Urban Studies

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In a WSJ essay, Peter Thiel expands on what he said in his recent AMA, that “capitalism and competition are opposites.” Thiel, who approves of monopolies, doesn’t believe they only benefit individual businesses but broader society as well, as they have the capital to care about workers and ethics and the environment. I disagree, but I’ll acknowledge that we’ve all certainly benefited from Bell Labs, the moonshot division of a government-backed monopoly. An excerpt:

“To an economist, every monopoly looks the same, whether it deviously eliminates rivals, secures a license from the state or innovates its way to the top. I’m not interested in illegal bullies or government favorites: By ‘monopoly,’ I mean the kind of company that is so good at what it does that no other firm can offer a close substitute. Google is a good example of a company that went from 0 to 1: It hasn’t competed in search since the early 2000s, when it definitively distanced itself from Microsoft and Yahoo!

Americans mythologize competition and credit it with saving us from socialist bread lines. Actually, capitalism and competition are opposites. Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition, all profits get competed away. The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: If you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.

How much of the world is actually monopolistic? How much is truly competitive? It is hard to say because our common conversation about these matters is so confused. To the outside observer, all businesses can seem reasonably alike, so it is easy to perceive only small differences between them. But the reality is much more binary than that. There is an enormous difference between perfect competition and monopoly, and most businesses are much closer to one extreme than we commonly realize.

The confusion comes from a universal bias for describing market conditions in self-serving ways: Both monopolists and competitors are incentivized to bend the truth.”


Predictive traffic patterns is one of the logical extensions of our relentless data collection, as are highway lanes that can redraw themselves as need dictates. The former can be done now, while the latter will have to wait for an infrastructure overhaul. From Kristine Lofgren at Inhabitat:

“In most parts of the country, traffic planners review data every few years to adjust traffic signals and improve traffic movement. But thanks to several advanced signal system across the US, that’s all changing. For instance, in Utah, traffic planners can actually adjust a signal in almost real-time because of a system made up of a network of closed-circuit cameras connected to a fiberoptic network. The system allows traffic planners to adjust signals in as few as 30 seconds to react to changing traffic needs.

By some estimates, investing in signaling pays back at a ratio of 40 to 1. That’s something you don’t see with other traffic management strategies like building new roads. Even better, efficient traffic flow means fewer emissions. But Utah’s system can be expensive to install and run. To make the system feasible and affordable for any city, Stephen Smith at Carnegie Mellon University in New Jersey is working on an automated system (Utah’s is monitored by live people) that uses radar censors and cameras so that it can adjust real-time.”

Why can’t I find a stoner to smoke me and my girl out? – 29 (New Rochelle)

So tired of being sober. My girl don’t smoke but I do. I am looking for a stoner to smoke me out. I am a very easy guy to get along with. I am open minded. Looking for women really but guys can respond as well. My girl lets me mess around with other girls as well. I have pipes and bongs just lack the smoke. So if you are looking for a fun loving guy to smoke with hit me up.

Science writer Fred Hapgood dreamed big when Omni asked him, in 1990, to pen “No Assembly Required,” an article that predicted how insect-sized microorganisms would be serving our needs by 2029. None of his prognostications seem even remotely on the horizon just 15 years away. Three excerpts follow, about futuristic dental care, housecleaning and home security.


Dental Microsnails That Brush Your Teeth for You While You Sleep

During the average lifetime a human spends a total of 40 days of his life brushing his teeth. (Sixty if he flosses.) Recent breakthroughs in microtractor technology, however, have now made it possible for us to offer our customers the dental microsnaii.

Just rub onto teeth before sleeping: During the night each microsnaii glued to a pair of traction balls, systematically explores the entire surface of the tooth on which it lands. As it moves, powered by the mouth’s own natural electrochemistry, it secretes minute quantities of bioengineered enzymes that detect and epoxy microcracks in enamel, remove plaque, and shred organic material caught between teeth. You awake to find your smile polished to a high gloss. Microsnails are small enough to be barely detectable by the tongue and harmless if swallowed. They vanish down the gut after they’ve finished their job.

