Monthly Archives: September 2010

Viking Buddha

In the Sixth Century, somewhere in the Swat Valley, an Indian Buddhist carved this jade figurine of Buddha.

In 1954, the figurine was unearthed in Helgö, Sweden, during the excavation of a medieval Viking farm. It was found with an Egyptian ladle, a Byzantine bowl, an Irish crozier. It is now on display at the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm.

How it traveled to Sweden, and how long it took, is anyone’s guess.

This story reminds me of the shark tooth clubs found buried at Cahokia Mounds in Southern Illinois. Obviously, the clubs weren’t local, and had made their way through a trade network to just outside St Louis. When I visited Cahokia in early high school and learned of the clubs, I imagined them being traded from person to person all the way up from Florida. Each transaction moving the them further inland, and therefore making them rarer and more valuable. Now that I’m older, I think they probably became more of a curiosity, rather than an valuable piece. “That weird fish club,” instead of “the rare exotic fish club,” so to speak. Still, multiple people probably paid a premium for them. Just not a large one.

Meet Eater

Bashkim Isai has hooked up a plant so that it gets its nourishment from interacting a social networks. Named Meet Eater, the plant receives a dose of water every time someone performs a social gesture about it on Facebook. After 91 days, it currently has 8140 fans.

Do we have something to replace Internet vending machines? No. Nothing will replace Internet vending machines.

Thanks Max!

The Bridge

I finally watched Eric Steel’s film The Bridge on Hulu. After reading this 2003 New Yorker article about Golden Gate Bridge suicide jumpers, Eric Steel set up cameras around the GGB to film the jumpers. He managed to film 23 of the 24 suicides in 2004, and in the process, annoy CalTrans for showing a part of the bridge experience that tourists shouldn’t see.

The film is fascinating, and thankfully doesn’t take the easy melodramatic or Helen Lovejoy approach. Steel treats the the subject, and everyone, involved with a distance that makes the film come off as more descriptive than anything. Other film makers may have turned the second half into a call for foxconn-esque nets.

When I first mentioned bridge jumpers, I said:

I [had become] enamored with the moment that the jumper’s center of gravity moves over the water, and the inevitable plunge begins. That moment, when your heart skips a beat, and your stomach tenses, and you think “Here we go!” It’s not the moment of total commitment. No, it’s the moment just after that. Did they intend to go just then, or were they just trying to get up the nerve when they slipped? More disturbingly, do they change their mind on the way down?

In the film, jump survivor Kevin Hines, recounts his experience. “[I] hurdled over the railing with my hands, and I was falling head first. And the second my hands left the bar – the railing – I said, ‘I don’t want to die. What am I going to do? This is it. I’m dead.'” Watching person, after person, simply turn, climb over the railing and immediately jump, I wonder how many of them were like him.

One that probably didn’t think twice was featured jumper Eugene Sprague. The interviews with Sprague’s friends, reveal a man that for years had decided to kill himself. He simply was waiting for the time to do it. He reminded me of my great aunt Doris. Aunt Doris, talked about suicide for years. She even tried a multiple times, while simultaneously teaching me lessons about suicide. Lessons like, cutting your wrists doesn’t work. You have to cut your elbows, or as they say, “Down the road, not across the street.” She taught me, that if you want to get hit by a train, you should check the train schedule first. Perhaps her best advice was when she told a 9 year old me, “Jonathan, if you ever want kill yourself, don’t try to electrocute yourself. It hurts like hell.” My response: “Oh, okay.” My mom and my great Uncle Lee, would take her to psychiatrists for years, but none of that helped. My mom says that eventually one of them simply said, that Aunt Doris would keep trying until eventually she succeeded.

