Transformative Technologies

Riding into work on the vanpool this morning, my mind started musing on transformative technologies — specifically, the beam. Just think about it for a bit. What transformed a simple small room residence into a castle was the ability to have large roofed congregating areas — great rooms. What made the Great Room possible was the beam: a single long span strong enough to support a roof without the need for pillars in the way. But what did it take to get us the simple beam?

In the days when all we had was wood, we might be lucky to find a single tree that was large enough to give us the beam, but we then had to mill it to make it be what we wanted. That milling required small metal devices: axes, saws, sawmills. This is why the ages of metals were so important: they gave us the ability to mill wood (and cook, and so many things).

Suppose we couldn’t find a single tree long enough. We might combine multiple smaller pieces to make a beam. That required two more transformative technologies: glue and the nail. We don’t often think about glue and adhesives, but they are what make it possible to create long beams by gluing together multiple small beams. These are then strengthened by nailing them together (and later, screws and bands). Nails and screws are a key technology: they allow us to fastened in a strong manner. Just think about the difference in strength between a peg and a bolt or nail.

There are other technologies that the beam leads us to. Consider beams made out of metal. That requires, at minimum, foundries and forges to make long long pieces of metal: longer than can be worked by a single individual alone. There’s also cement, which can combine with natural objects to give us concrete. Concrete allows us to move from whatever natural rock we can find into shaping rock into the image we want. In some ways, brick is less transformative, because brick requires mortar for longer pieces, and mortar can fail.

Now, when we look at today’s world, what is the key overlooked technology? Looking at the last 300 years, what invention completely transformed society? My answer is the same as was given in the classic movie The Graduateplastics.

When we think of hydrocarbons, we generally think of oil and gas and how they changed transportation and make large scale electricity possible. But now think about the role of plastics in your everyday life, and just try to imagine a world without them. Insulation on wires. Cases for computers. Uses in circuit boards. Medical uses, from syringes to pill bottles to gloves to sterile enclosures. Think of how much plastic goes into a car. Think of how much you use everyday — and how much you throw away, from sandwich bags to trash bags. Think about the use for leftovers, for piping, even in the clothes and buttons we wear.

When we worry about the impact of the cost of oil and the fact that it is a limited, non-renewable resource, think about where much of our plastic comes from. A small percentage is recycled, and a small percentage comes from renewable oil — corn, soy, etc. But the bulk? Petrochemicals.

When you look around your world, what little technologies do you realize are critical to life and society?

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Chained Chum Looking for a Theme

Observation StewAs I read the various posts that become essay prompts, I collect articles of interest that become themed news chum posts (which typically require three or more common-theme articles). Sometimes, however, the themes never materialize or prove insufficient for a post on their own. When that happens, we have chum looking for a theme… like this. However, in writing these up, it turned into a “chain”, post: where there might not be a connection between the articles, but there is a chain of connection between any two bullets.

