Urban Studies

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The problem with pundits is that it almost doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong, provided that they have a forceful personality and can put on a show. The news keeps cycling, its white noise drowning the wrong-headed shouts that should have been embarrassing, that should have carried consequences. In a new GQ postmortem, Michael Wolff points out that despite popular opinion, Christopher Hitchens was just as much of a toolbox as he is. An excerpt:

“This transformation from political irregular and zealous polemicist to towering moral figure was curious, if not amazing, to many people (perhaps all of us) whose careers had intersected with his. How did the character actor become a leading man? How did the fool become a sage? And what about the bad stuff? Not just his full-throttled embrace of the Bush war but, before that, his casual and convenient betrayal of his friend, Hillary Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal, back in the Monica Lewinsky days. Or his take on Bill Clinton, as virulent as that of the most kooky right-wingers. Or his weirdly tolerant relationship with some of the era’s most infamous Holocaust deniers. These are the kind of epochal contretemps that, in the chattering class, usually make for deep enmity rather than enduring love.

Then, too, this sui generis British figure, full of British class issues, British political hair-splitting, British literary conceits, and plummy accent to boot, became, in his transmutation, a super-American – a gunslinger journalist.

What was the nature of Hitchens’ alchemy?

He was, self-styled, a writer engaged with his time, a bookish man called to join the day’s great and bloody battles of conscience. But really his issues were largely of another era: internecine squabbles on the left; a Cold War attention to the world’s geo-sectarian divisions; God’s existence… or not. He never much grappled with technology, or money, or media, or the developing world’s rising middle class – influences that, surely, were remaking the world a lot faster and a lot more profoundly than his long- time preoccupations.

He saw himself as a Sixties guy, even making the case that he was a significant figure in the tumultuous period from 1966 to 1968: ‘I did my stuff in helping my American comrades discredit first President Johnson and then President Nixon.’ Although, in fact, he was still a teenager in 1968. (‘If you remember the Sixties,’ in Robin Williams’ famous formulation, ‘you weren’t there.’) His was a nostalgic show.”

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While Charles Blondin gained fame by crossing over Niagara Falls on a tightrope, and Steve Brodie gained even greater notice by pretending to go over it in a barrel, only “Professor” Alphonse King tried to traverse its channel with tin shoes of his own invention. His results were mixed. From the December 12, 1886 New York Times:

Buffalo–An attempt was made to-day to outrival the feats of Donovan, Graham, Hanslitt, Potts and Allen in braving the terrors of Niagara, which though a failure in one way, was a success in another. Mr. Alphonse King, who is the inventor of a water shoe, gave exhibitions some years ago in this country and Mexico and not long ago in Europe. He gave one in the Crystal Palace in London, and while there attracted the attention of Harry Webb, an old-time manager, who made him an offer of a year’s engagement to come to this country. While here some time ago Mr. King had looked over Niagara River below the Falls and believed that he could walk across the channel on the patent shoes. He came to this country four weeks ago and has since that time been in New-York City practicing for the trip. While there, Thomas Bowe, hearing of King’s determination to attempt the trip, made a wager of $1,500 with Webb that King could not walk 100 feet in the current. The money was deposited with a New-York newspaper, and on Friday afternoon Messrs. King and Webb, accompanied by A.C. Poole, of Poole’s Eighth Street Theatre, reached the Falls.

The trip to-day gave King two cold water baths, and demonstrated that while he could walk with or against the current all right it was impossible to walk across the river because of the eddies, which twice upset them. He retired confident that what he set out to do could not be done. King’s ‘shoes’ are of tin, 32 inches long, 8 inches wide, sloping at the top, and 9 inches deep. Each weighs 30 pounds. They are air-tight and have in the middle an opening large enough to admit the feet of the wearer. At the bottom are a series of paddles, which operate automatically as fins.”

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From a new WBUR interview with cell-phone inventor Martin Cooper, who was inspired to his invention by Star Trek communicators, a passage about his very hopeful prognostication for the future of the cell:

“Cooper sees other revolutions coming as a result of cell phone technology.

