Your barber or cab-driver in the Senate?

Australian_Senate_-_Parliament_of_Australia.jpg“This American Life” details how hard it was for a young idealistic Democrat to stick to his political ideals and core policies in the face of the pressure from his own Democratic party to secure campaign funds. In other words, even his own friends and campaigners wanted him to compromise and right from the start! The issue? Medicare for all. As Vox says, 62% of Americans love the idea. Also:-

Historically, Medicare-for-all has meant single-payer health insurance, a national government-run program that covered every American and replaced private coverage entirely, similar to the government-run health care programs in Canada and some European countries.
Vox news

The Economist puts it even more bluntly.

Despite the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, America remains an outlier in health-care provision. It has some of the best hospitals in the world, but it is also the only large rich country without universal health coverage. And health-care costs can be financially ruinous.

If that isn’t putting the cart before the horse, I don’t know what is. Basic healthcare, like getting a gangrenous finger removed or a broken bone set in a cast, should not be a matter of economic privilege. Every citizen of a developed nation should have the right to basic healthcare.


Dr Karl

What kind of system allows a poor single mother to go practically blind and forces her onto a disability pension when a simple $15,000 cataract operation could save her eyesight, and help her care for the next generation of Americans? That particular story enraged Australia’s Dr Karl, our own Bill Nye of the science world, enough to rant on his science show. Yet too many privileged American businessmen – even Democrats – think health care is a market-game. They come up with other solutions by other names that would just tinker with the current system, not overhaul it. In comes the pressure to compromise. But as a new candidate, you need their money!

In America, politics is a rich man’s game. So maybe we should limit career politicians to the Parliament (Lower House that makes laws), as I do think career politicians have some value in the skills and ideas and visions they bring to government. But what if we saved the Senate (Upper House that reviews laws) for the average citizen, and had a system that freed them from the corrupting influence of the campaign trail in the first place? Could it be that we are in such desperate need of fair representation that instead of democracy-by-corrupted-campaigning, we should have at least the house of review represented by sheer dumb luck? We already trust sheer random chance in selecting a ‘jury of our peers’, the average person on the street, in our court system. Government by random representation is called Sortition. To me it makes sense in the house of review. They wouldn’t be drafting the laws, that’s for the Parliament. But review them? You bet!  Maybe you have to meet certain criteria to go in the pool, such as at least finishing High School. Maybe not! If you’re worried — as I was — that the average citizen might not be smart or smooth enough to represent your State or Nation in a house of review, then why are we trusting them in court? As the Sortition wiki says:-

According to numerous scholars such as Page and Landemore[45], cognitive diversity is more important to creating successful ideas than the average ability level of a group. This “Diversity trumps ability theorem[46]” is essential to why sortition is a viable democratic option.[44] Simply put, random selection of persons of average intelligence performs better than a collection of the best individual problem solvers.[44]

Imagine it. Instead of some group of elites with political retirement deals with big business forming a sort of ‘shadow government cabal’, it’s the man and woman on the street reviewing the laws. Your barber or cab driver or school teacher gets to sit and chat with a bunch of other citizens on whether or not a proposed law is fair. If over 60% vote to reject it, then back the bill goes for editing in Parliament. I think it has a chance of introducing a fairer, saner, more honest form of actual democracy. As long as a review referendum was built in for 10 years later, I’d certainly welcome a trial of it here in Australia!

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US Supreme court row reminds me why I don’t like Bills of Rights!

The Guardian today reminds me that while I’m all for human rights, I’m not for a Bill of rights for Australia. It’s just not the best mechanism for ensuring human rights: trusting and engaging with the democratic process is. A bill of rights encodes the prejudices and assumptions of the day into a sacrosanct piece of paper that lives behind glass and a bunch of old (generally white) guys get to interpret it forever. It politicises the judiciary, and I thought those branches of government were meant to be separate! And then in practice…. we get today’s news. “You think this supreme court term has been horrible? If Donald Trump gets to appoint another supreme court justice, we’re staring down 30 to 40 years of vicious, unmitigated attacks on our rights.”
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Uranium from seawater almost competitive with land-based mining!

Wow. Collecting uranium from the oceans is potentially happening 50,000 years before I thought it might! 😉 (Well, that was Barry Brook’s rough estimate of land based uranium and thorium.) As NBF reports:-

On track to commercial extraction of uranium from seawater

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and LCW Supercritical Technologies have created five grams of yellowcake — a powdered form of uranium used to produce fuel for nuclear power production — using acrylic fibers to extract it from seawater.