  • You’re The Top. Food waste in this country is incredible. From perfectly good food we throw away because it is “expired”, to edible food we don’t realize is edible. In the latter category go the tops of many of the vegetables we eat. But they don’t have to go into the trash: here’s how to use them. Here’s a great quote: “We throw an enormous percentage of food away, not only wasting food we know about but also food we don’t think of as being part of the farm-to-table sequence. Sometimes, when I’m at my neighborhood farmers market pulling beet greens and carrot tops out of the discard bins behind the produce stalls, someone will ask me what I’m doing with them. Or, more often, they’ll ask the nearby farmer whether the tops of the various vegetables they’re buying are edible. Fresh greens are gorgeous, fragrant, healthful and enormously flavorful; they’re also endlessly useful in cooking. Not only do we use herbs and greens in soups, salads, sauces and stocks, but also in bouquets garnis, as garnishes, even in cocktails. Why we value some more than others is pretty arbitrary.”
  • Is all Salt the Same? Speaking about food ingredients, normally, when we think of an ingredient, we think it is interchangeable. After all, does it make a difference what brand of pasta we use, from what company the herbs are sourced? Well, it turns out that when you’re talking about salt, it does. I’m not talking sea vs iodized: I’m talking Kosher Salt. Not all Kosher Salt is the same. Representative quote: “a cup of Morton is nearly twice as salty as Diamond Crystal. Its thin crystals, made by pressing salt granules in high-pressurized rollers, are much denser than those of Diamond Crystal, which uses a patented pan-evaporation process, called the Alberger method, that results in pyramidal crystals. While different brands of fine sea salts and table salts generally have around the same weight by volume, kosher salts do not. “And it’s not only the weight,” says Lalli Music. “Morton is a coarser salt. It takes a little longer to dissolve.” So even at the same weight, it actually performs differently. It’s easier to add too much of the slow-dissolving Morton salt because it may not have fully liquefied when you’ve tasted something.” The difference is so telling, recipes have to specify the brand.
  • Clip It. Little things like salt are critical. We often don’t think about these little things. For example, clips. Now I’m not talking MS Clippy (although I did read a fascinating history of Clippy). No, I’m talking bread clips, those little pieces of plastic that close our loaves of bread. It turns out there is a whole family of different clips and types, and some have gone as far as to develop taxonomies of the clips. Favorite quote: ““Much like insect wings,” the site authors elaborate, “occulpanids are grouped according to the dentition (or lack thereof) in their oral groove, which often dictates both their ecological niche and biogeographic location.” Each bagged specimen is also tagged on the site with an “ecological classification” based on the biomes in which it has been found (e.g. grocery aisle, hardware store, asphalt road, landfill, oceanic gyre or gastrointestinal tract).”
  • Knit One. Clips bring things together, as does knitting. My wife is a knitter, so articles on knitting catch my eye. The first in this group explored the history of knitting, from the earliest  days to the present day. Representative quote: “Despite high hopes, my research revealed neither mortals nor gods. Instead, knitting’s history is made up of an assortment of clues, competing theories from scholars and half-rotted fragments on the verge of disintegration. Not exactly the fun romp through fairy tales I was hoping for. Unlike spinning or weaving, knitting doesn’t figure in any ancient myths. In fact, there isn’t even an ancient Greek or Latin word for knitting! The word “to knit” didn’t make an appearance in the Oxford Unabridged English Dictionary until the fifteenth century and wasn’t part of any European language until the Renaissance. All this confirms that knitting is a relatively new invention.”
  • Purl Two. The other knitting articles are connected in a different way: the describe two groups of knitters on each coast. On the East Coast, Alan Cumming (of Caberet) fame has opened a new club that has a stitch-and-bitch night. In a club promising “Downtown Debauchery”, “It’s like a jamboree, with our ‘Knitmaster’ Tom teaching people different types of stitches, and having a weekly challenge, such as hat, scarf, shawl, and then working to have a few gifts for the holiday season,” Nardicio revealed.  On the West Coast, a tight knit (heh) community has formed around a UCLA Campus Club that teaches knitting. Now, this isn’t a touchy-feely “north campus” club, but a club that meets in the Engineering building.  Started by a third-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student, the i-KNIT-iative knitting club meets in Boelter 5514, providing a space for members to learn how to knit, crochet and do other forms of needlecraft, while socializing and de-stressing in the process. The club is also working to produce scarves and beanies for donation to homeless shelters around Los Angeles at the end of fall quarter. While members bring their own projects, the club supplies materials such as bags stuffed with yarn and knitting needles for members who plan on donating their finished product.
  • Men Using Their Organs The Right Way. Knitting is an activity you do when you’re bored. Where is the best place to be bored? A baseball field. But all is not boring there. Here are two interesting stories about baseball organists. The first is about the organist for the Boston Red Sox, Representative quote: “They’ve devised various challenges to accomplish this. “Sometimes, he plays a song, and I’ll play a song it reminds me of,” Kantor says. “We also do theme nights.” Earlier this year, when members of the ‘67 pennant-winning team were in attendance, they only played songs from 1967. On July 20, the anniversary of the first moon landing, they always stick to songs about space. “Fans will get into it, too,” Connelly says, if they notice. When the April 21 game became an impromptu Prince tribute, it made national news.” On the other end of the country, there is the organist for the LA Dodgers, who tries to do something similar. Representative quote: “Ruehle took over in 2016 following the retirement of longtime Dodger organist Nancy Bea Hefley, who had held the post for a remarkable run of 28 years. But he has quickly earned the respect of music aficionados among the Chavez Ravine crowds for his savvy use of pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop, classical and other genre song snippets woven in with the boilerplate baseball-organ repertoire.” Both articles highlight one of those things that are often in the background, yet are so importance for providing a special ambiance.
