Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Earth covered, Terraced, Molded Dome Structures

If you spin a vessel containing a liquid around the vertical axis, the lower/outer surface of the liquid will mold to the inner surface of the container, while the upper/inner surface of the liquid will form a parabolic cavity. Use a liquid that hardens to a solid, and this is a simple way to create a single-piece dome.

One advantage of a single-piece structure is that it can be very leak-resistant, and domes can be quite strong. The combination of these two characteristics makes molded domes ideal starting points for earth covered buildings, but to keep the earth from sliding off the dome, it's necessary to berm the sides thickly, so the surface of the earth covering slopes more gently than the dome itself.

However, if terrace forming indentations are built into the mold, the resulting dome will be better at supporting its earth covering, and there will be less need for wide berming.

Unless drainage is built into the mold, or drilled into the dome after molding, heavy precipitation will result in overflow, with excess water from higher terraces flowing onto the soil retained by lower terraces, so it would make sense to use a sandier soil mix in the lower terraces, and plants that thrive in such an environment.

The mold can include a protrusion in the bottom to create a hole in the top of the dome for a skylight. Similarly, holes for windows and doors (with reinforced edges and overhangs) may also be designed into the mold, and hardware for mounting doors and windows fitted into the mold before molding.

Once in use, a growing mass of plant roots will help keep the earth covering in place.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Tipping Point or Bottleneck

I love Malcolm Gladwell, as much as I love any man I've never met in person and to whom I am not closely related, but I wonder about the central metaphor of his book The Tipping Point (published in 2000), although I do think the implication of leaving behind the possibility of going back to the way things were before is altogether accurate.

What for me seems to be missing from this metaphor is the limited capacity of any culture to process change. You might think of it as being analogous to inertia or friction, but I think it might better be characterized in terms of density and pressure.

It's as though we are being forced, by the pressure of innumerable events, into a conical channel with what at present remains a tiny opening at the pointy end, like the nozzle of an acetylene torch, being accelerated into an unpredictable future beyond anyone's control. The effect is rather like an extreme roller coaster, both exciting and terrifying.

Perhaps we should be reaching back 30 years further to the publication of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock to find the other side of the Tipping Point coin, and the explanation for why so many people are so ready to support such regressive public policies.

Afterthought: Perhaps an even more apt metaphor is quantum tunneling, in this case between paradigms. Any individual has some probability of finding themselves in an alternative paradigm at any moment, and should they find a place there they may make the transition to that new paradigm permanent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Apple less visionary under Tim Cook? Don't bet on it!

On the excuse of Tim Cook's five-year anniversary as CEO of Apple, there has been a flurry (one might even say a feeding frenzy) of articles proclaiming that, under his leadership, Apple is less visionary than it was in the past, under Steve Jobs.

That's not the way it looks to me.

Sure, it's been quite a while since certain products have been updated, and, other than the much anticipated Apple Watch, most of the customer-facing news that has broken surface over the last few years has felt incremental rather than new and brilliant.

This is less true of developer-facing news, which has included the introduction and rapid evolution of Swift, and also less true of the underlying hardware technology, such as the A-series chips, which have dramatically improved every year since they were first publicly mentioned (the A4 used in the iPhone 4), in terms of shear performance and also in terms of performance per watt.

Add to that the rumors that they're hard at work preparing an autonomous electric vehicle of some sort, and that they are also investing heavily in augmented reality.

To me it looks like Apple is laying the groundwork for bigger visions, perhaps even more profound visions, than it ever attempted under Steve Jobs. Time will tell.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bring back the five-year plan!

Okay, five may not be the right number, maybe seven, maybe four, maybe even just two, but the idea deserves another look.

The Soviet Union took a lot of jibes for its five-year plans, with their lofty targets and less than stellar fulfillment, at least that was the view of them we got growing up in the U.S. The Soviet example aside, the point of having such plans isn't so much to push progress as to control its collateral effects, which largely have to do with new stuff arriving piecemeal, instead of in a coordinated manner, each driven as if by an ambition of its own — and push-back born of what happens to the value of investments in displaced ways of doing things.

I know I should be providing examples at this point, but the noise around any particular interesting example is so deafening that it makes thinking about imposing a little discipline on progress very difficult — and that's near to the point, without that discipline chaos reigns.

What such 'plans' can offer is staged transitions, with new things that are interdependent arriving together, and together with provision for the retirement of old things. (For 'things' read infrastructure, technologies, practices, methods, regulations, arrangements, ...)

Of course nothing above the quantum level happens instantly, and there would need to be some overlap, say a two-year ramp-up period before a new plan takes effect, and another two-year period to tie up loose ends after it has been superseded.

Have a great idea that isn't quite ready? Maybe it gets pushed back to the middle of the next plan, maybe to the beginning of the following plan, but when it does roll out it will arrive as a complete idea, with thought having been given to how other things are effected, including who stands to profit from having their idea anointed and how standards essential applies.

So who gets to say what each new plan should include and what it shouldn't, and how much advantage should those who play by the plan receive over those who chose to ignore it? Good questions, which I leave as an exercise to the reader.