Bauhaus postcards from 1923

By Paul Klee

As you might know, I love a good postcard. Here’s something awesome featured in Wired:

In 1923, the Bauhaus was preparing for its first exhibition, where Walter Gropius, the school’s founder, would extol the benefits of industrial mass production. To publicize the events, the Bauhaus mailed out beautiful postcards.

Sixteen Bauhaus teachers and students designed postcards illustrating the German school’s ideas about art and technology. The downsized posters are full of sharp geometric drawings in black, red, yellow, and blue. Some look like rough sketches of architectural renderings, others like Cubist faces. New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) recently acquired 20 of these mini adverts, from a Weimar family who inherited the unsent cards from a relative who attended the original show. Juliet Kinchin, curator of MoMA’s Architecture and Design department, says the set of Postkarte fur die Bauhaus Ausstellung Weimar 1923 neatly encapsulate the ideas from the Bauhaus movement.

By Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
By Rudolf Baschant
By Herbert Bayer

See the article in full and more postcards here.

Bauhaus postcards from 1923

Beautiful photographs of Algiers, Algeria, from 1899

Moonlight view, with lighthouse, Algiers, Algeria][ca. 1899].
Moonlight view, with lighthouse, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
A very good friend of mine, Hicham Yezza, recently discovered a beautiful collection of photos of his home country of Algeria from 1899.

I asked Hich for his thoughts on the photographs:

“The photos evoke quite mixed feelings in me. They are exquisite portraits of a bygone era. They are also a record of colonial conquest and domination, of how a land was transformed by the arrival of a European power. Above all, they are a remarkable record of a beautiful landscape, most of which has been lost in the century since, to wars, to capitalism, to modernity.”

One day I would love to visit these places, to see them for myself, and to see how they have changed.

The cemetery, with chapel, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
The cemetery, with chapel, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Cathedral, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Cathedral, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Street of the camels, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Street of the camels, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Group, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899]
Group of Arabs, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899]
Moorish coffee house, Algiers, Algeria [ca 1899].
Moorish coffee house, Algiers, Algeria [ca 1899].
Government place, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Government place, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Moorish woman and child on the terrace, II, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Moorish woman and child on the terrace, II, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Market, Biskra, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Market, Biskra, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Luce Ben Aben, School of Arab Embroidery, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Luce Ben Aben, School of Arab Embroidery, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Museum: entrance hall, II, Algiers, Algeria
Museum: entrance hall, II, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1999].
Merchants of eatables, Bona, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Merchants of eatables, Bona, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Screenshot 2015-08-17 16.30.06
Luce Ben Aben, Moorish women preparing couscous, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Distinguished Moorish women, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Distinguished Moorish women, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
Harbor by moonlight, II, Algiers, Algeria
Harbor by moonlight, II, Algiers, Algeria [ca. 1899].
View the full collection here.

Beautiful photographs of Algiers, Algeria, from 1899

The fight to keep Tucson neon bright

From CityLab:

Tucson, Arizona, was once a glowing city, with neon signs flickering in vibrant pinks, yellows, greens, and blues. Clustered along major highways that run through the city, the signs were popular among business owners from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. Owners of motels, theaters, coffee shops, or laundromats alike relied on the bold colors and dancing pictures to entice “auto tourists.”

“This was when car camping and tourism were really propelled by the interstate and highway system,” says Jennifer Levstik, the preservation lead planner for the city’s Historic Preservation Office. “People would get into their cars and travel all over the United States, and the Southwest was a really popular destination.”

It’s not like that now, but I hope the campaign to maintain these burning lights succeeds.

The fight to keep Tucson neon bright

Spying on an unknown suburban town through its own CCTV

From Wired:

Through a simple Google search, Hammerand found a control panel for an unsecure network camera. The device was perched on a cell tower in an unidentified town, and he commandeered it to make photos of the people going about their lives. It’s a bit like the The Truman Show, with the stars of the show blissfully unaware they have an audience.

The first time Hammerand tuned in, he spied a mother and daughter walking down a street. Because the camera’s lens could zoom and rotate 360 degrees, he could follow them—an addictive level of control that kept him coming back. The photographer sometimes spent hours taking screenshots of the townspeople, who began to seem like characters in a fictional world of his creation. “It was equivalent to watching a year-long, daily episodic television show without dialogue,” he says.

Read the rest.

Spying on an unknown suburban town through its own CCTV

Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship

The sea is the last frontier on Earth. This superb interactive New York Times report makes it clear it’s still as wild as it ever was:

CHIOS, Greece — The rickety raft made of empty oil drums and a wooden tabletop rolled and pitched with the waves while tied to the side of the Dona Liberta, a 370-foot cargo ship anchored far from land in the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa.