  • So Is That XL, or XXL? An old joke, oft told between guys about their organs, is that comdoms only come in L, XL and XXL, because no one would ever buy a small. But with condoms, size is importance and not all men are the same: and you don’t want it slipping off because it is too large. This has led to a new business: Bespoke Condoms. A Boston-based company has begun selling custom-fit condoms in 60 sizes, in combinations of 10 lengths and nine circumferences. As the custom-fit condom company, Global Protection Corp., pressed the F.D.A. and industry standards associations for changes, a key priority was smaller sizes, said the company’s president, Davin Wedel. Until recently, standard condoms had to be at least 6.69 inches long, but studies find the average erect penis is roughly an inch shorter.
  • Getting the Rage Out. Now we move from one form of baseball bat to another: real baseball bats. In Los Angeles, a downtown “Rage Room” has opened. Here, co-founders Peter Wolf and Edwin Toribio allow guests take out their angst on a variety of delightfully fragile inanimate objects with their weapon of choice. As Emperor Palpatine would say, “Let the hate flow through you.” Rage Ground offers five separate rooms of various sizes for smashing, though they’re all linked in such a way that a large group could turn them into one massive anger-fueled free-for-all for around 25 guests at a time. Various packages include a variety of objects to obliterate, including glassware and household appliances. For instance, a $13.99 starter package gets a single person five minutes with three small items and two medium items. The “Get Smashed” package ($29.99), which is particularly popular, scores one person 10 minutes with eight beer mugs, five shot glasses, and three martini glasses. For an extra fee, Rage Ground also offers specialty items for destroying (they’re currently all out of Trump pinatas), or guests can make a special request for a particular item in advance.
  • Native LA. Speaking of Los Angeles, last week brought Indigenous Peoples Day in Los Angeles. Yes, the banks were closed. But it did bring out an interesting article on the natives of Los Angeles: The Tongva-Gabrieliño tribe. California was home to thousands of people before Spanish settlers arrived—around 350,000 across the whole state—and the Los Angeles Basin in particular was home to the Gabrieliño-Tongva people. The movements of the Tongva peoples set the stage for what would eventually become Los Angeles. Their footpath through the Sepulveda Basin was the original 405 freeway. The L.A. State Historic Park was formerly a fertile basin within a mile of Yaanga, the Tongva people’s largest known village in the area. The Hahamog’na, a band of the Tongva peoples, settled along the Arroyo Seco river, which now comprises Northeast Los Angeles.
  • Jacked Around. The Tongva got jacked around, but if they were buying a new iPhone or Pixel, that couldn’t happen. No jacks. The 3.5mm jack is increasingly disappearing — for no good reason other than profit. Don’t believe the BS about more space in the phone. 3.5 mm jacks provide a universal way for things to connect. Bluetooth is touted as universal, but typically tends to be a walled garden forcing you to a particular manufacturers product for the best sound.  Always remember this: Even if you are the customer, shareholders come first. Changes made aren’t always for the benefit of the customer, but for the profit of the company.
  • Software Replacements. A great example of this is software, where a few articles on replacements caught my eye. Google is replacing the easy to use Google Drive with Backup and Sync. What’s changing are the apps. The major difference between Backup and Sync and Drive File Stream is the latter’s ability to stream files from the cloud—the popular “placeholder” capability that can display copies of all of your cloud-based files, without actually storing them on your PC. Backup and Sync syncs files more traditionally, placing local copies on your desktop, and then backing them up in the cloud. If you want to back up your photos and videos, you’ll use Backup and Sync. Ditto with a generic USB drive that you want to add to the cloud. On the Microsoft side, Skype for Business (the meeting app we love to hate) is going away. It is being replaced by Microsoft Teams, ostensibly to put pressure on Slack. Microsoft is also promising better meetings with Teams in the future, thanks to AI. Microsoft is building in machine learning, cognitive services, and speech recognition to improve a meetings experience and make it easier to set them up and receive follow ups after the meeting has concluded. But some replacements are never as good as the original. For example, RSS and similar syndication is still the best way to keep on top of things.  [and although not mentioned in the article, Newsblur is still my RSS reader of choice.]
  • Running Away. All these changes make you want to run away. If you do, you probably want a passport, given the mess with RealID. The winter is the best time to get one, according to the LA Times. They report that the State Department is claiming that Americans should apply for or renew their passports before January because processing times are shortest between September and December. Demand for passports typically heats up in the new year and continues into summer. If you want to get your passport back quickly, now is the time to apply or renew. Why get a passport? Something called the Real ID Act will go into effect in 2018. The law, passed in 2005, requires state driver’s licenses to meet certain security standards to be considered a valid federal ID you can use at airport security checkpoints. California is one of the states whose driver’s license does meet the requirements. If you have a license issued by a state that’s not compliant, a valid passport is your best bet for airport identification. Not to mention that you need a passport now to go to Mexico or Canada. [Hmm, mine is from 1976. I think I should renew.]
  • End With The Best. If the fall is the best time for passports, here are some more bests: (1) Best VPN services; (2) Best Art Supply Stores in LA.

