Minimally Invasive Education

“13 months ago [Sugata Mitra] launched something he calls ‘the hole in the wall experiment.’ He took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection and imbedded it in a concrete wall next to NIIT’s headquarters in the south end of New Delhi. The wall separates the company’s grounds from a garbage-strewn empty lot used by the poor as a public bathroom. Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree. What he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. The physicist has since installed a computer in a rural neighborhood with similar results.”

>  4 August 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

House of Straw

“Straw is a viable building alternative, plentiful and inexpensive. Straw-bale buildings boast superinsulated walls, simple construction, low costs, and the conversion of an agricultural byproduct into a valued building material. Properly constructed and maintained, the straw-bale walls, stucco exterior and plaster interior remain water proof, fire resistant, and pest free. Because only limited skill is required, a community house-raising effort can build most of a straw-bale house in a single day. This effort yields a low-cost, elegant, and energy-efficient living space for the owners, a graceful addition to the community, and a desirable boost to local farm income. This booklet offers an in-depth look at one such community house-raising, in addition to a general overview of straw-bale construction.”

Published by the U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Check this site for lots of straw building resources.

>  25 July 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Road House

Pilot projects in Fife, Scotland and on the South Downs outside Brighton, UK are building low-cost housing from old tires. 40 million tires are discarded each year in Britain alone “enough free building material to construct 20,000 low-cost homes a year.” Known as “earthships” The new houses are “capable of functioning entirely independent of mains services such as electricity, water and sewage.” Read more from the Low Carbon Network and the Craigencalt Farm Ecology Centre, the organizations working the projects.

Found via Also Not Found in Nature.

>  21 July 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,


Warchalking is a graffitti language to indiciate open 802.11b wireless networking. It’s derived from the visual marks used by hobos to communicate about the social landscape. There’s an ongoing battle though, between those who want to share their networks and those who don’t.

>  17 July 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Solar Heating, USA

According to the 2000 Census, Eldorado, New Mexico has the nation’s highest percentage of homes heated mainly by solar power: 13.2 percent. The numbers are pretty dismal: “According to the census, the number of U.S. homes heated primarily by solar energy fell from 54,536 in 1990 to 47,069 a decade later. Federal and many state tax credits for solar homes have long since dried up.” As of 2000, Eldorado had 317 solar homes. Also of note, 8 of the 10 cities are in Hawaii.

>  16 July 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Wind Power for Pennies

“Windmills may finally be ready to compete with fossil-fuel generators. The technology trick: turn them backwards and put hinges on their blades.” According to this article in the MIT Technology Review, a cheap, lightweight turbine may be here. Check out their list of players in the Wind Industry, too.

>  8 July 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Branding Beijing

“Beijing Organising Committee of the 2008 Olympic Games (BOCOG) opened a two-day Olympic Design Conference in Beijing on Tuesday in a bid to find the most appropriate ways to impress the world visually. Beijing Mayor Liu Qi said in the opening address that through the magnificent and unique ‘Olympic look’, Beijing will unfold the great charm of this global sporting event and the history of China. Meanwhile, Beijing will also ‘promote the concept of “New Beijing, Great Olympics”, and demonstrate and elevate the image of Beijing and China in the world’, added Liu, who is also BOCOG president.”

From the People’s Daily.

>  7 July 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , ,

In and Out of Elevators in Japan

“Every morning in the apartment building where I live I take the elevator six floors down. One morning a woman appeared with her bicycle as I was waiting for the elevator. Though we live along the same corridor, I had scarcely seen her before, and we had never spoken. Japanese public behavior in residential space is customarily limited to either reserved nods of recognition or restrained ‘good mornings’ and ‘good afternoons.’ Everything changes at the elevator, as I was especially surprised to see this particular morning.

Suppressing my annoyance (a bicycle takes half the space in the small elevator), I gestured for the woman to enter when the elevator arrived and the door opened. She acknowledged my courtesy, and positioned herself inside. There was just room enough to accommodate me in front of her. As the elevator descended, suddenly I felt a hand touch my collar, and smooth it down over my tie! ‘Arigato gosaimas’ (thank you very much), I managed, when we reached the bottom floor and I could turn to face the woman. She smiled faintly and bowed in turn.

I was stunned for hours afterwards. Japanese never touch. It’s not even customary among themselves when they meet to shake hands. So how to explain why this woman would so casually reach over and adjust my collar? In public! And yet, not exactly. The space of an elevator is small enough, and, perhaps more important, brief and ephemeral enough, to admit a private character. Therefore, an individual can relax, and accord another a degree of warmth inadmissible once the elevator doors open once more. My moment of contact, I concluded, could have only happened in an elevator, and then perhaps only in Japan. Suddenly the mundane seemed luminous with an entirely different meaning to transit space.”

See “In and Out of Elevators in Japan” by Terry Caesar, published in the Journal of Mundane Behavior.

“Elevator space in Japan is considered both as an example of transit space generally and as an example of the practice of a particular national identity. The paper argues that there is an intimate relationship between the social script outside the elevator and variations possible on this script inside the elevator. In Japan, these variations serve to express the improvisational, private character of personal interaction possible inside elevators, over against the fixed, public character of behavior outside them.”

Found via Consumptive.org.

>  5 July 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Israel's Wall

Construction has begun on a “security barrier to separate Israel from the West Bank.” BBC: “As always, it boils down to a question of land: Israel taking Palestinian land to ensure its security.... In the absence of a peace settlement, the fence has raised all the old questions about where Israel ends and the West Bank begins.” Some villages will be split in half, or annexed entirely. VOANews: Yasser Arafat “described the $220 million fence as a ‘sinful assault on our land, an act of racism and apartheid, which we totally reject.’” News24: “Veterans from both sides of the Berlin Wall say Israel’s... plan to erect 110km of fence along the West Bank will fail ultimately, much as the Cold-War divide through Berlin eventually crumbled.”

Update March 23, 2003: While the first wall proceeds apace, Israel is planning a second wall.

>  21 June 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Green Org, Green Office

“The materials we use to build our buildings and the energy we consume to keep them comfortable take a tremendous toll on the environment. Since 1989, [the National Resources Defense Council] has showcased green features, including energy-efficient lighting and appliances and innovative building components, in each of our four offices. Now we work to make green design standard practice. We educate developers about environmental technologies and promote incentives for using them. We develop energy-efficiency and other green standards for buildings and fight for their adoption. We also work with homebuilders to develop forest-friendly building techniques to save wood in residential construction. And soon we will open a green design museum in our new state-of-the art Los Angeles office.”

>  14 June 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

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