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Jigsaw

163 Comments

1:

Easy enough: homeless people are getting ever-more inventive. Which is just as well, because they are getting ever-more numerous; with the continuing deterioration of services for the mentally ill, and with wages dropping even further below the cost of housing, it's becoming commonplace.

Actually, destitution and homelessness are an accepted fact of life in every industrialised country that lacks an effective welfare state.

If there's a glaring gap in the Jigsaw, it's this: Where will these people go? Remember, we don't permit shanty towns in England, and the criminalisation of squatting in England is slowly taking tens of thousands of usable properties out of circulation.

Right now, homelessness is 'only' a few tens of thousands - when it gets to hundreds of thousands (or millions, in the USA) visible shanty towns will grow up and - unlike the dispersal of Cardboard City a decade ago - they will reappear elsewhere when the authorities move in.

If the shanties get big enough, the authorities might not dare to. But then again, they might: General Macarthur led troops with bayonets and gas to clear the famous one in Anacostia, across the river from the Senate in Washington. Democracy has shallow roots and the homeless don't vote.

Anyway, here's an audiovisual jigsaw piece from the BBC on You-Tube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnnOOo6tRs8

It's about a new Hooverville in LA, formed by people whose homes have been repossessed. This stuff isn't in the mainstream media and there are no figures about how many - or how large - the new shanty towns are turning out to be. But they're there, they're growing, and they are coming here soon.

Which leads me to ask: what will happen when homeless people stop getting ever-more inventive, and start getting restive?

2:

Cory Doctorow had this right in his praise of Bruce Sterlings Distraction on BoingBoing some days ago -- it's pretty visionary for a book that is ten years old. My puzzle piece would be the "nomads" and "proles" from Distraction (oh, and the reports on mobile phones and laptops as items that begin to become important for homeless people. And William Gibsons Japan-Card-City-scenarios)

3:

I expect you've seen this, but -- shipping container housing: http://www.fabprefab.com/fabfiles/containerbayhome.htm

4:

probably a different interpretation, but I keep seeing sleeping tubes from Japan.

Oh, and some 70's movie about a future US where the world had run out of gas and cars/highways were useless for transportation and people started living in cars on the highways. There was some kind of telethon during the movie to pay off the national debt or something. Can't remember much about it, just the opening scene of some guy waking up in his car on a freeway and biking to work.

5:

I would also add this and this.

6:

That first piece of the jigsaw seems out of place if the picture is focused on the increasing numbers of homeless, and the way the homeless will live. But the idea that rich people will trash their possessions for fun, without caring that the posssessions or the money they represent might help someone else, is all too much a part of what's creating homelessness in the first place. In the background and the sides of the jigsaw picture are people in expensive clothes busy stealing everything the homeless people in the foreground have.

The attitude of the government of Myanmar towards its people is not very different from the attitude of many governments in the "First" world; they're just more open and obvious about it. Is the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina very different? Is the response of most of the industrialized nations to the frenzy of greed that caused the mortgage loan meltdown very different? I don't think so.

Granted the governments and kleptocracies have the guns and the troops, but that was true in France in 1788 as well. I would like to live to see a different outcome than what happened in France, but I'm not very optimistic. At this point, communications have made the world a very dense place; violent revolution and its consequent cycle of retaliatory violence can spread very easily (see the Rwandan genocide as an example).

7:

Hm, the woman sleeping in someone's closet for a year story reminds me that the state solves problems using surplus wealth. The guy didn't know the homeless woman was living there for a long time, heathrow appears to function with a hundred homeless people living there. It sort of points to the notion of what a state really is. something that operates on the surplus wealth of its members to create benefit for all and safety nets for those who fall through the cracks of society.

And the interesting question would be, if we can solve the homeless problem with a tiny portion of surplus wealth, to the point where the cost is so little that poeple don't even notice it, why wouldn't we?

Other than for some dogma that says we shouldn't, I mean.

8:

Hint: think about the flash mobs some more ...

9:

To GregLondon @ #4 - don't ask me how I remembered this, but Americathon. I may have to see if I can find it somewhere - I might find it funnier now than I did when I saw it in the 80's.

10:

I don't have a URL, but consider the effect of laws intended to prevent illegal immigrants from working. Apart from a xurrent EU-country passport, which is a pretty solid proof of identity and right to work, a lot of the alternatives are things like utility bills, with name and address.

Since the scheme results in the employer being prosecuted and fined, the homeless get pushed into the margins, out of the lawful job markets.

(And what are you going to do when you need to apply for a new, expensive, biometric, passport?)

11:

How about adding that fire in LA to the mix that is so difficult to tackle because it burned in two different places. Why do I have the feeling that this won't be the last such "accident"?

12:

@Bruce (6) & Charlie (8) -- that's why I brought Sterlings Distraction in -- it start's with the description of a bank that is sacked and brought down (is destroyed, finally) -- by what we now would call a flashmob of networked homeless people.

13:

If you want to add another piece, well the long term carrying capacity of the planet is thought to be of the order of 2 billion.

Many people have been trying to work out what path we will take from 6.6bn towards that level, as oil declines away quickly. Disease is always high on the list, given the impact of the black death.

Climate change is thought to introduce more extreme weather patterns, with longer hot spells and longer wet spells. Just what's needed to breakdown defences against illness.

14:

Ian: I'll buy "long term carrying capacity = 2 billion" only if we add the proviso that they're not allowed to use advanced technology to improve their chances. (Put it another way: we've got hundreds of terawatts of infalling solar radiation, far more than the barely-double-digit terawatts we consume right now, mostly in the shape of fossil fuels. Even a non-nuclear, non-fossil, solar-powered civilization ought -- if properly run -- to be capable of powering a high-intensity agrobusiness sector.

Put it another way: I think the "we're overloading Gaia! We're all going to have to die!" view is alarmist at best, and hair-shirt-wearing puritanism at worst, i.e. we've got to be punished for enjoying our decadent, energy-wasting lifestyle.

And "too many people!" was not the big picture I was pointing at.

15:

Charlie, I have no idea what you originally had in mind. The end result, though, is somewhat like a Rorschach test in as much as everyone's reading their own thing into it. :)

SInce people have mentionedDistraction, I'll throw in that the book also mentions electronically-mediated flash-mob building projects, where any random person can help build a house, guided by smart tools that know the blueprints. Not convinced it'd work in practice, but it's an interesting idea, and certainly could be do-able for simple-enough modular-enough buildings.

I also think of the original (Larry Niven?) short, Flash Crowd; and of the reports (can't find a link, sorry -- it was years back) of the downsized office worker who, during the Dot-Com Bubble, badge-surfed his way into someone else's office daily to work on his own projects at an unoccupied desk; and similarly of The Graphing Calculator Story; of Mugabe bulldozing squatter towns and Los Angeles' Dome Village. But whether any of this contributes to your central thesis, I have no idea.

I'll throw this in, though: Google offer free phone numbers & voicemail to the homeless.

16:

sraun@9: Americathon

omg, that's it! Wow. Flashbacks are hitting me left and right now. Awful, terrible flashbacks.

;)

Charlie@8: think about the flash mobs some more ...

The interesting repercussions of having massive, web-based anarchy, completely unorganized, completely untracable, on call at a moments notice? But I thought we were already in fourth generation warfare since vietnam or so.

Maybe the positive things web based anarchy could do? Swoop in anonymously and set up a bunch of temporary shelters for homeless poeple?

I dunno. I was never good at riddles like this.

Can I buy a vowel?

17:

Charlie, was leveraging the booming online social systems to stage a takeover of the underused/not used land/constructions of the "rich" by the homeless and shanty town inhabitants what you had in mind? Or something along these lines, but less/more drastic? Pedro.

18:

Perhaps it's different in the UK, but in the US there are two primary types of homeless.

The first in the temporary homeless, who have been rendered so due to either high costs of housing, and/or a financial setback. They do find housing eventually, but may spend several months homeless first. Low cost housing can certainly help these people, the reconstruction of New Orleans is a good example of good low cost housing.

The second sort are the chronically homeless. They are usually some combination of the mentally ill, drug users, runaways, mentally handicapped, elderly, and ex-convicts. Cheap housing won't help them, they'd have problems even if there was totally free housing given to them.

19:

people with out homes, houses with out people;

some thoughts,
In Italy they have created virtual streets so the homeless have an address and can access the social system
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/aug/08/italy.johnhooper

architects are always inventing pop up houses for disaster relief or at least challenging environments that don't always work as expected
http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/maisontropicale/default.shtm
http://www.miqel.com/fuller_design_science/emergency_habitation_dome.html

at least this one proposes that a tool kit is included in each house, often its not, as naught people nick them and use them for other projects!
its quiet a swish design with fited kitchen and bath room what kind of people is it aimed at

big question is what about the services?
You can throw a pile of them those houses up but who is going to take away the shit? or teach peole to live in houses with fitted kitchens _ Having just come back from a Bank Holiday camping trip, when the population of a field swelled from a dozen to a thousand people over night -

One of the problems with infrastructure is it is a lazy dinosaur it can't cope at the moment with sudden changes in populations - even planed ones if no one bothers to build a sub station when they build a huge suburban extension to a town - and the Uk doesn't seem to know how many people live where - sorry can't immediately lay hands on link for that

But what about moving in to existing properties, my parent grew up in multi occupied houses after WWII -now more people are living on their tod than ever before

and what about when a property isn't a house but a way of keeping score

20:

Charlie,

Give "Limits to Growth" another go. Its not just a matter of power, its resources, its pollution, its energy density, etc. You can look towards solar, but its no cure all for the hand of entropy.

Personally I've no idea where the limit lies - but I'm pretty sure its with less than the current global population. Its also a question of 'growth' against the backdrop of a finite planet. Your viewpoint only works out when we aren't so hemmed in a limited space.

And your big picture might not be "too many people", but mine is actually that nature, and in particular human nature, has some repeating patterns when limits are breached. Homelessness can be considered a symptom of endemic system failure.

