Urban Studies

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If you need more proof that software-driven cars will be safer than those with humans behind the wheel, it should be noted that the Google self-driving vehicles have yet to get a ticket. Not one. From Alexis C. Madrigal at the Atlantic:

“On a drive in a convoy of Google’s autonomous vehicles last week, a difficult driving situation arose.

As our platoon approached a major intersection, two Google cars ahead of us crept forward into the intersection, preparing to make left turns. The oncoming traffic took nearly the whole green light to clear, so the first car made the left as the green turned to yellow. The second, however, was caught in that tough spot where the car is in the intersection but the light is turning, and the driver can either try to back up out of the intersection or gun it and make the left, even though he or she or it knows the light is going to turn red before the maneuver is complete. The self-driving car gunned it, which was the correct decision, I think. But it was also the kind of decision that was on the borderline of legality.

It got me wondering: had these cars ever gotten a ticket driving around Mountain View, where they’ve logged 10,000 miles?

‘We have not cited any Google self-driving cars,’ Sergeant Saul Jaeger, the press information officer at the Mountain View Police Department, told me. They hadn’t pulled one over and let the vehicle go, either, to Jaeger’s knowledge.

I wondered if that was because of a pre-existing agreement between Google and the department, but Jaeger said, ‘There is no agreement in place between Google and the PD.’

Google confirmed that they none of their cars had ever been ticketed in Mountain View or elsewhere.”

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From the June 1, 1932 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Chicago–Young moderns aren’t so casual about their marriage vows as they’ve been painted.

Two of them, Miss Harriet Berger, 21, and Vaclaw Hund, 24, were married yesterday by Judge Charles B. Adams while they were strapped to Northwestern University’s ‘lie detector,’ and this is what happened:

When the judge asked Hund if he would ‘take this woman,’ the bride’s heart almost stopped, and it skipped a beat when the judge said, ‘I pronounce you man and wife.’

The bridegroom’s blood pressure sank steadily throughout the ceremony, and the bride’s rose–all of which the judge said, proved that they really love each other.”


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In a Guardian piece by Andrew Pulver about David Cronenberg, who’s at Cannes for the screening of his latest film, Maps to the Stars, the director asserts that the automobile deserves a place alongside the Pill in green-lighting the sexual revolution. And now that tablets and smartphones are more important than cars, what does that say about us? From Pulver’s article:

“Cronenberg was also quizzed on his fondness for sex scenes set in cars, with one journalist pointing out it went all the way back to his JG Ballard adaptation Crash. Cronenberg replied, not entirely seriously: ‘Crash was suppressed by Ted Turner [CEO of TBS, parent company of Crash’s US distributor Fine Line] because he said it would encourage them to have sex in cars. I said: there’s an entire generation of Americans who have been spawned in the back seats of 1954 Fords. I doubt I invented sex in cars. You have to remember, part of the sexual revolution came about because of the automobile, because young people could get away from their parents, and that was freedom. I don’t think I’m breaking any new territory.

‘I mean… why wouldn’t you? There are such great cars around.'”


In 1979, David Cronenberg discusses casting porn star Marilyn Chambers:

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Christopher Mims, now at the Wall Street Journal, has a new column that explains the basics of so-called “fog computing,” likely the next step beyond cloud computing as the Internet becomes the Internet of Things. An excerpt:

“Modern 3G and 4G cellular networks simply aren’t fast enough to transmit data from devices to the cloud at the pace it is generated, and as every mundane object at home and at work gets in on this game, it’s only going to get worse.

Luckily there’s an obvious solution: Stop focusing on the cloud, and start figuring out how to store and process the torrent of data being generated by the Internet of Things (also known as the industrial Internet) on the things themselves, or on devices that sit between our things and the Internet.

Marketers at Cisco Systems Inc. have already come up with a name for this phenomenon: fog computing.

I like the term. Yes, it makes you want to do a Liz Lemon eye roll. But like cloud computing before it—also a marketing term for a phenomenon that was already under way—it’s a good visual metaphor for what’s going on.

Whereas the cloud is ‘up there’ in the sky somewhere, distant and remote and deliberately abstracted, the ‘fog’ is close to the ground, right where things are getting done. It consists not of powerful servers, but weaker and more dispersed computers of the sort that are making their way into appliances, factories, cars, street lights and every other piece of our material culture.”


