Nearby Transitions and Impacts

For those that don’t know, my real job has me working down in the real South Bay (i.e., El Segundo and the communities south of LAX — any other “South Bay” is just a figment of your imagination). I’ve run across a few articles of late about changes in the area I’d like to share; at least one took my by surprise:

  • Wiseburn High School. Over the last two years, we’ve watched what was a technical office of Northrop Grumman (between two of our facilities) transform into … something. We now know what: a high school. More precisely: Three high schools that are sometimes one, and school district administrative offices. They gutted the office building, reinforced it, and transformed it into a school with three separate subschools, giving the small Wiseburn district their own high school. The story of the transformation is fascinating. The traffic? Morning isn’t a problem, but the afternoon there’s a mess when the folks attempt to make a left out of the Air Force Base while parents pick up their kids. I predict a light in the future there.
  • Creative Office Space. Down the street from the Air Force Base (actually, between the Base and Imperial Highway) is a large sprawling Northrop Grumman Aircraft manufacturing plant (which used to just be Northrop). I had noticed the fences had changed to opaque over part of the parking lot, and suspected something was happening. Now I know. The facility, once NG moves out in a year or so, will be becoming creative office space. The article on the transformation is interesting: manufacturing characteristics and old buildings are now in style, so this an adaptive reuse that is sure to snarl traffic. However, if it brings vanpool riders from the valley, I’ll be happy. It also reflects a gigantic transformation for the area. Were you to look here 40 years ago, you would have seen all the big Aerospace companies: Hughes, TRW, Aerospace, Northrop, and later Boeing and Raytheon, plus the LAAFB and other aircraft companies, with folks like Douglas down in Long Beach. Today, that work is a fraction of what it once was with more thinking than actual building going on. The creative talent is now entertainment and studio based.
  • Toyota. Down the road a bit, the US HQ of Toyota is decamping to Texas (leaving a bunch of good people who can’t go behind — I know some). There was an interesting article in the papers about the impacts of this transition on the area — in particular the restaurants. This is not something you think about when you hear about businesses leaving, but there are large impacts on the community. Restaurants lose the lunch and party trade (which is substantial). Local shops lose people picking up stuff at lunch hours. Local exercise facilities and repair facilities are impacted. Moves can have large footprints.

 

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Things Come and Things Go

Today’s collection of news chum addresses two areas of interest to me: origin stories, and reports of things disappearing. Origin stories are interesting because we don’t often know where some popular things come from; many come from new or emerging trends. Disappearance stories, on the other hand, are often reflective or indicative — again — of trends in society.

 

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Something to Chew On

Time for some more food related news items to chew upon:

  • Best Oils for Frying. Here’s something you don’t see everyday: Me using a link that someone sends me in email based on an old post. But this link was sufficiently interesting to pass on, and I thank Sebastian Beaton of Two Kitchen Junkies for doing so. It concerns the best and healthiest oils for frying, listing their pros and cons. The site itself looks interesting: a father-daughter duo looking into cooking and cookware.
  • Demonization of Gluten. My wife is gluten-free. She has to be for medical reasons; she has celiac. But there are many many others for whom this is the fad of the day, and they have gone on gluten free diets for no discernible benefit other than the placebo effect.  Freakonomics, a podcast I used to subscribe to but didn’t have the time to listen to, had a recent episode on this subject. By the way, it turns out there is also a Celiac Project Podcast.
  • Food Waste. One of the reasons I could never run a restaurant is all the food waste. But households waste even more; the amount is staggering. Much is perfectly good, more would have been good had we not forgotten about it in the back of the refrigerator. Here’s an article that puts a number to just how much food Americans waste, including what type of food is most wasted where.
  • Less Nutritious Food. When you think about climate change, what worries you? Rising sea levels. More intense weather. How about less nutritious food. It seems that the increase in carbon dioxide is making our food have less nutrients.  From the article: “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

P.S.: I also have a fascinating post on the history of Cinnabon that I thought about including, but decided to save it for an origins post, combining it with a post on the history of Powerpoint and a yet undiscovered origin post.

