Actors and actresses are starting to arrive in Abu Dhabi to film a segment of Star Wars 7 in the desert, according to sources close to The National – one of the best regarded newspapers in the United Arab Emirates. How does this fare for the local environment?
No plot summary has been released for the next in the Star Wars series and only insiders know how the film will unfold, but The National reports that some “otherworldly” action is going to take place in the desert outside of the UAE capital.
Security is tight going into the set, with both army and police on hand to ensure that everyone who enters the set area has permission to be there, but someone somehow involved with the set production have dropped hints that a massive battle may be staged.
Props arriving include a large tower, shuttle-like spacecraft and 10-15 “really fast buggies” powered by jet engines. Some actors are said to be practicing their moves on the dunes in preparation for the film.
Two lorries brought in explosives, which are likely to be set off in a blast crater – ostensibly to dampen the potential for danger or environmental impact.
Albeit the first to be distributed by Walt Disney Pictures and directed by J.J. Abrahms, this is not the first time Star Wars will be filmed in the Middle East.
The first George Lucas Star Wars episode was filmed in Tunisia - something that brought some economic benefit at the time, but which has since brought international exposure to a country that rarely makes headline news.
Fans pitched in to restore Luke Skywalker’s Tatooine home in Tunisia at the former Tatooine set. A variety of structures left over from 30 years ago are currently at risk of being swallowed up by a dune.
We now know more about preservation and conservation, and Abu Dhabi has stronger pro-environmental policies than Tunisia, so we’re unlikely to see a scrap of debris left behind by episode VII. But it remains to be seen what kind of environmental impact roughly three weeks of filming will have – either way, it is likely to be hidden from the rest of us.
By the way, if you’re young and adventurous and living in Abu Dhabi, we don’t recommend that you try to get Harrison Ford’s autograph out in the middle of the desert. You never know what alien villains lurk.
The film should be released in December, 2015.
Desert dune | Shutterstock
About 500 people have died from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) believed to be transmitted by camels. And now Saudi Arabia is issuing a warning to camel handlers. This warning should go into effect for tourists who seek out the thrill of a camel ride as well.
Saudi Arabia is saying that anyone coming into contact with camels should wear both masks and gloves. They believe the MERS coronavirus, similar to SARS, is being spread by camel.
SARS skilled 800 people worldwide and there is no vaccine or anti-viral treatment to fight it.
The focus point of the MERS outbreak has been Saudi Arabia. Of the 500 that have died from the disease, 480 were in Saudi Arabia. Social media sites are percolating with news that the Saudi government isn’t handling the disease in an appropriate way.
Muslim pilgrims are expected to flock to Saudi Arabia in July, spreading fears among those making the journey to Mecca as part of Hajj.
Camels have a special place in the heart of Saudi society. While scientists worldwide are debating MERS and the link to camels, Saudi Arabia has remained quite hush hush.
There is a link between consuming camel meat and milk and the virus may be transmitted by consuming these items. Saudis whose livelihood depends on camel milk and meat are denying the link, according to Arab News. We hope readers who use these products be vigilant in at least making sure they are pasteurized or cooked well.
Image of camel and MERS from Shutterstock
The $55 billion beauty industry may have been dealt a fatal blow by a brainy Harvard Business School beauty! Inventor Grace Choi has come up with a way to circumvent pricey cosmetics counters with a point-and-click process in your own home or office. Choi lets you turn any phone, camera or computer into your own personal beauty store!
While a student at Harvard, Choi’s research and realized that the seasonal color trends in beauty products are the backbone of the industry. Companies create new color palettes which are sold at incredible mark-up for fashionistas hungry for the latest trends.
“The makeup industry makes a whole lot of money on a whole lot of bulls—,” Choi said at TechCrunch Disrupt last week. “They charge a huge premium on something that tech provides for free. That one thing is color.”
(She was referring to color printers which are affordable and available to everyone.)
The ink in printer cartridges is the same ink used in cosmetics. Choi says both forms are FDA-approved. So she developed a mini 3D printer named Mink (pictured above) that allows anyone to “print” eye shadows, blushers, and lipsticks wherever they plug it in!
Hook Mink up to any computer, and pull color codes off internet images. Within minutes you’ll be sporting eyelids the exact shade of your favorite Big Brand, team sports jersey, or anything else that you can “see” online.
Here’s how it works. First find a color you like (in her demo, she chose bright pink).
Next, using the color picker, copy the hex code of your chosen color.
Print the color just as you’d print any paper document. And this is the finished product – a small pan of colored powder in a small Mink-provided container just as you’re accustomed to seeing in the cosmetics stores.
Here’s where that little pink becomes largely green: there is no large-scale manufacturing processes, no international shipping of raw materials and finished goods. There is no driving to the mall or department store, and no product over-packaging (think of all the glossy store bags and tissue that surround the blister-wrapped and boxed make-up every time you make a purchase. With Mink – VOILA! – it’s all gone!).
There’s no sweatshop labor and wildly reduced advertising. I can imagine a backlash about job losses, but every advance in technology comes with a labor transformations. This genie is out of the bottle – it will be fascinating to watch where it goes.