 

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Hatred and Jews

Two articles that have crossed my feeds of late both highlight the issue of hatred: one of hatred of Jews, the other of hatred by Jews. Both demonstrate significant failures of our society.

The first was brought to my attention by Rabbi Barry Lutz of our congregation. Titled “Reform is Not a Four-Letter Word“, it describes a problem that is growing in Israel these days: the divide between the “ultra-Orthodox” (note that I do not put all Orthodox in this category) and the more progressive movements within Judaism. I’m familiar with this divide, for it isn’t a new one. Back in the early 1990s I started a mailing list where we explicitly prohibited that device, as the RCO fights (as well called them) were taking over soc.culture.jewish (the Usenet group) with their invective and hatred. It seems this hasn’t gone away: some ultra-Orthodox are using “Reform” as an insult. As the author of the opinion piece writes:

Still, I’d probably not have gotten around to writing this piece had Deri’s remarks not been echoed – almost drowned out – by those of Shlomo Amar, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and past Sephardic Chief Rabbi, who proclaimed a few days later that Reform Jews are worse than holocaust deniers.” You can catch his remarks, word for word, on the ultra-Orthodox Haredi website Kikar Shabbat as he responds to the latest appeal of progressive Jewish groups to the Supreme Court regarding the Kotel (Western Wall). “They don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat but they want to pray [at the Western Wall]. But no one should think that they want to pray, they want to desecrate the holy,” was Amar’s take on the matter. “Today there was a hearing on the Kotel on the petition of the cursed evil people who do every iniquity in the world against the Torah,” he added, including both Conservative Masorti Jews as well as the Women of the Wall (original and otherwise) as objects of his wrath as all were party to this litigation.

Did you catch that? Reform Jews are worse than holocaust deniers. Who needs Nazis in the streets when we have the ultra-Orthodox to hate us (without ever knowing what Reform really is, just like many of the Nazis know Judaism only from false stereotypes like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion). Hatred built on fake news and fake information is not new, folks; it has long been the domain of the ignorant, uninformed, and more importantly, those who do not want to be informed.

The current alt-Right and neo-Nazi — hell, Nazi — movements are bringing this all back to America. I met Shmuel Gonzalez when he recently gave a talk to the San Fernando Valley Historical Society on the community of Boyle Heights. This was an ethnically mixed community east of DTLA that — in the days of red-lining — brought together Jews and Latinos and Russians and Japanese and Blacks and all sorts of ethnicities into a loose coalition that worked for the rights of workers and the rights of people. Those Jewish Community Centers you see these days where nice economically advantaged families bring up their children outside of the horrid public schools were once Yiddishist centers fighting for workers and teaching English to immigrants. Shmuel, a very nice and gentle fellow, talks about this history all the time and preserves the Jewish heritage of those communities while celebrating both his hispanic and his Jewish background. Shmuel describes himself as follows in a recent post on his Barrio Boychik blog: “I am an activist historian and community organizer from Southern California; many of you might know me as the author of the Barrio Boychik blog, which is dedicated to presenting our local heritage of civil rights activism, with special focus on the historical and present inter-section of Jewish and Latino civil rights organizing. As a Mexican American of the Jewish faith, I also proudly serve the as teacher of Jewish education and leader in sacred Hebrew ritual, serving Southeast Los Angeles and North Orange County.”

