Urban Studies

You are currently browsing the archive for the Urban Studies category.

An excerpt from “How to Forward a New Global Age,” economist Carlota Perez’s Financial Times piece, which argues that embarking on a green revolution would allow us to do well by doing good:

Focus on intangible growth

Green growth is not just about climate change. It is about shifting production and consumption patterns towards intangible goods, materials and energy saving, multiplying the productivity of resources and creating new markets for special materials, renewable energy, really durable products for business models based on rental rather than possession, a huge increase in personal (quality of life) services and so on.

It implies a redefinition of the aspirational ‘good life’ towards the health of the individual and the environment, imitating the educated elites (as has happened historically).

And full global development, why? Because that’s what would create growing demand for equipment, infrastructure and engineering, all redesigned in a green and sustainable direction. Accelerating the already existing shifts in those directions, would require a major set of policy innovations, including a radical reform of the tax system to change relative profitability.

For instance, instead of salaries, profits and VAT, we might need to tax materials, energy and transactions. Does that sound like a major change? Yes, it needs to be!

These are times for as much institutional imagination and bold leadership as were displayed to shape the previous revolution. Putting patches on the old policies won’t do the job! As for finance, the opportunities for profitable innovation would then be innumerable. New models would be needed to fund the green transformation, plus the knowledge intensive enterprises, the new social economy practices, the investment needs of global development and so on.”


There are those with unique flair who innovate. Yes, if one person didn’t event the light bub–and one didn’t–another would. But I don’t think too many Americans decry rewarding someone who’s truly clever, even if that person had help–and they almost always have help. But the myth of the solitary genius has been so bastardized in our economy, where CEOs are paid exorbitant sums for often doing a poor job, rewarded for the throne rather than their rule, compensated lavishly while they have the floor and even more when they’re shown the door. The idea has proved hurtful. The opening of “The End of Genius?by Jonathan Low:

“For an economy so committed to collaboration, cooperation and partnership, we demonstrate a persistent fascination with the myth of the lone genius.

Particularly in fields where innovation and creativity are so often successfully translated into cash, the ‘my way or the highway’ ethos prevails despite ample evidence that it takes, if not a village, than at least a couple of buddies.

Even in tech, where Steve had Woz, Larry had Sergey and Bill had, well, he really did have a village, maybe even a city, the believers cling to the revealed truth. ‘We invest in people, not in companies’ huff the venture capitalists. Not systems, not processes, not teams, not intellectual capital, but ‘people,’ however that may be defined, the implication being that the Alpha Dog controls the biological survival imperative.

But even as the strains of Frank Sinatra singing ‘I Did It My Way,’ continue to waft from entrepreneurs’ ear buds, the reality is that the world is becoming too complex for this belief to endure.”


Privacy as we knew it is gone and the next-generation tools will decide, far more than any legislation, how far things will go. I’m not saying I’m in favor of that, private person that I am, but that’s just how it is. We’ll never be truly alone, though that doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t be lonely. The opening of “The Internet of Things – the Next Big Challenge to Our Privacy,” by Jat Singh and Julia Powles at the Guardian:

“If there’s a depressing slogan for the early era of the commercial internet, it’s this: ‘Privacy is dead – get over it.’

For most of us, the internet is complex and opaque. Some might be vaguely aware that their personal data are getting sucked, their search histories tracked, and their digital journeys scoured.

But the current nature of online services provides few mechanisms for individuals to have oversight and control of their information, particularly across tech-vendors.

An important question is whether privacy will change as we enter the era of pervasive computing. Underpinned by the Internet of Things, pervasive computing is where technology is seamlessly embedded within the real world, intrinsically tied to the physical environment.

If the web is anything to go by, the new hyperconnected world will only make things worse for privacy. Potentially much worse.”

Tags: ,

In 1978, Penthouse, a magazine that wanted to pee on you or someone, anyone, took a look at the automated future of our workforce in a good article, “Robot Lib,” by Bob Schneider. Quaint that the piece predicted Big Labor would delay factory automation by seventy years. An excerpt:

In fact several roboticists believe that the day when human blue collar workers are entirely replaced by solid-state slaves is not very far off. “With the spectrum of technology available now, it would be possible to eliminate most of the blue-collar jobs today performed by humans within the next twenty or thirty years,” [Joseph F.] Engelberger maintains. “But,” he adds, “because of the social, political, and economic factors involved, a more reasonable time is likely to be a hundred years.” These three factors can be reduced to two words: Big Labor. The unions know that robots will be replacing their people on the assembly lines as well as in the foundries–and they don’t like it. They’re already fighting a holding action: as of now a robot can only replace a worker who retires or dies.