‘Just suppose that you could do a physical examination, not every year, which people do and which is almost worthless, but every minute, because you’re connected, and because we have devices that you can put on your body that measure virtually everything on your body. If you could be sensing your body all the time and anticipate a disease before it happens,’ Cooper said.

A computer would process the data, Cooper said, and detect illness and disease before they took hold. It could then instruct a patient on what to do to stop the illness.

‘If you extrapolate that thought, we are going to eliminate the concept of disease. And I think that’s going to happen within the next generation or two,’ he said.

In addition to health care, he sees changes in education, as learning tools become more mobile and students are able to spend more time out in the world learning.

‘If we don’t blow ourselves up, this is going to be a really wonderful world,’ Cooper said.”

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I guess the essential question for Time Inc. and Time magazine in particular is this: No matter how good a job the current editors and managers do, can it be enough for the brand to survive, let alone thrive? There has always been amazing talent there (and still is), but a monolith has trouble adapting, regardless of how much cash at hand or head start it has. The company’s first foray into digital in the mid-1990s, Pathfinder, was a huge flop because editors at the various publications were reluctant to give away their content. And as media decentralization broadened as cable TV gave way to the Internet, where everyone has a channel or 200 of their own, a behemoth with large fixed costs has trouble keeping the “barbarians” at the gates. Rick Stengel has proven a very good choice as Time‘s editor at the moment of digital do or die, but has too much terrain already been ceded? Is the war even winnable?

From “Running Out of Time,” Joshua Macht’s very good Atlantic article with a very bad title:

The newsweekly’s long slide has been blamed on pretty much everything from lack of investment to the AOL merger. And of course there’s the notion that the newsweekly category itself is simply no longer viable–that in the age of the Internet, the weekly rhythm is just too long. But then why the success of The Week or the Economist? For Time, the challenge wasn’t just the weekly print cycle; it was the weekly print cycle plus a crushing load of fixed costs. It’s expensive to support a model that demands reporters around the world, big name columnists, and massive distribution. The high costs means that there’s virtually no room for Time to stumble.

Unfortunately, the brand would fall hard. I joined Time magazine in the summer of 2002 just after the bursting of the dot-com bubble. The largest project during my tenure as editor and general manager of Time.com was to digitize the entire archive going back to March of 1923 – which pushed me deep into Time magazine lore. I tracked the early days when the magazine first took flight to the WWII era when Time could sell more than 400,000 copies in a week even with some little-known Italian general on the cover.

It kept on growing after that. At its zenith the brand could reach more than 20 million people around the world each week. Time practically defined what it meant to be mass media. It was a brand for pretty much everybody. Television and then cable news (CNN in particular) eventually began to chip away at its position, and Time went though struggles and repeated attempts at reinvention through the years. But it took the arrival of the Internet to truly endanger it.”

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Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister, who just passed away, in a brief on-air spat with David Front in 1985 during the Falklands War. Thatcher, an iron-fisted conservative and the European parallel to Ronald Reagan, was often derided for being cruel to have-nots. She is not warmly remembered in her country while Reagan largely is in his. What does that say? Anything?

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There are no UFOs and there never were, so it’s good that there aren’t nearly as many reports these days of people seeing them. Is that because we’re more rational now? Perhaps, but we don’t seem very rational with our politics and conspiracy theories. Is it because cameras are everywhere and all-knowing? Maybe. Because we trust more now in technology and science than in religion? Could be. 

In his new Aeon essay, “Seeing Is Believing,” Stuart Walton tries to understand why there are no more aliens in the sky, no more ghosts in the machine. An excerpt:

“UFO sightings reached their spate roughly within a decade of the release of Steven Spielberg’s spellbinding filmClose Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). One good reason to believe there were never any UFOS is that nobody sees them any more. Once, the skies were refulgent with alien craft; now they are back to their primordial emptiness, returning only static to the radio telescopes, and offering the occasional meteor shower to the wondering eye.

