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Citizen-Led Walking Tours

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Jane’s Walk is an organization offering citizen-led walking tours in over 200 cities. The walks get people to tell stories about their communities, explore their cities, and connect with neighbors. I love EVERYTHING about this.

Here are upcoming walking tours in New York City.

(via Kyle)

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6 days ago
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Rahm Emanuel: The city is where the action is

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel laid out a case for bold action at the city level to make progress on education, inequality, climate change, and technology, in a wide-ranging talk at MIT on Friday afternoon.

“A hundred cities around the world today drive the economic, intellectual, and cultural energy of the world economy,” he told an audience of nearly 300 in the Wong Auditorium.

In a conversation moderated by Institute Professor John Deutch and opened by MIT President L. Rafael Reif, Emanuel discussed several new initiatives in Chicago and offered his own views on issues ranging from early childhood education to immigration to criminal justice. During his visit to campus, the mayor also met with selected MIT community members to discuss sustainability, urban innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Citing ongoing “political dysfunction” at the federal level, Emanuel argued in his Friday talk that the only realm of action right now “that can tip the scale, from the public sector arena, is the city.”

Emanuel has been mayor of Chicago since 2011, winning re-election in 2015. One of the nation’s most prominent Democrats, he served as President Barack Obama’s first chief of staff, as a three-term congressman representing Chicago’s 5th District from 2003 to 2009, and as a senior advisor to President Bill Clinton.

Deutch posed questions selected from over 200 submitted by MIT students, staff, and faculty ahead of the event. Several focused on Chicago’s education system.

Noting that — after turning down a ballet scholarship, and before entering politics — he almost went to graduate school to study early childhood development, Emanuel touted his administration’s efforts to expand access to early childhood education.

“My view of the world is that people start dropping out of college in third grade,” he said. “They do not drop out freshman year. The biggest thing we can do for the education gap between rich and poor is early-childhood education. You have got to get to kids early enough in life to give them the exposure to education.”

As mayor, he has accordingly made expanding funding for full-day kindergarten across the Chicago Public Schools system one of his top priorities. But he lamented the lack of investment in such programs from the federal government.

“Outside of Head Start and SCHIP,” Emanuel said with exasperation (referring to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program passed under President Clinton in 1997), “you cannot find a distinct program that the federal government has set up just for kids. On support for education, the U.S. government is AWOL.”

In the absence of that support, he offered examples of solutions, such as increasing the length of the school day by an hour and a half, and increasing access to International Baccalaureate schools in Chicago, which now has the largest IB program in the U.S.

Emanuel said he had learned that some families were moving out of the city because it was so hard to get their children enrolled in the city’s top magnet schools, and that participation in IB programs led to higher college matriculation rates than this type of selective enrollment approach.

“This is an example of why I want to be here and work with all of you” at MIT, he said. “That idea came out of the University of Chicago Urban Education Lab.”

Emanuel also defended public funding of arts education, observing that it’s often the first thing slated for cuts when budgets are tight.

“I would not be in public life if weren’t for things like the ballet that I did, which taught me discipline and how to take criticism without taking it personally,” he said to laughs in the audience, perhaps in reference to his notoriously combative political persona.

Emanuel said he also sees education as key to solving criminal justice crises such as the disproportionate incarceration of people of color.

“For a whole host of reasons, if you go to a state jail today, the majority of people in that jail are young men of color between the ages of 19 and 25, without a high school degree,” Emanuel said. “Give a young man a high school diploma, they have a tomorrow, and they’re thinking about tomorrow.”

When Deutch asked about his plans to maintain Chicago’s status as a “sanctuary city” (i.e., limiting cooperation with the federal government in deporting illegal immigrants) despite the Trump administration’s threats to cut federal funding to the city, Emanuel was defiant.

“Chicago will always be a welcoming city,” he said. “There is only one city in the U.S. in 1850 that said they would not participate in the Fugitive Slave Act: the city of Chicago. We’re not turning our back on the future or on people that believe in the American Dream.”

In the next few weeks, he said, the Chicago city council will pass a new municipal ID law, providing identification cards that undocumented people can use to access city services.

Then he sounded a personal note. “This is the 100-year anniversary of my grandfather coming to Chicago, 13 years old, by himself, from a little shtetl in Moldovia. He didn’t know a word of English. He met a third cousin he never knew, and in two generations his grandson is the mayor. This country has always welcomed people.”