Shmuel was recently at a counter-protest of the America First Rally – an anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rally organized by the so-called “alt-Right” – at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, California on Sunday, August 20, 2017. As he writes on his blog:

On this day I was in attendance to stand with local friends and business people as they stand against hate. Among them my good friend and a father figure to me, Irv Weiser; whose family came to this country as refugees following the holocaust. I came to stand shoulder to shoulder with him as he protested against this nationalist hate rhetoric. There were just a few dozen anti-immigrant/refugee protesters that day, a mixed race group of far right extremists that noticeably even had neo-Nazis and white supremacists participating in the event; while there were several hundred counter-protesters in attendance. After the right-wing protesters group dwindled they started making incursions into the counter-protest, to get in people’s’ face and to agitate the crowd; they caused some minor scuffles and were shooed back by the police. While documenting the event on video, I followed the right-wing group back. By this time the right-wing protesters on the other end were encircled and engaging a crowd. I engaged the right-wing protesters in their rhetoric angering them several times with just verbal rebuttals, while also taking video of the protest.

He continued:

As I was still documenting this event on video with the camera running, I went in for a close-up shot as we argued, and one of them quickly approached and hit my hand, sending my camera flying. At that point I was immediately arrested by five officers in riot gear from the Laguna Beach Police department. I was arrested, instead of these nationalist extremists who wanted to assault me. And that was just the begin of a long ordeal. I would be arrested, taken to central jail – where I would be subjected to racist and anti-semitic treatment by the jailer.

His blog provides all the details of this, and he has a court date this coming Monday. Why they arrested a counter-protestor, and not the perpetrators of hate is beyond me.

The reason I bring up Shmuel’s story (in addition to bringing it the attention it deserves) is to highlight the hate aspect of it. Both stories — the one from Israel, and the one from Orange County — deal with hatred of Jews. One is from the ultra-Orthodox (many of the same folks who, in America, are still supporters of Trump). One from the alt-Right — again, a supporter of Trump. Further, as I write this, a bipartisan group in Congress has sent a resolution to Trump condemning such behavior . Why did Congress send it? According to the Washington Post: “Trump was roundly criticized by lawmakers of both parties last month after he blamed “both sides” for the Aug. 12 violence that resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, as well as his suggestion that some “very fine people” were among the white-nationalist marchers.” Of course, the White House is saying he will sign it but the reason why is unclear: political expediency, or because he really believes in it. I guess we’ll find out in the after-the-fact tweets.

Whether the behavior is from our fellow Jews or from the alt-Right/neo-Nazi groups: we must fight hatred in any form. Further, as in the early days of Boyle Heights, we must remember that our cause is tied up with the immigrant — be they be from South of the Border, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. Hatred of minorities in any form eventually turns to us Jews, and we have to stop it before it starts. Both of these stories are lessons and poignant reminders of where things can go.

 

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Degrees of Removal | When Are We Going Too Far?

The other day, I saw an article about the potential renaming of a “Jefferson Davis Highway” to something that didn’t celebrate the President of the Confederacy. It got me thinking about the cost of renaming things, and created the urge in me to explore it with a post:

  • Removing Statues. What is the cost of removing a statue celebrating a son or daughter of the Confederacy? First and foremost, there is the surface cost of removing the statue and moving it somewhere that places it in historic context. This, in general, is a cost incurred by government, not private organizations. There likely aren’t significant other references to the statue; it is relatively straightforwards.
  • Changing a Mascot. The next step up is changing a mascot, such as is common with schools that have a “Southern Rebel” as their mascot. In general, this would involve getting a new costume, perhaps renaming a building and changing a few signs. The impact on tradition is harder to cost.
  • Renaming a School or Building. A step up the cost ladder happens when we rename a building. What happens when we rename a public school from “Robert E. Lee Elementary School” to “Sojourner Truth Elementary School”. There is likely the cost of new stationary and new websites, and the cost of resigning the school. There is the association of the old with the new, and how one might deal with old yearbooks and such.
  • Renaming a Street. Here we see a significant cost increase. Changing Jefferson Davis Highway to Emancipation Highway impacts much more than a map. There is significant cost to government: street signs must be changed, directional signs on freeways require update. Property mapping databases require update. Similar updates must occur in all mapping services — an impact not to just the government, but many private organizations. Then there are all the businesses on the street that must update their advertising material and stationary, orders, and such. Homes must order new checks and such. This is a significant impact on private citizens, with no recompense from the government. How do we balance that cost against the impact of the name? Can there be a compromise of changing it to a less offensive name (perhaps dropping “Jefferson”)? This is a much harder question.