It isn’t only flying saucers that have receded into history. They are being followed, more gradually to be sure, by a decline in sightings of ghosts, recordings of poltergeists, claims of psychokinesis and the rest, as is regularly attested by organisations such as the Society for Psychical Research in London and the UK-wide research group Para.Science. Many of those with a vested interest in the supernatural industry naturally resist this contention, but there is far less credulity among the public for tales of the extraordinary than there was even a generation ago. The standard explanation attributes this to growing skepticism. But, as is only fitting for the paranormal, it might be that there are more mysterious forces at work.”

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1973: “For weeks now there have been reports of sightings of UFOs in many parts of the country.”

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I’m still not completely convinced people will be any more willing to give up the wheels of their cars than they are their guns, but development of driverless cars continues apace. From an article by Rick Montgomery at AP, some questions being asked as driving becomes increasingly automated:

“The question has sped beyond whether or not technology will ever let motorists read a magazine en route to work — which techies say is a reality nearer than you think.

Rather, society has begun to ask: Do we really want this?

Computer engineer Don Wunsch voices an emphatic yes.

‘The days of human drivers deserve to be numbered,’ said Wunsch, a professor at the Missouri University of Science & Technology in Rolla. ‘Humans are lousy drivers. It’s about time computers take over that job.’

Others note that the rush to make autos fully autonomous, and conceivably far safer, promises to run into huge societal bumps.

In a transportation center such as Kansas City, how many truckers won’t be needed in 2025? How will insurance companies react when hands-free accidents happen — and nobody disputes they will — or roadside sensors go awry?

Will systems navigating 21st-century vehicles reach obsolescence and need costly upgrades every few years, like today’s smartphones? And, perhaps the most critical question, who will make certain these innovations will make travel less deadly?

‘You have these brand new capabilities coming to the market at a time of grossly inadequate funding’ of federal safety regulators, said Clarence Ditlow of the Washington-based Center for Auto Safety, a watchdog group.

Only after risky ‘experimentation on the road,’ he said, will the public’s overall safety in a driverless world be known.”

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From Edward Luce’s new Financial Times profile of Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, a passage about the marketization of morality:

I ask him about his latest book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, in which he argues that the US and other countries are turning from market economies into market societies, as Lionel Jospin, the former French prime minister, once put it. Sandel argues that we live in a time of deepening ‘market faith’ in which fewer and fewer exceptions are permitted to the prevailing culture of transaction. The book has infuriated some economists, whom he sees as practitioners of a ‘spurious science.’

He has been at loggerheads with the profession for many years. In 1997, he enraged economists when he attacked the Kyoto protocol on global warming as having removed ‘moral stigma’ from bad activity by turning the right to pollute into a tradeable permit. Economists said he misunderstood why markets work. Sandel retorts that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. To judge by his sellout lecture tours, he has clearly tapped into a larger disquiet about the commodification of life.

Which countries are the least receptive to his concerns about market fundamentalism? ‘China and the US – no question,’ he replies instantly. ‘In other parts of east Asia, in Europe and in the UK and in India and Brazil, it goes without arguing that there are moral limits to markets and the question is where to locate them. In the US and China, there are strong voices who will challenge the whole idea of there being any limits.’”

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“What’s you answer, smartypants?” asks TV’s best talk-show host.

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Greg Lindsay co-authored the smart book, Aerotropolis, which I’ve blogged about before. In the New York Times, he has a new article about work places arranging their space to overcome “structural holes,” hoping to “engineer” serendipity and creativity. An excerpt:

“ONE reason structural holes persist is our overwhelming preference for face-to-face interactions. Almost 40 years ago, Thomas J. Allen, a professor of management and engineering at M.I.T., found that colleagues who are out of sight are frequently out of mind — we are four times as likely to communicate regularly with someone sitting six feet away from us as we are with someone 60 feet away, and almost never with colleagues in separate buildings or floors.

And we get a particular intellectual charge from sharing ideas in person. In a paper published last year, researchers at Arizona State University used sensors and surveys to study creativity within teams. Participants felt most creative on days spent in motion meeting people, not working for long stretches at their desks.

