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May 21, 2011

If the giant Western snowpacks melt too fast, disaster could come

Record Snowpacks Could Threaten Western States - NYTimes.com
Thanks to a blizzard-filled winter and an unusually cold and wet spring, more than 90 measuring sites from Montana to New Mexico and California to Colorado have record snowpack totals on the ground for late May, according to a federal report released last week. Those giant and spectacularly beautiful snowpacks will now melt under the hotter, sunnier skies of June — mildly if weather conditions are just right, wildly and perhaps catastrophically if they are not. Fear of a sudden thaw, releasing millions of gallons of water through river channels and narrow canyons, has disaster experts on edge. “All we can do is watch and wait,” said Bob Struble, the director of emergency management for Routt County in north-central Colorado. The county’s largest community, Steamboat Springs, sits about 30 miles from the headwaters of the Yampa River, a major tributary of the Colorado River that has 17 feet of snow or more in parts of its watershed. “This could be a year to remember,” Mr. Struble added in a recent interview in his office as snow fell again on the high country.

May 20, 2011

Happy Busta Rhymes Day!

Like all good men, Mr. Rhymes enjoys a May birthday;...

Continue reading "Happy Busta Rhymes Day!" »

"Why are your houses so heavy?"

Charlie Stross on the Dmaxion Houses of R. Buckminster Fuller. "Why are your houses so heavy?" - Charlie's Diary
Modernist architects of the 20th century generally designed two types of house: those for rich architects and other members of the upper classes to enjoy, and grimly regimented concrete cookie-cutter apartment blocks for factory workers. Fuller's approach to housing was cookie-cutter-esque, insofar as he planned to mass-produce Dymaxion Houses on converted B-29 Superfortress production lines after the second world war, and ship them to their owners in freight containers, but as far as I know it was radically different in conception, purpose, and design from any of the other modular homes of the period. For one thing, he was interested in portability and nomadism; while a concrete foundation with utility connections was necessary, Fuller's idea of moving house was that you could pack your house down into a container that would fit on a truck, drive it to your new neighbourhood, and deploy it again — the design influences of the traditional Mongolian yurt should be obvious. The Dymaxion House used aluminium sheeting for floors and structures, suspended by wires from a central steel structural shaft: saving weight was a priority. As he famously asked an architect on one occasion, "why are your houses so heavy?" For another thing, he took an early interest in minimizing the human impact on the environment. The Dymaxion House had passive air temperature control and a pressure-triggered roof vent to survive near-misses from tornados (by releasing over-pressure inside the building so that it didn't rupture). It had a then-unique mist-spray shower and a grey-water system to reduce water usage; Fuller was also interested in non-flush toilets. Finally, it was intended to be mass produced for $6,500 per house in 1946 money — the cost of a high-end automobile — with a design life of 30-50 years. Early development was funded by the Pentagon, for reasons that should be obvious: WWII generated unprecedented demand for accommodation on bases overseas and, later, demand for housing in war-ravaged regions. The story of why we aren't all living in Dymaxion houses today is a convoluted epic of business failure . . .

May 19, 2011

What is the role of librarians in the 21st century?

Censored Genius: The Fight Goes On.
I suspect that everyone but librarians wants libraries to become tools of corporations, to be Kindle support centers, or wireless hubs for Netflix streams, or whatever else is out there. But they don't want us to be libraries. Because libraries are run by librarians. And that's the problem: librarians. A recent post by Seth Godin attempts to define a librarian as something limited by format: print books are bad, digital bits are good. So librarians should become digital wizards, or something. I think the current hip term is "data sherpa who directs and engages conversations," or some other bullshit. And a librarian is bad if she's not continuously evolving and growing toes. But a good librarian would never exclude a data format from the search results. You ask me for information on turtles and you're getting everything I can find, and that includes printed books. But chances are, you're going to wave your Kindle in my face and say, "I want it here." And regardless of my reply, my eyes will tell you to go fuck yourself. Sixty percent of the world's people would kill to have a library filled with books. Some countries won't even let you into a library without proper identification. But Americans, on our rapid decent from being a world power toward become the world's bag boy, have lost sight of what has lasting value and moved on to what has recurring monthly fees. In response to Seth's Blog, Bobbi Newman says, "One of the many roles of the public library is to ensure that all people have access to that information." And that is the fundamental difference with every current view of the library and the real purpose of the library: Libraries are for everyone.