Urban Studies

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The opening of Christopher Mims’ Quartz post about Google’s push into screenless computing:

“The spread of computing to every corner of our physical world doesn’t just mean a proliferation of screens large and small—it also means we’ll soon come to rely on mobile computers with no screens at all. ‘It’s now so inexpensive to have a powerful computing device in my car or lapel, that if you think about form factors, they won’t all have keyboards or screens,’ says Scott Huffman, head of the Conversation Search group at Google.

Google is already moving rapidly to enable voice commands in all of its products. On mobile phones, Google Now for Android and Google’s search app on the iPhone allow users to search the web via voice, or carry out other basic functions like sending emails. Similarly, Google Glass would be almost unusable without voice interaction. At Google’s conference for developers, it unveiled voice control for its Chrome web browser. And Motorola’s new Moto X phone has a specialized microchip that allows the phone to listen at all times, even when it’s asleep, for the magic word that begins every voice conversation with a Google product: ‘OK…’

There’s nothing new about voice interaction with computers per se. What’s different about Google’s work on the technology is that the company wants to make it as fluid and easy as keyboards and touch screens are now. That’s a challenge big enough that, thus far, it has kept voice-based interfaces from going mainstream in our personal computing devices. And in cases when they are in use, such as interactive voice response systems designed to handle customer service calls, they can be frustrating.”


From the January 21, 1891 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Decatur, Ill.–A surgeon of this city has just completed a novel surgical operation. He removed part of four ribs of a cat and inserted them in the nose of a young lady, forming a perfect bridge for the nose. The bones of the nose had decayed and were removed. This is said to be the first operation of the kind known in the annals of surgery.”

Julia Ioffe, who covers Russia for the New Republic, just did an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. A few exchanges follow.



We who are not particularly knowledgeable about Russia still think of it as having a pretty sexist culture. Are women treated more inferior there than in other more ‘Westernized’ countries?

Julia Ioffe:

Yes! Omg, yes, yes, yes. Russia is still extremely sexist. I can write volumes on this, but, good lord. Basically, it’s a matriarchy parading around as a macho patriarchy. That said, the wage gap between men and women is smaller in Russia than in the U.S. And once a year, on International Women’s Day (March 8) Russian women get tons and tons of flowers — I guess to make up for being treated as cooks/strippers with uteruses the rest of the year.



Is there something about Russian Culture/Society that makes the country so prone to authoritarian dictatorship-esque regimes (Stalin, USSR, to Putin)?

Julia Ioffe:

I think Stalin set the stage for Putin, and the czars set the stage for Stalin. If the czars taught Russians that they were eternal subjects to the holy emperor and his Church, Stalin drove home the notion by jailing and killing millions and millions of Soviets, of making people afraid not just to speak up and resist, but to trust each other. The scars of what he did are there, but they’re fading in the generation born after the fall of the Soviet Union. I don’t know that it’s a cultural thing as much as it is hard, cruel historical training.



Do you think Putin is really this homophobic or is he just making a statement?

Julia Ioffe:

I don’t think Putin is any more homophobic than most Russians, which is pretty homophobic — Russians, like I said, are pretty ignorant about homosexuality and think it’s abnormal). I also don’t think it was his initiative. This law, unlike many, came up to the federal level after being introduced in cities around Russia, and Putin signed into law what the Duma gave him, which obviously signifies his approval: if he hadn’t approved, it would’ve never made it out of the lower chamber of the Russian parliament. That said, the law reflects a tone set by Putin by bringing the Orthodox Church, a very conservative institution, increasingly not just into public life but into the government. It’s all part of a pattern of looking for a more conservative, “Russian” national idea — whatever that means.



What are your thoughts on 2014 Olympics? Should gay athletes not attend, attend but protest?

Julia Ioffe:

I think gay athletes should absolutely attend, kick ass, and show Russia and the rest of the largely homophobic world that they are an athletic force to be reckoned with.



How serious of a threat is Islamic radicalization in Russia via both the Caucasus and the quickly growing Muslim population in other regions?

Will Putin’s often times heavy hand lead to instability via this particular demographic?

Julia Ioffe:

It’s a pretty serious threat, and I can’t say that the Russians are doing a good job fighting it. For one thing, they’ve installed a guy named Ramzan Kadyrov to run Chechnya (once torn up by war) and he’s running a pretty Islamist ship. (If you want proof, look at his Instagram account.) And Putin, who is in many ways hostage to him, can’t do much about it.



What is the biggest misconception Americans have about Russian politics?

Julia Ioffe:

That Putin thinks ahead.•



“I don’t mean stop eating the foods you LOVE and start eating grass!”

Feeling alone again?