For those interested in the latest in decorative dentistry, Microbots also makes an “artist microsnaii” that colors
your incisors in the pattern of your choice, from a simple checkerboard to selected graphics based on works of
Braque, Klee, Mondrian, and De Kooning. lmages fade after 24 hours.


Tiny Quicker Picker-Uppers

Let your fingers do the housecleaning. Order Micromaids from our catalog and put a thousand domestic servants in the palm of your hand.

Arrange “anthills” (small containers, each the size of a bagel) inconspicuously under chairs and behind furniture (autocamouflaging is standard with this year’s models). When the colony has detected no footfalls in that room for an hour, thousands of Micromaids, legged vehicles the size and shape of a clove, spread-out through the room. They locate loose grains of sand, grit, lint, skin, hair, and other debris, then carry the refuse back to the anthill. If the hill detects vibrations, it releases a high-pitched acoustic signal, summoning the Micromaids to return.

These home bases serve as tiny waste disposal plants. Each contains specialized microbots that process the
trash. Some secrete enzymes and bacteria to break down and sanitize organic matter. Others use tiny pincers to crush and cut up larger items. The anthill then seals the garbage in a polymer bag, which it custom-produces to surround the excreted refuse. The Micromaids carry this package to a preprogrammed location, such as a chute leading to a trash compactor in the basement of your house.


RoboHornets: The Ultimate Weapon for Home Security

Let’s face it — as wonderful as the  twenty-first century can be, home security is a growing challenge for all of us. Here’s how Microbots can help you deal with it: Whenever the nest detects a possible intruder entering a zone you have designated as “private,” a mosquito-size probe takes off and lands quietly on the person’s clothing and locates a flake of skin caught in the garment. An onboard DNA sampler then radios the raw biological data back to the nest, where a DNA fingerprinting lab performs an analysis and checks the results against a list of those individuals cleared for access to the area. If the person is unauthorized, the mosquito probe triggers a loud and explicit warning message from a rooftop speaker while summoning a cloud of other RoboHornets, each carrying a vicious-looking one-inch-long crimson-colored stinger. Any intruder continuing to ignore the warning message will receive a lesson in the sanctity of private property, the memory of which will linger for several months.•


From the March 2, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Wellesley, Mass. — Preparations were made at the Wellesley College farm to-day for the Institution to begin breeding its own cats for dissection by the young women students. By so doing Wellesley becomes the first educational institution in the world to raise its own laboratory victims, and makes itself independent of the exigencies of the chase which sometimes yielded fat cats, sometimes thin ones, and frequently mangy ones. The experiment is the result of the arrest and fine imposed on a Wellesley janitor for stealing valuable felines for the college dissection tables.”

After VictrolaHut, RadioShack is the most perplexing American company still in business. Named after an outdated technology and offering none of the advantages of other brick-and-mortar stores let alone online outlets, its stock currently trades for 94 cents, which is about three dollars too high. I wish those folks well, but really! From Sarah Halzack’s Washington Post article about the chain (sort of) trying to reinvent itself:

“The company is pitching the remodeled stores as ‘interactive,’ a word that seems ubiquitous these days as many brick-and-mortar retailers try to create a unique experience in their shops to help ward off online competitors. At the outpost on Seventh Street NW in the District’s bustling Gallery Place neighborhood, the company has added a sleek headphone demonstration station where customers can try out gear from brands such as Beats by Dr. Dre and Skullcandy. A ‘speaker wall’ allows customers to sample many of the speakers sold in the store by controlling them from an iPad. Gadgets such as the iPhone and iPad are displayed so customers can play with them, a set-up that marks a change from before, when the shop only showed printed renderings of what the devices looked like when taken out of the box.

‘It’s really just all about improving the customer experience and delivering on their expectations for us as a brand,’ said Jennifer Warren, RadioShack’s chief marketing officer.

Although these additions might mark a step forward for RadioShack, the ability to test gadgets has long been available at competitors such as Apple and Best Buy. Also, RadioShack plans to remodel only 100 stores by the end of the year — a small fraction of its 4,000 locations.

‘They’re right now effectively catching up to what others have done,’ said Will Frohnhoefer, an equity research analyst at BTIG.”