John W. Hulbert, New York State’s executioner from 1913 to 1926, was responsible for ending 142 lives, if you count his own. A shadowy “electrician,” he put the convicted to death on the hot seat, protected his privacy with great vigilance and hated his work. “I got tired of killing people,” he reportedly said when retiring from the job, following a nervous breakdown. The haunted man took his own life three years later. Volts were not necessary as Hulbert fired shots into his chest and temple with the gun he steadfastly carried to thwart potential revenge plots hatched by the loved ones of those he had offered a chair. He always dodged these pursuers, real or imagined, but could not ultimately escape the demons within. From an article in the Feb 23, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Auburn, N.Y.–The terse report of a coroner’s physician today cleared the mystery surrounding the death of John W. Hulbert, 55, former state executioner and long known as Auburn’s ‘man of mystery.’

‘Death by suicide’ were the words Dr. William E. Walsh used to report the findings of an autopsy he conducted on Hulbert, after the retired executioner had been found dead in the cellar of his home here yesterday by his son, Clarence. The iron nerve which enabled Hulbert calmly to send 141 men to their deaths in the electric chair during his career as executioner, stayed with him to the last, the physician’s report indicated. Two wounds were found in the body, one in the left chest, which, failing to bring instant death, was followed by another in the right temple.

Murder Theory Abandoned

The .38-caliber pistol which Hulbert used to end his life was found beside the body. It was identified as the gun he always carried during his career as executioner as protection against possible attacks from friends or relatives of his victims. The fact that Hulbert was alone in the home when he ended his life and that he always lived in fear of death from enemies incurred by the nature of his profession led officials to investigate the possibility of murder in his death. This theory was abandoned today with the report of Dr. Walsh.

Although he had bee a resident of Auburn since 1903, Hulbert was little known to the residents of this city.

He first worked as an electrician at Auburn Prison here and in 1913 succeeded John Davis, inventor of the electric chair, as State executioner. From that time on Hulbert lived a hermitlike existence in a self-imposed exile. In the same chair where the first man in the world was electrocuted, he executed the last, at Auburn Prison, Charles Sprague, of Yates County, after which all electrocutions were carried out at Sing Sing Prison.

Always in fear of unknown enemies, Hulbert avoided contact with the public as much as possible. His only diversion was to accompany his wife and family to local moving picture houses, and even then he sought to protect himself by sitting near an exit, where the seats around him were partially illuminated.

He resigned his office in January, 1926, and returned to the seclusion of his home. Last fall his wife died and since, according to his relatives and friends, he had been melancholy.

Feared Poison in Food

Sing Sing Prison attachés, speaking of the suicide of Hulvert, say he shunned everyone and was avoided in turn. He developed a reputation for being extremely economical, yet was known to give liberal tips to the waiter at the Palace Restaurant here, where he always ate when he came in for an execution. He always ordered precisely the same meal and always asked for the same waiter. This was attributed to the belief that he feared his food would be poisoned. 

Hulbert was never seen shaking hands with anyone.”


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Would you rather live for another year, and then die peacefully 


Live for another hundred years, then die horribly? I mean like nightmarishly horrible; forced-to-watch-as-mutant-dogs-devour-you-a-piece-at-a-time type horrible.

The thing that always strikes me first when I go to Los Angeles is that the homeless guys there dress like apostles. In New York, they’re secular. Fran Lebowitz, in 1983, shared other observations about California cities with David Letterman.

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The moon landing was supposed to be the beginning of the Space Age, but the giant leap turned out to be a small step. A mission to Mars, let alone a full-fledged settlement in space, was shelved. But billionaire entrepreneurs weaned on sci-fi are taking aim again at the stratosphere. The opening of Jessa Gamble’s Guardian article “How Do You Build a City in Space?“:

“Science fiction has delivered on many of its promises. Star Trek videophones have become Skype, the Jetsons’ food-on-demand is materialising through 3-D printing, and we have done Jules Verne one better and explored mid-ocean trenches at crushing depths. But the central promise of golden age sci-fi has not yet been kept. Humans have not colonised space.

For a brief moment in the 1970s, the grandeur of the night sky felt interactive. It seemed only decades away that more humans would live off the Earth than on it; in fact, the Space Shuttle was so named because it was intended to make 50 round trips per year. There were active plans for expanding civilisation into space, and any number of serious designs for building entire cities on the moon, Mars and beyond.

