Architectural Record/ Mar 2012

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Features architectural-related stories, with an accompanying design element relating to materials and/ or construction, build (e.g. One story was on zinc as a design material for building’s facade).

Seems mostly US-focused, though there are international coverage. E.g. Rebuilding efforts in Japan after the Tsunami; architectural designs for temporary housing; proposals for urban replanning.

This issue focuses on “building for social change”.

I found the ads (on construction and building materials) interesting.


The right decision

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ISBN: 9780071614191

Nice one. A book for non-mathematicians. The approach of the book is more on logical and rational thinking rather than number-crunching.

Although, I think this book will either increase your confidence in your decision-making abilities, or make you more depressed or worried because you keep getting the quizzes wrong!

Or you could argue the reasoning over the preferred solution is wrong.

But making a decision, when options are presented to you, is one thing. The book does just that – present you options to choose. useful exercise to develop a discipline in rationality. Though in real life, it’s also about being able to develop creative solutions rather than just make/ choose the most rationale decisions.

I was also made even more aware that decision-making is easier when emotions are left out of the equation. For instance, there’s a question on whether the groom should go with the wife’s interest, or the parents, or just choose the groom’s when it came to planning a wedding. The rationale decision was to go with the wife, since she’s the person the groom will have to live with. But again, reality would depend on what you, the groom, will ultimately accept as a long term gain. It could be also giving time and explaining to the parents. Or the wife.

As I understand it:
– recognise the need to make a decision
– determine the options and alternatives and probably outcomes (P39. there are basically two types of decisions: where you can be certain of the outcome when you select an alternative, and where you can only estimate the probability of outcomes).
– there are 4 major decision criteria in decision theory: admissibility criterion (eliminate the improbable ones or those with lowest payoff), Minimax (the least-worse of the outcomes), Bayes criterion (the outcome with the greatest long-term gain/ expected value), Maximax criterion (choosing the best from positive outcomes).

The right decisions also depend on the right information.

I thought this book is really about “being conscious about one’s decisions”. For what is a correct decision depends on perspectives. But the book deals with the need to make decisions in situations that involves a lesser degree of subjectivity (i.e. Personal values and emotions) and more of achieving logical and rational outcomes.

Of course, no guide can allow us to predict everything with certainty. What this book does is allow us to approach decision making, and hence articulate it if necessary, in a rational manner.

A third of the book, the last part, is on quizzes, to reinforce learning.

p11/ 14. Decision Theory only deals with alternatives that can be selected (not make bets on the impossible). It evaluates decisions/ choices based on a number of “rational criteria”.

I think we apply aspects of decision theory, but may not be conscious about it.

Payoffs vs compromises
Personal values
Long term vs short term goals
Immediate returns vs future (can work both ways; exercise on what would you do if you were Edison: build a stock price printer that has immediate demand but payoff is less than potential returns of a yet to be invented light blub?)
Probability of success/ outcomes?

Chapters contain “thought exercises” based on actual or hypothetical examples like:
– being Leslie Groves, the US general in charge of building the atomic bomb, on whether to hire a popular but left-winged scientist or a personally brilliant one?
Choosing a PhD thesis supervisor: a very tough one and likely unpleasant experience but has proven track record of producing PhD students; an upcoming researcher whose findings may be a nobel prize winner; or a supervisor you can connect with and likely to have good experience with PhD program but track record is less certain

P74. Bayes’ Criterion: select alternative that has biggest payoff in the long term. Long term gained involves math concept of expected value. P77. Computing the long term average gain, “expected value”, which involves knowing the probability of outcomes and the associated payoffs.

P87. Maximax criterion. For situations where one should throw caution to the wind (provided you also can identify correctly this is the situation) and choosing the alternative that gets the most out of the decision.

P98. Inadmissible situations should be avoided.

P99. Bayes’ Criterion – for recurring situations. Though author qualifies situations like whether to use Atom Bomb is, while one-time, considered a unique situation but with recurring probability.
– Minimax decisions: characterised by a disaster we wish to protect against (i.e. Minimise worse case scenarios)
– Maximax decisions: for optimistic (e.g. payoffs is so huge) or pessimistic (only option is to win).

