Swedish Train Station Brings the Future That Much Closer

January 10th, 2011 No comments

As anyone who’s scratched their head to the fundamental premise of The Matrix knows, each human body generates about 100 watts of body heat. Now, if we could only capture that energy, our computers could make us virtual slaves and we’d all get to dress really cool and shoot people and bend spoons and stuff.

That’s where the Swedes come in. This BBC video about the Stockholm Central train station describes how the body heat of the station’s 250,000 daily passengers is utilized to heat an office building across the street. Heat exchangers are used to heat water and then pumped over to the office building. The process saves about 25% on their energy bill.

Sure, it makes the world greener. But does this technology bring closer the day when machines will pack humans into stacks of heat-capturing capsules and then let our brains parade around virtual cities in black PVC  and wraparound shades, cracking the I.R.S. D-Base? Who can say? Myself, I want to be somebody important — like, an actor.

Thanks, Sweden!

New Huck Finn Edition Eliminates “That Word”

January 7th, 2011 No comments

A new edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn edits out the N-word, which I hereby, in protest, refuse to type because it skeeves me to think that I’ll catch Twell like Roger Ebert. (Also, women enjoy sex. I’m just saying.)

I do appreciate the anger most African Americans feel upon hearing the word uttered (or Tweeted) by a white man. And after all, Twain was white. But, just speaking for myself, I read the book at a young age. It was a significant part of getting me to understand at least in part how fucked up things were for African Americans in the South. It armed me against all the contemporary white protestations that too much is made of racism. Huckleberry Finn gave me a context for history.

Keith Staciewicz of Entertainment Weekly is non-committal on the subject, stating:

…if this puts the book into the hands of kids who would not otherwise be allowed to read it due to forces beyond their control (overprotective parents and the school boards they frighten), then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. It’s unfortunate, but is it really any more catastrophic than a TBS-friendly re-edit of The Godfather, you down-and-dirty melon farmer?

Leave it to that bastion of non-committal culture, Entertainment Weekly to equate the alteration of historical texts for political correctness with the TV edit of The Godfather, which to my mind is possibly the most insultingly ludicrous comparison I’ve ever heard. For the record, I think they’re both jack-assed gestures, but they’re not the same thing.

It misses the point to argue that removing something like “fucking motherfucker” from the TV broadcast of a film and removing the N-word from Huckleberry Finn are even remotely in the same context. Were “fucking motherfuckers,” as some characters in some films choose to call some other characters for generally story-driven reasons, systematically discriminated against, kidnapped, sold, denied opportunity, denied jobs, silenced, lynched? Do I need to go on, here?

I could see the argument for using a limited version of the word, to facilitate discussion while removing the unsettling charge that read the word generates in many U.S. readers of all races. In particular, I am sympathetic to the idea that in predominantly white schools, it may make nonwhite students feel singled out.

I wouldn’t really approve of it, but I can see a reasonable argument being made.

But using “n—–” and using “slave” are not equivalent. The former is distasteful to me because it attempts to make polite something that is manifestly impolite. The latter pretends that it was all very polite to begin with.

Doing so obliterates a student’s potential understanding of hundreds of years of race inequality. It ignores colonialism; it ignores the slave trade; it ignores the context of the slave trade. Furthermore, to remove that word ignores the context in which African Americans exist in the U.S. To remove it to avoid making school readers uncomfortable is to abdicate all of education’s responsibility to portray the world as it is — in all its bitter glory.

More importantly, is this intended to make African Americans as a group more comfortable? Or is it meant to make white people feel better? Because, you know, certain groups of white people in the U.S. have a history of not wanting to talk about race, and about racial inequality, and particularly of not wanting to acknowledge racism.

Meanwhile, other (and sometimes the same) groups of white people love to dictate what can be said about racism, which has the function not just of suppressing racist speech but of silencing minority voices.

As I said, I’m sympathetic to the potential discomfort of African American students on having to read and hear that word repeatedly by way of studying Huckleberry Finn. But just because racism is uncomfortable to discuss doesn’t mean it should be avoided.