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A piece of Superintelligence that Nick Bostrom adapted for Slate which stresses that AI doesn’t need be like humans to surpass us:

“An artificial intelligence can be far less humanlike in its motivations than a green scaly space alien. The extraterrestrial (let us assume) is a biological creature that has arisen through an evolutionary process and can therefore be expected to have the kinds of motivation typical of evolved creatures. It would not be hugely surprising, for example, to find that some random intelligent alien would have motives related to one or more items like food, air, temperature, energy expenditure, occurrence or threat of bodily injury, disease, predation, sex, or progeny. A member of an intelligent social species might also have motivations related to cooperation and competition: Like us, it might show in-group loyalty, resentment of free riders, perhaps even a vain concern with reputation and appearance.

An AI, by contrast, need not care intrinsically about any of those things. There is nothing paradoxical about an AI whose sole final goal is to count the grains of sand on Boracay, or to calculate the decimal expansion of pi, or to maximize the total number of paper clips that will exist in its future light cone. In fact, it would be easier to create an AI with simple goals like these than to build one that had a humanlike set of values and dispositions. Compare how easy it is to write a program that measures how many digits of pi have been calculated and stored in memory with how difficult it would be to create a program that reliably measures the degree of realization of some more meaningful goal—human flourishing, say, or global justice.”


Peter Thiel, contrarian Libertarian, always makes for an interesting subject for a Reddit AMA, not only for his differences of opinion but also for his breadth of interests. A few exchanges follow from his latest one.



At Disrupt this week, you mentioned that “Uber was the most ethically challenged company in Silicon Valley.” However, if the power law holds true, isn’t it optimal strategy to do anything to win?

Peter Thiel:

Not optimal if you break the law to the point where the company gets shut down (think Napster). I’m not saying that will happen to Uber, but I think they’ve pushed the line really far.



A lot of people on Reddit care about Net Neutrality, and also have a healthy distrust of government. The commonly proposed solution being suggested by the EFF and other pro-technology and net neutrality organizations is to classify broadband/internet service as a Title II common carrier (AKA as a ‘telecommunication service’ that can not discriminate data, instead of ‘information service’ which can). My main hesitation with this is that this would give the FCC even more control over ISPs, which may have unintended consequences on the freedom on the internet. What are your views on current net neutrality issues, and do you have any ideas on this or other solutions?

Peter Thiel:

We’ve had these debates about net neutrality for over 15 years. It hasn’t been necessary so far, and I’m not sure anything has changed to make it necessary right now.

And I don’t like government regulation: We need the US government to regulate the internet about as much as we need the EU to regulate Google — I suspect the cons greatly outweigh the pros, especially in practice.



What is one thing you believe to be true that most do not?

Peter Thiel:

Most people believe that capitalism and competition are synonyms, and I think they are opposites. A capitalist accumulates capital, and in a world of perfect competition all the capital gets competed away: The restaurant industry in SF is very competitive and very non-capitalistic (e.g., very hard way to make money), whereas Google is very capitalistic and has had no serious competition since 2002.



Why do you think more wealthy people don’t fund anti-aging research? What do you think could be done to encourage them to do more?

Peter Thiel:

Most people deal with aging by some strange combination of acceptance and denial. I think the psychological blocks to thinking about aging run very deep, and we need to think about it in order to really fight it.



What did you think when you first met Elon Musk?

Peter Thiel:

Very smart, very charismatic, and incredibly driven — a very rare combination, since most people who have one of these traits learn to coast on the other two.

It was kind of scary to be competing against his startup in Palo Alto in Dec 1999-Mar 2000.



What was your reaction to The Social Network movie?

Peter Thiel:

The zero-sum world it portrayed has nothing in common with the Silicon Valley I know, but I suspect it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of the dysfunctional relationships that dominate Hollywood.•

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Mont Blanc is the most-climbed mountain in the world, its considerable dangers seemingly disappeared into the crush of bodies swarming its base. From Lukas Eberle and Victoria Weidemann at Spiegel:

“Business with the White Lady is booming. In both Italy and nearby Switzerland, there are some 50 companies offering guided tours up the mountain; in France, there are 70, with 20 of those based in Chamonix. Including training, preparation and acclimatizing to the altitude, the trip to the top takes about a week with customers paying an average of €1,500 ($1,940), including the guide.

