Money, It’s Something

Poverty

Just an observation today about there being so much poverty in the Nation’s capital and around the country.

Homeless, hungry, and sick people on the streets in one of the richest countries in the world.

Yet, we have trillions going overseas to fight wars with seemingly little to no tangible benefits.

And so much ostensible waste with pork barrel politics, inefficiencies, and failed projects.

A relative joked with me the other day saying, “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor as long as you have money!”

Here we borrow money ($17.6 trillion ) and print money and the Federal Reserve buys debt ($4.1 trillion ) to keep interest rates low and the economy churning.

People from real estate mogul, Donald Trump to Economist, Robert Wiedemer, who predicted the last recession, are warning of dire economic consequences because of these short-sighted policies.

So do we have real money to continue to burn or is it smoke and mirrors and as Wiedemer says, “the medicine will become the poison”–what do you think?

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Fair Trade Principles Are Cool

Fair Trade Principles Are Cool

So I was up in Harpers Ferry and discovered this cool boutique store called Tenfold.

The store carries a collection of creative “fair trade,” eco-friendly products from around the world.

They had a cool variety of clothing and accessories–that was different and special.

We all found something there to come back with and had to choose what we liked best.

I ended up getting a couple of handmade ties from a company called Global Mamas in Ghana and the girls got some skirts (and necklaces) made by Unique Batik in Thailand.

I liked the quality and design of the merchandise.

But more than that, I was truly impressed by the principles these companies adhere to under fair trade:

- Alleviate poverty and social injustice
– Support open, fair, and respectful relationships between producers and customers
– Develop producers’ skills, and foster access to markets, application of best practices, and independence,
– Promote economic justice by improving living standards, health, education, and the distribution of power
– Pay promptly and fairly
– Support safe working conditions
– Protect children’s rights
– Cultivate sustainable practices
– Respect cultural diversity

Note: Fair trade is not to be confused with free trade–the later being where government does not interfere with imports or exports by applying tariffs, subsidies, or quotas.

Truly, if we give people a chance to be productive under fair trade working conditions, they can make the world a little better one product at a time. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Colonize And Survive

Colonize And Survive

It was interesting to read in Popular Science (12 April 2013) that the famous physicist and futurist, Stephen Hawking, stated that humans would face extinction on planet Earth within the next 1,000 years.

Hawking says we need to colonize other planets–and I believe that is sound advice.

While Mother Earth has an incredible ability to rejuvenate and self-heal, let’s face it, the planet cannot sustain us forever in our current state.

According to the United Nations, the world population is expected to hit 9.22 billion by 2075, and life expectancy is expected to rise varying across countries from 66 to 97 by 2100.

Moreover, according to research institution, Transatlantic Academy (May 2012), over the next 10-20 we are likely to see “accelerating demand for most natural resource commodities…increasingly volatile markets, [and] scarcities are likely to be more common.”

In the absence of major technological breakthroughs, increased social equity, and peaceful coexistence on this planet, we will need to find resources outside of Earth and colonize other planets–this is our future.

Already, as reported by National Geographic (10 April 2013), the administration has funded NASA to capture an asteroid and set it in orbit around the moon to not only study and develop capabilities to help protect our planet from a collision, but also to eventually be able to mine asteroids for precious minerals.

As much as we love Earth–although sometimes we don’t show it by being gluttonous with its resources, polluting, destroying the ozone, and generally not following sustainable practices–we need to have a “Plan B” whereby we explore for water, food, land, minerals, and energy elsewhere and be ready to make a move to survive another 6000 years and more. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Great Big Apple Donut

The Great Big Apple Donut

Some people think the new Apple HQs (or Apple Campus 2) looks like a flying saucer or spaceship–to me, it looks like a great big donut. :-)

In all seriousness though, the planned Apple HQs is so cool–I love it!

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (4 April 2013) has a terrific article about this awesome design project.