“Go down!” yelled a knife-wielding crew member, forcing two Tanzanian stowaways overboard and onto the raft. As angry clouds gathered on the horizon, he cut the line.

Gambling on a better life, the stowaways had run out of luck. They had already spent nine days at sea, most of the time hiding in the Dona Liberta’s engine room, crouched deep in oily water. But as they climbed down onto the slick raft, the men, neither of whom knew how to swim, nearly slid into the ocean before lashing themselves together to the raft with a rope.

As the Dona Liberta slowly disappeared, David George Mndolwa, one of the abandoned pair, recalled thinking: “This is the end.”

Explore (“read” doesn’t do it justice) the rest here. 

Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship

Colour

Colour is fascinating. Radiolab have produced some wonderful thought-provoking episodes on the topic – be sure to check out Colors and Why Isn’t the Sky Blue?

This Nautilus article by Mazviita Chirimuuta is in a similar vein:

Philosophers have a bad reputation for casting unwarranted doubt on established facts. Little could be more certain than your belief that the cloudless sky, on a summer afternoon, is blue. Yet we may wonder in earnest, is it also blue for the birds who fly up there, who have different eyes from ours? And if you take an object that shares that color—like the flag of the United Nations—and place half in shadow and half in the full sun, one side will be a darker blue. You might ask, what is the real color of the flag? The appearances of colors are frequently changing with the light, and as we move the objects surrounding them. Does that mean that the actual colors change?

Read the rest here.

Colour

It’s the end of an era at the Chelsea Hotel

From the New Yorker:

At a moment when the once beautifully entangled fabric of New York life seems to be unravelling thread by thread—bookstore by bookstore, restaurant by restaurant, and now even toy store by toy store—it might be time to spare a thought or two for the Chelsea Hotel. At the hotel on Twenty-third Street, famously rundown and louche—the Last Bohemia for the Final Beatniks, our own Chateau Marmont, where Dylan Thomas drank and Bob Dylan wrote “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and Leonard Cohen wore (or didn’t; people argue) his famous blue raincoat, and Sid Vicious killed (or didn’t; they argue that, too) Nancy Spungen—the renovators and gentrifiers have arrived. The plastic sheeting is everywhere, the saws buzz and the dust rises. In a short time, the last outpost of New York bohemia will become one more boutique hotel.

Read the article in full here. See also this previous post about the iconic building.

It’s the end of an era at the Chelsea Hotel

The projection booth

From Wired:

WORKING THE PROJECTION booth at Avon Cinema was like a second film school for Taylor Umphenour. The single-screen theater on the east side of Providence, Rhode Island—a favorite among Brown and Rhode Island School of Design students—provided a sublime mix of unlimited free movies and a century’s worth of cinematic innovation.

The nine-year education would prove invaluable to the aspiring filmmaker. But as much as Umphenour cherished the analog world of carbon rods, lenses, and aperture plates, by 2011 it was clear film was dying—or at least fading into a specialty medium.

[…] for two years the owner allowed Umphenour to photograph and film what has become a relic in most US movie theaters: the 35mm projection booth. “I saw that there was an opportunity to take people into this vanishing world,” he says, “a world that was also deliberately kept in the shadows, unseen for almost a century that it existed.”

The projection booth

How electric light changed the night

From Aeon:

Before the dawn of electric light in the early 20th century, humans mostly took cues from the Sun to determine when to sleep and when to stay awake. Now, however, our exposure to artificial light sources is nearly constant. City-dwellers are barraged with all sorts of  lights at all hours of the night, and anyone with a laptop, an e-reader or even just a working lightbulb can choose to stay in light long after the Sun goes down. While these extra hours spent in light are widely viewed as more time to pursue work or leisure, studies show they might also be playing tricks on our body and cutting against our default biological rhythms.

How Electric Light Changed the Night combines a brief history of artificial light and sleeping patterns with a scientific exploration of the surprising ways artificial light affects us. The film was produced through a collaboration between the California Academy of Sciences and PBS Digital Studios as part of KQED San Francisco’s short science documentary series, Deep Look.

See also: Towers that mimicked the moon

How electric light changed the night

Everybody Street – New York City Street Photography (Trailer)

I need to watch this documentary asap. From Wired:

BEING A STREET photographer is a bit like conducting a drunk symphony: You must make order of chaos. Only a few photographers do it well, and many of them appear in Cheryl Dunn’s film, Everybody Street, which chronicles the street photography of New York City.

Dunn chose New York because it always has been at the center of the genre. Many a shooter has made a career documenting the city’s colorful characters, and many of street photography’s most iconic photographs were shot in one of its boroughs.

