Later On

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Archive for July 8th, 2021

How to build a small and pedestrian-friendly town

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WrathOfGnon has an interesting (and lengthy) post:

Of all the questions I get on Twitter the most common is this: “How do you build a town?” We know well how it used to be done, but these last one or two centuries we have forgotten how to do it (with only a handful of notable exceptions during the last century1). The other day I was asked again, but this time with a set of premises that made the question a little easier to approach. I have anonymized all the details but the general idea remains: four guys (friends) with money have bought a suitably large piece of land in Texas and now want to create a car-free human-scaled town2 of the kind that I am always writing about.

In this text I intend to set out the most bare-bone basic premises for how to start a good town, what is needed to build something anti-fragile3 and sustainable4 under the above mentioned scenario. I will go back to this text and edit it, add points, or discuss certain aspects deeper in future texts, especially those points that stimulate questions or controversy.

This is my first published long form. It is my general idea to write as little as possible while still getting the point across. I might delete this first attempt.


  1. Size and borders: “You can’t have a garden without fences.”

To create a human scaled town we first establish what is a good size, and this is simply one third of a square kilometer, or 82 acres, or 0.13 square miles. 80 acres was the upper limit for a good family farm in medieval England, and it is still the size at which the most flexible and efficient farms run, both modern and more old fashioned Amish family farms. It allows a town where no point can’t be reached on foot in 15 minutes, and it allows comfortable living for a population of 3000, which was considered the ideal size in medieval Europe: the upper limit of efficiency and comfort, productivity and harmony: more and you get crowded, less and you risk being without some important trades and activities. Even though the premise talks about a town of 600, we plan three centuries ahead for a maximum population of ca. 3000.

A good town (the urban) is clearly defined and set apart from the countryside (the rural). The suburban has no place here. Hence the town needs to be as clearly marked out and defined as the individual family lots will be: to here, but no further. For this purpose we will mark out land to be used as a wall, raised embankment, hedge, fence, moat, canal, etc. Some sort of edge which is not routinely nor distractedly crossed.

As for shape, I recommend a somewhat irregularly oval shape, near round in one extreme, or rice grain shaped in the other extreme, for the simple reason that the best towns and cities seems to be oval to some degree5. As far as possible the existing topography should be kept or even enhanced. Perfectly flat land is only popular with boring developers. So: no bulldozing allowed. Existing trees should be left and existing paths should be left in place (even when slightly inconvenient). New paths and streets should follow the contours of the land. Anything historic (an old campsite, an ancient grave or remains of an old farmstead) should be kept and protected and venerated. History is in short supply in new developments, and interesting stories can be woven around something as mundane as an abandoned old cart or well.

The oval (left) and the (Japanese) grain of rice. Good basic shapes for a town.
  1. Water, energy, food and connections: the needs hierarchy of towns.

Since the premise is Texas, and undeveloped land, I am imagining land that is more or less parched, but with short and intense annual rains that risk flooding the entire area. The town will be in a perpetual state of drought and need to be prepared for flash floods6. Hence cisterns, reservoirs, water harvesting will be vital, and whatever gets built, roofs will harvest water into private cisterns or ponds, and all streets will direct stormwater to overflow-proofed cisterns. An area the size of two or three football pitches outside the town will be devoted to flood protection and temporary storage of water. During most the year this land will be dry and a perfect spot for sports, barbecues, festivals, playgrounds, fairs and markets.

This arrangement should make the town self-sustainable in household water at least. Pumping groundwater should not be an option, it is simply not sustainable in an arid/semi-desert environment and Texans already know how to build and manage water harvesting infrastructure. There is no need to reinvent the wheel and spend tons of resources on piping in distant water.

There will be an urge to build each home optimized for air conditioning. Don’t. All buildings must be useful and livable even with the power cut. Hence, natural ventilation, strategically designed windows that open, etc. is necessary. Obviously you can add AC (Air conditioner) on top of that, but in no way should the town be dependent on AC. I don’t think a town can casually produce the energy it needs by itself (for that a far more serious effort would be needed), but even if the grid is cut, it should have enough to power food storage, basic lights and communications (WiFi etc.). This can be achieved with limited private and public PV (photo voltaic or solar power). For hot water, solar heaters are useful even in a Texan winter, and all homes will be equipped with fireplaces, wood stoves and chimneys.