How does erasing the history of this dangerous word help the cause of political correctness? How does it do anything except nullify the rage that all people of conscience (and, not to put too fine a point on it, African Americans in particular) are perfectly entitled to feel over the history of racism in the U.S.?

By removing the context for that rage, it makes any contemporary objection to historical racism seem small and petty. It makes those concerned with racism seem uppity and whiny. It serves the agenda of the far right that would like to sweep historical racism and inequality under the rug, so they don’t have to hear liberals and minorities “whine” anymore.

Just to trot out a Joe the Plumber or two, what happens when a white kid from some shit suburb who thinks Huckleberry Finn used the word “slave” instead of the n-word toodles off to college (or the East Village, man) and meets people who, just for instance, assert, “There is a significant history of racism in this country?”

I’ll tell you what happens, potentially. The white kid says, “WTF? You don’t know what you’re talking about. Sure, there was slavery, but at least they didn’t call the slaves dirty names or anything.”

Would it be more or less tragic if that was a kid of African-American descent saying that? Do you think it would affect that kid’s feeling about, say, affirmative action, or the physical danger that might be encountered if racist groups or gangs were to organize and commit racial violence, as they have historically and still do today?

Furthermore, the use of the word today in the black community forms a significant part of racial self-identity. Whether you’re black or white, or any of the other billions of people who aren’t either one, you can like it or hate it. But people use it, and the context in which they use it is important. If Mark Twain never used it, that context is damaged and the power of the word, for good or ill, is diminished.

Mark Twain put the word in there for a reason; it was common parlance in those days, and remains so today in a completely different context.

Twain was a white guy, yes, and you might think he didn’t have the right to “toss it around” any more than Roger Ebert did. But he did toss it around.

And Roger Ebert, thankfully, is still with us. Twain left us a portrayal of a time that none of us can ever know firsthand.

If we start fucking around with the historical record, we risk building a vision of that time that’s inaccurate.

Tags: ,

Time Travel Kitchen

January 6th, 2011 1 comment

I’ll tell you what: If we must label it, let’s call it “Neo-Victorian”  from the start, since there’s nothing punk about these steamy dishes.

But whatever you call it, if you’ve a taste for scrumptious historical cooking, Time Travel Kitchen is about the best damn thing ever.

Author Gail Carriger tipped me off to this one when she bubbled over about the Kitch’s assault on “Vermicelli Soup, Jugged Hare, Vegetables, Bread and Butter Pudding,” taken from the esteemed Ms. Carriger’s favorite cookbook, 1876′s Things a Lady Would Like to Know.

As if cooking up comestibles from the Allan Quatermain era wasn’t enough, Time Travel Kitchen’s “Culinary Chronaviatrix,” Jana, lays down a few of the helpful quotes from the book alongside the Jugged Hare. Like, for instance:

Look unto those they call unfortunate
And, closer viewed, you’ll find they were unwise.

What could be truer? Wow, I feel improved AND well-fed already!

The quotes require no commentary — because what can you say to that? But for each dish, Jana offers her honest and often hilarious “verdict,” both on the cooking and the resultant food. In the case of this particular meal, for instance, her opinion on the Jugged Hare starts out a little like this:

“Rabbit tastes just like chicken! Really. Husband cut up the rabbit, because raw meat with bones makes me feel squiggly.”

Squiggly is indeed how you may feel upon viewing this picture of her bad-ass husband, with partially disassembled hare. I love Jana, I love Time Travel Kitchen, and it must be dinnertime because I want some Jugged Hare. Mmmm…Jugged Hare…

[Time Travel Kitchen.]

[Via a Tweet from Gail Carriger.]

Keenen Ivory Wayans is Not Dead…

January 6th, 2011 No comments

…But no one told the Twitterverse. If you check out the hashtag #keenenivorywayans, you immediately discover an avalanche of Tweets expressing either grief at his death or outrage at the hoaxed report of his death.

Apparently it all started with a fake CNN Breaking News report in which the 52-year-old Wayans was reported to have died in his “Los Angels” home. An explosion of unverified re-Tweets resulted, showing that the average Tweeter out there does not fact-check their Tweets. And why should you fact-check your Tweets? It’s not like some maniac would manufacture a hoax about Keenan’s death…would they? You could end up in Gitmo!