“If you want to get a really broad slice of humanity, you can find it in New York,” Dunn says. “Every kind of person is out there and I think that’s what’s attracted all these photographers.”

Camel Coats, 5th Avenue, New York City, 1975. Photo by: Joel Meyerowitz.

USA. New York City. 1959. Brooklyn Gang.Photo by: Bruce Davidson/Magnum

Photo by: Jamel Shabazz

Everybody Street – New York City Street Photography (Trailer)

On the road in Iceland

I visited Iceland earlier this year. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to return somewhere so much. I really enjoyed this three-part piece in McSweeney’s by Kurt Caswell:

Everybody knows that train travel is superior to all other modes of getting from here to there, except for travel by foot (“It is rich in details,” a Hungarian friend told me, who was walking around the world), and perhaps travel by camel (the romance of the Silk Road, of course), and maybe by canoe (because canoes are a kind of poetry). So except for those three, trains are superior. But then, I also love my diesel pickup with its eight-foot Alaskan camper. So, except for those four, trains are the best. And the list of great wanderer/writers who love trains is long indeed. “Trains are for meditation,” writes the late Scottish poet Alastair Reid. “I like trains,” writes Australian writer Anna Funder. “I like their rhythm, and I like the freedom of being suspended between two places, all anxieties of purpose taken care of: for this moment I know where I am going.” The 1982 Nobel Laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, called the train, through one of his characters, “a kitchen dragging a village behind it.” And novelist and travel writer, Paul Theroux, a man well-known for making long journeys by train, writes, “Ever since childhood . . . I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it.” Because “I can’t make my days longer,” Theroux muses, “… I strive to make my days better.” That’s beautiful, if you hadn’t noticed, words to live by it seems, and one way to make a day better is to travel by train.

But Scott and I were traveling in Iceland, and Iceland doesn’t have any trains. I don’t know why not, when the famed Ring Road circumnavigates the entire country, and seems a likely, even obvious route for a train. Imagine how many happy tourists (some of them wanderer/writers) might more happily part with their money while riding the train around the island. Local communities on the Ring Road Railway (surely someone has thought of this already; but if not, I get credit for that name) could decide if they wanted to build track outward from the ring to various fabulous local destinations. A circular rail line then, with rays emanating into the peninsulas, not unlike a flower with its petals. That too is beautiful, if you hadn’t noticed. Of course, one complication is that in Iceland now and again, a volcano pops it top, and the result can be a torrent of glacial melt, especially in the south from Vatnajokull, which rushes out to sea and destroys miles of highway, along with many bridges. Perhaps Iceland decided against a rail line long ago because rebuilding all that track would be just one more expensive thing to do.

Read the rest at McSweeney’s.

On the road in Iceland

The lost record shops of Paris, France

From CityLab:

For Paris-based record collector Thomas Henry, the history of vinyl is particularly fascinating. For years, he’s been amassing 78 rpm records, shellac-based phonographic discs made between 1898 and 1950. He even runs a blog about this era of recorded music. Now, he’s putting together a comprehensive map of the record stores that operated in Paris starting at the very end of 19th century and on into the first half of the 20th (the website is in French).

Disquaires de Paris (Record Stores of Paris) is an interactive guide to the city’s record shop scene from 1890 through 1960, with archival materials that connect to each pinpointed store.

The lost record shops of Paris, France

The strange shop windows of the Soviet Union

This is great. From Wired:

Walking around cities like Prague and Krakow in the late 1980s, American David Hlynsky was struck by the lack of advertising on the streets. Instead of Pepsi and the Marlboro man, shop windows displayed scant offerings of everyday items like bread or plumbing supplies. The lack of frivolity fascinated him.

“In the dying days of the Cold War, I saw these windows as a vast ad hoc museum of a great failing utopia,” Hlynsky writes.

He documented the crumbling aesthetic in 450 windows across the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. A portion of his work recently was published in Window-Shopping Through the Iron Curtain. His photos capture a world on the brink of collapse, one in which a strange blend of Communism and consumerism converge.

The strange shop windows of the Soviet Union

The art of persuasion: morals or money?

The results really aren’t that surprising, but interesting nonetheless. As summarized nicely by Marginal Revolution:

The authors assigned 691 households in Japan to one of three groups a) a moral suasion group, b) an economic incentive group or c) a control group. The moral suasion group were told that electricity conservation was important and necessary on peak demand days and then over a year when the peak times hit they were sent day-ahead and same-day messages to please reduce electricity consumption at the peak times. The economic incentive group were told that their electricity prices would be higher during certain peak periods and over the year when the peak times hit they were sent day-ahead and same-day messages telling then when the prices would be higher. Prices were approximately 2-4 times higher during the peak times. Control groups had smart meters installed but were not sent messages.

