Urban Studies

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Holy fuck, Wavy Gravy is still alive. Known as Hugh Nanton Romney (Romney 2016!) before adopting his meat-sauce moniker, he was the Woodstock Era’s psychedelic drum major, and he has some amazing stories to tell, none of which he can remember. WG just did an AMA at Reddit, in which he dosed the entire Internet. A few exchanges follow.



Do you think the pranksters changed culture? What are your thoughts on the medical uses of psychedelics?

Wavy Gravy:

Absolutely. The Prankster changed the culture by driving ac across the country in these painted buses. That was something no one had ever seen before. It was like the universe on wheels.

I think that psychotropics should be available to any ADULTS with psychiatrist spirit guide to help them over the rough patches on the quest to enlightenment.

back in the day this was applicable for Henry Luce, the publisher of Life magazine, as he was pictured conducting an orchestra of daffodils in his garden, Psychiatric at the ready.



Were you ever a fan of the group Pink Floyd? And have you heard of their new album coming out in a month? What are your thoughts on the group and what do you remember about them during their times in the late 60s/70s?

Wavy Gravy:

In 1970 we did what Warner Brothers hoped would be a sequel to the movie Woodstock. It involved a caravan of painted buses driving across America putting on shows. Sound familiar? Except this time Warner Brother would fly in their stable of amazing artists like BB King, Jethro Tull or Alice cooper, on tiny stages, or Joni Mitchel strumming around our camp fire. The tour ended with us flying Air India to England, where we did a concert outdoors with Pink Floyd. It was drop dead uber awesome and amazing.


Why hasn’t this been released?

Wavy Gravy:

It was released. It was called Medicine Ball Caravan with the sub title “We have come for your daughters.”



Hi Wavy. I live in Sunland/Tujunga, California. There is a piece of property for sale on a hilltop here that is said to be the original home of the Hog Farm Hippie Commune in the 1960’s. Can you tell us any stories of the old days on the hog farm? Do you have any pictures you can share? Some people claim that Charles Manson was there. I find it hard to believe that you and Manson were ever friends. Can you clear that up? Thanks.

Wavy Gravy:

Absolutely! We were given this mountaintop rent free if we would tend to 50 hogs the size of a davenport. One of which we later ran for president. She was the first female black and white candidate for that high office. On Saturday nights, we would go to the shrine auditorium and do light shows for all the great bands of the 60s. On Sundays, we would have a free show on our mountaintop with different themes. Kite Sunday, no wind until night time. Mud Sunday, it poured..who could slide in the mud the furthest! The hog rodeo where we painted these giant pigs with temper paint and rode around on them, we showed film of this to Salvador Dali in Paris. He loved the hog rodeo. Many pictures and stories are in my first book The Hog Farm and Friends and beautifully documented in Avant Garde magazine back in the day.

Oh yes, Charlie Manson was no friend of mine and was asked to leave which he did. Thank heavens!



Just firstly would like to say thank you for sharing love. Secondly, I love being warm and social with everyone but I really want to make things better like you did; any idea why protests now a days aren’t being taken as serious?

Wavy Gravy:

Some are more seriously taken than others. A lot of demonstrations have gone electronic. I am amazed at how powerful a tool the computer has become and I am a self confessed luddite.•

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Vladimir Lenin’s corpse has had a perplexing postscript, but one particular body part, his brain, may have had the most fascinating “afterlife” of all, as the Soviet leader’s adoring people sliced it and diced it, hoping to find the source of genius that propelled the Bolshevik Revolution. In an article in the February 24, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the paper underestimated the pieces the organ had been pulverized into, numbering it at 15,000 when it was actually more than twice that many.


