Friday, December 20, 2013

How to, or should you, keep a downtown economy going

"Dan Senftner, president and CEO of Destination Rapid City, said downtown is as vibrant as it has ever been. It certainly has a much nicer atmosphere than 10 or 20 years ago.
'It was not as friendly and nice a place to be as it today,' he said.
Jana Koupal of the Vita Sana Olive Oil Company at 627 St. Joseph St., said the business has benefited from the foot traffic downtown events generate. The store that also operates in Casper, Wyo., opened its Rapid City location in July.
She said the business, which sells more than 40 flavors of extra virgin olive oil from around the world, has been doing well.
'I love the downtown atmosphere, a place like this is where we need to be,' Koupal said.
Another stretch of Main Street saw a recent rebirth. On the west end of downtown, in the 800 and 900 blocks of Main, a small revitalization recently took place with the addition of Beau Jo's Pizza, and new loft apartments above a redone pet shop and art store.
Brett Mathern, owner of SoleMate Shoes and the Uniform Center in the 600 block of St. Joseph Street, said downtown has a great overall environment. But he acknowledged the perks also come with some drawbacks.
Mathern said he has a lot of repeat customers, and he enjoys the atmosphere and the camaraderie the cluster of small businesses promote."

So here in Rapid City, South Dakota we have a vibrant downtown. There are very few empty shops.  Parking is a problem, with diagonal parking and one poorly built parking garage.  But, the city spent big on Main Street Square, an open space with marble carvings, a grassy area for concerts or free movies in the summer and an ice rink in the winter.  It's a fun but smallish space.

   In contrast, I lived in Clearwater, Florida for a year and a half.  Their downtown was and is in pretty sorry shape economically.  They have different problems, though. For one, Clearwater Beach is across a bridge and sucks most tourism or even locals there.  And the Church of Scientology has taken over many buildings in the downtown area.  I doubt their downtown will ever be vibrant again, despite their recent investment in a downtown theater.

    So do US cities need a thriving downtown business area?  Malls were the first attack.  Then came Big Block stores like Walmart.  Shopping was more convenient elsewhere.  Mom and Pop stores started disappearing.
   I don't know the answer.  Here specialty stores seem to have filled in the downtown nicely.  But whether places like Clearwater should just leave their downtown to dwindle, I'm not sure.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The west comes to save Africa, with western ideas that fail

"For villages unconnected to national networks of any kind—roads, education and health systems–the project had to create everything from scratch, building oases of technology and resources in the middle of nowhere. Costs rose. Clinics failed for want of supplies, generators failed for want of parts and fuel, new crops like cardamom could not be sold, and many villagers could not be socialized into new ways of thinking in a few short years. In fact the villagers who resisted are perhaps the smartest people in the story, knowing how risky it might be to abandon the tried and true in favour of fanciful promises from outsiders. For the outsiders it was an experiment; for the villagers it was about survival."

"In 2006 the US President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) announced a $60m public-private partnership with Playpumps International, with $10m to directly come from the US government. As well as personal endorsements from both George and Laura Bush, the charity has the celebrity X-factor. Jay-Z raised $250,000 and DJ Mark Ronson pledged $1 per album sale to the charity. Large organisations have also been active in their support. The Co-op pledged that for every purchase of Fairbourne Springs mineral water, the company would make a charitable donation to go towards Playpumps. Millions of dollars are flowing, but is it just money down the drain?
In various press releases, interviews and on its website the charity has repeatedly referred to its ambition to build 4,000 Playpumps by 2010 to bring the "benefit of clean drinking water to up to 10 million people". The concept is simple: a merry-go-round is connected to a bore-hole. As children play, the spinning motion pumps underground water into a raised tank.
However, the Sphere Project states that the recommended minimum daily water requirement is 15 litres per person which – based on the pump's capabilities – would require children to be "playing" non-stop for 27 hours in every day to meet the 10 million figure. Under more reasonable assumptions, a Playpump could theoretically provide the bare minimum water requirements for about 200 people a day based on two hours' constant "play" every day – considerably less than its claimed potential."

I don't know.  This seems to be one of those times when we should step back and consider whether the locals might actually know more of what is needed than the outsiders with grand ideas.  Crowdsourcing anyone?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

So maybe we CAN get along after all? Traffic changes in small German town

"In this fascinating public experiment, a German town wanted to see what would happen to traffic flow if they got rid of street signs, lights and other restrictions.  The results are intuitive, but not what you would expect!  Everything got safer and faster.  Would this model hold true for other areas of infrastructure?  Drivers must give way to the left and not drive too fast.  That's the only rule.  Even the police love the new system, and best of all, people are safer on the road.  Drivers are much more aware and use eye contact and instincts.  People WANT to stop for other people and help things move more efficiently. "

This seems ok for smaller towns, but I wouldn't want to try it in downtown Chicago.  Still, it's nice to see that people will actually watch out for each other, at least when the necessity arises.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Stuff to have when the power goes out

"Handheld & powerful, the Waypoint™ pistol-grip spotlight offers high and low intensity modes, emergency signal mode and the latest in power LED technology. The spotlight provides portability and long runtime using 4 "C" sized alkaline batteries or endless runtime with the 12VDC power cord; making the Waypoint the perfect choice for a variety of applications."