Then, of course, there is the overreaction renaming, such as ESPN pulling a sportscaster from a game because his name was “Robert Lee”, or similar reactions to the numerous folks named Jeff Davis and such. That is clearly stupid, and an overreaction (deserving of ridicule).

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Erasing Offense

userpic=divided-nationI have friends on FB of all political stripes, and I’ve recently been seeing some common themes from conservative friends that are starting to irk me — and so I’d like to expound upon them for a bit.

  • Erasing History. I have been seeing many conservative folks stating that the removal of Confederate Monuments is an attempt to erase history. Such an opinion reflects I biased misunderstanding of the rationale for removal. History, in general, cannot be erased. It leaves marks much deeper than monuments. The Civil War left a divided nation: a nation whose divisions (and their mishandling by the Democratic party of that era — which is different than the Democratic party of today) lived on in Jim Crow laws and racial segregation in the South. Blacks may have become citizens, but they never achieved full civil rights until somewhat recently. Most of the statues that went up in the 1910-1940 periods (and I’m distinguishing them from plaques recognizing actual burial places of soldiers) were put up not to remember the South’s loss in the war (which is what the history was), but to remind people of the “good old days” and what the South was fighting for — slavery and the subjugation of the black and poor. And yes, that is what the South was fighting for: cheap labor in the form of slaves. The recasting of the war as one for states rights was the real erasure of history, an attempt to play down the racial aspects of the war and to play up the economic. But if the war was for states rights alone, it would have been fought in the courts. Removing statues doesn’t erase history. Changing the narrative does. I strongly recommend that those who want to learn more about the statues listen to the Backstory Podcast episode that explores the battle over Confederate monuments. Lastly, I’d like those who still believe the removing the monuments is erasing history to consider this: Germany lost World War II. Do you see monuments in Germany to Adolph Hitler or major World War II German generals? Does the lack of those monuments diminish at all how the history of World War II is told? How would the presence of those monuments (if they existed) be viewed by Jews living in modern Germany? Would they be viewed as a gesture that reminds them of how the German culture and country wanted to exterminate and subjugate them, and is celebrating that aspect of their history? If you think about those questions, you’ll understand why the Confederate monuments are problematic.
  • It Offends Me. Another common thread I see on Conservative feeds is something along the lines: “X offends me, I want it removed.”. This is a play on the Conservative stereotype of the “Snowflake” — someone who protests at any offense. It also plays to the notion that the statues were offensive. That, to put it politely, is a pile of 💩. Simple offense is not cause for removal. The ability to offend is protected speech, and there is no restriction to being offended by what someone says. Trust me, if that were a reason for removal most of my Conservative friends wouldn’t be on Facebook, and they would have removed me as well, and FB would be a very empty place. However, there is a distinction when the speech is being made by the government, and the purpose of that speech is to impact a protected class — that is, a class that had no choice in the aspect that creates offense. Examples would be skin color, sex, sexual orientation (which isn’t a choice), and in some cases religion, which some groups believe is transmitted by blood. The Confederate monuments aren’t being removed because they offend in a broad sense, but because they are a government celebration of discrimination against a protected class. That is something different. I’ll note you’re seeing the push for removal against statues placed by governmental organizations or in public spaces. Private expressions and private spaces are up to the owner of their space, and the customers that owner wishes to court.

More on a similar and related issue this in my next post…

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Interesting Histories

Continuing the clearing of some themed groups, here are some interesting histories that I’ve seen come across my feeds of late:

  • LA Theatre. Here’s a complete history of LA Theatre while standing on one foot.  OK, well, it’s not complete (there’s no mention of the LA Civic Light Opera, for example, or the other major large theatres that are no more, like the Huntington Hartford or the Shubert in Century City), but it is a great summary of the current situation with 99 seat theatres and how we got there.
  • Jewish Culinary Tradition. Here’s an article (and a discussion of a cookbook) related to a classic Jewish food tradition: pickling and preservation. A number of the recipes described sound really interesting .
  • Left Turns. If you’re like me, you get … annoyed … at the current crop of drivers that wait behind the limit line to make a left turn, and then do a sweeping arc that almost cuts off the car waiting on the cross street to turn (plus, it means one car per light). If you’re like me, you were taught to pull into the middle of the intersection, and then to do an almost 90 degree turn to go from left lane into left lane. Turns out, left turns have changed over time, and I’m old-school.
  • Old Subway Cars. When your light rail cars die, where do they go? Often, they are dumped in the ocean. Los Angeles did that with some of the Red and Yellow Cars. New York does it with its subway cars. But this isn’t pollution, and here are the pictures to prove it. Rather, it is creating reefs for oceanlife.
  • Tunnels Back In Service. An LADWP tunnel that dates back to 1915 is going back in service.The Los Angeles Daily News reports the tunnel is being refurbished to capture water runoff from the Sierras, which was inundated with snow this winter.The tunnel is part of a larger system, called the Maclay Highline, that runs from “the L.A. Aqueduct Cascades in Sylmar to a group of meadows in Pacoima.” Once restored, the tunnel will carry a significant amount of water—130 acre-feet a day—to the Pacoima Spreading Grounds, where it will filter down into the city aquifer and become drinking water. (One acre-foot can supply two households with water for a year.)

As we’re talking history, here’s another interesting themed historical group, this time focused on air travel:

  • Lockheed L-1011. I remember back in the 1990s flying between LAX and IAD, when I could still occasionally get an L-1011. This was a tri-jet from Lockheed, and was nice and spacious with great overhead space. They have long since disappeared, but one recently took to the skies as part of a ferry to a museum. The refurbished plane will be used as part of a STEM teaching experience.
  • Boeing 747. The Queen of the Skies has been dethroned by someone skinnier and cheaper. The last few 747s for passenger service are coming off the line; airlines are phasing them out of the fleets. There will be a few more for freight service, but like the DC-10, they will be disappearing. The market can not really support such large loads — and the multiple engines and fuel it takes to ferry them. The Airbus A380 is facing similar problems. Airlines want at most two engines, with the planes packed to the gills.
  • Old Airports. Here’s an article on an interesting dilemma: What to do with old municipal airports, such as the one in downtown Detroit? (NYTimes article) Should they be restored for general aviation purposes, and perhaps the occasional commercial craft? Should their land be repurposed for more housing and manufacturing, as was done quite successfully with the old DEN (Denver Stapleton). Repurposing can be temping. Cities such as Detroit will soon run out of wide-open, city-owned spaces that can be offered to companies looking to build manufacturing or other commercial facilities here. A decomissioned airport can provide just the opportunity needed. But others say cities should reinvest in the airports, saying it could be an economic engine as well. (I’ll note similar questions exists for former Air Force bases as well — how is former George AFB working out, San Bernardino?) The article  notes that cities across the nation are reconsidering the value of municipal airports in the era of superjumbo jets and budget cuts. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association estimated the nation loses 50 public-use airports a year. Almost all are general-aviation airports, ones that cater primarily to owners of private planes, and most have operating deficits that the cities must make up for in their budgets. Detroit, for instance, faces a $1.3 million operating loss in the 2017 fiscal year for Coleman Young, which averages just 30 landings a day. The main airport for the region is Detroit Metropolitan, a Delta Air Lines hub about 20 miles west of the city limits.
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Interesting History

Now that the Fringe Fest is past, it is time to start clearing out the news chum (if I could just do that with the 70 backed up podcasts!). This first batch all provide some interesting histories:

  • Knitting as an Espionage Tool. This is an older article — I’ve been holding onto it for about a month. It tells the interesting story of spies that used knitting as an information hiding technique. Whether women knitted codes into fabric or used stereotypes of knitting women as a cover, there’s a history between knitting and espionage. When knitters used knitting to encode messages, the message was a form of steganography, a way to hide a message physically (which includes, for example, hiding morse code somewhere on a postcard, or digitally disguising one image within another). If the message must be low-tech, knitting is great for this; every knitted garment is made of different combinations of just two stitches: a knit stitch, which is smooth and looks like a “v”, and a purl stitch, which looks like a horizontal line or a little bump. By making a specific combination of knits and purls in a predetermined pattern, spies could pass on a custom piece of fabric and read the secret message, buried in the innocent warmth of a scarf or hat.
  • Mr. Cellophane. In a previous post, I cited an article about the transformative nature of the elevator on society. Here’s another transformative item: cellophane. It changed the way we buy food by allowing clear packaging. Cellophane packaging let food vendors manipulate the appearance of foods by controlling the amount of moisture and oxygen that touched a product, thus preventing discoloration. In turn, it led to the rise of the self-service store. In a similar vein is plastic. We often think of gasoline and cars when we look at the impact of oil, but there’s an even bigger impact in oil-based plastic. Just imagine a world where there is no plastic. No plastic for food, gloves, medical equipment, insulation, packaging. It’s scary.
  • Hawaiian Pizza. It seems simple doesn’t it: Canadian Bacon and Pineapple on a pizza. It’s heresy to some. But someone had to come up with the idea, and here’s the story of the invention of said pizza. You have tiki culture to thank. According to Atlas Obscura, the rise of tiki culture, as troops returning from the South Pacific after serving in World War II, and the influence of American Chinese food were crucial to inspiring the creator, who sought to unite the sweet and the savory — a mission that ended in him dumping a can of pineapple on a pizza pie.
  • Yellow Cars. When you think of trolley cars and Los Angeles, I’m sure you think of the Red Cars — the cars made famous in Roger Rabbit — the cars that a “conspiracy” supposedly killed (truth: that’s an urban legend). But the Red Cars weren’t the only system. Here’s an article on LA’s narrow-gauge Yellow Car system. As opposed to the interurban Pacific Electric, the Los Angeles Railway provided quick, local service in downtown L.A. and nearby communities. For decades, the Yellow Cars’ bells rang as far west as La Brea Avenue and as far north as Eagle Rock, and the trolleys serviced neighborhoods from East Los Angeles to Hawthorne. Though their reach was shorter than that of the fabled Red Cars, the Yellow Cars carried roughly twice as many riders—at its peak in 1924, the Los Angeles Railway served 255.6 million passengers, and the Pacific Electric only 100.9 million.
  • Beauty Remains. Yes, this is SFW. Here’s an interesting little bit of history, wherein Playboy cover girls recreate their iconic covers 30 or more so years on. Guess what? A beautiful woman remains beautiful.
  • Boyle Heights. Lastly, there is currently an exhibition in the Boyle Heights neighborhood celebrating its Jewish history. I’ve been learning this history of late, and it is really fascinating — and it shows the impact of Yiddishists and Workers Movements on the Jewish Community of LA.
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New From The Old

Today’s news chum post brings you five stories of new coming from the old:

  • North Hollywood. Emerging from the surface parking lot that just turned into a paid parking lot will be a new mixed use development. The plan would include 1,500 units of housing, 150,000 square feet of retail, and 450,000 square feet of offices (and 5,400 parking spaces). The project will be spread across a complex of new buildings centered around the intersection of Lankershim and Chandler. Plans also include a public plaza and a new entrance to the North Hollywood station, located beneath South Chandler on the western side of Lankershim (explaining the long empty stub on the S end of the North Hollywood station).
  • Masonic Lodge / Marciano Museum. The long shuttered Masonic Lodge on Wilshire (where once gigantic Lodge 42, my dad’s lodge, once met) is about to be reborn as the Marciano Art Museum. Here’s everything you need to know about it. The museum will be free and open to the public from Thursday through Saturday. Wednesdays will be reserved for school groups, and the museum will provide transportation reimbursements for all L.A. County public school visits. Advanced ticket reservations are required, and can be reserved online by setting up a free account (which takes less than 30 seconds) on their website.
  • Macy’s Woodland Hills / Woodland Hills Post Office. The long-standing post office in Woodland Hills on Clarendon (right next to where my father-in-law’s accounting office was) is closing. But don’t fear, Woodland Hills. They are moving — for perhaps 18 months — into the shuttered Macy’s at the Promenade Mall. Also facing closure and relocation are the Reseda and Northridge post offices.
  • Orange Grove Bistro / Hyatt Place. CSUN is getting a hotel. They are building it where the Orange Grove Bistro is now, and it will provide not only rooms for parents and visiting scholars, but a full-service restaurant and meeting rooms. This will be useful for campus, but I fear the traffic.
  • TWA Flight Center / Hotel. Moving out of LA for a moment, the unique long-shuttered TWA flight center at JFK Airport is becoming a hotel. Nearly 14 years after its closure—the TWA terminal finally found a new purpose. According to plans by JetBlue and a hotel developer, the original head house will be transformed into an airport hotel, consisting of 505 new guest rooms while maintaining many of the airport’s original icons, including the Lisbon Lounge and the Paris Café.

 

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