At Grantland, Steven Hyden has a smart article about Los Angeles Plays Itself, one of my favorite movies. A documentary about the role of the “most photographed city in the world” in film and on television during the twentieth century, Thom Andersen’s long-form survey is brilliant, insightful and fierce. An excerpt from Hyden:

“An exhaustive, exhausting, funny, trenchant, and frequently cantankerous work of film criticism and social commentary, Los Angeles Plays Itself was envisioned as a double feature, Andersen said. When viewed this way, the first half plays as a witty observational comedy and the second half as an impassioned political docudrama. Andersen starts off by griping about L.A. movies the way only a longtime Angeleno would: He nitpicks Alfred Hitchcock for setting several films in the San Francisco area and none in Los Angeles, and Sylvester Stallone for taking undue ‘geographic license’ with local streets for the car chases in Cobra. It’s not just a matter of realism — though Andersen is a stickler for realism. He’s an unabashed L.A. partisan who bristles at any perceived anti–Los Angeles sentiment, starting with the nickname ‘L.A.,’ which he finds diminishing.

‘People who hate Los Angeles love Point Blank,’ he says of John Boorman’s 1967 psychedelic noir, though he does express sardonic appreciation for Boorman’s taste in garish decor, which ‘managed to make the city look both bland and insidious.’ He’s less forgiving of how filmmakers always put their villains in the city’s modernist architectural masterworks. The work of John Lautner has been especially exploited in this regard, finding favor among Bond villains in Diamonds Are Forever and Jackie Treehorn in The Big Lebowski.

If Andersen were just a provincial crank, Los Angeles Plays Itself would peter out well before the second act. But his eccentric narration also sticks some weirdly insightful landings, like when he compares the bare-knuckled fascism of Jack Webb’s Dragnet TV series to the austerity of Ozu and Bresson, or marvels at how the supposed dystopia of Blade Runner is actually ‘a city planner’s dream’ of bustling streets, bright neon, and easily traversable aerial highways. ‘Only a Unabomber could find this totally repellent,’ he observes.”


Marshall McLuhan and artist and ace typographer Harley Parker enjoyed a bull session in 1967’s “Picnic in Space,” which focused on meanings that shifted as spaces changed, a process that has speeded up exponentially in the years since it was shot, as many brick-and-mortar forms have gone digital. Film informed by the work of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Godard.

In a Wall Street Journal interview conducted by Laura Hedli, Google driverless-car consultant Brad Templeton ponders how these new vehicles will be sold to the public. An excerpt:


How will this car be sold to people?

Brad Templeton:

You might sell it to people for a monthly fee. Plus they would have to pay per mile for gasoline, and to some extent, insurance and maintenance.

You also can sell this per mile like a taxi, except it would be much cheaper because 60% of the cost of running a taxi is the driver. It will basically be a cheap Uber [which allows a person to hail a private car or ride-share from a mobile phone], and with no need to talk to the driver.


If autonomous cars operated using a service model, as opposed to ownership, what will people pay per ride?

Brad Templeton: 

It will start somewhere between 50 cents and a buck. I think it could even get [to be] less than 50 cents a ride, but it won’t start cheaper.

For people who are going to make light use of it, then the per-mile price, rather than the monthly price, might actually be a good thing. Seniors stop buying cars because they don’t really feel like trading in anymore, and they cut their mileage by quite a bit.


Looking further down the road, what might we see in the self-driving market?

Brad Templeton: 

I think eventually people will build sleeper cars that can do an overnight trip. I don’t think it’s a very green vision, but you would probably be able to hire a car that doesn’t even have seats. It’s just got a bed. Get into it, lie down, and then eight hours later you wake up and you’re 400-500 miles away.”

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From the February 23, 1906 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Babylon, L.I. — A story of a mouse dying from fright comes from the Godwin place, at West Islip, where a tiny mouse was for hours secreted in the hair of Miss Isabella Goodwin.

The young woman, a night or so ago, went out to feed the chickens, when the mouse, it is presumed, leaped from the measure into her hair. She knew nothing of the incident until the little animal became restless and jumped from its hiding place, late in the evening.

The next morning the animal was found dead on the rug in the room, and it is thought it died of fright, as there were no marks of violence and no indications of poisoning.”