Emanuel also touted Chicago’s ongoing rise as a hub for tech startups, pointing to the development of several new digital fabrication and innovation spaces along the Chicago River, and successful efforts to attract major companies such as Siemens and General Electric to build up their Chicago operations. With universities such as the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University, and DePaul University, and two national research laboratories (Argonne and Fermilab) nearby, Emanuel said the city is primed to continue growing as an epicenter for research innovation.

He mentioned that the most recent “Global Technology Innovation” report from the professional services firm KPMG rated Chicago sixth in the world in its rankings of the world’s best technology hubs outside of Silicon Valley.

“We were late to the game, but now we’re ahead of Tel Aviv and Boston. It’s not my study — it’s KPMG’s, so don’t get upset,” Emanuel said to laughs from the audience.

Emanuel also ticked off his administration’s achievements in reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, even as its economic activity has grown. Since he became mayor, the last two coal-fired power plants operating in the city were shut down. Chicago is embarking on a three-year project to convert all street light bulbs to LEDs, and has 50 million square feet undergoing energy retrofits, he said.

“Our greenhouse gas emissions are down 7 percent over the same period of time they have gone up 1 percent in the U.S.” overall, he said.

Deutch closed the conversation by asking Emanuel if he would ever consider running for national office.

“Never,” he replied quickly. “Not interested.”

He made it clear that he enjoys his current job, and that, for someone with ambition, being mayor of a major city is the ideal position in our current political climate.

“I disagree with the analysis that the 2016 elections were all about economics,” Emanuel said. “There is a reason people are taking a bat and beating the political system, whether it’s Brexit or our own election. It is a reaction to the political dysfunction in addressing fundamental social and economic issues.”

But a turn to the local, to the urban scale, offers hope for progress, he suggested.

The municipal level, he said, “is the form of government that people feel is most intimate and immediate to how they organize their lives. In a time in which they think their ability to influence things is getting distant, they want a government that's more in tune, one where they can affect its policies and outcomes. That's why being a mayor today is the most exciting thing to do, and especially in a city that gave my grandfather a shot at the American Dream.”

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7 days ago
Indeed, our great cities give me hope.
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Amazon Discovers the High Cost of Being Poor

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Sometimes financial services industry mouthpieces inadvertently give the game away. When this happens – and a tame bank-friendly publication runs a story which aims to fulfil their role as boosters and palliatives for what outside their bubbles is an industry which is beyond redemption – the results are often amusing. If they try to brush the problems […]
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19 days ago
No credit? No problem!
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Kansas’ Idea to Keep Businesses (and Small Towns) Alive When Owners Retire

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Kansas devises a clever idea to help local communities. Will it go national?
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21 days ago
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Space Marvels for 2017

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Oh, let's (please) take a break from pondering our current crisis of civilization, and the now explicit war on science. Instead, this time, let us turn our heads to ponder the wonderful cosmos that our children will explore... if we manage to keep a great and brave and thoughtful civilization.

My own space news can be found at the bottom.  A dinner gathering with cool topics. But first... 

Fantastic! Cosmographists have plotted the velocities of hundreds of galaxies within 1.7 billion light years, including all of our galactic super-group.  They subtracted the universal expansion and traced lines of a velocity field.  We had already known that swarms of galaxies were converging on what’s called the “Shapley Attractor.”  But this paper unveils a spectacular discovery named the Dipole Repeller! The DR is a region on the opposite side of our super-group that appears to have a repulsiveeffect on the velocity field, making the whole thing resemble the pattern of… well… a dipole.  As illustrated in this remarkable video.

But… but gravity isn’t supposed to have a repulsive “pole”, right? Well, there is a void near the Dipole Repeller. So, could just an absence of matter explain… hey, I am digesting this even as you are. Whoa.

(Does anyone else see a resemblance to the human inner ear? Or a chambered nautilus?)

On a much smaller scale.... Here’s proof of an intermediate-mass black hole existing — weighing just 2,200 times the mass of the Sun. 

A decaying binary orbit will lead a close pair of stars to collide, and calculations pin it down (maybe) to the year 2022, when a “red nova” may even be visible to the naked eye. 

In  Welcome to the Universe, An Astrophysical Tour, the incomparable Neil deGrasse Tyson gives you a personal tour through the marvels of the cosmos, delving into big picture topics such as quasars, cosmic strings, supermassive black holes, wormholes, time travel... and the possibility of intelligent life out there. Are we part of an infinite multiverse? Tyson illuminates and entertains with glimpses of the latest research into the scale and mysteries of the universe. 

Download a free ebook: 101 Astronomical Events for 2017 -- from Universe Today. And from Space.com, see the Space Calendar for 2017: listing launches, sky events and more.

