Urban Studies

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A common theme in Christoper Mims’ smart WSJ column about the soft launch of sorts of the Internet of Things and Maarten Rikkens’ interesting Research Gate Q&A with The City of Tomorrow author Carlo Ratti is that the future is arriving with a whimper, not a bang. A world enabled by the IoT will be very different even if it doesn’t look any different. You’ll hardly notice it at first blush. You might even forget about it once you do. That’s great for practical matters and less so for issues of privacy. To my mind, that’s always been the promise and peril of such a ubiquitous, essentially invisible network.

From Mims:

Everyone is waiting for the Internet of Things. The funny thing is, it is already here. Contrary to expectation, though, it isn’t just a bunch of devices that have a chip and an internet connection.

The killer app of the Internet of Things isn’t a thing at all—it is services. And they are being delivered by an unlikely cast of characters: Uber Technologies Inc., SolarCity Corp., ADT Corp., andComcast Corp., to name a few. One recent entrant: the Brita unit ofClorox Corp., which just introduced a Wi-Fi-enabled “smart” pitcher that can re-order its own water filters.

Uber and SolarCity are interesting examples. Both rely on making their assets smart and connected. In Uber’s case, that is a smartphone in the hands of a driver for hire. For SolarCity, the company’s original business model was selling electricity directly to homeowners rather than solar panels, which requires knowing how much electricity a home’s solar panels are producing.

Here is another example: On June 23, Comcast said it would acquire a unit of Icontrol Networks Inc., which helps set up smart homes for clients. The company, founded in 2004, prides itself on being “do it for you” instead of “do it yourself,” as are most home-automation systems, says Chief Marketing Officer Letha McLaren.

Understanding that most people want to solve problems without worrying about the underlying technology was crucial, she says.•

From Rikkens:


Your book mentions that it is increasingly difficult to divorce the physical space from the digital. Does this mean that all aspects of city design should factor in IoT? Or are some aspects of city design divorced from its influence?

Carlo Ratti:

From an architectural point of view, I do not think that the city of tomorrow will look dramatically different from the city of today — much in the same way that the Roman ‘urbs’ is not all that different from the city as we know it today. We will always need horizontal floors for living, vertical walls in order to separate spaces and exterior enclosures to protect us from the outside. The key elements of architecture will still be there, and our models of urban planning will be quite similar to what we know today. What will change dramatically is the way we live in the city, at the convergence of the digital and physical world. IoT will have its biggest impact on the experience of the city, not necessarily its physical form.•

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From the June 4, 1891 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:



Elon-musk-iron-man (1)

For all his hubris, Elon Musk certainly has a noble vision for a better and cleaner world, one in which a species in peril wisely pivots before we’re all buried beneath a global Easter Island. Of course, knowing what should be isn’t the same as making it so. In trying to turn humanity away from using fossil fuels to power its shelter, transportation and commerce, Musk is trying to do on his own what would seem the heaviest lifting even for the biggest states in the world. Colonizing Mars, another of his goals, might be easier.

In an MIT Technology Review piece, Richard Martin suggests Musk may be like Tesla–the man, not the car company–dreaming too big in trying to electrify the world. Other pundits have weighed in on the other end of the spectrum and no one can truly say what the outcome will be, but Musk’s hyper-ambitious goal has always been a long shot, hasn’t it? The most positive scenario that’s also realistic might be that Musk exhorts us to turn to solar and electric, even if his own efforts fail.

From Martin:

Musk’s grand vision for an integrated solar-plus-electric-vehicle behemoth, meanwhile, looks increasingly like a reality distortion field. The opening of the massive solar-panel factory the company is building in Buffalo, New York, has already been pushed back to mid-2017. Some analysts have estimated that the factory is likely to lose as much as $150 million a year once it reaches full production.

What’s more, there is little indication that huge numbers of people are clamoring for the ability to equip their homes with SolarCity panels, a Tesla Powerwall battery, and a charging system for their Teslas. In short, SolarCity’s latest moves could be a signal that merging two companies with combined 2015 losses of $1.6 billion might not be such a great idea after all.
SolarCity and other rooftop solar providers rolled to early success on a river of easy money, as banks, emboldened by generous federal subsidies, showed their willingness to underwrite customer-friendly lease deals. The extension of the investment tax creditlate last year heralded a new phase of strong growth for solar power, but companies like SolarCity and SunEdison, which filed for bankruptcy in April, have had a hard time benefiting from it as their market continues to change underneath them. Mostly ignored in yesterday’s layoff news was a separate filing in which the company said it will offer up to $124 million in “solar bonds”—at terms much less favorable to the company than previous such offerings.