The space age proved to be a false dawn, of course. After a sobering interlude, children who had sat rapt at the sight of the moon landings grew up, and accepted that terraforming space – once briefly assumed to be easy – was actually really, really hard. Intense cold war motivation flagged, and the Challenger and Columbia disasters taught us humility. Nasa budgets sagged from 5% of the US federal budget to less than 0.5%. People even began to doubt that we’d ever set foot on the moon: in a 2006 poll, more than one in four Americans between 18 and 25 said they suspected the moon landing was a hoax.

But now a countercurrent has surfaced. The children of Apollo, educated and entrepreneurial, are making real headway on some of the biggest difficulties. Large-scale settlement, as opposed to drab old scientific exploration, is back on the menu.”


From Dana Hull at the San Jose Mercury News, more information about Elon Musk’s Gigafactory, which he believes can cut battery costs by 30%, a key to making Teslas more affordable:

“The planned $5 billion gigafactory is key to Tesla’s strategy of manufacturing a more affordable, mass-market electric car. Tesla has not finalized a location but is looking at several states, including Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. California is also being considered but is regarded as a long shot because of the lengthy time required for the permitting process.

In an onstage interview with venture capitalist Ira Ehrenpreis, an early investor in Tesla who sits on its board of directors, Musk said that vertically integrating the battery production makes economic sense.

‘The gigafactory will take that to another level,’ he said. ‘You’ll have stuff coming directly from the mine, getting on a rail car and getting delivered to the factory, with finished battery packs coming out the other side. The cost-compression potential is quite high if you are willing to go all the way down the supply chain.’

But the gigafactory will not just supply batteries for Tesla’s electric cars: Stationary battery packs will be provided to SolarCity, the San Mateo solar-installation company run by Musk’s cousins, and other renewable energy companies in the solar and wind industries.”

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In this 1977 Canadian talk show, Fran Lebowitz, selling her book Metropolitan Life, plays on a familiar theme: Her complicated relationship with children. She was concerned that digital watches and calculators and other new technologies entitled kids (and adults also) to a sense of power they should not have. She must be pleased with smartphones today.

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Ways to get rich quick!!

I have been using this accountant tax trick for a long time and my company needs more people so we can make money and you can get money too. For more info about this text or call me.

From the August 7, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Chicago--Mrs. Jessie Stewart Gardner is dead at her home because she refused to take her wedding ring from her finger.

The gold band was placed on Mrs. Gardner’s finger on the day she became a bride. It remained there until it had to be filed off, but the filing was done too late.

Mrs. Gardner’s finger had increased gradually in size. The pressure of the ring became correspondingly greater. The ring finally became imbedded in the flesh and caused an interruption of the blood circulation.

With much reluctance, Mrs. Gardner consented to have the ring filed off. Owing to the delay, blood poisoning developed and resulted in her death. Mrs. Gardner was 60 years old.”


In the new Aeon essay, “The Intimacy of Crowds,” Michael Bond argues that riotous mobs are often actually quite rational and goal-oriented, despite the seeming disorder of the melee. The opening:

“There’s nothing like a riot to bring out the amateur psychologist in all of us. Consider what happened in August 2011, after police killed Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old man from the London suburb of Tottenham. Thousands took to the streets of London and other English towns in the UK’s worst outbreak of civil unrest in a generation. When police finally restored order after some six days of violence and vandalism, everyone from the Prime Minister David Cameron to newspaper columnists of every political persuasion denounced the mindless madness, incredulous that a single killing, horrific as it was, could spark the conflagration at hand. The most popular theory was that rioters had surrendered their self-awareness and rationality to the mentality of the crowd.

This has been the overriding view of crowd behaviour since the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille. The 19th-century French criminologist Gabriel Tarde likened even the most civilised of crowds to ‘a monstrous worm whose sensibility is diffuse and who still acts with disordered movements according to the dictates of its head’. Tarde’s contemporary, the social psychologist Gustave Le Bon, tried to explain crowd behaviour as a paralysis of the brain; hypnotised by the group, the individual becomes the slave of unconscious impulses. ‘He is no longer himself, but has become an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will,’ he wrote in 1895. ‘Isolated, he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian… a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.’