She swiped some powder onto the back of her hand. “Mink enables the web to become the biggest beauty store in the world,” says Choi. “We’re going to live in a world where you can take a picture of your friend’s lipstick and print it out.”
According to a report in Business Insider, Choi faced a barrage of tough audience questions about how she’ll move beyond powders to creamier products. She also discussed how she envisions collaborating withup with traditional printing companies in the video below.
Remember the old days in Beirut when you could actually see the Mediterranean Sea? The crew over at Najjar & Najjar Architects remember, and they want it back! Their Kinematic IRIS sea pods are designed to not only provide refuge for residents living in the shadow of urban regurgitation, but to generate energy as well.
Before Beirut exploded into the concrete jungle that it is, people bought single level homes that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea. Now those people no longer have access to their spectacular views because of all the high-rises standing like a wall along the coast.
Najjar & Najjar Architects want to restore access not just to the views, but to the ability of locals to connect with their natural surroundings.
When most people move to the coast, it’s because they feel drawn somehow, because there is something about the sounds of the ocean and the fresh air that makes them happy. Overdevelopment has deprived that of Beirut residents of late – indeed of coastal people all across the globe.
Secured to a cliff, the pods are shaped like a cat’s eye flipped vertically. Users reach a spacious wooden platform via a tall metal ladder in order to engage with the sea. This can be a private, meditative space, or perhaps one for intimate gatherings.Standing on angled poles at the cliff’s edge, the kinematic structure connects with antenna to buoys at sea and propel ocean energy through a network of cables to produce energy for local inhabitants.
If you’ve been to Beirut during summer in the last few years, you know that power cuts are a frequent phenomenon. The pods act as a refuge and a piece of resistance architecture, but they also take a very small step towards greater energy resilience in the city.
“IRIS is an attempt at resisting the expropriation of Beirut’s open coastline, returning the sea back to the fishermen and the local habitants of the Ras Beirut district,” writes Najjar & Najjar’s Ieva Saudargaitė.
“Through architecture, it materializes the threshold condition between two very distinct, yet concomitant entities: the dense city and the open sea. Waves transform the kinematic structure into an experience of place and help harvest energy for the fishermen community.”
Psst…hey lady…want to see something AMAZING? Take the regulatory leash off major supermarkets and quickly see how frisky Mother Nature’s feeling! Suddenly that fatwa against women touching bananas, zucchini and cukes makes some sense. Who doesn’t blush when looking at this naturally naughty food?
Larger supermarkets have – for years – refused to stock bruised or misshapen vegetables and fruit, in part because of government regulations, but also to appeal to persnickety consumers. The original ban on “ugly” fruit and vegetables was introduced by the EU, but in 2009, after two decades of strict enforcement, it was lifted in response to public outcry about food waste.
The defunct prohibition was ridiculously specific – garlic missing a single clove could not be sold, cauliflower needed to be plumper than 11 cm in diameter, and a string of onions had to have at least 16 bulbs.
The ban lift put most irregularly shaped produce on discount offers, frequently up to 40% cheaper then their prettier cousins. However, about 75% of fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, citrus fruit, tomatoes, lettuce, grapes and strawberries remained beholden to EU beauty standards. They can be sold as irregular, but must be labeled for “cooking,” not as “fresh produce.”
“Food should be about inner quality, not outer appearance. Fresh, local and seasonal is better than a bland but cosmetically perfect piece of fruit or veg,” the British National Farmers’ Union said in a statement, “Farmers and growers work extremely hard to produce quality food but nature does not always comply with a perfectly rounded sprout and poker-straight carrot.
Fruit and vegetables that can be now be sold as misshapen or irregular are as follows: apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocados, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts, cabbage, leeks, melon, onions, peas, plums, celery, spinach, walnuts, watermelons, and chicory.
Fruit that will continue to be graded are apples, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, lettuces, peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes.
While in London a few weeks ago I grabbed a free commuter newspaper and read a quote from Feeding the 5,000, an organization that campaigns against food waste, that said, “An estimated 20 to 40% of UK fruit and vegetables are rejected even before they reach the shops – mostly because they do not match the supermarkets’ excessively strict cosmetic standards.”
Four big UK supermarkets have pledged to relax rules on misshapen fruit and vegetables, after demands from farmers suffering from bad weather and significantly reduced crops. But supermarkets point out that consumers are suspicious that they’re getting sub-standard food.
Do you trawl through the boxes trying to find the smoothest baking potato? Do you pass on carrots with an extra leg, or an apple with a bump? Or, like me – do you grab the craziest examples of double entendre crops for the comic value that come with the nutrition? (The lead image is a tomato I bought at a Lidl in Dublin – that baby prompted a week of belly laughs before ending up in a salad).
About that fatwa? The Times of India ran a story, “Islamic cleric bans women from touching bananas,” and mentioned an Egyptian website called BikyaMasr which reported that a cleric, “said that these fruits and vegetables ‘resemble the male penis’ and hence could arouse women or ‘make them think of sex.”