Some of the facts about this planned facility:

- Houses 12,000 employees
– Has 4 concentric rings.
– 2.8 million square feet (2/3 the size of the Pentagon)
– 176 acres of trees, including the vast courtyard in the center which will have apricot, olive, and apple orchards.
– 40-foot high walls of concave glass
– 700,000 square feet of solar panels (enough to power 4,000 homes)
– Climate-responsive technology such as window treatments that automatically open and close
– Costs about $5 billion (1.1 billion more than the new World Trade Center)
– Move in expected 2016
– Just 2 entry roads
– 4-story underground garage
– 2 R&D labs
– Fitness center

While some think that this building is vanity, I think it is a work of art, and perfectly suits the innovativeness nature of the company.

Apple’s HQS is a reflection of itself, not just another building. The beautiful, sleek, and high-tech building melds with the company’s design philosophy and vision for great consumer products.

Just like Apple’s unique positioning in being able to integrate hardware and software solutions for their customers, their new HQS is a unification of their physical work environment with their internal vision for themselves as a company and the amazing products they put out.

Unlike some organizations which are foolishly tearing down all their walls and working as if they in sitting in Starbucks, Apple understands how to marry the need for a social and collaborative work environment with a proper and respectful functional space.

Apple’s building will be beautiful and functional just like their computing devices…and they remain true to themselves and us. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Cupertino Government)

Really Smart Cities

This is unbelievable design work by Jacque Fresco–architect, futurist and only 96-years old!

As you watch this video, you just have to ask yourself, why didn’t we think of that sooner?

His design for the city of the future just seems so intuitive–and in aggregate looks almost like the Internet with a mesh design of interlocking cities working together harmoniously.

Great concepts:

- Circular cities–with a city center or central hub of essential services (medical, fire, police, etc.) and shopping, and radiating bands of living quarters, agriculture, and recreation.

- Build from the ground up–rather than build piecemeal, you build the entire architected city from the ground up–first underground infrastructure then building foundations, structures, and all modular, interlocking, interchangeable, and constantly maintained.

- Transportation Conveyers–transport up, down, and around by speedy conveyers or between city hubs by underground maglev trains.

- Recycle Everything–this is an environment where nothing is wasted and everything gets recycled.

- Energy Sustainability–all buildings have photovoltaic or solar cells for generating their own renewable energy resources.

- Clean Water/Air–vital resources like water and air is piped in, cleaned, and constantly monitored for safety.

Wow, this is a day and night difference from any city that I have ever seen–wouldn’t this be the type of place you’d like to raise your family in the future.

Maybe there are times when starting over with a fresh architecture perspective versus just tinkering with the old is necessary to make a bold leap forward–do you think this one of them? ;-)

A Trip To The Science Museum

Purple_lobster

We went to the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science—it was quite impressive.

Outside, where you enter, there is a huge clock -tower contraption with overhead slides and rolling balls, and water turning wheels on the side—it’s a “what is it” (exactly) moment and you know you’re there. 

We hit the space exhibits first—I entered a simulator for a jet fighter cockpit, managed to take off with relative ease, but soon crashed, flipping it upside down—oops a little too much thrust.

The NASA exhibits were cool such as the MARS rover and colony mockups. And the Styrofoam wings that you can put on in a wind chamber and see how aerodynamically you are (or are not) was fun. 

Next up was the medical exhibits—we put together a puzzle of full body x-rays (“the shin bones connected to the…”), maneuvered a Da Vinci surgical robot arms, and zapped tumor cells with a mock laser.  

Oddly placed but interesting was the Gecko exhibit—with different colorful species hanging upside down and sideways with their suction cup feet. Couldn’t help thinking, which of them had been selling car insurance on those always-on Geico commercials or maybe this is the place they send them when they don’t perform on cue? 

Going through the exhibit on levers and pulleys, I used between 1-6 pulleys to lift a large stack of cinderblocks—and for the fewer pulleys, I thought good thing I had some Wheaties in the morning for breakfast, so I wouldn’t be embarrassed pulling on the ropes. 

The minerals, gems, fossils, corals, and dinosaur displays were somewhat meager, but were nicely laid out and a decent representation to get the idea.  

There was also an Imax theatre with a 3-D movie and those crazy glasses you have to wear to watch these—but the cartoon playing wasn’t the action and adventure I was looking for. 