Tom Binford believes that 30 percent of the human labor force could be replaced by intelligent sensitive automata within thirty years. And Robert Malone forecasts totally roboticized factories that will need practically no human supervision: fully autonomous robots will oversee production, and robot managers and foremen will direct blue-collar robots to best meet pre-programmed quotas. A single human could probably manage several factories at the same time.•

Tags: , ,

From the February 15, 1902 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Chicago–Firemen who groped their way through the fire and smoke and dragged six bodies into the street from Bennett Hospital, at Ada and Fulton Streets, late last night, carried on their heroic labor in the belief that they were rescuing persons who had been asphyxiated, and not until the flames had been subdued did they learn that they had been in the dissection room of Bennett Medical College and that the bodies were from the dissecting table of the school. Several of the cadavers were clothed, having been brought into the school in that condition.”

Vice Media was built on the back of people who should have known better going someplace dangerous and doing something stupid. But some of the site’s extreme science stuff is interesting. An excerpt from Blanca Talavera’s Q&A with an anonymous sufferer of hypnophobia, the fear of sleep:


What was it that triggered it in your case?


It all began with a vermian injury [a brain injury that causes loss of balance and dizziness]. One night in August 2010, while having dinner and watching television, I suddenly lost consciousness for a few seconds. I fell off the couch. Immediately after I came to, alone and unaided, I went to the hospital.

The treatment I received was very bad and the doctors thought my problem was a ‘mania’ or something ‘invented.’ The psychiatrist and the doctor diagnosed me with ‘hypochondria and a psychosomatic problem.’ This was the starting point of my hypnophobia. …


You’ve said that you do everything you can in order to not to fall asleep. What do you usually do?


When I prepare to sleep I suffer a gradual increase of anxiety. My body triggers episodes of panic and choking, to prevent me from falling asleep. It’s hard to explain, you have to feel it: My pulse quickens, I tremble, I don’t know what to do. You feel powerless. The situation, your subconscious dominates you.

Besides that, I sometimes consciously get out of bed and go out desperately seeking help. I’ve gone to mental health centers, where instead of helping me, what they did was aggravate my condition with pills and drugs. I have thought about ending it all, but let’s say I am a strong person. I have an inner strength that keeps me from doing that.


When you do fall asleep, do you rest well?


When I sleep, it is because I fall asleep. Still, my mind plays tricks on me, reacting as a self-defense mechanism to keep my consciousness from relaxing and disconnecting from reality to have a restful sleep. I guess the brain disconnects because it knows that if you do not sleep, you die.”


Robot Olympics, sure, they are numerous, but there have never been robots in the Olympics, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to change that at the 2020 Summer Games. If nothing else, it’s instructive to know that Japan, thought to be an unstoppable tech powerhouse just several decades ago, is now desperately trying to establish itself as a premiere player in robotics. In what areas will China not be able to sustain its momentum? From Eric Geller at the Daily Dot:

“Japan is set to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is looking for ways to turn it up a notch. His solution? Robots, of course.

According to Agence France-Presse, Abe expressed his interest in hosting an Olympic event specifically for robots as part of the international athletic competition in 2020.

‘I would like to gather all of the world’s robots and aim to hold an Olympics where they compete in technical skills,’ Abe said. ‘We want to make robots a major pillar of our economic growth strategy.’

Abe’s focus on robots for the Olympics came as part of a visit last Thursday to robot production facilities in the Japanese city of Saitama, where factories churn out robots that both assist humans and operate autonomously in a diverse array of workplaces, including daycare.”

Tags: ,

One final post referencing Daniel Lieberman’s The Story of the Human Body, this one a brief passage that explains how farming was never truly drudgery until it became hierarchal:

“The very first farmers certainly had to work hard, but we know from archaeological sites that they still hunted animals, did some gathering and initially practiced cultivation on a modest scale. Farming pioneers certainly had challenging lives, but the popular image of the incessant drudgery, filth, and misery of being a farmer probably applies more to later peasants in feudal systems than to early Neolithic farmers. A girl born to a French farmer in 1789 had a life expectancy of just twenty-eight years, she probably suffered from frequent bouts of starvation, and she was more likely than not to die from diseases such as measles, smallpox, typhoid fever, and typhus. No wonder they had a revolution. The very first farmers of the Neolithic had demanding lives, but they were not yet beset by plagues, such as smallpox or the Black Death, and they were not oppressed by a heartless feudal system in which a handful of powerful aristocrats owned their land and appropriated a large percentage of their harvest.” 


For some reason–perhaps political–Americans became consumed by their front lawns in the middle of last century, looking not out anymore but down, fussing over those essentially useless patches of respectability which require tremendous maintenance and resources. Even when water grows scarce, we still find a way to turn them green–or even plastic. From Syndee Barwick in the Guardian:

“I like most of my neighbors, but the lengths to which they’ll go to keep up with one another and their gusto to transform weeds into ‘flawless’ turf both fascinates and infuriates me.