‘Demand is huge, we have reached our capacity,’ says Bernard Prud’homme, head of the Chamonix tourism bureau. The municipality, he says, ‘is no longer advertising’ for Mont Blanc. ‘No ads, no campaigns. Otherwise, the routes would be even fuller.’

Mont Blanc has become symbolic of modern-day mountaineering. No longer reserved for experts, the highest peaks are now also frequented by adventure-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. Mountains like Mont Blanc have come to be seen as tourist destinations.

The routes are prepared with anchors and fixed ropes, with climbers simply clipping in. Last year, the Refuge du Goûter opened at an altitude of 3,835 meters, a futuristically designed mountain hut build by the Club Alpin Français, to provide shelter for those heading to the top. It is designed to withstand wind-speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour (185 miles per hour). Indeed, the mountain is becoming domesticated, made available for consumption. But that hasn’t made it any less dangerous. On the contrary, it is one of the deadliest mountains in the world.”

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I have no interest in comic-book blockbusters or most of the contemporary culture aimed at aging fanboys (and girls) longing for YA comfort, but in his long-form New York Times Magazine essay, “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” A.O. Scott finds solace in this regression. An excerpt:

“It is now possible to conceive of adulthood as the state of being forever young. Childhood, once a condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure (‘wait until you’re older’), is now a zone of perpetual freedom and delight. Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things: We can live with our parents, go to summer camp, play dodge ball, collect dolls and action figures and watch cartoons to our hearts’ content. These symptoms of arrested development will also be signs that we are freer, more honest and happier than the uptight fools who let go of such pastimes.

I do feel the loss of something here, but bemoaning the general immaturity of contemporary culture would be as obtuse as declaring it the coolest thing ever. A crisis of authority is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary and weird and ambiguous. But it can be a lot of fun, too. The best and most authentic cultural products of our time manage to be all of those things. They imagine a world where no one is in charge and no one necessarily knows what’s going on, where identities are in perpetual flux. Mothers and fathers act like teenagers; little children are wise beyond their years. Girls light out for the territory and boys cloister themselves in secret gardens. We have more stories, pictures and arguments than we know what to do with, and each one of them presses on our attention with a claim of uniqueness, a demand to be recognized as special. The world is our playground, without a dad or a mom in sight.”


Norbert Wiener’s worried vision for an automated America never was realized–until maybe now, that is. In an article in the August 18, 1950 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the cyberneticist and mathematician explained how the second Industrial Revolution might be a mixed blessing. The story:

Cambridge, Mass. — If Russia doesn’t ruin us the robots will, a noted scientist predicted today. Dr. Norbert Wiener, professor of mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Moscow and the new mechanical brains might even prove unwitting allies in driving the United States into a “decade or more of ruin and despair.”

Wiener is the bearded former boy prodigy who earned his doctorate of philosophy at the age of 19 and went on to develop the new science of ‘cybernetics’–the use of communication in controlling men or machines.

Will Take Over Tasks

He said the United States is on the verge of a “second industrial revolution” in which robot factories operated by so-called mechanical brains will take over all the routine tasks of production from men.

“Short of any violent political changes or another great war, I should give a rough estimate that it will take the new tools 10 or 20 years to come into their own,” Wiener said.

But he added that the demands of a war with Russia would speed the development of robot factories and “almost inevitably see the automatic man age in full swing within less than five years.”

What happen to humans when the robots take over?

May Be a Good Thing

Wiener has a word of warning about that in a new book, The Human Use of Human Beings, which will be published Monday by Houghton Mifflin Company.

If the new machines are used wisely, he said, it may in the long run ‘make this a good thing and the source of the leisure which is necessary for the cultural development of man on all sides.

But Wiener said the depression of the 1930s will look like “pleasant joke’ in comparison with what will happen if the nation misuses the new machines which can calculate, remember, pass judgement and even succumb to nervous breakdowns.