SolarCity’s restructuring may well be looked back on as the first wobble that presaged the collapse of Musk’s would-be electric empire.•

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The Scientific American piece “20 Big Questions about the Future of Humanity” is loads of fun, setting the huge issues (consciousness, space colonization, etc.) before top-shelf scientists. The only disappointment is University of New Mexico professor Carlton Caves stating that human extinction via machine intelligence “can be avoided by unplugging them.” One can only hope he was being flippant, though it’s not a useful response regardless. Three entries:

1. Does humanity have a future beyond Earth?
“I think it’s a dangerous delusion to envisage mass emigration from Earth. There’s nowhere else in the solar system that’s as comfortable as even the top of Everest or the South Pole. We must address the world’s problems here. Nevertheless, I’d guess that by the next century, there will be groups of privately funded adventurers living on Mars and thereafter perhaps elsewhere in the solar system. We should surely wish these pioneer settlers good luck in using all the cyborg techniques and biotech to adapt to alien environments. Within a few centuries they will have become a new species: the post-human era will have begun. Travel beyond the solar system is an enterprise for post-humans — organic or inorganic.”
—Martin Rees, British cosmologist and astrophysicist

3. Will we ever understand the nature of consciousness?
“Some philosophers, mystics and other confabulatores nocturne pontificate about the impossibility of ever understanding the true nature of consciousness, of subjectivity. Yet there is little rationale for buying into such defeatist talk and every reason to look forward to the day, not that far off, when science will come to a naturalized, quantitative and predictive understanding of consciousness and its place in the universe.”
Christof Koch, president and CSO at the Allen Institute for Brain Science; member of the Scientific American Board of Advisers

10. Can we avoid a “sixth extinction”?
“It can be slowed, then halted, if we take quick action. The greatest cause of species extinction is loss of habitat. That is why I’ve stressed an assembled global reserve occupying half the land and half the sea, as necessary, and in my book ‘Half-Earth,’ I show how it can be done. With this initiative (and the development of a far better species-level ecosystem science than the one we have now), it will also be necessary to discover and characterize the 10 million or so species estimated to remain; we’ve only found and named two million to date. Overall, an extension of environmental science to include the living world should be, and I believe will be, a major initiative of science during the remainder of this century.”
Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor emeritus at Harvard University•

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If self-appointed Libertarian overlord Grover Norquist, a Harvard graduate with a 13-year-old’s understanding of government and economics, ever had his policy preferences enacted fully, it would lead to worse lifestyles and shorter lifespans for the majority of Americans. He’s so eager to Brownback the whole country he’s convinced himself, despite being married to a Muslim woman, there’s conservative bona fides in Trump’s Mussolini-esque stylings and suspicious math.

In 2014, Norquist made his way to the government-less wonderland known as Burning Man, free finally from those bullying U.S. regulations, the absence of which allows Chinese business titans to breathe more freely, if not literally. Norquist’s belief that the short-term settlement in the Nevada desert is representative of what the nation could be every day is no less silly than considering Spring Break a template for successful marriage. He was quote as saying: “Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature.” Holy fuck, who passed him the peyote? Norquist wrote about his experience in the Guardian. Maileresque reportage, it was not. An excerpt:

You hear that Burning Man is full of less-than-fully-clad folks and off-label pharmaceuticals. But that’s like saying Bohemian Grove is about peeing on trees or that Chicago is Al Capone territory. Burning Man is cleaner and greener than a rally for solar power. It has more camaraderie and sense of community than a church social. And for a week in the desert, I witnessed more individual expression, alternative lifestyles and imaginative fashion than …. anywhere.

The demand for self-reliance at Burning Man toughens everyone up. There are few fools, and no malingerers. People give of themselves – small gifts like lip balm or tiny flashlights. I brought Cuban cigars. Edgy, but not as exciting as some “gifts” that would have interested the federal authorities.

I’m hoping to bring the kids next year.

On my last day of my first Burning Man, at the Reno airport, a shoeless man (he had lost his shoes in the desert) was accosted by another dust-covered Burner carrying sneakers: “Take these,” he said. “They are my Burning Man shoes.” The shoeless man accepted the gift with dignity.•

In an excellent Financial Times piece, Tim Bradshaw broke bread in San Francisco with Larry Harvey, co-founder of Burning Man and its current “Chief Philosophic Officer,” who speaks fondly of rent control and the Bernie-led leftward shift of the Democratic Party. Grover Norquist would not approve, even if Harvey is a contradictory character, insisting he has a “conservative sensibility” and lamenting the way many involved in social justice fixate on self esteem. An excerpt:

I ask if he feels, after 30 years, that Burning Man’s ideals are starting to be felt beyond the desert. “I’d like to mischievously quote Milton Friedman,” he says, invoking the rightwing economist. “He said change only happens in a crisis, and then that actions that are undertaken depend on the ideas that are just lying around.” With the “discontents of globalisation” set to continue, he predicts that crisis will hit by the middle of this century. “I think there really is a chance for sudden change.” However, I struggle to pin him down on exactly which Burners’ ideas he hopes will be “lying around” when it does.

