San Francisco is changing

A good read:

The future is running late, but the present begins in the branded universe aboveground, where bus commuters pour out of the Salesforce Transit Center down into the plaza in front of Salesforce Tower, or up a level to Salesforce Park. The three-block terminal slithers through the neighborhood, swaddled in perforated white steel that bulges and billows, like a sleeping serpent in a wedding dress. The veils do a good job of screening the structure’s bulk from the street, so that an office and residential district can grow around it without the constant reminder that buses are grinding by at pre-dial-up speeds. Inside, the steel lattice acts like a mashrabiya in Middle Eastern architecture, diffusing light and casting dappled shadows, glowing like a rain-splattered window.

San Francisco is changing

Black Sails

This:

In late August, a black-sailed ship appeared in the harbor carrying a 16-year-old visionary, a girl who had sailed from the far north across a great sea. A mass of city-dwellers and travelers, enthralled by her prophecies, gathered to welcome her. She had come to speak to the nations of Earth, to castigate us for our vanities and warn us of coming catastrophe. “There were four generations there cheering and chanting that they loved her,” the writer Dean Kissick observed. “When she came ashore, it felt messianic.”

Black Sails

Scorsese On The Unexpected

Martin Scorsese Op-Ed in the New York Times:

For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.

Scorsese On The Unexpected

Almost laminated

From the New Yorker:

The quick and cavalier consumption of others has something to do with Facebook, Humans of New York’s native and most comfortable medium. The humans in Stanton’s photos—just like the most photogenic and happy-seeming and apparently knowable humans in your timeline—are well and softly lit, almost laminated; the city recedes behind them in a still-recognizable blur. We understand each entry as something snatched from right here, from someplace culturally adjacent, if not identical, to the watcher’s world; there’s a sense (and, given Stanton’s apparent tirelessness, a corresponding reality) that this could just as easily be you, today, beaming out from the open windowpane of someone else’s news feed. Any ambiguity or intrigue to be found in a hony photo is chased out into the open, and, ultimately, annihilated by Stanton’s captions, and by the satisfaction that he seems to want his followers to feel.

Almost laminated

Brooklyn illumination

On Brooklyn:

The book ends with Campanella walking 10 miles down Flatbush Avenue from Fulton Street to his own home in Marine Park, watching as the proliferation of “hip” Edison bulbs in bars and restaurants gradually diminishes, giving way to fluorescence. The light bulbs, he claims, correlate exactly to housing-price heat maps. His final paragraphs urge readers to “flee the twee” and follow him south, toward the “Guyanese grills and Dominican bodegas” where “life is still lived unposed and uncurated and close to the bone.”

Brooklyn illumination

The attention economy

Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker:

Social-media companies monetize everyday selfhood: our preferences and personal data are tracked and sold to advertisers; our relationships are framed as potentially profitable conduits; we continually capture one another’s lucrative attention by performing some version of who we think we are. Over time, we have absorbed these terms and conditions: we might retain very little of the value we create, but we have allowed social media to make us feel valuable. These platforms encourage compulsive use by offering forms of social approval—likes on Facebook and Instagram, retweets on Twitter—that are intermittent and unpredictable, as though you’re playing a slot machine that tells you whether or not people love you. Dependency, eventually, assumes its own logic. Recently, vague reports circulated that Twitter was considering getting rid of likes. Users protested. If I could flip a switch that would allow me to get book recommendations from Twitter and puppy photos from Instagram without seeing how many followers I was acquiring or how many people had liked my posts, I would. It would help me waste less time on the Internet, and feel less invested in it. Of course, this would not provide me with as many regular infusions of useless dopamine, or make Twitter or Instagram—or the companies that advertise on them—very much money.

The attention economy

Glowing dashboards

I enjoyed this New Yorker piece on whether we took a wrong turn in adopting cars as our primary mode of transport. It includes this passage:

Still, I frequently wonder what experience I have missed out on as a consequence of never spending time behind the wheel. In my imagination, cities like Los Angeles are filled with kids who cruise across the evenings with their dashboards glowing and soft bedroom pop throbbing through their speakers. Though I’ve never been a driver, I have notions of the things I do not know. Once, some years ago, a woman in a new rented convertible drove me along Mulholland Drive near midnight in a high wind coming in off the Pacific. Our hair was ropy from exposure, and the streaming channel played “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” in a trail of sound we seemed to leave behind us in the road. The air was rough—leaves and twigs that had snapped in gusts whipped at our faces and the leather of the open seats. She took Mulholland’s bends hard, as if trying to tell me something about her that I hadn’t understood. In this suspended state between the starting place and the inevitable return, I felt, for a long moment, settled, as if I had reached the life that I’d been using mine to chase. Then we arrived; a few days later, we returned the car. That journey ended, and we do not speak much anymore.