This is still the prevailing view of mob behaviour, but it turns out to be wrong.”


The subtext to workers’ righteous attempt to get McDonald’s to pay a living wage is, of course, that these are not starter jobs for kids anymore but careers. This disturbing new normal is unifying global workers in surprising ways–for now, at least. Even many of these low-paying service positions are in the crosshairs of automation. From Julia Carrie Wong at the Guardian:

“In 1996, Thomas Friedman put forward a grand theory of capitalism, economic development and foreign relations: ‘No two countries that both have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other.’ (He was, by the way, totally wrong.)

The unifying power of McDonald’s took on a new meaning on Thursday, however, as thousands of fast-food workers across the globe began to walk off the job or hold protests against McDonald’s and other fast-food employers. The coordinated action is the latest escalation in the campaign that began in New York City in November 2012, when about 200 fast-food workers went on strike to demand hourly wages of $15 and the right to form a union.

The so-called ‘Fight for 15’ spread across the US, thanks to backing from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – and organizers expect strikes and protests in 150 US cities and at least 33 countries on Thursday.

With 1.8m employees in 118 countries, McDonald’s is certainly a grand unifier; only Walmart employs more private-sector workers worldwide. But instead of dishing out peace and prosperity the way Friedman and other proponents of neoliberalism promised, McDonald’s has been spreading low wages, abusive conditions and union-busting.”

Sylvia Anderson, legendary British TV producer and brilliant costume designer, explaining in 1970 why her moon suits, created for the program UFO, would be a suitable style for women of the future.


"It is certainly a robot."

“It is certainly a military robot.”

We’ve longed looked for ways to automate killing, even in those days when computers were more often referred to as “electronic brains” or “mechanical minds.” An early attempt at push-button warfare–a “robot gun”–developed by the U.S. between world wars was the subject of an article in the October 5, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. An excerpt:

Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md.–Greatest among the marvels of a mechanized army demonstrated here yesterday for the Army Ordnance Administration is a ‘mechanical mind’ produced in the Sperry plants in Brooklyn.

Following a day which was replete with spectacular demonstrations of new engines of war the ‘mechanical mind,’ which is technically known as a ‘data computer,’ located an ‘enemy’ airplane in the black night skies, spotted it almost instantly with the beam of powerful searchlight and kept a battery of four three-inch guns trained on the airplane and then with the press of a button the whole battery of anti-aircraft artillery opened fire and blew the trailing target to bits.

Not a Hand Touched It

Not a hand touched the searchlight which spotted the airplane and not a hand was touched to the three-inch guns in the anti-aircraft gun battery to sight them. The ‘mechanical mind’ did all this.

Ordnance experts declared this device the outstanding feature of the show. ‘It is certainly a military robot,’ said one of them.

The senses of this mechanical mind are embodied in a very sensitive syntonic oscillator, which had direction determining and vague finding powers. What this syntonic oscillator detects is greatly amplified after the manner of radio sets and its findings, which are expressed in electrical signals, are fed to a ‘comparator.’ This part of the apparatus is a mathematical marvel. It takes the reading given it for direction and distance from the oscillator without any effect on the correctness of the aim given.”

Nintendo, a 19th-century Japanese playing-card company that became an American video-game sensation nearly a hundred years after its founding, is one of the subjects of Blake J. Harris’ new book, Console Warswhich Grantland has excerpted. A piece about how in the 1980s Nintendo presciently identified the existence of a ravenous appetite of fans for not just a piece of pop culture but for a community built around it, a phenomenon that later exploded on the Internet:

“[Gail] Tilden was at home, nursing her six-week-old son, when [Minoru] Arakawa called and asked her to come into the office the next day for an important meeting. So the following day, after dropping off her son with some trusted coworkers, she went into a meeting with Arakawa. The appetite for Nintendo tips, hints, and supplemental information was insatiable, so Arakawa decided that a full-length magazine would be a better way to deliver exactly what his players wanted.

Tilden was put in charge of bringing this idea to life. She didn’t know much about creating, launching, and distributing a magazine, but, as with everything that had come before, she would figure it out. What she was unlikely to figure out, however, was how to become an inside-and-out expert on Nintendo’s games. She played, yes, but she couldn’t close her eyes and tell you which bush to burn in The Legend of Zelda or King Hippo’s fatal flaw in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! For that kind of intel, there was no one better than Nintendo’s resident expert gamer, Howard Phillips, an always-smiling, freckle-faced videogame prodigy.

