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Posts Tagged ‘innovation

“Water, water everywhere”*…

 

Miami

 

On November 14, 2016, six days after Donald Trump was elected president, a man named Richard Conlin found an octopus in the parking garage of his Miami Beach apartment building. The translucent creature, which a viral photo showed sitting in a small puddle by a row of cars, had been brought ashore by an unusually large high tide that sent sludgy water rushing through nearby streets. A local biologist speculated that the octopus had found its way inside one of the apartment building’s drainage pipes: the pipes had been positioned well above the waterline when the condo complex was constructed, but rising sea levels meant they were now submerged at high tide, allowing aquatic creatures to make their way inside. (Conlin wrote on Facebook that he spotted a small school of fish swimming in another puddle.)

The octopus makes for an apt little parable not just about the extent to which climate change is already changing daily life in the United States, but about the way in which it is doing so. The cephalopod did not arrive in the parking garage Day After Tomorrow-style, on the crest of an apocalyptic wave, but by means of a crucial yet neglected piece of infrastructure. The alarming fact the octopus represents is not that the ocean threatens to destroy us, but that it threatens to destroy the structures we have built in its midst.

Miami, as you may have heard, is doomed: depending on which study you prefer, the city will be underwater by 2100, 2060, 2050, or whenever the next hurricane hits. It is poised to see two, five, eight, ten, or twelve feet of sea-level rise in the next century. Even numbers on the low end of that range would be enough to inundate Conlin’s apartment building, not to mention billions more dollars of real estate. Tidal flooding events of the kind that brought the octopus ashore increased by more than 400 percent between 2006 and 2013, and the city has only barely been spared by a number of major hurricanes in that same time span. The right storm—The Big One, as they call it in Florida—could raze whole swaths of Miami, send its property market and tourism industry into a death spiral, and spur a mass exodus of domestic climate refugees. Even in the absence of such a storm, the city’s lowest-lying neighborhoods may need to be abandoned by midcentury if the rest of it is to be preserved…

The coming scramble for free space won’t be as bad as it could have been, though, because many of the most vulnerable homes in the city don’t have anyone living in them in the first place. The glistening condo towers that make up the high end of Miami’s housing market serve predominantly as parking lots for foreign capital, much of it of dubious origin. The absentee ownership rate in many of these buildings is well above 50 percent, and even as the streets of Miami Beach begin to flood, the emirs and mafiosi who own these apartments will be somewhat insulated from the crash in the rest of the city’s housing market, since the selling point of these condos is not their view of the Biscayne Bay but their ability to serve as storage units for foreign capital.

For everyone who actually lives in Miami, though, it’s going to get ugly, and there isn’t much the city can do about it. [Journalist Mario Alejandro] Ariza opens the book [Disposable City: Miami’s Future on the Shores of Climate Catastrophe] with the image of an enormous water pump designed to flush out water from the streets in the event of a high tide or a hurricane; the city has installed a number of these pumps in the past few years, financing them with a new climate-oriented municipal bond, and has also endeavored to raise dozens of miles of streets. Even if these interventions always worked out, which they don’t—a former mayor of Miami Beach prioritized installing pumps and raising roads near property he owned, inadvertently increasing flooding in nearby businesses he didn’t own—they wouldn’t be enough to forestall a crisis that is coming sooner rather than later. With enough money from the federal government, the city could in theory move the most vulnerable homeowners out of harm’s way before it’s too late, build green infrastructure to absorb floodwaters, and sponsor high-density affordable housing for those who want to stay, but a hat trick in that regard seems unlikely. If sea level rise reaches nine feet by the end of the century, though, none of these interventions will matter: all of Miami and much of South Florida will be underwater. Even if the city doesn’t sink altogether, hundreds of thousands of Miamians will likely be displaced to Orlando, Atlanta, and other nearby cities, none of which are going to feel exactly like paradise in the year 2100…

Miami’s bleak future on the front line of climate change; “The City That Lived.”