"It’s a radio, flashlight, cell phone charger and bottle opener in one. Which means you’ll have everything you need for outdoor adventures and off-the-grid emergencies. Take it on a hike or store it in your emergency kit for anytime, anywhere preparedness. "

"In survival situations, you'll want this simple, compact magnesium fire starter with you at all times to get a fire going even in damp weather. The magnesium fire starter is a small block of magnesium that is waterproof and fireproof in its solid form. Scrape some shavings and then strike the firesteel built into the starter to ignite the shavings. The fire generated is extremely hot and will ignite even damp kindling."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The United States of Fear

"It is often assumed that intelligence agencies are worlds of their own, and that they sometimes act on their own authority. However, they are also an expression of the societies in which they exist, especially of their fears. In other words, it is quite possible that there are not just paranoid agents, but also paranoid democracies that act in hysterical ways out of fear. They are characterized by a strong freedom myth, which leads to paranoia. It, in turn, poses a threat to freedom. The United States is currently in a late phase of this cycle.
Freedom means that there is an endless range of possibilities, and that anything can happen, including both good and bad things. That's why freedom engenders fear. The greater the freedom, the greater the fear. Where does America's fear come from?"

 "Information is the most valuable thing in a paranoid world. Those who feel threatened want to know as much as possible about potential threats, so as to be able to control their fears and prepare preventive attacks. Even in the days of covered wagons, alertness was an important protection against attack. Before Sept. 11, the intelligence agencies were asleep at the wheel and overlooked many of the clues the attackers left behind during their preparations."

The US spends more on their military than the rest of the world combined. The NSA tries to spy on everyone in the world, not just assumed terrorists or enemies.  We have become hyper-paranoid, and it's draining our budget and worldwide good will.  I hope we get over it soon.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

No Human Left Behind; the Internet for all

"As the Oakland technology community grows, issues of uneven access to hardware, internet, skills, social networks and literacy in our diverse communities must remain at the forefront. Please add any interesting and useful information here on topics such as: the scale of the problem, geography of access, organizations working in this area, news, reading materials on the digital divide in general, existing programs and projects, resources for tech/digital literacy educators, and more."

This is a great resource page for anyone interested in making sure every person has access to the Internet.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Unconditional Basic Income

Revolution: the only solution?

"There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it 'resistance' – movements of 'people or groups of people' who 'adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture'. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups'.
Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of 'friction' to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have 'had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved', he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, 'if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics'. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but 'really a geophysics problem'."

This article is mostly about how important immediate action against human activity that is encouraging climate change. But the part that is of interest to me is that scientists are concluding that the only way to alter the way humans are acting is through revolution.  I'm certainly not sold on the idea, but it's an intriguing point. Does the fact that we are allowing our only home, earth, to become uninhabitable to ourselves indicate that our current political and economic systems can only be altered quickly enough by revolution? 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shadow economy saves the day

"RT: According to some reports, the shadow economy in Europe today is worth more than 2.1 trillion euros – how much of a concern is this? 
Felix Moreno: Of course, they are all estimates and it’s all approximate, but it’s around that size.  In Spain it’s around 20% of its economy. In Greece it’s harder to estimate but some say that it’s between 19% and 20%. It is a concern for governments since they are having so much trouble to raise money at the moment and they are attempting to tax their citizens to oblivion. But it’s not so much concern for citizens somehow managing to survive, thanks to a shadow economy. "

Call it the shadow economy, underground economy, or System D. People provide a service to others without consideration of the government - no paying taxes, no getting building permits, etc.  When people can't find regular work, or the system is corrupt, this is where people go.  So when you hear Spain has 40% unemployment, well, that might not be quite correct.  They might be hard-working, just outside the statistics of the government.

If there is gainful employment, and the taxing system is fair, the shadow economy should be small. When the shadow economy is so large, you know there is a problem.

Monday, October 28, 2013

If you want me to work, pay me

"Not getting paid for things in your 20s is glumly expected, even sort of cool; not getting paid in your 40s, when your back is starting to hurt and you are still sleeping on a futon, considerably less so. Let’s call the first 20 years of my career a gift. Now I am 46, and would like a bed.
Practicalities aside, money is also how our culture defines value, and being told that what you do is of no ($0.00) value to the society you live in is, frankly, demoralizing. Even sort of insulting. And of course when you live in a culture that treats your work as frivolous you can’t help but internalize some of that devaluation and think of yourself as something less than a bona fide grown-up."

I'm still pondering this rush to do work for free. Many people do it just because we like helping others, or we enjoy a challenge, or maybe we just like a challenge.  But meanwhile, this spirit of helping screws up our system of how people make a living. Recently I heard on the radio a guy who makes a living partially by doing cleanup after a storm.  He was bemoaning the religious organization there with better equipment than him, that was doing the cleanup as a religious service, gratis.  It made it harder for him to make a living when people rushed in to do the same work for free.

I don't really see a problem with this if there is some baseline income for everyone.  Swizterland is thinking of trying this so maybe we'll find out of this could work.

But this article did make me notice that it is SOME occupations, not all, where people think you just might give away your work hours.  Writers and graphic artists seem some of the hardest hit.  But for all of us it's a tricky situation to have more and more occupations hurt by people who are just trying to do good.

