Yearly Archives: 2010

Serfdom in the Magic Kingdom

Third in the series of indeterminate length, Recolonizing Detroit

Calling Paul Romer’s charter cities, “OCP-like company towns” is unfair. The towns presumably would be run like any other city controlled by colonial power; or at least like any other city occupied by the colonial power (i.e the indigenous population kept out of the highest reaches of power). However there once was a plan for a real Delta City: Walt Disney’s EPCOT. A state of the art, centrally planned town, where every resident would be an employee of the Walt Disney Company (retirees would be evicted), and no one would own – nor control – their own residences. (See Walt Disney tout EPCOT at the 9:10 mark.) The town would be run by the board of directors of the Walt Disney corporation, presumably with Walt himself as feudal lord. Anti-democratic?, Well as the OCP President said in RoboCop 2, “Anybody can own a share [of OCP]. What could be more democratic?” (Funny how often rabid anti-communists aren’t exactly democracy’s biggest supporters, isn’t it?)

EPCOT never got off the ground, and instead turned into a rather dreary part of Walt Disney World with a giant golf ball for a center piece. Even when I saw it in 1989, it seemed like the fabulous future of 1992 circa 1982. (A robot that can draw pictures! A computer that plays music! Zounds!) The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow didn’t completely die though. In 1996, it spawned Celebration, Florida, a town centrally planned by the Walt Disney Corporation.

Celebration, is planned according to the New Urbanism school. You may recognize this style from the town in the Truman Show, Seaside, Florida. Personally, I find the towns repugnant. The faux-small town feel, the “rustic” municipal architecture. It’s so saccharine. It’s Stepford, Connecticut. They leave me with impression zoning laws and homeowner associations that preoccupied with maintaining soul crushing conformity. Yet, I find the goals of walkable and picturesque towns enviable. It’s the idea of a master plan that bothers me, rather than towns simply being organic. I think this, but I ironically live in a country where pretty much every town was centrally planned to at least some extent.

It is obvious that Romer’s charter cities would be master planned communities, after all he posits that that new cities spring forth from undeveloped land relatively quickly. In order to do this, someone will have say what gets built and where. Unfortunately, whenever I think of new construction lots, I think “stifling.” Houses built every two feet, all with the same floor plan and different permutations of the same three architectural choices. (Do you want your door solid, or with an oval window? Dormers or no? White or cream? Rollaway basketball rim on the left or right side of driveway? No I’m sorry, nothing permanent can be attached to the front of the house. We must think of the property values you know!) Worst of all, since HOAs aren’t the government, you have no protections, no representation, and no benefits, all for the low price of $250 and three headaches a year.

The Facebook Map

Paul Butler’s Facebook friend visualization has been going around the intertubes recently. He says:

Not only were continents visible, certain international borders were apparent as well. What really struck me, though, was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships. Each line might represent a friendship made while travelling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life.

While it is true that’s what the arcs represent “friends”, but the image is informed by the geographic coordinates of the planet. What I find interesting isn’t what his visualization shows, but what it doesn’t show.

Here’s what I found.
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Sony’s PS-F9 (1983)

Sony announced the discontinuation of the Walkman. Like Christopher Hickey of Salon, I was surprised that they were still making them. Of course the world is not developed economies, so there is/was a market for them.

Throughout Hickey’s article, he linked to Walkman Central to highlight different models. It’s a site cultivated with the love and obsession that makes the Internet proud. Poking around I came a cross the PS-F9, portable phonograph. Ultimately impractical, it was only made in 1983. It featured next and previous song controls, and of course the exposed record and vertical orientation.

I’d love to have one of these, and put it next to a Teac X-2000R, but the only vinyl records I own are a possibly scratched “Ghostbusters” soundtrack and a sealed copy of R.E.M.’s “Monster”. Borrowing albums from my parents isn’t really an option, because with the notable exceptions of James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,”, and “The Johnny Cash Show“, I’d be left with Englebert Humperdinck, the symphonic Beatles, and a “Teach Yourself Polish” album sans workbook. Well that’s not entirely true, there is “Tom Jones Sings She’s a Lady”, but it is quite a sad collection.


Mike Thompson‘s latest project, Latro, again examines using biology as an energy source. Actually, it’s not really a device at all, but rather simply a mock up of a device. According to the detailed description Latro uses 30-nanometer gold electrodes to extract electrical current from the chloroplasts of algae. Like his previous work, owners must consider the source of the energy they are receiving. Before they had to make a cost-benefit calculation, and now they must maintain and care for the energy source.

The Yansei/Stanford team that inspired this work successfully drew a currents of between 1.2 – 12 pA depending on light intensity. Thompson points in terms of amps per area, this is 0.6 – 6.0 mA/cm2. Photovoltaic cells currently operate at about 35 mA / cm2. Extracting a few electrons from photosynthesis is interesting, but it’s hard for me to think of how this could scale to anything beyond a lab bench curiosity, since you need a nanowire in each chloroplast you want to siphon from. So why do this? The Yansei/Stanford team wasn’t actually trying to create a power source, but rather wanted to study electron transfer in photosynthesis.

Clearly, photosynthesis extraction isn’t going to to replace photovoltaics, but it is interesting to think of a world where technology has biological components. Say <biological neural networks to solve complex problems. A sort of biopunk world, or perhaps just Star Trek circa 2370.

Blood Lamp

Mike Thompson‘s Blood Lamp is a sealed flask containing luminol. When the owner finds himself in need of light, the neck is broken, and the owner uses the jagged edge to cut his finger and drip blood into the liquid contained in the flask.

On a superficial level, the lamp looks like something out of Zork, or something out of an alchemical lab. (Funny, how “menstrual blood of a virgin” is never a magical ingredient. It would be in my magical world.) Thompson says his intention was to bring awareness to how much energy is consumed by each person in a year, and this work does do that in a way that only art can. The other thing that I like about this work is that it uses blood as an energy source.

Like many people, I’ve fantasized about blood powered medical implants, and wondered how such implants would effect the patient’s appetite and energy levels. Earlier this year, an implantable glucose powered fuel cell was tested. Recreating the glucose fuel cell, is probably difficult to make at home, but a blood lamp can be made with a simple order of luminol from online suppliers. Place a solar cell around the luminol, and very inefficient blood powered device can be yours.

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Design collaborative Mad Lab‘s chandelier Bacterioptica (located somewhere in New Jersey, much like Toxie. No, not that one, this one.) features exposed fiber optics (courtesy of Del Lighting) routed through petri dishes full of bacteria. As the bacteria colonies mature, the light is attenuated.

Mad Lab’s site implies that it’s available as a kit, but I don’t know if I want E. Coli hanging above the dinner table. Still, the light looks very cool, and I imagine that the light diffused through agar would be very interesting indeed.

Detail photo after the jump.
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