Glowing dashboards

Poster House

A nice piece on Poster House in Manhattan:

As a medium the poster has always sat somewhere between high and low culture. It is the conduit through which so many paintings have reached bedroom walls during formative years, but also through which visual identities are established — whether through the movies, music or products. It is precisely that position, straddling communication, culture and commerce, which has led to the slipping of this most popular, recognisable but ephemeral medium between the institutional cracks. As mass reproductions, posters lack the aura of art. Yet their authenticity resides precisely in their presence on the street en masse, in their familiarity, reach and reproducibility.

Poster House

Educating Archie

I loved this article about Kevin Kelley of Shook Kelley and his approach to reinventing retail.

“It is the most daunting feeling when you go to a grocery store chain, and you meet with these starched-white-shirt executives,” Kelley tells me. “When we get a new job, we sit around this table — we do it twenty, thirty times a year. Old men, generally. Don’t love food, progressive food. Just love their old food — like Archie Bunkers, essentially. You meet these people and then you tour their stores. Then I’ve got to go convince Archie Bunker that there’s something called emotions, that there are these ideas about branding and feeling. It is a crazy assignment. I can’t get them to forget that they’re no longer in a situation where they’ve got plenty of customers. That it’s do-or-die time now.”

Forget branding. Forget sales. Kelley’s main challenge is redirecting the attention of older male executives, scared of the future and yet stuck in their ways, to the things that really matter.

“I make my living convincing male skeptics of the power of emotions,” he says.

Educating Archie

Small things

Herbert Bayer’s Bauhaus kiosk design

This is a great piece on why everyday architecture deserves respect:

Architectural preservation is often an issue of grandeur, both in a sense of size and richness, and decay. When we think of buildings that already been lost, they are almost always imposing structures—cathedrals, skyscrapers, temples. Yet the places where we enact our daily lives, and which reflect them even more than grand architectural statements, are smaller, more seemingly trivial and thus more vulnerable.

To appreciate the charms of small structures, it is useful to remind ourselves that we primarily interact with architecture from a ground level rather than the god’s-eye view employed in films and renderings. The architecture of day-to-day urban life is driven by utility and merges so integrally into our tasks that we barely notice it as architecture. There have been visionary architects who have recognized and celebrated the underrated nobility of everyday life, and there are some superlative little wonders scattered around our cities.

Small things

Casino Capital

This episode of Open Source with Christopher Lydon featuring Joshua Cohen is a really good listen.

The first full-service gambling palace has been built in Boston, that old American cultural capital. It’s a giant leap for the very idea of gambling, where, as George Bernard Shaw said, “the many must lose in order that the few may win.” It’s not just a casino but a “world above,” it advertises: 600 5-star hotel rooms over thousands of card games and slot machines.  It’s the biggest single private development in 400 years of Massachusetts; with $77 million tossed in to clean up a stinking old Monsanto chemical dump. 

Casino Capital

When television was new

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From JF Ptak Science Books:

This cover (above) from Popular Science (February 1949) speaks to those early television times to me, the screen hosted in multiple layers of framing that gives it an appearance of a piece of art, which it was.

This pamphlet was delivered by Allen Du Mont Labs (1946) with the popular dictum that color television was not only possible but a probable near-term you-can-have-it-now reality.  The unfolded pamphlet cover also forms an interesting imaginary green-sky citiscape with a very stubby tv antenna foreground:

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See JF Ptak Science Books for more.

When television was new

A fallen empire in the snow

Tkachenko

From Wired:

In the early 1970s, the Soviet Union built an amphibious airplane designed to skim the sea, searching for US nuclear submarines. It flew, but the Kremlin scuttled the Bartini Beriev VVA-14 after a prototype crashed, the designer died, and a supplier bungled an order. The one remaining plane rusts away in a field at the Russian Air Force Museum outside Moscow.

That ill-fated plane is among 33 Soviet-era relics that Danila Tkachenko photographed for his series and photo book Restricted Areas. Many see them as monuments to the Cold War, a reminder of a time when the world lived under the threat of annihilation. But Tkachenko sees the Soviet Union’s aspirations and failures, and a rejection of the pursuit of political and technological utopias. “My project is a metaphor [for] post-technology apocalypse,” he says.

The series takes its name from the dozens of “secret” cities that housed the government’s most sensitive military and scientific programs. These cities were closed to all but the people who worked in them, and visits required approval from the highest levels. Many of them still stand today, abandoned and falling into ruin.

Read the rest.