== Marvels of our solar system ==

A study published in Nature supports the growing consensus that Pluto may be one of a dozen “roofed worlds” in the Solar System, where liquid water churns beneath protective ice. (In the case of Titan, all of this lies below lakes of methane, lapping at waxy shorelines.) Unlike Europa, Enceledus and other, “inner” ocean moons, Pluto’s ocean is likely to be “rather noxious, very cold, salty and very ammonia-rich—almost a syrup," said William McKinnon, co-author of the study.  Any ‘life’ that developed there would be very different… though not quite as remarkable as any cryo-beings (or cells) that might arise in Titanian lakes.

Utterly cool image of the Earth – Moon system taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  Amazing.  We are still a mighty and scientific people. Fight for that.

A beautiful movie made by NASA using 100 images of Pluto taken by the New Horizons craft.  And yes, at risk of (necessary) repetition: you are a member of a glorious, scientific civilization.

Cassini is going out gorgeously, providing closeups of Saturn’s hexagonal north-polar cyclone… and soon vivid ring shots.  

Oh, did I mention that you are a member of a civilization which does this: Saturn's rings warped gorgeously by tiny moon,Daphnis?

NASA Langley’s concept of an ice shelter on Mars would transport a light, inflatable, double-walled dome, then fill the walls with water melted from nearby buried ores, which we now believe to be plentiful there. The concept would create an ideal radiation protection barrier, when the water re-freezes, and has an added advantage in the fact that it can be transported and deployed easily, then filled with water before anyone arrives. It would also serve as a storage tank for water or maybe even used for rocket fuel. Ideally it would be erected and filled robotically, before a human crew even left Earth. 

Go Mark Watney! Footage from a cubesat experiment shows potato plants budding in weightlessness, in Mars-like soils, suggesting that a certain movie (and book) may have been on target in its optimism about growing food on the red planet. Providing you can wash out perchlorates and all that. We'll see. 

The latest wonderful discoveries of our loyal robot on Mars – Curiosity. NASA’s next Martian lander -- Mars 2020 -- will be wowzer! Seeking signs of life....

This innovation may enable a rover on Venus! NASA Glenn Research Center built a computer chip that survived Venus-like conditions for an impressive 521 hours, almost 22 days. Conditions that will incinerate electronics with its 872º F temperatures and seize mechanical components with its immense atmospheric pressures. At 90 times the surface pressure of Earth. In 1982, the USSR’s Venera 13 lasted 127 minutes on the Venus surface. Silicon Carbide transistors make the difference.

See the concept for a Venus sailing rover. We have even more baroque and weird projects, at NIAC! 

Now... China is forging ahead as a major force in space, with plans for upcoming manned and robotic missions to the moon and Mars. Partnering with the government, startups such as ExPace and OneSpace aim to be the Chinese version of SpaceX -- with a rocket launch scheduled for 2018. 

== My dinner with Elon ==

Photo by Amber Heard

Last time, I invited Astrid & Greg Bear and Vernor Vinge. This time, my sci fi colleagues Gregory & Elizabeth Benford and Steve Barnes, plus JPL senior planetary scientists Dave and Joy Crisp. The topic? Mars mostly (of course), plus artificial intelligence (AI) plus much else beyond the immediate horizon. 

Elon served a great dinner and his five boys were terrific, well-mannered fellows. And the rest isn't 'news' so that's it.

== Coda ==

Did I remember to remind you to murmur, now and then "IAAMOAC"?

"I am a member of a civilization."

By most standards of wealth and thoughtfulness and accomplishment and gradually rising ethics and everything else, perhaps the first human civilization. Perhaps the first in the Galaxy to escape traps like feudalism. 

If you have any notions of progress, of wanting your descendants to bestride the stars, then reject the blithering-dopey "cycles of history and "The Fourth Turning" and "we're all doomed" rants of those who would turn away from science and wonder.

IAAMOAC.  Fight for it.

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28 days ago
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Climate Change and the Collision between Human and Geologic Time [Significant Figures by Peter Gleick]

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[An early version of this essay was originally published on my Forbes blog in 2012. It has been edited and updated.]

Geologic time scales are long – far too long for the human mind to easily comprehend. Over millions, and tens of millions, and hundreds of millions of years, the Earth has changed from something unrecognizable to the planet we see on maps, plastic globes, and photos from space. The Atlantic Ocean didn’t exist eons ago and it will literally disappear in the future as the continental plates continue to shift inch by inch. A visitor from outer space millions of years ago would have looked down upon land masses and land forms unrecognizable today. As John McPhee notes in his book, Assembling California, “For an extremely large percentage of the history of the world, there was no California.” Or North America, China, Australia, Hawai’i, Mt. Everest, Grand Canyon, or any of the other landforms and natural symbols we think of as immutable.

