Boing Boing 

Must-listen radio: "Nuclear Power After Fukushima," documentary from BURN: An Energy Journal


Veteran radio journalist and master storyteller Alex Chadwick (who's also a personal friend—he's taught me so much about journalism over the years) hosts a must-listen radio documentary premiering this weekend on public radio stations throughout the US.

BURN: An Energy Journal is a four-hour, four-part broadcast and digital documentary series exploring "the most pressing energy issues of our times."

Part One of the series, titled "Particles: Nuclear Power After Fukushima," coincides with March 11, the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. I've listened in entirety, and followed along as the BURN team researched and produced over the past few months, and I can tell you this is truly powerful work. The show also includes PBS Newshour reporter Miles O'Brien, reporting from inside the Fukushima exclusion zone on his recent trip there.

Carve out some time and listen to it on-air, or listen online at this link.

Snip from description:

Included in the riveting premiere episode is an exclusive, first-time-ever interview with an American who was on-site at the Daiichi nuclear plant when the earthquake and tsunami struck. Carl Pillitteri, a maintenance supervisor and one of 40 Americans in Fukushima on that fateful day, describes his terrifying ordeal as he desperately attempted to lead his men to safety through the enormous, shuddering turbine buildings in total darkness.

Below, a video excerpt from Alex's interview with Pillitteri.

More about the radio series follows.

Read the rest

What cyberwar is, and is not

There's a good long read by John Arquilla in Foreign Policy magazine this month. He argues that a concept of cyberwar he proposed some 20 years ago with David Ronfeldt "has become a reality," in that battlefield information systems have "profound impact" as a disruptive force "in wars large and small." But Arquilla goes on to argue that a parallel notion of cyberwar popularized by others-- "less a way to achieve a winning advantage in battle than a means of covertly attacking the enemy's homeland infrastructure without first having to defeat its land, sea, and air forces in conventional military engagements" -- is a bunch of hype-y hooey.

Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors: documentary on the net's hidden physical infrastructure

Ben sez, "I want to share a short documentary that I recently produced about the hidden Infrastructure of the Internet called Bundled, Buried and Behind Closed Doors. The video is meant to remind viewers that the Internet is a physical, geographically anchored thing. It features a tour inside Telx's 9th floor Internet exchange at 60 Hudson Street in New York City, and explores how this building became one of the world's most concentrated hubs of Internet connectivity."

Lower Manhattan’s 60 Hudson Street is one of the world’s most concentrated hubs of Internet connectivity. This short documentary peeks inside, offering a glimpse of the massive material infrastructure that makes the Internet possible.

Featuring interviews with Stephen Graham, Saskia Sassen, Dave Timmes of Telx, Rich Miller of datacenterknowledge.com, Stephen Klenert of Atlantic Metro Communications, and Josh Wallace of the City of Palo Alto Utilities.

Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors (Thanks, Ben!)

Does light make people safer? Maybe. Maybe not.

One of the cool things about LED lighting is that it provides opportunities to bring some of the benefits of big, modern infrastructures to developing countries without having to actually build the big, modern (and expensive) infrastructure.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a story for ArchitecturalSSL magazine about people installing solar-powered LED streetlights in remote villages in southern Mexico. Tying these places into the larger electrical grid would have been extremely difficult. But solar LED streetlights allowed the people who lived in those places to get the night light they wanted.

Now there's similar work happening in refugee camps in Haiti, where many people displaced by the 2010 earthquake still live. The change is undoubtedly useful: LED streetlights don't have to be powered by expensive gasoline generators, they're better on the lungs than fires, and the light level is bright enough to allow people to work and live far more easily. But what about physical safety? Surprisingly, there turns out to be a decent amount of debate over whether or not the extra light actually reduces violence and makes people safer. It's an interesting case study in how "common sense" doesn't always match up with reality and how difficult it is to attribute cause and effect in complicated social environments. From at story Txchnologist:

In recent months, the lights have come on at two camps through the efforts of aid groups, the Haitian government and the particular expertise of the Solar Electric Light Fund, or SELF, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that uses renewable energy to provide light and power in developing countries.

The nexus between public lighting and safety is hotly debated in Western countries.

Some studies show a decline in crime after an area is illuminated while other research has found that crime actually increases after lights are installed, though it may be because crime is more visible. These studies are of little value, however, in places with collapsed infrastructure like Haiti, which plunged into darkness after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake flattened entire neighborhoods and killed untold thousands.

The security improvements were immediate. The lights function at full power from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. and at 50 percent between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. Reported acts of violence, including sexual assault, declined from about six per week when the installations began in June to one or zero per week when streetlights came online in August, according to J/P HRO data provided by SELF. While it’s possible to attribute this drop to other factors – the population of the camp had declined to 23,000 by September and community-based “protection teams” have increased patrols – residents reported feeling an increased sense of security. Increased usage of the latrines also improved Sanitary conditions “significantly,” according to J/P HRO.

The perils and pitfalls of an all-volunteer road crew

There's a great, illustrated history of America's highway system—from the Colonial period to the 1970s—that can be read for free on OpenLibrary.

I've just thumbed through it a bit so far, but it reminded me of a book I read a couple of years ago, Consuming Nature: Environmentalism in the Fox River Valley, 1850-1950. That book, by Greg Summers, a professor the University of Wisconsin - Steven's Point, is about how electric and highway infrastructures were built up in Wisconsin. It's also about the socio-cultural changes that led first to the construction of infrastructure and then, later, to fear over what infrastructure had done to the environment. Really super fascinating.

One of the things I learned in both of these books is that early road infrastructure was built and maintained by the local people who used it. In Colonial times, you owed the city or county so many hours of labor every year. And, when they called you up, you had to go out and work on a road crew. Sort of like jury duty. Only sweatier. (Of course, if you were wealthy enough -- or, in the case of colonial Virginia, owned enough slaves -- you could have other people do your labor for you.) In 19th-century Wisconsin, you could substitute labor on the roads for cash road taxes.

One of the fun outcomes of this system, at least in Wisconsin: Really craptastic roads. Turns out, a gang of random citizens, led by another random citizen, is not exactly who you want in charge of your infrastructure. Summers writes:

"Given proper direction, they might have been capable of maintaining the roads. Unfortunately, town officials tended to select overseers from the ranks of their own communities, leaving them with individuals who had no more knowledge or training in the principles of highway construction than the neighbors they were intended to supervise. As a result, the annual parties of local residents organized for the spring roadwork often degenerated into social gatherings, and little improvement to the highways was ever accomplished."

Thanks to Philip Bump for the link to the OpenLibrary book!

Image: Road crew, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from runran's photostream