“Thus the new industrial revolution is a two-edged sword,” he said. “It may be used for the benefit of humanity, assuming that humanity survives long enough to enter a period in which such a benefit is possible.”•


Here’s another video that’s popped up again after being unavailable for a spell. It’s narrated 1977 footage of innovations aimed to aid the deaf and blind. At the 3:40 mark, there’s excellent footage of the Kurzweil Reading Machine and its inventor.


Those preparing for one apocalypse or another (and their personal shoppers) are driven by myriad forces: facts, prejudices and profits among them. But I’ll add another cause to those obvious ones: hope. I don’t believe the culture of dystopia is ringing cash registers because people are literally hopeful that billions of human beings will die, but I do think many hold dear the fantasy of a post-civilization because of the disquiet the developed word causes. To think that it could all be over is to ease anxieties. Maybe we don’t only fear scarcity but also the absence of it. From Jason Concepcion at Grantland:

“Modern life is way too dark for stories about building great nations. Tides are in full ebb. Dystopian fiction and media is a reaction to our reaction to the now constant whisper of bad fucking news: terrorism, financial crisis, the erosion of the middle class, historic drought, racial animus, global warming, choosing between water and energy. In dystopian stories, as in real life, the only sane reaction to a stranger with a gun is fear and flight.

Dystopias reflect the fear that our future will be one of scarcity, without the the promise of a great manifest destiny. ‘In a way, how can you be a sane and compassionate human being and not be increasingly alarmed by what’s happening to the planet, when it’s potentially civilization-ending?’ said author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) recently in the New York Times.

Dystopian fiction takes the stark drama of the frontier and moves it into your neighborhood. This modern-frontier idea manifests itself most tellingly on reality television. Shows like Doomsday Castle and Doomsday Preppers take environmental and economic fears and view them through the lens of America’s demographic shift.

Both shows can be summed up as terrified white people stockpiling food and guns. One man on Doomsday Preppers explains his system for hiding and securing food supply caches thusly: ‘Out here in the rural areas, people are going to be spilling out to take what farmers have. I’m not going to allow my family to be a target.'”

Time Travel wanted

Looking for a way to travel or send information into the past. Please help.

From Mattathias Schwartz’s largely negative Technology Review critique of Nicholas Car’s latest book, The Glass Cage, which focuses on the dark side of automation, some smart commentary about the real nature of Facebook:

“Carr spends most of The Glass Cage treating automation as though it were a problem of unenlightened personal choices—suggesting that we should often opt out of technologies like GPS in favor of manual alternatives. Yet the decision to adopt many other innovations is not always so voluntary. There is often something seductive and even coercive about them. Consider a technology that Carr himself discusses: Facebook, which seeks to automate the management of human relationships. Once the majority has accepted the site’s addictive design and slight utility, it gets harder for any one individual to opt out. (Though Facebook may not look like an example of automation, it is indeed work in disguise. The workers—or ‘users’—are not paid a wage and the product, personal data, is not sold in a visible or public market, but it does have a residual echo of the machine room. Personal expression and relationships constitute the raw material; the continuously updated feed is the production line.)

Carr flirts with real anger in The Glass Cage, but he doesn’t go far enough in exploring more constructive pushback to automation. The resistance he endorses is the docile, individualized resistance of the consumer—a photographer who shoots on film, an architect who brainstorms on paper. These are small, personal choices with few broader consequences. The frustrations that Carr diagnoses—the longing for an older world, or a different world, or technologies that embody more humanistic and less exploitative intentions—are widespread. For these alternatives to appear feasible, someone must do the hard work of imagining what they would look like.”

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Google hobos they might be called, these employees of the search giant who apparently live in their cars in the parking lot while using the generous facilities of the company’s campus to bathe, eat and manage their errands. It’s an odd, modern mix of vagrancy and the lush life. From Alyson Shontell of Business Insider:

“Why bother paying rent when you can shower, eat, work out, do laundry, and sleep at your office?

Google perks are so good some employees say they’ve spent weeks living on campus to avoid paying rent, according to a Quora thread.

‘Technically, you weren’t supposed to live at the office, but people got around that by living in their cars in the parking lot of the office or the Shoreline parking lot,’ one Googler writes. ‘[One] guy lived in the camper for 2-3 years. Showered at the gym. Did his laundry on campus. Ate every meal on campus he could. After the 2-3 years, he had saved up enough money to buy a house.”

