Friday, February 21, 2014

Are "rights of way" key to better mega-cities? Plus science news!

My talk at TEDx San Diego-2013 -- What's Next? The Horizon of our Dreams --  is now posted for viewing by all.  It was very popular, but challenging for the smart audience, as I took them on a rapid tour of human history, society, evolution… and our galactic destiny… all in  12 minutes!
Rumors abound that Elon is dickering for Apple to buy or collaborate with Tesla Motors and -- of course -- create the "iCar."
iCar-Tinkerers copySounds cool…
...though my only real comment is this illustration from my 2010 graphic novel about American industry called TINKERERS.
== Aggressive help to vitalize "mega-cities." ==
Here is a fascinating article about the dilemma of megacities... and some innovative new, technological approaches that might help make them livable: Our Fragile Emerging Megacities: A Focus on Resilience, by Kevin C. Desouza.
Riffing off of this piece, I have long believed that one key, seldom-mentioned aspect for saving megacities is the problem and opportunity of rights-of-way (RoW).  Any of these megacities could be vitalized by a process that -- at first sight -- will seem brutal, but that does not have to be.  It is the demolition of -- and rebuilding upon -- a 200 meter wide corridor extending from the port, to the urban center, then out to the industrial parks and airport and then countryside.
Within this razed band, every major, revitalizing service can then be inserted at very low cost, using simple trenching methods: utilities, sewer systems, water, underground metros and a grand boulevard.  There would also be room for new-innovative services like pneumatic tube delivery of goods, eliminating much of the truck traffic that clogs streets.
Atop the easily-trenched service corridors might not only be a grand boulevard but also farmers markets, booth-bazaars and a slim but beautiful urban park… that incidentally would allow cheap and trivial access to utilities for repair or upgrade, a terrible design problem in most legacy cities.  The land on both sides would skyrocket in usability and value, for more than a kilometer in both directions, a linear approach to urban development that worked so well along Wilshire Boulevard, in Los Angeles.
Rights-of-way-mega-citiesThe efficiency of this system would bring huge returns to investors, despite having to carefully allow for: 
(1) dealing with corrupt governments and 
(2) setting aside 1/3 ownership rights in the new commercial frontages to the original inhabitants who were uprooted.  

Indeed, the biggest challenge, requiring great care, would be acting covertly in advance to secretly discover and document every person living along the RoW -- even in slums and favelas -- and vesting them in their shares before local elites get a chance to interfere or cheat… and then providing housing for the displaced until fill-in is completed.
Sorry, but I've been thinking about this for decades, developing  details, waiting for some "I want to change the world" billionaire to come to me for my list of ways to both re-shape tomorrow for the better… and get even richer doing it. This particular one would seem an opportunity of almost transcendent importance, requiring deep pockets and even deeper guts.
But some zillionaire could change the world, and get every penny back, ten-fold.
== About… us… ==
The Evolution of Fairness through Spite:  A study done by philosophers Patrick Forber of Tufts University and Rory Smead of Northwestern University, suggests fairness in societies evolves out of a fear of spite from others, rather than due to an increase in altruism.  Interesting how this resonates with both my short story "The Giving Plague" (free online) and this contrarian perspective on whether altruism might pervade the universe, as some fervently believe.
outrageIs this related?  A major study has found quite significant correlations between Internet trolling behavior and general personality nastiness.  Specifically, trolls score highly in personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).
Internet trolls (who are frequently anonymous) have a polarizing effect on audiences, leading to politicization, rather than deeper understanding of scientific topics. This puts a strong incentive on the rest of us to explore potential alternatives to pure, accountability-free anonymity.  Proposals for sheltered pseudonymity are on the table, which could provide all the benefits of anonymity -- freedom to explore and reduce inhibitions/fears -- without making malignancy outcome-free.
Only a fraction of trolls self-identify -- the focus of this study. But a majority believe that their passion is always and inherently justified, an indignant state that they return to, far too readily and frequently to be anything other than an epiphenomenon of addiction. See my article: An Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry and Social Psychology.
Ah… but then there are the relatives of trolls… wargs.  War-fighters And Gossip Spreaders. They move in packs, leaving scorched earth. And they feel no need for anonymity.
== Space! and Tech==
A fatwa—an interpretation based on Quranic scripture—issued by the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment in the United Arab Emirates, has declared that the Mars One endeavor, to hurry a mission to Mars by making it a one-way attempt at colonization, is too close to suicide to be permitted.
Mars-simulation-arcticHow will humans adapt to space -- and cope with the stresses of continuous close contact in a space module? Support the IndieGogo campaign: A One-year Mars Simulation in the Canadian Arctic. Why aim for Mars? See Robert Zubrin's book, The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet... and Why We Must. 
Penn State University chemists and engineers have, for the first time, placed tiny synthetic motors inside live human cells in a lab, propelled them with ultrasonic waves, and steered them magnetically.
Google is offering advice to Google-Glass users: don't be glass-holes.
The Bluetooth Orb is a a Bluetooth finger ring with scrolling display, built in microphone, and the ability to transform between a ring and an earpiece. Early versions wowed audiences and electronics shows… then it vanished! (I have better things in mind, anyway.)