One of the exhibits’ I enjoyed the most was the fish—of all types—some favorites were a huge purple-like lobster, the playful otters, the bobbing water turtles and many others.

We also stood inside a mammoth replica of a shark and took turns hanging out of its mouth—and feeling what it was like to be Jonah and the whale.

There was also a weather news station, where you get to playact newscaster, and we used the TV cameras and tele-prompters to give updates of everything from hail storms to wild fires—now, I know how they always seem to know jusst what to say and when–so perfectly. 

Another cool display had to do with sustainability and the environment—with a robot sitting in the middle of piles of trash and recyclables—not sure why he was there though—was he trying to decide what to recycle and reuse?

I don’t believe that I saw anything significant on alternative energy or on general computers and the Internet—and if there wasn’t anything particualr on these, I would definitely like to see them added.

Overall, good job Ft. Lauderdale—worth the trip—and thank you for spreading a love of science with all. 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Still An Innovation Nation

Car_versus_horse

Yesterday, according to the Mayan calendar, we were to have seen the end of the world. Today professors like Robert J. Gordon in The Wall Street Journal (22-23 December 2012) unfortunately continue to spread doom and gloom.

According to Gordon, “for more than a century, the U.S. economy grew robustly thanks to big inventions; those days are gone.”

Gordon seems to think predominantly from 20/20 hindsight, seeing the innovations of the past — such as the electric light bulb, running water and the jet airplane — as the last major vestiges possible of human advancement.

As Gordon states: “Only once would transport speeds be increased from the horse (6 miles per hour) to the Boeing 707 (550 mph).  Only once could our houses be replaced by running water and indoor plumbing. Only once could indoor temperatures, thanks to central heating and air conditioning, be converted from cold in winter and hot in summer to a uniform year-round climate of 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Gordon’s pessimism is bad enough (“The future of American economic growth is dismal”) but his arrogance is even worse.

How sad that he cannot see past our momentary troubles and imagine better, greater things to come.

- Is 707 miles per hour really the fastest that humans can travel? I guess Gordon hasn’t been following the land speed record in Scientific American (5 November 2012) that has an English project pushing the 1,000 mph barrier and already projecting hitting 1,600 mph or Virgin Galactic (just the beginning of our space journeys) reaching more than 4 times the speed of sound (>3,000 mph!).

- Is indoor plumbing really the last great innovation when it comes to water? Please don’t tell that to almost a billion people worldwide who live without potable water. However, thanks to innovators such as Vestergaard-Frandsen, whose Lifestraw water purification tools “removes 99.9999% of bacteria through a superfine filtration process” for only about $6 each (Mashable), many others may soon have access to safe drinking water.

- Is central air is the end of the temperature innovation cycle?–You’ve got to be kidding me. In the context of global warming and the resulting “storms and other (weather) extremes,” there are considerable challenges ahead of us to be met. Someone ought to tell Mr. Gordon that sustainable energies are coming online (solar, wind, wave, and geothermal) that can help stem global greenhouse gases thought to be a major cause. In fact, whole new “green” high-tech cities like Masdar City are being developed to operate with low environmental footprints.

Gordon may think all major innovations have arrived, and probably thought the same before the Internet and smartphone were created.

In his op-ed, Gordon calls on skeptics to “rebut” his innovative idea that robust innovation is over. But perhaps he is actually asking them for help. Because such pessimism and small thinking are a prison of his own making. Unfortunately, he is professionally considered an “educator.” But it’s lessons like this that our young people – facing one of the most economically challenging times in modern history – can do without. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Paul Townsend)

The Bottle Revolution


How many of you feel sort of disgusting every time you take out the trash with bottles and containers?


According to Earth911, only 27% of plastic and 25% of glass ends up getting recycled, with the majority ending up instead in landfills. 


This is one reason that I really like the new eco.bottles made by Ecologic, a sustainable (i.e. green) packaging company.


The containers are made of two parts:


- The inner plastic pouch that holds the liquid and snaps into the second part.
- The outer shell made of 100% recycled cardboard and newspaper (and in turn is 100% recycable again). 


