Monthly Archive: October 2016

Elon Musk Unveils a Reimagined Solar Roof

Tesla CEO Elon Musk (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

The future of residential solar may have just gotten a sleek makeover. Tesla announced the launch of photovoltaic-embedded roofing shingles Friday, Inhabitat reports. So instead of a solar array bolted to an existing roof made of composite shingles of ceramic tiles, the roofing materials and solar panels would be one and the same.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the product is designed to appeal to homeowners who have been shying away from installing solar panels because of the cost of upgrading or replacing their existing roof surfaces. By combining the cost of a replacement roof and a solar array, Musk hopes solar will ultimately become the easier and more cost-effective option. Plus, they’re pretty good-looking.

“The goal is to have solar roofs that look better than a normal roof, generate electricity, last longer, have better insulation and actually have a cost that is less than [that of] a normal roof,” said Musk at a launch event at Universal Studios in L.A., where he’d outfitted several homes once used in the Desperate Housewives series with the tiles. “Why would you buy anything else?”

Musk also unveiled updated versions of Tesla’s Powerwall residential and commercial energy storage systems, which will store the energy generated by the solar roof. The entire eco-friendly homeowner package would include not only the solar roof and storage, but also a Tesla car charger. The solar roof is jointly branded by Tesla and SolarCity, a solar company that Tesla is in the process of acquiring.

Tesla and SolarCity will start installing the panels — which come in four different styles of glass tiles: textured, slate, Tuscan and smooth — next summer. Musk has said that aesthetics were a priority in the design, since the bulky nature of traditional photovoltaics limits their commercial appeal.

“It’ll be incredibly odd to have a roof that doesn’t generate energy in the future,” said Musk at the launch. “[I’m] quite confident [that] over time, if it’s done right, every roof will be solar.”

Austin Ride-Hailing App Will Let Users Request a Woman Driver

A driver for SheRides, a taxi company that hired only female drivers but has since folded (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

When Uber and Lyft abruptly exited Austin after a legislative battle over driving screening, data reporting and more, a raft of ride-hailing options sprung up to fill the need. Now one of them, nonprofit TNC RideAustin, is rolling out a new feature that aims to meet another demand: the app’s users will now be able to request a female driver, Austin Business Journal reports.

“The request for a female driver has come up, and there are potentially some people who do not elect to use ride-sharing today because they do not feel comfortable riding with a stranger,” said RideAustin COO Marisa Goldenberg.

Any passenger, male or female, can request a female driver, but drivers can reject those requests without negatively affecting their acceptance rate. That distinguishes RideAustin’s move from other ride-sharing apps, like SafeHer (formerly Chariot for Women) and See Jane Go, that cater to women only, as passengers and as drivers.

Each of these ventures has raised questions about civil rights violations and business viability. It’s a pretty niche customer base these apps are chasing: women who use ride-hailing apps but are concerned enough about their safety to download a female-only app that may be less convenient and cost a little more. SheRides, for example, a taxi firm by women and for women that launched in New York in 2014, seems to have folded.

RideAustin may be able to skirt some of the controversy because the platform will still welcome men and women as passengers and drivers. Still, a local radio host and others have criticized the concept as “needlessly progressive.”

“When you have a majority of drivers who are male, and they are sitting around doing nothing as the female drivers are running around pell-mell all over the city trying to catch all these rides,” said driver and conservative radio host Mike Allen during his Wednesday broadcast, “you are going to have a minority of female drivers in RideAustin just raking up all the rides while all us guys are sitting around going to other platforms because we have no rides.”

“We recognize that this could lead to some controversy,” Goldbenberg said. “We do believe that to push the future of ride-sharing, we have to have these debates.”

Wage Theft Hotline Hits Home With California Port Drivers

Containers are unloaded from cargo ships in the Port of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Reyes Castellano has been driving cargo in and out of the Long Beach, California, port for 15 years. The 58-year-old has always had to put a big chunk of his paycheck toward covering repair and maintenance costs for his vehicle, but ever since K&R Transportation, the company he works for as an independent contractor, asked drivers to switch out their diesel trucks for ones powered by clean diesel and natural gas, his expenses have gone through the roof.