21:

The increasing number of homeless people (of no fixed abode) , coupled with (anonymous) network communications ability to direct the behaviour of crowds - the paranoid part of me wonders how soon it'll be before someone uses it for nefarious purposes. The proof-of-concept of flashmobs was several years ago. What is possible now?

22:

I'd add the 'net cafe refugees' from Japan to the picture: http://noordinarysun.blogspot.com/2007/08/internet-cafes-and-japans-hidden.html

If we start to see large numbers of otherwise moderately affluent people made homeless because of rising housing costs, how will they react? They'd have cellphones and laptops, of course. Flash mob tent cities, in a different location every night? It would be like an ongoing Katrina disaster, with people developing systems on the fly to deal with problems as they emerge. Some kind of opt-in video monitoring system (we'll have the bandwidth in just a couple years) to provide security the police aren't willing (or able) to provide?

On a grander note, how seriously would they take the whole nation-state concept after enough years living like that? This could be the proving ground where internet-mediated adhocracies for realworld governance are first developed and perfected.

23:

> And what picture is it painting?

Your home is no longer your castle, unless it has a deep, deep moat around it?

24:

I'm not sure it's relevant, but I'd like to add this piece to the jigsaw.

25:

Another jigsaw piece

26:

Andrew G, you're missing one large class of homeless that's been growing in the US: middle or upper-lower class people who've had ruinous medical expenses. Even if you have medical insurance, most such policies in the US have an absolute dollar cap on payouts, in the range of $1 million. Chronic illness can push you over that limit easily, and then you get to choose between paying for you medicine and paying your mortgage or your rent. Of course that's academic if you don't have insurance; then it doesn't take much of an illness to bankrupt you and force you out of your home.

27:

"If you want to add another piece, well the long term carrying capacity of the planet is thought to be of the order of 2 billion."

Thought by whom? Nice passive construction there. Some crazies over at dieoff.org or something?

28:

From your description, I'm reminded of an island starving to death while still exporting grain.

Really, housing is about to become affordable again. This is very bad news for those investors (both individual and institutional) who bet it never could, since high degrees of leverage had long since become the norm (at least in some locales).

One sociological aspect to this is the nature of the housing. As in any speculative bubble, lots of money was "invested" in producing things nobody really wanted for themselves, but things they though everybody else wanted for themselves. Las Vegas, Phoenix, and the Inland Empire now have large monocultural tracts of single family dwellings, unintuitively dense, yet engineered to require cars. (That's no accident; these kinds of leaf nodes are considered "safer", and therefore give the developer a higher return on their raw land investment.)

Because everybody thought everybody wanted as many square feet of space as possible, most of those houses are spherical, in order to maximize future appreciation per square foot. Well, no, not literally spherical, but in some strange phase space they are---optimized to produce high bedroom count, large square footage, one or two showy features---for the lowest construction cost, and ignoring actual livability.

Remember, this was all quite rational behavior until that one axiom ("housing only goes up") went away.

I'm wondering what subdivided 5 bedroom houses are like, and if literal cottage industries will see an uptick.

30:

Homeless people, no longer just the poor and/or mentally ill, increase dramatically. Housing for $2K for at least two people, that can be put up quickly by a few people. I think we need some ticky tacky little boxes.

31:

Does this: Guerrilla Gardening add another piece to the puzzle?

It looks like you could have someone sneak in to someone else's place, set up a flash mob to demolish the place, add a second flash mob to build a whole lot of other living quarters on the site, start up a garden, all before the current owners of the property even realize what's going on. Instant (possibly self-feeding) town on what used to be a secluded retreat. Or a national park. Or a golf course.

-- Shawn

32:

As the overall wealth of Western society goes up, the amount of surplus (the number of unconsidered trifles) also goes up. So the smart "underclass" members can make more use, and more inventive use, of that surplus.

33:

A Wiki-based website of long-term vacant buildings: http://bubblepedia.net.au, started in Oz.(Site may be down: news cite http://www.smh.com.au/news/web/home-shortage-myth-website-crashes/2008/05/27/1211654018125.html)

Something similar is under way in London: http://housingstruggles.wordpress.com/2008/05/01/squatters-estate-agents-opens-in-london/

One need not be physically present to occupy land, either. Greenery wants to be free, even more so than information. Guerilla gardening, anybody? http://www.boingboing.net/2008/06/01/la-times-on-guerrill.html

34:

The way homelessness is defined in the UK classifies an awful lot of people as homeless who actually do have accommodation. People who are staying in temporary accommodation make up the vast majority of the officially homeless.

From http://www.communities.gov.uk/housing/homelessness/

The number of households that became homeless (accepted by local authorities as owed the main homelessness duty) in England between October 2007 and December 2007 was 12 per cent lower than for the same period in 2006.

In addition, the number of households living in temporary accommodation on 31 December 2007 had fallen by 11 per cent compared to 31 December 2006. This is 22 per cent lower than the peak in temporary accommodation use during 2004. 87 per cent of households in temporary accommodation are in self-contained accommodation. Since April 2004, when the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2003 came into force, local authorities can no longer discharge their duty to families with children accepted as homeless by placing them in Bed and Breakfast accommodation for longer than six weeks.

The National Rough Sleeping Estimate for 2007 published in September 2007 shows there are 498 people sleeping rough on the streets of England on any single night. This represents a 73 per cent reduction in rough sleeping since 1998. The Government is committed to reducing rough sleeping to as near to zero as possible

From http://www.communities.gov.uk/housing/homelessness/roughsleeping/

In 1998 the Prime Minister set a target that by 2002 the number of rough sleepers should be reduced by two thirds (from 1,850). The target was met in 2001 and has been sustained with a level of just under 500 in 2007. The Government is committed to sustaining this target and reducing levels of rough sleeping to as close to zero as possible.

Progress against the target is measured by single night street counts in areas with a known or suspected rough sleeping problem. Since the target was introduced counts have taken place in many local authority areas around the country and these have been used to establish robust annual estimates of the number of people sleeping rough across England. Regular street counts in areas with significant numbers of rough sleepers will continue to form the basis for updating the national estimate and for monitoring progress in tackling local problems.

Communities and Local Government has published guidance - Guidance on Evaluating the Extent of Rough Sleeping - to help local authorities, in partnership with other local agencies, to carry out a count of people sleeping rough in their area.

Most of this residual 500 are likely to have serious mental health problems and can be quite hard to help.

35:

I've had very similar thoughts about the "model" homes that fill up the modular and mobile home sales lots around here - all that square footage, totally furnished, just sitting there while people sleep on the street.

Eventually, someone with a crowbar and a deep, bone-aching tiredness from trying to sleep in a public space without letting their guard down is going to make that connection.

36:

So do you read the 2008 housing price trend as suggesting that housing prices will eventually go down, or that they're actually not going to. Unless those investors are getting fleeced, it sounds to me like the price of "real" housing isn't actually going to get better much, at least for the next year, because of the influx of overseas capital. I could be wrong, though.

It's also an open question to me whether those overseas investors will actually let the houses, instead of just hoping they make money while they sit empty. If they don't let the houses, nothing gets better.

37:

Shawn @30: If a flash mob rebuilt the stupid McMansion suburbs that are now sitting empty, it would really be doing those places a favor. Give them some character, at least.

(Says Kevin, who's currently watching high rents gentrify his favorite part of town. This city already has enough stupid yuppie clothing stores, goddammit, and it's not like there's any lack of empty storefronts. It's just the high rents killing off the existing businesses and preventing new ones from moving in. Argh.)

38:

Great, house prices are falling.

At the same time, the HIPS legislation has slashed the avaliable number of houses on the market (since testing the market now costs hundreds of pounds, people don't) by between a third and a half, and mortgages have become very hard to get.

Net effect: People still can't find housing.

Charlie, if you mean flashmobs errecting prefab container-type houses on unoccupied land.. well, heck, it's what I'M thinking anyway.

39:

It seems to be something about the homeless using technological networking tools and the fact that they could use them to force a place to sleep at night.

Potentially, you could have large groups of people working in an organized fashion across a city to self-provide for food and shelter. They could also use it for work (the bare minimum is rent-a-mob) and political stuff as well.

40:

It sounds like someone could write software that does for housing what seti@home did for cpu cycles. People could be housed wherever there's a bed that isn't filled.

Maybe the first article is the cautionary part -- people may not treat a "flash bed" as well as they treat their own property.

41:

Soon Lee wrote: '...homeless people (of no fixed abode) , coupled with (anonymous) network communications ability to direct the behaviour of crowds - the paranoid part of me wonders how soon it'll be before someone uses it for nefarious purposes.'

Greg London wrote: '...massive, web-based anarchy, completely unorganized, completely untracable, on call at a moments notice?'

There are probably no untraceable anonymous networks in the West anymore unless they're either small-scale or custom-built infrastructure. So you're not living in a world -- or at least a United States -- where such things as you guys suggest will be allowed to happen on any scale more than a few times. To spell out the obvious, everything -- most especially including calls on cellphones/ mobiles -- travels in digital packet-mode over fiber at some point.

That means, firstly, you can't really do person-to-person wiretapping such as the old FISA law addresses, except on the diminishing amount of copper wire on the last mile. In other words, if law enforcement gets a warrant to intercept, say, Osama's email or voice call, they're still in some very real senses going to have to get into the packet addresses on every other communication going through that network. This is arguably legal under the amended CALEA law, by the way; on the other hand, using traffic patterns as a probable cause to issue warrants (which is what the FISA judges are being asked to do) is pretty questionable by any traditional legal reading of probable cause.

In any case, secondly, the authorities either scoop it up real-time or get the telecom's call records. There's technically no other way to do it (well, not unless you're dealing with a very local situation where you pick up a wireless transmission straight off a tower). Either of the above will allow traffic analysis, which is most of the game (encrypted communications are primarily good for calling attention to themselves.) It's pretty clear that in reality NSA and its UK affiliates do scoop up a large measure of everything real-time (60-70 percent of all global fiber communications go through Anglo-American networks and stations), store it and can search it: Fort Meade/Crypto City on its own, after all, uses more than half the electricity consumed in the state of Maryland, so one way to think of it is as resembling an unimaginably BIG Google datacenter.

