The woman at the Hertz counter, meaning well, bent the rules a little to get me “something fun”. I ended up with a Mustang. I know that the Mustang has a long heritage of being a boss automobile, but the last descendant of that proud lineage died long ago. The Mustang I drove was little more than a beefier Escort, beefier meaning not “stronger, meaner, and faster” but “artificially inflated”. And I swear the thing had two gas lines, one to the engine and another dripping gasoline out onto the pavement. Next time, I’ll just take the sedan.
Also, everyone who saw me driving the ‘Stang said I looked like a big dork in it. Not a exactly a new thing, but I just don’t think me and that car go together too well.
I’m out of town until Tuesday. Until then, please enjoy the photos from the past couple days or read some of the fine sites in the “not recommended” list in the sidebar.
As much as I liked London (I wanted to move there after spending only three days there), Oxford pretty much blew it away. I want to say something poetic here about history and nature coming together to create something special, but I’m not sufficiently inspired right now. Perhaps the photos I took while in Oxford can convey some of that feeling:
- A pair of Oxford street scenes: scene one, scene two. Except for the yellow lines and the blacktop pavement, one might imagine that someone standing where I was standing saw much the same thing several hundred years ago.
- A walking path inbetween two buildings. I love the combination of the lush green of the trees & shrubs and the old browns of the buildings and paths.
- Another view of the same path. I’ve rarely felt as serene and thoughtful as I did walking along this path. I wanted to walk there forever.
- An Oxford meadow on a hazy day. It looks pretty much like what I thought a typical English meadow would look like.
- The exterior of Christ Church.
- A wall with two S characters on it.
Having only one day to really see London, I got up early that day and stumbled off toward Gloucester Road. In the 8 hours subsequent to getting off the Tube at Westminster, I must have walked about 20 miles around London. Here’s some of the things I saw:
- Big Ben and Parliament. London was actually sunny the two days I was there, but as you can see from this photo, the fog, clouds, and drizzle had returned in time for my sightseeing jaunt.
- Large spikes on the fence surrounding Parliament. The Brits are very serious about security. I saw bomb checks happening at both Parliament and the BBC offices.
- Some water draining into the Thames. I liked the color combination of the rusty water and the bright green moss growing on the wall.
- A sign at a restaurant said “Please respect neighbours & leave quietly”. Perhaps should have been followed by “after your meal”.
- The Tower Bridge looks like a toy. I think it’s the baby blue color.
- The Tower of London is over 900 years old (well, parts of it are anyway). The tour was a little expensive, but seeing as we don’t have many 900 year old prisons to tour here in America, I bought a ticket and went in. On the grounds outside, several ravens were about. The photos don’t give a good sense of the scale of these birds…they’re huge. I felt bad taking pictures in the solemnly quiet Tower Chapel, but the lighting was too pretty not to. I also caught some neat lighting on the stairs leading up to one of the towers.
- The script and format of this letter (written by a Tower prisoner perhaps?) were interesting.
- The Royal Armouries in the Tower housed several things of interest, including lots of guns, an actual chopping block and blade used to execute prisoners, and the armour of Henry VII. The axe pictured was rumored to have been used to execute Anne Boleyn, but she was actually beheaded using a sword.
- After the Tower, I stopped for lunch and drank a Coke from what looked like Russia. On the plane on the way home, I was served Coke in a can from China. Globalization is upon us.
- This kid really likes his sausages.
- A neat old street sign for Heathcock Court.
- Just before heading back to my hotel at the end of the day, I found this chalk drawing in a park. The vivid red and the futuristic garb of the subject drew my attention to it. A half hour later, it began to rain, most likely washing this masterpiece away.
The more I look at Britney’s pants in this photo, the more confused I get. Shouldn’t there be, um, activity going on there above her belt line? Pants just can’t hang that low without revealing things. If one imagines her wearing underwear (and I know the fellas out there have spent many hours doing so), 90% of it would be sticking out the top of those pants. It just doesn’t compute.
An interesting discussion is going on over at MetaFilter regarding instant messaging chat bots. Mo Nickels posted some thoughts about what ActiveBuddy is up to, as well as his idea for “the killer app for chat”: “a Lynx-like web browsing interface on AIM”. I followed up with some ideas I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks about how IM could be a command line interface for the simple, text-only tasks that people frequently use the Internet for.