And to put it into a broader context: “2020 Is our Last, Best Chance to Save the Planet” and  “The Great Climate Migration Has Begun.”

* Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

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As we search for a drop to drink, we might spare a thought for a man who successfully manged water in a different physical state, Frank Joseph Zamboni, Jr.; he died on this date in 1988.  An engineer and inventor, he is best known for the modern ice resurfacer, seen at work at hockey games and figure skating competitions; indeed, his surname is the registered trademark for these devices.

220px-Frank_Zamboni source

 

“You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too”*…

 

food

 

In the long timeline of human civilization, here’s roughly how things shook out: First, there was fire, water, ice, and salt. Then we started cooking up and chowing down on oysters, scallops, horsemeat, mushrooms, insects, and frogs, in that general chronological order. Fatty almonds and sweet cherries found their way into our diet before walnuts and apples did, but it would be a couple thousand years until we figured out how to make ice cream or a truly good apple pie. Challah (first century), hot dogs (15th century), Fig Newtons (1891), and Meyer lemons (1908) landed in our kitchens long before Red Bull (1984), but they all arrived late to the marshmallow party — we’d been eating one version or another of those fluffy guys since 2000 B.C.

This is, more or less, the history of human eating habits for 20,000 years, and right now, you can find it all cataloged on the Food Timeline, an archival trove of food history hiding in plain sight on a website so lo-fi you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a GeoCities fanpage. When you look past the Times Roman font and taupe background, the Food Timeline happens to be the single most comprehensive inventory of food knowledge on the internet, with thousands upon thousands of pages of primary sources, cross-checked research, and obsessively detailed food history presented in chronological order. Every entry on the Food Timeline, which begins with “water” in pre-17,000 B.C. and ends with “test tube burgers” in 2013, is sourced from “old cook books, newspapers, magazines, National Historic Parks, government agencies, universities, cultural organizations, culinary historians, and company/restaurant web sites.” There is history, context, and commentary on everything from Taylor pork roll to Scottish tablet to “cowboy cooking.”…

The Food Timeline, in all its comprehensive splendor, was the work of an obsessed person: a New Jersey reference librarian named Lynne Olver. Olver launched the site in 1999, two years before Wikipedia debuted, and maintained it, with little additional help, for more than 15 years. By 2014, it had reached 35 million readers and Olver had personally answered 25,000 questions from fans who were writing history papers or wondering about the origins of family recipes. Olver populated the pages with well-researched answers to these questions, making a resource so thorough that a full scroll to the bottom of the Food Timeline takes several labored seconds….

The entry for soup alone spans more than 70,000 words (The Great Gatsby doesn’t break 50,000), with excerpts from sources like Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat’s A History of Food, John Ayto’s An A-Z of Food and Drink, and D. Eleanor Scully and Terence Scully’s Early French Cookery….

For nearly two decades, Olver’s work was everyone else’s gain. In April of 2015, she passed away after a seven-month struggle with leukemia, a tragedy acknowledged briefly at the bottom of the site. “The Food Timeline was created and maintained solely by Lynne Olver (1958-2015, her obituary), reference librarian with a passion for food history.”

In the wake of Olver’s death, no one has come forward to take over her complex project, leaving a void in the internet that has yet to be filled — and worse, her noble contribution to a world lacking in accurate information and teeming with fake news is now in danger of being lost forever…

The internet’s most comprehensive archive of food history — a passion project of one dedicated librarian — predates Wikipedia. Now, it needs a new custodian: “Who Will Save the Food Timeline?

* Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird

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As we contemplate comestibles, we might recall that it was on this date in 1904 (as the Library of Congress notes) that the first ice cream cone was served.