Once you remove the need for heating, cooling and transport from a town’s energy needs, you are left with something that will easily run on limited solar (and the attached batteries) in case of a grid failure. This will also save the town and its people large amounts of money even in the near future.

For food, the town should not spare any effort to be self-sustainable. Food items are also a prime export product, especially high-end refined items (exporting raw materials/food isn’t a good use of resources). It provides jobs and income and is a sure way to draw tourists. For this purpose there will be no lawns, but plenty of gardens, orchards, street side herbs, roof top apiaries and flowers to feed the bees that inhabit them. The rural area (the “market garden zone”) surrounding the town out to a radius of one mile should be devoted more or less entirely to food production in some form, and it should be farmed primarily by the people living in town on a professional or hobby level (either one is fine: create the best allotment system in Texas!). The second belt, is the farm zone. Here I would recommend, if not enough farmers could be found, to offer the land at good prices to Amish families to farm. 800 acres is enough for 10 farms. They also have the expertise to run a farm in any sort of energy crises. The rule of thumb is that only people who live directly off the land should live in the rural area (the “farm zone”).

Inside the town basic facilities for food processing should be found. From feed and dairy refinement to meat processing. People should be encouraged to plant espaliered fruit trees on every suitable south facing wall. Poultry, pigs and rabbits should be kept, not only for meat, eggs, but also to produce high quality fertilizer for the poor soil in the area. And this goes for humanure7 as well. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers should be completely banned from the start. Water should be treated organically and as low-tech as possible, on site.

A good “code-hack” for any small town was developed in Seaside, Florida: “one 14×14 feet area of a lot has no height limitation”8. This will spur people to build towers and spires, which are useful for housing bats and pigeons which will help in pest control (pigeons are also an unbeatable supply of food). Some space in the town itself should be reserved for food production: dovecotes, commons for grazing, etc. A small town like this needs no parks, so instead institute seed gardens (small gardens used only for producing seeds) of vegetables and herbs. Encourage people to keep flowers (to help honey production): consider instituting a program where each square foot of flower pot space gives you a certain weight of honey from the public or private apiary.

Ideally you want to build a new town in a region where there are already people present, near larger cities or along a “necklace” of small towns. This makes it easier to attract citizens, and it also makes the town less isolated, more easily connected to outside markets, tourism etc. but in this scenario the land is marginal and a bit far from towns and airports. Hence, save space for a convenient and scenic (you can’t do fast at this scale) rail or canal or river ferry connection to the nearest larger town. It will raise the value of the town land itself and everything it produces will have a better access to a market (especially perishables). It is also a great way to bring tourism into the city without having to provide parking.

It is possible to build isolated cities but the chances of succeeding is so slim I would not recommend it. Decide from the beginning where you want a possible rail station, by the gate? Inside the town? Through the town? It is easy to prepare the ground now, rather than wait until it is all developed and built up.

  1. Materials and harmony.

All materials used, as far as possible, should be of local origin. In Texas that means the town will be built from rammed earth, adobe bricks, some fired bricks or stone. No concrete, vinyl sidings, clapboard (not ideal in an arid town environment anyway), plastic etc. Before anything gets built, a pattern book9 for the town must be developed that should have a few very basic buildings types for new residents to easily build and that fits in anywhere in town. A color pattern will be developed using locally accessible earth tones and pigments (if the . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and I hope someone takes this idea and applies in some locale (though obviously some details — building materials, for example — will vary depending on locale.

This article reminded me strongly of Christopher Alexander, and specifically of The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language. I was surprised not to see Alexander’s name in the footnotes.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2021 at 2:37 pm

New use for shaving brush

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Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2021 at 2:18 pm

Does Too Much Protein Increase Kidney Stones or Damage Bones?

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If kidney stones are at all an issue for you, this page on the effects of protein (along with links to other kidney stone information) from the University of Chicago will be of interest. It contains several charts and graphs, and it begins:

Some of us overdo things with shakes and powders, some with 2 pound steaks. Others love sweets too much and don’t eat much protein. Like all the diet factors in stone and bone disease, protein intake is complex. Certainly, we all need protein in our diet but how much? Experts debate the best course, and patients wonder what to do.

