Friday, October 02, 2009

On sustainability, and content recommendation systems

I Sumbleuponed (grammatically atrocious, but an important distinction must be made between this and the actual act of stumbling upon a thing of one's own accord) this page somewhat less than a week ago, and at the time I mentally filed it away for future reading, my attention span at the time being insufficient for more than a paragraph at a time, give or take. My first impression - of course - was "holy crap that's a for-real hobbit hole!", and subsequently "You can build that for three thousand pounds? Sign me up!". There's something incredibly compelling to me about building one's own house. That I could do it for what amounts to about a year's worth of my present rent is enough to make me begin thinking in earnest about the feasibility of such an undertaking. I have engineer friends (albeit electrical), I have friends of friends who are engineers, heck my sister is in first year engineering at Queens. I used to think, before my abysmal work ethic caught up with me, that I would someday be an engineer. Whether or not that was some silly idea about obligations to a profession that runs in the family I can no longer say. Of course, I must say that while I am reasonably well-traveled that I haven't a very concrete notion of where I would like to settle down and build such a house. Of course, for something like 5000-6000 dollars, maybe it wouldn't have to be permanent. I could assuredly find another individual in this world who would pay back my costs in exchange for the ability to live in a friggin' HOBBIT HOLE if I did want to move.

This aside, I wonder just how sustainable such a dwelling really is on a large scale. In much the same way that a family might move to a rural location to be "closer to nature", and yet have their ecological impact increase (because everywhere is now driving distance away, and rural service delivery does not benefit from the same economies of scale that are possible in urban areas), I fear that the density (or lack thereof) of permaculture housing may prove troublesome for overall efficiency. Consider the amount of lumber, for example, that is required for heating and cooking by wood stove. For one house, a local woods might never be harvested at a rate faster than it can regenerate. Start adding houses, though, and you've got a problem. Maybe I'm overestimating wood use, and your forests will be fine as long as you're not pumping out triremes. Maybe. Even so, the low-density approach still seems misguided. Even a village or small town made up of individually efficient low-impact homes is missing out on potential gains from the aforementioned economies of scale. My thoughts on the merits of urban density as embodied in the design philosophy of arcologies have, of course, been established.

Apropos of Stumbleupon, I thought I might comment (albeit belatedly) on it and other crowd-sourced/automated discovery systems, in this instance One of my housemates and I had pledged to listen to a lot of new music (I have been in a pretty heavy Coheed and Cambria rut of late). It works fantastically when you're looking for, say, Canadian indie bands...but search for artists/bands similar to Co&Ca, or Imogen Heap...and, I dunno, you get maybe one or two real hits in the whole search (The Dear Hunter and A Fine Frenzy, if you want to know). The problem, I think, is that it's very easy in some cases to say "well, Arkells are for people who like Joel Plaskett and Sloan", whereas if you're looking at artists who are either alone or dominant in their niche, well, the only place to go is down. Unfortunately, the quality you're looking for isn't really related to the niche/genre, so much as the creative energy and spunk that make the more unique artists stand out. Were it only so easy to articulate that sort of connection. I could try something like "these guys are to narrative prog/emo as Imogen Heap is to self-produced female vocalists" but I don't even think this statement remotely approaches the truth. Search engines (even the really good ones) are just not very good when you're looking for "people who are as unique in their approach to their music as X". No surprises there, but when that's what you're looking for, well, I guess it's dissapointing that for all our technological advance there is just no substitute for crazy random happenstance and the human ear.

...maybe I'll have to wait until the cyborg ear?


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