P103. Suggested approach for gray areas/ hard to tell situations:
– Layout all alternatives and try to assess the associated rewards and risks.
– Eliminate inadmissible alternatives
– Then consider if it is a Minimax situations (i.e. Is this a disaster avoidance situation? “when a disaster looms it’s not a faint cloud on the horizon but a thunderhead”)
– if not, then choose the alternative and ask what if the outcome don’t work out? If answer is acceptable, then take it.

P51. On game theory; learning from WWI and WWII; Treaty of Versailles and later actions by victorious Allies: “Imposed punishment in just measure for a deserved crime stands a good chance of achieving the goal; a vindicative solution involving excessive punishment leaves a residue that the passage of time fails to erase”.

P100. Winston Churchill reportedly said that if you’re not a liberal at age 20, you haven’t got a heart. But if you’re not a conservative at age 40 you haven’t got a brain.

The science of Dune: An unauthorized exploration into the real science behind Frank Herbert’s fictional universe/ Kevin R. Grazier (editor)

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Written by writers who are scientists by training. Each article have references to sources cited, and attempts to relate the scifi in Dune to current known science.

Shows that Dune, and the related series, cover a wide range of “real-enough” science. From genetic selection and engineering, to reconstructive surgery, quantum physics (prescience/ prophesy), biology (sandworms), ecology, planetary science/ astrophysics, anthropology, political science, psychology and neurology (hallucingenics), engineering (stillsuits).

The Science of Dune: An Unauthorized Exploration into the Real Science behind Frank Herbert's Fictional Universe (Science of Pop Culture series)
ISBN: 1933771283

P1. On Melange, and relating it to real-world hallucingens; LSD experiments (see Hofmann A., “LSD: My problem child”).

P21. The science behind the human eye (Tleilaxu eye-tech).

P29. Possible biology of the Arrakis sandworm (and relationships between sand trout, sand plankton).

P52. The science and mechanics behind movement of sand dunes.

P62. 1960s Russian Institute of Cytology and Genetics: programme to study the genetics of destination by breeding silver foxes for tameness; resultant breed was remarkably dog-like in terms of behaviour.

P68. “when the first Dune book was written in 1965, genetics and the role of deoxyribonucleic (DNA) in the genetic basis of heredity were the hot topics of the day.”

P89. A quick lesson on classification of stars (Herzsprung-Russell diagram).

P141. author concludes the many current technological possibilities of a Freman Stillsuit.

P183. On Special and General Relativity. Clear and lucid explanations for the layperson.

P224. Ascension Island, and an early terraforming proposal (before the term was coined) by Joseph Dalton Hooker in 1847, for the British Admiralty. Some plans in the proposal worked better than others (with similar consequences as what Jared Diamond points out in “Collapse”, i.e. loss of native wildlife).

The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900/ David Edgerton


ISBN: 1861972962

He examines technology from a “use-based” perspective (i.e. How they have been used, adapted and re-adapted) rather than from the typical invention (creation of the new) and innovation (first use of a new idea) perspectives. The book is one big argument of this use-based perspective.

That technology since the 1900s, especially those that have persisted, are often gradual adaptations of existing technologies rather than created from scratch.

The so-call ‘Old Tech’ like horse-drawn transport is more persistent than one thinks, as explained in this book. Compared to newer technologies like DDT, the ironer, airships, supersonic airliner (Concorde). New is not necessarily better or lasting.

P19. Argues against ‘Spin-off’ effect of Aviation, Rocketry and Nuclear technology; that the Spin-off effect is more propaganda than actual assessment. Gives example that Teflon was not solely invented because of the US Space program.

P17. How the German V2 rocket was not a cost-effective way to deliver bombs compared to building more planes and training more pilots.

P31. explains his view why the rate adoption of technology depends on money rather than time per se.