There is some entertainment value in the spectacle: for instance, the neighbor who sits astride his lawn tractor sans shirt, socks or sneakers – but with a pair of short-shorts that ride up and become harder to spot as the mowing goes one. (A visiting friend once spotted him and shouted, ‘Oh my God! Do you know your neighbor cuts his grass naked?’)

But I am not amused when the stink of another neighbor’s toxic fertilizer application or pesticide treatment invades my house or wafts past as I sit in my backyard. It’s fine if he wants to expose himself to toxic chemicals as part of his ritual worship to the outdoors, but there’s no reason to poison me, too.

Our frenzied love affair with green lawns fuels an industry worth $40bn per year and counting, as estimated by Ted Steinberg in American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn – whether you do it yourself or hire help, it takes some serious cash to maintain that perfect green. A quick shopping list: seed, fertilizer, weedkiller, bug killer, more seed, a lawnmower, maintenance for the lawnmower (gas, blade sharpening, storage), a weedwacker and some sort of irrigation system. Money might not grow on trees, but it is, in fact, growing your lawn.

And then there’s the water: according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day for outdoor use – and more than half of that is for lawns and gardens. Across the US, landscape irrigation alone sucks up one-third of residential water use (most of it on grass). The grand total: 9bn gallons per day.”


Before globalization reached critical mass, America pretty much owned the narrative ever since the conclusion of World War II. But there are other players on the stage (and screen) today, including those communists capitalists in China. If you ever scratch your head when something like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters gets a sequel despite a relatively soft North American box office, just check the domestic and foreign grosses, because the international business is what turns the light green now. We’re not alone anymore. THEY are out there. From “Hollywood Transformed,” by Tom Shone in the Financial Times:

“Nobody said global takeover would be easy. On course to beating Avatar (2009) as the top-grossing film of all time at the Chinese box office, Transformers: Age of Extinction picked up a flurry of complaints from Chinese companies who had paid for their products to appear in the movie.

A Chinese takeaway chain that sells duck necks said it was ‘very dissatisfied’ with a three-second shot of its meat in a refrigerator; the Wulong Karst National Park was upset the US production team had mistaken a sign that read ‘Green Dragon Bridge’ for the park’s actual logo, and given the impression the park was near Hong Kong, when they are actually more than 700 miles apart. Clearly, the park owners had never seen Michael Bay’s movies, with their cheerful war on all manner of coherence: spatial, geographical, narratological.

‘Why do all the cars that fought in Hong Kong have their [steering] wheels on the left?’ one movie-goer asked on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, where many gathered to puzzle over the movie’s numerous product placements. ‘Why would a middle-aged man in the middle of the desert in Texas take out a China Construction Bank card to withdraw money from the ATM?’ asked another.

A fitting image, perhaps, for the new breed of eastward-bound Hollywood blockbuster, aimed at penetrating China’s ‘Great Wall’ quota system – limiting the number of foreign films shown and the profits passed on to its makers – by gaining coveted ‘co-production’ status.

Working with their Chinese counterparts, Jiaflix Enterprises and the China Movie Channel, the producers of the fourth Transformers film shot the movie partly in China. They also cast Chinese stars Li Bingbing and Han Geng in small roles, and made multiple product-placement deals with Chinese consumer brands, although by far the strangest endorsement in the film has to be for single-party, non-democratic rule. While western democracy is represented by a Cheney-esque goon heading up the CIA and running rings around an ineffectual president, the response of the Chinese government to alien invasion is one of efficient, disciplined resolve. ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction is a very patriotic film,’ noted Variety, ‘It’s just Chinese patriotism on the screen, not American.’”


It’s different now that everything is a smartphone, but sometimes I’ll hear an older ringtone in an office or somewhere, and it stops me for a second because it’s similar to the one used on Homicide: Life on the Street, the great show David Simon’s journalism birthed. That was a sound that couldn’t possibly bring good news, a Greek chorus as an electric current, reminding anyone within earshot of the human churn rate. That show–and other Simon shows–stay with me even though I’m not someone who watches much television. I actually haven’t had a set in years.

It’s just so jarring to see the kind of people I grew up around, if in Queens, not Baltimore, on TV. I still sometimes think of the Homicide episode which opened with two dysfunctional middle-aged brothers being arrested for hiding their mother’s corpse so that they could keep collecting her Social Security checks, so left behind by society they were, so unable to fend for themselves in a modern world. Those characters make me recall the real characters who lived in the same building in Astoria as my family when I was a kid: People who didn’t quite fit into the scheme of things and accepted the margins, though there wasn’t much choice. They didn’t live as much as they eked. Those smartphones, with their customized ringtones, have the potential to deliver people from the margins, or they might move more people there. Time will tell.

