Shared posts

29 May 20:59


by swissmiss

Fun way to write more? Annoying to get more email? Ether way, not a great plan as I job search/am writing my thesis.


Prompt is an experimental email-based community project.

The premise is simple: every day, you get a prompt in your inbox. You get 18 hours to write back with anything you want. The next day, you get a new prompt, but you also get to see what everybody else on the list wrote back.

Not that I want one more extra email in my inbox, but I do find the idea charming.

26 May 16:29

Thursday trifecta

by KimFrance

So that last one is by the teeny company I work for and I am so glad I went through and updated the availability for everything on our website on Monday because we are sold the fuck out and they will never be made again. By us.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 11.38.19 AM

I bring you coasters, mostly because I’ve been looking for a new set, and—as I have related in the past—news is what happens to editors. First up: I am so in love with the improbable color combination here that I wish it were a dress.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 11.57.03 AM

This braided version is like a cute little mini-rug.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 12.15.24 PM

These are so fun and bright, but still also sophisticated enough not to look silly.



16 May 17:07

How not to get screwed buying a used car

by Jason Kottke

so can everyone make videos like this about everything? i can make one about being a decent retail employee, buying stuff at thrift stores, and running down hills in sabots

This video about how not to get screwed buying a used car crams an astounding amount of good information into three minutes.

Update: Bold claim by Robin Sloan on Twitter:

The calm density of this video is way more "future of visual communication" than 99% of claimants to that title

I agree. That video contained more information than a 44-minute episode of Mythbusters but the pace and energy were more relaxed.

Tags: cars   how to   Robin Sloan
16 May 18:42

Should Museums Be More Like Constables?

by Linda Norris

stuff i'm interested! community stories! sharing the mundane (because it's not really)!

I'm working on an exhibition for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society, in St. John's, NL.  I've been digging deep into their archives to learn more about the two hundred year history of the force, but a few weeks ago, I found some materials that I thought held some important lessons for museums.

I found a file containing a series of reports from 1948 from outport communities all over Newfoundland.  This was a critical time for what is now a province, because the vote about whether or not to become a part of Canada was drawing near.  It seems not far away, but as you'll see, it was still a time when those communities were often cut off by weather and bad roads.   These monthly reports were generally titled, "Economical and Social Life of the District,"  and were written by the local constable to be submitted to the chief constable in St. John's.

Here's a few excerpts:

In Corner Brook, in January, "the economical condition is quite good, and people in the main are employed gainfully and there is no report of able-bodied relief.  However, the herring fishery during the month is not nearly as good in previous years..."   and in February, the health of that community was "good during the month and there was no serious illness; there was however, a series of colds with no ill effects."

From Gander in February, "The Social aspect of the community remains more or less unchanged. However there has been some activity in connection with the various churches and the British Red Cross...the Gander Public Library is also filling an important position in the life of the community and is also increasing its services to the public..."

February was a quiet month in Ferryland, "There were no dances or parties of any kind held during the month" and the economy was bad, "Quite a number of men from Ferryland, Calvert and Cape Broyle are applying for relief."   In Trepassey, the weather was so bad that "the roof blew off Leonard Hachette's house and was beaten into matchwood."  As the bad weather continued there, "the men are complaining very much of having no food for their cattle.  There is no hay or oats anywhere in my territory as there is no boats running from here to town they cannot get food."

Spring finally comes that year, and the constable in Clark's Beach reports in April, "There have been no seals taken this month.  The people are all getting their fencing done for planting their vegetables...a card party and supper was held in the C.E. school at Salmon Cove and it was well-patronized by all."

Every month, the constables also took the political temperature of their towns around the issue of confederation or not, even though, said one,  "it's difficult to say."

What do I think museums can learn from these reports?

I can't tell you the number of times I've heard museum staff, board and volunteers say, "but no one comes, no one is interested."  That's because, I believe, you're not interested in them.  What would happen if you regularly spent time at a board or staff meeting talking about the social or economical conditions of your community?  Could you then learn about concerns--and equally importantly, learn about the parts of your community that you, as an organization don't connect with in any way?

I'm also struck by the empathy shown in these reports.  There's a real understanding of how and why relief is needed, of what benefits a community, and of the challenges and successes of community life.  That comes from attentiveness to the places we live--and all the people who live there too.  Our work can and should be a reciprocal process--that's how we can become essential parts of community life.

Top:  Constables and community member, RNCHS collection
Bottom:  Adults in kitchen, Pools Island, Bonavista Bay, Gustav Anderson Photo Collection, The Rooms.