Software companies were bigger winners than their hardware counterparts during the personal-computing boom, and it’s worth wondering whether the same will be true of driverless cars. For instance, Google seems to have no interest in being an auto manufacturer (beyond prototypes) but is desperate to come up with the software for robocars that can be sold to other outfits. And what of companies that supply sensors and such, will they likewise be the true victors? From Chris Bryant and Andy Sharman of the Financial Times:

“Who will build the self-driving car of the future?

Fired-up by Google’s driverless prototype, carmakers such as Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are already testing autonomous vehicles on public roads.

But the advanced sensors and electronics that form the building blocks of self-driving cars are often made by suppliers, not the car manufacturer.

Some fear that, in the long term, carmakers that lag behind in autonomous vehicle technology face a future akin to today’s PC assemblers – with the big profits accruing to the companies behind the software and electronic content underneath.

‘It’s all the suppliers into the industry who, in the fullness of time, will gain the power,’ says a senior industry analyst, who works closely with the leading carmakers. ‘If I’m the buyer, I don’t care if it’s a 1.9-litre car or a 2.4 – because I’m not driving it.'”


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Yard sale (Saugerties)

This weekend we’re having a huge multi family (well, two dykes and a fat guy) yard sale. need to downsize, just moved and way too much Shit. everything must go. I’m gonna be like Crazy Eddie in this motherfucker. Many previously enjoyed items: TVs, video games, fishing poles, kitchen appliances, knives, furniture, porn, Xmas crap. we got Shit that works we got Shit that don’t work. I’ll be here drunk ready to make a deal or just verbally abuse people. Sat-Sun 9am Till I get sick of your Shit and throw you the fuck out.

At the time of his death in 1945, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s approval ratings were not at their highest.

Il Duce was executed by a firing squad and hung upside down from the roof of an Esso gas station for bringing ruin to the nation during World War II, his corpse later lowered into a pile with 16 other dead Fascists, where it could be further brutalized by an outraged citizenry. In an article in the May 30, 1945 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mussolini’s astounding end was described in gory detail.


The excellent comic Aziz Ansari has a bit in which he talks about the way we’ve grown overdependent on Google, doing mindless searches for things like “the best toothbrush,” when we were perfectly capable of buying a toothbrush before search engines ever existed. We would just go to the store and buy a toothbrush that looked like it was good. And it always was.

Funny, yes, though I’ll argue fiercely that search engines don’t weaken our brains but give us every opportunity to improve them. (And if they’ve done the former rather than the latter, than the fault probably lies with us.) Never before have we had in our shirt pockets access to the storehouse of the world’s knowledge.

Ian Leslie’s well-considered Salon article, “Google Is Making Us All Dumber,” argues the counter, asserting that the efficiency of Google’s search has removed pretty much all of the actual search, weakening us neurologically. The piece starts with a Pablo Picasso quote about machines only being good for answers, which is amusing for its wit but also because more and more, that’s no longer true. The opening:

“In 1964, Pablo Picasso was asked by an interviewer about the new electronic calculating machines, soon to become known as computers. He replied, ‘But they are useless. They can only give you answers.’

We live in the age of answers. The ancient library at Alexandria was believed to hold the world’s entire store of knowledge. Today, there is enough information in the world for every person alive to be given three times as much as was held in Alexandria’s entire collection —and nearly all of it is available to anyone with an internet connection.

This library accompanies us everywhere, and Google, chief librarian, fields our inquiries with stunning efficiency. Dinner table disputes are resolved by smartphone; undergraduates stitch together a patchwork of Wikipedia entries into an essay. In a remarkably short period of time, we have become habituated to an endless supply of easy answers. You might even say dependent.

Google is known as a search engine, yet there is barely any searching involved anymore.”