Never have gotten to read Simon’s Baltimore Sun reportage, but whenever I see a piece of prose he writes here or there, he seems, in print, the hard-boiled philosopher, which is no surprise. Like someone who’s done the math, who knows the daunting numbers all too well, but still believes they can add up-or the equation can be changed. In a new Sports Illustrated piece, Simon opines on the playoff chances of his beloved Orioles. An excerpt:

“Anything that can happen, will. And in an infinite universe, it will happen repeatedly. The full implications of the second law of thermodynamics apply to the American League East just as soundly as to a million monkeys at a million typewriters. Eventually, and regardless of all prior history, the Baltimore Orioles are going to type the complete works of Shakespeare.

How do we know this?

Well, for one thing, there is no God. There is only science. If there were a God, he would be—as evidenced by all of modern baseball history—a devoted fan of the Yankees. And God, at least the Judeo-Christian version of Him rather than the Aristotelian unmoved mover, is said to be good. Ergo, there is no God.

So, alone in this cold and expanding universe, we are left to consider the random motion of atoms, of protons and electrons and quarks, as these elemental essences dance and glance their way through the hollow space of, say, a Camden Yards, a Fenway, a Yankee Stadium. There is no romance to the matter, no theology, no purposed narrative even—if by narrative you mean a tale with a moral, with cause and effect, fate or redemption, hubris or vindication. No one is making a point here; the monkeys just keep typing.

Entering play on Thursday, the Orioles were 10 games over .500, three up on a Toronto team that was dominant a month ago and also three ahead of a battered, shield-down Yankees Death Star. The O’s run differential is +24—encouraging news indeed when you consider that the oh-why-the-hell-not O’s of two years ago, the ones who won 93, were only +7 as they stole every one-run and extra-inning game.

The current Orioles, sitting pretty atop the once-vaunted AL East, are actually more legitimate in some ways than the 2012 team that went to the playoffs for the first time since Clinton was president, Lewinsky was a name known but to him, and the world was still debating whether all electronics would cease to operate properly at the stroke of the millennium.

In other words, all I am saying is give Pearce a chance. We can win this.

Why? Because the Yankees’ rotation is shredded and their lineup ordinary, and because Tanaka couldn’t pitch every game and now may not be able to pitch at all. Because Toronto’s batting order—topped with speed and stacked with power—is now hollowed by injury, so much so that talk of trading only for a front-line starter now yields to talk of trading for some of everything. Because Boston is as flat as Shane Victorino on the trainer’s table, awaiting another epidural. And the Rays? Where did those guys go?

The electrons dance away from the great as well as the good. Overall, this is no comfort whatsoever; to accept probability theory is to acknowledge that eventually the United States and the Russians must engage in a nuclear exchange or that your goodly wife will eventually screw the mailman or the yoga instructor. But it also means the American League East can’t forever be the home of predominance.

All right, you say, maybe Baltimore can win the division. Maybe Jimenez gets off the DL and reels off a half-dozen wins. Maybe Davis finds his stroke. Maybe the monkeys can produce a Cymbeline or a Titus Andronicus.

But for Hamlet or Lear, you’re thinking I’m going to need more simians and more keyboards. In the AL Central, Detroit is running away and showing no holes. And the Athletics are throwing up gaudy numbers. Here you sit, Simon, hermetically sealed in your 12-foot-wide South Baltimore row house, nattering on about the Orioles’ run differential? Really? The A’s have scored 163 runs more than their opponents—better than a run and a half more in every game. That’s a statistic that doesn’t smell of probability theory but stinks of certitude.

To which, I reply by discarding stats entirely. To hell with Billy Beane. Chew instead on more quantum mechanics—the uncertainty principle of which clearly states that any effort to measure quantities is disturbed by the very act of observation. In other words Heisenberg has Bill James by the ass.

Remember: Anything that can happen in an infinite and expanding universe eventually will. And despite some long years wandering amid the deep-space weight of baseball dark matter, Baltimore has now crawled from its black hole.”


From the August 26, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Chicago–C.A. Comiskey’s recently installed lights received their first real tryout at the American League grounds last night, when the Illinois Athletic Club and Calumet Lacrosse teams battled for over two hours in a fast match in the glare of over one million candle power of light, which constitutes a portion of the light plant that will give Chicago night baseball in the near future. The plant proved itself equal to the occasion for the test held up to what was expected. The Illinois A.C. won the game 11 to 10, but this fact was lost to view in the confusion resulting from the pronounced success of the light plant–and at that the ground lights were curtailed and only half the power was in use. At no time during the eighty minutes of play did the players find it hard to follow the ball, but the game proved as fast and interesting as if it had been played in broad daylight. No complaint was heard from the players and with the roof lights uncovered the contestants were in no way bothered by the force of the lamps.”