So, long digression, but point is: while I can easily see something like the flash mob in the first scene in Sterling's DISTRACTION, any actors who repeatedly engage in such activities will likely be traceable.


42:

Just showing how more and more of the "First World" is racing to the bottom to catch up with the 3rd world. As those that are on top keep gaining more and more wealth and power, the rest are driven into the ground. The signs are all over the place, as the cost of nearly every part of every day life keep going up, while wages remain flat. Add in the moving of ever more decent paying job around the world so companies can make more profit, with out having to actually increase sales, and you start to get a grim picture of one puzzle.

Everyone not rich, is getting crushed. If you are not in a position to live off income from secure investments (of if you are rich enough, the government will step in to bail you out), or a postion where they can outsource, or offshore your job, you are screwed. Anyone outside of that is not seeing enough of a income increase to keep up with prices that seem to be shooting up around the world.

43:

I dont know what you see, but I see a banking crisis, and long term a richer society.
What the instant cottage really represents is the application of the productivity gains of mass production to the building of housing - which is a technological advance that can, and will, be moved upscale in quality. This can move the price building new housing way, way below the cost of housing on the open market, which can potentially crash said price - permanently (because its the price of production going down) This leaves a lot of people without collateral on their mortages, which can unwind in more or less unpleasant fasions, but long term, we will all be better off because we will be spending less money/effort on building homes.

44:

here's another piece for your puzzle from the San Francisoc Chronicle

http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/lloyd/

or
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/06/01/BUFC10VIRA.DTL&hw=Surreal+Estate&sn=002&sc=632

The town of Pleasanton is an middle to upper middle class suburb 30 miles east of San Francisco.
Some of this is getting close to the 'freegans' from Kim Stanley Robinson's Science in the Capital trilogy.
The battle of affordable housing out in San Francisco is now focused on Hunter's Point and Bayview. The politics on that deal is way too complicated, nasty and insane to get into here.

45:

I have a gut feeling that the insanities are centred on the US Property Markets, and even then not the whole country. But, apart from the general banking cock-up, where derivatives exposed the world to the risks, I'd be inclined to watch large-scale commercial property, rather than housing.

How do office blocks generate wealth?

And there's a term I've heard recently: "saturated economy". There aren't the empty spaces to expand into. Perhaps Microsoft was the last obvious example? It's even getting so that the gold rush equivalents--the big mineral strikes sucking in new investors--are being faked.

I'm not sure that inflation figures are being deliberately sey low: it's possible that they don't yet reflect changes in buying patterns. But, with companies operating on ever narrower margins, are they beating inflation? And what are the investors sucking out?

You know the Torchwood line: in the 21st Century everything changes.

I don't think anyone's ready.


46:

Oh, one more thing. I saw a cel phone commercial in which the focus was on a 'couch surfer' which just showed a 20 someting using his cel ohone to call people to cadge rides and sleep on people's couchs. Just his cel phone and a backpackers pricy daypack. Does this mean marketeers actually know something everyone else doesn't know?

47:

If we solve the puzzle, will you write a story about it? Or is it if we don't?

Last night I dreamt that I was watching a Japanese movie about the woman living in the closet. Because it was a movie, it ended happily with the salaryman deciding not to press charges and hiring the woman as his housekeeper. I doubt that that's going to happen in real life.

Did you notice the homeless in their tidy cardboard boxes and discarded umbrellas while you were in Japan? I couldn't decide if it was Gibsonesque or Sterlingite.

48:

Here's another: Craigslist used to cover up a burglary -- a couple came home to find strangers looting their home. Turns out that some of their neighbours had stolen some property from an outlying building, and decided to cover their crime up by posting on Craigslist that the owners were emigrating and everyone was welcome to help themselves to the left-overs.

Some random thoughts: as Mark Twain put it, "buy real estate -- they aren't making any more of it."

How much use is ubiquitous telecoms monitoring if people can go into a supermarket and buy a mobile phone for cash?

Why are our residental buildings still mostly designed and constructed in a manner that would be familiar to somebody from the 1900s? (Yes, we have air conditioning and central heating and indoor plumbing and electricity; but those things were, at least, on the horizon: the only really new stuff to have made it into construction is some of the materials, such as damp-proofing membranes and sealed double glazing units. A builder from 1900 would at least recognize what was going on, in a way that a car engine mechanic wouldn't.)

Finally: Golden Shield.

49:

NelC, alas, we arrived in Tokyo the day a cat 2 typhoon went right over us. There was, apparently, much loss of life among the homeless. So it shouldn't be much of a surprise to learn that we didn't see much of them. But what we did see ... wow.

The homeless folks you notice living rough in the UK or USA are mostly chaotic, mentally ill or alcoholics. The Japanese homeless? So different.

51:

Australia has the confluence of two forces:
(a)over ten years of negative wage/conditions growth for low-paid workers; and
(b) rise in cost of rental or purchase of property.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/06/02/2262539.htm - "at least 50,000 people across the country are one step away from homelessness and using caravan parks as crisis accommodation." A radio bulletin referring to the report also stated that a significant number of people are living in cars parked close to caravan parks, to informally access showers and other facilities.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/and-sew-to-bed-for-down-and-out-20080601-2kjx.html reports the work of a charity making and distributing swags (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swag), to take the edge off sleeping rough in winter.

On a different note, the historical precedents of land use are interesting, what with the enclosure of common lands, and all that implied in terms of limiting the options of non-landowners. Perhaps some elements of history repeating, in terms of Levellers or their modern heirs, are overdue?

52:

Charlie @47 Even if a particular mobile phones ownership is unknown, the connection data would still be useful. E.g. Person X has called both persons A and B, therefore there is a link between A & B. Sooner or later this would usually connect to an identifiable location.

I would be surprised if the various Powers That Be didn't have relationship visualisation databases for the senders/receivers of email, call and SMS. Even if all the locations were anonymous, I suspect that the relationship data would probably still be useful at some level.

53:

Here one idea on what the homeless might do for a living based on the fact that we move further towards full use of metals such as copper. See http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2008/04/01/88738.htm and http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/103/5/1209

54:

The property crash is going to be a serious Truth Moment in many ways - for example, the whole structure of post-1979 British politics has been based on "houses always go up and must never go down", and Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign for president of France was based on an appeal to the boomers that he'd make their property values teh soar by introducing mortgage interest tax relief, and that ain't going to happen now.

As J.K. Galbraith said, a crash is an excellent opportunity to observe all that is worst in human nature, with the advantage that the only thing being lost is money. After all, we're going from an age of expensive scarce houses to one of cheap ones:-)

The Heathrow benchsurfer thing is just another reminder that it's Ballard's world and we just live in it.

55:

Is it becoming too hard to dodge the taxman?

By that, I mostly mean, is it a good thing to eliminate the black economy?

Minimum wage jobs in the UK will have you paying income tax. There's a lot of hassle switching between employed and unemployed for short-term jobs. So is it worth having a temp job for two or three days, all nice and legal?

56:

>The Japanese homeless? So different.

Do you mean the people who live in those otaku/internet cafes ?

57:

Nick P @ 50

I would be surprised if the various Powers That Be didn't have relationship visualisation databases for the senders/receivers of email, call and SMS. Even if all the locations were anonymous, I suspect that the relationship data would probably still be useful at some level.

If you throw away your phone every few days and buy a new one (or better still, swap your new one with a friend from another city, to deal with the possibility of NSA figuring out how to tie the phone to a retail outlet without having it in hand) that relationship data will be useless. In urgent situations, such as giving the "execute" signal for an operation, you can use a phone once and then throw it away.

58:

Mark@40 - I've been following some interesting discussion recently on how to use secure comms over the internet, using onion routing and packets distributes chaotically (in a mathmatic sense), something like the radio communications which are encoded into the background static.

The only way you'll bust a new network of that sort of thing quickly enough to matter in a real-time situation is quantum computing. Of course, it's also currently very much over the head of the average internet user, but for people who actually need...

59:

This thread reminds me of Rudy Rucker's book, "Postsingular".

From Rucker's summary of the book:

"The orphids coat the planet, one or two per square millimeter, and now everyone is on-line all the time, and everything is visible in the orphidnet. Artificial life forms emerge in the orphidnet, these are helpful agents called beezies, and they pyramid together into a superhuman planetary mind called the Big Pig."

One aspect of this is that the world is one large Craigslist. People just indicate they want to give something away, and the entire world automatically knows about it. Apply that to empty housing, and squatting becomes automatic.

60:

I saw people living in cardboard shacks in Ueno, Tokyo when I was over there last autumn (before the typhoon). They are truly homeless, poor, often mentally ill and/or alcoholic or socially unable to cope with getting and keeping a job. As long as they don't cause trouble the police don't bother them.

The net cafe thing is a bit different -- it costs money to rent space in those cafes (I used them for an hour or two to catch up on my emails, mostly). An 8-hour session in a box booth with a reclining chair would cost about 3000 yen, or about 30 bucks American. Mostly the net cafe thing is done by someone sleeping off a drunk but needing to be at work/school nearby the next day. To get home to the suburbs is an hour or more each way and requires a late night taxi which in Japan is not a cheap option.

61:

I have just come back from a bank holiday weekends camping when the field's population swelled from a dozen to a thousand over night. With seven showers and 12 toilets between them. I've never been to a weekend music festival which is on a different scale and the problem more obvious on the Monday Morning.

Who's going to plan for services if you are going to set up flash housing for the long term? Thames water/council can't even manage the sewage system for the existing buildings in SW London.

Or if you have a transient population are they going to be reeducated in to not owning anything they can't carry (says inhabitant of Student accomodation- and leave stuff in good nick for the next inhabitants - it would put a crimp on Ikea's style and less waste spent on shiny stuff

anyone catch this programe: the Toll Bar Refugees
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/afterthefloods/pip/s42cy/

62:

14: "Put it another way: we've got hundreds of terawatts of infalling solar radiation [...]"

Technically, 170,000 terawatts is hundreds of terawatts but I think I'd use the phase "many thousands" or perhaps "over a hundred thousand" (Which leaves wiggle room when someone raises the issue of albedo).