“Since I’ve had that truck I’ve spent about $30,000 in repairs,” says Reyes, who’s listed as the owner-operator of his vehicle. Last year, he says he made $74,000, but after deducting all the expenses he put into his work, he brought home $24,000. “Filter gets warped, turbo goes out, repaired the transmission a couple of times — they get so hot in there, like there’s no insulation or nothing.”

But what gets him the most is that he’ll spend anywhere from eight to 10 hours some days just waiting for companies at the port to ready their shipments. That’s time on the job that he’s not getting paid for, and that’s why he and a few dozen other drivers decided to go on a two-day strike at ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles on October 25.

“I always worked hard my whole life, always worked hard, never depended on the government for nothing, always worked hard but then never asked for anything. Never been on food stamps, or welfare,” he says. “I’m hoping … they can be responsible for the repairs on the truck, and so I can get some free time and some holidays and paid vacations, and get a little break from all of these non-paid hours.”

On the same day these drivers took up picket signs, fair wage advocacy group Good Jobs Nation debuted the first-ever national hotline for federal contract workers like Reyes to call and report wage theft violations. Workers who call 1-844-PAY-FAIR are prompted — in English and Spanish — to leave a message detailing their contact information, where they live, what company they work for and why they think they’re a victim of wage theft. Good Jobs Nation will verify that the named companies are in fact contracted by the federal government, get in touch with the worker and start an investigation to see whether or not the wage theft claims hold water in court.

And Castellano was one of the first workers in the country to give the hotline a call.

Paco Fabian, an organizer with Good Jobs Nation, says the idea sprouted from a complaint his organization filed to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2013 that alleged a great irony: Some low-wage workers employed by eight contractors within Washington, D.C.’s most prestigious buildings were getting below minimum wage, and the companies were avoiding paying out extra for those who worked overtime.

“If this is happening in places like the U.S. Senate and Ronald Reagan Building and Smithsonian building, right under the nose of the lawmakers that are supposed to be enforcing these laws, then [it’s] probably happening everywhere, and probably on a large scale,” says Fabian. An estimated one out of every three of the 2 million workers employed by federal contractors are victims of wage theft, according to the National Employment Law Project. Among 567 federal contract workers interviewed by that organization, three out of four reported earning less than $10 an hour, and 58 percent received no benefits at all.

There are approximately 15,000 port truck drivers in California, with the vast majority of these working at the Los Angeles and Long Beach port systems that make up the largest port complex in the country. Only 20 percent of the drivers working at these ports are contracted as full-time employees. Those who aren’t have gone on strike at least 14 times over the past three years, with the hope that getting federal departments like the Department of Defense to recognize wage violation claims against its contractors will help set a precedent for contractors working with federal offices across the country, according to Barbara Maynard, a labor consultant who runs Maynard Consulting Services.

“It’s been known for decades that these workers [in the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports] are misclassified, and how that has been handled is that episodically a worker would submit a wage claim to California’s Department of Industrial Relations, and they would come in and say ‘Hey, your workers are actually employees, you gotta reclassify and pay these taxes,’” says Maynard. “But there was no change that came from that. A lot of companies in some respects thought it was just cheaper to pay the fines than to change their business model.”

There have been movements at the federal level to try and shift this structure. The most recent one was President Barack Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order, which was signed in 2014 and took effect Oct. 25.

Part of the order, however, was blocked last minute by an injunction led by a Texas judge and plaintiffs with the Association of Builders and Contractors, a major trade association. They took issue with the order’s requirement that businesses disclose past wage theft allegations if they want to qualify for federal contracts worth more than $500,000.

Allegations need only be allegations, and Judge Marcia Crone said that stipulation “violate[s] the due process rights of plaintiffs’ government contractor members by compelling them to report and defend against non-final agency allegations.”

