Sunday, December 27, 2015

When we let computers take over, who gets to control the computers?

"A car is a high-speed, heavy object with the power to kill its users and the people around it. A compromise in the software that allowed an attacker to take over the brakes, accelerator and steering (such as last summer’s exploit against Chrysler’s Jeeps, which triggered a 1.4m vehicle recall) is a nightmare scenario. The only thing worse would be such an exploit against a car designed to have no user-override – designed, in fact, to treat any attempt from the vehicle’s user to redirect its programming as a selfish attempt to avoid the Trolley Problem’s cold equations.
Whatever problems we will have with self-driving cars, they will be worsened by designing them to treat their passengers as adversaries.
That has profound implications beyond the hypothetical silliness of the Trolley Problem. The world of networked equipment is already governed by a patchwork of 'lawful interception' rules requiring them to have some sort of back door to allow the police to monitor them. These have been the source of grave problems in computer security, such as the 2011 attack by the Chinese government on the Gmail accounts of suspected dissident activists was executed by exploiting lawful interception; so was the NSA’s wiretapping of the Greek government during the 2004 Olympic bidding process."

I drive a lot for work. I've thought of scenarios where the poor computer program would be oblivious to the moral choices it faces in some situations. It would only know things like "avoid hitting something" and "if in doubt, slow down."  It might not know the human cost that such choices might require.  So, who gets to write that code then?  And who gets to decide?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Micro-flats in NYC; the future of housing or just future slums?

"Now wait another second, you’re saying, $2500 to $3000 for a studio in Kips Bay is not affordable! That’s only the market rate (which is actually about the median Manhattan rent for a studio). The rents for the 22 affordable housing units are set at different rates based on income and need. Prospective tenants apply through a lottery and might pay anywhere from $1000 to $1500. 60,000 people applied.
So yeah, no one can deny that the demand isn’t there for these types of units. But the bigger question is if these units are actually the right kind of new housing for cities to be building. If we’re talking big picture here, the building as a whole is far more responsible than tacking yet another megadevelopment on the edge of sprawl, forcing all its residents to drive. But the worry is that these tiny spaces will become the new slums of the city, mostly occupied by lower-income residents who don’t have much of a choice about where to live, further stratifying inequality problems. In cities like Los Angeles, for example, micro-units are still mostly being used as transitional housing for formerly homeless individuals."

The demand is there. It fills a niche in housing.  But if such housing is isolated to certain sectors, then those sectors will probably become undesirable addresses after a time.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Underground water use will have to change now

"Groundwater is disappearing beneath cornfields in Kansas, rice paddies in India, asparagus farms in Peru and orange groves in Morocco. As these critical water reserves are pumped beyond their limits, the threats are mounting for people who depend on aquifers to supply agriculture, sustain economies and provide drinking water. In some areas, fields have already turned to dust and farmers are struggling.
Climate change is projected to increase the stresses on water supplies, and heated disputes are erupting in places where those with deep wells can keep pumping and leave others with dry wells. Even as satellite measurements have revealed the problem’s severity on a global scale, many regions have failed to adequately address the problem. Aquifers largely remain unmanaged and unregulated, and water that seeped underground over tens of thousands of years is being gradually used up.
In this project, USA TODAY and The Desert Sun investigate the consequences of this emerging crisis in several of the world’s hotspots of groundwater depletion. These are stories about people on four continents confronting questions of how to safeguard their aquifers for the future – and in some cases, how to cope as the water runs out."

"Groundwater has been severely overpumped by farms in Morocco’s Souss-Massa region, and the water table has fallen dramatically. When the family’s well dried up, their farm was transformed into barren land.
The orange grove’s disappearance nearly five years ago eliminated the main source of income for Mbarek Belkadi, his three brothers, and their families. They’ve turned to whatever work they can find, often buying and selling fruit. Earning enough to survive has become a constant struggle.

'All this land was irrigated with this well. Now it’s dead,' Mbarek said, standing beside piles of dry branches. 'It’s finished here.'
As the family crowded around their old well, they pulled back the metal cover. A rusty cable lay in a heap next to it. This cable, they explained, was used to lower people into the hole to dig deeper. They dug down to more than 600 feet, and then gave up as the water level kept dropping. They could no longer afford a more powerful pump to lift the water from so far underground."