63:

19: "but I'm pretty sure its with less than the current global population."

Why?

64:

long term carrying capacity of the planet is thought to be of the order of 2 billion.

I've heard "20 billion" as being the limit.

65:

Let's start with 170,000 terawatts. Now discard 70% of that (it's falling on ocean water), and let's say we can use, oh, 1% of the remaining 60,000 terawatts. That gives us 600 terawatts, or 100kW per human being currently on the planet. That's significantly more than we first world dwelling high-rolling SUV-driving air-freight-eating debauched environmentally unsound westerners currently use.

66:

Oh, wait, wait, wait. there's a scene in Orwell's "1984", where the bad guy is pretending to be from the revolution and is talking to Winston in an attempt to "recruit" Winston.

The recruiter tells Winston that Winston won't know anyone else who is in the revolution (to keep the others safe), and that he may receive orders from the revolution such as "throw boiling water on such and such a person" (oh, it's been a decade since I read it, so I don't recall the specific hypothetical situation proposed to him), and that it might not make sense to Winston, but it would be part of a larger operation.

It would seem that the revolution has arrived, and the net is their comm channel.

67:

Ummm.... let's see... we get ever more homeless folks finding interesting ways to live in the margins, equipped with mobile technology. At some point, a critical mass of the children of the affluent actually become acquainted with these folks via social networking sites and the like, and then... a bunch of rich kids living in McMansions with acre to half-acre grounds wait till the 'rents are on vacation and invite about a hundred homeless people to come squat for a party. Some of them even use the folks' money to get a dozen or so units of prefab housing delivered at the same time as the 'party' begins. When the parental units come back, it's rather difficult to dislodge their new 'tenants', without major police intervention. If a few dozen kids in a sparsely housed, affluent area pull this at about the same time, you've suddenly rationalized land use within a significant portion of a municipality... honestly, I'd probably applaud.

68:

You want the sunlight that gets to the ground and that's closer to 100,000 TW.

There are plants that do better than 5% at turning sunlight into useful stuff. Why would we settle for something 1/5th as efficient as mindless goo?

69:

James: I read Charlie;s post as using obviously low figures to demonstrate that even with extrememly conservative assumptions solar energy conversion allows for current population numbers with vast amounts of energy left over to spare. Quibbling over percentages is irrelevant in this context!

70:

James @66:

There are plants that do better than 5% at turning sunlight into useful stuff. Why would we settle for something 1/5th as efficient as mindless goo?

Because we would get the 1% by something like having 20% efficient photovoltaics or concentrated solar installations, and *only covering 1/20 of 1% of our land mass with the stuff*? Thereby allowing there to still be, I don't know, forests and croplands and such?

71:

a bunch of rich kids living in McMansions with acre to half-acre grounds wait till the 'rents are on vacation and invite about a hundred homeless people to come squat for a party...When the parental units come back, it's rather difficult to dislodge their new 'tenants', without major police intervention.

But I rather suspect that major police intervention is exactly what you would get very quickly.

Not to mention the fact that "McMansions" frequently fill almost the entire lot. That is one of the primary characteristics of a "McMansion:" a house that is ridiculously oversized for the lot it sits on, often replacing a smaller, better proportioned house on the same lot. In my neck of the woods, homes on one acre+ are almost always outside city limits, which means a private well and septic system with limited capacity, not mains water and sewer. The prefab flashmob housing would rapidly become a squalid cholera- and typhoid-infested slum. Bring on the police intervention.

72:

Andrew @58

You wrote -'how to use secure comms over the internet, using onion routing and packets distributes chaotically'

Do you mean the Netsukuku P2P network idea?
http://netsukuku.freaknet.org/2html/documentation/main_documentation/qspn.pdf
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netsukuku

73:

Here's another one: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/7431368.stm

Apparently, they used Facebook to organise the party...

There's a lot of things you can do with cell phones to hide yourself and drug dealers are very good at it. But frankly as storage gets cheaper and databases better it could become a waste of time.

A lot of data is saved and could be matched.

Best options get second hand phones either in cash or off Craigslist, get a bunch of PAYG SIMS and rotate them for a short period of time before taking them out. As long as you have a means to notify people of the number changes that could be very hard to track down.

74:

71 as I was saying @ 61
being a structural engineering graduate; civilsation is… 'not sitting in a muddy puddle' with rats eating your grain/ cabling (delete according to your priorities) if you can help it

but land/property monopolies have been a way of keeping score as long as there has been civilisation

75:

Nick @71 - The use of land is one of my major problems with US house construction and design. The lots are small even by British standards and then they're filled to within a few feet on each side.

We looked at a place last weekend where the rear wall was barely 5 feet from the next house.

76:

@73
obviously the two civilisations there are not the same, one is empirical and the other theoretical, or else you wouldn't have people 'sitting in muddy puddles' after 10,000 years would you?

but this is exactly what this conversation is about isn't Charlie?

77:

Regarding flashmobs of squatters, I imagine a lot of the young whippersnappers out there don't know much about clean water and sanitation, and I am reminded that many legal disputes in the medieval period centred around poorly built or located cess pits.

78:

I think the overall impression I get is that land ownership patterns may be starting to catch up to wealth and income distribution patterns in the US and UK.

So what do you get?

1) Anger and frustration from the non-rich class against the luxurious property of the rich.

2) Squatter camp technology (though I agree with a previous poster that this one isn't a good signal because architects love to design these things and do it all the time).

3) More squatters.

4) More squatters, and squatters who aren't simply severely mentally ill.

5) The rich buying up land like mad, as the non-rich loose their homes. Doing so in a very globalized way.

I think the second link of comment 5 is a very good one as well. Legal changes in the wealthy world to protect the property of the rich against long term squatting.

It is a whiff of a movement in a direction that leads toward slums and enclaves.

79:

I'm fascinated. Keep going!

80:

Daveon@74 and JeffF@77.

Land use patterns vary pretty dramatically in the U.S., I think. Part of what I love about living in North Carolina is that a few years out of grad school (with postdoc "salary"), my wife and I could afford a little house on a 1-acre wooded lot, surrounded by forest and farmland but just 5 miles from a major research university, medical center, and vibrant town. Our neighbors were a mix of lower-income white collar (teachers, postdocs, etc) and blue collar tradespeople.

There are still some local builders producing modest houses that are designed to fit into the local environment. On the other hand, 30 minutes down the road, Cary is the poster-child for the sort of suburban development that Daveon dislikes.

81:

There's long been this idea of the house in Western society - it's simply not sustainable in the UK and in some towns in America (others do have the space, but not the older, denser ones).

82:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2064593/Squatters-taught-to-pick-locks-by-council-leaflet.html

"Squatters are being given advice on how to break into empty properties and set up home without paying rent, in a council-recommended handbook."

83:

Nick - one of the big items from around Seattle last year was the local fire department coming out against new Townhouse developments on account of the units being built too close together to actually get a fire vehicle into the middle of the units.

TO do that AND build out of wood struck me as moderately mad.

I'll agree that this does vary. My wife saw some amazing stuff around New Jersey in 2006.

84:

Charlie @49: I managed to miss the typhoon; I was in Kyoto at the time. The only effect I saw was the very edge of the typhoon's cloud passing overhead, and the shinkansen being delayed for a few hours that day and for most of the next. I'm embarrassed to say I regreted missing it, and I never even thought of what effect it might have had on people who didn't have any shelter.

85:

Speaking about urban development: with the "Wende" (fall of the Berlin wall) a lot of military areas have fallen back into the hands of towns. Some of them (Tübingen and Freiburg, where I live, are only two examples) have used these areas to create new urban eco-quarters. Especially Freiburg-Vauban is a very interesting example for not making the same mistakes over again, but using planning, some good ideas about urban spaces and ecological building to create an unique part of town. See here:

http://www.vauban.de/info/abstract.html

for information and here

http://www.vauban.de/rundgang/index.html

for some amazing pictures.

Most of the buildings in the Vauban area are made partly from wood, they have three or even four floors, they are low-energy buildings, often with solar panels, and even if it is at the moment the place for families with kids to go, it's urban, and not suburban -- there are no single, freestanding houses, but only appartment houses, or sometimes houses shared by a Baugruppe (families building together) or row houses.

Admittedly, Vauban has also drawbacks; one is a rather homogeneous population and relatively high prices for appartments/rent. Freiburg's other "new quartier", the Rieselfeld area, uses some of the same principles, especially a urban and dense way of building, using space efficiently and ecoologically, but is more mixed, including social housing areas. Vauban and Rieselfeld both were founded around 1995 and have today 5000 respectively 7500 inhabitants. For me, they symbolize the possibility to modernize the urban style of living for the 21st century without making the error of the 1960s/1970s banlieus and projects nor the error of the 1950s American suburb.

86:

Daveon - you don't need to build the houses too close to keep out the fire appliances, just double park on a bend

Isn't most of the land in the UK, after the Crown, owned by Insurance companies?

And why exactly was the Green Belt proposed in 1995 if not to keep the place looking tidy?

Oh yes and when you don't have a house you can still have an address (on a virtual street) and claim the social as long as you live in Italy
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/aug/08/italy.johnhooper

87:

There are places in the US where squatters are living in foreclosed homes with the connivance of the non-squatting neighbors. Having someone polite living in a place and taking care of it helps prevent a loss of value to the neighborhood, so it's in the interest of the neighbors to run an extension cord into the foreclosed property to make it more livable.

88:

Trite: J shaped curve. Competition for increasingly scarce physical resources. Insert cataclysmic depopulating event here.

Left field: Evolutionary pressures dictate that our species evolves to become creatures of pure energy with no use for matter and the problems of where that matter should lay it's head.

Extra credit: Is it evolution if you design a machine to do it?

89:

Oh, I got it. It's a rorschach test. You pick a few random or semi-random stories, you ask us what pattern do we see, and we tell you what's on our subconscious.

Maybe we can do the one where we say the first word that pops into our minds.

Mine would be "belgium".