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Tad Friend, the excellent California correspondent for the New Yorker, mercifully liberated from having to profile Ben Stiller’s narcissism, provides his two cents on Elon Musk’s Hyperloop plans. Here’s the glass-half-empty part:

“The bad news is that there’s no conceivable way that the system would cost just six billion dollars, or that one-way tickets would cost twenty dollars. Overpromise disease is endemic to Silicon Valley, but Musk has an aggravated case. When I wrote a profile of him, in 2009, he told me that a third-generation Tesla would be selling for less than thirty thousand dollars in 2014, the same year that he expected SpaceX’s Falcon 9 to begin ferrying tourists around the moon. Well, no and hell no. More worrisomely, he promised that you could start driving the Model S in western California ‘at breakfast and be halfway across the country by dinnertime.’ Musk is a lot better at math than I am, but he eventually acknowledged that by ‘dinnertime’ he really meant ‘the following morning’s breakfast’—if, again, you didn’t stop to go to the bathroom.

 Additional bad news is that California’s politicians are skeptical of the Hyperloop, as they’ve already committed to their own relatively slow high-speed rail system, now projected to be finished in 2029. And that no community in San Francisco or Los Angeles would want giant tubes running through it. And that, from the evidence of Musk’s own route map, he hasn’t figured out how to get the Hyperloop across the San Francisco Bay or any closer to downtown Los Angeles than about an hour north of it—which kind of kills the whole point. Also, earthquakes! The suggested route more or less parallels the San Andreas Fault. (Musk says that his flexible tube joints and dampered pylons would enable the system to absorb seismic shocks. But the worst place to be in an earthquake would be ripping along at barely-subsonic speeds twenty feet above the ground—in a system attached to it. Disaster-film auteurs are surely already storyboarding the money shot of Hyperloop pods disgorging onto a teeming freeway at seven hundred miles an hour.)

Finally, of course, no one knows if the thing would actually work.”

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Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS) has a name now, but that wasn’t the case in 1977 when seemingly healthy Laotian refugees in America began dying in their sleep. While it was always suspected that irregular heart rhythms played a part in the mysterious deaths, more inscrutable sources have been suggested. Malign spirits? Nightmares? From Wayne King in the May 10, 1981 New York Times:

SAN FRANCISCO, May 9— The Federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is conducting an intensive inquiry into the manner in which 18 apparently healthy Laotian refugees died mysteriously in their sleep in this country within the last four years. One possibility being explored is that they were frightened to death by nightmares.

The 17 men and a woman were members of a preliterate Laotion mountain society called the Hmong. About 35,000 Hmong are now living in the United States. Most of them fled their homeland after it was overrun in 1975 by the Pathet Lao.

The Hmong come from an isolated culture similar to that of the American Indian. Most of those who have been resettled in this country live in concentrated communities in Missoula, Mont.; Santa Ana, Calif.; Providence, R.I.; Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul, where the largest number, 10,000 to 12,000, reside.

Very few speak English. Their own tongue became a written language only a few years ago, and their adaptation to American life has been marginal. Until some relatively recent conversions to Buddhism and Christianity, their religion is animist, governed by spirits and manifestions of the soul.

Terror Induced by Nightmare

The cause of death of the 18 refugees in their own beds in the early morning hours remains a mystery. The deaths have generally been attributed to ‘probable cardiac arrythmia,’ or irregular heartbeat. Although pathologists have been reluctant to advance it publicly, one possibility being explored is an obscure pattern described in medical literature as ‘Oriental nightmare death syndrome,’ in which death results from terror induced by a nightmare.”

I knew that Jimmy Carter had installed solar panels on the White House in the late 1970s, but I never realized that Ronald Reagan had them removed roughly a decade later. Dipshit. President Obama is putting them back as the solar-energy biz enjoys a renaissance. From Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica:

“On Thursday, a White House official confirmed to the Washington Post that President Barack Obama would finally make good on a 2010 promise to install solar panels on the First Family’s residence. The panels are being installed this week.

Once complete, it would make Obama the first president since President Jimmy Carter to go green. Carter’s solar panels were installed in 1979, but President Ronald Reagan had them removed in 1986. It also makes the Obama family part of the rapidly expanding growth in solar energy across the United States.

According to new industry data from GTM Research, solar panels have fallen in price, and their installation and collective energy-generating capacity has consequently skyrocketed. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s existing solar panels have been installed in the last 2.5 years.”

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“The brain, like the phonographic cylinder, is a mere record.”

Thomas Edison didn’t believe humans were magical, individual souls created by God but simply a swarm of biological machines. The death of philosopher William James in 1910 occasioned much breathless discussion in intellectual circles about immortality and heaven, but Edison wasn’t having any of it. From an article by Edward Marshall in the October 2, 1910 New York Times:

“No one has studied the minutiae of science with greater care than Edison. I determined, therefore, to find out what were his conclusions. And the result, as I have said, was amazing, fascinating. 

