wright writes in the FT...
"...though London’s traffic-charging scheme has cut congestion by 14 per cent in the west-central area of the city, the area is being removed from the zone [...] on Thursday 20 sq km of Chelsea and other parts of west-central London will be removed from the capital’s congestion-charging zone -- the area drivers must pay to enter during weekday working hours – reducing it to its original 22 sq km. Even Transport for London, the body responsible for the scheme, acknowledges this will worsen jams. Vehicle numbers are expected to rise by 15 to 20 per cent. Congestion -- measured by the extra time a journey takes compared with clear road conditions -- is poised to worsen by as much as 18 per cent. Emissions of harmful gases will go up sharply. The end of charging in west-central London is one of many signs that sentiment across the industrialised world has turned against efforts to substitute, or supplement, traditional fuel-based taxes on motoring with direct charges."
At the same time, Michael Wines writes in the NYTimes that Multiplying Drivers Run Over Beijing Traffic Plan...
"Never let it be said that China, proud consumer of more than half the planet’s cement, thinks small. Except, perhaps, this time. For in the latest match between Beijing’s build-baby-build bureaucrats and its Gordian knot of traffic, more than a few folks are betting on the knot. “We have built many flyovers and expressways,” said Zhao Jie, a transportation expert at the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design. “We have spent quite a lot of money on subways and bus lines, and Beijing probably has the lowest bus fares in the world. But the stimuli to car ownership are even more powerful.” [...] As of December, Beijing counted 4.7 million registered vehicles, with 2,000 new ones joining the clog each day. That is more than 700,000 new vehicles this year, which was up from 550,000 new vehicles last year, 376,000 in the preceding year and 252,000 the year before that. When the number reaches 6.5 million, traffic researchers calculate, the Beijing streets will be fully saturated."
Maybe they need road-charging and congestion-pricing?!

PLUG ~ Portable Lightweight Ubiqitous Gasket

Flood Plug Minds the Gap writes Joe Barrett in the WSJournal about the PLUG -- or Portable Lightweight Ubiqitous Gasket...
"...the first tool designed to repair a breach while powerful floodwaters are still coursing through it. Developed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the 104-foot-long, vinyl-coated tube can be transported by helicopter to a failing levee and filled with floodwater on the spot using pumps. The resulting sausage-shaped behemoth gets sucked into the breach by the force of escaping water, sealing off the flow until permanent repairs can be made. [...] For the first full-scale demonstration on Dec. 15, the yellow PLUG was stretched across the middle lake and pumped full of water. With just its top visible, it looked like an upside-down life raft. Mr. Resio gave the signal to open the floodgates, sending an eight-foot-deep torrent into the lower lake. Pulled along by a million pounds of pressure from the rushing water, the PLUG slowly began to roll toward the gates. Within a minute, the 15-foot-tall PLUG came more clearly into view as its middle wedged into the center of the gate structure and its two ends rode up the sides of the spillway. The flood slowed to a trickle. "Nothing made by human hands has ever been able to stop that kind of flow" in a breach, said Brian Banning, a critical-infrastructure specialist with the California Emergency Management Agency who came to Vicksburg to watch. Mr. Banning cautioned that much work remains before the PLUG is ready to face a real emergency, complete with raging winds, unstable soils and treacherous waters carrying trees and other debris."

23 December 2010

City Journal ~ 20 Years of Urban Affairs & Ideas

Thanks to Brandon Fuller from Charter Cities for pointing to this fantastic 20th Anniversary issue of City Journal with several great articles, including Fuller's own piece with Paul Romer on Cities from Scratch, Edward Glaeser on New York as Start-Up City, Sol Stern on Tel Aviv the Now City, Mario Polèse on Why Big Cities Matter More than Ever, and Victor Davis Hanson on The Destiny of Cities. About CJ, writes Brian Anderson...
"Twenty years ago, the Manhattan Institute launched City Journal as an intellectual and journalistic response to New York City’s downward spiral and to the illness of the American city generally. Most observers believed that illness fatal; City Journal did not. [...] Since our first issue, City Journal has held that cities can and should be the drivers of economic growth, so it’s fitting that a package of stories in this issue offers a cutting-edge assessment of the economy of cities. [...] We’d like to think that the next 20 years will be a time when the twenty-first-century city comes into its own as a place where freedom flourishes, crime is low, commerce and culture blossom, and all families can send their kids to good schools -- and that the ideas developed in City Journal will help bring about that future."
Hear, hear!

Asmara ~ Eritrea's Beautiful Modernist City...

The distinctive modern architecture and planning in Asmara, Eritrea is a fascinating Italian colonial legacy as well as strikingly beautiful... This Fiat Tagliero petrol station by architect Giuseppe Pettazzi is an outstanding example...