One version of the future, a relatively rosy one where thorny questions have been answered, is proposed by Scott Aaronson at Big Questions Online (via 3 Quarks Daily), who looks at life enriched by quantum information in 2040. The opening:

“Picture, if you can, the following scene. It’s the year 2040. You wake up in the morning, and walk across your bedroom to your computer to check your email and some news websites. Your computer, your mail reader, and your web browser have some new bells and whistles, but all of them would be recognizable to a visitor from 2014: on casual inspection, not that much has changed. But one thing has changed: if, while browsing the web, you suddenly feel the urge to calculate the ground state energy of a complicated biomolecule, or to know the prime factors of a 5000-digit positive integer—and who among us don’t feel those urges, from time to time?—there are now online services that, for a fee, will use a quantum computer to give you the answer much faster than you could’ve obtained it classically. Scientists, you’re vaguely aware, are using the new quantum simulation capability to help them design drugs and high-efficiency solar cells, and to explore the properties of high-temperature superconductors. Does any of this affect your life? Sure, maybe it does—and if not, it might affect your children’s lives, or your grandchildren’s. At any rate, it’s certainly cool to know about.

Privacy and security are different as well in this brave new world. When you connect to a secure website—let’s say, to upload sensitive financial data—there’s still a padlock icon in your web browser; indeed, the user experience is pretty much the same as it was in 2014. But, you’ve heard, the previous mechanism that encrypted your data was broken by quantum computers, with their ability to factor large numbers. In place of the old mechanism is a suite of new ones: some of them classical, based on mathematical problems more complicated than factoring integers (like finding short vectors in lattices), and others that, ironically, use quantum mechanics itself to fix what quantum computers had broken. The technology of quantum key distribution, over half a century old, finally has a decent user base, although it only works over distances of a few hundred kilometers (quantum key distribution to and from satellites is expected to start soon). Truth be told, you never understood the old, broken security mechanisms, you don’t understand the new, quantum-proof mechanisms either, and in fact you continue to use your birthday as your email password, since you don’t really have secrets that anyone else would go to any lengths to steal. But you’re vaguely aware that things have changed in the world of encryption, and that the reason why they changed was quantum computing.”


Oh, robots and automation will make us richer in the aggregate, but there’s the potential for even greater inequality. Sure, you’ll get even cheaper and shinier gadgets to distract you, but will bread and Kardashians ultimately be enough? The mid-term range of the new normal looks particularly daunting. Computer scientist Federico Pistono, author of Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK just conducted an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. One exchange that suggests a big-picture political solution, though one short on details:


I’m nearly at the end of my full-time employment life. In the early days, I assumed that shortened work weeks with livable wages and things like working from outside the office would be standard procedure by now. Instead, it’s turned out to be cheaper to pay 1.5 wages for virtually mandatory overtime than to hire additional staff and split the hours equally, even keeping the wages constant.

What evidence is there that robots will free people from the tyranny of employment without introducing the tyranny of poverty?

Federico Pistono:

Robots/automation without a restructuring of the social system lead to robber barons, the disappearance of the middle class, increased wealth inequality, and a nonsensical race to the bottom for most of the people, while plutocracies run amok.

I mentioned it in another answer, I think the greatest challenge for humanity in the next decade or so will be to decouple income and work.

Work is now essentially wage slavery, with over 80% of the people hating their job, and having most jobs either irrelevant, redundant, socially, psychologically, or environmentally destructive.

Work should not be viewed as a requisite for survival. The phrase ‘earning a living’ should disappear from our vernacular. We have enough for people to just be, without having to justifying their existence through often tedious, meaningless, or degrading work.

Even in this schizophrenic society, as much as 50% of the people find the time to volunteer for social causes (helping the elderly, the disabled, cleaning up the environment, doing community work, etc.). Imagine if nobody had to work for living, how many would do useful things for others, how many would create something amazing.”


Now they’re just fucking with us. An Indian company has designed $100 Bluetooth-enabled smart shoes which communicate directions by vibrating the left or right foot. It actually sounds like great technology for blind people. From Dhanya Ann Thoppil at the WSJ:

“While they can’t buy Google Glass in India yet, Indians will be the first in the world to get access to what could be the next big thing in wearable technology: the smart shoe.

Indian startup Ducere Technologies Pvt. is going to start selling its Bluetooth enabled Lechal shoes for more than $100 a pair in September. The shoes sync up with a smartphone app that uses Google maps and vibrate to tell users when and where to turn to reach their destination.

Just tell your phone where you want to go and then you can leave it in your pocket because the buzzing in your left or right shoe will lead the way.

Ducere was started by two Indian engineers who had studied and worked in the U.S. in 2011 and has grown to 50 employees in the city of Secunderabad in the newly-formed southern Indian state of Telengana.

‘The shoes are a natural extension of the human body,’ said Krispian Lawrence, 30, co-founder and chief executive officer of the company. ‘You will leave your house without your watch or wristband, but you will never leave your house without your shoes.'”

Tags: ,

“Technology we have been developing…”

Sex Toy Startup Company – Please Donate – $1

Were raising money to launch a new company designing and manufacturing adult pleasure and lifestyle products! Technology we have been developing will go into new and novel adult pleasure products for men, women and couples.