06 May 20:17

Internet Argument Robot

by swissmiss

05 May 10:58

Ask Yourself…

by swissmiss

everything i do, apparently

“Ask yourself if you would do it if nobody would ever see it, you would never be compensated for it and nobody wanted it.”
– Ernst Haas

(via Oliver Jeffers)

04 May 20:03

ATTENTION SHOPPERS: The Comme des Garçons Mega-Sale Is Coming Back With Dover Street Market Too! + More Last Minute Sample Sales

by shophound

um, i wish i had any disposable income, cuz i would hop a bus to nyc on the 20th in a heartbeat...

We told you that there would likely be a few last minute sale announcements this week, and we weren't wrong. Like the private JIMMY CHOO sale that went public today at Metropolitan Pavilion (through tomorrow the 5th), Several covetable labels...
29 Apr 15:09

City uncorks plan for BYOB at some restaurants

by adamg


The Boston Licensing Board yesterday approved a plan to begin letting diners at restaurants without liquor licensing bring their own booze.

Before hearing requests from restaurants that want to begin BYOB, however, the board will first draft detailed licensing BYOB requirements and then hold a public hearing on its proposed rules. Drafting the new rules could take several months.

City Council President Michelle Wu and then Councilor Steve Murphy first proposed letting dry restaurants outside Boston Proper offer BYOB last year. In a statement today, Wu said:

BYOB will bring new vitality to our city by giving small business owners and consumers more options to build a vibrant restaurant scene in every neighborhood.

21 Apr 16:04

End of an era: Last downtown fabric store shutting down

by adamg

no no no no no no no

Craig Caplan spotted the sign in the window of Winmil Fabrics on Chauncy Street this morning.

The store's last day is June 15.

13 Apr 14:13

Mysterious Stacks of Books

by swissmiss

Can we all be rich so we can create art projects?

mysterious stacks of books56f01e0b1500002a000b2b0056f01e081e00009500710d1456f01e08150000ad000b2aff

Shaheryar Malik has left stacks of books from his own library at popular destinations all over New York City. He doesn’t stick around to see if anyone takes one of his books, nor does he re-visit his stacks. Instead he leaves a bookmark with his email address printed on it inside each book, in the hopes that he’ll hear back from whomever decided to pick that book up.

Beautifully absurd.

(via Sally)

10 Apr 22:27

sick burns 

05 Apr 08:20

The Good Times Experiment

by swissmiss

“Too often we apply metrics — that are frankly bullshit — to our lives: job status, money, flash cars, holidays, blah blah blah. This experiment reminded me that there are more effective indicators for success, by simply keeping a weekly list of ‘good times’.”

Last week during a conversation Ian Sanders mentioned his Good Times Experiment. Each week he makes a list — headed ‘Good Times’ — where he scribbles down all the good things that have happened. Some weeks the list runs to over 30 ; other weeks just to 15 or 16. Some days heI writes nothing down, other days there’ll be a rush of experiences all in one go.

What’s the point of this exercise? The point is = the importance of noticing. I think, I’ll join Ian in this experiment. You?

31 Mar 17:55

schweizercomics: Today’s WARRIOR WOMEN WEDNESDAY drawing:THE...


My parents bought me a coloring book of unsung women in American history (many who disguised themselves as men during the Civil War). Life changing.



On April 30, 1793, the French Revolutionary Government’s National Convention passed the Law to Rid the Armies of Useless Women, barring women from the military.  The Fernigs had, probably coincidentally, escaped this decree by mere days, having followed orders to accompany General Dumouriez. Discovering too late that he was not under orders himself but was, in, fact, defecting to the Austrians, the Fernigs fled to return to their role as soldiers for the French, but were seen as fellow traitors and refused entry.  
Some women continued to fight after the law was passed, but whether the Fernigs would have been among them is a purely academic question as they were barred from their homeland for much of the war.

23 Mar 10:24

Worrier Pose

by swissmiss

only thing missing: little toots.

worrier pose

This Worrier Pose illustration by Gemma Correll made me laugh.


03 Mar 17:39

Sacred Harp

by Erin

I would have been way more into grade school choir if we sounded like this (bad idea: making a bunch of white Germanic kids sing Caribbean tunes).

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 9.34.07 AM

Sacred Harp music is an traditional religious American choral style from the Deep South characterized by a capella vocals an unusual musical structures. For those of you with musical knowledge, I’ll quote Wikipedia-” polyphonic in texture, and the harmony tends to deemphasize the interval of the third in favor of fourths and fifths. In their melodies, the songs often use the pentatonic scale or similar “gapped” (fewer than seven-note) scales.” What that means to the rest of us is that Sacred Harp singing is hands-down some of the weirdest, creepiest, but most beautiful sounding stuff you will ever hear. Imagine it drifting through the Alabama woods on a still summer evening….Oh, and remember that these are the people singing it. Look at them. While they sing to you. Do those guys on the top row even have eyes???