Most Burners are fond of recalling tall tales of fake-fur-clad excess, elaborately customised “art cars” and monster sound systems. This year’s art installations include a 50-ft “space whale”, the head and hands of a giant man appearing to rise from the sand, and part of a converted Boeing 747 that its new owners say is now a “mover of dreams”. Harvey likes to survey the art — and the rest of his creation — from a high platform close to the centre of the event at First Camp, the founders’ HQ. But instead of recounting hedonistic tales, he is much more eager to talk about organisational details, such as Black Rock City’s circular layout, “sort of like a neolithic temple”.

Indeed, Harvey insists he has a “conservative sensibility” and is “not a big fan of revolution”. “Do I sound like a hippie? I’m not!” And he bristles at being called anti-capitalist, although he hung out with the hippies on Haight Street in 1968. “I was there in the spring, autumn and winter of love, but I missed the summer,” he says, due to being drafted into the US army. “It was apparent to me that it was all based on what Tom Wolfe called ‘cheques from home’. The other source that shored it up was selling dope. I thought, that isn’t sustainable.”•

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Bruno Hauptmann’s executioner, Robert G. Elliott, became increasingly anxious as the fateful hour neared, and you could hardly blame him. Who knows what actually happened to the Lindbergh baby, but the circumstances were crazy, with actual evidence intermingling with that appeared to be the doctored kind. To this day, historians and scholars still argue the merits of Hauptmann’s conviction. Elliot who’d also executed Sacco & Vanzetti and Ruth Snyder, was no stranger to high-profile cases, but the Lindbergh case may still the most sensational in American history, more than Stanford White’s murder or O.J. Simpson’s race-infused trial.

Elliott, whose title was the relatively benign “State Electrician” of New York had succeeded in the position John W. Hulbert, who was so troubled by his job and fears of retaliation, he committed suicide. Elliott, who came to be known as the “humane executioner” for devising a system that minimized pain, was said to be a pillar of the community who loved children and reading detective stories. A friend of his explained the lethal work in a March 31, 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, just days before Hauptmann’s demise: “It is repulsive to him to have to execute a woman, but he feels that, after all, he’s just a machine.” Such rationalizations were necessary since Elliott claimed to be fiercely opposed to capital punishment, believing the killings accomplished nothing. 






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Either there’s a collective delusion among those racing to successfully complete driverless capability (not impossible), or we’re going to have autonomous vehicles on roads and streets in the next decade.

If that time frame proves correct, these self-directing autos will hastily make redundant taxi, rideshare, bus, truck and delivery drivers and wreak havoc on the already struggling middle class. That doesn’t mean progress should be unduly restrained, but it does mean we’re going to have to develop sound policy answers. 

Not everyone is going to be able to transition into coding or receive a Machine Learning Engineer nanodegree from Udacity. That’s just not realistic. Because of Washington gridlock, we’ve bypassed a golden opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure at near zero interest over the last eight years. It may soon be imperative to push forward not only to save fraying bridges but also faltering Labor.

Excerpts follow from: Maya Kosoff’s Vanity Fair “Hive” piece about Ford’s ambitious plans for wheel-less cars by 2021, and 2) Max Chafkin’s Bloomberg Businessweek article on Uber’s driverless fleet launching this year in Pittsburgh.

From Kosoff:

The world of autonomous vehicles is riddled with hypotheticals. It’s not immediately clear when Uber and Lyft will have self-driving cars (or what will happen to their drivers when they do), but both companies have made it clear that at some point, they see autonomous ride-hailing fleets as the future of their business. The same can be said about Tesla, Google’s self-driving cars, Apple’s top-secret car project, and automakers like General Motors, which haspartnered with Lyft. All these companies must first face novel regulatory hurdles, and few have given the public a hard deadline for when they can expect to see self-driving cars on the road.

Ford, however, is breaking from the pack and marking a date on its calendar: 2021, the carmakerannouncedTuesday. Ford’s self-driving cars won’t have gas or brake pedals or a steering wheel, the company says. And the car is being made specifically for ride-hailing services—it seems Ford is trying to out-Uber Uber. (Uber, for its part,unveiled a self-driving Ford Fusionearlier this year, andreportedlyapproached a number of automakers about partnerships, before taking astrategic investmentfrom Toyota.)