These containers result is a net 70% plastic reduction!


Yet, they have the same strength and functionality of plastic containers, with comparable results in drop, ship, and moisture tests.


And companies like, Seventh Generation, a leader in sustaibable cleaning, paper, and personal care products have signed on and is using eco.bottles, and they have seen sales increase 19% with it. 


In a Bloomberg BusinessWeek (25 October 2012) article, the chief operating officer of The Winning Combination states: “The minute you look at it, you get it. This is a bottle that’s good for the planet.”


Like these eco.bottles, we need more of our decisions to be driven by what is good for us long-term, so this is not just a revolutionary green bottle, but perhaps a true sustainable evolution in our thinking and behaving all around. 

Prefabricated Skyscrapers

Prefabricated_houses

Eleven years after the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Centers, we are still waiting for the new Freedom Tower to go up.

Yes, there were political disputes on what type of building and memorial would be erected, what security features would be included, what the insurance would pay, and so on.

But then there is also just the shear length of time it still takes us to build a building—a skyscraper, but also other smaller and simpler structures too.

Wired Magazine (October 2012) is reporting on a new method for building construction coming out of China.

Unfortunately, China has been known for some time for unsafe building practices—perhaps doing things on the cheap and then paying for it in terms of consequences later.

Yet, this new technique promises to increase safety, as well as speed, while lowering costs.

If you are willing to give up some building pizzazz, then Broad Sustainable Building is perfecting the prefabricated skyscraper—and these have tested “earthquake-proof” for a 9.0 quake, cost only $1,000 per square foot (versus $1,400 normally)—a 40% savings, and a 30 story building can be built in just 15 days!

Now, Broad says that they even want to erect a 220 story mega skyscraper in 6 months—by March 2013.

Here’s how they do it:

  • Identical modules—each section is prebuilt in identical modules in the factor.
  • Preinstalled fixtures—Pipes and ducts are threaded through each module in the factory for AC, hot and cold water, and waste.
  • Standardized truckloads —with two stacked pallets, each pallet has everything needed to erect a section including wall panels, columns, ducts, bolts, and tools.
  • Lego-style assembly—sections are lifted by crane and installed quickly in snap-like fashion, including pipes and wires.
  • Slotted exterior—heavily insulated walls and windows are hoisted by crane and slotted into the exterior of the building.

Aside from a standardized, consistent, high quality building—it is energy efficient, generates less than 1% the construction waste, and is safer to construct.

As with the rest of the industrial age, this is just the first step in mass producing—in this case buildings—and like the Ford Model T, which came in only one color black and evolved to meet consumer tastes and needs, these building will soon come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but at a fraction of the cost and the time to build.

This is enterprise architecture applied to building architecture making use of modular design and construction, standardization, and consolidated engineering, manufacturing, and assembly to develop next generation products.

(Source Photo: Minna Blumenthal)

Question Without Losing Faith

This is a disturbing 2-hour documentary called Zeitgeist (2007) by filmmaker Peter Joseph.

The first few minutes are a little weird so give it a chance or skip forward to the harsh crux of the movie that starts at around 8:45.

This films makes you question your assumptions on religion, politics, and economics.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Joseph has since “moved away from” his outlandish conspiratorial allegations that 9/11 was an “inside job.”

But if even a tiny percentage of this movie has any merit, it gives us pause to reflect on what is real, perceived, and just some very good marketing perhaps.

Putting aside their wild conspiracy claims, The Zeitgeist Movement, according to The Huffington Post, advocates for a society that is moneyless and stateless, and with apparently disarmament not far behind.

Instead, their group sees the world run by a great global computer that monitors resources for preservation, sustainability and I would assume allocation, and maximizes efficiencies through “labor automation.”

It seems as if their ideology is modeled not only on “social values” but on socialism.

The most important things that I think I took away from the movie can be summarized in the following:

1) G-d is unquestionable and that’s what faith is all about.

2) Critical thinking is incredibly important–don’t just take everything, or maybe anything, for granted.

3) Power must be a means to an end and not an end itself and like American Singer-Songwriter, Jimi Hendrix said: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”