I got a chance to check out the Tate Modern when I was in London. On the whole, I’m not a big fan of modern art, mainly because I don’t know enough about art history to place modern art in its proper context (or something). I’m trying, honestly, I am. A few things at the Tate I did find interesting:
- The building was very nice, inside and out. Formerly a power plant, the Tate Modern has a huge, cathedral-like open area that dominates the interior, rare for modern buildings; most are designed to make the most of the space on which they are built.
- Kathy Prendergast’s Lost Map, a map of the United States with all of the placenames removed, except for those containing the word “lost”.
- Fernand Léger’s Ballet mécanique, a short film done in 1924, bore a remarkable likeness to many of today’s quick-cut films, TV commercials, and music videos. It was jarring to see something that old (done before the advent of talking motion pictures even) that looked and played just like the final frenetic sequence in Requiem for a Dream.
- The Great Bear (map detail) by Simon Patterson is a map of the London Underground with the station names replaced by the names of philosophers, comedians, scientists, and actors. My hotel was located near the Plato station.
Less interesting was the display of three basketballs in a glass box and the room with the fluorescent light tubes arranged in different ways. I left wondering, “is that art, or is it just the sporting goods display at Wal-Mart?”
Nick passed along two links related to yesterday’s post on hotdesking:
- My Kingdom For A Door, an article from Time magazine about the shift from closed office space to open office space to hybrid open/closed office space systems.
- The Joel Test: 12 Steps to Better Code by Joel Spolsky. Step #8 talks about the benefits of having quiet working spaces for programmers.
Virtual Chiat, from 1994, outlines Jay Chiat’s plan to transform the offices of his company from traditional to virtual: no assigned seats, no computer or phone of your own, almost no rooms, no walls, no paper, and no personal space aside from a tiny locker (from my point of view, personal space isn’t personal unless you can fit a person in it).
Not surprisingly, Lost in Space, published in 1999, details the failure of Chiat’s plan. People need access to personal, collaborative, and private spaces all at the same time to work effectively.
The office I work in right now could be described as “psuedo-hotdesked”. People have their own desks, computers, and phones, but there are no walls, sparse collaborative space, and personal effects on walls and desks are frowned upon. In principle, I like the idea of a malleable work environment, but I have yet to hear of or experience a system that actually delivers on the promise.
The Millennium Bridge, a footbridge spanning the Thames from St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Tate Modern gallery, closed two days after opening (on June 12, 2000) due to some unforseen stability issues (it wobbled when people walked on it).
Interestingly, the error in the construction of the bridge wasn’t necessarily the fault of the architectural or engineering firms that constructed the bridge. The error wasn’t caught because the behavior seen on the bridge wasn’t part of the standard testing process at the time. They didn’t know to check for it because this particular problem had never come up in the computer simulations. The computer checked for potential vertical vibration caused by foot traffic, but didn’t check for potential lateral (side to side) motion due to foot traffic because no one really knew that problem existed. A similar thing happened with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State. No one at the time knew to check for possible vibration or twisting due to wind, causing the bridge to be torn apart by 40 mph winds.
Over a year later, they’re still making repairs on the Millennium Bridge. I’m sad I didn’t get to walk across it; I had to settle for this photo of the bridge with the Tate Modern in the background.
In my list of favorite films from 1999**, I wrote a small paragraph about how I was looking forward to watching the future exploits of that year’s upcoming directors and writers: “Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Three Kings), Alexander Payne (Election, Citizen Ruth), Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson (Rushmore, Bottle Rocket), Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights), and Brad Bird (Iron Giant)”.
Adaptation from Spike Jonze, The Royal Tenenbaums from Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson, P.T. Anderson’s code-named Project x4 (featuring Adam Sandler of all people), Alexander Payne’s About Schmidt, and Brad Bird’s Untitled Brad Bird Pixar Project are all set to be released in the next couple years.
(Also coming up is Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit feature-length movie. Park’s Aardman Animation is also set to release Tortoise Vs. Hare, rumored to be a mockumentary about Aesop’s Tortoise and the Hare fable. Note: Word comes from several readers that production of Tortoise vs. Hare has been delayed, maybe for a long while.)
** Looking back on the list, I was so so wrong about Fight Club. It should have been included with the other great movies on the favorites list.