Now the speculation starts — and let me tell you, it’s almost as exciting as watching Stephen Fry Twargue with people about whether or not women enjoy sex. Check it:

@matt_dahl13‎ Jersey Shore is 7 minutes away and Keenan Ivory Wayans is trending in NYC?!

@matt_dahl13‎ Jersey Shore is 7 minutes away and Keenan Ivory Wayans is trending in NYC?!

@Im4rmMiamiYo‎ damn yall killed Keenan Ivory Wayans lmao #RIP

@DrPhilOfTheHood: lmao another celeb successfully killed on twitter …RIP keenan ivory wayans

@KodakBoi‎ So ya’ll just gonna kill off Keenan Ivory Wayans?… Who gets joy outta that? smh! I’m over Twitter for the rest of the night.

@DoctorHyunhKeenan Ivory Wayans died of spleen faiure. Reported on http://www.sellyourspleen.com

@crutnacker‎ I’m glad that Keenan Ivory Wayans is alive to complete the final two Scary Movie films. #twitterphoenix


…and those are just a few choice Nothing Morsels at the Nothing Banquet, which has still got Sterno going at press time.

Mr. Wayans, meanwhile, is surely relaxing in his “Los Angels” home with Brittany Daniel, whom I heard he was dating, last time I gave a shit. And plotting his bloody, brutal revenge on all of us. Vengeance is mine; I shall repay.

Pow pow pow indeed, Tito.

Tags: ,

P. Diddy Does Not “Control” His Yacht by iPad

January 6th, 2011 No comments

Screencap from www.YachtSolemates.com.

As someone who made the leap from Mac to PC about 8 years ago (after 14+ years on Apple products), but loves my iPod Touch, I’ve found it endlessly fascinating seeing Apple’s iPad market itself. The success of the device seems to prove an axiom that’s so rarely true nowadays…good design means product success.

At the same time, fantastic public relations is an art form in and of itself. I have great respect for the good and the bad in the PR industry. Getting good PR is impressive, whether you’re the manufacturer of the season’s most widely-coveted consumer good, or an offensively opulent luxury yacht next to no one can afford. Good PR — Apple gots it, in addition to a solid product that many consumers seem to (legitimately) love.

These German cats apparently gots it, too. But even the iPad doesn’t “control” a yacht, as CNN claims.

Nor does a press release from a yacht broker warrant a news story, no matter how bad-ass this thing is.

In the headline of its front-page article “P. Diddy sails on $850,000-a-week superyacht controlled by iPad,” CNN implies that the Didster is actually piloting the brand-new 200-foot German-built superyacht Solemates by iPad. He’s not. From the passenger’s perspective, it’s a high-tech, fast-moving condominium, not a boat.

Custom-made software from German luxury yacht firm Lurssen gives passengers control of everything but the captain’s steering wheel — all with the most leisurely brush of their iPad.

“Solemates”, the first pleasure yacht to carry the technology, is currently playing host to flamboyant rap tycoon Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, girlfriend Kim Porter and their daughters D’Lila and Jessie, confirmed the yacht’s charter firm.

Using complimentary iPads, the millionaire mogul and his family will have control of all the shipboard entertainment and climate systems, the blinds and lights in their cabins, and could even have their Pina Coladas topped-up at the tap of an icon.

“You won’t find this app for download in the Apple store any time soon,” said Rupert Connor, central agent from chartering firm the Luxury Yacht Group. “The captain hands each guest their own iPad when they board, which they get to keep for the entirety of their trip.”

This is a little like the opening of The Simpsons, where the audience (and presumably Maggie) are led to believe that Maggie, the baby, is driving the car. That is, if Maggie was shelling out a mil a week to rent both the car and her mother’s services. And I do like the idea of Diddy with a pacifier.

Sometimes in the effort to make headlines out of the new shiny, the media presents technology as being more accessible to the average Jane/Joe/Giacomo than it is. The idea of controlling a luxury yacht’s entertainment system is a little too close to what consumers can already do with a smartphone — even if your living room doesn’t have a deck facing the Caribbean. It’s interesting, but it’s not a story.