This is quite an eye-opening series.  I had heard that California's central valley has actually been sinking due to the groundwater depletion.  And I heard something about Saudi Arabia sucking the life out of their groundwater supply.  It's sad to see that people all over the world have been satisfied with the short-term gain rather than trying to utilize the groundwater in a sustainable manner.  Now we have to pay for that shortsightedness.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Finland to go with a universal basic income

"Finland's government is drawing up plans to give every one of its citizens a basic income of 800 euros (£576) a month and scrap benefits altogether.
A poll commissioned by the agency planning the proposal, the Finnish Social Insurance Institute, showed 69% supported the basic income plan.
Prime Minister Juha Sipila was quote by QZ as backing the idea.
'For me, a basic income means simplifying the social security system,' he said.
The proposal would entitle each Finn to 800 euros tax free each month, which according to Bloomberg, would cost the government 52.2 billion euros a year."

Finally we'll get to see how this actually works!  I look forward to this idea expanding around the world.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Four Horsemen; a movie with food for thought

This is a useful film to engage thinking about what needs changing and how to start changing it.  I don't like some of the speakers, and don't think the gold standard is any solution, but the movie is still worth watching and pondering over.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Lots of refugees; what should we do?

"There are reasons to oppose bringing Syrian refugees to America.  None of them are good reasons.  Most of them are sickeningly racist.  And all of them are deeply, obviously, blatantly and clearly unChristian.  You cannot object to helping these people and call yourself a Christian.  Jesus himself would rebuke you.  He already has, in fact.  Reread verses 41-46 if you need to.  If you refuse to help the sick and the destitute and the needy, you are going to Hell.
There is literally no way to make that any clearer.  Christians are commanded to help those who are in need.  Not requested.  Not asked.  Not begged.  Commanded.  In plain and clear language.  By Jesus.  There’s no way to wriggle out of this, folks.  You either help these people– or, to do the absolute minimum, get the hell out of their way– or by the words of the man you consider the son of God you are going to Hell."

Excellent article. He makes the 2 points I was thinking of writing about; 1) Christians will be denying their own faith if they refuse to help refugees, and 2) fear is no excuse.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Does welfare make you lazy? No.

"To some degree, this actually undersells cash programs. Two recent RCTs have suggested that giving cash to poor people in the developing world could actually, in some cases, encourage work. One paper by Christopher Blattman, Nathan Fiala, and Sebastian Martinez evaluated a program that gave cash grants ($382 per person, on average) to groups of young, unemployed Ugandans to help them learn skilled trades, and found that hours of work rose by 17 percent, and earnings by 38 percent. Another paper, by Blattman, Eric Green, Julian Jamison, and Jeannie Annan, looked at a program in Nigeria that gave about $150 and some basic business skills training to women in northern Uganda. Work hours increased by 61 percent."

There is no evidence that shows people on welfare don't want to work. Reagan's welfare queens were and are phoney.

Friday, November 20, 2015

more on a basic universal income

"Because the term 'basic income' is viewed controversially, many of the trials aren't using those words even as they push basic income features. In practice, those currently receiving social security benefits will instead be paid a non-means tested sum, without further obligations. Single-person households will receive around €950 ($967), with more going to families with children. Recipients will have enough to live on - but unlike basic income, not everyone will receive all of the money in the initial stages.
The basic income concept has received consistent support across the political spectrum in Holland, said Hoeijmakers, which is why it is now being packaged in different ways to see what works best. Most of the major Dutch political parties, with the exception of the conservative-liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, in some way support the scheme. Even with that party, he said, 'they don't like the idea of "free money," but they will get on board if you call it" negative income tax."'"

Mosre tests coming!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Groundwater is nonrenewable

"The water that supplies aquifers and wells that billions of people rely on around the world is mostly a non-renewable resource that could run out, a new Canadian-led study has found.
While many people may think groundwater is replenished by rain and melting snow the way lakes and rivers are, underground water is actually renewed much more slowly.
In fact, just six per cent of the groundwater around the world is replenished within a "human lifetime" of 50 years, reports University of Victoria hydrogeologist Tom Gleeson and his collaborators in a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience today."