LCW, a Moscow, Idaho clean energy company with early support from PNNL through DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, developed an acrylic fiber which attracts and holds on to dissolved uranium naturally present in ocean water.

LCW is applying for further SBIR funding for a uranium extraction field demonstration, to be led by PNNL, in the Gulf of Mexico, where the water is much warmer. The material performs much better in warmer water and extraction rates in the Gulf are expected to be three to five times higher, therefore making it more economical to obtain uranium from seawater.

They have chemically modified regular, inexpensive yarn, to convert it into an adsorbent which is selective for uranium, efficient and reusable,” said Chien Wai, president of LCW Supercritical Technologies.

The adsorbent material is inexpensive, according to Wai. In fact, he said, even waste yarn can be used to create the polymer fiber. The adsorbent properties of the material are reversible, and the captured uranium is easily released to be processed into yellowcake. An analysis of the technology suggests that it could be competitive with the cost of uranium produced through land-based mining.

PNNL researchers have conducted three separate tests of the adsorbent’s performance to date by exposing it to large volumes of seawater from Sequim Bay next to its Marine Sciences Laboratory. The water was pumped into a tank about the size of a large hot tub.

Seawater contains about three parts per billion of uranium. It’s estimated that there is at least four billion tons of uranium in seawater, which is about 500 times the amount of uranium known to exist in land-based ores(PDF), which must be mined.

Mining of underground uranium has environmental challenges not encountered with extracting it from the oceans. And Wai says the fibers, which have affinity for more heavy metals than just uranium, can likely be used one day to clean up toxic waterways themselves. He says the fibers have potential to extract vanadium, an expensive metal used in large-scale batteries, from the oceans instead of mining it from the ground.

There is a 550 page report form 2016 on the world’s uranium production. The book is updated every two years.

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Precise, eloquent, artistic… heartbreaking

Our oceans. I’ve written about them before, but sometimes not felt it.

This helped me feel it.


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“Fast homes” page added to my New Urbanism section

Hi all,

I have alluded to the massive efficiency changes coming to the housing sector in previous posts, especially my page Tall Timbers. But now we are seeing the money pouring in, so I had to add a new page “Fast Homes” to my New Urban section under “REZONE”. Below is a copy of that page as of today, but of course if I find more material I’ll be adding it to this page as I do to all my summary pages. They slowly evolve with my understanding of these issues, like wikipedia but in slow motion. 😉 Welcome to Fast homes!

Fast homes

How fast and cheap can we build the new neighbourhoods I have described in the pages above? Don’t eco-apartments take a year or so to build, and cities take decades?

On this page:-

  • Assembly line homes
  • Cities transformed in 20 years


Assembly line homes

About a century ago, Ford to the process of making cars and put it up on the assembly line to bring manufacturing speeds up and costs down. The same thing is about to happen with accomodation. Why not design an individual home or eco-apartments on the computer, but then put the manufacturing process on the assembly line in a weather-proof factory floor? As we saw on the page above (Tall Timbers), at London’s Stadthaus, a team of four put the first eight floors of structure together in less than a month. The entire building was finished in less than a year. Four people built an apartment in a year!


But the money, the sheer investment in assembly line, factory controlled housing construction, is going up. For this next story I’ll just hand you straight over to Next Big Future:-

Katerra is taking systems approaches to remove unnecessary time and costs from buildingdevelopment, design, and construction.

Katerra is off to a fast start with more than 1500 employees, offices in four countries, a growing number of factories, and dozens of active projects.

Softbank invested $865 million into the construction startup Katerra who will source all parts for a detailed building design and build it in a factory and then send modules for onsite assembly.Katerra’s post-money valuation is more than $3 billion.

Katerra runs the process of getting a building up and people inside it from the architectural design components all the way through labor management and renovation.

In January 2018, Katerra said it had $1.3 billion in customer bookings so far for new construction ranging from residential to hospitality and student housing.

Over the past 80 years, industries in the U.S. such as manufacturing and agriculture have increased their productivity by 10 to 15 times, but one industry seems stuck in place: construction. Construction has enjoyed the lowest productivity gains of any industry over the past twenty years – which presents an opportunity for firms to leverage technology and digital supply chains to dramatically improve productivity in the $10 trillion industry.