Five years isn’t much time to get a fully-functioning, fully-autonomous vehicle to market, but Ford is moving quickly.•

From Chafkin:

Near the end of 2014, Uber co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick flew to Pittsburgh on a mission: to hire dozens of the world’s experts in autonomous vehicles. The city is home to Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, which has produced many of the biggest names in the newly hot field. Sebastian Thrun, the creator of Google’s self-driving car project, spent seven years researching autonomous robots at CMU, and the project’s former director, Chris Urmson, was a CMU grad student.

“Travis had an idea that he wanted to do self-driving,” says John Bares, who had run CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center for 13 years before founding Carnegie Robotics, a Pittsburgh-based company that makes components for self-driving industrial robots used in mining, farming, and the military. “I turned him down three times. But the case was pretty compelling.” Bares joined Uber in January 2015 and by early 2016 had recruited hundreds of engineers, robotics experts, and even a few car mechanics to join the venture. The goal: to replace Uber’s more than 1 million human drivers with robot drivers—as quickly as possible.

The plan seemed audacious, even reckless. And according to most analysts, true self-driving cars are years or decades away. Kalanick begs to differ. “We are going commercial,” he says in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “This can’t just be about science.”

Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved.•

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tycho-brahe-avvelenamento-638x425From the March 31, 1903 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:




As drones are set to proliferate, being utilized to photograph and monitor and deliver, it’s worth remembering that kites were formerly dispatched to do some of the same duties, if in a much lower-tech way. 

The first use of kites for scientific purposes dates back to 1749 and the meteorological experiments of Alexander Wilson, which occurred three years before Benjamin Franklin’s electrifying discoveries. The use of kites in science received a major boost in the second half of the 19th century, when New York journalist William Abner Eddy designed a superior diamond-shaped kite, which enjoyed improved stability and reached great heights, enabling him to take the first aerial photography in the Western hemisphere. Five years after that feat, in a 1900 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, Eddy speaks of his plans for his airborne innovations, though the piece was abruptly cut off near the end by typesetters.




Automobiles remade the world, in more ways than we could have initially imagined. Nobody could have predicted the environmental fallout of the internal-combustion engine, for instance, but other effects could have been predicted by anyone not wholly myopic.

Now we’re parked at another precipice, with autonomous cars nearly ready to remake society in a similarly profound way. Along with the great advantages that will attend self-driving vehicles, there’ll come numerous challenges. One of them is a financial jolt to the middle class that will make the slow waning of the last four decades seem relatively rosy.

In a smart Backchannel article, Robin Chase explains that since driverless is ultimately going to happen–and sooner or later, it will–we need to be proactive in steering the economic and social ramifications even as we give up the actual wheel. Part of her prescription for a relatively smooth transition is a radical reworking of capitalism, since a largely automated society that’s also a free-market one cannot be managed by shopworn policy.

An excerpt:

A Capitalism Do-Over. Productivity gains once were the harbinger of improved standards of living, and improved quality of life, but automation brings jobless productivity gains. Self driving cars will be the ultimate example of this: AVs will probably be productively employed and generating revenue about 65 percent of the time, compared to our personal car’s 5 percent. No one can deny that enormous productivity gains are being enjoyed. But with so few associated workers, enjoyed by whom?

As an entrepreneur, I appreciate the hours and years of effort that has gone into building these AVs: the new IP, the many years and huge costs without any revenue to show for it. But I also understand that this is a massive market (trillions of dollars worldwide seems plausible), and the marginal cost of running the software for each of those trips will be close to zero. We need to make sure we distribute this new wealth, by closing corporate tax loopholes and taxing wealth and platforms more effectively.

As we lose more jobs, the necessity for change opens up the possibility of a fairer system, one that minimizes income inequality. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study projected an 83 percent probability of job loss by automation for workers earning less than $20 an hour, and a 34 percent probability for jobs between $20–40 an hour. In the new automated world, does it really make sense to be taxing labor at all? It makes much more sense to be taxing the new technical platforms that are generating the profits, and taxing the wealth of the small number of talented and lucky people who founded and financed these new jobless wonders.

In a world where machines do most of the work, it is time for a universal basic income. This will distribute the gains from productivity, and give more people the opportunity to focus on purposeful, passion-driven work, allowing for the next generation of ideas and technologies to emerge faster.

How we deal with the job loss caused by AVs will be a signature model for how we respond to automation throughout the economy. Even more, it may be the flood that sweeps clean a system that no longer serves the people.