90:

There is a solution to the "people will filthy up the common areas" problem. A Net-mediated system, with the system allocating who gets the space at any given time, means that if you find the place in a mess when it's your turn, it's a simple matter to register a complaint and get the filthier kicked off the entire system. Therefore, people have an incentive to keep the place liveable, because if they don't, it's back to sleeping on a bench.

You could even automate the system; if there were automatic cameras that took a picture five minutes after you arrived, and five minutes before your time runs out, the other users of the network could be called upon to rate the pictures in a Web 2.0 fashion if a complaint was registered, thus ensuring fairness.

This idea could also apply to shared vehicle networks.

91:

here's my solution (which echo's alot of others)
Homeless people and unscrupulous businessmen will use socially networked computers to dynamically arbitrage occupation differentials for profit and short-term shelter.

92:

Please factor _reproduction_ into all this. Some time ago I did the virtual home schtick, living for 6 months on friends' floors, libraries, the occasional lover's bed, etc. I coped reasonably well with this. One rucksack, and one suitcase full of books. I was a student at the time, but didn't fall very far behind. Had a full, active, boho life.

20 years on: girlfriend and two small kids. Going camping now requires 3 rucksacks and some kind of pushchair. It's not sustainable for longer than about a fortnight, and leaves us with about 6 hours of free adult time per day.

Even a few grand's worth of titanium equipment (however nice to have, and in any case nickable in way that the current lot of camping gear is not), or a prodigious spend in batteries, wouldn't do much to push out that limiting factor of how long we can live on/in the stuff that we can comfortably carry, without going out of our C21st minds.

So the 'treading lightly and flitting quickly' model is not one that fits all. Squatter estate agencies, now... Charlie, ask Ken M about the 1970s London squatter scene - and its material base.

93:

It sounds like someone could write software that does for housing what seti@home did for cpu cycles. People could be housed wherever there's a bed that isn't filled.
With the 'woman in the closet' story, it's obvious that the man used his living space so little that he didn't know he was sharing it.
There are already sites that match up people who need weekday living space with people who spend the week away. No extra software would be needed to match up people who require the use of living/sleeping space for only half a day.
I'm only surprised that somebody isn't already doing it.

94:

To summarise some of the points above (have just spent the last 30 minutes reading the posts, fascinating ideas!)

1. large increase in homeless numbers
2. combined with homeless now making up greater cross section of society
3. Social networking tools now becoming easy to use, possibly approaching ubiquitous levels
4. advances in cheap housing, facilitating easy & quick construction
5. land grabs by the wealthy, combined with overall trend of wealth concentration (small group gets richer, everyone else suffers).
6. cheap & mobile communication/net use.

To me, the combination of social networking coming into it's own, combined with cheap communications/net use is revolutionising how people organise (have said it before - read clay shirky).

as in "little brother" it is now easy to form a group around a cause, and do it without ever meeting up in person, and do it without the state being able to monitor it realtime (someone mentioned TOR above - The Onion Router). combine this with free wifi (community provided - afraid I don't have a link but they're starting to do it in san francisco). combine with some of the ideas above about swapping phones etc.

So then we have a large group of disenfranchised people, with the power to organise themselves, and the power to do this worldwide (possibly mainly in the first world at the moment, though this will spread as the technology does).

That spells a big problem for the state/powers that be. so the chances are they will crack down on it (see new laws/trade agreements being proposed, net neutrality down the drain, bit torrent ilegal, compulsory monitoring of all internet use in the UK - I think it's being called ACTA or something similar - this will also outlaw TOR etc).

Combine the above with environmental deterioration, decline in global oils supplies, (i.e pressure on the western way of living), but also with a (hopefully dramatic) upswing in use of renewable energy (and so an increase in the independence of people - no longer dependent on the grid) - hmmm.

so then we have the cheap and easy housing - that has the potential to solve some of the homeless problems - but where do they get the land? I think the wiki projects noted above on empty houses would probably play a part, or something similar. Someone mentioned problems with plumbing and electricity above. plumbing for 5000, achieved using sustainable methods (compost toilets, grey water recycling), achieved when the G8 came to visit scotland a few years back. this happened at the stirling campsite, which was entirely run by anarchists. it worked most of the time - if to be used for a permanent settlement it could be made to work better. On the energy side of things - I made a solar panel out the back of a fridge, using things I found in a back alley. hot water. I am making a wind turbine out of an old oil drum, a bike wheel and some other bits (scrap). it should get enough power to charge a 12V battery - lighting and refridgeration. It is possible to do using scrap, you just have to get inventive (it's also fun - but then I do need to get out more).

95:

''I've heard "20 billion" as being the limit.''

Currently the world is capable of sinking about 3ppm of atmospheric CO2 per annum. The Earth's atmosphere weighs about 4000 MM tons, so 3ppm is about 12,000 megatons.

A person exhales about 1kg of CO2 per day. Call it 300kg a year.

12,000,000,000,000 kg / 300 kg = 40,000,000,000

You can, long term sustainable, have an absolute maximum of 40Bn people on the planet providing they don't burn any fossil fuels and there's no other animal life... And there's no less plant life than now.

96:

The cheap and easy renewable energy: that's right out of the Seventies: oil crisis and hippies (and some of it looking back at how rural electrification destroyed a thriving industry built around wind generators and 12V DC appliances).

And that wind generator may not be so useful. You're thinking of a Savonius Turbine, right? Lousy efficienct, but at least they don't overspeed in high winds.

97:

Whilst I entirely understand the fun and logic inherent in making useful stuff out of scrap, (*) it is not a solution if things get really bad, and to be honest, if our society breaks down enough that tens of thousands of people are squatting in shanty towns and requiring such energy sources, I will regard the entire system as having broken.
Oh, wait, that would be counted as a success by some.

But anyway, its much better never to get so bad as to require home made wind turbines. It can be done, but the powers that be are in the way, and we need lots more people to become more aware of the problems.

(*) I do medieval re-enacting and have a home made furnace in my drying green which means I can melt pewter, distill stuff, and generally muck about with primitive chemistry. I'm working up to copper alloy casting.

98:

re cheap & easy renewable energy
I am not saying that home made renewable energy is a solution to all problems - merely that it would seem to be a good solution for a village/housing area set up by people with not much money at all.

I do it because I enjoy it, it's useful (to me). Also, if things do get that bad (i hope they don't), I will be able to generate enough electricity to keep a small local grid going.

It's also great for education - show someone how much energy they can make for free, they look at it in a different way.

dave Bell@95 - simple savonius, probably low efficiency but easy to cobble together. also possible to use to pump water - irrigation/running water, possibly energy storage (tank in the loft, pump the water up there, release for instant electricity. not sure about this - efficiency will be low but if the wind is free...)

guthrie@96 - that furnace sounds cool - any further information?

99:

The limiting factor on shanty towns and other sorts of ad-hoc housing isn't typically energy supply, it's potable water: how much can you get per person, and how much time does it take for each person to get that water each day. One of the defining characteristics of a post-village society is the availability of fresh water that doesn't require a large fraction of the population to spend all the hours of the day that aren't devoted to food preparation in obtaining water. All industrialized societies have huge infrastructure costs sunk into water acquisition and waste removal; carrying energy sources around or finding them locally is usually much easier than carrying around water or the equipment to get it.

So there's a a need for fixed space with some underlying infrastructure; you can bet the rich are going to corner the market and try to hold it out for all the traffic will bear, even assuming they go along with the idea of a time-sharing, nomadic underclass. Unless, of course, there's another way to get clean water. Anyone done the math to find out if it's practical to extract water from the air in average humidity in, say, Northern Europe?

100:

Guthrie (76) - re cesspits and water supply: Instructables is a source of wondrous DIY knowledge. Composting toilets, greywater reuse, and water purification are doable.

For that matter, Lifestraw - http://www.vestergaard-frandsen.com/lifestraw.htm - is already available for extracting potable water from dubious sources, very simply and immediately.

The wireless network mode used by Negroponte's OLPC (if I understand it properly) does not rely on outside routers for intranet use, and could be tweaked to frequencies or modes other than those currently monitored by the powers that be: Othernet? The OLPC and possible successors, plus appropriate peripherals, open up possibilities like a counterculture CCTV or other eavesdropping system... and so onward wherever vision takes you.

101:

Bruce @98: You're talking water monopoly aren't you? Combine with a monopoly on major power sources and internet backbone and that just gets nasty and resembles Niven's State.

102:

I suspect that any sort of long-term solution to homelessness that is based on squatting and prefab modular housing or similar technologies is likely to be a relatively high density settlement, if for no other reason than that squatters will require force of numbers to keep from being driven away.

Composting toilets, greywater reuse, and water purification systems are all great, but AFAIK, they all require fairly low population density. You need land that will absorb the composted sludge. If you are purifying greywater through an artificial wetland, you'll need space. Heck, if you are just using the greywater to irrigate crops you still need space - the ability of crops and soil micro-organisms to purify water and absorb sludge is finite. What is the minimum land requirement for one person if all waste is disposed of on-site and potable water is also obtained locally? For a period of years, not just a short festival?

103:

Hmm, another possible reading of the jigsaw puzzle:

The ability to survive in the cracks and interstices of modern society requires that one be quiet and unobtrusive (the woman in the closet and homeless people at Heathrow). Absent real estate owners, particularly those that are foreign, would make this easier.

However, modern communications technology and the temptation to use it make this sort of secret existence much more difficult. A small woman can hide in a closet for a year. A destructive flash mob gives itself away in just one night. An absent real estate owner can use the same technology to keep tabs on his property. A distributed panopticon owned by numerous individuals could become just as pervasive as one run by the state.

104:

Guthrie (and Dave), that reminds me of my own skill for teh apocalypse - looking after Southern Cross wind pumps. Much better to put some effort into a decent tower and fantail than a low-level savonius.

105:

Greg @88: here's another clue for you: "Open Thread".

We appear to have an actual online community here, folks -- one capable of sustaining its own conversation in my (mostly) absence.

(Feel free to carry on.)