Well crap. That's news to me. And it is very, very bad for the future. Lots of countries rely on groundwater to grow crops. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

have Americans been brainwashed to see democratic socialism as evil?

"What concerns me is why so many Americans want to  - choose to - find evil in Denmark’s form of democratic socialism.  I’ve been participating in the roller coaster commentary threads following Ana Swanson’s interview with Michael Booth in the Washington Post  and I’m sad to see that so many of the comments are harsh and vitriolic in nature. No amount of evidence or clarification is enough to mollify some of these commentators. They just get angrier and more irritated because positive comments are assumed to be lies or to have negative ulterior motives. You would think that Americans would be curious about Denmark after both Bernie and Hillary mentioned it in the Democratic debate.
Why so much anger?
Here’s my best educated guess: Most Americans have been brought up to believe that the USA is the best country in the world and that most people in other nations wish they could live in it. This means that it feels unpatriotic to admire someone else’s political system; disloyal – close to treason - to even consider the possibility that another socioeconomic system might be superior.
America’s superiority is an assumption I carried with me throughout my life and I probably brought it with me to Denmark when I was hired to teach for one year at the national journalism college. The one-year gig became two and then three and then five until I was granted academic tenure and permanent residency. By then, I was well acquainted with Denmark’s democratic socialism and after marrying a Danish national and realizing that I’d probably be staying forever, I started to consider myself fortunate.  Let me tell you why."

I grew up hearing and believing that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Why, then, would I think tiny Denmark or any other country had a better social system than us?  The first crack in this for me was to hear that Cuba had a lower rate of deaths at birth than the US. Huh? How could that be?  Then here and there I'd hear other statistics like that. Europeans averaged 4 weeks per year of vacation?   Health care does not have the US as # 1 anymore?

Now I am much more open to looking around the world and seeing what works, no matter where the idea comes from.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Another call for a guarnteed basic income

"First, it sets human creativity free to work on whatever comes to mind. For many people that could be making music or learning something new or doing research.
Second, it does not suppress the market mechanism. Innovative new products and services can continue to emerge. Much of that can be artisanal products or high touch services (not just new technology).
Third, it will allow crowdfunding to expand massively in scale and simultaneously permit much smaller federal, state and local government (they still have a role – I am not a libertarian and believe that market failures are real and some regulation and enforcement are needed, eg sewage, police).
Fourth, it will force us to more rapidly automate dangerous and unpleasant jobs. Many of these are currently held by people who would much rather engage in one of the activities from above.
Fifth, in a world of technological deflation, a basic income could be deflationary instead of inflationary. How? Because it could increase the amount of time that is volunteered."

I'm for this idea mainly because it simplifies all the current support programs into one simple one. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Finland will try a universal income strategy

"When fully implemented, the universal basic income would provide every Finnish citizen with a monthly taxfree payment of 800 euros, equivalent to about USD 881. This would replace currently existing social benefits received through the Finnish welfare system. Any income earned beyond the basic income will be taxable. Kela’s basic income proposal includes a trial period in which the payment delivered to citizens is only 550 euros, while existing benefits such as housing and income support would not be affected."

This isn't so crazy as you might think. Consider how many people in the US get government help right now. This is just a sort of consolidation and equalizing of what is already being done now to a large extent.  Simpler, easier, more equitable.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Basic Income experiment expands

More Dutch cities will join Utrecht in trying out a basic minimum income for its people, replacing all other forms of support from the government.  Some will stay with the current system as a base.
Other Dutch cities may join Utrecht in experimenting with a ‘basic income’ to replace the current complicated system of taxes, social security benefits and top-up benefits, the Financieele Dagblad says on Wednesday. In June, Utrecht city council announced plans to launch trials of the new system after the summer holidays together with researchers from Utrecht University. Now Tilburg has similar plans and aims to run a four-year trial, the FD says.