Friday, October 25, 2013

germs just want to be free from anti-biotics

"…For a long time we’ve seen Gram negatives develop resistance to antibiotics, but we had other tricks up our sleeves. We had other antibiotics that we could use.
Increasingly, though, what we’ve seen is that they’re developing resistance even to the agents that we’ve been sort of holding back and only using in the most serious infections. They were our last, best line of defense, and we now see some of these Gram-negative organisms that are resistant to even that last line of defense.
What that means is that we’ve had to actually reach back into the archives, if you will. We’ve had to dust off the shelves [and revisit] some older antibiotics that we haven’t used in many, many years. We stopped using them because they were very toxic, and as new antibiotics came about that weren’t so toxic, we of course stopped using these older antibiotics."

well great.  When there's no defense against some diseases, that throws us way back to the Dark Ages where "doctors" ran around looking like this...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Extremist politicians can destroy the world; here's a list of them in the US

"Any responsible leader who put the country's interests ahead of his or her own political career would obviously have voted to support this bill. After a needless 16-day shutdown and high-volume threats, the best deal possible had been cut, and it would have been the height of irresponsibility and selfishness to actually send the U.S. into default.
And 285 members of the House did, in fact, vote to pass the bill — which is why it passed. These "yea" voters included all of the Democrats in the House and some of the Republicans. Today, America should send a big "thank you" to all of these folks. They put the country's interests first, just the way any responsible leader should.
But 144 members of the house did not vote to pass this bill."

You really want to prepare for change when extremists take over.  But you also need to stand up and fight against such extremism, or they could plunge the entire world into economic chaos.  My own congress woman Kristi Noem is on this list.  Be sure that I will try hard to make sure she is voted out of office.

Amendment 14, section 4 of the Constitution states: "The validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned."  What these extremists did was place their own agenda in front of the Constitution that they swore to uphold.  Why are they in Congress?  Why did they run for their seats?  It makes no sense to me, and maybe not even to them.  But it cannot stand that they violated their oath.  It cannot stand that they chose personal opinion or goal over the simple foundation of our country.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teaching students by guiding, not drilling

"Juárez Correa didn’t know it yet, but he had happened on an emerging educational philosophy, one that applies the logic of the digital age to the classroom. That logic is inexorable: Access to a world of infinite information has changed how we communicate, process information, and think. Decentralized systems have proven to be more productive and agile than rigid, top-down ones. Innovation, creativity, and independent thinking are increasingly crucial to the global economy.
And yet the dominant model of public education is still fundamentally rooted in the industrial revolution that spawned it, when workplaces valued punctuality, regularity, attention, and silence above all else. (In 1899, William T. Harris, the US commissioner of education, celebrated the fact that US schools had developed the 'appearance of a machine,' one that teaches the student “to behave in an orderly manner, to stay in his own place, and not get in the way of others.”) We don’t openly profess those values nowadays, but our educational system—which routinely tests kids on their ability to recall information and demonstrate mastery of a narrow set of skills—doubles down on the view that students are material to be processed, programmed, and quality-tested. School administrators prepare curriculum standards and 'pacing guides' that tell teachers what to teach each day. Legions of managers supervise everything that happens in the classroom; in 2010 only 50 percent of public school staff members in the US were teachers."

"That’s why a new breed of educators, inspired by everything from the Internet to evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and AI, are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion—and uncovering a generation of geniuses in the process.
At home in Matamoros, Juárez Correa found himself utterly absorbed by these ideas. And the more he learned, the more excited he became. On August 21, 2011—the start of the school year — he walked into his classroom and pulled the battered wooden desks into small groups. When Paloma and the other students filed in, they looked confused. Juárez Correa invited them to take a seat and then sat down with them."

This is definitely an intriguing method of teaching.  I hope research proves it beyond doubt, and we're smart enough to implement it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

how does a guaranteed base income sound? Switzerland might try it.

"Here's a deal: Each month the Swiss government will send every adult a check for about 2,500 swiss francs (roughly $2,750) — no matter their need or income."

"In recent studies in Africa and India, Widerquist said giving people unconditional monetary gifts often increases labor.
'A basic income, in a way, frees you to improve your skills and your efforts and do something that actually makes a bigger contribution to economy,' he says. "

My concern of late has been that so many things being done for free now used to be only done by people as their "job."  Why should people who do good things just because they want to not be paid, while people who have a title indicating that's what they do get paid to do it?  Same result, different incentive. 

If there was a liveable base income for every person and/or family, there would be no need for any unemployment or sustenance programs.  Imagine what that would save right there.

So I don't think it's a dumb idea.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Choosing to live poor, and being creative

"Price is part of a long tradition of eschewing the American dream of a house with a white-picket fence, from 1920s hobos to 1960s hippies. Nowadays, groups going back-to-basics are just as diverse, such as live-off-the-land types like Price, punky street kids, and twentysomethings living in modest group homes known as intentional communities. But they all have something in common: They’ve chosen poverty.
Some, like Price, have lived this way for decades. For others, it’s a decision spurred by the recession and its exposure of economic precarity. Either way, it’s often a political choice, one that questions a consumerist, deeply stratified society."