The sensors in the A.S.U. study were supplied by Sociometric Solutions, a spinoff company of the M.I.T. Media Lab’s Human Dynamics Laboratory that uses ‘sociometric badges’ to measure workers’ movements, speech and conversational partners. One discovery, says Ben Waber, a co-founder of the company and a visiting scientist at M.I.T., was that employees who ate at cafeteria tables designed for 12 were more productive than those at tables for four, thanks to more chance conversations and larger social networks. That, along with things like companywide lunch hours and the cafes Google is so fond of, can boost individual productivity by as much as 25 percent.

‘If you just think of serendipity as an interaction with an unintended outcome, you can orchestrate pleasant surprises,’ says Scott Doorley, a creative director at Stanford University’s Institute of Design.”

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From the February 15, 1884 New York Times

Youngstown, Ohio–Kitty Gilmour, daughter of the late Dr. Gilmour, of New Lisbon, died on Monday after six hours’ illness. Physicians pronounced the disease hemorrhage of the bowels. The body was placed in a vault here. At 2 o’clock this afternoon the undertaker went to the vault to bury another body and discovered moisture on the glass of Miss Gilmour’s coffin and noticed that her face was flushed. He summoned Dr. Nelson, the girl’s uncle, who ordered the body to be taken to his house. It was quickly removed from the coffin and placed on a cot. The doctor found on placing his hand underneath the body that it was warm. Bottles filled with hot water were placed at the feet and along the sides, an electric battery was applied ineffectually, and every known restorative used, but at 8 o’clock to-night none had been very effective. The appearance of the corpse was very life-like, a natural color overspreading the entire face except the chin, on which is a purple spot. The neck and arms have not stiffened. The folded hands clutch a bouquet of white roses. At the throat is a bunch of tuberoses. The lady was 24 years old, and was to have been married in a few months. She was the only child of a widowed mother, who is almost crazed with grief and suspense. Much excitement exists. A council of physicians has been summoned who will experiment with the body during the night.”

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"Tricked ."

“Tricked.”

clean urine needed – $50 (carroll gardens)

I will pay $20 for a clean sample and another $30 for a total of $50 for a clean sample for Monday. must test clean first before money exchanges and then must be a male under the age of 35.

I have tested clean for almost a year and unfortunately got tricked into doing something Wrong this weekend.

We’re better and worse than ever in America. We’re haves, but we’re have-nots. Technology has gleefully led to a decentralization of media power, and science is accomplishing what was once sci-fi. Hollywood can barely keep up with the world, let alone predict it, as the Dream Factory has been outpaced by reality, However, we’re also deeply narcissistic, most often using our amazing technology merely like mirrors, distracted by our distorted sense of self, so much so that we seem unable to address a political and economic system that has run aground. And the mainstream culture is irredeemably stupid, all “housewives” and halfwits. If you want to see how much we’ve slipped in that regard, just have a look at an issue of People magazine from the 1970s, when pop singers and public intellectuals shared the pages. You can’t blame the People people for a culture that has become saturated with stupidity. They’re just taking the pulse.

But could a revolution of some sort wipe all the inequity away? I doubt it, because we love being entertained by clever toys and reflecting pools. Of course, if personal power and narrowcasting become political and writ large, that could change. Occupy Wall Street, despite being derided as a short-lived, fashionable failure, actually framed a Presidential election. But can such a movement do more than frame? Can it break the glass?

From “A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse,” David Graeber’s new Baffler article:

Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom—that the current economic and political system is the only possible one—the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance. Next, you are likely to be asked for a detailed program of how this system will be brought into existence. Historically, this is ridiculous. When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called “capitalism,” figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. In fact, the idea is so absurd we might well ask ourselves how it ever occurred to us to imagine this is how change happens to begin.