Technically, Phillips was NOA’s warehouse manager, but along the way he revealed a preternatural talent for playing, testing, and evaluating games. After earning Arakawa’s trust as a tastemaker, he would scour the arcade scene and write detailed assessments that would go to Japan. Sometimes his advice was implemented, sometimes it was ignored, but in the best-case scenarios he would find something hot, such as the 1982 hit Joust, alert Japan’s R&D to it, and watch it result in a similar Nintendo title — in this case a 1983 Joust-like game called Mario Bros. As Nintendo grew, Phillips’s ill-defined role continued to expand, though he continued to remain the warehouse manager. That all changed, however, when he was selected to be the lieutenant for Tilden’s new endeavor.

In July 1988, Nintendo of America shipped out the first issue of Nintendo Power to the 3.4 million members of the Nintendo Fun Club. Over 30 percent of the recipients immediately bought an annual subscription, marking the fastest that a magazine had ever reached one million paid subscribers.”


Nintendo Arm Wrestling, 1985:

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You have to wonder what the brand new New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein, who was poached from Texas Monthly, must think of Jill Abramson’s abrupt ouster. He was personally courted for the job by the erstwhile Executive Editor, and the two meshed on a vision for the future of the glossy publication at a time when some believe the periodical-within-a-periodical redundant with what the legendary paper has become in the paper-less age. He moved his family thousands of miles to work for the institution and not just Abramson, but it helps to have an ally at the top of the masthead as Hugo Lindgren, his predecessor, learned when he was removed by Abramson after being tapped by Bill Keller. Because of his high level of talent and because the company’s new lead editor, Dean Baquet, was involved in his hiring, Silverstein will likely be fine, but it goes to show you how crazy the business has become, even at the top, in this worried age of technological disruption. If we were living in an era when newspapers were flush and the Times was profitable, it’s hard to imagine this change would have been made. But all bets are off now. The pressure is immense and the patience short. Even formerly plum jobs are pretty much the pits today, just like the rest of them. 


From Ken Auletta at the New Yorker blog:

“As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. ‘She confronted the top brass,’ one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy,’ a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. [Arthur] Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson had also been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, having spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, accounting for some of the pension disparity. (I was also told by another friend of hers that the pay gap with Keller has since been closed.) But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, ‘She found out that a former deputy managing editor’—a man—’made more money than she did’ while she was managing editor. ‘She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.’

Sulzberger’s frustration with Abramson was growing. She had already clashed with the company’s C.E.O., Mark Thompson, over native advertising and the perceived intrusion of the business side into the newsroom. Publicly, Thompson and Abramson denied that there was any tension between them, as Sulzberger today declared that there was no church-state—that is, business-editorial—conflict at the Times. A politician who made such implausible claims might merit a front-page story in the Times. The two men and Abramson clearly did not get along.”


From David Carr and Ravi Somaiya at the Times:

“The New York Times dismissed Jill Abramson as executive editor on Wednesday, replacing her with Dean Baquet, the managing editor, in an abrupt change of leadership.

Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the paper and the chairman of The New York Times Company, told a stunned newsroom that had been quickly assembled that he had made the decision because of ‘an issue with management in the newsroom.’

Ms. Abramson, 60, had been in the job only since September 2011. But people in the company briefed on the situation described serious tension in her relationship with Mr. Sulzberger, who had been hearing concerns from employees that she was polarizing and mercurial. They had disagreements even before she was appointed executive editor, and she had also had clashes with Mr. Baquet.

In recent weeks, people briefed on the situation said, Mr. Baquet had become angered over a decision by Ms. Abramson to try to hire an editor from The Guardian, Janine Gibson, and install her alongside him a co-managing editor position without consulting him. It escalated the conflict between them and rose to the attention of Mr. Sulzberger.”

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“I’m healthy and lazy.”

anyone in need of liver or heart (anywhere)

Hello my name is mike. I’m healthy and lazy. I’m selling my body parts. no one has to know. it can be kept confidential but I need the cash to give to my desperate family. not a joke. we are all in a poor situation. I think its about time to give up not cause I want to cause I have to.