Searching the inner structure of all things for the fundamental. Edison told me he had come to the conclusion that there were is no ‘supernatural,’ or ‘supernormal,’ as the psychic researchers put it–that all there is, that all there has been, all there ever will be, soon or late, be explained among the material lines.

He denied the individuality of the human being, declaring that each human being is an aggregate, as a city is an aggregate. No just judge would, in these modern days of clearing vision, punish or reward an entire city full; therefore future reward and punishment for human beings seems to him unreasonable. Immortality of the human soul seems as unreasonable. He does not, indeed, admit existence of a soul.

A merciful and loving creator he considers not to be believed in. Nature, the supreme power, he recognizes and respects, but does not worship. Nature is not merciful and loving, but wholly merciless, indifferent. He hints, but does not say, that he believes discoveries of vast import will be made by man among the hidden mysteries of life, but thinks the present wave of ‘psychic study’ is conducted on wrong lines–lines which are so utterly at fault that it is most unlikely they ever will produce important information.

‘I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul,’ he said to me, as, with his eyes closed tightly while concentrated in deep thought, he sat the other day in the great, dim library which forms his private quarters in the tremendous works known as his ‘laboratory’ at Orange, N.J.

‘Heaven? Shall I, if I am good and earn reward, go to heaven when I die? No–no. I am not I–I am not an individual–I am an aggregate of cells, as for instance, New York City is an aggregate of individuals. Will New York City go to heaven?’

The perfecter of the telegraph, inventor of the megaphone, the phonograph, the aerophone, the incandescent lamp and lighting system, and more than 700 other things, raised his massive head and looked at me with eyes which did not see me because the mind behind them was busy searching the vast mysteries of our existence. 

edisonbulb‘I do not think that we are individuals at all,’ he went on slowly. ‘The illustration I have used is good. We are not individuals any more than a great city is an individual.

‘If you cut your finger and it bleeds, you lose cells. They are the individuals. You don’t know them–you don’t know your cells any more than New York City knows its five millions of inhabitants. You don’t know who they are.

‘No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life–our desire to go on living–our dread of coming to an end as individuals. I do not dread it though. Personally I cannot see any use of a future life.

‘But the soul!’ I protested. The soul–‘

‘Soul? Soul? What do you mean by soul? The brain?’

‘Well, for the sake of argument, call it the brain, or what is in the brain. Is there not something immortal of or in the human brain–the human mind?’

‘Absolutely no,’ he said with emphasis. ‘There is no more reason to believe that any human brain will be immortal than there is to think that one of my phonographic cylinders will be immortal. My phonographic cylinders are mere records of sounds which have been impressed upon them.

Under given conditions, some of which we do not at all understand, any more than we understand some of the conditions of the brain, the phonographic cylinders give off these sounds again. For the time being we have perfect speech, or music, practically as perfect as is given off by the tongue when the necessary forces are set in motion by the brain.

‘Yet no one thinks of claiming immortality for the cylinders or the phonograph. Then why claim it for the brain mechanism or the power that drives it? Because we don’t know what this power is, shall we call it immortal? As well call electricity immortal because we do not know what it is.

‘The brain, like the phonographic cylinder, is a mere record, not of sounds alone, but of other things which have been impressed upon it by the mysterious power which actuates it. Perhaps it would be better if we called it a recording office, where records are made and stored. But no matter what you call it, it is a mere machine, and even the most enthusiastic soul theorist will concede that machines are not immortal.'”

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From Karen Weise’s Businessweek article about the inevitable gamesmanship between Elon Musk (with his Hyperloop) and the California High-Speed Rail Authority (and its bullet train):

“The contrast between Musk’s futuristic option for bridging Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and the much-delayed, over-budget, fast train that the state already has in the works, couldn’t have seemed starker or more striking. And that’s the point. Musk deliberately hopes his Hyperloop will disrupt current plans for the $68 billion railroad. ‘I don’t think we should do the high-speed rail thing,’ Musk told reporters. ‘It’s basically going to be California’s Amtrak,’ he said. He didn’t mean that as a compliment.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority was not amused. Chairman Dan Richard told the San Francisco Chronicle that while the Hyperloop sounds ‘great,’ it won’t be competition anytime soon: ‘It’s sort of like me saying, ‘Don’t buy a Tesla, because the Jetsons’ flying car is right around the corner.”

Richard said Musk greatly underestimates the costs of the Hyperloop, not to mention how hard it is to secure funding for mass transit and convince neighbors and environmentalists that such a system won’t be harmful. ‘While we have a lot of respect for his inventiveness, I think we could tell him a few things about the realities of building in California,’ Richard said.