106:

water generation - this may be an alternative http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2309-floating-wind-turbine-could-whip-up-rain.html

basically a vertical axis wind turbine (darius type) offshore. the wind blows towards the shore, the turbine sucks up sea water, sprays it out the blades as a fine mist. the fine mist (salty) evaporates and then the clouds blow over the land, condense and fall as rain.

As to whether this actually works, I am unsure. you could combine it with rain water catchment, to provide some/most/all of your needs depending on the level of precipitation. (to work out how much water you get, find your average precipitation for the year in your local area, per square meter. multiply by useful rain gathering area eg roof area - note summer use increases when (typically) rainfall decreases. oversize as required.

on getting rid of the waste (grey water/human waste). use multiple approaches - fertiliser for some, grey water for crop irrigation. the worst stuff you could use for energy, though this will mean higher costs due to infrastructure (biogas/anaerobic digester/gasification/?).

how about small scale renewable energy generation (eg home made scale) for free wifi generation? small scalable networks, independent, distributed?

107:

There's one more piece that made it on digg today.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/03/asia/03shibetsu.php

On Hokkaido, part of overcrowded Japan, you get land for free! And few takers. In fact Hokkaido only has the old people left, those who didn't go to Tokyo.

108:

Bruce #98- I assume you've heard of the water privatisation in the UK? Let alone in the developing countries, where usually the first thing they do is jack the [price up and cut off supplies to poor people.

There is a reason all these capitalist cities in Victorian England ended up with public water supplies. Because relying upon private suppliers didn't work except for a small number of people.

What this discussion really makes clear is that what will happen about homelessness and repossessions depends on what state the society in question is (I am really just considering the "developed" world here). If there is still strong law and order, and you can still buy food in the shops and all the other necessities of life, then I see no future for anything which requires takeover of private property. Sure, some people will slip through the gaps, I imagine you could survive for quite a while in an empty house, living in the back rooms, using candles etc, but it wouldn't suit a lot of people. Remember, the laws in England have been changed such that Squatting is no use.

Unless of course there has been large scale social breakdown. It is conceivable that if homeless numbers reach such a scale that having 10,000 people camping out in the middle of a major city will cause something to be done, but otherwise, they'll just be processed into the prison system. Unless there has been large scale dislocation and problems, such that at the very least palliatives are applied.

accelerationista, regarding the furnace, start at the url I give in my name. Thats a post on my livejournal, you can loko through them from there.

109:

what do all these people do in your transient live lightly sprawl? the ladies in the closet, or at the airport what to they do but wait. Okay you can build 'refugee camps' but people get hungry and bored after awhile see Gaza and the townships of SA [Do I see Maslow's triangle rearing its ugly head?] And what will people like guthrie and me who want to make things do with no access to raw materials (or fuel) and a place to make messes - not every thing can be made on a 3D printer or everyone cut out to be data entry clerks

my post apocalyses skills? My Handaxes aren't too bad, i'm happy to make blankets all day and I'm a cynical archaeology graduate (almost) who hangs out on Charlie's blog

110:

More microagriculture: this just in from Lesotho... http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7432972.stm

"...Decades of intensive agriculture have stripped the land of trees, and exposed soils to wind and rain.

Erosion has created countless miniature canyons that split the plains everywhere you look. The already thin mountain soils have lost virtually all their productive nutrients."
***
"what have become known as "keyhole gardens". They are round gardens of about two metres in diameter and raised to waist-height to make them easy for the sick and elderly to work.

Inside, the garden-beds are layered with tin cans, mulch and ash which together provide the nutrients to make the gardens extraordinarily productive. "
***
(Quoting Care worker):"As you can see, (Mahaha's family) has three keyhole gardens and that's more than enough to supply all 10 of them with all the vegetables they need, and with some left over to sell. It's changed their lives."

111:

After all these years, I still don't know how to pronouce rorschach. Ever since I read "Watchmen", it always stuck in my brain as "raw shark".

As for post apocalyptic skills, I've got bupkiss. Unless "digging ditches" counts as a skill.

112:

Thats another point, Maggie.
In the imagined squatter sprawl, people will at least be able to get by, and won't starve, much. But here in the UK, there are a lot of issues. FOr starters, taking edible but out of date food from supermarket bins is not really possible, because they keep them locked up and set the police on you. Its illegal to take stuff from skips. There is an old fire-brick factory a couple of miles from me which would make an excellent storage place/ squatting place, with a kilometre of open space. But its old and decrepit, and has a guard on it because its also a condemned building.

Getting hold of the necessaries to build your squatter camp is going to be hard, because the waste system is tied up tightly these days. (For several reasons, the biggest being that if it isnt, shit for brains people start dumping stuff where they shouldn't, thus damaging the environment)

Now, I understand some short term camps for the G8 summit, and the climate camp last year worked fine. (never underestimate anarchists ability to organise) However, in the longer term, they would come under direct assault by the forces of what we might as well call the owners.

So, food for thought for future stories and scenarios.
And why am I reminded of Ghost in the SHell stand alone complex series 2, where foreign guest working refugees are confined to several run down districts, which makes them easy to control and target.

So I suppose what I see would be an ongoing war, between the Owners, and the homeless. HOw long it would last for would depend on how many people were affected, and how successfully they can build political links. The police would be overstretched, and resort to greatuer use of tasers and water cannon.
As the ability of the mob to organise improves, the ability of the Owners to surveil all they own also improves.

Meanwhile peak oil and global recession brought on by the dominance of the (non-productive) financial sector in the economy will cause major problems.

113:

Hmmm, theres something to be said for being off work with glandular fever for weeks at a time, it enables one to stock the brain up with issues and information from books and the internet, without having to think about work all the time.

Anyway, post apocalyptic skills is a whole 'nother ballgame, I think we covered some of the limitations on another thread. I wouldn't be too bad, since I have some chemistry knowledge, hillwalking and camping capabilities, some idea of how everything works, and the sources of necessaries (clothing, shelter, food and water) after it all goes pear shaped. But then I have devoted an hour or two to thinking about it, over the years.

Anyway, all these coping mechanisms like couch surfing are a sign that its time for a revolution. Anyone want to join me?

114:

My post-apocalypse survival skills are approximately zero: I'm dependent on the existence of the modern pharmaceutical industry for my survival. (I might make it for some months, or even a year or so, without meds, but it's not exactly something I want to try.) So I am, shall we say, personally invested in the maintenance of civilization.

Someone (I'm trying to remember who) commented that civilization can be measured by the distance it puts between you and your shit. I'd generalize that principle: civilization can be measured by the efficiency of the logistic chains accessible to its citizens (and shit is merely one more commodity to be moved).

One of the biggest problems all logistic systems face is information -- information about how many SKUs are in warehouse A or in transit to warehouse B via ship C or truck D. Tou can increase the efficiency of logistic systems by collecting more information about where stuff is and about who needs what, but only up to a point: the key algorithmic problems that all logistical systems have to deal with (the traveling salesman problem and the blind knapsack problem, to name tow of the key ones) are [suspected of being] NP-Complete. Which is why we run on approximations.

Hmm. (Got a novella to write. Back soon.)

115:

What I recall is that wind pumps and wind generators need a different windspeed/torque relationship. Which is why a wind pump has that huge number of vanes and a wind generator has three.

As for domestic pumped storage: E = Mgh

That is, raising one kilogram through one metre stores 9.81 joules of potential energy.

Dinorwig can apparently produce 1.8 GW for about five hours, if the upper resevoir is full. You need a lot of h and M to do that.

116:

civilization can be measured by the distance it puts between you and your shit.

Hm, dumping raw, unprocessed sewage far away into the ocean doesn't seem "civilized". Maybe there is an implied step involving processing of some kind in that definition.

I'd say civilization can be measured by how much nuclear waste is in stable, underground, long-term storage.

117:

guthrie @ 107

I was thinking in particular of the Brazilian favelas and the slums of Mexico City, where the poorest inhabitants pay the most for water, because it has to be trucked in. I haven't studied the situation in any detail, but it has to be getting worse as the largest cities grow beyond 20 million population, most of them well beyond the capacity of their infrastructure, and likely to stay that way for a long time to come.

I'm not sure I agree that it will require social breakdown for some of the industrialized countries to tolerate large-scale squatting. Whoever controls the water in the region of a squat could become very wealthy, sufficiently so as to keep the local authorities paid off. So they could be used to roust anyone who threatened the monopoly, but leave others alone as long as they stay in the squat. This might be especially true if we end up with large areas of real estate blight as a result of the current mortgage meltdown. Turning them into squats might be profitable enough to make local government look the otherway.

118:

Exactly, Charlie #112.

The question therefore for those of us who would be saddened by your loss, not to mention the billion or two others who would be lost in an apocalyptic episode, would be how to avoid it.
Nowe, I don't, in my limited uninformed fashion, see that we're going to get a massive social breakdown any time soon, of the sort which will deny Charlie and others their medicines, but I reserve the right to be completely wrong.

Surely the problem with measuring civilisation by efficient logistic systems is that you are relying upon the continued existence of these increasingly interconnected and disruptable logistical systems?

It did occur to me years ago, regarding accomodation, that in theory you could have an overnight accomodation system set up working from people at university. When I finished Uni, I knew people from all across the country, who in theory could vouch for me not being an axe murder.

Therefore, in theory, you extend this another link or two, and you could through a friend of a friend, end up having a couch to sleep on. Now ordinarily if you just turned up on someones doorstep, they would tell you to fuck off on the basis that they don't know you, but I thought that if you were vouched for by their ex-flatmates brother's flatmate, then it would work fine...

Of course I used to be more innocent and see the good in everyone.

119:

In the corner of the puzzle with the Japanese woman (and apparently myself), I place the pieces of Elizabeth Okazaki and Azia Kim, both at Stanford. As a former Stanford Physics student, and later hanger-on, both these stories have a special place in my heart.

Azia Kim was like any other Stanford freshman. She graduated from one of California's most competitive high schools last June, moved into the dorms during New Student Orientation, talked about upcoming tests and spent her free time with friends.The only problem is that Azia Kim was never a Stanford student.