This is not to say there’s anything wrong with utopian visions. Or even blueprints. They just need to be kept in their place. The theorist Michael Albert has worked out a detailed plan for how a modern economy could run without money on a democratic, participatory basis. I think this is an important achievement—not because I think that exact model could ever be instituted, in exactly the form in which he describes it, but because it makes it impossible to say that such a thing is inconceivable. Still, such models can be only thought experiments. We cannot really conceive of the problems that will arise when we start trying to build a free society. What now seem likely to be the thorniest problems might not be problems at all; others that never even occurred to us might prove devilishly difficult. There are innumerable X-factors.

The most obvious is technology. This is the reason it’s so absurd to imagine activists in Renaissance Italy coming up with a model for a stock exchange and factories—what happened was based on all sorts of technologies that they couldn’t have anticipated, but which in part only emerged because society began to move in the direction that it did. This might explain, for instance, why so many of the more compelling visions of an anarchist society have been produced by science fiction writers (Ursula K. Le Guin, Starhawk, Kim Stanley Robinson). In fiction, you are at least admitting the technological aspect is guesswork.”

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There are plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike Don King, the boxing promoter in decline. He’s a liar and a manipulator and, worst of all, he coldly discarded the very boxers who sacrificed their health for his bottom line, treating them like so many disposable commodities. But none of those character flaws are the main thing that made him so reviled at his apex. He was hated because he dared to be black and a capitalist in an age before rappers perfected the greed-is-good ethos. He didn’t aspire to be twice as good as his white counterparts as African-Americans are often expected to be, but instead hustled his way into the money game, bending and breaking its protean rules, gleefully pointing out that his hands were no dirtier than anyone else’s, just darker. Only in America.

The opening of “The End of Don King,” Jay Caspian Kang’s excellent new Grantland profile of the former national figure in his dotage:

“In the back room of Manhattan’s Carnegie Deli, Don King picked at a pastrami sandwich with his fingers. He had just been asked a question about his electric hair and, for the first time in a day filled with radio and television interviews, King paused before he spoke. A cautious look crept over his graying eyes. As he silently deliberated between several well-worn origin myths about the height of that hair, King tweezed a scrap of pastrami between two well-manicured fingernails and dragged the meat through a puddle of deli mustard. ‘My hair is God’s aura,’ King explained while chewing. ‘Everything went up when I got home from the penitentiary. One night I went to lie down next to my wife and my hair started popping and uncurling all on its own — ping, ping, ping, ping! I knew that it was God telling me to stay on the righteous path so he could one day pull me up to be there with him.”

King smiled, but not the smile you remember. That smile — the screwed-on mask of boundless optimism — had been on full display throughout this week of promotions, but at the Carnegie, King had finally succumbed to exhaustion. ‘When I’m doing good, the hair goes straight up,’ King said, a bit wearily. ‘Now that things are difficult, the hair has gotten a little flatter.’

I had been trailing Don King for two weeks between Boca Raton, Florida, and now New York City. This was the closest he had come to admitting that things just weren’t what they used to be. In three days’ time, Tavoris ‘Thunder’ Cloud, King’s last fighter of any consequence, would step into the ring against Bernard Hopkins at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The story of the fight should have been about the 48-year-old Hopkins and his quest to become the oldest champion in boxing history. But because Don King was involved, the focus during fight week had been on Don King and his uncertain future. If Cloud lost to Hopkins — especially in a boring way — his short career as an opponent in televised events would be put in serious jeopardy and King would have very little left to promote. In a pre-fight interview, Hopkins, who, like so many other fighters, had worked with King before an inevitable falling-out, had this to say about his old promoter: ‘What a way to put the last nail in the coffin. Who thought it would be me that would shut him down?’

At the Carnegie, nobody was talking much about Tavoris Cloud or Bernard Hopkins or the impending end of Don King Promotions. King had come to one of his favorite New York landmarks to enjoy a quiet lunch with three longtime employees. They talked, mostly, about music and old times in Manhattan, the city where King lived and worked during the majority of his reign at the top of boxing. The conversation eventually turned to James Brown. Don King, still digging his fingers into his sandwich, muttered, ‘James Brown died owing me $50,000. But I loved James Brown.’”