03 Mar 12:28

Brilliant Labels in Dublin: Sweets, Nudes and U2

by Linda Norris

This is the kind of thing I want to do

I love to be surprised in museums and it doesn't happen often, so I was thrilled to be genuinely surprised by labels(and more) at the Little Museum of Dublin this week. The Little Museum is the city of museum of Dublin and embraces its status as a museum of the people. It also embraces and embodies the values of generosity, informality and friendliness.

Here are two labels from the beautiful Georgian room where the tour starts.

Sweets and a label explaining why there are few labels, based on what we know--totally unexpected. I was definitely surprised! Plus, a great label explaining Georgian architecture. Good questions, and a big "so what?" for the visitor to contemplate as well.

And next, a label explaining this image the image at below left.

Make sure you read that last line. I was happy to learn about Nell McCafferty, but even happier that the label on this object challenged, in the nicest way (is nice overrated? not here) both museum practice and the visitor's own assumptions.

Lots of museums are complimentary about former politicians, but not many make political statements, even a soft one, about the contemporary need for civic leadership. And it's not only politicians who come in for a bracing critique. The museum's U2 exhibit traces the history of the city's most famous band in an space developed by fans. But did Bono and the rest become sell outs?

Even the gift shop embraces the spirit evidenced in these labels.
I've got another post to write about their exhibits commemorating the centennial of the 1916 uprising, but you may also want to check out their City of a Thousand Welcomes project. For free, you can sign up and meet a local for a cup of tea, coffee or a pint and conversation. Both visitors and residents who want to be Ambassadors can sign up via the website. I didn't have time to do it, but it's definitely on my list for a return visit. More than 2000 visitors last year took advantage of the offer.
And the take-away here? Ideas don't cost money. Most of the labels are simply produced--the effort is in the thinking and writing. The Thousand Welcomes project could be done by museums almost anywhere. No bells, whistles, or holograms here, just a reminder of what we can be as community-based museums.
Thanks, Little Museum for such a surprising, inspiring visit!


22 Feb 13:31

Watch Kandinsky Create an Abstract Composition

by swissmiss

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel back in time and look over the shoulder of one of the early 20th century’s greatest artists to watch him work? Here you go, watch Wassily Kandinsky create an abstract composition.

02 Mar 23:07

Four more mumps cases confirmed at Harvard

by adamg

THEY CAN'T GET ME IN THE ATTIC (which is where i work) RIGHT?

Harvard now has a total of six mumps cases, the university reported in a memo to the campus community.

Individuals who have previously had mumps are considered immune to the virus. However, those who have been vaccinated for mumps—though much less likely to contract the virus—can still be infected. If you are unsure whether or not you have been vaccinated, you should contact your health care provider.

On Monday, Harvard reported the first two cases of the infection, in an undergraduate student and in a graduate student at the divinity school. Today's memo identifies the new cases as being among students, but does not identify which type.

22 Feb 11:00

True Story: I’m a professional palm reader

by Sarah Von Bargen

Kenny! I could get certified in palm reading if this museum thing doesn't work out..

What’s it like making a living looking at strangers’ hands and telling them about themselves? Do you ever see things you wish you hadn’t? How do people react at cocktail parties when you tell them what you do? Today, Peggy’s telling us about her career and how she went from hotel sales > IT recruiter... Read more »

The post True Story: I’m a professional palm reader appeared first on Yes and Yes.

21 Feb 19:33

Earthly Delights: Tim Walker’s Hieronymus Bosch

by Samantha

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker pays homage to Hieronymus Bosch in his incredible new editorial for Love Magazine’s Spring 2016 issue.

If you’re not familiar with Bosch and his incredible art, treat yourself to the enormous tome of his complete works, which has been on my list of Books To Add To My Library for ages. Might be time to take my own advice, eh?

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

Tim Walker's Hieronymus Bosch

02 Feb 21:02

A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry in the United States

by Jason Kottke

We are terrible.

American Slave Coast

The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Ned & Constance Sublette is a book which offers an alternate view of slavery in the United States. Instead of treating slavery as a source of unpaid labor, as it is typically understood, they focus on the ownership aspect: people as property, merchandise, collateral, and capital. From a review of the book at Pacific Standard:

In fact, most American slaves were not kidnapped on another continent. Though over 12.7 million Africans were forced onto ships to the Western hemisphere, estimates only have 400,000-500,000 landing in present-day America. How then to account for the four million black slaves who were tilling fields in 1860? "The South," the Sublettes write, "did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people." Slavers called slave-breeding "natural increase," but there was nothing natural about producing slaves; it took scientific management. Thomas Jefferson bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children was increasing Virginia's capital stock by four percent annually.