“If women wish to eat these food items, a third party, preferably a male related to them such as their a father or husband, should cut the items into small pieces and serve,” the cleric supposedly dictated.
The story of the “cucumber mullah” seems to be short on authenticity, but made for pretty good flame-bait. In fact, Allah says in the Holy Qur’an, “eat and drink from what we have granted you.’” That works.
Syria’s war has killed 150,000 people and forced more than three million from their homes. About a million of these refugees live in Jordan and as many as 200,000 have lived in the Zaatari refugee camp near Jordan’s Syrian border. This Green Prophet visited nearby Zaatari village where another 500 refugees live. One of the Syrian refugees who live here is a little girl with a broken shoe. This girl and dozens of other children of Zaatari village learned a little bit about recycling on one of the many cloudless spring days in the desert.
My family and I wanted to learn about the needs of Syrian refugees. So before our recent trip to Jordan, we asked Green Prophet’s Laurie Balbo about volunteer organizations there.
Laurie was a crucial boots-on-the-ground volunteer who performed a bureaucracy-defying miracle to get thousands of donated Irish knit hats to children at Zaatari before winter’s end and long before larger relief agencies were able to complete their winter clothing distribution.
Laurie works with Studio Syria and other organizations inside the Zaatari refugee camp. She was also familiar with a French NGO named Dar Al Yasmin (DAY), which means “House of Yasmin.” It was named after Syria’s fragrant national flower. DAY was formed in 2013 to focus on the needs of families living in Zaatari village.
DAY cofounder Gaelle Sundelin has the crucial mix of organization and language skills, leadership, creativity, optimism, patience, peacemaking and enough pragmatism to recognize that she can’t do it all herself. So for this typical Habaybi (caring love) event Gaelle recruited about 50 people from France, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Sudan and Somalia. The young men from these last two countries told me that wars had forced them to leave their homelands and that they hoped to return one day.
We met Gaelle and other DAY volunteers at a bus stop in Amman Jordan on Good Friday. We would fill two minibuses with a diverse group of teachers, artists, musicians, an acroclown circus and my family of four.
Some circus performers tuned their instruments while another handed out plastic clown noses. The troupe burst into song to lighten the mood at security checkpoints and shorten the journey to Zaatari. Our ten-year-old daughter called it the most fun bus ride she has ever been on.
While other volunteers worked on a variety of craft and entertainment projects, my family was asked to help make kites. Gaelle explained that we would make the kites out of plastic bags and cardboard so that the children would learn about recycling. During the long bus ride north, Gaelle wondered aloud whether we would have enough materials for the kites. I looked across dusty fields littered with plastic bags and wondered how we could ever run out.
Volunteers Muhammad Husseis and Feras Hamwy had built a flying prototype kite made from a plastic bag and decorated with Barcelona football club stickers. This was two days after Real Madrid took home the Spanish cup but the Barcelona stickers were a huge hit with the kids as were the Cars, Angry Birds, Spiderman and smiley face stickers. I only knew how to say “Hello” and “Thank you” in Arabic, but “Barcelona” was a universal happy word that day.
This was the first valuable lesson for us, these kids aren’t so different from our own children or from others we’ve known in Ireland, the US and elsewhere.
We used a hot glue gun to assemble the traditional “kite-shaped” kites. It must be natural to feel somewhat useless when trying to help others overcome seemingly intractable problems. But I soon found my purpose as goalie trying to keep the children from burning themselves on the hot glue guns. I began to wish we had used duct tape! But then I noticed that these kids were different. Their level of chaotic energy was high but nothing beyond what I’d seen in the Irish Sunday school classes. The difference being that this room full of 30 kids seemed at even more manageable than my Sunday school class of 8.
When the kites were finished, the children took them outside and we began to clean up. But the kites were so popular that the word soon spread and had a new influx of children eager to turn every scrap of plastic and cardboard they could find into a kite. At first we shrugged our shoulders and thought why not?
But when the chaos rose and we decided to pull the plug on the hot glue guns. As they cooled off, a 5 year-old boy presented his half-finished kite, flicked out a cigarette lighter and offered to reheat the glue for me. I told him, “La shukran.”
That was when someone carried in the little girl. She wore a white and pink floral dress and a beaded bracelet she had made with another arts and crafts group. She handed me the broken shoe. A plastic jewel had fallen off of its buckle.
There was just enough heat left in the glue gun to stick it back on. These children did learn something about recycling on that day. And I learned that even the smallest act of kindness is never wasted.
Photos provided by Dar Al Yasmin (DAY.)
You might not want to tell your Moroccan grandmother, but technology first developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) that recycles urine and waste water is being implemented to provide clean drinking water for 1,200 university students.Groundwater in Sidi Taïbi, a small town roughly an half hour’s drive outside of Rabat, has become contaminated over the years – particularly with nitrates and fertilizer that Phys.org reports renders the water unfit for human consumption.
To counter this problem and provide for a growing population, the University of Kenitra developed a partnership with UNESCO to apply ESA’s technology at the school.