From the November 11, 1904 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:


Producing an infinite bounty of healthy food and clean energy through “artificial photosynthesis” was the stated near-term goal of a group of University of California scientists featured in an article in the January 27, 1955 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Even the dietary needs of space travelers was given consideration.


The rest of us can’t currently afford to live like Vivek Wadhwa, with a Tesla in his garage and solar panels on his roof–not yet, anyway. Today’s tech luxuries often become tomorrow’s new normal, however, the original R&D supported by governments first and then deep-pocketed early adopters. The problem is, while these great inventions will bring with them epic good–maybe even species-saving good–there will be destabilizing effects attending them. Th question is this: How much can we shape the future? How much can we tame these unintended consequences of 3D printers and automation and robotics?

I think we can select to some extent, but in the welter of competing companies and countries, consensus and consent can be lost. If China goes all in on genetic engineering, can other countries afford to opt out? Can there possibly be any OFF switch when the Internet of Things becomes the thing, when we don’t only place a computer in our pocket but have ourselves been placed inside the machine? Some decisions we’ll make and others will be made in a faceless scrum.

From Wadhwa’s latest thoughtful column for the Washington Post:

In short, the distant future is no longer distant.  The pace of technological change is rapidly accelerating, and those changes are coming to you very soon, whether you like it or not.

Such rapid, ubiquitous change has, of course, a dark side. Many jobs as we know them will disappear. Our privacy will be further compromised. Future generations may never drive a car or ride in one driven by a human being. We have to worry about biological terrorism and killer drones. Someone you know — maybe you — will have his or her DNA sequence and fingerprints stolen. Man and machine will begin to merge into a single entity.  You will have as much food as you can possibly eat, for better and for worse.

The ugly state of politics in the United States and Britain illustrates the impact of income inequality and the widening technological divide. More and more people are being left behind by innovation and they are protesting in every way they can. Technologies such as social media are being used to fan the flames and to exploit ignorance and bias.  The situation will get only worse — unless we find ways to share the prosperity we are creating.

We have a choice: to build an amazing future, such as we saw on the TV series Star Trek, or to head into the dystopia of Mad Max.



hyperloop one system

The Internet is a series of tubes that connected the world virtually, while the Hyperloop would like to do so physically. At its grandest, the new mode of transportation proposed by Martian hopeful Elon Musk would complete the Global Village, heaven help us

Like an incredibly fast elevator that goes forward rather than up, the transport system would deliver people and goods to their destinations in a much safer and cleaner and cheaper fashion, seemingly equally helpful for medium- or long-distance trips. For all the logistical and technological hurdles to be cleared, the future is wide open, though no one can yet say how much the Hypelroop will be a part of it.

The team at Hyperloop One, currently leading the pack in this burgeoning sector, just did an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. A few exchanges follow.


Where are the efficiency gains over traditional rail or HSR, considering that the Hyperloop needs to maintain pressure, and has more safety concerns? What problem is the Hyperloop trying to solve?

Josh Giegel (Co-founder and President of Engineering):

Efficiency gains come from the fact that this is an on demand system that doesn’t require you to wait and travels at high speeds – think elevator experience. Hyperloop is solving the on demand, high speed, packetized, weather-proof, autonomous system, ultra-safe transport system problem. Low magnetic and aerodynamic drag mean substantially reduced power usage.


What problems do you foresee, when it comes to convincing the public about the safety of the Hyperloop?

Andrea Vaccaro (Director of Safety Engineering):

We are designing Hyperloop to be the safest mode of transportation on Earth. We will run extensive tests on all the safety features, involving third party safety assessors. As for the public, it will be like the first passenger airplanes: excitement for a new futuristic mode of transportation, together with the extensive safety test that we will run before passenger operation will make people eager to jump on Hyperloop!


I believe it was philosopher Michel Foucault who suggested that with the introduction of the car, by necessity man had invented the car accident. Likewise, the plane crash wouldn’t have been a thing if there had never been a plane.

If Hyperloop succeeds in creating a new form of transportation, isn’t it inevitable that a new kind of tragedy, heretofore unimaginable to most people, will eventually come to pass?

Andrea Vaccaro:

OK, let’s get a little bit more technical here. First of all by having a fully autonomous mode of transportation, where we are able to fully control the environment, we design-out a lot of common hazards: no human error (by far the most common cause for an accident), at-grade crossing, weather related hazards, etc. Then, we are looking at various statistics (failures per trip, per mile traveled, per departures, etc.) and we are specifying our system to be better than what is currently available from any of these point of view. We are performing top-down hazard analysis and bottom-up failure mode simulations to make sure that we hit our safety targets. Soon we will be start testing our safety functions full-scale in Nevada, with real hardware.