Here is how the American slave-breeding industry worked, according to the Sublettes: Some states (most importantly Virginia) produced slaves as their main domestic crop. The price of slaves was anchored by industry in other states that consumed slaves in the production of rice and sugar, and constant territorial expansion. As long as the slave power continued to grow, breeders could literally bank on future demand and increasing prices. That made slaves not just a commodity, but the closest thing to money that white breeders had. It's hard to quantify just how valuable people were as commodities, but the Sublettes try to convey it: By a conservative estimate, in 1860 the total value of American slaves was $4 billion, far more than the gold and silver then circulating nationally ($228.3 million, "most of it in the North," the authors add), total currency ($435.4 million), and even the value of the South's total farmland ($1.92 billion). Slaves were, to slavers, worth more than everything else they could imagine combined.

Just reading that turns my stomach. The Sublettes also recast the 1808 abolition of the transatlantic slave trade as trade protectionism.

Virginia slaveowners won a major victory when Thomas Jefferson's 1808 prohibition of the African slave trade protected the domestic slave markets for slave-breeding.

I haven't read the book, but I imagine they touched on the fact that by growing slave populations, southern states were literally manufacturing more political representation due to the Three-Fifths clause in the US Constitution. They bred more slaves to help politically safeguard the practice of slavery.

Update: Because slaves were property, Southern slave owners could mortgage them to banks and then the banks could package the mortgages into bonds and sell the bonds to anyone anywhere in the world, even where slavery was illegal.

In the 1830s, powerful Southern slaveowners wanted to import capital into their states so they could buy more slaves. They came up with a new, two-part idea: mortgaging slaves; and then turning the mortgages into bonds that could be marketed all over the world.

First, American planters organized new banks, usually in new states like Mississippi and Louisiana. Drawing up lists of slaves for collateral, the planters then mortgaged them to the banks they had created, enabling themselves to buy additional slaves to expand cotton production. To provide capital for those loans, the banks sold bonds to investors from around the globe -- London, New York, Amsterdam, Paris. The bond buyers, many of whom lived in countries where slavery was illegal, didn't own individual slaves -- just bonds backed by their value. Planters' mortgage payments paid the interest and the principle on these bond payments. Enslaved human beings had been, in modern financial lingo, "securitized."

Slave-backed securities. My stomach is turning again. (via @daveg)

Update: Tyler Cowen read The American Slave Coast and listed a few things he learned from it.

2. President James Polk speculated in slaves, based on inside information he obtained from being President and shaping policy toward slaves and slave importation.

3. In the South there were slave "breeding farms," where the number of women and children far outnumbered the number of men.

Tags: books   Constance Sublette   economics   finance   Ned Sublette   slavery   The American Slave Coast   Thomas Jefferson   Tyler Cowen   USA
12 Jan 23:30

“What do I do with the time I’ve got left?”: David Bowie on life, death, and fame

by Caroline Framke

In the wake of David Bowie's death, many of his fans have begun to revisit every scrap of his life, work, and words they can find. And rightly so — Bowie was famously prolific. Here are some of Ziggy Stardust's most poignant words of wisdom on fear, fame, and how everyone should hang out with a dead body "at least once."

David Bowie on fame

Fame can take interesting men and thrust mediocrity upon them. [Esquire, 2004]

While Bowie liked to joke that being a rock star married to a supermodel was, in fact, just as awesome as you might imagine, he also never felt a need to be famous. In fact, in a 2002 interview with NPR's Terry Gross, Bowie said he wouldn't even perform if he didn't have to; he'd rather just make his music and be done with it.

David Bowie on what it means to hit rock bottom

Q: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Bowie: Living in fear. [Vanity Fair, 1998]

Many looked to Bowie as inspiration for living freely, since he did so with unapologetic abandon. "Living with fear" goes against everything Bowie and his many alter egos stood for, so it's no surprise that he would view bowing to fear as the absolute worst state of existence.

David Bowie on spirituality

Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. It’s because I’m not quite an atheist, and it worries me. There’s that little bit that holds on: ‘Well, I’m almost an atheist. Give me a couple of months.’ [BeliefNet, 2003]

Bowie had a complicated relationship with spirituality and organized religion. "I'm almost an atheist" reveals his curiosity, his hesitation, his willingness to open his mind beyond what he knew, and his drive to keep searching for the truth.

David Bowie on youth

And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds / are immune to your consultations / they're quite aware of what they're going through.