Powered by both solar and wind energy, the closed-loop water cleansing process involves controlling “… organic and ceramic membranes with holes just one ten-thousandth of a millimetre across – 700 times thinner than a strand of human hair,” according to Phys.org.
“These tiny pores can filter out unwanted compounds in water, in particular nitrate.”
In space, astronauts can’t be encumbered by excess waste, so the ESA has developed innovative techniques to put it to good re-use. They are currently working to combine other elements, such as bacteria, algae, filters and high technology with the waste water to provide life-giving oxygen, water, and food.
This is all pretty heady stuff for the Middle East, where recycling waste water has long been viewed as risky business given the strong view that Muslims have about all things potentially unhygienic. There are complex rituals associated with anyone who defiles themselves in certain ways – by having sex, for example, or coming into contact with impurities.
But desperate measures are required during desperate times; we think this experiment could have enormous ramifications not just in Morocco, but throughout the region. It’s important for local people to notice science’s efficacy so that they can trust the source of their drinking water.
Until now, the technology has not been used for more than 16 people. A similar system was installed for researchers at the Concordia Research Base in Antarctica in 2005 and it continues to function well to this day – despite bitter weather conditions - with very little maintenance required.
Firmus from France is working with Belectric from Germany to expand ESA’s technology, and if their project is successful, they hope to scale it up by a factor of 10 so that the rest of the town can also enjoy access to clean drinking water.
This is huge.
Ever seen a spider do back flips? If you have arachnophobia, you might not want to, but for everyone else, the spinning Cebrennus rechenbergi desert spider in Morocco is quite a sight.
When it feels especially threatened and unable to resolve that threat by any other means, the recently discovered spider from Morocco’s Erg Chebbi desert will flee from its predator in soaring flipping motions.
Though its default mode is to move forward, the spider can also do back flips – either way, this technique allows it to double its standard speed of 3.3 feet per second to 6.6 feet. Per second!
This spinning-like motion is not necessarily unique to arachnids, but C. rechenbergi is the only one (at least as far as science has documented) that exhibits what the New York Times calls “astonishing moves” on an incline as well.
Fleeing in this way would be done only as a last resort since it requires a great deal of energy, Peter Jäger, who is a taxonomist at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, tells the paper. If the spider does five or six of these in a day, it could die. (PDF abstract of Jäger’s article in the journal Zootaxa)
Jäger nicknamed the spider flic-flac, which refers to a move that gymnasts make, but its scientific name was inspired by Dr. Ingo Rechenberg from the Technical University of Berlin.
For the last 30 years, Dr. Rechenberg has conducted an annual pilgrimage of sorts to Morocco, where he studies animals to determine how “they save energy” to survive.
On one such journey five years ago, the bionics expert told NYT that he found a flic-flac spider while on a walk in the desert, so he picked it up. The next day it performed these cartwheels; the extraordinary sight made him cry! But nobody ever found a way to distinguish it from similar species within its genus until now.
Dr. Rechenberg has since built a robot that resembles the spinning spider’s behavior.
According to local news reports, a massive fire has torn through the city of Qazvin, north Iran. The blast is suspected by some to be nuclear in origin and high numbers of casualties are expected.
As many as 50 people could have been injured or killed in the city which is a commercial hub. While initial reports say that there was an explosion in a chipboard and oil storage facility, this report was denied by local authorities.
A cloud of smoke has covered the city and so far, according to the semi-official Fars news agency, people within a two kilometer radius have been evacuated.
Qazvin used to be the ancient capital of Persia and today is home to 1.1 million people.
For some, being a farmer is suicidal. Water and land are scarce, small farmers struggle to compete with the likes of Monsanto, and there are a host of environmental problems to contend with as well. In this context, it’s almost unthinkable that this bright young man dreams of following his father’s footsteps – as a farmer in Iran.
While we can’t make out whether his father is using organic practices on this Persian blog (we can’t read Persian), Torabi’s love of farming is evident in these Instagram photos that make the day to day routine of farm life in Iran look like the most glamorous and inspired job in the world.
One third of Iran is suitable for farm land, but because of mismanaged natural resources, poor soil, lack of water for irrigation and unprecedented climate change due to the rise of global temperatures, only 12 percent of Iran’s land is under cultivation. And of that 12 percent, only one third is actually irrigated.
Who wants to farm in an environment like this? It isn’t making most people rich enough to buy a new iPhone every year, and none of the trappings associated with modern urban life – such as groundbreaking new music or art and design – are available in the greenhouse.
Yet many young people are beginning to realize that gardening is the future (whether it’s urban or rural, small scale or commercial). This is especially true in the Middle East, where several countries import up to 90 percent of their food from abroad.
“I am the son of a farmer,” he wrote on his Instagram account, “and perhaps one day become a farmer.”
See more of these soul-stirring images over on his personal account and let us know in the comments – do you think now is a good time to be a farmer? Do you dream of owning a farm? Or are you putting your money on the city?
Rubber tires are pure nastiness, especially when they’re no longer useful for cars. They languish in landfills, provide habitat for mosquitoes and rats, and often cause horrendous fires - like this one in Kuwait that was visible from space. Hit the jump to find out how Hala Smadi is putting them to good (re)use in Jordan.