Read more at More Dutch cities may join in ‘basic income’ experiment
Other Dutch cities may join Utrecht in experimenting with a ‘basic income’ to replace the current complicated system of taxes, social security benefits and top-up benefits, the Financieele Dagblad says on Wednesday. In June, Utrecht city council announced plans to launch trials of the new system after the summer holidays together with researchers from Utrecht University. Now Tilburg has similar plans and aims to run a four-year trial, the FD says.

Read more at More Dutch cities may join in ‘basic income’ experiment
Other Dutch cities may join Utrecht in experimenting with a ‘basic income’ to replace the current complicated system of taxes, social security benefits and top-up benefits, the Financieele Dagblad says on Wednesday. In June, Utrecht city council announced plans to launch trials of the new system after the summer holidays together with researchers from Utrecht University. Now Tilburg has similar plans and aims to run a four-year trial, the FD says.

Read more at More Dutch cities may join in ‘basic income’ experiment

Thursday, July 30, 2015

So this factory will go from 650 workers down to 20. What happens as this rolls across China to all those workers?

When I was growing up, the promise of automation was that it would give workers more leisure time. Fewer hours of work for the same pay, was the promise.  What has happened instead is just more people out of work.  Companies pocket the money in savings rather than the employees.  I guess we should have seen this coming.

And we'd better figure out what to do with those unemployed. 
Data at the Dongguan factory show that since the robots came to the plant the defect rate of products has dropped from over 25 per cent to less than 5 per cent and the production capacity from more than 8,000 pieces per person per month increased to 21,000 pieces.

The company is only a microcosm of Dongguan, one of the manufacturing hubs in China. The city plans to finish 1,000 to 1,500 "robot replace human" programmes by 2016.

With the implementation of "Made in China 2025" st ..

With nearly 200 million people above 60 years and old age population set to rise sharply, China is bracing to face demographic crisis in the near future as it will have fewer work force.

Data at the Dongguan factory show that since the robots came to the plant the defect rate of products has dropped from over 25 per cent to less than 5 per cent and the production capacity from more than 8,000 pieces per person per month increased to 21,000 pieces.

The company is only a microcos ..

Data at the Dongguan factory show that since the robots came to the plant the defect rate of products has dropped from over 25 per cent to less than 5 per cent and the production capacity from more than 8,000 pieces per person per month increased to 21,000 pieces.

The company is only a microcosm of Dongguan, one of the manufacturing hubs in China. The city plans to finish 1,000 to 1,500 "robot replace human" programmes by 2016.

With the implementation of "Made in China 2025" st ..

Data at the Dongguan factory show that since the robots came to the plant the defect rate of products has dropped from over 25 per cent to less than 5 per cent and the production capacity from more than 8,000 pieces per person per month increased to 21,000 pieces.

The company is only a microcosm of Dongguan, one of the manufacturing hubs in China. The city plans to finish 1,000 to 1,500 "robot replace human" programmes by 2016.

With the implementation of "Made in China 2025" st ..

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Minimum income will be tested again

"A group of people already receiving welfare will get monthly checks ranging from around €900 ($1,000) for an adult to €1,300 ($1,450) for a couple or family per month. Out of the estimated 300 people participating, a group of at least 50 people will receive the unconditional basic income and won’t be subject to any regulation, so even if they get a job or find another source of income, they will still get their disbursement, explained Nienke Horst, a project manager for the Utrecht city government. There will be three other groups with different levels of rules, and a control group that will follow the current welfare law, with its requirements around job-seeking and qualifying income.
The experiment seeks to challenge the notion that people who receive public money need to be patrolled and punished, said Horst. The traditional criticism of basic income is that it does not incentivize people to work, and thereby damages the economy."