On July 23, 1904, according to some accounts, Charles E. Menches conceived the idea of filling a pastry cone with two scoops of ice-cream and thereby invented the ice-cream cone. He is one of several claimants to that honor: Ernest Hamwi, Abe Doumar, Albert and Nick Kabbaz, Arnold Fornachou, and David Avayou all have been touted as the inventor(s) of the first edible cone. Interestingly, these individuals have in common the fact that they all made or sold confections at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. It is from the time of the Fair that the edible “cornucopia,” a cone made from a rolled waffle, vaulted into popularity in the United States.

Another claimant, Italo Marchiony, actually received a patent in 1903 for a device to make edible cups with handles. However the patent drawings show the device as a molded container rather than the rolled waffle seen at the Fair. Although paper and metal cones were used by Europeans to hold ice cream and pita bread was used by Middle Easterners to hold sweets, the ice-cream cone seems to have come to America by way of “the Pike” (as the entertainment midway of the St. Louis World’s Fair was called).

Randolph Smith Lyon, Mildred Frances Lyon, Mrs. Montague Lyon (Frances Robnett Smith Lyon), Montague Lyon, Jr., eating ice cream cones at the 1904 World’s Fair. Snapshot photograph, 1904.  (Missouri History Museum)

The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis: site of the national debuts of peanut butter, the hot dog, Dr Pepper, iced tea, cotton candy– and of course, ice cream cones. (source)

 

 

“Money laundering is a very sophisticated crime and we must be equally sophisticated”*…

 

money-wash

 

It’s bad form to mention money-laundering. Instead, you talk about asset-management structures and tax beneficial schemes.   — John Sweeney

This is the untold history of how prominent civil servants in the UK tailored US-devised anti-money laundering (AML) policies in ways that suited the needs of Britain’s financial services industry. In the aftermath of these initial compromises in 1987, criminal money managers in both the US and the UK were able to continue to operate in an environment that easily allowed them to hide and use dirty money. The researchers analysed six months of previously unseen personal correspondence and documents exchanged between various actors in the UK Government during 1987. From this they conclude that the core of the current, global AML regime, was not the destruction of drug money laundering and banking secrecy, nor the ending of criminal financial enablers and with it hot money; rather it was the protection and leverage of national trading interests on both sides of the Atlantic. And the drive to protect these interests would see crime control laws made, amended and changed to cater for the interests of the US and UK banking and finance industries. The file had been classified as secret and held by the UK Treasury until it was released to the public in 2017 as an archive document transferred to The National Archives in accordance with The Public Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act…

Mary Alice Young and Michael Woodiwiss tell the extraordinary story of governments effectively competing with criminal gangs at “A world fit for money laundering: the Atlantic alliance’s undermining of organized crime control.”

(Image above: source)

* Attorney General (1993 to 2001) Janet Reno… whose words can be understood, per the article cited above, in more than one way…

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As we follow the money, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that George B. Hansburg was issued a patent (#2,793,036) for his invention of “an improved pogo stick”– the modern two-handled pogo stick.

While spring stilts had been invented in 1891, the original pogo stick was created in 1920 by Max Pohlig and Ernst Gottschall– the first two letters of whose surnames gave the device its name.

Pogoanim source

 

Written by LW

May 21, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance”*…

 

high-cost-of-deferred-maintenance

 

The most unappreciated and undervalued forms of technological labour are also the most ordinary: those who repair and maintain technologies that already exist, that were ‘innovated’ long ago. This shift in emphasis involves focusing on the constant processes of entropy and un-doing – which the media scholar Steven Jackson calls ‘broken world thinking’ – and the work we do to slow or halt them, rather than on the introduction of novel things…

We can think of labour that goes into maintenance and repair as the work of the maintainers, those individuals whose work keeps ordinary existence going rather than introducing novel things. Brief reflection demonstrates that the vast majority of human labour, from laundry and trash removal to janitorial work and food preparation, is of this type: upkeep. This realisation has significant implications for gender relations in and around technology. Feminist theorists have long argued that obsessions with technological novelty obscures all of the labour, including housework, that women, disproportionately, do to keep life on track. Domestic labour has huge financial ramifications but largely falls outside economic accounting, like Gross Domestic Product. In her classic 1983 book, More Work for Mother, Ruth Schwartz Cowan examined home technologies – such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners – and how they fit into women’s ceaseless labour of domestic upkeep. One of her more famous findings was that new housekeeping technologies, which promised to save labour, literally created more work for mother as cleanliness standards rose, leaving women perpetually unable to keep up.