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From the thoughtful people at Boston Dynamics, a new, camouflaged and more lifelike version of Petman. From the company’s copy: “PETMAN has sensors embedded in its skin that detect any chemicals leaking through the suit. The skin also maintains a micro-climate inside the clothing by sweating and regulating temperature.”

Moving automated grading beyond multiple choice ovals and No. 2 pencils, a new software has been developed that is said to be capable of grading essays. This can’t be good. From John Markoff in the New York Times:

Imagine taking a college exam, and, instead of handing in a blue book and getting a grade from a professor a few weeks later, clicking the ‘send’ button when you are done and receiving a grade back instantly, your essay scored by a software program.

And then, instead of being done with that exam, imagine that the system would immediately let you rewrite the test to try to improve your grade.EdX, the nonprofit enterprise founded by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to offer courses on the Internet, has just introduced such a system and will make its automated software available free on the Web to any institution that wants to use it. The software uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks. 

The new service will bring the educational consortium into a growing conflict over the role of automation in education.”

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Muhammad Ali visits with Dick Cavett in 1978 in the wake of his loss to Leon Spinks. Ali, now slowed and beloved, would win a rematch in his final great moment as a boxer, but he really, really should have been retired for several years at this point. 

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The new technologies allow us to learn more about ourselves (when we’re not busy using them to delude ourselves), but the they also provide this information to corporations and governments. From “The Age of Digital Improvability,” Sunil Khilnani’s Livemint piece about the double-edged sword of the “self-quant” movement:

“In the past that technocratic ambition was associated with states and government—benign know-alls who would govern in the interests of the populace. That dream has now resurfaced, in a form more attractive to a generation mistrustful of government and the state, but enamored of their own capacity to manage their well-being.

Now, the dream of continuous self-improvement can be realized by our own actions, with our own gadgets. We can all now discover our own inner technocrat—that better self, who compiles the data, creates the databanks, and then seeks to regulate our behavior to bring it into line with ‘best practice.’ Like the mirror in the gym, digital tracking becomes a perpetually at-hand guide to make us self-aware of our patterns and habits—and, as with the mirror in the gym, it also lets us steal glances at the performance of others, so we can compare and improve.

And yet. Self-quantification may be a way of making us feel unique—creating our own individual number profile. But it also turns us into a statistic, an impersonal number that can be compared with others. The accumulation of large data sets on habits and actions, the creation of ranking systems for products, services, experiences—all this gives governments and policymakers, companies and organizations, the raw material through which to shape our behavior. New policy strategies are emerging, connecting such data with behavioral psychology.”

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There was a brief mention on the New Yorker site the other day about one of the first science stories the magazine ever published, Malcolm Ross’ 1931 article “The Invention Factory,” a Depression-era look inside Bell Labs early in the century it dominated world science. As Jon Gertner reminded in last year’s The Idea Factory, Bell Labs was rewriting the rules of communication back when talkies were the newest thing. An excerpt from the gated piece that highlights just three ways that AT&T’s research division was changing life at the time the article was published:

“The most recent achievement of the Laboratories is the improvement of airplane radiotelephony to the point where a pilot can be heard anytime that he wants to talk to groundlings. For the past year two airplanes have been flying around New Jersey, by day and by night, in the worst weather they can find, near the ground and at high altitudes. A neat pattern of efficiency under all conditions was accumulated. The equipment engineers studied it and tinkered again with their devices. Already every mail pilot over the Alleghenies has a human voice from below to direct him.