Muammar Gaddafi got exactly what he deserved, but most don’t. Case in point: Wernher von Braun, complete Nazi and celebrated American hero, who was rescued from cosmic justice at the end of WWII by an accident of geopolitics. Hitler’s rocketeer knew as much about blasting off without blowing up as anybody at just the moment when the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union both wanted to rule the air, the Space Race on the horizon. He was deemed necessary and his slate wiped clean. The text of an article by John B. McDermott in the September 6, 1951 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which laid out von Braun’s plans for a nuclear-powered mission to Mars:

London–Wernher von Braun, German rocket expert, outlined a plan today to land 50 explorers on Mars for a 13-month visit.

His proposal was the latest scheme for interplanetary travel laid before the international Congress on Astronautics.

Von Braun, designer of the mighty V-2 rocker bomb that plastered London late in 1944, submitted a paper to the conference detailing his proposal. He is in the United States.

Fifty men could reach Mars, he suggested, by traveling on space ships and rockets. They would stop over for refuelling at artificial moons fixed in space between the earth and Mars.

Would Take 260 Days

The journey to Mars, Von Braun said, would take 260 days. Ten space ships with 70 men aboard would take off from earth and stop at the first artificial moon for supplies. They would then travel to another man-made orbit closer to Mars.

From there, he said, 50 men would be selected to land on Mars in three 300-ton rockets.

Von Braun said the trip would be possible as soon as the artificial moons were built.

L.R. Shepherd, British atomic scientist, told the gathering later suspended moons were no longer ‘a remote possibility.’

Instead of just talking or writing about them, he said, the idea ‘should now be actively pursued in laboratory tests and on the proving range.’

If given vigorous development, the gap should be bridged in 10 to 20 years, Shepherd said.

225,000 MPH Speed Seen

Professor Lyman Spitzer of Princeton University told the conference space ships could eventually travel at 225,000 miles per hour. They would be propelled, he said, by uranium or plutonium converted into electrical energy.

While a voyage of many hundred million miles in space could readily be achieved by this ship, ascent of the first few hundred miles to a circular orbit (artificial moon) would definitely require a booster of some sort,’ he said.

‘In fact, the design and construction of a large launching rocket might well be more difficult than that of a long-range space ship.'”


Tags: , ,

A photo process that used a metal plate and electrical charge to take trippy, often spectral-looking pictures, Kirlian photography was thought at one point to perhaps be able to reveal the “auras” of its subjects. Could it read the mental states of people whose thumbs were photographed? Could it tell who was suffering from cancer before other tests could reveal the disease? No, it couldn’t. The process was discovered by accident in 1939 by Russian inventor Semyon Kirlian, who spent a decade developing the equipment with his wife, Valentina. While oddly beautiful to look at, it ultimately had no scientific application. Footage is from UCLA in 1974, when that university was heavily researching parapsychology.

There’ve been persuaders who tried subtlety and those who attempted invisibility. So it’s no shock that brands are hurrying their way into six-second Vines, purchasing placement in what are ostensibly just little, personal videos. But it’s not personal–it’s strictly business. The “influencers” are under the influence. From Kurt Warner at Mashable:

“With sights set on its 40 million users — many of whom are teenagers — advertisers are getting crafty in their efforts to break into ad-free Vine.

The six-second video platform, which is owned by Twitter, is one of the largest social networks that doesn’t yet run paid advertisements. Marketers can’t sponsor or promote videos the way they do on Twitter and Facebook (a sponsored post is clearly marked and shows up in front of people it wouldn’t otherwise surface for). But that doesn’t mean they’re sitting idly by.

Instead, brands are utilizing a form of stealth advertising, paying the platform’s most popular users to ‘organically’ push products to their massive followings.

(Brands already use Vine to create their own videos, but the message is much different when it comes from a ‘regular user’ instead of the brand itself.)

Comedic Vine influencer Jake Paul, for example, made a video of his undercover attempt to steal a bottle of Coke from a friend only to get caught at the last second. (Brought to you by Coca-Cola’s #ShareACoke campaign, revealed in the video’s description.)

The videos don’t feature a ‘sponsored’ or ‘promoted’ label and, in some cases, the only indication that the creator was paid by a brand is that hashtag.

This guerrilla marketing strategy is popular, and Vine’s video format and wealth of influential users have made it a testing ground for major brands like Coca-Cola, Virgin Mobile, and Kellogg’s.”

Tags: ,

Three great images by futurist/illustrator Syd Mead.

Are driverless cars wheels with a computer or a computer with wheels? The latter seems more the truth. In “The Two Cultures of Robocars,” Google consultant Brad Templeton weighs this question. The opening:

“I have many more comments pending on my observations from the recent AUVSI/TRB Automated Vehicles Symposium, but for today I would like to put forward an observation I made about two broad schools of thought on the path of the technology and the timeline for adoption. I will call these the aggressive and conservative schools. The aggressive school is represented by Google, Induct (and its successors) and many academic teams, the conservative school involves car companies, most urban planners and various others.