Synthetic muscle made of fishing line is 100 times stronger than the real thing.
Frequency of random events on xkcd: mesmerizing!
Dangers of ... sitting? Regardless of exercise, too much sedentary time is linked to major disability after age 60.
Mottled-transparency== Transparency News ==
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande will review plans to build up a trustworthy data protection network in Europe. The challenge is to avoid data passing through the U.S. after revelations of mass NSA spying in Germany and France.
Merkel has been one of the biggest supporters of greater data protection in Europe since the revelations that the U.S. tapped her phone emerged in a Der Spiegel news report in October -- based on information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Hm… I am skeptical it'd work.  But variety is spice.

See also my interview on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd dealing with issues of Transparency on BlogTalkRadio.
== Wonders ==
See pictures of swirling tornado-like forms which turned out to be thousands of fish in the midst of a reproductive courtship.
Really interesting… how wolves change rivers.
Human and dog brains both have dedicated 'voice area.'


sociotard said...

Surely China, where they just straight up build cities (and the demo problems you highlighted wouldn't be an issue) would be the easiest way to test your supertrench theory.

Wouldn't the supertrench be a good target for terrorists? Putting all essential services right in one place where it'd be easy to pull up a truckload of thermite

David Brin said...

Sociotard, your crit of the "one-trench- approach was… trenchant!

Seriously, criticism is the CITOKATE, right? Clearly there would have to be multiple tranches. That's not a major cost. Nor is using heavy reinforcement of concrete separations. You'd need that anyway, to keep the sewer and metro and water systems separate.

What's vital is to remember that rights-of-way and tunnel creation are by far the two biggest costs of such projects. This is the huge attraction of my idea. Those two are reduced almost to nothing. True, at cost of the state exercising a HUGE act of eminent domain seizure. One that will make corrupt local elites drool! Only to be stymied by some clever methods….

Paul451 said...

Re: Merkel and data protection.

I'd be less cynical if:

a) the European leaders got together to create and mandate standards for Europe-wide encryption, obfuscation and cypher-authentication across multiple devices, on all networks, for all users, on by default. Not just a few Berlin ministers under orders (and a few paranoid nerds) effectively waving a banner saying "Look here!", but the entire userbase across a few hundred million European residents.

Because of the size of the European market, manufacturers would find it easier to include these standards to every device in every market, rather than have a "European" version. This would create an expanding wave of anti-spying data security around the world. It wouldn't prevent targeted snooping (after all, you could physically bug phones, cars, homes) but makes the universal slurping and storing by the NSA (and I'm sure China/Russia/etc) much harder.

b) the same European leaders offered amnesty and protection for Snowden, the whistle-blower who revealed the thing they are now supposedly up in arms over.

But no. The European governments want their spies to be able to still snoop on their citizens. They just want a network they can spy on that the yanks can't. And they sure as hell don't want to encourage whistle-blowers.

Paul451 said...

Alternative to a linear utilities trench would be to adopt the old city-walls model, except with concentric rings of utilities-parks instead of walls. (Ancient cities would build a wall around their core to repel invaders. The poor would expand outside the wall (sheltering within the city-proper during attacks), the rich would increase density within, then once the city expanded enough the rulers would build a new wall around that. Rinse/repeat. The city would expand in a series of concentric rings, which has left a still-visible pattern on European cities...)

Or have city/suburbs in medium to high density clumps, with an interconnected web of utilities/parks between the clumps; that way everywhere within the greater metropolitan expanse is within, say, 3km of the utilities park-web.

Of course, I'm assuming planning in advance, whereas David is talking about redeveloping an existing city sprawl.

Paul451 said...

Re: Mars.
Most attempts to justify the colonisation of Mars are really just the general arguments for expansion off of Earth. Ie, nothing especially in favour of Mars.