["Changes," 1972]

Bowie wrote these lyrics in his 20s, but he very well could have written them in his final years, too. While he certainly respected his peers and elders, he always expressed equal admiration for younger generations and the ways in which they choose to express themselves. (See: Bowie's mentorship of Lorde; citing Kendrick Lamar as one of the biggest influences on Blackstar, his final album.)

David Bowie on living day to day

Are we big enough or mature enough to accept that there’s no "plan," there’s no "going somewhere," there’s no gift of immortality at the end of this if we evolve far enough? … Well, maybe we can’t live like that. Maybe we have to exist and live on the idea that we have one day at a time to live—and can we do that? Because if we could do that, we may be serving some really great thing. [Interview with Guillaume Durand, 2002]

Bowie's career spanned four decades. He said goodbye to his fans with an album released just two days before his death. The dude did not know how to waste time, maybe because he was "serving some really great thing" by living in the present and not dwelling on the past or the future.

David Bowie on making the most of your time while you have it

As you get older, the questions come down to about two or three. How long? And what do I do with the time I’ve got left? [The New York Times, 2002]

Bowie was considering the end long before it arrived. In the 14 years that passed between making this statement and his death, he put out four albums: Heathen (2002), Reality (2003), The Next Day (2013), and Blackstar (2016). He stopped touring and spent more time with his wife and daughter.

He figured out what he wanted to do with the time he had left.

David Bowie on understanding death

Confront a corpse at least once. The absolute absence of life is the most disturbing and challenging confrontation you will ever have. [Esquire, 2004]

Is there any explaining this quote? I suspect not, but then again I haven't yet confronted a corpse.

David Bowie on loving life

Q: "Do you practice a form of worship?"

Bowie: "Life. I love life very much indeed."

[Russell Harty Plus, 1973]

12 Jan 21:59

Frozen soap bubbles are beautiful

by Jason Kottke

The man who shot the video writes:

An inspiration for this session was a conversation with my 3year old daughter while dressing up to go out:

- Daddy, I don't want to put this jacket on. - she moaned

- Me too, darling but it is very cold outside. - I explained

- How cold?

and I had to figure out an interesting answer which would satisfy a preschooler's curiosity, so I told her:

- It is so cold that even soap bubbles freeze and it looks really beautiful, you know?

I saw a sparkle in her eye so I promised to make a film to show her that. She was so excited about this idea that of course she forgot that she didn't want to put her jacket on. It wasn't easy to capture those bubbles because only around 5-10% of them didn't break instantly and as you can imagine it was a challenge to be patient at -15 Celsius ;) but it was worth it because now that my daughter has seen it, winter is magic for her.

(via devour)

Tags: video
06 Jan 17:28

NYPL puts 180,000 public domain images online

by Jason Kottke

watch out tumblr





Really putting the "public" in "public library", the New York Public Library has placed 180,000 public domain items online.

Did you know that more than 180,000 of the items in our Digital Collections are in the public domain? That means everyone has the freedom to enjoy and reuse these materials in almost limitless ways. The Library now makes it possible to download such items in the highest resolution available directly from the Digital Collections website. No permission required. No restrictions on use.

"No permission required. No restrictions on use." And they're doing it specifically so that people will reuse and remix the images.

"We see digitization as a starting point, not end point," said Ben Vershbow, the director of NYPL Labs, the in-house technology division that spearheaded the effort. "We don't just want to put stuff online and say, 'Here it is,' but rev the engines and encourage reuse."

In an introductory blog post, the library shares some of what's in the new archive:

Berenice Abbott's iconic documentation of 1930s New York for the Federal Art Project
Farm Security Administration photographs by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, and others
Manuscripts of American literary masters like Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne
Papers and correspondence of founding American political figures like Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison

Fantastic stuff. Well done, NYPL.

Tags: NYPL   photography
23 Dec 13:30

The environmental cost of shipping stuff is huge. Can we fix that?

by Nate Berg

Really just shared for me, because I find transportation logistics fascinating. Another incentive to buy as much used as possible (if only i could afford local foodstuffs).

Originally published on Ensia.

Much of the stuff around us at any given moment — be it product, commodity, or raw material — was once on a boat. To get from wherever it was made or processed or harvested to wherever it’s used or consumed, all this stuff embarks on a seaborne journey around the world. It happens thousands of times a day, on tens of thousands of vessels moving from port to port. Ships handle roughly 90 percent of global trade, nearly 10 billion metric tons (11 billion tons) of stuff per year.

Boats and ports are only a part of the picture. Airlines, railroads, trucks, warehouses, refrigerators, delivery people — the international system of goods movement is integral to the way we live in the 21st century. It's also a huge source of opportunity to reduce humans’ environmental footprint.