For the last four years, Elizabeth Okazaki has attended graduate physics seminars, used the offices reserved for doctoral and post-doctoral physics students and — for all intents and purposes made the Varian Physics Lab her home. The only problem is that Okazaki appears to have no affiliation with Stanford and, according to physics professors and students, no real reason to be there.

120:

ooh water wars. Fun…

its not just information (in the techi or non-techni sense) but knowledge, wisdom, what you do with what you know that is the important thing.

The 19th Parisians tried to use run off from the water closet to fertilise their market gardens,
http://www.hydrol-earth-syst-sci.net/11/1757/2007/hess-11-1757-2007.pdf trouble is they had to much, I think.

lemonade from lemons (where's the sugar?) or something equally cliched

i'm living in a 3x4.5 metre room (including bathroom) -i had to measure it twice - with kitchen else where (although I have heard of people cooped up with a microwave)
its okay if all you are doing is reading and writing - but you do need space, green trees periodically

it is suggested that 10 square metres is the minim average space person
Floor Area and Settlement Population Raoul Naroll
American Antiquity, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Apr., 1962), pp. 587-589 ect

the richer you are the more space for work storage and lazing around

121:

yeah guthrie where do the couch lending 'classes' spring from and how to you make the transition from couch surfer to couch lender?

pay it forward and all that…

we don't want to the 'social fabric' to break down so what's the plan apart from more power to the great Pharma etc. (Always reminded that I wouldn't have survived birth with out a reasonably advanced midwife service No mum and no little brother)

122:

well, the couch lending classes usually come from their parents...
Or to put it another way, they come from the combined work of their ancestors, who have slaved for years to increase the standard of living and ensure theres more stuff for people. There is no reason for us to regress, work more hours and have more people lisving in less and less space. However making the transition from couch surfer to couch lender seems to be getting harder. In the past it has depended upon personal luck, i.e. actually getting a good job, as well as work you put in to keep said job, etc, and a general tendency to increased living standards over time, in part ensured by proper legislation about working conditions and the actions of unions etc.

The plan, as I have hinted before, is either reform, or revolution. Nothing else will do.

You're making me feel very rich. I have about 4 times the minimum average space per person, all to myself.

123:

and I am jealous of your book shelf meterage. and the ability to nail up pictures- paint the walls etc. can't do that if your sleeping on someone else couch

124:

OK, here is my guess at where Charlie is nudging us:

The way houses are constructed in the First World is extremely non-modular, compared to most other large items (cars, ships, etc.). Charlie's "puzzle piece #2" is a counterexample, but it is still rare. Suppose rooms came pre-fabricated with standardized plumbing and electrical connections, and 2-4 people with a truck could add a room to a house at any time, like giant Lego set. Combined with modern logistics system (see post 112), this would drastically lower the cost of housing, and would go a LONG way to providing housing to anyone who does not have it.

Do I get the cigar, Charlie?

125:

He's not nudging us anywhere, rather stirring some ingredients together, and using the results to inform his writing.
I think. Could be wrong though.

Certainly in the uK there is plenty of room for pre-fab houses, and there are some funky German designs which as far as I am aware avoid some of the earlier issues with pre-fabs. (Not to mention coming with lots of insulation)

The holdup is partly that UK housebuilders don't want to change, and possibly not enough people know about the modular houses.
And, in the UK, a big problem is the lack of land. We're already paved over hundreds of square kilometres of farmland which we aught to be using to feed ourselves. There are still quite a few brownfield sites to be used everywhere, but they tend to get occupied by houses for rich people, see the gentrification of Leith and Granton in Edinburgh for example. And land prices are rather high, well above what can be afforded by poor people.

126:

Ilya - very sensible, but it doesn't take in to account People and keeping up with the Jones'
or the fact the traditional standard building unit the brick is small and therefore flexible, now its 8' x 4' ply, or the fact that it helps if the prefabricated bits are ergonomic

English house building and usage has always been frankly mad but internally logical- with builders putting up repro detached houses because that's what they think the customer wants and planners in the middle with some kind of wack job theory and the transport infrastructure to support low density housing, be it train metro or car. Notice I say English, the Scots may have had a more sensible idea of high density housing once upon at time, I don't know when they took upon themselves the grey estates, more architectural theory no doubt

in Europe they may have a more sensible attitude to house building and repair

as for modular housing the Hoff House is the big shiny type right now, but I remember a more basic one from the early '80's like a traditional Japanese modular form, but I can't remember what they were called

or what about an Ikea House
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/02/ikea_boklok_fla_1.php

living in particular houses is very socially constituted
what fun to get the Englishman out of his Castle

127:

Some of you have missed Charlie's note that this is an Open Thread -- there is no puzzle.

Like Charlie, I would die from lack of meds, but I do know a lot about how to do things that would be useful post-apocalypse. I'm disabled now and can't actually do them. The question is if others would feed and house me while I teach them how to do those things, until I die (probably another stroke, but the kidneys might go first).

128:

The Boklok houses remind me of some of the old houses put up near me, I think after WW2. They look to be all wood. I must try and take a photo some time.

They seem to have some developments in the UK:
http://www.boklok.co.uk/

However, prices are interesting:

Flat Prices:
One-bedroom flats �99,500
Two bedroom flats �124,950

House Prices:
Two-bedroom townhouse �132,500
Two-bedroom townhouse �139,500
Three-bedroom townhouse �149,500


To give you an idea, my 2 bedroom 1970's built flat cost 62,000 pounds. And a house around here (near Falkirk) would cost you probably a bit over 100,000. But this is much lower than new builds, which would be double the price of the Boklok ones.
But as always, you need to find land, and this desperate building on brownfield stuff won't help if we have to relocate jobs closer to homes because of high oil prices hitting commuting capabilities and the need to reduce CO2 emissions.

129:

Surely the problem with measuring civilisation by efficient logistic systems is that you are relying upon the continued existence of these increasingly interconnected and disruptable logistical systems?

That's not a bug, it's a feature. We're aiming to keep them working - a city is not a state of mind, as stupid people say, it's an act of will. Also, it's not interconnection that's the problem, it's the lack of it - the Internet only treats censorship as damage and routes around it if you're multihomed.

130:

I know its a feature, I'm just worrying for a few days that it is not robust in ways that things were in "the good old days", and the coming difficulties will mess things up.
As for the internet and censorship, the great firewall of china seems to be doing quite well. And anyway, you know as well as I do that mere censorship is so 20th century.

131:

That's my point - nondeterministic routing is only a solution if you have multiple independent upstream routes. If ChinaTel controls all your gateway routers, you're fucked.

132:

just because there isn't 'one' answer doesn't mean there isn't a puzzle

i don't think that its a 1000 piece double-sided baked bean challenge, more one in which all the pieces can tessellate perfectly; its up to us to chose the picture we want

also, I don't think "the good old days" were more robust. The forth estate was much more self censoring and their was much less 'choice'. (Take the North Sea Flood of 1953.)

What Alex said: the more flexibility, the more distributed responsibility the better
don't loose your nerve

133:

Maggie @130: Marilee @125 is right -- there is no puzzle, except in your own mind (and that of everyone else who thinks there's a puzzle).

This thread is simply an experiment in local culture -- to see if there's a sufficient critical mass of regulars to support an undirected discussion.

134:

Yes I know they ain't a puzzle, I'm just a bit Keen about this subject

have more confidence in your denizens

135:

A couple of recent examples of the direct action approach to UK ossified planning procedures, as used by some travellers:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/north_east/7430188.stm
http://www.thisisthenortheast.co.uk/mostpopular.var.2296252.mostcommented.action_taken_over_illegal_travellers_camp.php

Sometimes, after a delay of years, the local planning office gets them evicted, sometimes not. I know of one site locally where they were evicted[1] after five years or so, and another two where they were allowed to stay. Going through normal planning, it'd take at least a year plodding through the process, before being (usually) refused planning permission.

[1] and moved to the car park of the local council offices. They were evicted after a couple of days. I would have liked to see them stay there much longer, just to annoy the councillors...

136:

Thinking about a forum transition Charlie?

Most of my other "communities" which have lasted are, ironically, mailing lists.

137:

Well, in my not very experienced opinion, I think this place passed critical mass a year or two ago. The question now is whether you want to do a Making Light and set up mods and run it with yourself as Chief Ranter, and some minions posting occaisionally, or whether you just want to keep it as your personal soap box with a little bit of audience feedback.

When even newspapers like the Scotsman can have effectively a community of posters who recognise each other, make comments to each other and generally argue back and forth, I think it clear that Charlie has one as well.

As for travellers, I personally wouldn't care about them stopping places, except that the few times I have seen them stop somewhere, they leave behind loads of rubbish and stuff. They have cars, why not take the rubbish to the local dump or something.

138:

Relatedly to 130, there's a lot of hatin' on just-in-time delivery and lean production on the green-left, and I really wonder if it actually makes sense.

I mean, the first principle of lean is to eliminate useless work (mu-da in Japanese). Rather than letting the production line steam ahead, and then putting the quality control failures through rework, you put a big STOP button next to every workstation and pay a bonus for every worker who sees a fault and stops the line. It stays stopped until you trace the cause of the faults. The best efficiency gain is to stop doing something entirely, and lean production is a methodology for doing this.

Also, people often talk about just-in-time as if it meant necessarily using more fuel, or necessarily less robustness, but I'm far from convinced. If you decide to hold more stock at intermediate points, you've got to haul the extra stock, and there is no way to move mass without using energy. (Depending on what the stock actually is it may need heating or cooling, too.)

Further, if you decide to hold more stock as a policy you've got to decide how much of each product to hold, rather than just raising a kanban request when one runs low. So you're into the socialist calculation debate already. And you need to do more reverse logistics - sending stuff back when you've got the wrong stuff. And you can't move stuff without using energy.

Come to think of it, the Japanese are shit hot at both lean and JIT, and they are also very, very energy-efficient. Is there a connection?

139:

regarding deliveries, is it actually efficient and are the real costs being covered of having lots of lorries driving up and down delivering the same stuff every day?
My undertanding is that it doesn't help with the food/ stuff miles.
Other reasons JIT is not popular in the "green left" is that it is one of the methods by which large corporations ensure they are the only players left in town. Not to mention the increased computerised mechanistic control stuff involved.
The whole idea is antithetical to the other ideal of a lifestyle that is envrironmentally friendly and also doesn't involve obeying the machine in a capitalist system.

