Let’s just give people money…

Ok, Google is pretty cool.  And, they have a sense of humor (unlike Kia).  But the recently announced Project 10^100th is beyond awesome.  Have a good idea?  Lack the technical expertise to implement it?  We’ll give you money to get the job done and hook you up with the appropriate know-how (we are, after all, a search engine).

I, for one, have about a thousand ideas I need to dust off, spruce up, and submit.  I’m not going to list them all here, because then you’d steal them and win the prizes for yourself.  But, that being said, the spirit of this whole competition is about doing good stuff for the world.  So, if you have your own ideas, please submit them here.  The due date for project submission is October 20th, so get cracking.  And if you do end up working on a project of ultimate coolness as a result, remember the humble blogger who sent you on your way to funding.  Heck, I’d even volunteer for a project of ultimate coolness…

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The narrow-gauge shotgun house.

Back in the day, when industry was becoming big in this country, the shotgun house was one type of dwelling erected to provide housing in the city for a great influx of workers no longer tied to the land.  There are several theories about where the name came from, the most popular being that by opening all the doors you could fire clean through the house without hitting any walls.  The homes were narrow and long, with any divided rooms opening off in a single direction from the main portion of the house.  As wealth increased, such houses were modified, either upwards or sideways, to reflect that increase.

Today, especially in rapidly developing areas where business expansion is outpacing home building and ownership, there is a new need for such a house type.  One possible solution is being put forward by PFNC Global Communities, which is using traditional shipping containers as the structural basis for its housing.  Since the containers themselves are built to be stacked, the resulting units are highly modular, but are also customizable enough to allow for non-stacking configurations.  In addition, these modular homes are meant to be a stepping-stone for those who use them from insecure makeshift dwellings, to the new shotgun, to something more spacious and private, which I think sounds great.

So what makes these new units different from older shotgun-style housing?

Width: Traditional shotgun housing is about 12 feet wide.  These newer models are only 8 feet in width, or about 3/4 the size.

Mobility: The newer housing is highly transportable, unlike more traditional shotgun houses which are built to remain on site.

Open Plan: Traditional shotgun houses were divided into separate rooms moving from public to private, usually in the form of a living room, bedroom, and kitchen at the back.  This inevitably leads to people traipsing through the private bedroom space if they come to visit.  The newer models have walls only surrounding the bathroom.  The kitchen/living area has been combined into a single space without dividing walls, unifying all public space towards the front of the house.  The ‘master’ bedroom is on the other side of the bathroom to give some privacy.  In certain configurations the front public area can also accomadate bunk beds for children.

Fenestration: In the new modular units, only the front and back walls can give window or door access for those units in the middle of a ‘block’.  This has the negative impact of not allowing cross breezes to enter and cool those units, but some heat protection should be given by the buffer of surround units.  More traditional shotgun houses were detached or semi-detached, allowing for windows in all four walls.

It’s an interesting idea, and very modern, to convert already existing manufactured items into something new.  Let’s hope it works across a diverse population.

Tree herders and Freckles

When I was a kid, I wanted to be hired to walk around in someone’s timber land all day, just like Freckles.  I grew up with Gene Stratton Porter’s books, and to this day, Girl of the Limberlost remains a comfort book for me.  I think about Limber’s ghost wandering the swamps, vague and misty and calling, every evening at twilight.  I think about old, creaking trees, moss-strewn and beautiful, and the wings of soft, furry moths hidden in grooves of bark.  I think about Ents, and the slowness of time, and the rushing tickle of tree sap in spring and fall.

It seems that the trees will soon begin to manage themselves, or at least be fitted out with the equipment to do so.  MIT is working on sensors that will be powered by the trees themselves, using the difference in charge between a tree’s sap and the soil as the sole energy source, slowly building charge at a tree’s natural pace.  There’s something almost magical about the idea, the soft flow of energy in a tree in the form of sap and, in turn, flowing outward to sensors that help protect those same trees from forest fires by detecting and reporting on them.  Eventually the sensors could be used to collect climate data or monitor ‘remote borders’, just like the old forest-walkers like Freckles did.  I would imagine the sensors and batteries could eventually be used in commercial forests and timber land as well, to track the age, health, and general characteristics of a tree to aid in logging.  Another few steps and the trees will just keel over and split into portable chunks at the appropriate time.

On a side note, I love that this tree technology is considered news by the BBC, but not by US news services, even though the tech is being developed here.  Go us.