But then, your living room probably doesn’t cost a million clams a week, no matter how upside-down your mortgage is. And that’s what makes this a story, as far as I can tell.

If you ask me, it smells like a story built on company PR.

That said, the yacht is shiny on the outside, stupid on the inside. Lurssen.com, the shipbuilder’s site, tells you fuck-all, not because it’s in German (only part of it is), but because it runs with this funky-monkey Flash orgy that assumes you want to sit there and stare at pretty and largely incomprehensible pictures crossed with slow-reveals of words like “Perfection.” “Taste.” “Character.” “Truly Individual,” and “Are You Ready?”

Apparently the German yacht-building industry is now at the stage that the financial services industry was in about 2002.

But the CNN article has some ultra-creepy conspicuous consumption copy that reads like a press release promoting the not-so-good-life. “At night they [sic] gym converts into an al-fresco disco, with an $80,000 integrated sound and light system.” “”As well as a bevy of en-suite Jacuzzis, the master cabin is fitted with an aromatherapy shower that comes in four flavors: eucalyptus, pine needle, citrus, and peppermint.” “The guests aren’t the only ones who benefit from an array of interactive flat screens — the captain has five to play with!”

The friggin' DINING ROOM. Hope you're eating an extra crab cake for all those starving babies in Somalia, Diddy. Screencap from www.YachtSolemates.com.

Who the fuck ARE these people? What’s worse, all the CNN photos are tagged “Courtesy Luxury Yacht Group,” which makes them seem even more like advertisements.

I’m all for the shiny. But wasn’t there, you know…a war on?

Tags: ,

Rolling Cities on Rails

January 6th, 2011 No comments

Image courtesy of Jagnafalt Milton, Stockholm.

The Stockholm design firm of Jagnafalt Milton won third place in a competition for new development proposals for the city of Åndalsnes, Norway. They want to put the whole town on rails.

It seems Åndalsnes is an old railway town and a resort town. Jagnafalt Milton believes the existing railway infrastructure can be used to create a city whose buildings are repositioned based on the seasons. According to today’s article on Wired.co.uk:

It proposed designs for rail-mounted single- and double-birth cabins, along with a two-storey suite. It also imagined lookout towers, kitchens, lifeguard stations, changing rooms, and — in true Swedish spirit — a sauna.

The idea, says the agency, was to use the city’s railway infrastructure — left behind from the days when it was an maritime construction town, building oil rigs — as a basis for its future. Konrad Milton, one of the partners in the company, told Wired.co.uk: “As we see it there are two major benefits. First, it’s easier to put buildings on existing train tracks than to demolish the tracks and build regular building foundations. Secondly the city of Åndalsnes has different needs depending on season.”

He continued: “Summertime the city is full of tourists from cruise ships and hikers — during this time there is a need for hotels and shopping. Wintertime the climate is harsh and there is less activity but a need for climate shelters and public indoor activities. By changing the building line-up according to seasons and events the city can become truly flexible.”


Tags: ,

Popular Mechanics’ CES Gadget Roundup

January 6th, 2011 No comments

The SPOT Connect turns your smartphone into a satellite phone. Call Mom from Antarctica!

I’m far from a gadget freak, but I still find a lot of inspiration in all the consumer tech that debuts at the Consumer Electronics Show each year. Unfortunately, I find it too hard to make sense of the sensations, and to tell the difference between all the tech-industry publicist hype and the real innovations.

Ever the source for the modern practicum, Popular Mechanics has a great slideshow roundup of their favorite gadgets from this year’s CES. The slideshow is pretty horribly marred by commercial interruptions ever few slides, including a few that sat there blank (proving that advancements in technology are no guarantee against minor disasters). But it’s still good tech-obsessed fun.

My absolute damn favorite gadget is the SPOT Connect, which will be available this month:

The SPOT Connect is a waterproof satellite communicator that smartphones can use to stay in touch with the world, far away from a cell signal (a special app allows smartphones to use Bluetooth to latch onto the device’s satellite connection).