Moral suasion worked but not nearly as well as economic incentives (in the figure, lower use is better).

Read the original paper by Ito, Ido and Tanaka.

The art of persuasion: morals or money?

In Burma’s capital the only thing missing is people

One half of a wide boulevard at Naypyidaw, by Hybernator via Wikimedia Commons
One half of a wide boulevard at Naypyidaw, by Hybernator via Wikimedia Commons

From Pulitzer Center, a report by Matt Kennard and Claire Provost on Naypyidaw:

Driving through Naypyidaw, the purpose-built capital of Burma, it could be easy to forget that you’re in the middle of one of south-east Asia’s poorest countries. On either side of the street, a seemingly endless series of giant detached buildings, villa-style hotels and shopping malls look like they have fallen from the sky, all painted in soft pastel colours: light pink, baby blue, beige. The roads are newly paved and lined with flowers and carefully pruned shrubbery. Meticulously landscaped roundabouts boast large sculptures of flowers.

The scale of this surreal city is difficult to describe: it extends an estimated 4,800 square kilometres, six times the size of New York City. Everything looks super-sized. The streets – clearly designed for cars and motorcades, not pedestrians nor leisurely strolls – have up to 20 lanes and stretch as far as the eye can see (the rumour is these grandiose boulevards were built to enable aircraft to land on them in the event of anti-government protests or other “disturbances”). There is a safari park, a zoo complete with air-conditioned penguin habitat, and at least four golf courses. Unlike in much of the country, there is reliable electricity here. Many of the restaurants have free, fast Wi-Fi.

The only thing Naypyidaw doesn’t have, it seems, is people. The vast highways are completely empty and there is a stillness to the air. Nothing moves. Officially, the city’s population is 1 million, but many doubt this is anywhere close to the true figure. On a bright Sunday afternoon, the streets are silent, restaurants and hotel lobbies empty. It looks like an eerie picture of post-apocalypse suburban America; like a David Lynch film on location in North Korea.

Read the rest here.

In Burma’s capital the only thing missing is people

How anchoring bias can kill

Usually when I talk about anchoring bias it’s simply in the context of marketing: an organisation has tried to make one option seem like it’s comparatively better value than another.

Here’s the definition from Wikipedia:

Anchoring or focalism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions. During decision making, anchoring occurs when individuals use an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments. Once an anchor is set, other judgments are made by adjusting away from that anchor, and there is a bias toward interpreting other information around the anchor. For example, the initial price offered for a used car sets the standard for the rest of the negotiations, so that prices lower than the initial price seem more reasonable even if they are still higher than what the car is really worth.

One of my favourite (and now very well known) examples is the way The Economist subscriptions were priced:

Economist

Dan Ariely’s analysis of this is well worth a read:

Who would want to buy the print option alone, I wondered, when both the Internet and the print subscriptions were offered for the same price? Now, the print- only option may have been a typographical error, but I suspect that the clever people at the Economist‘s London offices (and they are clever-and quite mischievous in a British sort of way) were actually manipulating me. I am pretty certain that they wanted me to skip the Internet- only option (which they assumed would be my choice, since I was reading the advertisement on the Web) and jump to the more expensive option: Internet and print.

But how could they manipulate me? I suspect it’s because the Economist‘s marketing wizards (and I could just picture them in their school ties and blazers) knew something important about human behavior: humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We don’t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth. Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly. (For instance, we don’t know how much a six- cylinder car is worth, but we can assume it’s more expensive than the four- cylinder model.)

In the case of the Economist, I may not have known whether the Internet- only subscription at $59 was a better deal than the print- only option at $125. But I certainly knew that the print and-Internet option for $125 was better than the print- only option at $125. In fact, you could reasonably deduce that in the combination package, the Internet subscription is free! “It’s a bloody steal-go for it, governor!” I could almost hear them shout from the riverbanks of the Thames. And I have to admit; if I had been inclined to subscribe I probably would have taken the package deal myself. (Later, when I tested the offer on a large number of participants, the vast majority preferred the Internet- and- print deal.)

Our tendency to process information this way rarely does much harm (except perhaps to our wallets), but anchoring can lead to potentially catastrophic results in certain contexts. From an article by Danielle Ofri, M.D in the New York Times in 2012:

Anchoring bias is often considered the Achilles’ heel of diagnostic reasoning. It’s as though our brains close ranks around our first impression, then refuse to consider anything else. Once a patient is “billed” as a heart attack, or gastroenteritis, or anxiety, we view every data point through that particular lens.