With computers so small they all but disappear, the infrastructure silently becoming more and more automated, what else will vanish from our lives and ourselves? I’m someone who loves the new normal of decentralized, free-flowing media, who thinks the gains are far greater than the losses, but it’s a question worth asking. Via Longreads, an excerpt from The Glass Cage, a new book by that Information Age designated mourner Nicholas Carr:

“There’s a big difference between a set of tools and an infrastructure. The Industrial Revolution gained its full force only after its operational assumptions were built into expansive systems and networks. The construction of the railroads in the middle of the nineteenth century enlarged the markets companies could serve, providing the impetus for mechanized mass production. The creation of the electric grid a few decades later opened the way for factory assembly lines and made all sorts of home appliances feasible and affordable. These new networks of transport and power, together with the telegraph, telephone, and broadcasting systems that arose alongside them, gave society a different character. They altered the way people thought about work, entertainment, travel, education, even the organization of communities and families. They transformed the pace and texture of life in ways that went well beyond what steam-powered factory machines had done.

The historian Thomas Hughes, in reviewing the arrival of the electric grid in his book Networks of Power, described how first the engineering culture, then the business culture, and finally the general culture shaped themselves to the new system. ‘Men and institutions developed characteristics that suited them to the characteristics of the technology,’ he wrote. ‘And the systematic interaction of men, ideas, and institutions, both technical and nontechnical, led to the development of a supersystem—a sociotechnical one—with mass movement and direction.’ It was at this point that what Hughes termed ‘technological momentum’ took hold, both for the power industry and for the modes of production and living it supported. ‘The universal system gathered a conservative momentum. Its growth generally was steady, and change became a diversification of function.’ Progress had found its groove.

We’ve reached a similar juncture in the history of automation. Society is adapting to the universal computing infrastructure—more quickly than it adapted to the electric grid—and a new status quo is taking shape. …

The science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke once asked, ‘Can the synthesis of man and machine ever be stable, or will the purely organic component become such a hindrance that it has to be discarded?’ In the business world at least, no stability in the division of work between human and computer seems in the offing. The prevailing methods of computerized communication and coordination pretty much ensure that the role of people will go on shrinking. We’ve designed a system that discards us. If unemployment worsens in the years ahead, it may be more a result of our new, subterranean infrastructure of automation than of any particular installation of robots in factories or software applications in offices. The robots and applications are the visible flora of automation’s deep, extensive, and invasive root system.”

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Years before the World Wide Web was created and the Internet became a thing for us all, when we could all be found in a search engine, psychologist Theodore Roszak could see where things were heading: He knew the emergence of personal computers was fetishizing information and knowledge was becoming secondary. While he thought it fine that airplane reservations were computerized, he believed the algorithmic future posed a danger if info was more important than experience and morality. As he pointed out, “All men are created equal” isn’t supported by a body of fact but is as important as any linchpin of America. Of course, Roszak doesn’t mention that relying on an algorithmic-supported truth can also remove bias from an equation.

In 1986, Jeffrey Mishlove interviews Roszak about the oncoming information onslaught.


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In the Financial Times, Edward Luce wonders about the deepening of divisions in American among African-Americans and whites during the two terms of our first black President. The Great Recession, I think, is largely to blame. Those most vulnerable got most hosed by that debacle. It was actually a great investment opportunity for others who had the available funds to buy cheap. Without Obama’s maneuverings to save large banks and industries, imperfect though they were, the cratering would have been far deeper. Meanwhile, the Affordable Care Act has been a great boon to lower-income Americans of all races. I would think in the longer term, having our appellate courts stocked with moderates and progressives will eventually be a help to those who have less. From Luce:

“Mr Obama shot to prominence in 2004 when he said there was no black or white America, just the United States of America. Yet as the continuing backlash to the police shooting of an unarmed young black man in Ferguson has reminded us, Mr Obama will leave the US at least as segregated as he found it. How could that be? The fair answer is that he is not to blame. The poor suffered the brunt of the Great Recession and blacks are far likelier to be poor. By any yardstick – the share of those with subprime mortgages, for example, or those working in casualised jobs – African-Americans were more directly in the line of fire.

Without Mr Obama’s efforts, African-American suffering would have been even greater. He has fought Congress to preserve food stamps and long-term unemployment insurance – both of which help blacks disproportionately. The number of Americans without health insurance has fallen by 8m since the Affordable Care Act came into effect. Likewise, no president has done as much as Mr Obama – to depressingly little effect – to try to correct the racial bias in US federal sentencing. Bill Clinton was once termed ‘America’s first black president.’ But it was under Mr Clinton that incarceration rates rose to their towering levels.”