A graphic designer, Hala Smadi also has a way with recycled tires. Similar to Bokja’s tires wrapped in exotic and colorful fabrics as a form of protest in Lebanon, Smadi’s recycled “Wheels” also puts disused tires to new purpose.
Either she paints them in elaborate designs to be used as plant pots, or covers them in durable fabrics (often sent from Dubai by her Aunt who lives there) for use as a decorative piece, or even upcycles them as hipster stools.
Speaking to Humanity Can Wait (HCW), a great website that chronicles grass roots art, culture, design and activities in Jordan, Smadi describes how interest from people both in Jordan and abroad spurred her to pursue this line of decorate Wheels (which many might see as a particularly disgusting thing to have in one’s house.)
In addition to being a unique way to express her talents, Wheels allows Smadi to attack a particularly vexing situation that the entire MENA region faces – mountains of scrap tires that are vectors of disease and potentially dangerous because of the way they retain heat and cause fires.
Asked by HCW how she finds her chosen medium, Shami says:
Anywhere and everywhere! I go around shops asking for wheels all the time. It’s incredibly time-consuming and hectic. I do buy some of them sometimes, but other times a lot of people give them to me. There are a lot of potential uses for old wheels and tires, but most of them are just thrown away. It’s a really good opportunity for me to recycle them.
Definitely head over to HCW to read the full interview. We were particularly intrigued to read and think about how social media makes it so much easier to find potential customers.
Over 400 senior executives will descend on Dubai this week to learn how best to develop and construct photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) plants in the region’s top markets including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Morocco.
Heavy-hitters and start-ups on both local and international levels will participate in the sixth annual MENASOL Conference running from May 6 through 7.
Bespoke to the challenges of project development in this region, the event promises to show how to create an unbeatable project proposal with “the perfect combination of market insight and a robust desert plant design” to assure winning projects in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Keen familiarity with dust, humidity and water shortages will ensure adequate maintenance programs which, in turn, impact project profitability.
CSP industry leaders – including Saudi Aramco, Kuwait Oil Company, Masdar, Abengoa, and ACS Cobra – attend MENASOL to meet essential contacts for launching regional CSP plants. Participating government agencies include National Electric Power Company Jordan (NEPCO), National Electricity Office- Morocco (ONÉE), Moroccan Solar Energy Agency (Morocco), Dubai Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE) and Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA).
With over 70 speakers from the leading solar developers such as Abengoa, ACWA Power, SolarReserve, and BrightSource, delegates will receive strategic and technical advice on construction, operations and maintenance. They’ll discuss labor coordination specific to each technology and market sector.
The opportunities in the MENA region for both local and international solar companies are steadily rising; the MENASOL conference will gather senior representatives from key agencies to show attendees how best to exploit these opportunities.
Major financiers from across the investment landscape including the IFC, World Bank, Gulf Investment Corporation, KfW-IPEX, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation and Mizuho bank will be on hand to discuss multiple different laws operating on land purchase, asset ownership and project financing.
The conference includes over 20 hours of scheduled networking time to ensure that delegates meet the contacts they need for real business development across multiple markets.
For more information, visit the conference website (link here).
Image of sun from Shutterstock
What if we could apply the charisma, imagination and marketing genius of Steve Jobs to help promote green technology? Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi had many of the characteristics of Apple’s much-worshiped CEO but instead of personal entertainment devices, Shai focused his energies on electric cars.
He had enough chutzpah to convince investors to bet nearly $1 billion on his grandiose plan to free Israel from the shackles of oil dependency.
Agassi’s inspirational Ted talk entitled A New Ecosystem for Electric Cars won him respect and a standing ovation. He appeared on the cover of Wired magazine and Fast Company celebrated him on its 2009 Most Creative People in Business list.
So what went wrong? How did Shai’s dream of a Better Place turn into a nightmare of chaos and bankruptcy? To learn what went wrong we first need to understand a little bit about Better Place and the history of technology.
The technology wasn’t the problem
Just as Thomas Edison tried nearly everything under the sun before he settled on a carbon filament for his incandescent bulb, Agassi’s team studied everything from railed slot-cars to air powered cars as they searched for a path out of Israel’s oil dependency. They settled on electric cars based on Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries. These batteries have an energy density of 220 Wh/L, twice that of the best lead-acid batteries but more importantly, his Renault Fluence Z.E. cars relied on an innovative charging mechanism where a robot would swap out the entire battery for a fresh one in less time than it takes to go through a drive-through car wash. Just as Edison developed electricity generation and distribution infrastructure to power his electric lights, Shai made sure that these robotic charging stations were part of his electric car plan. Israel was the perfect place to begin. 1000 charging stations would be sufficient to make sure that the entire country was within range. He made arrangements with Renault to produce 100,000 electric cars.