Viewtron, an early online service from AT&T and Knight-Ridder, opened its virtual doors in South Florida in 1983, offering email, banking, shopping, news, weather and updated airline schedules. Despite quickly reaching 15 U.S. markets, Viewtron folded in 1986, victim of being ahead of the wave before people had learned how to surf.

It’s not likely that legal issues regarding autonomous cars will be as much a hurdle as some think, but they will be somewhat of a story. In the New York Times article, “When Driverless Cars Break the Law,” Claire Cain Miller breaks down the potential future of civil and criminal culpability:

“In cases of parking or traffic tickets, the owner of the car would most likely be held responsible for paying the ticket, even if the car and not the owner broke the law.

In the case of a crash that injures or kills someone, many parties would be likely to sue one another, but ultimately the car’s manufacturer, like Google or BMW, would probably be held responsible, at least for civil penalties.

Product liability law, which holds manufacturers responsible for faulty products, tends to adapt well to new technologies, John Villasenor, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at U.C.L.A., wrote in a paper last month proposing guiding principles for driverless car legislation.

A manufacturer’s responsibility for problems discovered after a product is sold — like a faulty software update for a self-driving car — is less clear, Mr. Villasenor wrote. But there is legal precedent, particularly with cars, as anyone following the recent spate of recalls knows.

The cars could make reconstructing accidents and assigning blame in lawsuits more clear-cut because the car records video and other data about the drive, said Sebastian Thrun, an inventor of driverless cars.

‘I often joke that the big losers are going to be the trial lawyers,’ he said.

Insurance companies would also benefit from this data, and might even reward customers for using driverless cars, Mr. Villasenor wrote. Ryan Calo, who studies robotics law at the University of Washington School of Law, predicted a renaissance in no-fault car insurance, under which an insurer covers damages to its customer regardless of who is at fault.

Criminal penalties are a different story, for the simple reason that robots cannot be charged with a crime.”

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You sell what you have, and Detroit has urban decay, lots of it. It’s problematic that advertisers want to market it as something edgy and desirable and more troubling that brands that co-opt the Detroit brand will probably benefit more than the city itself, but I guess something is better than nothing. From Rose Hackman at the Guardian:

“Yet, to an advertiser’s eye, Detroit is cool. Gritty. Tough. Resilient. Authentic in its struggle. True in its American spirit of hard, honest work, ruins and all.

That’s where it gets uncomfortable for Detroit, The Brand. Detroit, the American phoenix rising from the economic ashes, is sitting on a valuable natural resource: street cred. This has not escaped the notice of profit-driven companies see the city’s rebirth as a chance to brand themselves and sell authenticity. 

The airwaves and billboards are plastered with ads from Chrysler (a Detroit native), Redbull (from Austria), new vodka brand from the giant French Pernod Ricard group, Our/Vodka, and luxury watch and bicycle company Shinola. They present a romantic, nostalgic take on grit – a highly effective spin, which presents poverty and urban decay as cool. The nostalgia element is all the more evident in that ads by Shinola, Redbull and Our/Vodka are often filmed in black and white.

Shinola’s spot features bike riders and a beautiful, blonde, white female model hugging a (presumably local) young, black girl. Redbull’s spot aired during this year’s Grammy Awards features local artist Tylonn Sawyer telling a compelling story of beauty and resilience. Our/Vodka’s launching ad includes Detroit’s beautiful, eerie, abandoned Michigan Central Station, stating the brand is rooted in ‘people’ and ‘community.’

These are brands that Detroiters, even the hip newcomers, likely can’t afford. It’s hard to imagine that many in Detroit could afford a $1,950 bicycle or a $900 watch, irrespective of whether or not the latter now comes with a lifetime warranty.”


From the November 30, 1940 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Dunn, N.C.–A young woman, giving New York as her home address, strolled into police headquarters here yesterday and asked Chief G.A. Jackson:

‘What do you call anybody who’s been married twice without getting a divorce?’

‘A bigamist,’ replied Jackson.

‘Well, I’m one of them. And I want you to put me in jail,’ the woman said, poking marriage certificates at the startled chief to back up her claim. ‘I’m tired of both of them and jail is the best way out.’

But the harassed chief finally sent her away, deciding that Dunn didn’t want the expense of feeding her in jail.”