The order’s requirements that business owners submit detailed hourly earning reports for each of their workers will still come into play. As the Department of Labor prepares to appeal the ruling, federal contract workers like Castellano are hopeful that tools like 1-844-PAY-FAIR will bring their voices a bit more into the political atmosphere in Washington, D.C.

Being able to clock those extra hours for a wage would mean a world of difference for his son, his wife and her aging grandmother. “They help out with bills because they see I work so hard, and say ‘Oh I’m going to pay this bill’ or ‘I’ll get it this time’ — toilet paper, laundry, soap, all that stuff’s expensive, you know,” says Reyes. As they struggle to pay bills, he says his contractors are “using me to fill up their pockets with money, while all the money I make — I just have to put it back into my truck.”

On the market: 1960s Serge Binotto-designed circular property in Mirepoix, Ariege, south west France

You might not know the name of the architect, but a much bigger name looms large over this 1960s Serge Binotto-designed circular property in Mirepoix, Ariege, south west France. The house is a fascinating one and a property we think has been on the market in the recent past in slightly different form. In fact, […]

New HUD Rules Plan for Future Flooding

At least 40,000 homes were damaged and 11 people killed in a thousand-year flood in Louisiana earlier this year. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Drawing on lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy, HUD proposed new standards last week that aim to increase the resilience of its properties. Under the proposed rule, properties seeking HUD assistance or FHA mortgage insurance would need to be elevated two feet over the site’s base flood elevation. “Critical” properties, such as hospitals, nursing homes and fire stations, would be even higher: three feet above base flood elevation.

“Our nation is faced with mounting and compelling evidence that future flooding events will be increasingly costly and frequent,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro in a statement. “If we’re serious about protecting people and property from flooding, we have to think differently than we did 40 years ago. Today we begin the process of aligning our regulations with the evidence to make sure taxpayer dollars are invested in the most responsible and resilient manner possible.”

The proposal has its roots in a 2013 requirement by the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force that all federally funded Sandy-related rebuild projects take into account the risk from worsening extreme weather events and sea level rise. In his Climate Action Plan and subsequent executive orders, President Barack Obama directed that federal agencies scale up this policy nationwide so that federal funding isn’t wasted on the same ill-fated structures disaster after disaster. This year alone, the U.S. has experienced two thousand-year floods.

The proposed HUD rule would also require that the ground floor of new or substantially renovated single-family homes in public housing developments or with FHA mortgages be elevated at least two feet above base flood elevation.

BRIT awards announces zaha hadid-designed 2017 trophy

  the BRIT awards — the UK’s annual pop music prize ceremony — has announced that its 2017 statue has been designed by the late zaha hadid. since hadid personally accepted and began working on the brief in january 2016, the project has been led by maha kutay, director at zaha hadid design, alongside niamh […]

The post BRIT awards announces zaha hadid-designed 2017 trophy appeared first on designboom | architecture & design magazine.

On the market: Wilkinson King-designed modernist property in Esher, Surrey

The people behind this don’t get a mention on the listing, but a bit of research reveals this place to be a Wilkinson King-designed modernist property in Esher, Surrey. It looks brand new, but actually dates from 2004, a contemporary modernist build in the international style and very much about light and open space. You’ll […]

10 Things I Learned & Loved This Weekend

Happy Monday, friends! How was your weekend? Despite a random day of 75 degree temps yesterday (we’re now back to a more seasonal 51 degrees!), Autumn has well and truly arrived in New York City. I love this time of year because the city comes alive with fall color! From quiet brownstone lined sidewalks to the breathtaking beauty of Central Park, every corner of the city is awash with auburn, copper, red and yellow hues. It certainly looks very different to this series of summer golden hour photographs I captured earlier this year in Central Park, or my winter snowstorm in NYC images! I spent Sunday working (I was shooting a Holiday commercial for HP, which I’m super excited to share the results of soon!) but I managed to take some time off on Saturday to go color hunting. Here are my highlights… 1. An Autumn stroll through Central Park led me to this stunning ombre tree! I was wearing my Topman bomber from last spring, Club Monaco striped crew neck and Cuisse de Grenouille chinos. So comfy! 2. I loved how my favorite shoes paired with nature’s natural palette on Saturday.3. So excited to see the festive feel and […]

The post 10 Things I Learned & Loved This Weekend appeared first on Bright Bazaar by Will Taylor.