On my birthday, (I think my 10th birthday), she came over and brought me a lava lamp, almost identical to the one that she had sitting in her living room. I thought her lava lamp was one of the coolest things around. When I opened the box, I was amazed. I couldn’t imagine ever getting something so grown up like a lamp. It was awesome. She said, sitting in the recliner of my parents’ living room. “I got you that so you’d have something to remember your crazy Aunt Doris by.” I was confused by the statement, but mostly just in awe of owning a lava lamp. I remember that my mom got up and left the room rather angrily, and I had no idea why. The next day, Aunt Doris shot herself in the heart with a pistol and died.

I still have the lamp.

iTunes 10 is Full of Fail

iTunes 10 sucks. There. I said it. I find it infuriatingly difficult to use compared to iTunes 9, for two very simple reasons. First, Apple has once again decided to take a page out of the Linux book, and no longer have all the applications look the same. When MacOSX came out, there were two themes: aqua and metal. This sucked, because quite often if you had two different applications open simultaneously, the user would see two windows that looked very different. It was depressing, and made your desktop look like amateur hour at a Linux User Group meeting. After eight years, and the release of Leopard (MacOSX 10.5), windows finally looked uniform. Well, until “Pro” or whatever Apple is calling the Aperture toolkit theme, came out.

With iTunes 10, Apple has embraced the notion, that for some reason, media players don’t have to look like other applications. (Personally, I blame WinAmp for starting this.) Apple moved the max-min-close buttons for reason. I have no idea why they would do this. It kills all muscle memory on how to use the window manager.

The second thing that makes iTunes 10 needlessly difficult to use, is the purging of all color from the interface. Why? I’m not color blind, why should I be forced to act like I am? The use of color for the sidebar icons made distinguishing among playlist types, libraries, and the like easy, since each icon had one predominant color. Now I have to stare at identically colored, and similarly shaped icons, to find what I want. Again, I have no idea why would do this. This is clearly a step backwards in usability. Seriously, check out this screenshot of iTunes 9, and try to tell me this is worse than iTunes 10.

Don’t even get me started on using the music player to purchase a book and sync it to my tablet.
(Can we just kill “iTunes” and replace it with a new “iMedia”, Steve-O?)


Second in the series of indeterminate length, Recolonizing Detroit

The second story that spawned this series, was about Paul Romer’s “charter cities” idea. (Or as Metafilter put it, “neocolonial OCP-like company towns.“) Romer’s plan is get poor countries to cede governmental control of some unpopulated land to a rich foreign country and its investors, and let them build a city there. The city grows, becomes prosperous because capitalism and free markets, and then the rest of the country slowly begins to imitate the charter city. Essentially, he’s proposing creating a new Hong Kong, but without the warships and the opium.

Continue reading

Here’s Your Goddamn Jet Pack

The Martin jetpack Lisa mentioned, is undergoing final testing . Estimated retail price: $100,000.

Part of me would like a jet pack, but in all honesty, I don’t know what I’d do with it. I guess commute with it. Of course, if I did that, I’d feel like I was underdressed for the jet pack crowd if I wasn’t wearing a tux. Jet packs aren’t Buck Rodgers, as much as James Bond for me. If I had one, I’d want to walk out of a cocktail party, followed close behind by an overweight archnemesis and his sultry girlfriend. I’d turn and say, “Be seeing you,” snap the visor shut on my helmet and blast away straight up into the night, while the archnemesis turns red in frustration, and the girlfriend clutches her bosom and looks up longingly as the jet wash waves her hair and dress, making her look ever more ravishingly beautiful.

In reality though, the jet pack would be sitting out in my apartment’s parking lot under a tree than constantly drops leaves and pollen on it, so I’d have pull a big tarp off of it. Drag it out into the middle of the lot. Put on a helmet that would be too tight. Fumble with a five-point harness. Then, fly to Mountain View. Land in another parking lot, where I’d have to ever so carefully fly/drag it to a post that I could chain it to with a bike lock. Repeat the process at the end of the day, only to find a noise pollution notice from the HOA taped to my apartment door.