Underestimating your competition
And this, according to a former Better Place employee interviewed by Fast Company, is where things began to go wrong. Approximately 200,000 new cars are sold in Israel each year. Even Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field would have to stretch to assume that half of Israel’s new car buyers would abandon their Hondas, Hyundais, Toyotas and Fords and flock to his single model electric Renault during its first year of production. As one GM executive explained, “It took the Toyota Prius 15 years to get to 1.5% market share in the U.S., and the Prius is a hit.”
As a salesman, Shai Agassi would have given even the venerable Steve Jobs a run for his money. In fact after making comparisons to the growth of the cell phone industry and hyping the possibility that Better Place could be the world’s first trillion dollar company, Shai soon had the ear and money from Israel Corp, Morgan Stanley, Maniv Energy Capital and other venture capitalists. With his reality distortion field on overdrive, Agassi suggested that Better Place cars might sell for half the price of their gasoline competition, a number seemingly pulled out of the air before agreements had been finalized with Renault.
More money than sense
Speaking to Fast Company, former Better Place policy VP Ziva Patir said, “If Shai had raised $50 million instead of $200 million, it would have forced us to focus.” Projects overran their budgets, too many cars were ordered, charging stations cost twice as much as estimated, employees were highly paid in cash rather than in performance-based bonuses and no one had thought to hire managers with expertise in the automotive industry where efficient cut-throat competition is the norm.
An alternative point of blame, government as innovation’s anchor
Michael Granoff, the founder Maniv Energy Capital, one of Better Place’s first investors blames the government of Israel for a tax structure which favors hybrids and punishes electric car manufacturers. Because of this, he told Haaretz he fears that Israel will be the last country in the world to develop a viable electric car industry.
Those who believe in the relentless forward march of technology believe in a myth. A glance at history shows that the path to progress is full of backpedals and pitfalls. For example, the lead-acid storage battery enabled the first practical electric car to be developed in the year 1859. This technology improved until 1911 when the first hybrid was produced and became a commercial failure. We can imagine an alternative history where these early electric car companies invested their profits into the steady improvement of motors, batteries and photovoltaic charging technology. But Ford and other companies had begun the century of the internal combustion engine. Nearly all early electric car companies had failed by 1920. Electric car prototypes and limited production models made appearances in fuel-starved Europe during WWII and again in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 90s but their commercial success was limited by long charging times and the fact that state-of-the art lead acid batteries had only 1/100th the energy storage density of gasoline.
Better Place isn’t the first innovative companies to fail and it certainly won’t be the last. The computer industry is littered with examples such as Altair, Atari, Commodore, Cray, Digital Equipment Corporation, NeXT, Tandem… most of which created technological innovations which were lost for decades or forever after their demise. But for a bit of luck and the gleam in Steve Jobs’ eye, Apple could have easily ended up on that list. The auto industry is no different. Tucker, Edsel, AMC, DeLorean and others have come and gone.
There is a story from my home town about a man named Dr. John Wesley Carhart. He was a Methodist Episcopal pastor and he invented the world’s first automobile in 1871. He entered it in the world’s first long distance car race and drove it around Racine Wisconsin until the noise of its two cylinder steam engine frightened a valuable horse to death. Townspeople convinced him to disassemble it. Like the electric car, its time had not yet come.
After making billions on online advertising Google execs are now putting some money into companies of their dreams. The latest – the Google driverless car concept.
“Look Ma, no hands!”
This time-worn expression involving steering a car without using one’s hands has been around a while. More recently, automotive companies like Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors are teaming up with technology innovators like Israel based Mobileye to develop a totally different concept of literally “hands free” car driving.
Tesla, which manufactures high-priced electric sports cars and salons is planning to use Israel’s Better Place electric car infrastructure network to test models fitted with Mobileye’s driverless car navigation system.
Apparently, the race is now on as to who will be able to develop the best driverless car technology that will enable people to ride in vehicles that literally navigate and drive themselves on city streets and highways. Tesla and Mobileye are not the only companies working on the driverless car concept.
Google, the software media giant that is now a household name in the internet world, has now jumped into to the fray and is outfitting Toyota Lexus SUV cars with its own driverless steering version that is now being test driven on streets and roads in California and around the states.
Google’s driverless concept could be closer to true driverless traveling, than Mobileye’s.
Program director Chris Urmson (see photo) says that “thanks to software upgrades, the self-driving car can now detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously—pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn.”
Taking this in mind, Google says cars using their software will one day be able to easily navigate streets New York City as driverless technologies improve.
Google’s driverless concept involves the incorporation of various software and video cameras as seen in the above illustration. The “Google car” is noted in red. Purple lines and boxes represent other cars on street, while red ones represent cyclists. Pedestrians are shown as yellow. Street signs and signals look like they normally would.
According to an article in the UK Daily Mail a spinning “silver bucket” on top of a self-driving car contains 64 lasers that collect three-dimensional information in all directions, while a radar sensor bounces waves off every object within about 500 feet.
There’s also a camera that looks through the windshield and reads everything from traffic signals to street signs. Specially programed software “watches” what all of these different objects are doing at any given moment. It reacts to their movements and adjusts the driving plan accordingly. A GPS device assists in planning the route the car will take.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s much more complicated than you might think, as video cameras have to identify the various hazards, including pedestrians crossing the street, and relays the data back to the software program.
