Walk score: comparing my new and old neighborhoods

Michael Giberson

At the Freakonomics blog they mentioned Walk Score, a website that will calculate walk-ability for an address based on number of nearby stores, parks, and other useful places.  They admit that there scoring formula doesn’t get everything, but it did a reasonable job comparing my new address in Lubbock, Texas and my old address in Falls Church, Virginia.

New: 65 (“Somewhat walkable”)

Old: 95 (“Walker’s paradise”)

Well, “Walker’s paradise” might be a modest exaggeration, even for a place practically just around the corner from Brown’s Hardware and the State Theater, but relatively speaking I guess it is a walker’s paradise.

For most of my daily travels, “Somewhat walkable” understates the attractions of my new location, less than a mile from the university.  And in both cases it is/was about 1/4 mile to the nearest coffee shop, so they are equal on that important factor.

Reiham Salam on the angelheaded hipsters at SXSW Interactive

Michael Giberson

At The Atlantic‘s business blog, Reiham Salam invokes sci-fi author Vernor Vinge as he contemplates the meaning of what he saw at the SXSW Interactive Festival, but his post put me more in mind of these famous opening lines:

       I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by 
              madness, starving hysterical naked, 
       dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn 
              looking for an angry fix, 
       angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly 
              connection to the starry dynamo in the machin- 
              ery of night

Except, you know, in a good way.

Salam said one company’s offering suggested to him a kind of “hipster Second Life that involves dancing alone” and he was “reminded of the anomic dystopia vividly described in Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind.”  Maybe it was his use of the word “hipster” so near the phrase “anomic dystopia vividly described” that put me in mind of Ginsberg’s Howl.

Nonetheless, Salam finds reasons to hope for the future, reasons to think that the Austin-gathered angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient wireless connection to the starry dynamo will produce something fantanstic, something capable of enabling the further flourishing of human civilization in all of its diverse manifestations.  (Salam also cites Will Wilkinson, another writer I’m a fan of; the ‘enabling the flourishing … diverse manifestations’ phrase is my mangled nod to Wilkinsonian themes.)

Ginsberg and Bloom may have been pessimistic in the face of all the diverse manifestations of the world, but I’m going with Salam and the future on this one.

An update of smart grid links

Lynne Kiesling

I’m cleaning up my huge tracts of open browser tabs, several of which are interesting recent media comments on smart grid developments in the US:

This editorial in Nature argues that “[t]he US electricity grid needs to evolve and requires fresh standards of communication”. Increasingly smart grid media and policy are turning to “standards”, which is heartening for those of us who have been thinking about smart grid architectural principles for several years. But we’ve also already seen that different parties have stakes in how those standards are developed and defined, and how the $4.5 billion in federal debt-stimulus spending is allocated among different smart grid projects. This Nature editorial also does a good job of pointing out that the future of the electric power network is a decentralized future, and that we may not need to build much more transmission: “bigger is not necessarily smarter”.

This Washington Post graphic is a handy visualization of how smart grid technology can empower consumers to save money, increase energy efficiency, and reduce blackouts. Sadly, they express the same failure of imagination that we continue to see with respect to the retail products and services — the only way that they imagine that consumers will respond to price signals is through participating in “a utility’s incentive program”. C’mon, people, be a little more imaginative! Just because right now the utility (BG&E, Pepco, Dominion in their graphic) is the only retail provider to residential customers doesn’t mean it has to be that way. Think differently about the retail market and you will see the potential value of bundling electricity service with other products and services, like home security, which means the expansion of the retail market … if regulation will but let it happen.

This CNN article asks if smart grid can turn consumers on to energy efficiency. I think this is a pretty good article, and does get the transactive capability of intelligent end-use devices.

And finally, this week’s Economist has a short article about smart grid that points to the Galvin Electricity Initiative’s project with the Illinois Institute of Technology to prototype and test a microgrid with distributed intelligence throughout the IIT campus. The article rightly points out that some of the biggest challenges will be achieving the necessary enabling changes in the state-level regulatory institutions that have governed the organizational structure, investments, products, and profits in this industry for a century.