They Rule and Trek Bikes’ Interactive Map of the Tour de France are the niftiest examples of information design I’ve seen on the Web lately, both done with Flash. Via sir blackbeltjones and coudal.com respectively.
I finally got all the photos I took in the UK sorted out. I’ll be posting them in fits & starts over the next few days. Here’s the first batch.
The first thing I did in London, besides checking into my hotel and grabbing a much-needed shower, was meet up with some UK Web folk. I was so tired from the trip, that about the only thing I remember is this neat trick they showed me. If you fold a £10 note just so, grafting the upper half of Charles Darwin’s head onto the bottom half of Queen Elizabeth’s head, you end up with John McEnroe.
The next day was comprised mostly of the Net Media conference, although I did get away for a bit to take in the sights: the gardens in front of Buckingham Palace, a queue of conjoined London double-deckers, an English phone booth (located near the Westminster tube stop), and the statue of St. Paul (shot #2) at St. Paul’s Cathedral (the handiwork of Christopher Wren was all about London, everywhere I went).
design for chunks showcases alternative designs for air sickness bags.
The Internet uncovered the identity of Alan’s mystery song: “The song is titled ‘Winter’, from the album ‘Music for “The Knee Plays”’, released in 1985 by David Byrne”.
Today’s word of the day: coulrophobia: fear of clowns. This particular phobia seems to be pretty wide spread for some reason. The majority of the people I know dislike clowns, the level of distaste ranging from the merely “icky” to the very direct “if you come any closer, I’m gonna shove that joy buzzer right up your oversized clown trousers”.
What Jason Did This Weekend (alternatively, My Dinner with Andre): absolutely nothing. And it was long overdue. Also, I got called out as a Midwesterner. Real good, then.
From the NY Times Magazine today comes The Secret Agents of Capitalism Are All Around Us, an article on undercover marketing. Basically, marketing companies send people out into places where “key influencers” hang out to talk loudly about their clients’ products and services. Here’s the company the article refers to. (Sounds like a bunch of shills at a game of Three-Card Monte.)
Update on the 20yo mystery song from two days ago: some probable artists include “In the Nursery, Copland, David Byrne, Philip Glass, and Brian Eno”. Is anyone out there familiar with the work of these particular artists? If so, have a listen to the song and send some email to Alan if it sounds familiar to you.
Today’s word of the day: weltschmerz (pronunciation): “mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state”. Seems particularly apropos these days with the general state of personal and professional upheaval the Web is experiencing.
Road Trip ‘01 (9 days, 10 teams, 7 games, 6 stadiums, 2 buddies, 1 truck) is the perfect use of the weblog format…not to mention a great way to see the country. The road trip version of the famous map of Napolean’s 1812 Russian campaign by Charles Joseph Minard is great too. (Also, they need gas. Fill ‘em up.)
Carl posts an early version of the HotWired FAQ. The humble beginnings of the banner ad:
“Each advertiser is accessible only through a single discreet banner at the head of a content section. Most advertising is 90 percent persuasion and 10 percent information; advertising on HotWired reverses this ratio. And the privacy of members is guaranteed by HotWired’s unqualified commitment to never divulge a member’s personal information to advertisers.”
Today is Friday the 13th.
Bit by bit, I continue to subtract folks from the “people I know online” column and add them to the “people I know online, but then had the pleasure of meeting in person” column. The online to offline transition is really quite smooth…everyone is just so damn nice. My trip to the UK was no exception. Thanks to everyone in London and Oxford for showing an out-of-towner such a good time.
Speaking of, I hope to get my UK trip pictures up soon. If I can find the time. Does anyone have any time they want to sell me? I’ll give you a good deal.
Today’s kottke.org mini-interview is with GooglyMinotaur, Radiohead’s AIM chatbot.
Q: Did you ever eat paste as a child?
A: i believe a famous person once said, “did you ever eat paste as a child is the key to happiness”
but i may be wrong. ;-)
we’ll have to try talking about something else, then.
>> let’s play a lovely game shall we? try typing “rh hangman” :: end
As I was walking home about a year ago, a little girl was riding her bike in the middle of the street. She still had the training wheels on as she wobbled and struggled to peddle. It reminded me of when I was little and how badly I wanted a bicycle but couldn’t get one. My parents wouldn’t let me have a bike until I was 12; my mom was too afraid I’d hurt myself. I’d pass the bike section in the store and just look, having given up asking my parents about it long ago. I eventually did get one after much pleading and begging. Amazingly, getting my driver’s license at 16 and the subsequent borrowing of the family car passed without incident.