Former Google designer Brandon Oxedine says he lived on Google’s campus for three months in 2013.

‘I was in a unique situation working at Google where I had showers and food that were very convenient to me,’ he writes on Quora. ‘I lived in a Volvo station wagon…I set up a twin mattress from IKEA and put up black curtains (on the 90% blacked out windows) and slept there mostly every night.'”


Via Delancey Place, an excerpt from Michael Capuzzo’s Close to Shore about the moral battleground that was summer of 1916 on American beaches–the Summer of the Thigh:

“The most shocking development was in the water, where the rising hems of swimming costumes became a battle line drawn by the Victorian establishment. In that summer of 1916, there was a cultural revolution over the ideal female form — the cover-all Victorian skirt-and-trouser bathing costumes gave way to lithe, form-fitting swimsuits, and the modern American image, practical and sensual, was born. The appearance of languorous female arms, legs, and calves as public erotic zones roused a national scandal. On Coney Island, police matrons wrestled women in the new clinging wool ‘tube’ suits out of the surf. In Chicago, police escorted young women from the Lake Michigan beach because they had bared their arms and legs. In Atlantic City, a woman was attacked by a mob for revealing a short span of thigh. The American Association of Park Superintendents stepped into the fray with official Bathing Suit Regulations, requiring trunks ‘not shorter than four inches above the knee’ and skirts no higher than ‘two inches above the bottom of the trunks.’ Police took to the beaches with tape measures and made mass arrests.”


Maybe we don’t all need flying cars, but we have to be able to do better than the current municipal buses, which are essentially CO2-vomiting dinosaurs. From Daniel Gross at Slate:

“Forget about Tesla and its futuristic new Gigafactory. When it comes to using electricity for transportation, the real action may lie in the polar opposite of the fancy sports car.

Municipal intracity buses may be déclassé, unloved, slow, lumbering behemoths. But they’re the workhorses of America’s transit systems. Last year, according to the American Public Transportation Association, buses hauled 5.36 billion passengers. While usage has fallen in recent years, thanks in part to the growth of light rail and subway systems, buses still account for more rides each year than heavy rail, light rail, and commuter rail combined—and for about half of all public transit trips.

Proterra, a South Carolina-based manufacturer with Silicon Valley ties, thinks it can lead the electric revolution. Fueled by the two forces that are transforming renewable and alternative energy in this country—venture capital and the U.S. government—the company has already put a few dozen electric buses on the road, with the promise of more to come. ‘Our technology could literally remove every single dirty diesel bus from cities,’ said Proterra CEO Ryan Popple.

It’s difficult for all-electric vehicles to compete against super-efficient hybrid gas cars like the Prius or the hybrid-model Camry, which already get very good gas mileage. ‘But we’re competing against the most atrociously inefficient vehicle in the planet,’ said Popple, a former finance executive at Tesla.”

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A follow-up post to the recent one about the history of air conditioning in the U.S., here’s an exchange about initial resistance to the machines from an interview with Salvatore Basile, author of Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed America, by Susannah Locke of Vox:


There seemed to be a ton of resistance to the idea of air conditioning. People weren’t even interested in the idea of getting cooler air. Why was that?

Salvatore Basile: 

The US is a puritan country. And because we’re a puritan country, I found that there were people who would quote the book of Amos from the Bible as the reason — that the Lord was the being who created the wind. In other words, man was not to do this. So fans were inherently sinful. This, I think, carried on to the idea of any machine that would change the weather, even though heat was something that we’d been doing for millennia.

The idea of cooling your own air, I have a feeling, to many people that felt very self-indulgent at the time. I think they objected to that from a moral standpoint. So the idea that human comfort would be mixed up with morals, well that’s sort of a bad place for the PR of air conditioning to exist. And when we got into the idea of having a machine that could actually cool the air (and the first examples of that were in the 19th century), there was one man who was ousted from his church because he had seen such a machine. And it was powered by a steam engine, and his church committee had accused him of lying because such a thing could not exist. It was against nature.