Hyperloop might just be a drawing, and a far-fetched one at that, but as Southern California Public Radio points out, it’s already working in one regard—by reminding residents that California’s existing bullet train plan has plenty of shortfalls.

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Criminology has come a long way, but it’s still a very imperfect science. I would guess that some of the people who’ve been exonerated for long-ago crimes based only on DNA evidence probably were actually guilty. Genetic fingerprints can get “smudged.” From Justin Peters at Slate:

“In films and on television, crime labs are sterile and well-equipped, technicians are brilliant, DNA samples are in perfect condition, and results are conclusive.

Real life is different. As William C. Thompson puts it in an article for GeneWatch, although they are generally reliable, ‘DNA tests are not now and have never been infallible. Errors in DNA testing occur regularly. DNA evidence has caused false incriminations and false convictions, and will continue to do so.’ Labs are underfunded, technicians are overworked. Samples are imperfect. Answers can be elusive—even in cases of more recent vintage than the Walker murders.

Knowing all that, there was no reason to expect that the In Cold Blood exhumations were likely to solve this very cold case. The Walkers were killed in 1959, in an era when DNA testing did not exist, and authorities at the time would’ve had no reason to maintain Christine Walker’s semen-stained underwear in perfect condition just in case DNA testing was ever invented. Even if they had, it can be hard to extract viable samples from a 50-year-old corpse, because corpses decay. The authorities were only able to construct a partial DNA profile from Hickock’s and Smith’s bodies, which basically means that, even if all else went well, technicians would only have been able to place Hickock and Smith within a larger group of people who also matched the sample.”


"I'm 64 years old, 5'9" 220 lbs."

“I’m 64 years old, 5’9″ 220 lbs.”

For voyeur couple (NYC)

I am from Montreal, Canada. I am 64 years old, 5’9″ 220 lbs. I do not drink, do not smoke. If you’d like a “companion” for your wife for a short while (a week or so?), perhaps I could come down and visit…and occupy the bed while you, sir, sleep on the couch…..

Because meat doesn’t just rain down from the heavens, the first lab-made meat was taste-tested in London recently, the burger made possible thanks to a generous donation from Google’s Sergey Brin. Isha Datar, the director of a cultured-meat research group called New Harvest, was present at the meal. She just did an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. A few exchanges follow.



Could you make different flavors of meat?

Isha Datar:

In theory, yes, any muscle cell type could be cultured.



Hello, I read an article in The Week yesterday about your impressive achievement. However it cited a few critics who participated in your taste test, and said that your product did not cook well because of its lack of fat. They (harshly) described it as grey and a little gross, if my memory serves. They also cited its lack of iron, do you have any comments on these criticisms, or plans to address them before your product hits the markets? 

Isha Datar: 

I’d like to point out first the this product is proof of concept. It’s to show that it is physically possible to culture a hamburger. It’s not practical at all right now. We need more funds to get there. There is nothing close to reaching the market just yet.Fat is something that can also be cultured and added, as is blood (where the iron could come from). This will certainly be looked at in the time to come.

The meat wasn’t really grey, because colour was enhanced with beet and saffron. But isn’t regular hamburger meat grey after cooked?



How much time will it take for the meat to be available at the local supermarket? and will it be cheap?

Isha Datar: 

It will not start out cheap, just because of how expensive it will be. Think about how the computer trickled down into society. Highly exclusive and expensive and impractical… down to a huge proportion of the population having one in your pocket.

Not sure when everyone will have a burger in their pocket. Haha.

This first burger was $300K.. the next probably in the $10K range.. slowly moving down. The first tastings will be exclusive and expensive, slowly becoming more mainstream. Just cause technology moves that way.



What do you say to those who, after research and understanding, still don’t want it? Do you foresee a future where this is the only type of meat available?

Isha Datar:

That’s fine if they don’t want it. But the standard price of meat can only increase with time. So they should keep that in mind.

And if they’re veg*n then no problem!

I think meat just needs to be diversified. For instance, beef is supposed to be raised on pasture that is totally unfit for farming. Hilly, rocky, steep, whatever. The problem is most beef is not produced this way. Beef is usually raised on food humans could eat (soy, corn) rather than food humans can’t eat (grass).

I personally have to problem with traditional farming. It’s just that that’s not the norm. 

There should be many types of meats, and various price levels.



As I understand, you use bovine serum (or another similar animal product) in the media for the cultured meat. Have y’all been making steps towards using media that is 100% non-animal sources? Or is that further down the road? This would be crucial for vegetarians. 

Isha Datar: 

It is a goal to make the serum animal-free. Research is being done on culturing mammalian cells in algae-based and mushroom-based media. But SO MUCH MORE research needs to be done in this area.It’s something that hasn’t been pushed for in the medical community, which is why the research is lagging big time.