I'm becoming a strong believer in the idea of a universal minimum income.  Hopefully more research and experiments will be done to test this idea.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to really help the poor

"In education, we’ve learned that while some organizations in poor countries give out free uniforms and others scholarships, in Kenya a simple anti-parasite pill that kept children healthy enough to learn was 20 times as cost-effective as the uniforms, and 51 times as cost-effective as scholarships. Our local teams tracked the children into adulthood, and found that the children who received the anti-parasite pills went on to earn over 20 percent higher wages as adults than their peers who didn’t. In India and sub-Saharan Africa, where governments are implementing these programs, over 95 million children have now received the pills.
Yet poverty, and especially extreme poverty, is difficult to eliminate. The poorest of the poor have more problems than just lacking a regular income. Because they usually experience multiple challenges at the same time, we decided to look at the Graduation approach. Organizations employing this approach had been offering participants a 'productive asset' (an asset that generates income, such as livestock or supplies to sell in a small store), training on how to use it, healthcare to keep them healthy enough to work, a small amount of food or money to support themselves while they learned to make a living (so they didn’t have sell the asset immediately, merely to eat), access to a savings account to build up a buffer for future emergencies, and weekly coaching in areas like overcoming unexpected obstacles and meeting their savings goals."

There is no easy way to deal with poverty, but trickle-up actually works.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

To help any economy, help the poor

"The idea that increased income inequality makes economies more dynamic has been rejected by an International Monetary Fund study, which shows the widening income gap between rich and poor is bad for growth.
A report by five IMF economists dismissed “trickle-down” economics, and said that if governments wanted to increase the pace of growth they should concentrate on helping the poorest 20% of citizens.
The study – covering advanced, emerging and developing countries – said technological progress, weaker trade unions, globalisation and tax policies that favoured the wealthy had all played their part in making widening inequality 'the defining challenge of our time'."

Strangely, that's what a lot of religious leaders have taught.  it makes sense.  If the rich get all the money, you have a huge castle with all the wealth inside, and everybody else outside just struggling to survive.  If the lower income people get money, they spend it all over the place because they need to buy food, clothing, etc.  and hopefully have some left for a movie or book or something.

It's getting hard for governments to lie

Russia's Putin insists that there are no Russian troops fighting in Ukraine.  But he hasn't been able to keep his own soldiers from disproving this lie.

When so much information from so many sources is available at everyone's fingertips, all it takes is for somebody to put the pieces together.

"As the conflict in Ukraine continues, so too does Russian President Vladimir Putin's denial of any Russian involvement. But a recent report from think tank the Atlantic Council used open source information and social media to find evidence of Russian troops across the border.
Using the Atlantic Council's methodology, VICE News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky follows the digital and literal footprints of one Russian soldier, tracking him from eastern Ukraine to Siberia, to prove that Russian soldiers are fighting in Ukraine."

Friday, May 8, 2015

the future of cities

"We have had cities for more than 6,000 years. Until very recently, a child could walk without fear anywhere in them. In 1900, nobody was killed by a car in the United States. . .because there were no cars. Just 20 years later, as Peter Norton, a professor at the University of Virginia, found in his book "Fighting Traffic," more than 200,000 people were killed by cars. In 1925 alone, cars killed about 6,000 children. Cities and life in cities had changed. We should have started to make cities different to accommodate cars, where every other street would be for pedestrians only, for example. But instead we just made the streets bigger and bigger.
It is a truism to say that cities are for people. The urban challenge for the next few decades is to truly make them so, by doing things like turning half of every road into pedestrian-and-bicyclists-only space, or making every other street usable only by walkers and cyclists.
Much of the discussion about our urban future will probably refer to the distribution of that most valuable physical urban resource: road space. Democratically, every citizen has an equal right to road space, regardless of whether he or she has a car or not. How should road space be distributed between pedestrians, bicyclists, public transport and cars?"

Monday, May 4, 2015

No more Freedom of Assembly for You!