So transferring that into the modern time, I think there were many people who thought

God made bad weather so you should just put up with it.’ And I think the idea of dealing with heat was to ignore it. Indeed, in Victorian society, one must ignore hot weather because it did not exist. That was simply the given standard of behavior for the time. And so many people would ignore it and then keel over from heat stroke.

With that kind of mindset in the population, to offer them the chance to be cool did create a lot of opposition at first.”

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The famous “Crying Indian” PSA from four decades ago, which showed a Native-American tearing up over how we had carelessly polluted this great land, was a rousing success, playing upon both a sense of guilt (of both the environmental and genocidal varieties) and one of patriotism. The print and TV ad’s weeping star, Iron Eyes Cody, became (literally) the poster boy for “American Indians.” One problem: He was Italian-American, as much a fake as the glycerine tear he had “shed.” Many parties had an interest in maintaining the lie, and even after the actor was at long last exposed, he continued to deny the ruse until he passed away at 94. Talk about commitment to a role. From Zachary Crockett at Priceonomics:

“From 1930 to the late 1980s, Iron Eyes starred in a variety of Western films alongside the likes of John Wayne, Steve McQueen, and Ronald Reagan. Clad in headdresses and traditional garb, he portrayed Crazy Horse in Sitting Bull (1954), galloped through the plains in The Great Sioux Massacre (1965), and appeared in over 100 television programs. When major motion picture houses needed to verify the authenticity of tribal dances and attire, Iron Eyes was brought in as a consultant. He even provided the ‘ancestral chanting’ on Joni Mitchell’s 1988 album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm. 

By all accounts, he was Hollywood’s — and America’s — favorite Native American.

But several (real) Native American actors soon came to doubt Iron Eyes’ authenticity. Jay Silverheels, the Indian actor who played ‘Tonto’ in The Lone Ranger, pointed out inaccuracies in Iron Eyes’ story; Running Deer, a Native American stuntman, agreed that there was something strangely off-putting about the man’s heritage. It wasn’t until years later that these doubts were affirmed.

The Italian Cherokee

In 1996, a journalist with The New Orleans Times-Picayune ventured to Gueydan, Louisiana, the small town Iron Eyes had allegedly grown up in, and sought out his heritage. Here, it was revealed that ‘America’s favorite Indian’ was actually a second-generation Italian. 

‘He just left,’ recalled his sister, Mae Abshire Duhon, ‘and the next thing we heard was that he had turned Indian.’

At first, residents of Gueydan were reticent to reveal Iron Eyes’ true story — simply because  they were proud he’d hailed from there, and didn’t want his image tarnished. Hollywood, along with the ad agencies that had profited from his image, was wary to accept the man’s tale as fabricated. The story didn’t hit the newswires and was slow to gain steam, but The Crying Indian’s cover was eventually blown.”

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Fallaci by Scavullo, 1990.

Fallaci by Scavullo, 1990.

I posted this video once before, but it was removed soon thereafter: It’s a fun look from 1978 inside the studio of legendary fashion and portrait photographer Francesco Scavullo. Star-crossed model Gia Carangi is his ridiculously beautiful subject.

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From the October 9, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Memphis, Tenn. — William J. Walsh, a grocer, was killed here late yesterday in an altercation which followed his attempt to destroy the out-of-season straw hat worn by Jewel Bush, a blacksmith.”

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Semi-autonomous vehicles are certainly close to be road-ready–cars are already outfitted with some such features–but I would have assumed that fully autonomous ones were more than a decade away. Elon Musk says that it isn’t so, that they’re just a handful of years down the road. From Phys.org:

“US electric car maker Tesla is developing technology that could see vehicles run on ‘full auto pilot’ in as little as five or six years, according to its chief executive Elon Musk.

The colourful entrepreneur said his firm was stepping on the accelerator in the race against rivals such as Google and Volvo to create a driverless car, which could revolutionise the road by drastically cutting mortality rates.

‘The overall system and software will be programmed by Tesla, but we will certainly use sensors and subcomponents from many companies,’ Musk told reporters in Tokyo Monday.

‘I think in the long term, all Tesla cars will have auto-pilot capability,’ added Tesla’s 43-year-old head.