Since you stated that the process could be used on any animal, I suppose it’s technically possible to grow human meat. Would you ever consider it or do you think society wouldn’t be ready for the ethical debate? Would you eat your own meat? 

Isha Datar:

Yes, it is technically possible. In fact it might be easier since we have so much more familiarity with human cells than the cell lines of agricultural animals.

I’d probably try my own meat. I don’t see why not.

As for society… I never know what it wants but it’s not a bad thought-experiment to engage in.•




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From the March 10, 1876 New York Times:

Louisville, March 9--The Bath County (Ky.) News of this date says: ‘On last Friday a shower of meat fell near the house of Allen Crouch, who lives some two or three miles from the Olympian Springs in the southern portion of the county, covering a strip of ground about one hundred yards in length and fifty wide. Mrs. Crouch was out in the yard at the time, engaged in making soap, when meat which looked like beef began to fall around her. The sky was perfectly clear at the time, and she said it fell like large snow flakes, the pieces as a general thing not being much larger. One piece fell near her which was three or four inches square. Mr. Harrison Gill, whose veracity is unquestionable, and from whom we obtained the above facts, hearing of the occurrence visited the locality the next day, and says he saw particles of meat sticking to the fences and scattered over the ground. The meat when it first fell appeared to be perfectly fresh.

The correspondent of the Louisville Commercial, writing from Mount Sterling, corroborates the above, and says the pieces of flesh were of various sizes and shapes, some of them being two inches square. Two gentlemen, who tasted the meat, express the opinion that it was either mutton or venison.”

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A Musk-esque Hyperloop via the 1962 British TV series Space Patrol.


Speaking of the Hyperloop reveal, Elon Musk did an interview today about the transport mode with Businessweek. In the Q&A, he answers an essential question:


How would you slow down?

Elon Musk:

When you arrive at the destination, there would be another linear electric motor that absorbs your kinetic energy. As it slows you down, you put that energy back into a battery pack, which then provides the source energy for accelerating the next pod and for storing energy for overnight transport.

The solar panels would be laid on top of the tubes. You would store excess energy in battery packs at each station, so you could run 24-7.”


From “Sunshine Technopolis,” Gregory Brenford’s new essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books which ruminates on the wired side of  L.A.:

“If San Francisco was somewhat like Boston, though, Los Angeles was like nothing in the East. For a while it seemed more like brawling Chicago, its cultural currents making for tricky navigation, as the novel and film LA Confidential showed so well. Los Angeles’s Old Money scarcely dated back more than a few generations, and usually kept its cash in real estate, where it grew fast. Hammett and Chandler wove their noir visions of the seamy underside in the 1930s and 1940s. Robert A. Heinlein briefly attended UCLA and lived in the L.A. area alongside such SF authors as Jack Williamson and L. Ron Hubbard. Their tech-centered SF was crucial to the Golden Age of the genre.

Such newcomers brought a sense of open horizons. Though the Other Coast had invented and first developed the airplane, their advantages yielded to our sheer energy. By the 1950s the aerospace-electronics complex bestrode the largest high-tech industrial region in the world, a rank it holds today. The Jet Propulsion Labratory and Ramo-Wooldridge provided the first U.S. space satellite, Explorer, in 1958. A year later, Rocketdyne’s Redstone engine drove the first Project Mercury flights. The Shuttle lifts off from Cape Canaveral, but it lands at Edwards Air Force Base. Meanwhile the U.S.’s most active spaceport is at Vandenberg, at SoCal’s northern edge.

In aerospace and electronics especially, SoCal pioneered the new high-tech hierarchy: well-paid managers, scientists, and engineers, underpinned by a vast stratum of laborers who assembled and built the molded plastics, aluminum cowlings, printed circuit boards, and, lately, personal computers. Growth was cutthroat and unregulated among this understory. Price gouging and lurching job growth brought their Darwinnowings of the small capital firms that came and went like vagrant, failed species in evolution’s grand opera.

Californians did not stay put when firms went bust. They could cruise the mile-equals-a-minute freeways to new frontiers, where towns became mere off-ramps. A mobile cadre of people used to living by their wits made innovation paradoxically routine.”


Key passages from Elon Musk’s promised reveal about the Hyperloop, his idea for a clean, high-speed fifth mode of transport:

So What is Hyperloop Anyway?

Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this), the only option for super fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment. This is where things get tricky.

At one extreme of the potential solutions is some enlarged version of the old pneumatic tubes used to send mail and packages within and between buildings.

You could, in principle, use very powerful fans to push air at high speed through a tube and propel people-sized pods all the way from LA to San Francisco. However, the friction of a 350 mile long column of air moving at anywhere near sonic velocity against the inside of the tube is so stupendously high that this is impossible for all practical purposes.