Fairly soon the teletypewriter girl may make her Wall Street debut. The machines are the same as those one hundred and twenty-two electrical typewriters now used in the New York State Police network. A message typed on one will reproduce on any, or all, of the others. The new trick is a switchboard which will connect all subscribers to the service. You will call Operator by pounding ‘OPR.’ She plugs in your correspondent and what you type on your machine comes out on his. This puts business deals in printed form, which is better confirmation than spoken words and cheaper than telegrams. If your party isn’t in his office, Operator lets you write on his typewriter and he finds your message when he gets back. …

Hollywood, of course, relies on Bell Laboratory for its technology. Eight months ago the Laboratories turned over to Hollywood an improved sound-recording system which nearly eliminates the buzzing noise which is continually present in all talkies made under the former method. To demonstrate the improvement they made a talkie which begins with the usual blurred sound background, then suddenly clears. The difference is impressive enough to make you conscious of a distinct gratitude for the release from noisy irritation.”

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From the July 5, 1908 New York Times:

“‘Nimbo,’ a pet monkey belonging to Mrs. Mary Blackwell, a widow, who lives in a three-story frame house at 1,770 Bath Avenue, Bath Beach, sat in the parlor window yesterday afternoon watching the boys in the street set off firecrackers. Mrs. Blackwell was on the lawn in front of her house watching the youngsters also.

She happened to turn around, however, and saw Nimbo in the act of striking a match and setting fire to the lace curtains at the parlor windows in imitation of the boys in the street. Mrs. Blackwell gave the alarm, but before firemen reached the house it was in flames.

Mrs. Blackwell had to be restrained by the police to prevent her running into the house after Nimbo, and she begged the firemen to save him. They tried, but when they reached the monkey they found he was dead and his body burned almost to a crisp. Mrs. Blackwell was heartbroken over the monkey’s death.”

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“Mirror!!!”

A Fat Guy Called Me Fat. (Sad Chubby Guy)

I could not believe a guy fatter than me had the nerve to call me fat. I also always see this happening in TV talk shows. Mirror!!! 

The opening of an Economist report about H7N9, a scary new strain of avian flu that has yet to display the capacity for spreading from human to human:

“WU LIANGLIANG went to hospital on March 1st with a tickly cough. After a number of hours hooked up to a saline drip, the 27-year-old pork butcher went home. When he still felt poorly a few days later Mr Wu returned to hospital and was diagnosed with a pulmonary infection. But then instead of recovering, as was expected for a man his age, Wu’s condition worsened rapidly. On March 10th, he became the second person known to have been killed by H7N9, a novel strain of avian flu not previously seen in humans. 

There are now nine identified human cases of H7N9 in the Yangzi delta region, which includes Shanghai, three of which have been fatal. The most recent death reported, announced on April 3rd, was a 38-year-old chef, surnamed Hong, who died in late March. Mr Hong worked in Jiangsu, the province next to Shanghai where four of the other people who contracted H7N9 live (a nearly real-time map endeavours to track the cases). The remaining cases are all in critical condition, but in general they have not deteriorated as swiftly as Mr Wu did. A 35-year-old woman in Anhui province is still alive 22 days after she first became ill.

Many questions surround H7N9’s origin, pattern of infection and treatment (there is no vaccine). Early analyses of the genetic sequence of the virus, which the Chinese authorities have shared with the world, suggest that a familiar strain of avian flu has mutated. Previously infectious only to birds, H7N9 appears now to be able to bind with mammalian cells, making it possible to jump from chickens to animals such as pigs. The World Health Organization (WHO) maintains that that there is no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission. If the virus were well adapted to jump between humans, the thinking goes, clearer evidence of transmission would already have emerged among the victims’ close contacts.”

Facing climate change and the cataclysms it may bring, can we–and should we–geoengineer our way out of the situation, essentially taking control of the weather? It’s a question explored by Adam Corner in an Aeon essay. An excerpt:

Officially, climate policy is all about energy efficiency, renewables and nuclear power. Officially, the target of keeping global temperatures within two degrees of the pre-industrial revolution average is still in our sights. But the voices whispering that we might have left it too late are no longer automatically dismissed as heretical. Wouldn’t it be better, they ask, to have at least considered some other options — in case things get really bad?