Dmitri Dolgov from Google’s self-driving car team was quoted as saying: “The car is capable of a lot of things, but unless it’s absolutely sure that it can handle the situation well, it will err on the conservative side.”
Erring, could obviously result in a serious and possibly fatal accident. If all goes well, Google hopes to have the driverless car program “on the road” by 2017.
A driverless car concept is just one of many things currently being innovated that involves the use of “robotics” or artificial intelligence to perform tasks that human beings would normally do.
Google’s driverless team has up to now logged more than 700,000 accident-free miles (1.1 million km) in various test locations in the USA. Not bad for “look Ma, no hands!”
Read more on the driverless car driving concept:
Photo illustration of Google driverless car concept
Masdar is taking decisive steps to build Masdar City’s first private homes. Adding to existing and planned educational, retail and business facilities just outside of Abu Dhabi, the 500 new houses promise to be “super sustainable” and ready within the next two years. During our last tour of Masdar City, a fellow American journalist said she respected Masdar’s efforts to build a highly sustainable community, but criticized the fact that there are never any people there.
Despite the Masdar Institute buildings, the state-of-the-art Incubator Building, a small solar field, cutting edge research, not to mention Masdar’s various global renewable energy breakthroughs, many visitors to Masdar have insinuated that the initiative is somehow flawed because there aren’t very many people there now.
There are other complaints, including the relative inaccessibility of Masdar City from Abu Dhabi, the capital, where the action is taking place.
But every new initiative takes time, especially starting from scratch as Masdar has done, so it comes as no surprise that the group smartly developed a certain amount of infrastructure before bringing in hordes of residents. Now they’re ready and we’re very excited to see the outcome.
Woods Bagot, the firm behind Siemens’ shaded headquarters inaugurated in Masdar City during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, will be designing the 500 homes, and people are standing by to move in.
The National reports that the development has already been completely leased to corporations and educational establishments that will be owned by Masdar. This is one part of a wider $15-18 billion development plan that will culminate in 2,000 homes that will house up to 40,000 residents and 50,000 workers.
Mostly Masdar Institute students and educators are likely to live in the new residential neighborhood, as are blue collar workers and representatives of small and large business that set up shop in one of six office plots, but 750 homes will be available on the open market as well.
Tenders will go out in the next six months. And Masdar Director Anthony Mallows believes the city’s developed space should double from 150,000 square meters to 300,000 within a short two years.
Image via Masdar City
The Kenyan government is reportedly paving the way for China to build a new city just outside of the capital. Some 100 Chinese investors aim to build roughly 20 skyscrapers in the enclave, which is expected to become a shopping destination for products from China and other countries.
Just one of three similar developments planned around Nairobi, the $750 million “Chinese-controlled economic zone” will include luxury residences designed to match the “glamour of Dubai,” according to Construction Week Online.
There are a lot of Chinese in Kenya. There are a lot of Chinese all over Africa, but Kenya – eager to become East Africa’s most powerful nation – has laid many of its resources bare to investors in exchange for infrastructural development and a smattering of social and development programs.
The Lamu Port is one such initiative. Under dubious terms, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) won tender to build a super port in a UNESCO-protected island on Kenya’s upper east coast. Here many people still live very close to the land and sea, and unspoiled mangroves and coral reefs are bound to be devastated.
(A subsidiary of this company has been given carte blanche to build a similar port and coal-burning plant in the equally beautiful Porthead Bight Protected Area – Chinese influence reaches across all reaches of the globe.)
On the one hand, the project along the Athi River in Machakos County promises to bring jobs to local people and improve their quality of life. But in reality, the Chinese typically import their own engineers and only employ locals for the most brutish of jobs; we won’t be surprised to find Kenyans dispossessed to make room for the foreign influx.
Chinese expatriates are often blamed for killing the local wildlife for food, not to mention their appetite for poached ivory and rhino horn, so perhaps Kenyans will be relieved to know that they will have access to products they are accustomed to.
But they won’t be impressed with how Kenya’s Vision 2030 Development Plan is likely to further overtax natural resources, create more pollution, and generate more traffic.
Construction is supposed to break ground later this year.
Image of Dubai skyline / Shutterstock
It’s one of the world’s biggest mysteries: how did the ancient Egyptians transport massive stones across the desert to create the pyramids? Scientist from the FOM Foundation and the University of Amsterdam report that they now know how the pyramid stones were transported. The clue is the dampness of the desert sand.
Previously, Egyptologists were able to show how the ancient Egyptians moved heavy material from quarries to their buildings sites – on barges. But how the schlepped the stones through the desert was one big mystery. But the writing was on the wall, literally.
It’s all about friction. Consider that each stone weighs 2.5 tons. When you put this kind of weight on a simple sled with upturned edges (as they used back then) the weight of the stone would dig into the sand and you’d get stuck. If you’ve ever been dune bashing in the Middle East desert and get stuck you’ll know what I mean.
But if you glide on top of the sand and wet the sand under the sleigh just in front of it, you won’t dig in. It makes the surface stronger and the sand carrying-sled doesn’t get stuck.