There are no self-driving cars on the market yet, but several automakers have been working on autonomous or semi-autonomous features, such as self parking, which are seen as a major advance for the auto sector.

Musk’s comments suggest that the arrival of self-driving cars could be closer than previously thought—a January report by the research firm IHS said they could start hitting highways by 2025 and number as many as 35 million globally by 2035.”


A paperless world can save the trees, sure, but those data centers we’re all plugged into come with tremendous needs for water and electricity, and every technological advance seemingly grows that beast a little more. From Izabella Kaminska at Financial Times:

“Most technology users remain blissfully unaware of the internet’s carbon footprint because most ‘users’ never have to come up close and personal with a data centre.

Yet, for all the energy efficiency that technology brings us, data centres remain the technology world’s dark little energy guzzling secret.

Data centres, it could be said, represent the unglamorous side of the technology business. They’re the plumbing that holds the whole thing together. They’re the secret sauce that gives one player an advantage over another. As a consequence, there’s zero advantage — either from a security or cosmetic point of view — of bringing attention to where your data centre is located, how it is run or how much energy it consumes.

The location of Visa’s data centres, for example, is strictly guarded. Google, meanwhile, releases only sparse information about how much energy their centres consume.

But according to a new report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch the plumbing that holds the world’s information and technology communication systems together already consumes up to 10 per cent of the world’s electricity.”


Keremeos Highway, 1951.

In 1951, the Children of Light commune of British Columbia believed the end was near, but the group lived to a ripe old age. In the aforementioned year, several dozen members of the sect boarded themselves up in a Keremeos farmhouse and awaited doomsday. It never arrived. They soon left town and eventually relocated in Arizona. Two stories follow: One from the 1951 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about the “end of the world” and a coda four decades later from the 1995 Los Angeles Times.


From the January 6, 1951 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Keremeos, B.C. — Thirty-five members on an unorthodox religious sect barricaded 11 days in a five-room farmhouse waited today for the end of the world in two more days.

The sect has been in cramped, self-imposed exile near here under the leadership of a gaunt, 60-year-old farm woman, Mrs. Agnes Carlson, since the day after Christmas.

The ‘Children of Light’ sealed themselves off from the outside world to await what they predict will be ‘doomsday’ on Jan. 8.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police, worried about sanitary conditions in the barricaded house because of overcrowding, have kept a close watch outside.

The only person known to have left the house since the group went into seclusion ‘to await the end of the world’ was a widow who walked out after the group asked her to surrender her wedding ring, police said.”


From the 1995 Los Angeles Times:

“The story of how they traveled from a Pentecostal church in tiny Keremeos, B.C., in 1951 to this isolated patch of southwestern Arizona desert, a 100-mile drive from Phoenix, is proof that they are God’s chosen, members say.

Prompted by a divine vision, a Pentecostal preacher and former businesswoman led about 40 followers out of Keremeos and on a journey throughout Canada and the United States. They preached at churches and communes about the apocalypse and the importance of repentance.

The group picked up and lost people along the way. They found a destination when the words ‘Agua Caliente’ appeared in fire-like letters in the sky to Elect Gold, the preacher.

Evidence that God was with them continued, in a donation that helped them buy the land in 1965, in a desert dotted by brush and surrounded by rocky foothills near Gila Bend.

Further proof, they say, is in the water source they found on the property, the date palm orchards and the thriving gardens of beets, carrots, cabbages and pomegranates.

The Children do nothing to recruit new members, although over the years a number of travelers have temporarily lived at the commune.

With Elect Gold said to be nearly 100 years old and bedridden by illness, Elect Star has assumed the role as leader of the sect.

They welcome occasional visitors. On a recent afternoon, three retired couples from the Midwest who drove four miles off a paved road to reach the commune were given a tour by Elect Joel, an 85-year-old former honky-tonk musician from Indiana.

Later, Elect Joel entertained the guests by playing ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ on the living room piano. Another member of the sect handed out bowls of homemade date and banana ice cream.

‘I think the sun will stop shining before this fades out,’ Elect Philip said. ‘We may look a little worn out, but God still has work left for us to do.'”

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