How do you think your solution will compete with driverless cars since they’re probably gonna hit the market at the same time?

Casey Handmer (Levitation Engineer):

Driverless cars and Hyperloop are complementary mass transportation systems. Cars work on existing transportation infrastructure, while Hyperloop helps integrate larger cities and networks of cities, with new infrastructure development.


Riding on the Hyperloop – even if its just a test track – is on my bucket list.

What do you think where and when will it be possible to do that without any kind of “special connection” to someone of the team, just by buying a ticket?

Casey Handmer:

We don’t anticipate putting humans on the test track any time soon. Unfortunately, just knowing someone doesn’t mean that we’re any more willing to break our safety protocols ;). But if you come and work here you can probably move stuff in the tube, which is more interesting and has better selfie opportunities. And yes, there are whole varieties of supersonic vacuum tube Pokemon that were previously unknown to science.


Can you describe how Hyperloop will have an effect on the daily lives of people in 10, 20 and 30 years?

Diana Zhou (Business Analyst):

We’re hoping to transform the way people live, the way they work and play. The idea is that people could hop into a Hyperloop in LA and get to SF for work half an hour later, less than the amount of time it would take to travel from Santa Monica to downtown LA during rush hour right now. This has tremendous implications from a real estate and housing perspective, from a work-life perspective, reduced congestion, not to mention improvement on pollution, emissions, and quality of environment!•

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Leisurely walk

From the May 20, 1898 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:





“He that fights and runs away, may turn and fight another day; But he that is in battle slain, will never rise to fight again,” recorded the Roman historian Tacitus, though the original coiner of the phrase is unknown. It’s another way of saying: Honor is great, but it can get you killed.

The 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article below records the death of the Creek Nation’s Captain Pleasant Luther “Duke” Berryhill, who somehow balanced the disparate professions of Methodist minister and tribal executioner. He would preach to all who would listen and flog and shoot those who he was ordered to. Berryhill clearly believed in a retributive god.

One interesting note contained in the piece is that those Creeks condemned to die weren’t imprisoned nor were they escorted by authorities to the place of their execution on the fateful day. They were honorable men (and, occasionally, women) and reported dutifully for a bullet to the heart. They probably should have headed for the hills, honor be damned.






From the August 10, 1939 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:




George Schuster, driver of the Thomas Flyer that won the New York-to-Paris “Great Race” of 1908, appears on I’ve Got a Secret five decades later. Prior to Schuster’s trek, no “automobilist” had driven across America during the winter. The opening of his 1972 New York Times obituary before the video:

SPRINGVILLE, N. Y., July 4 —George Schuster, who drove a 60‐horsepower Thomas Flyer to victory in the “longest auto race” from New York across America and Siberia to Paris in 1908, died today in a nursing home here. He was 99 years old. 

George Schuster, with his grimy, khaki‐clad associates, arrived triumphantly in Paris on a July evening 64 years ago after driving 13,341 miles in 169 days and was promptly flagged down by a gendarme. The offense: driving without lights in the Place de l’Opéra. 

But the intrepid round‐the world racers easily surmounted that civilized barrier. The earlier challenges were more ragged —the team had detoured onto the Union Pacific tracks to get across roadless Western Ameri ca, and once even had the San Francisco express bearing down on them; in Asia they had com mandeered 40 Russian soldiers to pull them through the Siberi an muck. 

So the impasse in Paris was quickly handled. A French cyclist who had a lantern on his bicycle volunteered to put bike and light into the front seat of the Thomas Flyer and the Americans continued their triumphant parade before enthusiastic crowds. 

There were six entries in the race, which started on Lincoln’s Birthday before a huge crowd in Times Square—three French cars and one each from the United States, Italy and Germany.

In a book entitled The Longest Auto Race,which Mr. Schuster wrote with Tom Mahoney in 1966, he recounted highlights of the unprecedented race. 

Mr. Schuster, who in the first phases of the race was the mechanic while others in the changing team drove, took over the driving chores after the four ‐ cylinder Flyer had been transported across the Pacific. 

In the snowy wastes of the Rocky Mountain region the Union Pacific not only allowed them to use the tracks but also scheduled the Thomas Flyer as if it were a regular train. The only trouble was that the flimsy tires kept blowing out as they bumped along the cross ties, and because of such delays Mr. Schuster and his crew had to set out flares to stop the onrushing San Francisco express.•

If and when driverless cars become the way to travel, whether that day is approaching as fast as Elon Musk thinks or if it’s a further patch down the road, the ramifications will be many. Car ownership won’t be required, nor will it even be necessary for fleets of taxis to be “owned” in any traditional sense. Traffic fatalities will likely plummet, and there should be a salubrious impact on the environment. Of course, the bottom will be pulled out from under the middle class should driving jobs (and all the other enterprises they support) disappear.