Another extreme is the approach, advocated by Rand and ET3, of drawing a hard or near hard vacuum in the tube and then using an electromagnetic suspension. The problem with this approach is that it is incredibly hard to maintain a near vacuum in a room, let alone 700 miles (round trip) of large tube with dozens of station gateways and thousands of pods entering and exiting every day. All it takes is one leaky seal or a small crack somewhere in the hundreds of miles of tube and the whole system stops working.

However, a low pressure (vs. almost no pressure) system set to a level where standard commercial pumps could easily overcome an air leak and the transport pods could handle variable air density would be inherently robust.

Overcoming the Kantrowitz Limit

Whenever you have a capsule or pod (I am using the words interchangeably) moving at high speed through a tube containing air, there is a minimum tube to pod area ratio below which you will choke the flow. What this means is that if  the walls of the tube and the capsule are too close together, the capsule will behave like a syringe and eventually be forced to push the entire column of air in the system. Not good.

Nature’s top speed law for a given tube to pod area ratio is known as the Kantrowitz limit. This is highly problematic, as it forces you to either go slowly r have a super huge diameter tube. Interestingly, there are usually two solutions to the Kantrowitz limit – one where you go slowly and one where you go really, really fast.

The latter solution sounds mighty appealing at first, until you realize that going several thousand miles per hour means that you can’t tolerate even wide turns without painful g loads. For a journey from San Francisco to LA, you will also experience a rather intense speed up and slow down. And, when you get right down to it, going through transonic buffet in a tube is just fundamentally a dodgy prospect.

Both for trip comfort and safety, it would be best to travel at high subsonic speeds for a 350 mile journey. For much longer journeys, such as LA to NY, it would be worth exploring super high speeds and this is probably technically
feasible, but, as mentioned above, I believe the economics would probably favor a supersonic plane.

The approach that I believe would overcome the Kantrowitz limit is to mount an electric compressor fan on the nose of the pod that actively transfers high pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel. This is like having a pump
in the head of the syringe actively relieving pressure.

It would also simultaneously solve another problem, which is how to create a low friction suspension system when traveling at over 700 mph. Wheels don’t work very well at that sort of speed, but a cushion of air does. Air bearings,
which use the same basic principle as an air hockey table, have been demonstrated to work at speeds of Mach 1.1 with very low friction. In this case, however, it is the pod that is producing the air cushion, rather than the tube, as it is important to make the tube as low cost and simple as possible. That then begs the next question of whether a battery can store enough energy to power a fan for the length of the journey with room to spare. Based on our calculations, this is no problem, so long as the energy used to accelerate the pod is not drawn from the battery pack.

This is where the external linear electric motor comes in, which is simply a round induction motor (like the one in the Tesla Model S) rolled flat. This would accelerate the pod to high subsonic velocity and provide a periodic reboost roughly every 70 miles. The linear electric motor is needed for as little as ~1% of the tube length, so is not particularly costly.”


Michael J. Arlen wrote a very funny, and, I think, very unfair piece about Marshall McLuhan in the April 1, 1967 edition of the New Yorker (paywalled here). It was a response to an NBC Experiment in Television program which featured the thoughts of the media and cultural critic. Arlen depicts McLuhan as master of the obvious, which at least wasn’t the usual critique. But I think history scores it a solid win for McLuhan. From the piece:

“The NBC program provided a fairly broad embrace, as these things go. ‘The electric age is having a profound effect on us,’ intoned the narrator, paraphrasing McLuhan. ‘We are in a period of fantastic change…that is coming about at fantastic speed. Your life is changing dramatically! You are numb to it!’ And ‘The walls of your rooms are coming down. It is becoming a simple matter to wire and pick out of your homes your private, once solely personal life and record it. Bugging is the new means for gathering information.’ And ‘The family circle has widened, Mom and Dad! The world-pool of information constantly pouring in on your closely knit family is influencing them a lot more than you think.’ Well, O.K. But it all sounds too much like the revival preacher, who really doesn’t tell you anything about hellfire you didn’t know before but who tells it to you more forcefully, with all the right, meliorative vogue words (‘fantastic change…fantastic speed…dramatically…numb’), and so makes you feel appropriately important and guilty in the process.  In this instance, McLuhan tells us, the fire next time will be technological and lit by an electric circuit, but, having told us that, the preacher seems content to take up the collection and walk out of the church, leaving us with happy, flagellated expressions and a vague sense of having been in touch with an important truth–if we could only remember what it was.”

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"No I do not want to give you a blow job."

“No I do not want to give you a blow job.”