P33. Horse transport also expanded at the same time as steam powered transport (in 1900). Because more goods flowed in/ out from long distances, which also increased the transport of goods over shorter distances, which horse transport was better suited. Though it peaked and usage fell by 1914 (note: this could be the argument why books won’t die out in the face of eBooks, though its use may diminish relative to the cost of eBooks).

P34/35. Impressive numbers on use of horses by British, US and German armies.

P36. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba turned back to animal-drawn technology and systematically increased the numbers and infrastructure. From peak of 500,000 in 1960 to 163,000 in 1990 and by late 1990s, it had 380,000 horses that replaced 40,000 tractors (note: this also shows tractors are more efficient though).

P36. On the world cotton industry from 1910s, and on the subsequent demise of the ‘mule’ spinning machine.

P39 – 43. Corrugated tin (an imported tech that became locally produced) and its impact on housing in Third Worlds.

P66. From 1930s to 19950s, chickens growing larger, faster, faster slaughter; bred for indoors and hybrid strains.

P70. On service industries (including knowledge/ info industry). Argues that the service industry is far from being “weightless” or “dematerialised”, as many services are associated with physical goods. E.g. Use of paper, storage of goods.

P80. Points out how maintenance costs of a thing (e.g. PC, cars) may be more than the initial purchase cost. (what I’m not sure is how these facts and observations gel together, as a book).

P87/ 91. On aviation, bombers, battleships. Interesting statistics on the service life of WWII and even pre-WWI era (Britain’s Queen Elizabeth class battleships built in 1913 and only dismantled in 1940s after WWII).

P113. On “Techno-globalism”.
P115. Citing Orwell who commented on world developments since 1918 and early 1930s that “the effect of modern inventions has been to increase nationalism, to make travel enormously more difficult, to cut down the means of communication between one country and another, and to make various parts of the world less, not more dependent on one another for food and manufactured goods”.

P117. On Autarky.

P138. On War. WWI was a ‘Chemist’s War’ because of gas warfare; WWII was a ‘Physicist’s War’ because of atomic technology; modern war was in the realm of ‘Information Warfare’. But author argues this was not necessarily so, as “war was a matter of rifles, artillery, tanks and aeroplanes, as it was many decades earlier”. That these “technologies of war are surprisingly invisible as technologies”. Presents data to show that inspite of the prominence given to certain weaponary (e.g. Gas and machine guns in WWI), in both World Wars, more soldiers died under artillery fire than other types of weapons combined.
P145. Cites data from Gil Elliot’s “The Twentieth Century Book of the Dead” that “before around (sic) 1970s” six million civilians were killed in massacres and four million in formal executions. That “enforced hunger and disease, and small arms played a critical role in being a key weapon in population control” and barbed wire (a “simple yet deadly material”) had a key role in confining people.

Chapter 7, p160. “Killing”. On killing technologies and “innovation-centric history of twentieth-century killing” of insects, plants, micro-organisms, animals for consumption. How 20th century slaughtering of animals has not changed substantially in terms of technology.
P178. On german gas chambers (which started out as a way to disinfect lice) to the humble machette (1 million were imported by the Huts government to equip 1 in every 3 males, in preparation of the deliberate genocide of the Rwandan Tutsis).

P212. Conclusion: “Technology has not generally been a revolutionary force; it has been responsible for keeping things the same as much as changing them… … History is changed when we put into it the technology that counts: not only the famous spectacular technologies but the low and ubiquitous ones.”

Discover magazine/ Oct 2008

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theme: fuel and alternative energy sources/ experiments (solar, ethanol, wind, fusion).

P36. Growing beef without the cow.

P51. “Rise of the cyborgs”. Brain implants (neural prosthesis) and trials with paralysed/ “locked-in syndrome” patients.

P66. Interview with William McDonough. See “”Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things”.

P80. Article on the brain (Carl Zimmer), how research shows we also tend to react subconsciously.