The conservative view sees this technology as a set of wheels that has a computer.

The aggressive school sees this as a computer that has a set of wheels.

The conservative view sees this as an automotive technology, and most of them are very used to thinking about automotive technology. For the aggressive school, where I belong, this is a computer technology, and will be developed — and change the world — at the much faster pace that computer technologies do.

Neither school is probably entirely right, of course.”

Tags: ,

You ever wonder how someone–that person–became successful and famous and known all over the world? Maybe if things had gone differently and they didn’t get a particular opening, they would have been working a much smaller stage.

I think that way about the Rev. Billy Graham, the pulpit master who became a White House chaplain of sorts across several generations, thanks to two gatekeeper guardian angels, William Randolph Hearst and Henry Luce, anointing him America’s preacher. While Graham’s continuous access to the nation’s highest office may be unusual, at least he’s not a dunderhead like his son, Franklin, nor is he lacking in gravitas as is the grinning megachurch mogul Joel Osteen, an aspirationalist with heavenly hair.

Two excerpts follow from “Blunt Billy,” Roy Rowan’s 1975 People interview with Graham, in which the evangelist discusses becoming Hearst’s rosebud, and his disappointment in Richard Nixon over Watergate.



Have you been surprised by your success? 

Rev. Billy Graham:

Extremely. There were two men who were the keys to my impact and success. One was William Randolph Hearst. I never met him, but I was told by William Randolph Hearst Jr. that one night in 1949 his father came with Marion Davies to a service out of curiosity, went back to the office and sent a two-word teletype to all of his newspapers: PUFF GRAHAM! The next night the place was crawling with reporters and photographers. I said, “What’s happened?” They said, “You’ve just been kissed by William Randolph Hearst.” 


Who was the other man? 

Rev. Billy Graham:

Henry Luce. At Bernard Baruch’s suggestion, Mr. Luce got on an airplane and flew to Columbia, S.C., where I was preaching and spent three days with me. We stayed in the same house. He wanted to see if I was real. We’d sit up until 2 a.m. talking. After that I was on the cover of LIFE two times and the cover of TIME once. 



Why did you feel compelled to speak out on Watergate?

Rev. Billy Graham:

Richard Nixon was my friend. I admired him a great deal, and I respected him. I knew his father and his mother. I participated in the funeral of his mother. But just as Johnson was caught in the Vietnam war, Nixon was caught in Watergate. In defending some of his friends, Nixon just got deeper and deeper and deeper. He didn’t realize what was happening was actually breaking the law.


Do you think President Nixon was personally guilty of misconduct?

Rev. Billy Graham:

I would have to say he was. I really believed in him, but I didn’t know that all that stuff was on tape. When the language came out which I had never heard, and the apparent misrepresentation to the American people, I was shocked and surprised. This was a Nixon I didn’t know.


Did discovering this “Nixon you didn’t know” change your feeling about him?

Rev. Billy Graham:

I would have to use the word “disappointment.” Yet I still have great affection for Nixon, and great respect for him. As Special Watergate Prosecutor Leon Jaworski said, Nixon went through something worse than death. Nixon amazingly has lived through it. For about a year, we weren’t in contact much. Now our friendship has been reestablished. I stopped in San Clemente recently and spent an hour with him. He’s more like his old self before he became President. He’s joking, he’s kidding, he’s laughing a lot. Watergate was barely mentioned. You can see that he has overcome the psychological hump.


How should Nixon make amends?

Rev. Billy Graham:

Nixon can tell the total truth in the book he’s writing. I think he will. But I could be wrong. I was wrong before.


What do you think is in Nixon’s future?

Rev. Billy Graham:

Mr. Nixon is a tremendous student. After he lost the California governor’s race, he didn’t think he’d ever have a chance politically again. I said to him, “Mr. Lincoln once said, ‘I will prepare, and someday my chance will come.’ ” I said, “You get prepared, and there’ll be a place of service for you somewhere.” I was thinking he might be secretary of state. I was not thinking of him as President of the United States. Now I would seriously doubt if Nixon would ever be called back into government service.

Tags: , , , ,

From the May 11, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Ann Arbor, Mich.–So realistic were the pictures of birds flying in one of the moving picture shows here yesterday that a small lad, with an air rifle, got excited, took aim and fired. The youngster ‘pinked’ the bird’s breast just as it was seemingly flying across the stage, but it kept on flying, the bullet passing through screen.”

Through the prism of structural changes at TaskRabbit, Sam Biddle of Valleywag looks at (perhaps) the future of labor, in which the wishes of workers disappear into algorithms, and we’re all lackeys, everyone Walmarted. You know how you love cheap service? That’s your job now. The opening:

“The employment of the future is here, and it’s terrific for everyone except the people doing the work. TaskRabbit, which lets you outsource the things you don’t want to do to people who need money, is at the forefront of this chore revolution, and it’s already making some lives harder.