I’ll be your friend and you be my friend (Downtown)

It sucks out here. And it sucks worse when you have no friends for no good reason. Me: (Im)mature old fart; highly intelligent (or difficult to get along with); can be funny, depending; financially and physically pitiful; prone to depression; broke (very); sophisticated (look it up); ugly; fat; shrewish; parent. I smoke cigarettes. I drink beer. Interests include: Your car; poker; scrabble (3 minutes–I have ADD); ‘treasure hunting’; fishing (bring a wheel chair); metal detecting (bring a wheel chair); arts; antiques; collectibles; avid reader; coonhound owner; musical tastes very very eclectic and loved; writer; cook; (food when available); apolitical because it’s pointless but yeah I’d wear a hoodie and eat skittles for sure; yada yada.

You could be 18. You could be 79. Male. Female. Homo. Trans. Cripple. You could be a poor person. You could be a “Master of the Universe.” I love everybody and can talk to anybody. In turn you are also non-judgemental.

Just looking for friends–you know like someone to talk to and shit. 

Please include phone number.

No I do not want to give you a blow job.


“Mrs. Nation suffered imprisonment, ridicule, and was even declared insane.”

Carrie Nation had a dream, but it was the wrong one. If she had applied her considerable energy, moral outrage, and, yes, craziness, to supporting the cause of Abolition or Suffrage, she would have been a hero. But the Kentucky-born woman chose alcohol as her enemy and her hatchet-wielding and barroom-busting helped make the idea of Prohibition a legitimate thing. History has shown us what a mistake that was, how opposed to human nature. Nation never lived to see her dream fulfilled–or undone. She died in 1911, nine years before alcohol was banned in the United States and twenty-two before the ban repealed. Her death notice from the June 10, 1911 New York Times.

Leavenworth, Kan.–Carrie Nation, the Kansas saloon smasher, died here to-night. Paresis was the cause of her death. For several months Mrs. Nation had suffered from nervous disorders, and on Jan. 22 she entered the sanitarium in which she died.


Carrie Nation, whose maiden name was Moore, was born in Kentucky, near ex-Senator Blackburn’s home, and was a schoolmate of his. Her mother, it was said, died in an asylum for the insane. Her first husband was Dr. Gloyd, and after his death she married David Nation, a lawyer of Kansas City, who gave her legal advice but left her after she launched out on her anti-saloon crusade with the hatchet. All her life she was a strong temperance advocate, and came to regard herself as a woman with a mission. She declared publicly that hers was the right hand of God and that she had been commissioned to destroy the rum traffic in the United States.

Mrs. Nation suffered imprisonment, ridicule, and was even declared insane, and at the end of nine years she retired with sufficient money to purchase a farm in Arkansas. A good deal of her money was derived from the sale of her souvenir hatchets.

Mrs. Nation lived in Medicine Lodge, Kan., until June 6, 1900. On that day she went into her back yard and picked up a dozen bricks. After wrapping them in old newspapers and adding four heavy bottles to the collection she drove in her buggy to Kiowa, where she smashed the windows of three saloons with her ammunition. The other saloons closed their doors and then Mrs. Nation stood up in her buggy and told the assembled crowd that the law had been violated and some one should be punished, either herself or the officials who permitted the saloons to be operated against the law of the State.

Next morning the newspapers scattered the news broadcast that a new reformer had arrived upon the scene. From that day Mrs. Nation had been in jail at Wichita three times, at Topeka seven times, once at Coney Island, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, twice at Pittsburgh, three times at Philadelphia, once at Bayonne, N.J., and once at Cape Breton. In all, Mrs. Nation had to pay the penalty twenty-two times for taking the law into her own hands. 

During her travels Mrs. Nation came to New York, and visited Police Headquarters and John L. Sullivan‘s saloon. She did not do any smashing here, but gained considerable notoriety. In 1903 she created a disturbance in the White House in Washington in an effort to reach President Roosevelt, and was ejected by two policemen. Then she went to the Capitol and disturbed the Senate, for which she was fined $25 or thirty days in jail. The fine was obtained by selling hatchets.

Mrs. Nation made a tour of Great Britain in 1908, visiting music halls and saloons and giving advice to Magistrates. She was arrested at New Castle on Tyne for smashing, and appeared in the London music halls, where the audiences hissed her off the stage. In her own State of Kentucky Mrs. Nation had the reputation of being a kindhearted, sympathetic, motherly woman before she moved into Kansas, where she became obsessed with the Prohibition doctrines. It was said that her militant campaign called public attention to the rum traffic in the South and helped the cause of temperance a great deal by having the laws enforced against abuses in the liquor traffic.”

