infrastructure & design

Water: the bad news and the good news

A new book by Alex Prud’homme called The Ripple Effect addresses the “vast and desperately serious subject” of water. The author does not hold back: all the world’s water problems are here. The sewage, fertilizers, industrial chemicals, plastics, paint, drugs, and hand soap, among other contaminants, that find their way into the world’s rivers every […]

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Life is a Picnic in The Fertile City

If you’re in Paris before 24 July a spectacular exhibition called The Fertile City: Towards An Urban Nature is well worth a visit. The show’s OTT poster does not over-promise. The exhibition explores nature in the city from multiple perspectives: historical, social, cultural, botanical, ecological. Two narrative sequences overlap: an “immersion in the urban-vegetal world”, […]

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Sweat equity infra

It’s hard not to be impressed by the Millau Viaduct that’s down the road from where I live in France. The tallest bridge in the world boasts an eight-span steel roadway, is supported supported by seven huge concrete pylons, and weighs 36,000 tonnes. But consider this: The great pyramid in Egypt weighs 180 times more […]

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Energy: A Sense Of Loss

Whenever electricity is transmitted from one place to another a certain amount is simply lost. In older grids, energy is wasted overcoming resistance in the lines themselves. In extremely high voltage lines, so-called corona discharge losses [as shown in the image above] can offset the lower resistance losses. Whether system-wide electricity losses amount to three […]

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Off-grid water: the social dimension

Up to 1,500 litres of that water are needed to grow enough biofuels to move one car ten kilometres. 2,000 litres are needed a day to feed each one of us. It takes 140 litres of water to grow enough beans for a single cup of coffee. It sounds, and is, unsustainable. Over-exploitation impacts heavily […]

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Of popes, pixels, and micropayments

Before Twittter, a serious connoisseur might study the Mona Lisa for 20 years before reaching a conclusion. Today, the average museum visitor looks at a work of art for 42 seconds. Now 45 seconds is a long time compared to the 11 seconds that most shares are owned by high frequency trading machines. But for […]

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From Easter Island to Three Mile Island

You don’t need to know how a combustion engine works to drive your car to work. Why should you need to know anything about the programming behind the pixels just to get around the web? For Douglas Rushkoff, in his new book Program or be Programmed, the answer is that the web is different. ‘It’s […]

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A Tale of Two Trains

[First published at Design Observer] Oslo Airport’s mean-looking bullet train reaches the city centre in nineteen minutes. At 210 kph [130 mph] it is not the world’s fastest – some of China’a new trains will soon reach nearly twice that speed – but Norway’s is surely the most macho to look at. Traveling on Oslo’s […]

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Marketing, me, and the future of tv

(Summer re-run: first published September 2009) A marketing whiz I know in New York asked me to do her a favour: answer some questions about the future of tv. At least, that’s what I thought she asked. But when, a couple of days later, a FedEx package arrived, it contained a tiny digital voice recorder […]

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