"Spain is only the latest 'democracy' to consign freedom of assembly to the dustbin. While earlier eras of protest and riot sometimes wrested concessions from the state, today the government’s default response is to implement increasingly draconian laws against the public exercise of democracy. It raises the question: How many rights must be abrogated before a liberal democracy becomes a police state?
In Quebec, where student strikes against austerity once again disrupt civil society, marches are being declared illegal before they’ve even begun. At the height of the last wave of student strikes in 2012, the Quebec legislature passed Bill 78, which made pickets and unauthorized gatherings of over 50 people illegal, and punished violations with fines of up to $5,000 for individuals and $125,000 for organizations. Similar fines are once again imposed on protesters.
Last October, a new law was passed in Turkey allowing police to search demonstrators and their homes without warrants or even grounds for suspicion, a much looser definition and harsher punishment for resisting arrest, and making covering your face at a protest or shouting particular slogans crimes punishable by years of jail time. This February in London police forced climate protest organizers to hire private security for marshaling a rally, making protesting not a free public right but an expensive private service.
The list goes on: France banned Palestine solidarity demonstrations; police in Australia gained the power to ban protesters from appearing in public spaces for a year, even if they work or live there; and Egypt, Ukraine and Russia’s governments have outlawed protest entirely. Mexico’s congress approved 'la ley antimarchas', which, if ratified by the state-level governments, will modify the constitution so that any unauthorized gathering would be illegal: the constitutional end to freedom of assembly. All of this in 2014."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Are Free Range Kids bad?

"The Silver Spring siblings were about 2 1/2 blocks from their home Sunday when Montgomery County police got a call reporting them — gasp — playing alone.
'The police coerced our children into the back of a patrol car and kept them trapped there for three hours, without notifying us, before bringing them to the Crisis Center, and holding them there without dinner for another two and a half hours,' their mom, Danielle Meitiv, said to her Facebook friends. 'We finally got home at 11 pm and the kids slept in our room because we were all exhausted and terrified'.”

Could the police be sued for kidnapping?  As I recall my childhood, the main rule was to be home at a certain time.  We ranged far and wide, but kept to that one rule.

Friday, April 10, 2015

High-frequency trading is ruining the stock market

"Mr Lewis says the major question is how to structure markets for stocks and shares as well as bonds and currencies as computers slowly and inexorably take over from human traders.
Martin Wheatley, the head of the markets watchdog the Financial Conduct Authority, has said that high-frequency trading now accounts for 30% of business on the UK equity market. In America it is higher.
Mr Lewis says that it is unclear - certainly in the US at least - whether the regulators are going to do anything about what he says is such a major problem.
One reason, he argues, is the "revolving door" between the Wall Street banks and firms engaged in high-frequency trading and the regulators themselves. A 'cosy club' has grown up, he says.
But, although that may be the case, Mr Lewis actually argues that the story of Flash Boys is one of hope.
And that's because the main witness in his book, Brad Katsuyama, a trader at the Royal Bank of Canada, has set up an exchange called IEX which seeks to eliminate 'predatory opportunities created by speed'."

I have mostly left the stock market because of stuff like this.

Friday, March 27, 2015

It does matter who you vote for; Republicans try to mess up the US

"(Reuters) - The Senate passed a Republican-authored budget plan early on Friday that seeks $5.1 trillion in domestic spending cuts over 10 years while boosting military funding.
The 52-46 vote on the non-binding budget resolution put Congress on a path to complete its first full budget in six years. It came at the end of a marathon 18-hour session that saw approval of dozens of amendments ranging from Iran sanctions to carbon emissions and immigration policies.
Two Republican senators who are running or considering running for president, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, voted against their party's budget plan, which is similar to one passed by House Republicans on Wednesday.
In addition to aiming to eliminate deficits within 10 years, both documents seek to ease the path for a repeal or replacement of President Barack Obama's signature health care reform law."

Who are we so afraid of that we have to INCREASE defense spending?  And why would we pay for that by depriving people of affordable health care?  Who actually thinks this way? And why would anyone vote for someone who thinks this way?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A minimum income was tried in Canada, and it worked

"Critics of basic income guarantees have insisted that giving the poor money would disincentivize them to work, and point to studies that show ​a drop in peoples' willingness to work under pilot programs. But in Dauphin—thought to be the largest such experiment conducted in North America—the experimenters found that the primary breadwinner in the families who received stipends were in fact not less motivated to work than before. Though there was some reduction in work effort from mothers of young children and teenagers still in high school—mothers wanted to stay at home longer with their newborns and teenagers weren’t under as much pressure to support their families—the reduction was not anywhere close to disastrous, as skeptics had predicted. "

Well there you go. Now we need to try this in the United States.  How about Rapid City, SD?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Sunday, February 1, 2015