Nixon, wrong about so many things, also was wrong to point to household appliances as self-evident indicators of American progress. Ironically, Cowan’s work first met with scepticism among male scholars working in the history of technology, whose focus was a male pantheon of inventors: Bell, Morse, Edison, Tesla, Diesel, Shockley, and so on. A renewed focus on maintenance and repair also has implications beyond the gender politics that More Work for Mother brought to light. When they set innovation-obsession to the side, scholars can confront various kinds of low-wage labour performed by many African-Americans, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic minorities. From this perspective, recent struggles over increasing the minimum wage, including for fast food workers, can be seen as arguments for the dignity of being a maintainer…

Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility. Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefits, to what end? A focus on maintenance provides opportunities to ask questions about what we really want out of technologies. What do we really care about? What kind of society do we want to live in? Will this help get us there? We must shift from means, including the technologies that underpin our everyday actions, to ends, including the many kinds of social beneficence and improvement that technology can offer. Our increasingly unequal and fearful world would be grateful…

Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more: “Hail the maintainers.”

[image above: source]

* Kurt Vonnegut

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As we invest in infrastructure, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to Jules Henri Poincaré; he was born on this date in 1854.  A mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and a philosopher of science, Poincaré is considered the “last Universalist” in math– the last mathematician to excel in all fields of the discipline as it existed during his lifetime.

Poincaré was a co-discoverer (with Einstein and Lorentz) of the special theory of relativity; he laid the foundations for the fields of topology and chaos theory; and he had a huge impact on cosmogony.  His famous “Conjecture” held that if any loop in a given three-dimensional space can be shrunk to a point, the space is equivalent to a sphere; it remained unsolved until Grigori Perelman completed a proof in 2003.

source

And we might also send amusingly-phrased birthday greetings to Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein; the philospher of logic, math, language, and the mind was born on this date in 1889.

220px-35._Portrait_of_Wittgenstein source

 

 

 

“All things play a role in nature, even the lowly worm”*…

 

worm

Artist’s rendering of Ikaria wariootia. It would have lived on the seafloor.

 

A worm-like creature that burrowed on the seafloor more than 500 million years ago may be key to the evolution of much of the animal kingdom.

The organism, about the size of a grain of rice, is described as the earliest example yet found in the fossil record of a bilaterian.  These are animals that have a front and back, two symmetrical sides, and openings at either end joined by a gut.

The scientists behind it say the development of bilateral symmetry was a critical step in the evolution of animal life.

It gave organisms the ability to move purposefully and a common, yet successful way to organise their bodies.

A multitude of animals, from worms to insects to dinosaurs to humans, are organised around this same basic bilaterian body plan.

Scott Evans, of the University of California at Riverside, and colleagues have called the organism Ikaria wariootia

How a 555 million year old worm paved our developmental path: “Fossil worm shows us our evolutionary beginnings.”  Read the underlying paper in the journal PNAS.

* Gary Larson

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As we celebrate symmetry, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that Hyman L. Lipman, of Philadelphia was issued the first U.S. patent for a combination lead pencil and eraser (No. 19,783).  The pencil was made in the usual manner, with one-fourth of its length reserved inside one end to carry a piece of prepared india-rubber, glued in at one edge.  Thus, cutting one end prepared the lead for writing, while cutting the other end would expose a small piece of india rubber.  This eraser was then conveniently available whenever needed, and not likely to be mislaid.  Further, the eraser could be sharpened to a finer point to make a more precise erasure of fine lines in a drawing, or cut further down if the end became soiled.

US19783-drawings-page-1 source

 

Written by LW

March 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

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