At least as it stands. In our hypothetical socialist. communist/ whatever you like future utopia, I'm sure elements of JIT would be useful.

140:

"are the real costs being covered of having lots of lorries driving up and down delivering the same stuff every day?"

There have been several analyses that showed that the "true cost" in CO2 emissions (and resultant environmental damage) from fuel is already being paid for by the existing fuel taxes in the UK.

141:

My point is that I've yet to see evidence that it means lorries do "drive up and down carrying the same stuff every day" in any fashion that would increase their energy intensity over an alternative (never actually described) that would presumably involve more stock holding (and, to reiterate, if you want to hold more stock you've got to haul the extra stock).

WRT "food miles", it's my opinion that this is a near-useless metric and possibly actively misleading, anyway.

142:

Alex - actually one of the good alternatives would be to revive the canal system we've allowed to fall into almost complete disrepair.

Not everything needs to be delivered that *quickly*, as long as the supply is *steady*.

143:

Robert @60
>The net cafe thing is a bit different -- it costs money to rent space in those cafes

There seem to be much cheaper opportunities which allow to `live`in such places. There is a reason why they have showers there ...
I have heard/read quite often about such cases,e.g. Japan Times is quite good source.


144:

Should have googled it earlier ... Japan Times about working poor living in internet cafes:
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20070414f1.html

145:

Ancient Rome had fun with JIT on Grain and oil with a continuous fleet of boats sailing up the Tiber
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grain_supply_to_the_city_of_Rome
There is a still whole hill of broken amphora near Termini from importing oil.

136, this puts me in mind of Temple Grandin and her work designing abattoirs, (amongst other things) her instructions are short and sweet 'What shouldn't happen' to the cows in their short time left.ie. they shouldn't get up set or fall over or be in pain. This contrasts with other overseers who have long instructions for what Should Happen. ie what kind of slip free surfaces should be used. Different way of getting to the same ends. see 'Animals in Translation'. Building in to a procedure outcomes you don't want is just as important as specifying what you do want.

146:

guthrie @135, Charlie's been asking for moderators for a week or so.

147:

Yeah, but then he'd have to take time off from his novella to either expose moderation features through the web UI, or lock down his web server box enough to make it multiuser and (probably) make some tools sgid...and I bet it looks like a great way to stall on writing....

148:

Jay: it's already multiuser and with exposed moderation features. Trouble is, it's also long in the tooth and one of the things I need to do this year is migrate to a newer platform. Feh.

149:

Alex - actually one of the good alternatives would be to revive the canal system we've allowed to fall into almost complete disrepair.

I think you'll find Tesco has just done some of that - they're shipping wine up the canal into Manchester. Of course, water transport is really best for bulk cargo, or else containers, which are really breakbulk that behaves like bulk.

150:

147, and Sainsbury are meant to be delivering on the Thames in London.
How much of this is propaganda, at this time? What would a real rebuild of the water ways as a working distribution system constitute? Repurposing all those waterside apartments. back into warehouses - and dog cart from the local depot?

151:

more parts of the jigsaw - distribution of substances (food/medical/everything), using JIT/Lean/scientific methods, moderated by some sort of non corporate organisation (ie social network as above)? would it work?

152:

148: I would think it would mostly be for things like bulk cement. Or oil. Big, heavy, undifferentiated, and doesn't really matter when it turns up as long as it does. Either that or forwarding shipping containers to inland depots. Essentially the same stuff sea-going ships have an advantage in.

Which implies it would mostly be the big river navigations that would be of use, because all the energy and cost advantages of ships get better with size. (the cost of building a ship, and the water resistance, scale with its surface area, and being a container, this doesn't scale as fast as its capacity, which also happens to be what gets paid.)

153:

The big problem with JIT is that when it works, it's great, and when it fails, it can fail catastrophically, en cascade. "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost..." We've never seen a cascade failure of JIT delivery of life-critical supplies like food, energy, medicine, etc., so everybody assumes it can't happen. On the other hand, JIT backed up by emergency excess stock held at critical points might work well in the even of some nasty accident.

For a fictional, but persuasive, look at what might happen to a planet completely dependent on JIT in all aspects of its supply chain, look at "A Deepness in the Sky" by Vernor Vinge. Vinge floats the hypothesis that any completely industrialized world is at risk for catastrophic system failures because it's using highly optimized systems that fail spectacularly if they're pushed too far, and they're always pushed too far at some point.

154:

One other point about JIT. It's dependent on some massively complicated software some of which is based on pretty arcane technology. I've worked on systems that had to interface with supply chain systems, and I gotta say, they scare me.

155:

Bruce: one example of JIT failure cascades playing out now is the near-impossibility of finding spare batteries for those new netbook/subnotebook computers like the Asus Eee or HP MiniNote that are cropping up everywhere. Because? IIRC, Samsung had a fire in a battery factory late last year. The battery factory. That everyone else bought their LiION cells from.

Earlier example: the great FLASH famine a few years back, the DRAM famine of 1991-93. All caused when a single factory had a major whoopsie. In the case of the DRAM famine, IIRC it was the only factory that made the extremely pure contaminant-free resin for DRAM chip carriers (it needs to be guaranteed free of alpha or beta emitting radioisotopes because even a decay rate of micro-Becquerels is enough to screw up DRAM in the long term).

There are a lot of specialised commodities/materials out there that everyone relies on and that are delivered by JIT from a single factory somewhere near an earthquake/political hot-spot/volcano on the Pacific rim.

And that's before we get into the modern supermarket hub and spoke/JIT food delivery process without which 80% of the developed world's cities starve after 48 hours of a stall in that chain.

156:

155, Does this mean that allotment associations should have militias?

10+ years ago we used to play how to disable London. Which usually involved van bombs on bridges (but barges seem to work just as well). The trick is in choosing the best bridge.

Looks like there is lots more subtle ways (depending on your PR adviser). And don't say Thames Water is managing quite well on its tod. This game is the Inverse problem to JIT.

157:

Maggie, you terrorist!

158:

I believe we have had this conversation before. If you spend most of your time working out how to getting things to stay up/minimise damage if it comes down. You notice weak spots.

Ain't terrorists people who want to cause terror? Never having been in a blast radius myself but walk past two most days, I'm sure I'm a bit flippant about the subject. The proposed solution above was mainly mostly monkey see, monkey do - its low investment anyway.

Plenty of ways to close a city with out causing panic - most people are short-sighted in the temporal organ. Think about maintenance budgets, design life, major infrastructure , if you have more time on your hands than: oops where has all the food/water gone (a popular historic solution).

But if I harboured a deep resentment for "Guacamole" Mandelson and all his ancestors' work's you couldn't go far wrong in pissing off a lot of people; cultural heritage aside (and I don't mean living statues). But I don't know as much about London's infrastructure as I might care to.

But the point of my post was that you have to think of vulnerable elements of a system if you want to make it more robust.

How did we get here from there?

159:

We were on the topic of just in time systems and the problems we would have if nasty stuff happened.

160:

Maggie @158: Ain't terrorists people who want to cause terror?

Yes.

Terrorism is basically an advertising technique. (With blood and guts instead of ink and paper.)

Which is one of the reasons the whole "war on terror" rhetoric makes me grind my teeth; it's amplifying the message, not damping it down.

161:

The litter press/free papers down here, tend to refer to the July Bombers as a bunch of ignorant tits. Which is fine as far as it goes but doesn't help in working out how/why they ended up in the wholesale hairdressing business.

But the whole area of 'warr on terrr' etc. is on the 'throwing toys out of prams' level which isn't conducive to rational examination. Unless you really are discovering gravity for the first time and your power over 'those that feed you' - then its empirical research. I was going to add that we have a long history of agitation that people can check back on - if they aren't toddlers and being literal - but groups that promote violence are hardly going to let their proles do free research are they and escape their control.

You get some awfully weird responses to terrorist acts, which is why they aren't a particularly good advertising technique. If the status quo isn't capable of examining why the 'opposition' are acting they way there are, it is hardly likely that their response is going to sooth the matter.
--Puts me in mind of the Church of the Spilt Blood, aka Church of the Saviour on the Blood, in St Petersburg. Which was built over the spot Alexander II was Injured and involved the rerouting of a canal. It is a teeth grindingly hideous building. Imaging late 19th c Anglo-Catholic glitz in a medieval Russian shell. It didn't even make a very good warehouse. But I guess they turned the heating off, at least for a few years…
--My question is then, do the means really justify the ends? I've probably self defeated my argument somewhere along the line. But at least it might explain why some people think terrr is a good-thing.

162:

Well, I probably should have added: terror is also a tool. (What was that whole "shock and awe" thing during the Gulf War if not an attempt by the White House to terrify the Iraqi military into surrendering?) But, like treason, terror never prospers -- for if it wins the war, who's going to call it by its name? (See also: Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, Curtis LeMay, et al.)

As Maggie notes in #161, you get weird responses to acts of terrorism; it's an unpredictable and often counterproductive tool (leaving aside any ethical or moral consideration). I don't think our current responses to events such as 9/11 or 7/7 are remotely sane and sensible. A small subculture within our recent immigrant population is so alienated and pissed off that they turn to suicide bombings -- so we invade a foreign country and institute a domestic witch-hunt calculated to increase the alienation/grievance level? WTF?

(NB: this is in no way to be read as an endorsement of terrorism. Terrorism -- the use of violence or threats of violence in pursuit of political goals -- is always wrong; if you use it, you delegitimize your goal by default.)

163:

I was going to add @161 but omitted for clarity ( and third thoughts). Is that I'd rather wear an orange boiler suit than be called an ignorant tit about things I feel strongly about. And thereby hangs the rub.
So I'm not so sure if I would, depends who was calling me an ignorant tit, and it is an orange boiler suit. I'm with Granny Weatherwax on this one; I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, anything more is too much trouble. Trouble for whom, you should be asking.

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