Category: Uncategorized

London project to dig vast underground cavern and cover with park in Hounslow

The Guardian:

Working with engineers Arup, they plan to use a method of “top-down” construction borrowed from big towers in the City (where both space and time for construction are at a premium) to liberate the subterranean booty with minimal disruption. Dividing the site into segments of around 100 metres squared to allow the park to be used while construction continues, they will first scrape back the topsoil before drilling great concrete columns into the ground, then cast a concrete slab on top and return the soil, landscaping the park with raised berms and pathways. The gravel can then be excavated over time and extracted via access ramps with a concrete batching plant on site for the project’s own construction.

“It’s usually expensive to build top-down,” says Carmody, “but here we’re able to make savings because the structure is made out of the very stuff we’re digging on site.”

Once excavation is complete in around 15 years time, it will leave behind a 180,000 sq metre warehouse space, almost twice the size of the largest logistics shed in the country. The income from this space will be used to pay for the upkeep of the park, as agreed in the planning permission. A final use for this vast basement has yet to be determined, but it could host everything from long-term museum and archive storage, to logistics space and potentially even amenities like a theatre, gym or pool for the nearby school in its 10-metre deep cavern.

The park itself, which at 110 acres will be around the size of St James’s and Green Park combined, has been designed by landscape practice Vogt. In the tradition of London’s royal parks, it will be bisected by a 1km-long tree-lined avenue and further divided into pockets by raised berms and drainage channels, marking the column grid below ground. Developed in consultation with Sport England, it will also host a mixture of pitches for football, hockey and cricket, with the berms creating more intimate outdoor “rooms” and providing acoustic buffers so players can hear the referee’s whistle.

Brilliant idea.

When cows attack: how dangerous are cattle and how can you stay safe around them?

The Conversation looks at (rare) instances of people attacked by cattle:

Does having a dog make a difference? Yes: dogs look like predators, and they are even more threatening to dairy cattle than unfamiliar people. This is reflected in the data: 94% of walkers killed had dogs, and two thirds of all attacks involved dogs. Though our sample numbers were small, we also found evidence suggesting that women were more likely to protect their dogs, while men let them go – the recommended advice, which my dad did not follow.



A Grand New Theory of Life’s Evolution on Earth

The Atlantic:

In “The Energy Expansions of Evolution,” an extraordinary new essay in Nature Ecology and Evolution, Olivia Judson sets out a theory of successive energy revolutions that purports to explain how our planet came to have such a diversity of environments that support such a rich array of life, from the cyanobacteria to daisies to humans.

Judson divides the history of the life on Earth into five energetic epochs, a novel schema that you will not find in geology or biology textbooks. In order, the energetic epochs are: geochemical energy, sunlight, oxygen, flesh, and fire. Each epoch represents the unlocking of a new source of energy, coinciding with new organisms able to exploit that source and alter their planet. The previous sources of energy stay around, so environments and life on Earth become ever more diverse. Judson calls it a “step-wise construction of a life-planet system.”

In the epoch of geochemical energy 3.7 billion years ago, the first living organisms “fed” on molecules like hydrogen and methane that formed in reaction between water and rocks. They wrung energy out of chemical bonds. It was not very efficient—the biosphere’s productivity then was an estimated a thousand to a million times less than it is today.

Sunlight, of course, was shining on Earth all along. When microbes that can harness sunlight finally evolve, the productivity and diversity of the biosphere leveled up. One particular type of bacteria, called cyanobacteria, hits upon a way of harnessing the sun’s energy that makes oxygen (O2) as a byproduct, and with profound consequences: The planet gets an ozone (O3) layer that blocks UV radiation, new minerals through oxygen reactions, and an atmosphere full of highly reactive O2.

Which brings us to the epoch of oxygen. Given an opportunity, oxygen will steal electrons from anything it finds. New oxygen-resistant organisms evolve with enzymes to protect them from oxygen. They have advantages too: Because oxygen is so reactive, it makes the metabolism of these organisms much more efficient. In some conditions, organisms can get 16 times as much energy out of a glucose molecule with the presence of oxygen than without.

With more energy, you can have motion and so in the epoch of flesh, highly mobile animals become abundant. They can fly, swim, ran to catch prey. “Flesh” is source of concentrated energy, rich in fats and protein and carbon.

Then one particular type of animal—those of the genus Homo—figure out fire. Fire lets us cook, which may have allowed us to get more nutrition out of the same food. It lets us forge labor-saving metal tools. It lets us create fertilizer through the Haber-Bosch process to grow food on industrial scales. It lets us burn fossils fuels for energy.


Plykea manufactures premium quality doors, drawer fronts, cover panels and worktops, specifically designed to fit IKEA’s latest range of Metod kitchen cabinets.  If they could use a CNC machine to reduce the door front centre by say 7mm, they could sell Shaker style doors.  That would have saved me a lot of money.

Why Amazon is eating the world

Zack Kanter, a startup founder contributing to Techcrunch has clearly studied Amazon in detail.  As a result, his analysis is better and more subtle than the usual Amazon guff.  The idea of using an external market to avoid internal bloat is fascinating.  Compare and contrast with companies that want to “outsource”.

In the 10+ years since AWS’s debut, Amazon has been systematically rebuilding each of its internal tools as an externally-consumable service. A recent example is AWS’s Amazon Connect – a self-service, cloud-based contact center platform that is based on the same technology used in Amazon’s own call centers. Again, the ‘extra revenue’ here is great – but the real value is in honing Amazon’s internal tools.

If Amazon Connect is a complete commercial failure, Amazon’s management will have a quantifiable indicator (revenue, or lack thereof) that suggests their internal tools are significantly lagging behind the competition. Amazon has replaced useless, time-intensive bureaucracy like internal surveys and audits with a feedback loop that generates cash when it works – and quickly identifies problems when it doesn’t. They say that money earned is a reasonable approximation of the value you’re creating for the world, and Amazon has figured out a way to measure its own value in dozens of previously-invisible areas.

But this much is obvious – we all know about AWS. The incredible thing here is that this strategy – in one of the most herculean displays of effort in the history of the modern corporation – has permeated Amazon at every level. Amazon has quietly rolled out external access in nooks and crannies across their entire ecosystem, and it is this long tail of external service availability that I think will be nearly impossible to replicate.