Extrapolating on the Wisdom of Crowds theory, new research suggests that small crowds might be wiser than large ones. Perhaps. But what if it’s a tight-knit community of morons? Would the thinking be good then? What if it’s a politicized group that makes decisions that have immediate benefits for its own members without regard to others or to long-term ramifications? What if we’re talking about a doomsday cult? From Drake Bennett at Businessweek:

“The wisdom of crowds is one of those perfectly of-our-moment ideas. The phrase comes from New Yorker writer James Surowiecki, whose book of that title was published almost a decade ago. Its thesis is nicely summed up in its opening, which describes the 19th-century English scientist Francis Galton’s realization, while attending a county fair, that in a competition to guess the weight of an ox the average of all of the guesses people had submitted (787 in all) was almost exactly right: 1,197 pounds vs. the actual weight of 1,198 pounds, a degree of accuracy that no individual could attain on his own. As individuals we may be ignorant and short-sighted, but together we’re wise.

The implication is that the bigger the crowd, the greater the accuracy. It’s like running an experiment: All else being equal, the larger the sample size, the more trustworthy the result. The idea has a particular resonance at a time when online businesses from Amazon.com to Yelp rely on aggregated user reviews, and social networks such as Facebook sell ads that rely in part on showing you how many of your friends ‘like’ something.

A new paper by the Princeton evolutionary biologist Iain Couzin and his student Albert Kao, however, suggests that bigger isn’t necessarily better. In fact, small crowds may actually be the smartest. ‘We do not find the classic view of the wisdom of crowds in most environments,’ says Couzin of their results. ‘Instead, what we find is that there’s a small optimal group size of eight to 12 individuals that tends to optimize decisions.’

The research started from the fact that, in nature—where, unlike at county fairs, accuracy has life-or-death consequences—many animals live in relatively small groups. Why, Couzin wondered, would so many species fail to take advantage of the informational benefits of the crowd?”

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From the latest Edge article, “The Thing Which Has No Name,” by Ogilvy & Mather UK creative director Rory Sutherland, who argues, perhaps unsurprisingly, that marketers and advertisers understand certain things better than classical economists:

“It is true of quite a lot of progress in human life that businesses, in their blundering way, sometimes discover things before academics do. This is true of the steam engine. People developed steam engines before anybody knew how they worked. It’s true of the jet engine, true of aspirin, and so forth. People discover through trial and error—what Nassim Taleb calls ‘stochastic tinkering.’ People make progress on their own without really understanding how it works. At that point, academics come along, explain how what works works and to some extent take the credit for it. ‘Teaching birds to fly’ is the phrase that Taleb uses. As I say, I was seduced by economic thinking and the elegance of it, but at the same time having worked in advertising for 15 years, I was also fairly conscious of the fact that this isn’t really how people behave. We’d always known, in those fields of marketing, like direct marketing, where you actually got results—you sent out letters to 50,000 people and saw how many people replied—there was something going on that we didn’t understand. In other words, occasionally you might do incredibly elaborate, complex, and expensive work and have more or less no effect on the uptake of some product. Then someone would redesign the application form and slightly change the order of the questions on the application form, and the number of people replying would double. We knew there was this mysterious kind of dark force at work in human behavior.

The extraordinary thing about the marketing industry is that, by accident, it was pretty good at stumbling on some of these biases which behavioral economics later codified. There’s a wonderful/evil advertisement I mentioned in a recent piece, ‘How else could a month’s salary last a lifetime?’, which is a De Beers advertisement in about 1953 for engagement rings. Now, that’s a brilliant case of framing or price anchoring. How much should you spend on an engagement ring? We’ll suggest that whatever your month’s salary is, that’s what you should spend.

‘No one ever got fired for buying IBM’ is a wonderful example of understanding loss aversion or ‘defensive decision making,’ The advertising and marketing industry kind of acted as if it knew this stuff—but where we were disgracefully bad is that no one really attempted to sit down and codify it. When I discovered Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, and the whole other corpus on Behavioral Economics…. when I started discovering there was a whole field of literature about ‘this thing for which we have no name’ …. these powerful forces which no one properly understood—that was incredibly exciting. And the effect of these changes can be an order of magnitude. This is the important thing. Really small interventions can have huge effects.”


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