Ship shape

Shipping container SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images
MSC Valeria, an ultra-large containership from the Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A., of Geneva, is tugged by a boat.

The 10 billion tons of stuff shipped around the planet in 2014 is two-thirds more than what was moved in 2000. "Retail sales in the United States and across the world are increasing, in spite of all the economic cycles," says Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a professor at Hofstra University and an expert in transport geography. "There’s more people, there’s more consumption."

More than 47,000 big ships handle the bulk of this cargo, most of which (by weight) is made up of crude oil, iron ore, coal and other building blocks of the modern world. About 6,100 container ships carry the consumer goods we’re more likely to encounter and purchase — the televisions and socks and frying pans of day-to-day life. Transported around the world in standardized containers, this stuff has dramatically transformed shipping from a dockside hustle of men hauling crates to a highly mechanized, multimodal system that can have a box of South American bananas off a boat and on sale in the US within hours.

The environmental cost of moving those bananas is, of course, complex. Big ships can use more than 100 metric tons (110 tons) of fuel oil per day and can take two weeks or more to traverse oceans. Shipping’s international nature makes it tricky to control; measures such as fuel regulations and emissions standards have long implementation periods and are slow to achieve greenhouse gas reductions and environmental goals. Standards vary inside and outside so-called "emissions control areas" established by the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency focused on shipping.

The fuel used in ships, for instance, still contains low levels of sulfur and is highly polluting, and it’s been estimated that shipping accounts for 3 to 4 percent of human-caused carbon emissions. A recent report from the European parliament estimated that number could rise as high as 17 percent by 2050. In spite of this potential, shipping hasn’t been prioritized in any of the international agreements coordinated through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the latest agreement coming out of the COP 21 talks in Paris does not include stipulations on shipping or the high emissions caused by air freight.

Even so, there’s a reason all this stuff travels by boat. Aside from being the cheapest mode, it’s also the most carbon-efficient method of shipping: A big ship will emit about 10 grams (0.4 ounces) of carbon dioxide to transport 1 metric ton of cargo 1 kilometer (2 tons of cargo 1 mile). That’s roughly half as much as a train, one-fifth as much as a truck and nearly a fiftieth of what an airplane would emit to accomplish the same task.

"If ships were to move to cleaner diesel fuels, that would be a big reduction in emissions," says Genevieve Giuliano, director of the METRANS Transportation Center at the University of Southern California. All the major shipping lines are looking into new fuels and other sustainability measures. Earlier this year, Harvey Gulf International Marine became the first North American company to add liquefied natural gas, which produces less CO2 than conventional marine fuels, as a fuel for an offshore support vessel. And the first two cargo ships are set to begin using LNG for hauling cargo. Others are expected to follow, but transitioning ship engines on a wide scale will take time.

Still, progress is underway. From technological improvements such as retrofitted rudders and propellers to enhanced weather routing, shipping companies are eyeing many ways to improve their efficiency. "Freight is becoming more efficient by the day," Giuliano says. "And in the short term, efficiency gains are going to be the biggest contribution to greenhouse gas reductions."

For instance, newer ships have been designed to carry more without a proportional increase in fuel use. The biggest ship today is capable of transporting close to 20,000 of the type of containers typically carried by a semi-trailer on the highway, a huge jump from the roughly 2,500 that the first purpose-built containerized ships could carry in the 1970s. And as this capacity has grown, ports have adapted to handle the influx.

"Ports are getting more and more automated and even robotized," says Rodrigue. Ships can essentially plug into the ports where they dock, tapping into local power instead of idling their huge engines and burning hundreds of tons of fuel to sit still. Automated cranes can quickly unload and reload ships to reduce their time in port. And the same systems can quickly move those thousands of containers onto the trucks and trains that carry them off across the land.

Trucks and trains

Trucks David McNew/Getty Images
Trucks drive near City Hall to protest shipping container fees being assessed against independent truckers as part of the ports' Clean Truck Program to allow only newer, less-polluting trucks at the ports, on November 13, 2009, in Los Angeles, California.

The era of huge container ships has led to the development of logistics hubs, with rail yards, truck bays, and massive warehouses that receive, sort, and redistribute all these goods. Transporting freight on rail is more energy-efficient than transporting it by truck, says Asaf Ashar, an emeritus research professor with the University of New Orleans’s National Ports & Waterways Initiative. But while it makes sense energy-wise to transport freight on rail for most mid- and long-range hauls in the US, for example, the flexibility of trucking and the wide geographic spread of the country means that most stuff is eventually moved to its point of sale or use by truck. According to the American Trucking Associations, trucks carry about 70 percent of the tonnage of stuff moving throughout the US annually, requiring 3 million trucks and more than 37 billion gallons (140 billion liters) of diesel fuel.