…the short version is that it brings the cost of making your smartphone a satellite phone down to $170. A competing device, the Delorme Earthmate, was an award-winner last year, but costs almost $600. What could be better to have on hand for when you wake up in the jungles of Panama missing your pants and trying to sort out just who blew the heads off all these zombies? Just dial up the bartender at Zeitgeist and repeat that sad refrain, “Was I drinking tequila again last night?”

Anyway, there’s more to CES excitement than satellite phones and apocalyptic slaughter: I love the idea of the “dog recognition mode” on the Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR, which allows you to capture your rover with greater ease — important to any photographer who’s ever tried to shoot their dog and ended up with a squirrel-chasing blur. Cat owners will no doubt cry foul, but I’m sure it works for Mister Fluffypants as well.

Other interesting gadgets in PM’s roundup include the Samsung 9 Series Laptop (slimmer than a Macbook Air!), the Seagate GoFlex — a dedicated satellite drive for the iPad — and the Liquid Image Video Mask, designed for recording your motocross and skiing exploits. There’s also the Cobra Phone Tag, which gives you an alert on your smartphone every time you lose your keys, and the Samsung RMC 30D Internet-Enabled Remote Control will “stream a live feed of whatever is on TV directly to the remote’s tiny touchscreen.

Tags: , ,

Hulk Smash, In Endless Variation

January 5th, 2011 No comments

A while back, Gabriel Gadfly posted a great rundown of some of the various Hulks on Twitter. In case you don’t know, Hulk This and Hulk That is one of the memes on Twitter, like Phweeting. Whether or not you groove on Fake Abe Vigoda, if you’re a Tweeter then like the rest of us you likely can’t help but find very occasional amusement in such delights as Feminist Hulk, Hipster Hulk,EnviroHulk, Jesus Hulk, Bookstore Hulk, Editor Hulk, Karaoke Hulk, and the notoriously impolite Canadian Hulk.

Do we care that the quality of their satire is hugely mixed? Nah. Does it matter that they occasionally seem to be unclear on the boundary between LOLspeak and Hulkspeak? Um…yeah, kinda, but HULK TRY. THAT WHAT MATTER. It good fun, and when it comes to Twitter, the more SMASH the better.

Anyway, here’s Gabriel Gadfly’s Twitter Hulk Rundown, which makes smashy enough reading that it threatens to create its own Twitterhole. For extra fun, read the comments to note how the mere mention of Hulk leads people to start talking like the Hulk. I’m not sure if that’s awesome or creepy. Maybe a little of both. But can Hulk blame them? See? Now Hulk is doing it. HULK PRETTY SURE THAT CREEPY, NOT AWESOME, BUT HULK GRATIFIED THAT HULK NOT ONLY ONE.

What’s even smashier fun is that late last month, Empty-Handed.com compiled a list of 100 Hulk accounts. Go forth and SMASH.

Tags: , ,

British Medical Journal: Vaccine-Autism Link Was Fraud

January 5th, 2011 No comments

Public domain graph via Wikipedia.

A 1998 study of 12 patients in Lancet claimed to show a link between autism and childhood vaccines. The study spread panic among parents in the UK and the US, leading a significant number of parents to decide not to vaccinate their children for common childhood diseases, with measles vaccination rates dropping as low as 80% in Britain. CNN claims recent years have seen an increase in childhood measles.

Lancet fully retracted the study in 2010. An article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) now says that study was an active and intentional fraud perpetrated by the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield. This follows the earlier revelation that Wakefield had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers for the autism link, and that Wakefield failed to disclose that fact. CNN says in their article on the subject:

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.

“It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”


CNN also quotes the BMJ paper itself as saying:

“Meanwhile, the damage to public health continues, fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession.”

I couldn’t agree more. As with many medical studies, research with a tiny number of patients, and ambiguous results, was completely misconstrued in the first place. For years, deluded hippy parents have claimed a clear link between vaccines and autism, when none ever existed — even if Wakefield’s study had been accurate. I feel quite confident that people I know will jump in to defend the link between vaccines and autism even now, and frankly I’m not looking forward to having those conversations.