Abraham van Beijeren was, by the way, little recognized in his day but now considered a major painter of ‘luxuries’ like this standing roast. I chose it, as opposed to others more brilliant, because it looks  modern – I have seen something like it on my own dining room table.

In preparing this article I have made considerable use of the analyses performed by professor Tanis Fenton. She graciously read and edited the article up to the details of renal physiology, and the work much benefitted from her expertise which I gratefully acknowledge here. All errors are entirely mine, however, should you find any. 

How Much Protein Do We Need?

The National Research Council (US) Recommended Dietary Allowances Tenth Edition (1989) suggests (Table 6.4) 0.8 gm/kg of dietary protein for adult men and women.

A subsequent WHO meta analysis of mostly the same underlying data supplemented by more recent studies comes to much the same conclusions, but in perhaps a more nuanced manner. A more recent analytical critique of the whole matter is not remarkably far off in estimates for adults, though pregnancy and childhood seem controversial.

This summary graph from the critique gives a sense of how the protein requirements are set. The median requirement is where about half of all studied subjects were in neutral nitrogen balance – their body protein mass would be stable, a very important matter. The safe population intake is set higher. The safe individual value is high enough enough that 97.5% of the individuals in a population would be in balance: almost all people would not lose protein mass consuming this amount of protein – for example muscle. The ‘Safe population intake’ is set higher. Although the safe individual intake is correct, within a population individual requirements vary, so the recommended level needs to be increased so that 97.5% of the individuals in a population offered that recommendation will be in balance.

That number from the WHO meta-analysis, the safe population intake, is about 1.05 gm/kg body weight/day.

Given the safe individual intake is 0.83 and the upper bound of the intake range is 1.05 gm/kg/d no one should choose a protein intake below 0.83 gm/kg/d and very few need more than 1.05 gm/kg/d unless challenged with unusually high demands for physical work. This means that in helping patients choose a protein intake for stone prevention we work in that range 0.83 – 1.05 mg/kg/d.

The Story in Brief

Because commercial vendors provide a measure, albeit indirect, of protein intake in every 24 hour urine – using the amount of urine urea to calculate the protein catabolic rate (PCR) in gm protein/kg body weight/d – patients know their intake and can control it by diet. This measure is applicable to healthy people who are neither gaining or losing protein mass.

Like sugar, protein loads raise urine calcium, and urine calcium is a major risk factor for stone formation. Low protein intake may reduce urine calcium but is bad for overall health. Whether or not high protein intake raise urine calcium at the expense of bone integrity is fiercely debated right now. Low protein intake is not good for bone.

So with respect to protein intake stone treatment steers between too high and too low.

I could just tell remind you that the high and low markers for normal people – not otherwise compelled to high or low protein diets – are between 0.8 and 1 gm/kg/d and be done, but that is not my way. I believe understanding is the key to long term treatment and encourage patients to read about protein. Physicians already know everything I write about, but many way enjoy a ride through a familiar and charming countryside.

Protein Imposes an Acid Load

For several generations we have known that the sulfur containing amino acids cystine and methionine produce an acid load and that rising diet protein acid loads correlate with increased urine calcium excretion. Giving acid loads experimentally increases urine calcium excretion.

Some believe acid loads promote bone fractures by mobilizing bone mineral stores and that alkali treatments prevent this form of bone loss. Others believe that the protein increases urine calcium by increasing intestinal calcium absorption and does not adversely affect bone,

Fenton and her colleagues performed what I think is a rigorous ‘meta-analysis’ of studies available up to 2006 concerning effects of acid load on the urine calcium excretion. The acid loads were varied by variation of diet protein, by giving alkali such as potassium citrate and by giving acid loads like ammonium chloride – a purely experimental strategy. No matter how acid load was varied urine calcium varied linearly. . .