The companies doing all this trucking understand the scale of these operations, and their heavy environmental costs. "It’s their bottom line. They want to find more fuel-efficient vehicles, and they do a lot of research into optimization algorithms for the routing of their trucks, from making sure they turn in one direction to minimizing wear and tear," Rodrigue says. "When you have a fleet of thousands of vehicles and you’re able to save 1 or 2 percent of fuel or maintenance costs because of more efficient routing, it’s big money at the end of the year."

And those solutions may not be far off. "I think that the first autonomous driving will take place in freight," says Ashar. Automated driving can go slower for longer hours than a human driver, with big implications for fuel efficiency, he says, so these companies — and potentially the environment — have a lot to save by reducing or even eliminating the human element. "Within a few years, there’s no need for a guy to sit in a big truck on the highway."

Automation is seen by many as the biggest change coming to the system of goods movement, and it is already being implemented in a wide variety of ways. From the automated cranes moving containers from ships to trains and trucks to algorithms that schedule and route deliveries, automation is already having an impact on the overall efficiency of the goods-movement system, cutting both costs and energy demands. Port automation has also been found to dramatically improve the use of land within port complexes, thereby prolonging or even eliminating the need to engage in environmentally costly expansion projects. And many expect the energy savings and efficiency gains of automated systems to play a much bigger role in reducing the overall environmental impact of the global goods movement system.

"Not anything within a year or two, but within a decade or so we could see very interesting stuff," says Rodrigue. "A lot of vehicles will be self-driving, dropping stuff automatically at some specific, preset points, and the loading and unloading will be somehow automated, and people will just need to pick up their stuff." The reduced energy costs of automated vehicles and optimized routing and deliveries could mean we’ll need fewer energy-sucking vehicles on the road to get all the stuff we need.

Special delivery

FedEx Express Electric Vehicle FedEx
FedEx Express electric vehicle.

The question of how people ultimately get all this stuff is another dominant conversation in the goods-movement world. With the rapid growth of e-commerce and delivery options from retailers such as Amazon that promise packages within day or hours, moving all these individual packages from seller to buyer has created new challenges, particularly in terms of carbon emissions from delivery vehicles. Ideas for addressing the congestion and energy requirements of the so-called "last-mile" issue range from centralized delivery boxes to cargo bicycles. Big companies like FedEx are investing in hybrid or all-electric delivery vehicles. Amazon is famously investigating the potential of delivery by battery-powered drones, which could reduce the company's reliance on traditional vehicles and their emissions. But many experts say the idea is just speculation at this point.

With the rise of 3D printing, some technologists are looking at the potential of distributed manufacturing — factories interspersed throughout urban areas where machines can print whatever part or product a consumer could want or need, eliminating the need to ship a part across an ocean or put it in a box in the back of a delivery truck.

Such fabrication labs may serve a niche audience, says Ashar, but they’re unlikely to be able to compete economically with the large-scale manufacturing system already in place. However, he doesn’t expect the current system to prevail in the long run, either. As the economic efficiency of shipping increases on sea and land, it will no longer make sense to concentrate huge factories in places like China. He sees more factories in more locations, with the parts and raw materials moving between them at less cost and with more energy efficiency than today. "I don’t see less transportation," Ashar says. "I see more transportation but less energy consumption for that transportation."

Efficiency gains and developments in automation may have the biggest influence on how the environmental footprint of our global system of goods movement evolves in the coming years. And even if self-driving trucks and delivery drones eventually revolutionize the movement of stuff over land, almost all of that stuff will still start its long journey on a boat.

23 Dec 01:00

Scrapping the five-star system in favor of emoji reviews

by Susannah Breslin

I feel this is important to everyone but me.

There's no point in sticking with the old school system of reviewing restaurants and rides with stars when emoji can offer other users more nuanced and specific feedback. Facebook and Uber are trying to figure how to make emoji reviews work.

Kristen V. Brown and Cara Rose DeFabio share their take on how and how not to enable emoji reviews.


Tags: emoji   tech
16 Dec 11:34

Energetic weatherman quits Channel 7

by adamg

There goes my 10pm news habit.

New England One reports Pete Bouchard quit as chief meteorologist at WHDH yesterday.

He's already changed his Twitter handle (if not yet the Channel 7 background in it).

10 Dec 21:49

The memory of a river

by Jason Kottke

Historical River Channels

If you measure the contours of a river valley with Lidar (like radar with lasers), you get a beautiful map of all the historical river channels. The image above was taken from a poster of the historical channels of the Willamette through to see the whole thing. See also Harold Fisk's meander maps of the Mississippi River.