Researchers at the University of Amsterdam developed some theories and tested them out.
A UvA press release explains,
“The physicists placed a laboratory version of the Egyptian sledge in a tray of sand. They determined both the required pulling force and the stiffness of the sand as a function of the quantity of water in the sand. To determine the stiffness they used a rheometer, which shows how much force is needed to deform a certain volume of sand.
“Experiments revealed that the required pulling force decreased proportional to the stiffness of the sand…A sledge glides far more easily over firm desert sand simply because the sand does not pile up in front of the sledge as it does in the case of dry sand.”
The artwork above, within the tomb of Djehutihotep found in the Victorian Era, depicts the scene. There is a guy pouring liquid into the sand in front of a slave. Look to the right of the statue’s foot.
Now it’s time to solve Stonehenge!
Residents of Jerusalem were told yesterday to boil their water for two minutes until further notice. High levels of treated sewage water had leaked into the main drinking water system. The neighborhoods affected include Arab and Jewish regions alike: Baka, Abu Tor, Talpiot, Tsur Baher, Silwan, Ras el-Amud, the Old City, Mamilla and Musrara.
Even by this morning the Health Ministry said people should still boil their water and not use water from the tap for brushing teeth or for any matters involving food.
The issue affects an estimated 130,000 people. Early this morning helicopters with missiles attached to them were spotted and cited by Jerusalem residents. One on Facebook connected the sighting to the water contamination and a possible terror attack. Though no comment was made like this in the mainstream news.
Hagihon, the company that tests the water started getting calls on Tuesday, the local newspaper the Jerusalem Post reports.
First samples showed decreased levels of chlorine, pointing the finger at contamination.
The city has taken the issue so seriously that they have set up a situation room, including the mayor’s presence, in order to deal with the problem.
I took a tour of one of Jerusalem’s largest water repositories way back when and it was like looking inside a football field-sized pond covered with cement. With high levels of security, it’s hard to see how infiltrators could get in, but this is always on the minds of the people who protect Israel’s drinking water.
As for boiling water, and not using water from the tap, this is the reality of people who live in countries like Thailand. No one there can drink water from the tap, but use it only for washing up and flushing toilets.
In Israel, however, the Ministry set up stations for residents to collect safe drinking water, without charge. That is not the case in Thailand.
Israel also has an unparalleled amount of water that gets recycled. Almost all of its available water that comes to treatment plants, including sewage waste, gets retreated and then reshipped around the country for use as grey water – to water trees and plants.
Image via zeevzeev
Ex Libris Anonymous turns old books into new journals, diverting quirky hardcovers (and some inner pages) from landfills by giving old library cast-offs a second life.
Portland, Oregon has done wonders to uptick American “cool” (what’s not to love about a place whose unofficial motto is “Keep Portland Weird”?) but its heart is all about sustainability. The city is one of the most environmentally conscious on the planet; Popular Science awarded Portland the title of the Greenest City in America in 2008 and Grist magazine listed it in 2007 as the second greenest city in the world.
So it’s perfect that this upcycling boutique was born in this sustainable city’s limits, although the bulk of their business is conducted online.
Start exploring on their website (link here) – or Etsy site (try here) – or Facebook page (again, here). Scroll through the journals currently on offer – new batches appear constantly – this is “act quick” shopping! Unlike the journal title pictured here, the world won’t end if your favorite is snatched up before you can buy it – a steady stream of increasingly goofy covers will rapidly take its place.
Every journal is one-of-a-kind, a completely unrepeatable experience.
They start by exhaustively searching for the most interesting recycled books they can find, and after carefully curating favorites, salvage the covers (and selected pages) of each one.
They next fill the journal with about 75 pages of blank, 24/60#, acid-free paper (which makes for great journaling or sketching), interweaving actual pages from the book right alongside the blank journal paper.
Says Deatherage, “The journals will amaze you with the lovely stuff retained within – beautiful cover pages, delightful illustrations, half-filled library cards, cool old maps, personal inscriptions for mysterious previous owners. With every page you turn, it’s like getting the prize at the bottom of the cereal box!”
Because each book is unique, every journal is a slightly different size (if exact dimensions are important to you, e-mail in your questions, and you’ll get a prompt reply). The lead image shows my last Christmas order, titles that screamed Buy Me for my newly-minted-nurse niece, my Brit husband, our son who just moved to Baltimore, and Seuss-loving daughter. “Friends Far and Near” went to friends who relocated back to the US after years here in Amman, Jordan.
The journals are spiral-bound with plastic coils – and quickly shipped to you packed in protective material made from (of course!) shredded textbooks. And for as long as I’ve been shopping here, they’ve run a fabulous offer to buy a bunch and get one free (check website for details).Ex Libris Anonymous has been building handmade journals since 2000. They do have a brick-and-mortar studio storefront along the banks of Portland’s muddy Willamette, but internet shopping will get copies delivered anywhere on the planet.
Check them out for a fabulous upcycled ready to host your next novel, sketches or scrapbook.