Humans cannot relate to these changes. Our perception of time is short — measured in days, months, years, or decades, not millennia or eons. And our perception of the world around us is similarly driven by events with human time scales. Again, John McPhee:

The two time scales – the one human and emotional, the other geologic – are so disparate. But a sense of geologic time is the most important thing to get across to the non-geologist: the slow rate of geologic processes – centimeters per year—with huge effects if continued for enough years. A million years is a small number on the geologic time scale, while human experience is truly fleeting – all human experience, from its beginning, not just one lifetime. Only occasionally do the two time scales coincide. When they do, the effects can be as lasting as they are pronounced.

Nowhere is this collision of time scales more pronounced than in the current climate change debate. There are a variety of reasons why a few people still find the reality of human-caused climate change to be inconceivable. Leaving aside those who are unfamiliar with or ignorant of the science, those who simply shill for the fossil-fuel industry, and those who for political reasons must toe an ideological line that contradicts scientific conclusions, there remain some whose world view prevents them from accepting that humans can influence something so vast and global as the climate. Coupled with the fact that the Earth’s climate fluctuates naturally, this group has never been able to accept the reality of human-caused climate change. For regular readers of the blogs of climate contrarians (or their comments on this and other essays on climate change), this sentiment will be familiar. Here are a few (of the more polite) examples from comments I’ve received:

I don’t deny that the climate changes, it’s been changing since there has been an atmosphere to change. And it’s common knowledge that the earth goes through cycles of climate, what is not known is the exact causes of these changes or cycles.

Observed climate changes since 1850 are linked to cyclical, predictable, naturally occurring events in Earth’s solar system with little or no help from us.

Global Warming, Global Cooling and Global Climate Change have been happening for millions of years – long before any possible human influence – Climate Change is natural and nothing new.

This is a manifestation of the collision that McPhee describes, the conflict of human and geologic time scales.

Climate does change naturally, for reasons well understood by scientists. But it does so over thousands or tens of thousands of years – time scales so slow as to be imperceptible to humans. The causes of these natural climate changes are the cumulative result of tiny but cosmic changes, including incremental shifts in the orbit of our planet around our star, the tiny but real wobble of the Earth’s axis, and variations in the output of energy from the Sun. These natural factors — the Milankovitch cycles — lead to changes in the Earth’s climate. They cause the ice ages, and they cause the warm interglacial periods. But they happen slowly – in geologic time unseen, unperceived, and unfelt by humans. The peak of the last ice age was 20,000 years ago, long before any recognizable form of human civilization existed. The next ice age isn’t expected to start for thousands of years and may not peak for tens of thousands of years, and who knows what kind of civilization will exist then.

Graphical representation of Milankovitch cycles. From http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/Milankovitch+cycle

Graphical representation of Milankovitch cycles. From http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/Milankovitch+cycle

Human-caused climate changes are different. As the planet’s population has grown past 7 billion people, and as we have learned how to mobilize and burn vast quantities of carbon-based fossil fuels (ironically, created over geologic time scales) to satisfy our short-term energy demands, humans are now powerful enough to overwhelm slow geological cycles. We are, for the first time in the 4+ billion year history of the Earth capable of altering the largest geophysical system on the planet – the climate – and we are doing it on a human time scale of years and decades, with consequences we are only just beginning to comprehend.

Atmospheric CO2 over the past 800,000 years with the dramatic increase in the past century (shown on right edge). Data from Vostok ice cores. CO2 concentrations today are at 407 ppm and climbing rapidly.

Ironically, our effect on the climate, while fast in geological terms, is still slow enough for policy makers, climate contrarians and skeptics, and those simply not paying attention to either actively deny it or to just look the other way, committing the planet to more and more change.

Some will never be able to accept that humans can affect the global climate, no matter the evidence. They will continue to conflate geologic and human time scales and assume that what is occurring today must be what has always occurred in the past — natural. But their inability to comprehend the planetary influence of humans isn’t based on reviewing and rejecting the scientific evidence, which is clear to 97-98% of climate scientists publishing in the field. It is based on ignoring or disbelieving that evidence, just as some dogmatically refused to abandon their belief in a geocentric universe for reasons that had nothing to do with science. Alas, these modern-day dogmatists are unlikely to change their minds, at least not on a human time scale. And we don’t have time to waste.

Peter H. Gleick


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28 days ago
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