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A fallen empire in the snow

A world without GPS

constellation

Technology creeps up on us until it runs everything. From the New Yorker:

The radio signal that is the lifeblood of the Global Positioning System originates from a constellation of twenty-four satellites, orbiting more than twelve thousand miles above Earth. When it reaches the ground, after about sixty-seven milliseconds, it is so weak as to be almost imperceptible. (G.P.S. experts often compare processing the signal to trying to read by the light of a single bulb in a city thousands of miles away.) The signal tells the receiver the precise moment at which it left the satellite. Given four of these cues, processed simultaneously, the receiver can extrapolate its position in three dimensions. A timing error of as little as a millisecond can throw its calculation off by nearly two hundred miles. […]

That’s a lot of responsibility for such a weak signal. The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently determined that, within thirty seconds of a catastrophic G.P.S. shutdown, a position reading would have a margin of error the size of Washington, D.C. After an hour, it would be Montana-sized. Drivers might miss their freeway exits, but planes would also be grounded, ships would drift off course, commuter-rail systems would be tied up, and millions of freight-train cars with G.P.S. beacons would disappear from the map.

Read the rest.

A world without GPS

The beautiful 16th Century maps of Abraham Ortelius

Islandia

Last year I visited Iceland with my wife, Nayeli, and our boys, Oscar and Mateo. I bought a print of an old map of the country, which I’ve now framed.

I didn’t know anything about the history of this map, so I did I little digging and discovered it was made in 1590 (!) by the Dutch cartographer Abraham Ortelius.

Abraham made quite a few maps of the world during his lifetime. Although not accurate by modern standards, they are beautiful and fascinating.

See also this brilliant illustrated timeline of maps of Iceland and a previous post comparing a map of Lancashire by John Speed from 1610 with the same view by Google Maps.

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Abraham_Ortelius_-_ROMANI_IMPERII_IMAGO

The beautiful 16th Century maps of Abraham Ortelius

Uncanny Valley

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After spending a few years in start-up world I loved this longform article, Uncanny Valley, by Anna Wiener, and the culture it lovingly skewers. Here’s a little extract:

Most start-up offices look the same — faux midcentury furniture, brick walls, snack bar, bar cart. Interior designers in Silicon Valley are either brand-conscious or very literal. When tech products are projected into the physical world they become aesthetics unto themselves, as if to insist on their own reality: the office belonging to a home-sharing website is decorated like rooms in its customers’ pool houses and pieds-à-terre; the foyer of a hotel-booking start-up has a concierge desk replete with bell (no concierge); the headquarters of a ride-sharing app gleams in the same colors as the app itself, down to the sleek elevator bank. A book-related start-up holds a small and sad library, the shelves half-empty, paperbacks and object-oriented-programming manuals sloping against one another. It reminds me of the people who dressed like Michael Jackson to attend Michael Jackson’s funeral.

But this office, of a media app with millions in VC funding but no revenue model, is particularly sexy. This is something that an office shouldn’t be, and it jerks my heart rate way, way up. There are views of the city in every direction, fat leather loveseats, electric guitars plugged into amps, teak credenzas with white hardware. It looks like the loft apartment of the famous musician boyfriend I thought I’d have at 22 but somehow never met. I want to take off my dress and my shoes and lie on the voluminous sheepskin rug and eat fistfuls of MDMA, curl my naked body into the Eero Aarnio Ball Chair, never leave.

It’s not clear whether I’m here for lunch or an interview, which is normal. I am prepared for both and dressed for neither. My guide leads me through the communal kitchen, which has the trappings of every other start-up pantry: plastic bins of trail mix and Goldfish, bowls of Popchips and miniature candy bars. There’s the requisite wholesale box of assorted Clif Bars, and in the fridge are flavored water, string cheese, and single-serving cartons of chocolate milk. It can be hard to tell whether a company is training for a marathon or eating an after-school snack. Once I walked into our kitchen and found two Account Mana­gers pounding Shot Bloks, chewy cubes of glucose marketed to endurance athletes.

Over catered Afghan food, I meet the team, including a billionaire who made his fortune from a website that helps people feel close to celebrities and other strangers they’d hate in real life. He asks where I work, and I tell him. “Oh,” he says, not unkindly, snapping a piece of lavash in two, “I know that company. I think I tried to buy you.”

Read the whole piece here.

Uncanny Valley

Beautiful Anonymous

EAR_BeautifulAnonymous_Cover_lowbit

I love a good podcast. I even made a list of my favourites here. And some people told me they found that list useful. So here’s a new recommendation. Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People. The concept is this:

1 phone call. 1 hour. No names. No holds barred. That’s the premise behind Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, hosted by comedian Chris Gethard (the Chris Gethard Show, Broad City, This American Life, and one of Time Out’s “10 best comedians of 2015”). Every week, Chris opens the phone line to one anonymous caller, and he can’t hang up first, no matter what. From shocking confessions and family secrets to philosophical discussions and shameless self-promotion, anything can and will happen!

As an added bonus, Chris Gethard sounds an awful lot like Ferris Bueller, which is no bad thing at all.

Start with the first episode, which you can hear here.

Beautiful Anonymous