Immigrant Visa Type: D-1 (Detroit)

First in the series of indeterminate length, Recolonizing Detroit

Before I start, I encourage you to check out Forbes Magazine’s interactive map of American internal migration. It is fun on a bun.

Matthew Yglesias idly suggested that instead of shrinking Detroit, issue visas for immigrants willing to relocate there. This would work like an EB-5 visa, but would target people without money. Ironically, Detroit, and indeed all of Michigan, is notably absent from the list of approved Regional Centers for EB-5 investment.

He’s not the first to suggest such an idea. The reason why you want to attract immigrants is because Americans clearly aren’t interested in Detroit. Ideally you’d want to bring in people to invest, but since there are a limited number of these, you most likely will need to attract those from countries where Detroit is a step up. Yglesias specifically mentions Haiti, Gaza, Myanmar, Chad, and Nicaragua as potential sources for immigrants. Detroit already home to one of the largest Arab-American communities, and the largest mosque in the United States, so it is possible that immigrants from the sub-Sarharan Africa would find an existing community into integrate.

Predictably there were those claiming he wants to create some sort of immigration concentration camp, but that wasn’t the proposal at all, and mostly betrays an opinion of Detroit. I’ve been to Detroit, and while it’s the only place I’ve been where the nightlife was in the suburbs instead of the city, and peeking over the sound dampening walls reveals a city that has clearly seen much better days, it is not Detroit Maximum Security Prison.

The biggest problem with Yglesias’s idea is that simply replacing the residents with people from some of the poorest, and slowest economically growing parts of the world, doesn’t bring the investments needed to make Detroit stabilize, let alone thrive again. If poor people was all that what was needed, then subSaharan Africa would be rich. Is Detroit too corrupt to succeed? I doubt it, Prisoner 702408 notwithstanding.

The real impediment seems to be failing to diversifying the economy beyond automobiles. Detroit is, and should remain, a manufacturing city. Its location on the Great Lakes, between steel and energy production sites is perfect. Ann Arbor, home of the top engineering schools is close by, so an educated workforce could still be attracted. What is needed is leadership and money, not just people. How simply attracting the tired, poor, huddled masses, wretched refuse, and homeless changes this situation isn’t clear. Of course, the history this country has been one of dregs of all different societies coming for a better life; and it appears to have worked out for us.

On the flip slide the meme of the self-made rugged individualist is a myth. Rugged individual has always relied on the government to establish the conditions, and relied on the established elite (which includes the government) for aid in achieving the “self-made” endeavor. How this hypothetical poor immigrant ingratiates him/herself with the gatekeepers of capital, remains a mystery.

Recolonizing Detroit

Zeroth in the series of indeterminate length, Recolonizing Detroit

Two months ago, I began thinking about how economic growth could be promoted in depressed areas. The catalyst for this was reading two ostensibly unrelated articles. The first explicitly referred to Detroit, the second was a more oblique reference. Both of these articles did discuss how immigration, investment, and governments interact to promote or discourage growth.

Originally I was going to put these thoughts down in a single post, but as I wrote it, it grew so large and meandering that it became unwieldy for a simple blog post. Instead decided to break it up into a series of smaller and medium sized posts.

I’m doing this for two reasons. First, trying to write something long in the WordPress editor just doesn’t work. A word processor may just be a glorified text box, but somehow writing in WordPress just feels awkward. Maybe it’s due to a unconscious bias using a web browser elicits. I don’t know, but it’s not working for me. Second, I don’t feel like I have the time to devote to a single long and well organized writing. Even if I did have the time, part of me doubts that it would be any good. This isn’t an essay, since I’m not arguing for anything. I don’t know what this would be. It’s just a collection of thoughts, some more thought out than others. By breaking my thoughts into smaller pieces, perhaps will disguise these failings.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to have this blog careen over the hill and into the chasm of lefty political blog. I still have plenty of electronic plants to post about, so art will always remain the focus. Think of this as logical extension of the infrastructure posts.