Katerra’s Solution

Katerra is fundamentally rethinking construction and is working to become an “end-to-end”, vertically integrated builder. It claims that “when the entire building process is owned by a single team from end to end – bringing design, manufacturing, material sourcing, and construction together intro one streamlined system – it is possible to build high quality, beautiful buildings, faster and at a lower cost.” On the production front, the company has built a 200,000 SF factory in Phoenix, AZ where it can manufacture various components of a building, such as whole walls complete with windows, plumbing and electrical wiring hookups. These “parts” can then be shipped and installed at a building site, aided by technology that tells cranes and labor where and how to assemble the finished materials. By manufacturing and assembling the various components of a building at its factory, Katerra endeavors to reduce the variability associated with building on-site, as well as reduce inventory build-ups.

* They are constructing building panels/components of the buildings inside the factory, but not entire rooms or modules.
* The cost savings in shipping the panels to the site are better than modules or units, which is what others have done.
* They are rethinking the entire process from end to end, using technology to modernize it wherever possible.

The combination of those three assets set Katerra apart and have driven their tremendous growth to date.

They are currently focused on larger construction projects.

A month before the Katerra deal, SoftBank led a $450 million investment in startup real-estate brokerage Compass, and a $120 million investment in home-insurance startup Lemonade. In August 2017, the fund invested $4.4 billion in coworking giant WeWork.

SoftBank is holding deal talks with OpenDoor, a startup which buys homes directly from owners and sells them, according to sources familiar with the situation. Founded in 2013, OpenDoor is now buying more than $1 billion worth of homes per year.

Cities transformed in 20 years

Not really! Cities can change significantly in just 20 years. From our immediate human perspectives lived day by day, we often forget how much is actually changing in our city over time. While much of the western world seems devoted to increasing suburban sprawl, there are signs of change and awakening. Over time, with the right planning laws, our suburbs can collapse back in on themselves. They can become dense and diverse and lively and beautiful; surrounded by parks, gardens, farmlands, forestry, plantations, and wilderness. All of this can be achieved by rezoning the land and then letting the natural attrition of aging buildings take over.“But they can be redesigned, not over night, but steadily and with compounding beneficial interest.”
Richard Register

“A normal city is changing all the time – buildings grow old and are replaced. Just look at a picture of your city fifty or a hundred years ago. If the average building life is 60 years, then the city changes at the rate of 1.6% per year. I took as the basis for this scenario the average size of an average Swedish municipality – 36,000 inhabitants. I assumed that instead of building the houses on that same plot as the one demolished you build eco units on the periphery of the city, along the roads preferably. Then you start to ruralise at the same pace as the normal replacement rate. After 50 years, only ten percent of the city is left.”

Folke Günther

“There’s no need to wait on building bright green cities. Better design solutions for buildings, communities and, in many cases, infrastructure either already exist or are mid-development. If we spend the next 20 years developing compact neighborhoods with green buildings and smart infrastructure, we can reduce the ecological impacts of American prosperity by jumps that are now somewhat hard to imagine.”
Alex Steffen — Worldchanging

Indeed, as The Guardian points out, there are a significant signs that indicate we have already reached ‘peak car’ just from lifestyle changes and some city supply saturations. Let’s capitalise on that and build both the rail and new urbanism to create neighbourhoods worth caring about.

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Singapore designing forested town squares

So good! Walkable forested town squares. Imagine that!? Straight into the article…

The development of Tengah will be guided by six key ideas as follows:

  • Creating an evergreen forest town
  • Provisions for moving around with ease
  • Provisions for walking and cycling everywhere
  • Creating five unique housing districts
  • Enabling close-knit communities
  • Creating a Smart and sustainable town

5          Tengah will see several ‘firsts’ in its development. It will be the first “forest town” that is planned to be integrated with the area’s surrounding greenery and biodiversity. One major attraction will be the creation of an approximately 100-metre wide and 5km long forest corridor, a collaboration with National Parks Board which will form part of the larger network of greenery that connects the Western Water Catchment Area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. This forest corridor will be planted with rainforest tree species to transform it into a rich forest habitat. Amenities such as hiking trails would be incorporated in the corridor for the community to get close to nature and enjoy the rainforest.

HDB Image

Residents can relax and interact with one another in a forest-like setting along the forest corridor

6          For the first time, Singapore will also see a car-free Town Centre in an HDB town. The Tengah Town Centre will be designed amidst a lush park, with vehicles plying underneath the town centre.  It will offer a greener, car-lite, people-friendly and pedestrian-friendly environment.  All the roads in Tengah will also come with dedicated walking and cycling paths on both sides of the road, to enable residents to enjoy seamless and safe connections for walking and cycling.

HDB Image

Tengah’s town centre will break new ground with a car-free concept

HDB Image

Dedicated walking and cycling networks will enable Tengah residents
to adopt green commuting as well as lead active and healthier lifestyles

7          Beyond green living, HDB will also leverage Information and Communication Technology in Tengah to enable “smart” living.  The development of Tengah will be guided by the Smart HDB Town Framework, introduced in 2014.  The framework covers four key dimensions : Smart Planning; Smart Environment; Smart Estate; Smart Living. Smart solutions can help create a more livable, sustainable and safe living environment. Residents can benefit from more efficient services and greater convenience, both at home, and in the estate.

8          In addition to these, the public can also look forward to a host of other new and exciting developments in Tengah, such as the creation of:

             a)  Five new housing districts, namely – Plantation District, Garden District, Park District, Brickland District and Forest Hill District. These are designed with community and nature in mind so that residents can experience quality living with nature and greenery at their doorstep.

HDB Image

Five housing districts in Tengah, each with a unique character

HDB Image

The first batch of flats will be launched from 2018 onwards in the Plantation District

             b)  A large Central Park, approximately the size of Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West (about 20 hectares), will be complemented with ponds and canals to provide lush greenery and blue spaces.

HDB Image

Central Park will be the centerpiece of green spaces in Tengah, offering a scenic and tranquil
spot for residents to relax and enjoy various recreational activities

             c)  New spaces such as “Community Farmways”, where residents can enjoy community gardening and urban farming in their own neighbourhood


HDB Image

“Community Farmways” will provide residents with hobby farming opportunities and encourage bonding among residents.

             d)  A good spread of facilities at the town, district and local levels that are easily accessible, so that the daily needs of residents will be conveniently met. For instance, there could be integrated developments with various facilities, such as a sports centre and playing fields which are located near homes and places of work.


             e)  Road networks are also designed to meet future needs. They could support future forms of mobility, such as Autonomous Vehicles or Self-driving Vehicles; as well as various transportation networks, such as the upcoming Jurong Region Line (JRL) and buses that provide seamless connectivity to neighbouring towns and the city. In addition, most bus stops will also be conveniently located within 300-metres of residents’ homes.

Moving Forward

9          The exciting developments for Tengah will be rolled out progressively, with the first batch of flats to be launched in the Plantation District from 2018 onwards. More details will be made available closer to the actual launch. When completed, Tengah is estimated to provide about 42,000 new homes. Of these, about 30,000 units will be for public housing and 12,000 units will be for private housing.

10        Beyond Tengah, the western region is also undergoing an urban transformation. The Jurong Lake District will be transformed into ‘A District of the Future’ and Singapore’s second Central Business District (CBD). Jurong Innovation District (JID), Singapore’s next-generation industrial district housing learning, research, innovation and manufacturing activities, will be located next to Tengah. JID will support the transformation of Singapore’s manufacturing landscape and serve as a model for the “workplace of the future”. These new developments in the Western region will open up exciting job, residential and recreational opportunities for everyone.

11        The Tengah exhibition will be held from 9 to 25 September 2016 at HDB Hub Sales Display Area (1st storey). It will be opened daily, from 9am to 8pm. The public is invited to visit the exhibition and give their feedback on Singapore’s first “Forest Town”.

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“Happy Arthursday”

“Happy ArThursday!” is how fans of Isaac Arthur greet each other on Thursdays in America as they jump online to watch the latest logical, mathematical, and quite mind-blowing episode of science and engineering implications for the future. It has been a great pleasure to watch Isaac hone his craft and gather a team to help. It’s an amazing channel, and an optimistic view of the future that can sometimes become quite bleak for an environmental blogger like myself.

Isaac Arthur is now #1 for futurism on youtube, and #2 on google (after wikipedia for the various individual key-word topics like Dyson Spheres, Singularity, Post-Scarcity, etc).

Try this episode as a starter!

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