This is the context in which various scary, implausible or simply bizarre proposals are being put on the table. They range from the relatively mundane (the planting of forests on a grand scale), to the crazy but conceivable (a carbon dioxide removal industry, to capture our emissions and bury them underground), to the barely believable (injecting millions of tiny reflective particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight). In fact, the group of technologies awkwardly yoked together under the label ‘geoengineering’ have very little in common beyond their stated purpose: to keep the dangerous effects of climate change at bay.

Monkeying around with the Earth’s systems at a planetary scale obviously presents a number of unknown — and perhaps unknowable — dangers. How might other ecosystems be affected if we start injecting reflective particles into space? What would happen if the carbon dioxide we stored underground were to escape? What if the cure of engineering the climate is worse than the disease? But I think that it is too soon to get worked up about the risks posed by any individual technology. The vast majority of geoengineering ideas will never get off the drawing board. Right now, we should be asking more fundamental questions.”

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Los Angeles is the first city in the world to synchronize all of its streetlights, which will only ease congestion a little but even that much will eat away at carbon emissions. From Ian Lovett in the New York Times:

“Built up over 30 years at a cost of $400 million and completed only several weeks ago, the Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control system, as it is officially known, offers Los Angeles one of the world’s most comprehensive systems for mitigating traffic.

The system uses magnetic sensors in the road that measure the flow of traffic, hundreds of cameras and a centralized computer system that makes constant adjustments to keep cars moving as smoothly as possible. The city’s Transportation Department says the average speed of traffic across the city is 16 percent faster under the system, with delays at major intersections down 12 percent.

Without synchronization, it takes an average of 20 minutes to drive five miles on Los Angeles streets; with synchronization, it has fallen to 17.2 minutes, the city says. And the average speed on the city’s streets is now 17.3 miles per hour, up from 15 m.p.h. without synchronized lights.

Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, who pledged to complete the system in his 2005 campaign, now presents it as a significant accomplishment as his two terms in office comes to an end in June. He argued that the system would also cut carbon emissions by reducing the number of times cars stop and start.”

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“She was the daughter of a sailor who began tattooing when she was but 6 years of age.”

A sailor’s daughter was covered in ink from a tender age, as seen in an article in the March 19, 1882 New York Times:

“Miss Irene Woodward is a brown-haired, brown-eyed maiden of about 19 years of age of medium-size, and of pleasing appearance. She claims to be tattooed on every part of her body from her neck to her heels. During a reception of three hours at the Sinclair House yesterday afternoon she was attired in a scant costume of black velvet and gold. A close-fitting bodice or jacket, trimmed with gold bullion and fringe stopped an inch or more above the knee. The bodice was cut low in the neck and edged across the bosom with lace ruching. The visitors were permitted to look upon the quaintly decorated skin of the upper portions of the chest and back, the arms, and the exposed surface of the lower limbs. Miss Woodward remarked that she felt a little bashful about being looked at the way, never having worn the costume in the presence of men before. The tattooing, which was done in Indian ink, appeared artistic, and the devices were varied and attractive. Around the neck was observed a floral necklace. Dependent from this was a bunch of roses in full bloom drooping until their graceful forms were lost beneath the lace edging of the bodice. The rising sun was illustrated on each shoulder and the arms were covered with stars, hearts, floating angels, wreaths, harps, crosses, a full-rigged ship, and various mottoes. The young woman’s back, it was said, was completely covered with a large cross, heart, and anchor. Upon the lower limbs were pictures very numerous and complicated. Miss Woodward states that she was the daughter of a sailor who began tattooing when she was but 6 years of age and finished it when she was 12. She was born near Dallas, Texas, and has spent the greater part of her life in the Western wilds. She conceived the idea of exhibiting herself after seeing the tattooed Greek in Denver. On and after to-morrow she will figure among the multitude of curiosities at Bunnell’s Museum, at Broadway and Ninth Street.”

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Because all the poor people finally have sufficient food and shelter, we felt it was now appropriate to invent a hovercraft golf cart. I wish this were an April Fool’s Day joke, but it appears to be real. After a relaxing nine holes, let’s go to potter’s field and dig up dead beggars and use their bones to batter the current beggars.

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