If the data don’t fit, we tend to assume that it’s merely because the illness is presenting atypically rather than that our diagnosis might be wrong or incomplete. Anchoring bias casts an even longer shadow in today’s shift-oriented medical world, in which patients are serially handed off from one team to another. The label that is attached to them takes on a life of its own.

How anchoring bias can kill

Is this the end of asymmetric information?

I thought this essay by Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen was fascinating. Here’s the intro:

Might the age of asymmetric information – for better or worse – be over?  Market institutions are rapidly evolving to a situation where very often the buyer and the seller have roughly equal knowledge. Technological developments are giving everyone who wants it access to the very best information when it comes to product quality, worker performance, matches to friends and partners, and the nature of financial transactions, among many other areas.

These developments will have implications for how markets work, how much consumers benefit, and also economic policy and the law. As we will see, there may be some problematic sides to these new arrangements, specifically when it comes to privacy. Still, a large amount of economic regulation seems directed at a set of problems which, in large part, no longer exist.

Read the whole piece here it’s brilliantly argued, and covers everything from why the used car market is no longer flooded with lemons to why the CIA benefits greatly from continuing information asymmetry when it comes to demanding more resources from Congress.

Then read a great response to the piece, It’s Not the End of Regulation, by Joshua Gans.

Is this the end of asymmetric information?

What really works in healthcare?

The latest episode of Freakonomics is on the importance of using randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to determine the effectiveness of healthcare:

As we’ve regularly noted in the past, economists and other academic researchers have increasingly been using RCTs to study all sorts of things, including how to best fight poverty. At the forefront of this movement is J-PAL, or the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, at MIT. The award-winning economist Esther Duflo, one of J-PAL’s founders, has helped run many RCTs in India, Kenya, and elsewhere, trying to learn how best to prevent teen pregnancy and anemia, and drunk driving; and how to better incentivize nursessmall-business growth, and modern farming techniques.

In this episode, we turn our attention to the U.S. and J-PAL’s efforts to learn about what really works in healthcare delivery. We focus on research done by the MIT economist Amy Finkelstein and several colleagues, whose growing body of work in this realm is fascinating.

As Finkelstein tells us in the podcast, RCTs are far too rare in healthcare delivery — which is a shame, for the link between healthcare and poverty is strong.

Listen here.

What really works in healthcare?

Abandoned towers

From Wired, photographs by Spencer Harding of abandoned microwave towers across the US:

The skyway was the largest network of its kind when it opened, and it marked the first time telephone conversations and television broadcasts were made via microwaves, not transmission wires. After 1951, more towers and repeaters were built across the country in an ever-expanding web. Six decades later, however, the system had long since ceased being relevant, and AT&T sold off most of the network in 1999. Many towers—the tallest of which are hundreds of feet tall—were abandoned, vandalized, or scrapped.

Abandoned towers

Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker

Joseph Mitchell outside Sloppy Louie’s restaurant with Louis Morino, the subject of Mitchell’s 1952 <i>New Yorker</i> profile ‘Up in the Old Hotel’
Joseph Mitchell outside Sloppy Louie’s restaurant with Louis Morino, the subject of Mitchell’s 1952 New Yorker profile ‘Up in the Old Hotel’

From the New York Review of Books a profile of Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker:

Where the hell is this going? As in all of Mitchell’s pieces everything is always going somewhere, though not necessarily so you’d notice. Mitchell is one of the great masters of the device of the plot twist disguised as a digression that seems pointless but that heightens the effect of unforced realism. Louie tells Mitchell of an incident that occurred a few years after he left Joe’s. Mrs. Frelinghuysen had died and Louie had married and bought his restaurant and rented the building it was in. One afternoon a long black limousine pulled up in front of the building and a uniformed chauffeur came into the restaurant and said, “Mrs. Schermerhorn wanted to speak to me, and I looked at him and said, ‘What do you mean—Mrs. Schermerhorn?’ And he said, ‘Mrs. Schermerhorn that owns this building.’” Louie is stunned to hear this. He had assumed the real estate company he paid his rent to was the owner. But no, the beautiful woman who gets out of the limousine, the recently widowed Mrs. Arthur F. Schermerhorn, owns the building. Louie asks her if she knows anything about its history, but she doesn’t—she is just inspecting the properties she has inherited from her husband. She drives off and he never sees her again.

I went back inside and stood there and thought it over, and the effect it had on me, the simple fact my building was an old Schermerhorn building, it may sound foolish, but it pleased me very much. The feeling I had, it connected me with the past. It connected me with Old New York.

Read the rest.

Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker