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North?

Last Weekend I went Rogaining, that is long distance cross country orienteering.

It involves navigation using a map and compass, one factor in navigating using bearings on a compass calculated from a map is adjusting for declination. Declination is the difference between true north (the direction of the geographic north pole) and magnetic north (the north a compass points to).

After talking to a friend prior to the Rogain event and discussing the idea of declination and  ‘north’ I did some research and found some interesting stuff.

Firstly, declination varies across the world in a strange way, almost like contour lines eminating from the poles. Declination also changes over time (see the great animation below), due to the magnetic poles moving and to flows of magnetic metals beneath the earths crust .

Secondly, we wondered how was the north pole discovered if a compass does not point to the geographic pole? Well, you can use stars, or the sun. If using the sun, around noon you follow the diagram below, and also see below for the astral version.

But then, how was north calculated prior to accurate time pieces? AND, how did someone discover that those rules actually work without accurate maps?!

Change in declination over last 300 years

Calculating true north using the midday sun.

Calculating true north using the stars.

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Chucking Bricks in Christchurch

Christchurch has lost it’s chimneys. Perhaps it should have lost them before this. Tens of thousands of homes now have holes in their ceilings after their chimneys collapsed in the feburary earthquake, and now residents can’t light fires when they need them most. I am not a great fan of chimneys anyway. We don’t live in the stone age, and just plain burning stuff is a stone age way of heating, no matter how romantic it may be. If going to the toilet on the footpath was romantic, then it’d be behaviour on a par environmentally with heating your home by using a fire.

But Christchurch was a city built disregarding it’s environment anyway. Someone just let a town sprawl out over a shallow windless depression of drained marshland, and then let people heat everything in it with coal and wood. Many of them still did until a few weeks back. I used to live in Lytellton and cycle to work in Christchurch over the bridle path track. I’d crest that hill, sweating, at 8.30am of an autumn morning, and ahead would be a lake of coal smoke with a few tall buildings poking up through it. I’ve commuted by bicycle in Los Angeles and London as well, and Christchurch was worse to ride in than either because of it’s dependence on this insane victorian style of heating.

I like a room with a mantlepiece and a fireplace, but I really just like leaning on the mantlepiece and pretending to smoke a pipe. A fireplace nicely breaks up a boring wall, and is handy for putting bookshelves up on each side of, but actually lighting a fire in an open fireplace isn’t something that happens much in my experience. Uncontained wood burns with amazing swiftness, and almost all the heat produced by it goes straight up the chimney and warms the globe rather than warming you. Woodburners of course aren’t quite so inefficient, and they don’t need those two or three metric tonnes of brick that you can feel hanging over you in these shakey isles either. Woodburners just need a shaft of pipe, and that isn’t going to collapse and hurt anyone, or take a large chunk of roof down with it either.

I’ve lived in many old houses with chimneys, and I’ve liked all those houses, so it’s odd that I should be arguing against a part of them, but I just can’t help myself. Chimneys are inefficient, and whilst I love old buildings, I’ve never seen chimneys as being defining points of their character. If you’ve ever looked across the London rooftops, out over that sea of grotty victorian and edwardian sprawl that ends in an assault of brick on the sky, you’ll know that it’s one of the most sordid and grimy views that the world has. All that those ranks of chimneys speak of is the bad old industrial revolution. Child labour, coal smoke, the mill-worker’s failing lungs, the seamstress’s clouded eyes.

I haven’t liked the old houses I’ve lived in because they’ve had chimneys, but because they’ve been beautiful houses, even if sometimes their charm has been that of decaying grandeur. One house in Aro Valley had two chimneys that were unusable and lacked witches hats, but also had a peaked roof with a fine view. We ran left and right speaker cables down the chimneys and set a waterproofed speaker atop each, and lo, with the addition of a decent ladder a summer of fun afternoons was born.

There was another hatless chimney which used to moan oddly on windy nights. When it started to smell as well as moan I excavated it and found a dead possum atop of a lot of wet 80’s newspapers that were stuffed up there. I buried the possum, gave up on heating the room, and just put some ferns in the fireplace to catch the drips. They thrived. I didn’t.

An issue like redundant chimneys in New Zealand feels a very small thing to be concerned about in respect of the serious devastation in Japan, a country that’s never been cursed with these weighty pieces of victorian architecture. In the context of Japan’s earthquake I could grumble about nuclear power, or our insane reliance on oil, and what is more I could argue with much more force and vigour about these things than I can about chimneys. But people have long been talking about the problems with nuclear power and with oil, and no-one’s listened, and nothing’s changed, and in the mean time I might as well make an argument for getting rid of these mildly dangerous and mostly obsolete structures all around us. I doubt that the powers that be have much vested interest in chimneys, so here we might actually make a difference.

I just feel that rooftops are prime places for better things. All of our energy comes from the sun in some way (except for geologic energy and nuclear energy, and we’ve had enough of those), and rooftops are sun-traps. Brick chimneys aren’t hard to dismantle either if you tackle them carefully in a top-down fashion. I feel more people should get up there and do things with all that sun-drenched space.

You could divert your guttering to collect rainwater for the garden, or throw up a solar water-heating panel. I know of people who’ve successfully dissembled their chimney down to the mantlepiece without even putting up scaffolding.   Sure, a non-structural chimney is work to remove, but it’s not difficult work. And then you’ve got a fine hole just waiting for a skylight.

And a pile of bricks for the garden.

 

Marcus McShane

 

 

For practical advice:

http://forum.doityourself.com/fireplaces-heating-stoves-flues-chimneys/197333-removing-chimney.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_5034337_remove-victorian-brick-chimney.html

 

 

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What’s going wrong in Christchurch?

The NZ Government has finally released their plans for a solution to the temporary housing problems affecting residents after the February 22 Earthquake.    The announcement is proof that the Government is successfully doing a miraculous job of delivering housing that is expensive, slow and low quality.  There is a well known management triangle  for project delivery that states that projects can be quick, cheap and good quality, but can only be two of these.  The government is proving innovative in its ability to fail at all three.  Lets look at this in detail.

Low quality design.

The design above is ripped from the article here on stuff is by one of the three official suppliers NZ Transportable Units who normally build cottages for farms and granny flats.   While the proposals will no doubt pass the low requirements on detailing and materials embedded in the NZ Building codes the above 10 x 5 design quickly reveals some peculiar planning.

  • no laundry,
  • it appears that the kitchen is completely walled in,
  • you can’t get to the 2nd bedroom without climbing over the couch,
  • the master bedroom 3/4 the length of the single bed,
  • inefficient separation of kitchen and bathroom plumbing.

Expensive

Each of these units is going to cost $85,00o, which might sound cheap for a house over ones head.  However, this unit is only 50 square metres. That’s a square metre rate of $1,700.   I recently saw an ad in Melbourne for a 456m2 house for $477,000 costing $1056 per square meter.  If we include the dollar difference that means the so called ‘Emergency’ Housing been proposed for Christchurch is twice as expensive as cheap housing in Melbourne suburbs.   The Government has set aside $38 million to cover the construction costs, however families will be charged between $170 and $336 per week to live in the houses, and will have to pay for their own installation costs if on their own land.   In Japan families have been given rent free use of the accommodation for two years.  The median income in New Zealand is around $33,000 per year, or around $667 per week.   Housing Stress or rent related economic pressure is said to become critical when a family spends more than 1/3 of their income on the housing.    So its clear that for many families with multiple dependents living around or below median income in NZ the rental prices being charged by the government for these houses will add to their pressures and problems rather than alleviate them.

Late

In Japan construction of temporary housing had started within two weeks of the disaster, in New Zealand it is now over two months and contractors for the job have only just been announced.   Show homes are promised to be constructed by mid may,  10-12 weeks after the disaster and still weeks and months away from the actual housing.  Japan is heading towards summer and Christchurch is heading towards what promises to be a cold and dark winter.

Problem

The source of this mismanagement is two fold.  Firstly I think the Government and the contractors are missing the crucial difference between Emergency housing and reconstruction. Emergency housing is often expensive but needs to be quick and the requirements are ones of shelter and safety.  Reconstruction is usually quite slow, can be cheaper if well thought out,  but needs to address future community needs and engage with proper planning and community involvement.  The proposed house designs are just low quality versions of what is built for permanent use in NZ and this doesn’t seem to suit anyone much. The second problem is a cultural and leadership one that sees no potential for innovation. It illustrates not only a complete lack of imagination, but also an ideology that is resistant to using expertise and international precedent.  NZ ran a state housing design competition in 2009 with many interesting and well thought through proposals which are now begin ignored. Is a nation with the technological skills to lead the world in movie making and boat design really incapable of producing anything more than the dreary and depressing designs currently proposed?

 

 

 

 

 

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Myth more important than history

Recently I’ve been enjoying the Power of Myth TV Series released by PBS in 1988. The series has six episodes, each featuring an hour long discussion between host Bill Moyers and famed American ‘mythologist’ Joseph Campbell, collected over several years prior to Campbells death in 1987.

Here he speaks on a topic dear to Free Range:

During the Power of Myth the conversations are focussed around the traditional roles of mythology and ritual in human societies – topics ranging freely around subjects like Star Wars, animal sacrifice, catholicism and cannibalism. At the core of the series is Campbells understanding of the essential traditional roles of myth:

  • Justifying the existing social order
  • A record of observable cosmological information – an early instance of science
  • General guidance through life
  • Creating appreciation for the essential mysteriousness of life

He suggests the last two functions are needs not adequately provided in contemporary urban society, largely because rational scientific thought easily dismisses mythology as absurd. Therefore he has based his career, as a teacher and writer of mythologies, around the motivation that  ‘the most necessary form of societal change is teaching people how to live again.’ Whatever you think of this, he’s a wonderful generator of quotes, to give you a few:

“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”

“If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”

“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”

“The person who takes a job in order to live – that is to say, for the money – has turned himself into a slave.”

“Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy.”

“Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”

“Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.”

“Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that’s what is threatening the world at this minute. …Certainly Star Wars has a valid mythological perspective. It shows the state as a machine and asks, “Is the machine going to crush humanity or serve humanity?” Humanity comes not from the machine but from the heart. What I see in Star Wars is the same problem that Faust gives us: Mephistopheles, the machine man, can provide us with all the means, and is thus likely to determine the aims of life as well. But of course the characteristic of Faust, which makes him eligible to be saved, is that he seeks aims that are not those of the machine. Now, when Luke Skywalker unmasks his father, he is taking off the machine role that the father has played. The father was the uniform. That is power, the state role.”

One fundamental discussion he has with Moyers is about where responsibility lies in contemporary society for the communication of myth. He contrasts the traditional myth-delivering Shaman with a contemporary Priest who is ordained into an existing body of knowledge and teaches from this. He describes the Shaman as a figure experiencing a schizoid-type breakdown and given powerful access to their unconscious, whereas the Priest represents a contemporary institution that often seeks to maintain a status quo (for example through alleviating guilt). Instead he suggests artists, a necessarily ‘elite’ educated group, have the responsibility of re-interpreting traditional myth into contemporary figures – something that I would suggest is conspicuous in good art be it film, music or gallery art.

What do you think about this? Does our society lack this mythic awareness as urgently as Campbell argues? Are many of our so-called problems caused by this absence? Or does Campbells thinking suggest a nostalgic view of human nature and society? Perhaps more interestingly, do any myths have this type of life guiding power for you?

 

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Infostructures

Freerange Press is proud to release the first of its academic publications.   Increasing energy costs (Guardian Article today saying Britain needs to prepare for 70s style oil shocks) are putting massive pressure on our existing transport systems. This combined with ubiquitous presence of technology in our lives is creating new dynamic opportunities in public transport. INFOSTRUCTURE presents the vision of interactive and responsive urban public transport environments where new forms of communication and information access are enabled through an overlay of urban digital media technologies.

Featuring research and projects undertaken by master students in architecture at the University of Technology, Sydney and Bachelor students in design computing at the University of Sydney, the book explores the augmentation of existing public transport environments with urban digital media technologies, to set in motion a transformation from infrastructure to ‘infostructure(s).’

Precedent based research and technology investigations underpin the twenty featured student projects, that address a nexus of space, urban media, sensor and mobile phone technology. The research presented in this book is a foundation for a series of future infostructure projects.

Only $25 online. Please go to the Freerange Shop for purchasing details.

The authors of this book combine several years of experience in designing for public transport environments and in urban computing.

  • Nicole Gardner is an architect with project experience in infrastructure planning and design and is currently teaching and lecturing at the University of Technology, Sydney.
  • Dr. M. Hank Haeusler has researched, taught and designed media facades and information architecture and has written and published several books on media architecture. He is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney.
  • Dr. Martin Tomitsch has a background in informatics and interaction design. His work has been published in international conferences on human-computer interaction and ubiquitous computing. He is currently a lecturer at the University of Sydney.
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Hominid Rights

It was not that long ago that the divide between Human and Animals was considered a vast and fundamental one.  Even science maintained an almost religious separation, where our mighty self awareness was separated from the fleshy automatons that were animals.  Above are the gods, below the animals, and between the tragic humans,  with the self determination of the gods but with mortal bodies like the animals.

The last 30 years have smudged these comfortable divides and we are increasingly realizing that the separation between us and animals is a lot smaller than we once thought, about 1.6% small.   There is an increasing weight of evidence that suggests the massive changes that have occurred because of human intelligence are dependent on a few very small, but obviously critical, aspects of our genetics selfs.  Namely, our upright position, our hands, and our ability to make complex noises and thus speak.

Much of what we used to think was exclusively human is also definitely shared by our close genetics cousins, the chimps, gorillas, orangoutangs, and probably by other more distant relations, parrots, dolphins, whales.    There is a compelling argument that if we can endow our selves with inalienable rights against torture, freedom from ownership, etc. Then surely at least some of these rights should be extended to those animals that illustrate qualities that we share such as intelligence and self awareness.

Strangely enough this movement was first supported by sovereign legislation by the NZ government in 1999. ” All members of the Homindae Family (humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans) share complex cognitive aptitudes not shared by most other animals. Yet only human hominids have legal rights to life and personal security. The campaign to win fundamental rights for all hominids took a small but significant step forward in 1999 when New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act banned the use of non-human hominids in research, testing, and teaching except where such uses are in the hominids’ best interests.”

A Step at a Time: New Zealand’s Progress Towards Hominid Rights

Its one of those great moments in politics where a brave and pioneering bit of legislation was passed that was never going to affect anything because NZ doesn’t do scientific tests on hominids anyway.  However it does set a good legal precedent, and its one I can’t see any reason not to support.  One only has to visit the chimps at a Zoo and reflect on this sentence below by Jared Diamond in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee to know that something just ain’t right.

“The first chimp that I saw being used for medical research had been injected with a slow-acting lethal virus and was being kept alone, for several years until it died, in small, empty, cage.”


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Anti-kettling technology, What?

There is a really interesting article just published by the Guardian which outlines new technology being developed by a young bunch of folk in London.  The aim of this technology, which has its first run successfully on Saturday afternoon, is to use social media technologies to enable large crowds of protesters to avoid the aggressive containment techniques (kettling) currently used by the British police.   As the guardian article notes, while the main action is presently happening in Egypt, this development deserves a footnote in protest history. The new software is called Sukey from the Nursery Rhyme ““Polly put the kettle on, Sukey take it off again.

The Guardian Article here.

and while we are here, a couple of good insightful articles into wtf is happening in Egypt at the moment.

Robert Fisk at the Independent:

Gywnne Dyer: Current Protests Reminiscent of 1989

and of course the great series of photos of protesters kissing security forces during the protests.

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The Wrong Way Home

The Wrong Way Home by Edward Taylor

All night a door floated down the river.
It tried to remember little incidents of pleasure
from its former life, like the time the lovers
leaned against it kissing for hours
and whispering those famous words.
Later, there were harsh words and a shoe
was thrown and the door was slammed.
Comings and goings by the thousands,
the early mornings and late nights, years, years.
O they’ve got big plans, they’ll make a bundle.
The door was an island that swayed in its sleep.
The moon turned the doorknob just slightly,
burned its fingers and ran,
and still the door said nothing and slept.
At least that’s what they like to say,
the little fishes and so on.
Far away, a bell rang, and then a shot was fired.

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Inspiration of the year

With a gloomy economic outlook and even gloomier climate climate scenarios emerging I’d like to post one last positive post for the year. Here’s a bit of Christmas inspiration. This is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve seen in years. It’s the story of the transformation of Bogota, the capital of Colombia, its a story of how ideas, creativity and bravery can actually achieve things. Its all too easy to get disillusioned in the face to the massive forces of history, but hats of to the people of Bogota for making it their own history. Please, take a few moments and watch this. Then go to the beach, or the fire, and have a good well earned break. Merry Christmas from Freerange. See you in 2011!

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2011 TED Prize Winner: JR

JR exhibits his photographs in the biggest art gallery on the planet. His work is presented freely in the streets of the world, catching the attention of people who are not museum visitors. His work mixes Art and Action; it talks about commitment, freedom, identity and limit. Beautiful beguiling work.



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