Even smaller changes will snake their way through our streets and highways. Case in point: The sun will set on the SUNSET BLVD. street sign and all the rest. Signage won’t be required to direct vehicles and pedestrians provided real-time mapping and augmented reality are adequately developed.

From an Adrienne LaFrance article at the Atlantic:

A map that’s unchanging is actually a map that’s inaccurate. Reality, including the places around us, is always in flux.

Increasingly, digital mobile maps reflect this more liminal state, and—with the help of satellites and GPS and traffic reports and street-level photography—do so with improved precision. (Incidentally, Uber is embarking on its own mapping efforts so it can rely less on Google.) That precision will matter more and more as we head toward a future in which the markings of human-made maps will be read by computers, like the machines that will drive themselves from one place to the next with us sitting inside of them.

And when that happens, the other markers of the old world—like street signs—will eventually disappear. The idea of a city without street signs is a bit startling. Or it was to me, anyway, when my colleague Ian Bogost wrote about it last month. He touched on the same thing that preoccupied the Uber driver I spoke with. Modern maps are free, but they’re enormously valuable.

Google or Apple might restrict access to their mapping services in areas that don’t adopt political positions convenient to their corporate interests. They might even elect to alter the physical environment accordingly. In America, street signs are yoked to signage built for human drivers, mounted atop traffic signals and stop signs. Once those devices aren’t needed, their attached markings might also disappear. Perhaps tech giants could persuade municipalities to remove street signs and markers to realize cleaner, less distracting urban conveyance via the synergy of app-street-and-car transit networks.

It’s jarring to imagine a physical world stripped of these familiar markers, but street signs have already changed dramatically since the early mile markers that dotted the roads of ancient Rome.•


This week, Trump's most ardent supporters took a break from the campaign to take advantage of July 4th white sales.

Mentioned a couple days back that Donald Trump’s gross adoration of Vladimir Putin and other autocrats recalls similar warm feelings some American oligarchs felt for Fascists during the 1930s. In an impassioned Guardian essay, Paul Mason, who believes we may soon find ourselves post-capitalism, compares the gathering clouds of that earlier decade to our own WTF moment, with the ugly political rise of the hideous hotelier clearly not an isolated case of extremism. 

Mason concludes history isn’t exactly repeating itself, that we’re better off today in our globalized system, save one toxic sticking point, that “an entire generation of humanity has been brutalized.” The writer points to ISIS slayings and minority scapegoating and racist social-media trolling to support his point that we’re worse in this important way eighty years on. Perhaps, but I’m not wholly convinced. Antisemitism in Europe in the first few decades of the 20th century was deeply pernicious and the Jim Crow South was far more heinous than anything that exists in contemporary America, for all our continued instances of racial injustice.

The best argument in favor of our destabilized media, that communication breakdown, is our unmatched access to answer these outrages, to organize against them. There have never been more ways for people of good conscience to refuse to remain silent. Mason is aware of this, acknowledging “we have billions of educated and literate brains on the planet; and we have the concept of universal and inalienable human rights.”

His opening:

Things are happening with machine-gun rapidity: Brexit, the Turkish coup, Islamist massacres in France, the surrounding of Aleppo, the nomination of Donald Trump. From the USA to France to post-Brexit Britain, the high levels of public racism and xenophobia, reflected now in the outpourings of politicians with double-digit poll ratings, have got people asking: is it a rerun of the 1930s?

On the face of it, the similarities are real. Britain’s vote to leave the EU parallels its panicked decision to quit the gold standard in September 1931 – the first major country to quit the global economic system. Labour’s incipient split mirrors the one that left the party out of power for 14 years. And of course the economic background – a depression and a banking crisis – has echoes in the present situation.

But a proper study of the 1930s reveals our situation today to be better and more salvageable in many ways, although in one respect worse.•


“I have my manias, and I impose them.”

“I have my manias, and I impose them.”


A836E6 Personalities pic circa 1930 s Marshal Balbo of Italy pictured in his new aeroplane Marshal Balbo 1896 1940 was made Governor of Libya perhaps sent there by Mussolini as he Balbo was proving more popular than the Fascist leader Balbo had a great passion fo

Italo Balbo, Mussolini’s Air Minister, created an experimental office environment that was a technocrat’s dream, humming with gizmos, even if it shared some of the fascist tendencies of his politics. There was an Automat-style lunchroom and a tubing system that delivered coffee to desks, which was wonderful provided you weren’t aging, sickly or disabled. Then you weren’t allowed to work there. There was no opting out of the system, not until Mussolini ultimately met the business end of a meat hookAn article from the February 23, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports on Balbo’s “good ministry.”