The panic spread by the idea that humans might be causing autism with childhood vaccinations spread like wildfire because too many people want to believe that the damage that corrupt human institutions do to this planet and to ourselves can be shown in every institution. This leads to misconstruing data in the case of worthless studies with tiny populations.

Now that it turns out the study was fraud to begin with — fraud for a specific and obvious financial gain — I suspect it will still serve as fuel for hippy assertions about childhood vaccines being damaging.

I don’t actually agree with BMJ’s editorial, quoted by CNN, that the damage in the field of autism itself is similarly dangerous:

“But perhaps as important as the scare’s effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it,” the BMJ editorial states.

I don’t believe that at all; the two things are not of equivalent importance in my mind. As tragic as it is to misconstrue autism, I believe a distrust of vaccines has, overall, a far greater impact. Based on a study of 12 patients — 12 PATIENTS!!! — it has the potential to partially undo some of the greatest gains in public health achieved over the last hundred years. Even worse, this attitude helps cultivate a deep distrust of the medical profession specifically by using the very worst aspects of the medical profession! By “the worst aspects,” I mean a tendency to draw clinical conclusions from too-scant data for the purpose of getting headlines.

That deep distrust cultivated by things like the vaccine link encourages people to misplace their medical anxiety, and to pay attention to spurious concerns rather than focusing on the places where medicine really runs off the rails — in the insurance sector,  in pharmaceutical-company malfeasance, and in rampant bureaucracy that results in a tragic lack of appropriate care for many patients.

But I’m with BMJ in thinking that misunderstanding autism is tragic and infuriating. It takes a little-understood disease and turns it into a weapon in the war against “the establishment.” It serves as a lightning rod for ill-advised distrust of “Western medicine,” allowing smugness to replace understanding. It turns those with autism into poster children for the breakdown of our medical system, instead of letting them be what they should: patients, clients and people.

Even though Wakefield was barred from practicing medicine in Britain in May of last year, the damage he did is incalculable.

Tags: , ,

Early Tools on Crete Push Back Sea Travel Origins

January 5th, 2011 No comments

From the Greek Culture Ministry, via NPR.

The recent discovery of early tools on the island of Crete is causing scientists to revise their view not only of when the technology of sea travel developed, but of how humans (or other hominids) migrated into Europe from Africa.

According to a statement by the Greek Culture Ministry reported by NPR (and elsewhere), the tools are at least 130,000 years old, and may be as old as 700,00 years.

Crete is separated from the Greek mainland by 40 miles (here — see for yourself). It has been for five million years, when it separated from the continent. That means that the archaeologists’ estimate on the earliest sea travel by humans or related hominids, which was previously thought to have started about 60,000 years ago, just got doubled.

The earliest evidence of sea travel in Greece, however, was previously closer to 9,000 B.C., which means that the (very!) early history of Greece just got rewritten as well.

There are a few different reasons this discovery is extra-fascinating. One is that rough stone implements like this are associated not just with Homo sapiens sapiens (modern humans), but with our ancestors.

According to the NPR story:

Such rough stone implements are associated with Heidelberg Man and Homo Erectus, extinct precursors of the modern human race, which evolved from Africa about 200,000 years ago.

“Up to now we had no proof of Early Stone Age presence on Crete,” said senior ministry archaeologist Maria Vlazaki, who was not involved in the survey. She said it was unclear where the hominids had sailed from, or whether the settlements were permanent.

“They may have come from Africa or from the east,” she said. “Future study should help.”


This raises the possibility that open-sea travel developed before modern humans did. The important distinction here is that it’s open-sea travel — not river or lake travel, that sort of thing. Crete is too far from Greece to have been the result of the humans or proto-humans swimming or floating on a log. The minimum technology that would reasonably expected to get humans or other hominids to Greece would be a raft and oars, which means that previous estimates of when hominids developed cognitively are probably far too conservative.

Though the discovery, by Princeton archaeologist Thomas Strasser, was championed as one of the top science stories of 2010, and is just now being covered by the media due to the Culture Ministry statement, it actually occurred in 2008 and 2009.

The really big questions opened up by this discovery, such as what land mass the hominids came from (Africa or Asia) and how widespread such sea travel was, are still waiting to be answered.

Tags: ,