Overhead on the MUNI this morning: “Hang on, please. The computer is taking over the train.” A feeling of dread rippled through the train. “Finally,” we all thought, “the war with the machines is beginning.”
Bitter Pill has ceased operations. If you wish to read bitter pill, you will not be reading it, and you will not be charged.
After using the London Underground for the last four days, waiting for and then riding the MUNI yesterday morning was a cruel torture.
Yesterday, due to an unlikely series of coincidences, acquaintances, arrangements, follies, schedules, and mistimings, I found myself standing next to Thom Yorke at the bar of an Oxford club, site of the after-party for Radiohead’s hometown gig. I resisted the urge to pinch his cheeks and pat his head, the wee little dickens.
The show itself was great. Fantastic. Way better than anything I could write about it (“great” being the best adjective I have at my disposal at the moment, having had only 2 hours of sleep in the last 40 hours or so). The skies pouring rain, 40,000 people singing/shouting along to “Creep” (which they rarely play at shows…fridge buzz issues) after a malfunctioning keyboard (Thom: “Bugger! Das ist kaputt, ja?”) forced a last minute song change….that pretty much sums the whole thing up for me. (Some other accounts of the same show.)
Sigur Ros, a recent favorite of mine, is even better than I thought they were, but probably better suited for smaller club venues rather than a large festival.
Beck’s acoustic set was a little disappointing. It seemed out of place with the rock/electronica stuff going on with all the other bands. A picture of Beck.
Read some other accounts of the show.
This photo from Wimbledon looks like a Photoshop experiment: Jennifer Capriati’s head on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body.
Speaking of looking like Photoshop experiments, my latest entry to The Mirror Project is a reflection of my eye in my eye (via a reflection off of the camera lens).
It’s amazing how close we got to nuclear war in the 1940s and 50s…probably a lot closer than most people even realize. Both this article and Dark Sun : The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (excellent book, BTW) state that the United States was planning a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union.
The basic idea, as presented in particular by Rhodes in Dark Sun, is that the only way a nuclear war could be “won” (i.e. one of the sides left mostly intact) is through a preemptive and total nuclear attack on the enemy before they could attack you; a knockout punch delivered before the bell rings, so to speak. And since, in the late 40s and early 50s, we had that “knockout” capability and the Soviet Union did not, many people in very key military positions argued for the use of that capability at our earliest opportunity. Scary stuff.
Amazon has a WinAmp plug-in available for download that makes music recommendations to you while you listen to your MP3s.
I had some food at In-N-Out Burger for the first time a couple of weeks ago. As good as the food was, the overall restaurant experience was even better. The menu had just six items on it: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers, french fries, shakes, and beverages. That’s it. The interior of the restaurant was simple and sparkling clean. Employees were fast & efficient without rushing, and you got the sense that they actually washed their hands before returning to work, just like the little sign in the restroom tells them to. Two people moved constantly through the dining area sweeping, bussing trays, emptying trash, wiping up spills, and picking up litter. The kitchen looked like a kitchen, not like a food assembly line. French fries were made fresh right before frying, the milkshakes contained actual milk, and the buns are fresh baked. I know this sounds like an In-N-Out Burger press release, but it was all so cool and very un-fast-food-like.
Related: Philosophical Fast Food Quotations, a list from McSweeney’s.
I’m off to the UK tomorrow, my first trip there. I’ll be speaking at the 2001 NetMedia conference in London on the Weblogs panel. I’m only going to be over there for 4 days, but I’m going to try to cram in as many of the sights and sounds of London as I can. “Look kids: Big Ben, Parliament.”
Most plays make not-so-good movies. More accurately, most of the plays that they have turned into movies make not-so-good movies. Case in point: The Big Kahuna. Too much dialogue; they could have cut it in half and been fine. I spent half the movie listening with my eyes closed because nothing was happening visually with the movie.
Finally walked across the Golden Gate Bridge today. Good to do it once, but I think that driving across is less windy and loud.
Supertoys That Last All Summer is the short story that A.I. is based on.