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From the June 7, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Muldrow, Okla. — A.D. Dutton, 92 years old, who attributes his longevity to his habit of eating beans, was married yesterday to Miss Rebecca Jane Galoway, 24 years old. Despite his advanced years, Dutton farms every working day of the week. He is apparently as hale as any man half his age.”

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Despite employing some innovations that markedly improve commuter convenience–using a smartphone to hail a taxi, track it and pay for the ride–Uber seems to be the ickiest of the new Sharing Economy behemoths. It not only disrupts the livelihood of traditional drivers but squeezes its own operators and employs surge pricing when consumers are most vulnerable. Peter Thiel thinks it possible that the Silicon Valley business may be reckless enough to be the new Napster, driving itself out of business by flouting laws. But even though Sean Parker’s company was silenced, online sharing was the larger wave and unstoppable. It might be the same with Uber: The concern may not go forever, but what it represents won’t be stopped and will make things better and worse. From Mike Isaac at the New York Times:

“Uber, the smartphone-based hail-a-ride service, often claims it is cheaper than a ride in a taxi. It looks as if some Uber customers do not agree.

The company received an ‘F’ rating from the Better Business Bureau on Thursday, the lowest possible rating given by the organization.

The grade is based on, among other criteria, more than 90 Uber customer complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau over the last three years, most of them centering on Uber’s so-called surge pricing.

Customers still feel misinformed about how they are charged for their rides, according to complaints at the bureau’s website, and say they are not able to receive adequate customer service when they try to complain about their fares.

With its surge pricing, Uber’s temporarily increases fare prices anywhere from one and a half to 10 times the normal cost of taking an Uber ride, based on the demand for drivers. When many people in a particular area request Uber at the same time, for example, the price of rides in that area goes up.

‘I never knew about surcharges until after the fact and was unaware, confused and uninformed,’ one customer wrote on the bureau’s site.”

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Before he found religion in the non-profit sector, L. Ron Hubbard garnered some acclaim as a writer of pulp fiction, his first full-length work a Western. Below are the positive Brooklyn Daily Eagle review of that 1937 book; the paper’s dyspeptic 1950 take on Hubbard’s psychotherapy treatise, Dianetics; and a best-seller list from when the latter had begun to make its mark.


From the August 1, 1937 edition:


From the December 10, 1950 edition:


From the November 26, 1950 edition:



Like a lot of super-rich people, Carols Slim rearranges the world as he sees fit in his head–and sometimes in reality. I’ve previously posted about his idea for a 3-day work week. A little more on the topic from Matt Egan at CNNMoney:

“Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecom tycoon worth over $80 billion, believes life would be better with a three-day work week.

‘You should have more time for you during all of your life — not when you’re 65 and retired,’ Slim told CNNMoney’s Christine Romans on Tuesday.

But if Slim had his way, people would also work longer days and much later in life. He suggested 11-hour shifts and pushing the retirement age to 75.

Slim raised eyebrows over the summer by calling for a three-day work week, but he doubled down on that proposal on Tuesday.

‘I am sure it will happen,’ the 74-year-old told CNNMoney, though he conceded he’s not sure when.”

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on acid anyone wanna chat (Upper West Side)

so i just took two tabs of acid and was bored so if anyone wants to chat im here.

From the December 12, 1938 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Nashua, N.H. — The Beacon Animal Farm today boasted a dog with a glass eye. Jackie, a Dalmatian, lost an eye in a fight. Owner John T. Benson summoned a specialist and had it replaced with a glass one.”

One way to drastically reduce the cost of a mission to Mars is to render unconscious the astronauts, inducing them into hibernation, into a cave of their own dreams. From Jordan Pearson at Wired Motherboard:

“NASA is bankrolling research into the technology necessary to put people to sleep for months at a time via SpaceWorks, an Atlanta-based company that presented their work at last week’s International Astronomical Congress in Toronto.

According to the company, inducing torpor in a crew of astronauts would eliminate the need for space-wasting accommodations like food galleys, exercise equipment, and large living quarters. Robots that electrically stimulate key muscle groups and intravenously-delivered sustenance will take care of all that.

By eliminating the extra room required for people to live and move around in, ships could be smaller, and more safety features like better shielding could be added. According to SpaceWorks’ mockups, the size of astronaut crew living quarters for a Mars mission could be reduced from their currently proposed size of 8.2×9 metres to just 4.3×7.5. That drastic reduction in size means huge savings on build materials and lift costs for the cash-strapped agency.”


It would be tremendous for animals and the environment, not to mention people, if vegetable faux meat replaced the kind from stock that is living. The key to winning that war isn’t just to appeal to ethics but to make the tastes equal. The answer might be “plant blood.” From Evelyn M. Rusli at the Wall Street Journal:

“Patrick Brown, a 60-year-old Stanford University professor turned first-time entrepreneur, says he has found the secret to replicating the taste of red meat: plant ‘blood.’

On a recent afternoon in his company’s expansive laboratory, Mr. Brown poured a deep-red liquid into a plastic cup. The thin concoction looks like blood, has the same distinct metallic taste, and is derived from the molecule found in hemoglobin that makes blood red and steak taste like steak.

But this bioengineered blood comes from plants and is the crown jewel of Mr. Brown’s three-year-old company, Impossible Foods, which has so far created a hamburger that looks, feels, tastes and cooks almost like the real thing.

‘Livestock is an antiquated technology,’ said Mr. Brown, a biochemistry scientist known for his genetic research.

Impossible Foods is part of a wave of well-funded startups seeking to replicate meats, eggs, cheese and other animal-based foods with plant matter. Their aim is not only to upend the trillion-dollar animal farming industry but to also create a more sustainable source of food amid mounting environmental pressures.”

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Boxing went from the Sport of Kings to an all-but-empty throne in the U.S. in just two or three decades, parents no longer willing to allow their children to suffer repeated blows to the brain, even if it seemed a way out for impoverished children. (Some very non-contact sports like cricket also went away quickly in America.) It’s almost impossible to envision the NFL suffering the same fate even though there’s no path for the league to avoid the preponderance of scary health issues. In a New York Times piece, Ian McGugan argues that the pro-football cartel is too well-organized to be sidelined despite its concussion problems and PR nightmares, the sport too ingrained in America to vanish even with declining Pop Warner league participation. The opening:

“The N.F.L., from at least one perspective, has had a pretty rough month. In the span of a few days, as most everyone knows, a video surfaced depicting the Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his future wife unconscious; then the Minnesota Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson was booked for purportedly whipping his 4-year-old son with a tree branch. All the while, a clutch of other players faced the consequences of their own ostensible involvement in domestic-violence incidents. But as pundits wondered if the scandals could mark the beginning of the end for America’s favorite sport, the N.F.L.’s television ratings surpassed their levels from a year earlier. The uptick points to a surprising reality: Despite all its current problems, pro football is positioned to not only weather its current storm, but also to sail through it toward greater prosperity.

Boxing — another macho pastime populated by guys you might hesitate to invite to a merlot tasting — shows how a spectacle can lose its grip on the public. Once arguably the most popular sport in America, boxing has long since been divided into rival fiefs by promoters who sometimes seem to be auditioning for a Tarantino movie. N.F.L. teams, by contrast, operate in unison to protect one of the most micromanaged brands in existence. At the head of that collective is a commissioner with the broadest powers of any leader in sports. The ‘no fun league’ lays down the law on everything from the color of socks players can wear to what celebrations are acceptable after a touchdown. (The league’s most recent diktat: no dunking the ball over the goal post.) Whenever the league has faced threats in the past — gambling scandals or labor conflicts — franchise owners have generally snapped into formation behind the boss. ‘For all the talk about competition on the field,’ says Stefan Szymanski, a sports economist at the University of Michigan, ‘it’s really a socialist collective off the field.’

In many ways, after all, N.F.L. football has transcended sports to become a mass-produced, highly managed and artfully promoted product.”


Telephone instructions, electric eyes and beams of light were used to maneuver an early robocar that followed remote orders and needed no driver. It was a novelty from Westinghouse, though it doesn’t appear any long-term application was planned. (Scroll down to the bottom of this PDF to see a photo of the actual demo.) An article follows about the driverless Willys-Knight from the January 7, 1930 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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MIT’s Caleb Harper is something of a Rappaccini, wildly experimenting with incubated plants in his lab, hoping to make urban farming bloom, so that a growing world population can be fed. From Kevin Gray at Wired UK:

“Even amid the creative genius and goofy playfulness of MIT’s Media Lab near Boston — where giant inflatable sharks dangle from ceilings, workbenches are populated by unblinking robot heads and skinny scientists with mutton chops and Hawaiian shirts pay rapt attention to indecipherable whiteboard scribbles — Caleb Harper is an oddball. While his coworkers develop artificial –intelligence, smart prosthetics, folding cars and 3D neural-imaging systems, Harper is growing lettuce. In the past year, he has transformed a small lounge outside his fifth-floor lab into a high-tech garden worthy of a sci-fi film. Species of lettuce — as well as broccoli, tomatoes and basil — grow in mid-air, bathed in blue and red LED lights, their ghostly white roots dangling like jellyfish. They are stacked in shelves on an exterior glass wall, seven metres long and 2.5 metres high, meant to resemble the exterior of an office building. If Harper and his team get their way, entire city districts will one day look like this, a living and edible garden.

‘I believe there’s the possibility that we can change the world and change the food system,’ says Harper, a tall and stocky 34-year-old in a blue shirt and cowboy boots. ‘The potential for urban farming is huge. And it’s not all bullshit.’ Urban farming has begun to shift from its look-what-we-can-do phase of growing salads and vegetables on industrial rooftops and in empty city spaces, to a new wave of innovation that is being led by thinkers — and makers — like Harper. As founder of the year-old CityFARM project at MIT, Harper is figuring out how to use data science to optimise crop yields, deploy networked sensors to ‘listen’ to a plant’s water, nutrient and carbon needs, and deliver optimal light wavelengths — not just for photosynthesis but to change the flavour of foods. And he hopes to bolt his towering plantations on to the buildings in which we live and work.

His system promises to change the economics of industrial agriculture and to lessen its burden on the environment.”


In a review of Martin Wolf’s The Shifts and the Shocks in the New York Review of Books, Paul Krugman argues that the financial bubble may not have led to the 2008 crash but merely briefly masked an economy that has stalled in a long-term way. An excerpt:

“Emphasizing the need to reduce financial fragility makes sense if you believe that the legacy of past financial excess is the reason we’re in so much trouble now. But are we sure about that? Let me offer two reasons to be skeptical.

First, while the depression that overtook the Western world in 2008 clearly came after the collapse of a vast financial bubble, that doesn’t mean that the bubble caused the depression. Late in The Shifts and the Shocks Wolf mentions the reemergence of the ‘secular stagnation’ hypothesis, most famously in the speeches and writing of Lawrence Summers (Lord Adair Turner independently made similar points, as did I). But I’m not sure whether readers will grasp the full implications. If the secular stagnationists are right, advanced economies now suffer from persistently inadequate demand, so that depression is their normal state, except when spending is supported by bubbles. If that’s true, bubbles aren’t the root of the problem; they’re actually a good thing while they last, because they prop up demand. Unfortunately, they’re not sustainable—so what we need urgently are policies to support demand on a continuing basis, which is an issue very different from questions of financial regulation.

Wolf actually does address this issue briefly, suggesting that the answer might lie in deficit spending financed by the government’s printing press. But this radical suggestion is, as I said, overshadowed by his calls for more financial regulation. It’s the morality play aspect again: the idea that we need to don a hairshirt and repent our sins resonates with many people, while the idea that we may need to abandon conventional notions of fiscal and monetary virtue has few takers.”

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