Sustainable Yada Yada Yada

This is a blog about sustainability, urban design, scientific and technological progress, and what the future may hold. As well as interesting or random stuff on occasion. I'll try my best to avoid politics!

p values

For those who care, here is an article on the proper way to interpret p-values.

slash that tire! key that car!

This article says the bicyclist has every legal right to ride in the center of the traffic lane, but if confronted by an angry motorist, they should just pull over and let them pass. It also talks about the homicidal behavior of drivers in South Philadelphia.

South Philly is the worst. Some drivers harass bicyclists by honking, engine revving, tailgating and the tossing of invective or objects. These bullies, who believe bicycles belong anywhere but between them and the next red light, are bigger detriments to Philly’s quality of life than Ruben Amaro Jr. or Callery pear trees.

(No, I am not sure who Ruben Amaro Jr. is. The pear trees produce beautiful flowers that supposedly smell bad to people, but I have never noticed it. The city recently cut down a beautiful old pear tree in front of my house and I am sad.)

Anyway, I suppose pulling over is the right thing to do at that particular moment to maximize your chances of survival in the short term. But if people in general resisted this kind of violent antisocial behavior, eventually most of it would go away. Of course, the police could also enforce the law. Reckless driving is defined in Pennsylvania as “Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” - this is a serious crime with serious penalties, and tailgating, threatening, or swerving at high speed within inches of a bicyclist obviously qualifies. If you actually hit somebody, there is aggravated assault with a vehicle and homicide with a vehicle, which are felonies similar to if you pushed somebody down the stairs or beat somebody in the street with a baseball bat. If I pushed you down the stairs or hit you with a baseball bat on the street, even if you were being annoying, everyone would agree that is violent antisocial behavior, and I would expect to go to jail. But if I hit you with my car, your chance of survival would actually be lower, and yet many people, maybe even the police, would blame you for being in my way. Why is that? Why don’t we have undercover bicycle police riding around South Philadelphia, writing a lot of tickets and putting a few people in handcuffs? Word would get out.

falling fruit

This website, called Falling Fruit: Mapping the urban harvest, is attempting to be a worldwide map of harvestable food in urban areas.

EU considering ban on gasoline and diesel powered cars

According to Wired, the EU is floating the idea of a complete ban on gasoline and diesel powered cars in European city centers by 2050.

biophilic cities

Recently I mentioned Blue Urbanism by Timothy Beatley. An earlier book of his was called Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning.


I just got back from the beach, where I rekindled my boyhood fascination with waves.

When the storm passes, you’d think the water would calm, settle and return to a quiet equilibrium, but the energy, oddly, doesn’t dissipate. The storm has become a wave that now lives in a patch of sea, moving along with no need for a push from above. It is, says Pretor-Pinney, what scientists call a “free wave,” no longer driven by wind (those are “forced waves”). Now it is a moving bit of history, an old sea storm moving on, free to roam. It has become a “swell.”

The astonishing thing is, you’d think it would bump into a million other waves that are coming at it from every direction; that it would pass through other storms, spreading, bumping, traveling, that all this travel would sap its momentum. But, as Walter Munk would discover, that’s not what happens.

When two different swells approach each other, instead of, “Uh oh, there’s going to be a crash” …

… “they simply pass through each other, like friendly ghosts, before continuing on their way without having experienced any lasting interference,” writes Pretor-Pinney. “The sea surface can look confused as the two swells cross, but they emerge on the other side, unaffected by the encounter.”


Just for a random topic, here are some recipes for making your own drinks from garden- or farm-fresh ingredients.

constitutional amendment

Going back to my recent suggestion of a constitutional amendment to clarify that corporations deserve some but not all the protections of “persons”, that actually is being proposed.

“blue urbanism”

Blue Urbanism by Timothy Beatley is about building awareness among people in cities about their impacts on the oceans.

California by Edan Lepucki

Here’s a new entry in the apocalyptic fiction genre: California by Edan Lepucki. I haven’t read the book yet, only a review in the New York Times.

the urban carbon cycle

This article from Landscape and Urban Planning looks at carbon emissions and carbon sequestration in Beijing.

fish passage on the Mekong

According to NPR, Laos is building several dams on the Mekong and there’s an argument about whether the fish passage systems that have been designed will be effective.

idea of the month for June

I never picked my idea of the month from June. Okay, here are some nominees:

  1. the 1913 version of Webster’s dictionary as an aid to beautiful writing
  2. how to derive probabilities in a sports tournament from bookmakers odds
  3. grid parity and the downward spiral of the traditional electric utility
  4. car share, the first and last mile problem, and the swinging vine
  5. the “authenticity” of Game of Thrones on the poor, nasty, brutish, and short nature of medieval feudal life
  6. the belated, but real, arrival of the smart home
  7. not-so-ecological economics: Herman Daly on why markets do not put a price on critical but abundant resources; the ongoing debate between "secular" and "stagnation" explanations for low economic growth; Robert Skidelski on topics that should be taught in economics class, including inequality, the role of ethics and fairness in economics (as opposed to the prevailing focus on profit maximization), and the economic consequences of climate change
  8. a “new model for longer life" where we transition between various mixes of work, family, and leisure time at various stages of life
  9. better urban design: floodplain parks and protected intersections for bikes; also on the topic of urban flooding, a useful source of flood damage functions from FEMA
  10. a new version of R Markdown

Hmm…there are a lot of interesting ideas here. The one that really jumps out at me is that there are several technologies that have been a long time coming, but are finally here: solar photovoltaics, affordable home-scale batteries, car share and other alternative transportation technologies, and the smart home. The same people who have been skeptical of these for decades will continue to deny them for awhile, then finally shrug and forget that they have not always been here. And they will change the world in the next ten years, a lot!

Idea of the month for June 2014: the long-awaited commercial arrival of several fabulous science fiction future technologies - solar panels, battery storage, and the smart home - that are going to rock the world