Democracy is only as good as the people, and information is only useful if those crunching the numbers possess sound, critical minds. Smartphones have allowed those in the furthest corners of the globe to have access to an almost unlimited library of ideas and data. How will they use it?

In America and other developed nations, unending streams of info have created a stubbornly chaotic new normal, with conspiracies growing like weeds and democracy coming to seem less like a village than a lynch mob. Will other people, unencumbered by our baggage, manage the modern arrangement in a saner way?

In a Washington Post piece, Caitlin Dewey writes of a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything with members of the Maasai tribe, who are already connected to the rest of us, which might be a blessing. An excerpt:

Earlier this week, Redditors were given a pretty neat opportunity: Two leaders from the Maasai tribe, a seminomadic people living in Western Kenya, signed on to do an “Ask Me Anything.” Redditors asked about the standard stuff: religious practices, diet, what people in the village do for fun. And then, inevitably, one user asked the chiefs to describe their favorite “kind of Internet porn.”

“They don’t believe it and don’t know what it is,” the chiefs’ interlocutor replied — to a giddily gleeful audience. “Don’t think or know about pornography. They are asking is it normal in America.”

The assembled Redditors went wild. It was their crowning achievement. They concluded that they had, in what may have been the Redditiest moment ever Reddited, introduced the concept of Internet porn to a culture that had not encountered it.

But what actually happened is slightly more complicated … and truthfully, more fascinating. Chief Joseph and Assistant Chief Leshan had, in fact, seen Internet porn before, because data-enabled mobile phones have actually become a huge part of even their remote, disconnected community.

As distant as the Maasai may seem from the modern world — the tribe has access to neither running water nor electricity, and many of the questions in the AMA centered on customs like drinking goats’ blood and circumcision without anesthetics — they do increasingly have access to forums like Reddit.

As Adam Schiller, the 24-year-old volunteer who set up the AMA, put it: “Imagine having porn before you have power.”•


China Robots Rising

Promises of a robotics revolution in China have been so overheated that there’s a credibility gap, but Saša Petricic of CBC News reports of real progress in what’s likely a necessary transition for the graying nation. Of course, the world isn’t exactly flat, and what’s needed in a state that’s severely restricted childbirth for decades may not be the best thing for other countries. The thing is, if China truly becomes Ground Zero for robots supplanting human labor, such a changeover will soon occur in places where there’s no shortage of people who need jobs. Victories in the macro can be awfully messy in the micro.

An excerpt:

Supply of cheap labour drying up

The industrial robots might also solve a growing problem: China’s dwindling supply of cheap, low-skilled labour. For three decades, that was the magic ingredient that pushed this economy to become the second biggest in the world. Millions of labourers left the countryside and flooded the industrial cities, lifting themselves out of poverty and their children into the middle class.

But now, there aren’t enough of those children. The population is aging. The so-called demographic dividend is fading.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to recruit workers and to keep them,” said Chen. “This work is intense and tiring, so we have to pay people more and more to lure them and keep them.”
The wage in this plant is around $1,200 a month, more than double the average in this region.

Young people, especially, are turning away from the tedious, repetitive factory work their parents sought.

And as overall wages have been skyrocketing in China at a rate of 10 per cent a year, the cost of industrial robots has been plummeting. It cost the Ying Ao factory about $4 million to install the nine robots, about the same amount as a year’s worth of salaries for the 256 workers they replaced. 

The cost is expected to drop by a further 20 per cent worldwide in the next decade, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group.

“This is the future of ‘Made in China,'” said Zhang Tao, the deputy manager for intelligent manufacturing in the hub city of Foshan. “I think it may be too optimistic to say robots will replace humans in three years … but you could say there will be much more co-operation.”•



From the April 2, 1856 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:



Paddy Chayefsky, that brilliant satirist, offered a spectacular pre-Beale rant on the Mike Douglas Show in 1969. It starts with polite chatter about the success of his script for Marty but quickly transitions into a much more serious and futuristic discussion. The writer is full of doom and gloom, of course, during the tumult of the Vietnam Era; his best-case scenario for humankind to live more peacefully is a computer-friendly “new society” that yields to globalization and technocracy, one in which citizens are merely producers and consumers, free of nationalism and disparate identity. Well, some of that came true. All the while, he wears a fun, red lei because one of his fellow guests is Hawaii Five-0 star Jack Lord. Gwen Verdon, Lionel Hampton and Cy Coleman share the panel.

Chayefsky joins the show at the 7:45 mark.

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