P88. quote: Asperger believed that there is a link between mathematical and scientific genius and his syndrome, claiming that “for success in science and art, a dash of autism is essential.” (Asperger’s Syndrome: A form of autism marked by intense absorption in a very narrow range of special interests).

Discover magazine/ Feb 2009

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P15. “Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), which is used to make retail items like microchips and flatscreen TVs… NF3 lingers in the air for 550 years, on average, and is 17,000 times better at trapping heat than CO2 on a molecule-per-molecule basis. Today the effect of NF3 object climate is just 0.04 percent that of carbon dioxide, but its role could grow dramatically if more manufacturers start using it…”

P28. on VFi (vehicle wifi). Why current wifi won’t work. Microsoft trying out a new system.

P30. Carl Zimmer argues that the internet and digital devices are allowing us to tap onto our “extended mind”. Like how our arm is an extension of our mind/ brain, so are machines.

P45. Controversy over the choice of a lab rat (Sprague Dawley) by the US Environment Protection Agency, for a chemical evaluation programme. Controversy is on the Sprague Dawley being bred to have high resistant to certain chemicals, and may defeat the aim of this trial. Also controversial is the selection process has taken more than 10 years and the trial still has not begun.

P50. Article on the “X-prize”; origins, development, future plans, criticisms (duplication of efforts) and advocates (market-driven incentives).

P59. photosynthesis explained by quantum physics.
P61. Very accessible layman explanation of quantum mechanics, without dumbing down science. “Quantum mechanics holds that any given particle has a chance of being inaugurated a whole range of locations and, in a sense, occupies all those places at once… Until a scientist measures the system, a particle exists in its multitude of locations. But at the time of measurement, the particle has to “choose” just a single spot. At that point, quantum physicists say, probability narrows to a single outcome and the wave function “collapses”, sending ripples of certainty through space-time. Imposing certainty on one particle could alter the characteristics of any others it has been connected with, even if those particles are now light-years away.”

P64. Interview with 1972 Nobel laureate and neuroscienctist Gerald Edelman. “neural darwinism”. How he defines consciousness.
P66. Explains that consciousness has two levels: one is being aware of the present; the other is being Conscious of one’s consciousness. Cites William James (who says consciousness is a process). explains that puLling a finger from a hot stove may be reflex and being aware of pain. But it is true consciousness that makes us learn a lesson and subsequently not put a finger to what appears like a hotstove. he feels it is possible to create an artificial consciousness and to verify it requires a test involving the ability to communicate with It,s and it cannot be told what is the test, and the test changes continually to watch its reaction (woah, there’s a scifi story in there somewhere!) He also adds the artificial consciousness must be an artificial construct and not a live organism.
P68. Talks about a Brain-based Device (BBD) where it’s not controlled by Artificial Intelligence (i.e. Execute a defined set of algorithms) but modelled to work like mammalian brains (firing of neurons via computer simulation and sampling of external inputs).
P69. Says they have constructed something equivalent to a cat brain, and exhibits similar characteristics like real brains.

Discover magazine/ Feb 2009

Analog science fiction & fact/ Nov 2008

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Cited in Robert J. Sawyer’s “Wake” (part I of IV), “The Origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind” by Julian Jaynes. (is there such a book?)

Tom Easton Science Fact article, “The 3D Trainwreck: How 3D printing will shake up manufacturing” p50-63. On 3D-printing technologies, history, overview of how it works, applications (industry rapid prototyping, home application), costs, direction. He suggests affordability and availability of 3D printing technology will spell the doom for many small to medium sized manufacturing companies. But that with it will also mean new needs and business opportunities (doesn’t suggest any definitive apps though).

Tom Easton recommends:

  • ISBN 9780765316448 the stars down under
  • The one right thing, bruce corville ISBN 9781886778726 YA book

Letter in response to Schmidt’s column where he mentions Web 2.0. Longer elaboration of web 2.0 by letter writer, prof of IT monroe college, john F. McMullen

I learned that David Palmer’s Emergence series “Candy Foster” was written 10 years ago. woah!

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