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The opening David L. Ulin’s Los Angeles Times review of the first comprehensive biography of Charles Manson, who remains as inexplicable as he is despicable four decades after this scar of a man taught American parents that their children were, to an extent, unknowable–strangers, even:

“Early in Jeff Guinn’s Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, the first full biography of the infamous mass killer, there’s a moment of unexpected and discomforting empathy. It’s 1939, and Manson — 5 years old, living with relatives in West Virginia while his mother is in state prison for armed robbery — has embarrassed himself by crying in a first-grade class. To toughen him up, his uncle takes one of his daughter’s dresses and orders the boy to wear it to school.

‘Maybe his mother and Uncle Luther were bad influences,’ Guinn writes, ‘but Charlie could benefit from Uncle Bill’s intercession. It didn’t matter what some teacher had done to make him cry; what was important was to do something drastic that would convince Charlie never to act like a sissy again.’

That’s a key moment in Manson — both for what it does and for what it cannot do. On the one hand, it opens up our sense of Guinn’s subject, establishing him in a single brush stroke as more than just a monster, as a broken human being. On the other, it ends so quickly, without revealing what happened once he got to class, that it never achieves the necessary resonance.”

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The opening of Seth Abramovitch’s Hollywood Reporter article about that town’s strange obsession with the Blackwing 602, a pencil that went out of production in 1998 and whose supply continues to dwindle:

“In the spring of 1960, Vladimir Nabokov was living in a rented villa in Los Angeles’ Mandeville Canyon, hard at work adapting his novel Lolita into a screenplay for Stanley Kubrick. He wrote in four-hour stretches, planted in a lawn chair ‘among the roses and mockingbirds,’ he later wrote, ‘using lined index cards and a Blackwing pencil for rubbing out and writing anew the scenes I had imagined in the morning.’ With more than 1,000 cards to work with, the scribe found that his pencil arguably became his most trusted collaborator.

Nabokov isn’t alone in his devotion to the Blackwing 602, without question among the most fetishized writing instruments of all time. It counts among its cultish fan base some of the greatest creative geniuses of the 20th century, from John Steinbeck (‘I have found a new kind of pencil — the best I have ever had!’ he wrote) to Quincy Jones (the Thriller producer says he carries one under his sweater when making ‘continual fixes’ to his music) and Truman Capote (who stocked his nightstands with fresh boxes) to Stephen Sondheim, who has composed exclusively with Blackwings since the early 1960s.

The pencil even made its way onto television’s most object-obsessive series, AMC’s Mad Men, put there by TV director Tim Hunter, who says, ‘I just had always felt that these folks would be using Blackwings.’ Animators, including artists who drew such iconic characters as Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, remain its most die-hard devotees — and earliest hoarders: The Blackwing 602 is becoming increasingly rare as it fast approaches its 80th birthday, with ostensibly only a few thousand in existence among the 13,000 that comprised its last lot in 1998, when the line was phased out.”

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From the May 30, 1901 New York Times:

“Mrs. Mary Himmerich, twenty-two years old, the wife of John Himmerich, a musician, living at 182 Meserole Street, Williamsburg, died on Tuesday from erysipelas as a result of a scratch on the cheek received a week ago from the finger nails of her seven-months-old baby.

At the time Mrs. Himmerich paid little attention to the scratch, but two days later her face began to swell, and she then went to a dispensary. Failing to get relief, and the pain increasing, she called in Dr. Bookbinder of 1,250 Madison Street. The doctor found she had erysipelas as a result of the scratch. Mrs. Himmerich died in great agony on Tuesday.”

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Is this the life or what (Midtown)

Sooo…I just masturbated at work, and then after I went to go get a sandwich. Is this life or what!

From “Robocars and the Speed Limit,” Brad Templeton’s essay about why he thinks we should allow autonomous vehicles to speed:

“The limit is a number, but it is not especially magic. It’s not like one is safe at 65mph and reckless at 66mph, even though that’s how the law is written. Rather the risk from accidents increases gradually with speed. The risk of having an accident is harder to measure, but the severity of an accident is related to the square of the speed of impact.

There is a speed at which we may judge the accident risk is above acceptable limits. This speed is not a single number. It varies from driver to driver, and from car to car. It varies from hour to hour, from weather condition to weather condition and from road to road. As the Autobahn’s lower accident rate shows, some drivers are safer at very high speeds on well designed roads than other drivers are at 50mph on lesser roads.

And while the Germans are content to do it, the USA is not prepared to officially let drivers decide what the right speed for acceptable safety is. Rather it is done unofficially and irregularly.

How does a robocar enter this world? There are two common schools of thought:

  1. As with its ancestor, the cruise control, the operator of a robocar can set the car to operate at any speed within its general limits, regardless of the road speed limit. The moral and safety decisions rest with this person.
  2. The vehicle must be programmed to not break the speed limit, nor allow its operator to do so. It must be aware of all limits and obey them.

I believe the first choice is both better and more likely.”


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