I don't know. I like hot showers.  It's nice having a steady, predictable income too.  But hey, it's good to know there are alternatives to the rat race, eh?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Infrastructure; the skeleton of our nation

"This dangerous scenario is not merely some abstract concern. Investment shortfalls mean that much-needed maintenance and modernization are not being done and our infrastructure systems are deteriorating. For the most part, this isn’t something dramatic you will notice overnight, but a gradual worsening of conditions over time. Your commute will become less reliable. Your shipments will take longer. You may experience more electrical outages and water issues. Occasionally, we will observe tragic events like the collapse of bridges seen recently in Minnesota and Washington. The deterioration of infrastructure has direct and indirect costs, sometimes measured in human lives. Naturally, a systemic failure presents an incredible direct cost.
Each infrastructure sector is linked to another. A failure of one adds pressure to another. For example, deteriorating conditions on our nation’s roads may shift goods to travel by rail or barge on the inland waterway system.  As we look onward over the next generation, the gap between allocated investment in surface infrastructure and the necessary funding widens. By 2020 the overall cost of deficient infrastructure will grow to $1.2 trillion for businesses and $611 billion for households under current investment trends."

Those who scream "we can't spend tax dollars!" don't seem to mind if we go back to the ages of serfs and lords, where everybody else just works to keep the wealthy  lifestyle of the elite, while the rest of us live in intolerable conditions.  The country has a need for infrastructure just like a family does.  Or a city.  Or yourself, for that matter.  If there is no basic structure underlying any of these, then all your time is spent working on what the infrastructure should be providing. Transportation, communication, water, etc. are simply essential. Not paying for them or their maintenance sets us all back.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

How to teach kids, from those doing it best

The recent book The Smartest Kids in the World, by Amanda Ripley is an attempt to glean information from countries that have improved their education system and even surpassed the U.S. (which nowadays isn't as big of a deal).  Ripley doesn't just talk to school administrators and teachers.  She doesn't just talk to theorists and test makers. She talks to students!  And foreign exchange students at that.

In Finland the "government abolished school inspections.  It didn't need them anymore.  Now that teachers had been carefully chosen and trained, they were trusted to help develop a national core curriculum, to run their own classrooms, and to choose their own textbooks.  They were trained the way teachers should be trained and treated the way teachers should be treated." (p. 90)

"One thing was clear: To give our kids the kind of education they deserved, we had to first agree that rigor mattered most of all; that school existed to help kids learn to think, to work hard, and yes, to fail.  That was the core consensus that made everything else possible." (p. 193)

Ripley follows three American exchange students who go to Finland, Poland, and South Korea.  We learn a lot from their perspective.

This is an excellent book that should start the ball rolling for getting US schools back on track.

Monday, September 30, 2013

So tiny they forgot the bathroom?

"There's definitely been a surge of interest in living small over the last decade, but the concepts behind the lifestyle have actually been appreciated for much longer. In fact, Kisho Kurokawa was one of the founders of a movement in the '60s called "Metabolism" which was also based on the idea of flexible design and architecture. In 1972, his Nakagin Capsule Tower was built, which has 140 "capsule" apartments that were meant to be renewed and replaced every 25 years."

These are definitely tiny, but where is the bathroom?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Humans changing the world's landscape

"Landsat was a notable exception, built not for spycraft but for public monitoring of how the human species was altering the surface of the planet. Two generations, eight satellites and millions of pictures later, the space agency, along with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has accumulated a stunning catalog of images that, when riffled through and stitched together, create a high-definition slide show of our rapidly changing Earth. TIME is proud to host the public unveiling of these images from orbit, which for the first time date all the way back to 1984."

And here's a site close to my neck of the woods.  A gold mining venture declared bankruptcy and left a huge mess behind that turned into a Superfund site;

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Income inequality growing in the US

"The income gap between the richest 1% of Americans and the other 99% widened to a record margin in 2012, according to an analysis of tax filings.
The top 1% of US earners collected 19.3% of household income, breaking a record previously set in 1927.
Income inequality in the US has been growing for almost three decades.
Overall, the pre-tax incomes of the top 1% of households rose 19.6% compared to a 1% increase for the rest of Americans."

as the rich accumulate more and more of our wealth and the rest of us lose, we are heading toward the time again when there will only be serfs and lords.  I do not like that idea.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Climate change is certainly altering their lives

"Since 1980 Ghoramara island, found on a delta region in West Bengal, has lost 50 percent of its terrain to the rising seas as a result of climate change, causing two thirds of its population to move elsewhere. Photographer Daesung Lee decided to capture the remaining percentage of Ghoramara's citizens."

Sad story.  Climate change is real. It is making real change in more than just climate.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

fast food workers protest today

"Fast food workers today plan to mount one-day walkouts against nearly a thousand stores in over fifty cities — the largest-ever mobilization against their growing, low-wage, non-union industry, which until last fall had never faced a substantial U.S. strike. The work stoppage comes four weeks after a four-day, seven-city strike wave in which organizers say thousands walked off the job.
Today, the strikes – which started with a single-city November work stoppage in New York — are expected to hit several cities. In each city – from Los Angeles to Peoria – workers are demanding a raise to $15 an hour, and the chance to form a union without intimidation by their boss."

Minimum wage if kept up to inflation should be $10.74 today;

It's impossible to pay for rent, food, and other essentials on the current minimum wage. That means for those who don't have family support, they must rely on government support.  And that means you and I are paying for the right of businesses to sluff off their actual costs to us, the tax payers.