Tags: geography   maps
09 Dec 20:00

100 years ago, Americans talked about Catholics the way they talk about Muslims today

by German Lopez

40 years ago my parents got married and people were pissed because my dad is Catholic (and my mom is poor, but hey).

About a century ago, millions of Americans feared that members of a religious group were amassing an arsenal of weapons for a secret, preplanned takeover of the United States.

The feared religious group was not Muslims. It was, as the Los Angeles Times's Matt Pearce wrote in a great new piece on Wednesday, Catholics:

Hatred had become big business in southwestern Missouri, and its name was the Menace, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper whose headlines screamed to readers around the nation about predatory priests, women enslaved in convents and a dangerous Roman Catholic plot to take over America.…

America's deep and widespread skepticism of Catholics is a faint memory in today's post-Sept. 11 world. But as some conservative politicians call for limits on Muslim immigration and raise questions about whether Muslims are more loyal to Islamic law than American law, the story of Aurora's long-ago newspaper is a reminder of a long history of American religious intolerance.

Today, there are calls for federal surveillance of mosques in the name of preventing terrorist attacks; a century ago, it was state laws that allowed the warrantless search of convents and churches in search of supposedly trapped women and purported secret Catholic weapons caches.

This may seem absurd today, but there was a real fear among Protestant Americans back then that Catholics were planning to take over the country. As Pearce reported, the fears led to serious violence: Lynch mobs killed Catholic Italians, arsonists burned down Catholic churches, and there were anti-Catholic riots. It was a similar sentiment to the kind of Islamophobia today that's led many Americans to call for shutting down mosques, forcing Muslims to register in a national database, and even banning Islam.

The point of the comparison is not to say that the US faces the same problems today as it did a century ago, or that the discrimination toward Catholics back then and Muslims today is exactly the same. But when looking back at the history of the US, it's easy to see a pattern of consistent xenophobia and fears of outsiders.

Xenophobia makes a regular appearance in US history

In response to terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, much of the conversation has focused on refugees and immigration. This conversation has been tinged with xenophobia toward Muslims — with many Republican presidential candidates going as far as saying the US should ban Muslim refugees, people from Muslim-dominated countries, or Muslims altogether.

But this sort of rhetoric is not new to the US. As the Pew Research Center found, Americans have generally opposed taking in refugees even as they went through abhorrent, well-known crises. (Vox's Dara Lind noted that America even rejected some Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.)

Americans have regularly opposed refugees from other countries. Pew Research Center

Xenophobia has fueled other policies, too. In the late 19th century, the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to stop the flow of Chinese laborers into the US. During World War II, the US put Japanese Americans in internment camps after the country declared war on Japan. Throughout the war on drugs, lawmakers have regularly tapped into xenophobic sentiments to prohibit certain drugs — such as when San Francisco banned opium smoking that was perceived as popular among Chinese immigrants, and when prohibitionists built up opposition to marijuana by fearmongering about its use among Mexican immigrants.

Throughout all of these periods and policies, the public and lawmakers cited genuine policy interests: national security, keeping American laborers competitive in the job market, and preventing drug abuse. But underlying such policy stances were obvious signs that Americans were simply scared of foreigners who weren't like them.

By and large, we tend to recognize the underlying xenophobia today, and that the policies it produced were wrong, bigoted, and self-destructive.

As Islamophobia rears its ugly head in the US again, it's worth thinking about how we now look back on those moments of American history — and whether we're making the same mistakes again.

15 Oct 20:00

The Best American Essays 2015


That essay on Geeshie and Elvie was amazing, so I guess I'll have to read the rest of these.

The Best American Essays 2015:


The Best American Essays 2015 was released this week. We went through the list of nominations, and picked our ten favourites – all free to read online:

Find Your Beach by Zadie Smith - Across the way from our apartment—on Houston, I guess—there’s a new wall ad. The site is forty feet high, twenty feet wide. It changes once or twice a year. Whatever’s on that wall is my view…

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates - Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole

The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie by John Jeremiah Sullivan - On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace.

The Crooked Ladder by Malcolm Gladwell - The criminal’s guide to upward mobility

The Real Roots of Midlife Crisis by Jonathan Rauch - What a growing body of research reveals about the biology of human happiness—and how to navigate the (temporary) slump in middle age

Poor Teeth by Sarah Smarsh - If you have a mouthful of teeth shaped by a childhood in poverty, don’t go knocking on the door of American privilege

Difficult Girl by Lena Dunham - Growing up, with help.

Word Magic by Adam Gopnik - How much really gets lost in translation?

Final Forms by Kathryn Schulz - What death certificates can tell us, and what they can’t

The Remains of the Night by Elizabeth Royte - Sex, trash and nature in the city