Marching Slow for Fast Municipal Broadband in Seattle

(Photo by Josh Cohen)

Last Wednesday, a small group of activists took to the Seattle streets to protest Comcast’s internet service and call for the city to implement a municipal broadband network. The 10 protestors marched slowly through the pouring rain and downtown lunch crowds from Comcast’s Seattle headquarters to City Hall holding signs decrying slow internet and poor customer service. The slow marching speed — it took an hour to cover the mile-long route — was meant to illustrate the frustrations of slow internet. The group had to stop a few times en route to “buffer.”

The march came just days after Council Members Kshama Sawant and Rob Johnson proposed an amendment to the city budget to fund a municipal broadband implementation plan. If it passes, it will provide $300,000 to create a 10-year implementation plan and fund a new full-time employee to spearhead the work. In September, the city council also amended the city’s 20-year comprehensive plan to include a commitment to “study and potentially implement a municipal broadband system” as part of Seattle’s growth strategy.

“Public broadband is important as a public utility. We deem water, electricity and gas to be public goods, but leave internet to private corporations,” says Devin Glaser, director of Upgrade Seattle, the activist group leading the push for city-run internet in Seattle.

Comcast refutes the marchers’ claims of slow speeds. “We understand the importance of our services in the daily lives of our customers and are working hard to create a best-in-class experience for them every day,” says Walter Neary, a Comcast spokesperson in Seattle. “In the last six years, we have increased speeds four times and have invested $1 billion in Washington to upgrade our reliability and capacity and to prepare for new gigabit services.”

The municipal broadband conversation isn’t new for Seattle. The city has funded seven feasibility studies over the years. The most recent one found that municipal broadband would cost between $463 million and $630 million to implement and need at least 43 percent of Seattle single-family households to sign up in order to pencil out. For Mayor Ed Murray and Chief Technology Officer Michael Mattmiller, that signaled municipal broadband would be too pricey and too risky in a competitive market. (Comcast, CenturyLink and Wave all sell internet service in Seattle.)

City council expressed a similar feeling last year: They voted 6-2 to reject a $5 million municipal broadband pilot project in the 2015 city budget. There are four new council members as of 2016, so activists are hoping they might now have the majority they need to approve the 10-year implementation plan.

Upgrade Seattle points to Chattanooga as evidence that municipal broadband works. More than 50 percent of households have signed on to such service in the Tennessee city since it launched there in 2010, and it’s been credited for everything from an economy boost to downtown revitalization and narrowing the digital divide.

“Faster internet might seem like a boutique problem, but it’s a social justice issue,” says Brett Hamil, a Seattle comedian and activist and one of the organizers of last week’s march.

Municipal broadband proponents say with job applications, city information, homework, banking, shopping and nearly every other facet of modern life online, internet access is an equity issue. A 2015 study found about 15 percent of Seattle homes do not have internet access.

“There is a strong argument to be made that internet is a utility like any other city-owned utility,” says Council Member Johnson, who met with the slow marchers at City Hall along with Sawant. “As a city that’s so technologically focused with so many people working in high-tech or working from home using technology, this is a critical infrastructure investment to keep us economically competitive.”

Sawant is optimistic that Seattle residents and small businesses want and will support municipal broadband, but recognizes it will take a big push to implement it.

“We’ve come this far because the wider community in Seattle is demanding it, but that will also be necessary going forward,” she said on Wednesday. “We know the pilot program can work. We know Chattanooga has succeeded in doing it. We can do it in Seattle. But in order to do so we will need to keep building the movement.”

The city council will vote on the budget in late November.