McDonald's seems to manage higher minimum wages in other countries just fine.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Whistleblowers. We need them.

There's the prominent whistleblowers in the news lately, like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.  But years ago some of the former students at Dozier School in Florida tried to tell what was going on there.  Nobody paid attention.  Many children died.  We need to listen to whistleblowers.

Tiny home supplier

I think one person could liver comfortably in 400 square feet, provided you also have some sort of separate storage unit as well.  LOW mortgage :)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Yeah, we need water; some cities with potential shortage

"A 2012 study conducted at the University of Florida rated water availability and vulnerability for 225 urban areas nationwide, based on available fresh water per person. Miami ranks near the bottom of the list for water availability, and scores high on vulnerability.
Unlike many other analysis, this study incorporated both local rainfall and the availability of stored and imported water – what the authors called 'hydraulic' sources. These sources include man-made reservoirs and aqueducts that can transport water from one drainage basin to another. The study also accounted for natural variability in rainfall and water availability to classify each urban area as low, medium, or high in vulnerability."

We really need drinking water.  We don't need to pollute it, then inject it deep underground where it can never be used again (aka fracking).  We don't really need green lawns for every home.  There are a lot of ways we waste clean water, and soon that luxury is going away.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

This is what democracy looks like?

"Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, wrote Monday that two British 'security agents' affiliated with the U.K.'s intelligence agency entered the newspaper's office and destroyed hard drives in an effort to thwart reporting on surveillance programs disclosed by former government contractor Edward Snowden.
Rusbridger recalled that a little more than two months ago he received a phone call from a 'very senior government official' who claimed to be serving as a proxy for British Prime Minister David Cameron. The call led to a pair of meetings during which the official demanded the return or destruction of the Snowden material. Then, a little more than a month ago, Rusbridger said he received a phone call 'from the centre of government.'"

Journalism is known as the "4th Estate" in the US.  It is mentioned in our Constitution so it can remain free from governmental interference.  Thus did our Founding Fathers proclaim the importance of a free press.

But in the name of security, governments around the world are pushing against freedom of the press, including our own.  Without a free press, there is no voice of dissension available.  Without a free press, there is no outlet for exposing wrongs in the government.  We need a free press.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Micro-homes for the homeless. Can't we do better than that?

"Gary Pickering has developed several portable 'micro-houses' to help Utah's homeless survive harsh conditions such as winter weather. He plans to donate some of these low-cost "survival pods" to a Utah County homelessness charity, KSL Utah reports.
Pickering told KSL in an interview that he is not looking to profit off of the shelters. Instead, he is trying to help the homeless and promote awareness so that others will follow his example."

I dunno. Maybe it's me, but I think we can do a tad better than this.  Like, maybe, a tiny apartment with a bathroom?  Maybe tax the rich .001% to pay for it?  We seem to be going back to the day that the poor have no option but to live in the streets and beg for pennies.  I don't like it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

When farming is in trouble, we're in trouble

"One strategy would be to promote the use of locally produced compost to increase the moisture-holding capacity of fields, orchards and vineyards. In addition to locking carbon in the soil, composting buffers crop roots from heat and drought while increasing forage and food-crop yields. By simply increasing organic matter in their fields from 1 percent to 5 percent, farmers can increase water storage in the root zones from 33 pounds per cubic meter to 195 pounds.
And we have a great source of compostable waste: cities. Since much of the green waste in this country is now simply generating methane emissions from landfills, cities should be mandated to transition to green-waste sorting and composting, which could then be distributed to nearby farms.
Second, we need to reduce the bureaucratic hurdles to using small- and medium-scale rainwater harvesting and gray water (that is, waste water excluding toilet water) on private lands, rather than funneling all runoff to huge, costly and vulnerable reservoirs behind downstream dams. Both urban and rural food production can be greatly enhanced through proven techniques of harvesting rain and biologically filtering gray water for irrigation. However, many state and local laws restrict what farmers can do with such water."

Solutions to the problem of climate change for farmers. It's gonna be tough for some types of crops like apple trees that take years to mature.  Other crops like corn or potatoes can move north or south depending on how the local climate is changing.  But definitely, we don't want laws preventing farmers from making needed adjustments.

NSA snooping provides cover for repressive regimes

"Internet experts say Washington's covert program to track the online activity of foreigners by tapping into the servers of Facebook, Google, Skype, and other U.S. companies could play directly into the hands of repressive regimes. The revelation could provide them with potentially powerful justification for existing programs that restrict online freedoms -- as well as cover for implementing new measures.

EXPLAINER: What Are U.S. Surveillance Programs Spying On?

Ronald Deibert, the director of the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, one of the world's foremost research centers on how cyberspace, global security, and human rights interrelate, says the United States has now largely ceded the moral high ground on Internet freedom.

'As countries realize that a lot of the structural power conferred on the United States and other countries comes from their ability to essentially coerce domestic telecommunications carriers into colluding with their intercept and wiretap programs, countries around the world will quickly look to rectify that by building and encouraging their own national networks and subjecting them to their own territorialized controls,' Deibert says. 'That naturally leads to a spiral towards a more Balkanized Internet. It is really a kind of perverse set of unintended consequences that we're nurturing.'"

   Either we're living in a 1984 world where our government spies on us 24/7, or we are free.  I prefer the latter.