So I guess this person won't be living in a tiny house

"I don't want to be defeatist here, because I do admire people who refuse to accept that the world is given to us as is—and instead choose to live as if the maxim of their actions should become a universal truth. It's what remains so attractive about Thoreau's Walden experiment. But we can't laud tiny houses for their innovation without beginning by saying that the economic realities that necessitate it are a huge fucking problem that won't go away with vintage marine lightbulb cages or marble countertops. And we can't treat tiny houses squatting on hobby farms as the latest trend for the well-heeled lumbersexual set.
Stories like these spread the falsehood that consumers have a say in how their neighbourhoods, communities and cities are planned—while the evidence repeatedly shows that our urban agendas are set by developers. Laneway houses, microlofts, tiny housesthese are individuated solutions to social problems that require social fixes. Why can't we see the ingenuity and innovation so evident on this "tiny" scale at macro levels? Because building a wee home on a trailer and towing it out to Sooke just isn't an option for a struggling daycare professional or recently laid-off Target worker—and they shouldn't be promised that it is."

The main argument here is that tiny houses are not for everybody. True. I don't think any tiny house promoter is arguing that everybody should live in one. It's just an alternative. And it demonstrates that we don't really need 2000 square feet of space to feel comfortable.

Croatia helps their 1% - the BOTTOM 1%

"Croatian government have gotten creditors on board a plan to erase the debts of some 60,000 poorest citizens. The “fresh start” scheme targets less than 1 percent of the entire debt, but is hoped to boost the economy in the long-term.
The unorthodox measure was voted for by the government on January 15 and comes into force on Monday. To be eligible to participate debtors must have no savings or property, have a debt no greater than about $5,100 and live on welfare or an income of no higher than $138 per month.
'We assess that this measure will be applicable to some 60,000 citizens,' Deputy Prime Minister Milanka Opacic said as he was introducing the bailout. 'Thus they will be given a chance for a new start without a burden of debt.'"

I look forward to seeing how this helps or hurts the economy overall. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

NYC conflates protesters with terrorists

"The NYPD will launch a unit of 350 cops to handle both counterterrorism and protests — riding vehicles equipped with machine guns and riot gear — under a re-engineering plan to be rolled out over the coming months."

Oh dear god, people. Protesting is a Constitutionally protected act. Terrorism is violence designed to terrorize a community.  Get these people a dictionary!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How safe is our electric grid? Pakistan sends a warning

"ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Towns and cities across Pakistan plunged into darkness early Sunday when what officials said was an attack by militants on a transmission line short-circuited the national electricity grid, presenting a new indictment of the government’s faltering efforts to solve the country’s chronic power crisis.
Emergency efforts to end the blackout, widely described as Pakistan’s worst ever, resulted in a partial restoration of power in the capital, Islamabad, and the most populous city, Karachi, by Sunday evening. Even so, 80 percent of the country remained without power, including the provincial capitals of Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta, an official said."

So how safe is our electricity grid?

"The specter of a large-scale, destructive attack on the U.S. power grid is at the center of much strategic thinking about cybersecurity. For years, Americans have been warned by a bevy of would-be Cassandras in Congress, the administration and the press that hackers are poised to shut it down.
But in fact, the half-dozen security experts interviewed for this article agreed it’s virtually impossible for an online-only attack to cause a widespread or prolonged outage of the North American power grid. Even laying the groundwork for such a cyber operation could qualify as an act of war against the U.S. — a line that few nation-state-backed hacker crews would wish to cross."

Monday, January 19, 2015

micro home communities a good way to help the homeless?

"Heben, the young urban planner and tiny-home evangelist who lives nearby, showed me around, explaining that Opportunity — which grew out of an Occupy camp, with the support of Eugene’s mayor — was built with $100,000 in donated funds plus roughly another $100,000 worth of donated material. Cottages cost a max of $2,000 apiece to build. Residents chip in $30 a month for the shared utilities.
Life at Opportunity does not feel as tidy as at Quixote. With no proper indoor kitchen, residents cook on grills or with a variety of toaster ovens in an outdoor area. The cottages are not heated, and on really cold nights, everyone sleeps in the yurt.
'There’s lots of sickness and colds,' said Tom, who looked a bit like an older Matthew McConaughey with his blue eyes and long blond hair under a Hard Rock Cafe cap. A former Ohio trucker who lost work during the recession, he now collects cans around town so he can make up to $20 a day in refunds. He likes to buy steak with his food stamps."