In 1994, professors Stanley Aronowitz and William DiFazio published a book titled The Jobless Future, surveying sea changes in the way people work. It didn’t look good: ‘Today, the regime of world economic life consists in scratching every itch of everyday life with sci-tech,’ they wrote. A big heap of trivial problems were being solved by a bigger heap of trivial jobs, marked by a trend ‘toward more low-paid, temporary, benefit-free blue and white collar jobs and fewer decent permanent factory and office jobs.’

Twenty years later, we’ve nearly perfected this ephemeral gig machine with TaskRabbit, a software engine that does for labor what Snapchat’s done for memories.”

Tags: , ,

For a good part of the 1965 season, the outfield at the Houston Astrodome had no actual living grass but a surface of dirt and dead grass painted green. The team had yet to figure out how to block out the glare of the sun and also let enough light into the roofed stadium to grow grass. And there was no Astroturf yet, so the problem was painted over.

California’s drought is forcing a similar solution. At the Guardian, there’s a photo essay about Green Canary, a company which returns brown lawns to their preferred color with the aid of a coat of paint. Here’s a mission statement from the company’s site:

Green Canary is a cost effective, advanced aqueous polymer formulation for maintaining the aesthetic appearance of grass and lawns on residential and commercial properties. Green Canary is a turn key product and service that transforms dry, diseased, or dormant grass into green eye-pleasing turf. This non-toxic surface treatment is safe for children and pets, and Green Canary contains no VOCs or other environmental hazards. What’s more, Green Canary helps to conserve water, minimize maintenance, and eliminate lawn care chemicals. Costing merely a fraction of new grass and traditional upkeep, Green Canary will have you seeing green — in your yard, as well as your pocket book.”

Three entries from “17 Ways Driverless Cars Could Change America,” by Dan McLaughlin of the Federalist, which meditates on the consequences (and unintended consequences) of autonomous vehicles.


4. Changing Who Can Drive: Driving, today, is a hallmark of responsible adulthood. Getting a driver’s license at 16 or 17, and learning to safely operate a motor vehicle, is a major rite of passage. High schools spend teaching time on Driver’s Ed. Driver’s licenses are the most widely-used form of photo identification, and whether the government should issue them to people who are in the country illegally is a continuing source of political controversy. People with serious physical or mental handicaps cannot drive. People who have had too much to drink, or are high on drugs or heavily medicated, cannot or should not drive. And at the other end, for the elderly, losing the ability to drive when their eyesight and reflexes fail can be a major blow to their independence.

None of these things need be true of a driverless car. A child old enough to ride a bicycle or take the subway unescorted could be old enough to take a driverless car trip, especially assuming (as discussed below) improvements in anti-theft technologies and the impossibility of even moving the car without being tracked. The elderly and the handicapped could gain greatly from the increased mobility and independence of being able to use a driverless car to go places and shop for groceries. On the other hand, the demise of the driver’s license creates challenges for the many ways in which it is used as a de facto identification card, and could create pressure for a new federal identification card.


7. Destroying Car Culture: Here we move from the specific to the general, because cars, in America, are not just an appliance. They represent a deep expression of how American culture expressed and asserted itself in the 20th Century. Cars meant independence, and the bond between an American—particularly an American man—and his car was deep and profound, the subject of numerous songs and movies. People drive for fun, to see places, to get away, they tinker with their cars, love their cars, and argue about their merits. That bond will inevitably be lost in a world where the car is no longer controlled and steered by the individual, but is simply a delivery service for a requested address.

Sentiment aside, this is the cost of progress. In the 19th Century, we had a horse culture. Horses were the companion of the settler, the wagon train, the cavalryman, the cowboy. Even if you lived in a big city, where people traveled by carriage and goods were delivered by horse-drawn wagons, most every American knew some of the basics of horsemanship: how to mount a horse, win a horse’s trust, command and steer a horse, and re-shoe a horse at need. Today, horsemanship is the province of the very rich, the very rural, and those who make a living dealing with horses, and is alien to most Americans. In time, the same will be true of car culture—the wealthy will race on private tracks, the country boys and girls will drive off road, but the rest of us will be escorted around by machines without thought for how to drive them. We may not even be able to foresee all the ways that changes how we view our own lives and the culture we live in.


15. Fewer Used Cars, More Inequality: The more cars involve electronics rather than simple machinery, the costlier they are to design and repair, and the shorter their likely shelf life. That’s bad news for poorer people who want to own one. Traditionally, the low end of the used-car market was a haven for men, especially young men, who had little money but had the know-how to keep a fading piece of machinery running for a few more years. Doing that with the kind of sophisticated computer systems and pricey components needed to run driverless navigation systems is something a lot fewer young men, especially the less educated, are prepared to do.


« Older entries § Newer entries »