Monday, July 15, 2013

More tiny houses,0,563473.story

"Builders usually pack in two or three bedrooms, stacked in two or three stories. Size typically ranges from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet, allowing for a spacious living room and kitchen on an open floor plan.
The homes are clustered in mini-communities, a modern twist on L.A.'s famed bungalow courts. There are no shared walls, but neighbors are separated by mere inches. Developers enclose the miniature gap between the homes to keep out water and unwanted critters, giving the impression of town houses.
Such projects grow from a 2005 Los Angeles city ordinance that aimed to add more affordable for-sale housing — at least by L.A. standards — in densely packed neighborhoods. It lets developers carve up a lot zoned for multi-family use into small single-family plots, allowing multiple homes with separate foundations. The regulations chopped the minimum single-family lot size in those areas from 5,000 square feet to 600 square feet. The city of Glendale is now considering a similar ordinance."

I'm amazed how many tiny houses there are here in my home town of Rapid City, South Dakota.  I looked at one 400 square foot house for sale that eventually sold for about $40,000.  There are many a bit bigger than that scattered all over.

Personally I think 800 square feet is about right for a single person, and maybe 1000 for a couple.  Throw in kids and who knows.  Savings on congestion, heating and cooling, etc.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The government might be more helpful than you think

"Of the roughly 100 most important innovations from 1971 to 2006, as identified by R&D Magazine, almost 90 percent depended heavily on federal research support, according to Mazzucato. And whatever big pharmaceutical companies might say about the risks they take and amounts they spend to develop new drugs, most of the really innovative discoveries the past few decades have come from publicly funded laboratories."

Gee, and I thought the rugged individual Thomas Edison type was out there making the world a better place for us.  Turns out it's a team effort.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Costco; the better model for retail in the U.S.?

"Getting back to Costco: the abstract theorizing that MBA students learn in microeconomics courses often has little relevance to practical business situations. The simplified textbook models do teach the lesson that policies like unions and the minimum wage are wrong — that message comes through loud and clear. Economics as it’s taught in most American colleges today encourages poor labor practices.
No wonder why Costco prefers its own cart-pushers to fancy MBA bean counters. Costco’s business model relies on investing in its workers."

comparing Walmart and Costco should be a part of any MBA program.  Costco cares for its employees.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Government cencorship

"Chinese authorities have imposed a traditional social media blackout on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests - but China's 'netizens' have come up with creative of remembering the massacre.
Some Weibo and Twitter users dubbed the anniversary 'National Amnesia Day', and certain words have been banned from the Chinese microblogging site, including the words 'remember', 'today', 'tonight', 'June 4' and 'Big Yellow Duck'.
The big yellow duck ban is in reference to a parody of the iconic image of the tanks rolling into the square in central Beijing, with the tanks replaced by big yellow ducks, akin to the current installation of yellow ducks in Hong Kong harbour."

In other words, you can TRY to censor, but people are good at finding ways around it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

People tend to behave after a disaster

"In fact, Grand Rue melees were the exception, not the rule. Just as in New York after Sandy, responders and many journalists looking back on the postquake moment would highlight the lack of unrest in their after-action reports, often crediting their own presence, such as the UN adviser who told the Los Angeles Times: 'There has been no rioting over food, and we avoided people dying of hunger or thirst. This is no small accomplishment.' As Auf der Heide has written, 'Even when looting is not actually observed, that fact is often attributed to the extraordinary security measures that have been taken rather than the fact that such behavior is inherently uncommon.'”

If people assume there will be riots and such, they will send the military and police, rather than useful first responders who could actually help the people. This is an important article to help decide how to plan for disaster relief.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Are young people being screwed by our wonderful 21st century economic system?

"Two things make the problem more pressing now. The financial crisis and its aftermath had an unusually big effect on them. Many employers sack the newest hires first, so a recession raises youth joblessness disproportionately. The number of young people out of work in the OECD is almost a third higher than in 2007. Second, the emerging economies that have the largest and fastest-growing populations of young people also have the worst-run labour markets.
Why is this so important? A number of studies have found that people who begin their careers without work are likely to have lower wages and greater odds of future joblessness than those who don’t. A wage penalty of up to 20%, lasting for around 20 years, is common. The scarring seems to worsen fast with the length of joblessness and is handed down to the next generation, too - leading to a vicious cycle that weighs on growth dramatically.
Countries with the lowest youth jobless rates have a close relationship between education and work. Germany has a long tradition of high-quality vocational education and apprenticeships, which in recent years have helped it reduce youth unemployment despite only modest growth. Countries with high youth unemployment are short of such links."

One thing that helped the US after World War II was the GI bill that made it easy for returning soldiers to go right into school and get working skills.  We should be investing in our population rather than trying to squeeze the life out of our economies.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The case against school grades

" It's becoming increasingly clear that the rigid and judgmental foundation of modern education is the origin point for many of our worst qualities, making it harder for many to learn because of its negative reinforcement, encouraging those who do well to gradually favor the reward of an A over the discovery of new ways of thinking, and reinforcing harsh class divides that are only getting worse as the economy idles.
A 2002 study at the University of Michigan found that 80 percent of students surveyed based their self-worth on academic performance—more than cited family support as a source of self-esteem. A 2006 study at King’s College showed adolescents with low self-esteem were more likely to have poor health, be involved in criminal behavior, and earn less than their peers.  Since it’s overwhelmingly poor students who are prone to bad grades, a self-reinforcing loop is created. Poverty leads to bad grades and low self-esteem, which leads to more poverty and social dysfunction."