This is a great article about several communities of micro-houses.  Very thought-inducing.

oil pipeline spill in Montana hard to clean up because of ice

"A Bridger Pipeline spokesman said the break happened Saturday morning about 9 miles upstream from Glendive. The company, which transports Bakken crude, is confident that no more than 1,200 barrels — or 50,000 gallons — of oil spilled during the hour-long breach.
This spill is similar in size to another pipeline in the Yellowstone River that gained national attention. ExxonMobil’s Silvertip pipeline burst on July 1, 2011, below the Yellowstone riverbed near Laurel, Montana, during a flood. More than 1,500 barrels of oil, or 63,000 gallons, quickly spread downstream, affecting wildlife, parks, landowners, ag producers, and others. Hundreds of workers cleaned up the oily mess for months at a cost of $135 million, $1.6 million in state fines for Exxon, and a lawsuit against the oil company by landowners affected by the spill.
In the latest spill, an oil sheen was spotted some 60 miles downstream. Ice on the river has hampered early clean-up effort.
Some Glendive residents have reported being able to taste or smell the oil in their drinking water."

So long as we use oil we'll have spills. But this emphasizes the need for great care, and critics of Keystone XL pipeline are trying to make sure happens. If oil spills, as it inevitably will, it should not be over an aquifer that is irreplaceable should it become contaminated.

Kings and serfs will be all that's left after the rich finish us off

"If trends continue, Oxfam predicts that the most-affluent will possess more wealth than the remaining 99 percent by 2016, The New York Times reported.
Drill down the numbers even more and you'll learn that the 80 wealthiest people in the world possess $1.9 trillion, which is almost the same amount shared by some 3.5 billion people at the bottom half of the world's income scale.
Thirty-five of the lucky 80 were Americans with a combined wealth of $941 billion. Germany and Russia shared second place, with seven uber-rich individuals apiece.
Not surprisingly, the richest were titans in the finance, health care, insurance, retail, tech and extractives (oil, gas) industries, and they paid fortunes to lobbyists to maintain or increase their riches. Seventy of the world's wealthiest were men. And 11 members of the elite 80 simply inherited their wealth."

This is going back to the Middle Ages, where all the wealth was kept in the castle for the king and his close friends and family. Everyone else worked for the king under poverty income.  Is that what we want?  Not me.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

US the richest country on earth, eh

"For the first time, more than half of U.S. public school students live in low-income households, according to a new analysis from the Southern Education Foundation.
Overall, 51 percent of U.S. schoolchildren came from low-income households in 2013, according to the foundation, which analyzed data from National Center for Education Statistics on students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Eligibility for free or subsidized lunch for students from low-income households serves as a proxy for gauging poverty, says the foundation, which advocates education equity for students in the South.
The report shows the percentage of schoolchildren from poor households has grown steadily for nearly a quarter-century, from 32 percent in 1989. "By 2006, the national rate was 42 percent and, after the Great Recession, the rate climbed in 2011 to 48 percent," says the report."

Our income distribution is going back to the time where someone in a castle hoarded all the wealth, while everyone else was a servant or vassal.  I don't like it.

Monday, January 12, 2015

indoor farming is much more efficient

"The statistics for this incredibly successful indoor farming endeavor in Japan are staggering: 25,000 square feet producing 10,000 heads of lettuce per day (100 times more per square foot than traditional methods) with 40% less power, 80% less food waste and 99% less water usage than outdoor fields. But the freshest news from the farm: a new facility using the same technologies has been announced and is now under construction in Hong Kong, with Mongolia, Russia and mainland China on the agenda for subsequent near-future builds."

This is quite amazing and should work for many crops. Of course, things like corn, which grows up to 8 feet tall, would be a bit prohibitive.  But still this is great.