Continue reading. There’s much, much more in the article, and the links too are useful

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2021 at 10:05 am

Texas treasures Alamo fictions

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And also avoid mention of the reason for the war (which was that Texas was determined to keep slavery as an institution). Heather Cox Richardson offers some history and the current effects of believing fables:

Last week, the Bullock Texas State History Museum cancelled a book event three and a half hours before it was supposed to start. Written by journalists Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford, the book is titled Forget the Alamo, and, according to historian H. W. Brands, who reviewed the book for the Washington Post, it both introduces the story of the Alamo to readers unfamiliar with it and explains how the story has been interpreted since the 1836 battle occurred, using the ways in which British musicians Phil Collins and Ozzy Osbourne interacted with the site as a new lens.

Historians long ago put aside the heroic story of the Alamo, which told of freedom-loving Americans fighting off a Mexican tyrant who was trying to crush a fledgling republic. In the past several decades, so many historians have rewritten this history that Brands notes that the new retelling “sometimes appear[s] to be beating a horse that, if not dead, was put to pasture awhile back.”

Historians have explained how Mexican officials, eager to stabilize their northern borderlands after their own agreements with Apache tribes fell apart, permitted Americans to settle in what is now Texas. Americans moved to the area to grow cotton in the boom years of that era. When Mexico banned slavery in Texas in 1830, Americans rebelled. In October 1835, they joined with Mexican opponents of President Antonio López de Santa Anna’s government and went to war. By December, the Texian Army had pushed Mexican troops out of the Mexican territory of Texas, and the Texians hunkered down in the Alamo Mission near what is now San Antonio. In January, reinforcements, including James Bowie and Davy Crockett, arrived. About 200 Texians were there on February 23, 1836, when 1800 of Santa Anna’s troops laid siege to the Alamo. On March 6, Santa Anna’s troops attacked, killing almost all of the defenders (but not Davy Crockett, who surrendered and was executed later).

This history is well established… but Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick—who in March 2020 suggested that elders should be willing to die from Covid-19 in order to get the economy moving again—was one of apparently a number of Republican leaders who demanded that museum officials cancel the event. Governor Greg Abbott, Patrick and other Republican leaders are board members of the State Preservation Board, which oversees the Bullock Museum. “As a member of the Preservation Board, I told staff to cancel this event as soon as I found out about it,” Patrick tweeted. “[T]his fact-free rewriting of TX history has no place [at the Bullock Museum].”

As of the end of June, nine states have passed so-called “divisive concepts” laws, and 17 more are considering them. These measures try to control how teachers talk about issues of race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, saying that such discussions are divisive. Yet, as historians James Grossman and Jeremy Young of the American Historical Association noted yesterday in The Hill, a survey by the American Historical Association and Fairleigh Dickinson University shows that, “regardless of political identity, age, race, gender or education level,” there is broad consensus that these issues provide essential content to understand our history and that they are appropriate for school history classes.

“We should be clear about what’s happening here,” Young and Grossman say. “This is the legislative equivalent of push-polling—creating division where none exists, raising fears about something that isn’t even happening to score political points.”

They point out that the bills are not coming from people in school districts, but instead follow a template produced by an organization led by Russell Vought, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under the Trump administration. The organization’s website has a file on it titled: “Model-School-Board-Language-to-Ban-CRT-SD-HCS-edits-1.”

Here’s why this rewriting of our history matters.r. . .

Continue reading. She provides links and notes along with a suggested book:

There are many good books on the events in Texas in the 1830s, but if anyone is interested, my favorite book on the real story of the Alamo is James E. Crisp, Sleuthing the Alamo (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2021 at 9:14 am

Highly efficient shave with RazoRock Lupo

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My puck of The Drunken Goat dwindles little by little, and I will miss it when it’s gone. Its lather (created today with a Plisson synthetic) is good and its fragrance enchanting.

The Lupo has a noticeable amount of blade feel but withal is quite comfortable, stripping stubble away effortlessly. Based on blade feel, I imagine that paying attention to angle is important, but so long as you ride the cap and not the guard, there’s nothing to worry about. I got no nick, nor did I even feel the threat of the nick, and yet my face as smooth as the best of shaves.

A splash of The Drunken Goat aftershave, and the day begins.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2021 at 8:59 am

Posted in Shaving

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