I agree.  School should be about how to be inquisitive, a good researcher, and to prepare you for being a functional adult.  You don't need grades for that.

remove traffic lights to make traffic move better? UK test

Fortunately, Poynton had a lot of space to make these circles. I can think of small towns in the US, like Prescott, Arizona, where there's just not enough space to do this.  But it's quite amazing that it works.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is this what we want our best and brightest doing?

"What this meant, in its simplest form, is that these traders (or salespeople) could buy bonds at the “market” price from intelligent hedge fund managers in NYC and sell this same crap at much higher levels to unsophisticated (but legally considered “sophisticated”) pension funds and insurance companies in middle America. What I discovered, quite starkly, is that the part of Wall Street that I worked in was simply transferring wealth from the less sophisticated investors, often teachers’ pension funds and factory workers’ retirement accounts, to the more sophisticated investors that call themselves proprietary trading desks and hedge funds."

So is this what a modern, high-tech society wants our of its top echelon economy?  The rich secretly sucking the life out of the middle?

Monday, April 8, 2013

tiny apartments catching on?

"What was once a master suite of an apartment in the Montparnasse neighborhood is now a 130 square foot micro apartment that houses all of the necessities. There’s even an extremely creative way to house the mattress-slash-sofa. The bed doubles as seating space for lounging and entertaining, which rolls away discreetly underneath a set of steps on the floor. The Magis One stools add some much needed contemporary pizazz to the inner environment, while the storage really looks like art and functions just perfectly."

this is even smaller than my place!  I've learned I don't need much space to live in, provided I have some place to store my boxes of books and stuff.

Monday, April 1, 2013

How are libraries evolving?

"Acknowledging that reality, libraries in Tucson, Ariz., have become the first in the nation to provide registered nurses along with their other services. Placing nurses in six branches is a nod to the widely accepted transition of public libraries into de facto community centers."

"Mission creep invites creeps. Library, which traces its etymology to the Latin word for book, has come to mean free DVDs, CDs, video games, and Internet. To the ne’er-do-wells roaming the stacks, library means a place to cop a free feel and grab a free laptop. When librarians go slumming for patrons, the slum’s problems become the library’s.
The bizarre folkways that surround stimulate anthropological interest more than formal complaint. Alas, unpleasant company is always the price of free."

Two different ways to view a library.  It's a place to learn AND a place to get help, or it's a place where learning is difficult because the homeless have taken over. I hope for the former.

Corporations have no soul, but that could be fixed

"But the ruling’s effect will be felt well beyond the limited number of patients in India who need Gleevec, because it will help maintain India’s role as the world’s most important provider of inexpensive medicines, which is critical in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Gleevec can cost as much as $70,000 per year, while Indian generic versions cost about $2,500 year.
'The judgment in the Novartis case is a victory for patients both in India and around the world,' Dr. Yusuf K. Hamied, chairman of Cipla, an Indian generic drug giant, wrote in an e-mail. “India, being the pharmacy capital of the world, can continue to produce affordable, high-quality medicines without the threat of patents for minor modifications of known medicines.”
In a televised interview, Ranjit Shahani, vice chairman of Novartis’s Indian subsidiary, said that India would suffer as a result of the ruling because companies like Novartis would invest less money in research there. 'We will continue with our investments in India, even though cautiously,' he said. 'We hope that the ecosystem for intellectual property in the country improves.'"

Corporations by the rules that set them up care only for profit.  If their decisions kill many people, it is no concern to the corporation. But corporations are simply constructs created by laws.  These can be changed.  Rules can be added to say that human welfare must account for some part of corporate decision making, over profit.  It can be done.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

college students squeezed both ways

"Faced with continued budget cuts at the state and federal level, state universities continue to raise tuition and cut offerings, according to a recent analysis by the Center of Budget Policy and Priorities."

Hm. I wonder why we're having trouble keeping up with other countries in education?

Monday, March 18, 2013

US soon to be energy self-sufficient

"U.S. oil and gas production is growing so rapidly - and demand dropping so quickly - that in just five years the U.S. may no longer need to import oil from any source but Canada, according to Citigroup. And the International Energy Agency projects the U.S. could leapfrog Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s biggest oil producer by 2020. IEA sees the U.S. becoming a net oil exporter by 2030."

Here in South Dakota we get 22% of our electricity from the wind.  Things are changing rapidly. Cars are getting more energy efficient, so less fuel is needed.  This will change our foreign relations as well.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

tax wall street tranactions, a tiny bit

"The high-frequency traders that now dominate our markets would be hardest-hit by the tax. A top economist recently concluded that their lightning speed, algorithm-driven trading drains profits from traditional investors. And analysts fear that such mass trading strategies could lead to disaster if markets behave unexpectedly.
The new tax would discourage these kinds of trades, which would be a good thing.
Europe, at least, seems to agree. Eleven nations, led by the conservative German government, are on track to start collecting the tax by January 2014. Expected revenues: $50 billion per year."

This tiny tax of just 3 cents per $100 transaction not only raises revenue but also helps slow a dangerous Wall Street practice. Win win!  And just a tiny lose for the fat cats.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Can children teach themselves?