And it seems to me that there are very few planets (or planet-like moons) that are capable of supporting life. The majority of the sub-Neptunian solar system is open space and asteroids (and/or asteroid-like moons.) And the trans-Neptunian space, the bulk of the solar system, is even more open space and ice-dwarfs.

Learning how to live on Mars increases us from 1 place to 2. Learning how to live off-planet increases us from 1 place to thousands, eventually millions. And those thousands/millions of new places would exist in a massively redundant, interconnected web of people, resources and trade; something hugely resistant to destruction. And over time, it creates the very technologies that can allow us to drift between the stars, even if there's no SF shortcuts.

How is this even an argument? Mars is for the meek, the fearful and the unimaginative. For the bold, ad astra.

Tony Fisk said...

I recently did an online course in Designing Cities at UPenn. When finally asked to let our minds loose and redesign our home towns, nobody was quite as audacious as your 'Rights of Way' proposal, David (the closest being an idea to enclose the Moscow ring road system from the elements)

Actually, creating boulevards has been a classic urban landscaping technique since Roman times (although perhaps not with the infrastructure element you have in mind)

I'm sure others have already done so, but you might find it worthwhile getting in touch with professors Stefan Al, Jonathan Barnett, or Gary Hack to see what holes they can poke in your idea

Rights of Way is a particularly sore point in Melbourne at the moment. The State Govt is pushing a controversial road link to the extent of introducing legislation intended to quell debate, objection, and protest (hint: as Yanukovych has just discovered, forcing tools usually lead to breakage). With ironic overtones that only happen in real life, the Premier has just thumb downed a plan to tear up Swanston St to install an underground rail, saying it would be too disruptive.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

Coming up on the end of my re-read of "Existence", I have to say I enjoyed it better the second time, seeing more of the connections between the various time periods covered in the book.

I just got to some of the names of the alien passengers toward the end:

Jovindra Noonien Singh- Ok, a blatant Star Trek reference to Khan Noonien Singh, but if there's more to the "Jovindra" part, it went over my head.

M'm por'lock- any relation to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Man from Porlock" who supposedly interrupted his writing of "Kubla Khan"? (And kept him from getting to the "more interesting half of the poem" if one believes Dirk Gently!)

Now that I type this out, both have a "Khan" reference in there if you look hard enough and squint. Anything there besides my own overactive pattern-recognizer?

Duncan Cairncross said...

Just watched the Onion - compost powered car

It was funny and horrible - so many people do think that "its the idea" and that all of the work to implement it is not important

That is one of the most pernicious memes in our western world,

The meme that "ideas" are rare and precious and that implementation is much easier than creativity

So we value "creativity" miles above the actual skills and craftsmanship required to make ideas real

David Brin said...

LarryHart, right on all counts… though sometimes the subconscious offers you something to grab and you just offer it to the reader… with less depth than the writer pretends….

Hope you liked it the second time!


LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

"Existence" was a much better read the second time. First of all, the first reads on a cruise ship in Alaska (which made the cruise ship metaphor toward the end a little weird), so while it was part of an enjoyable time of my life, I wasn't fully concentrating on the book. More importantly, though, I think there were just too many concepts to absorb all at once.

It practically required a second reading, but not an immediate one. Hence now, a year and a half later.

The first time, I thought of the three (?) different time periods in the book as almost completely distinct stories. Only on second reading do I see the coherent whole. And since I'm still not exactly sure what "Seeker's" mission was, I suppose a third reading will become necessary in another year or two.

There's so much there at the very end which I can't possibly comment on without spoiling it for others who haven't yet read the book. Let me just say that I was expecting you to try to establish that humanity becomes the fabled Progenitors of Uplift fame (though how that could be possible without time travel, I haven't a clue), and instead you seemed to be explaing something else--how another series featuring a universe populated with humanoids might originate. And by our hand, the galaxy might come back to life

"By our hand" as the Progenitors of Uplift? Or as...something else?

And beyond them, she glimpsed Sagitarius, its innumarable stars like dust tells me I might not be mistaken.

You write poetry as well as sci-fi.

David Brin said...

I am honored, sir. Tell your friends ;-)

Stefan Jones said...


Google is giving Portland, and several of its suburbs, a second chance to get wired (fibered?) for its Google Fiber high-speed Internet service. My town is one of the ones mentioned in the press-release level articles that circulated last week. Fingers crossed!

Projects like this will require lots of cooperation by the local government, and utilities. I wonder if Comcast will put up much of a fuss.

I did ask my homeowners' association board if they'd be ready for another carrier in the neighborhood. There actually is a fiber connection to each home (Verizon FIOS). I'd love the option of another.

David Brin said...


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