"He calls it the grandmother technique, and it goes like this: expose a half dozen or so kids to a computer, and let them have at it. The only supervision required is an adult to listen the kids brag about what they learn. It’s the opposite, he says, of the disciplinary ways of many parents—more like a kindly grandmother, who rewards curiosity with acceptance and encouragement. And it is a challenge to the past century and a half of formalized schooling.
Since this first experience in 1999, Mitra has been working to extend the notion of self-organized learning to address the needs of poor children, especially in developing countries, who have little or no educational resources. He is convinced that school children can teach themselves just about anything—that they can achieve educational objectives without formal direction. For these kids, formal education, at least as practiced in the U.K., where he is professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, is of little help."

I can see this as a supplemental way to learn, but not as the only way to learn.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


"That might have been the end of the story had Sumant's friend Nitish not smashed the world record for growing potatoes six months later. Shortly after Ravindra Kumar, a small farmer from a nearby Bihari village, broke the Indian record for growing wheat. Darveshpura became known as India's "miracle village", Nalanda became famous and teams of scientists, development groups, farmers, civil servants and politicians all descended to discover its secret."

this is so great. A simple, cheap, safe way to grow more food.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Commons movement; another way to look at the economy

"The commons movement is a reaction to exploitative free market capitalism. It rejects the notion that resources, spaces and other assets are purely a means to wealth. It condemns the privatization of public works, such as the parking meters in Chicago, which allows the sovereign wealth fund that controls it to increase the rates.
When an economy allocates wealth to private entities, Bollier says, those property rights inevitably get consolidated until a few large institutions control its means.

Instead, he says, we need to protect the commons with rules that bar individual ownership of that property. It is not, however, a space that is left as a free-for-all; it still has regulations and state recognition that prevent private groups from exploiting it."

This is where you gauge the value of your economy not on some amount of goods bought and sold over a year, but how well the community is doing.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

open source equipment?

You should read the comments as well. I think economies of scale at some point make DIY a waste of time.  But perhaps what these guys have produced so far are simple enough to make them still worth while.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tiny apartments the new trend

"New Yorkers are famous for their teeny apartments, but a new trend in dwelling seeks to transform those tiny spaces into big assets. They're called "micro apartments," and they make a few hundred square feet feel like over a thousand.
Fold-away beds, moveable walls, and coffee tables that expand to seat 10 for dinner are just a few of the clever touches that transform these shoe boxes into veritable mini-mansions."

Our cabin in the Black Hills ghost town is about 400 square feet, plus an outhouse.  For one person I could imagine it's ok, but not for two.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Technology destroying jobs? It's happened throughout history

"To workers being pushed out of jobs by today's technology, history has a message: You're not the first.
From textile machines to the horseless carriage to email, technology has upended industries and wiped out jobs for centuries. It also has created millions of jobs, though usually not for the people who lost them.
'People suffer — their livelihoods, their skills and training are worth less,' says Joel Mokyr, a historian of technological change at Northwestern University. 'But that is the price we pay for progress.'"

off-the-grid homes around the world

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A better strategy for teaching?

"This report is a synthesis of ongoing research, design, and implementation of an approach to education called “connected learning.” It advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement.
This model is based on evidence that the most resilient, adaptive, and effective learning involves individual interest as well as social support to overcome adversity and provide recognition.
This report investigates how we can use new media to foster the growth and sustenance of environments that support connected learning in a broad-based and equitable way. This report also offers a design and reform agenda, grounded in a rich understanding of child development and learning, to promote and test connected learning theories."

I like where this is going...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Health in U.S. WORSE than other developed countries

"The findings were stark. Deaths before age 50 accounted for about two-thirds of the difference in life expectancy between males in the United States and their counterparts in 16 other developed countries, and about one-third of the difference for females. The countries in the analysis included Canada, Japan, Australia, France, Germany and Spain.
The 378-page study by a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council is the first to systematically compare death rates and health measures for people of all ages, including American youths. It went further than other studies in documenting the full range of causes of death, from diseases to accidents to violence. It was based on a broad review of mortality and health studies and statistics.
The panel called the pattern of higher rates of disease and shorter lives' the U.S. health disadvantage' and said it was responsible for dragging the country to the bottom in terms of life expectancy over the past 30 years. American men ranked last in life expectancy among the 17 countries in the study, and American women ranked second to last."

Gee, I wonder what's different about other countries and us when it comes to health care?   Universal coverage, perhaps?

Friday, January 4, 2013

the end of keys?

"NFC interface and door locks only operate within a narrow bandwidth and have limited computing power. Consequently, scientists at the SIT have equipped ShareKey with particularly resource-efficient communication protocols. Further, electronic keys are reliably protected on the smartphone from malware and unauthorized access.

This is achieved by leveraging advanced technologies which keep sensitive data on the smartphone separate from other data and apps lik Fraunhofer’s BizzTrust.

Communication between the mobile phone and a central server is protected by established security protocols.

'And even if this communication is hacked into, it’s impossible for unauthorized people to gain access to the digital key. This is because opening the door requires information contained both in the encrypted token sent to the user and in the app installed on their smartphone,' Dmitrienko said."

I don't see any downside except if your smart phone battery goes dead.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013