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Design Origins

One of the podcasts that I really like is 99% Invisible. This podcast explores unseen design. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the categories of news chum that catches my eye has to do with design. Here’s some that I’ve seen recently:

  • Orange Handled Scissors. We all have them, if not multiple pairs. I’ve got two staring at me from my desk: one real, one a knockoff. Yet have you ever wondered who invented them. Two recent articles, one from Mental Floss, and one from Co.Design, provide the answer. You probably remember the scissors that were common before the orange wonders: either silver or black handles, all metal, and heavy. This changed in the 1960s, as plastic was just starting to become a popular material. Fiskars began using the light, strong compound to make tabletops and dishes, but one of the company’s industrial designers, Olof Bäckström, sensed an opportunity to completely reinvent one of the company’s signature goods. Using plastic, he created a lighter scissor handle that was curved to fit the hand, thus making them easier to hold. Ultimately, this tweak also helped make the scissors easier to manufacture, helping them become affordable to the masses. Why Orange? At the time, Fiskars was making orange juicers from orange plastic. The first prototype for plastic-handled scissors was created with plastic from a juicer that was left in a machine. Fiskars employees ended up liking this original look so much that they ultimately voted to stick with it.
  • Common Typographic Symbols.  We use symbols like “@”, “#”, and “&” every day, but do you know where they come from? Mental Floss did an article recently on the origins of 6 common typographic symbols: “@”, “0”, “#”, “&”, “…”, and “+”.  Now you know will know why & == “and per se and”.
  • The Barcode. You likely think grocers invented the barcode. But you would be wrong. The original bar codes were invented by railroad companies to keep track of railroad cars.  The US rail industry, due to its large size and the sheer amount of stuff being delivered on its tracks at all times, had a fundamental challenge: Tracking where an individual car was going was really hard, and cars would often get lost.  The industry needed a solution that workedwhile the train was moving, perhaps as fast as 60 miles per hour. No delays allowed. No stopping, either. And because trains travel through all sorts of elements—rain, snow, wind, light, dark—that tracking has to work in basically any setting. And because it had to go on so many train cars, it had to be cheap—no more than, say, a dollar per device. The solution: KarTrak. Using a series of reflective color bars as a layer of abstraction from the complicated codes, the codes were then optically scanned using helium-neon lasers that were intended to pick up the details of the codes, no matter the weather. It worked, and was a success for a while, but soon petered out because of the cost of the scanners and lawsuits.
  • Craigslist. The site is ugly and text-based. Trades are risky and often prone to fraud. Yet it is highly successful, with numerous less-successful imitators. Why is Craigslist so successful. Wired explored the history and the reasons. First there were garage sales and the Recycler. Then came the internet, and with it, so many new ways to buy and sell used furniture. It was a serendipity engine that made it infinitely easier for people all over the world to exchange old lamps. One of the most useful tools was a list maintained by a guy named Craig. Craig’s list wasn’t a list so much as a collection of listings—a free online classifieds service that made its inky predecessors seem obsolete. Craig Newmark founded Craigslist in 1995 as an email list of interesting events in and around San Francisco. The list soon mutated into a stand-alone website. Why is it successful?The site is whatever its users need it to be at any given moment in time: a housing agency, an employment office, a matchmaking service, a lost-and-found board, a town square. Or an ideology.
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A Hostile World

Hostility. It seems to be growing in our society, from the hostility we see from our leaders towards the lower and middle classes, from the hostility we see from “the other party” to our party, from the hostility and name calling that seems to commonplace on social media. The amount of hatred and hostility in society is growing, and we seem to be doing little to stop it. It’s hidden and unacknowledged, almost like climate change.

What got me thinking about this was an interesting article in LAist about Hostile Architecture. I’d heard the term before — 99% Invisible did a piece on the subject back in July 2016. What is Hostile Architecture? The LAist article summed it up well: “You know those pigeon spikes to stop pigeons from congregating? Imagine that, but for humans.” To put it another way, Amber Hawkes, Co-Director of Here LA, defines hostile architecture as “any streetscaping element or design move in the public realm that is unfriendly to the human being.”

[ETA: This article from CityLab highlights more hostile architecture: The MTA in NYC rehabbed some stations in Brooklyn, removing benches and replacing them hostile architecture: “the leaning bar. A slanted wooden slab set against the wall at about the height of a person’s rear end, the bar was meant to give passengers a way to take some weight off their feet as they waited for the next train. What it was not, however, was a bench.” As that article notes: “Despite the MTA’s protestations, some New Yorkers saw the bar as the latest salvo in what could be called the War on Sitting. As cities around the world tear out benches in an effort to deter homeless people from sleeping and drug dealers from hovering, or to force loiterers to move along, pedestrians and transit users may find fewer and fewer places to sit down and take a load off, or hang out and watch the world go by—and that’s bad news not only for tired feet, but for city life itself.”]

Essentially, hostile architecture are those bumps and arms in the middle of benches that make it hard for the homeless to sleep, the bumps on the walls that stop skateboarders. There are spikes, pig ears, bollards, grates and other elements (like bolted vents making it impossible to sleep near a heating vent in winter in colder climates, for example) to dissuade homeless individuals from resting or sleeping in alleys, near store fronts, or in parks.  Some are less obvious. The 99% Invisible piece notes the following examples: Some businesses play classical music as a deterrent, on the theory that kids don’t want to hang out or talk over it. Other sound-based strategies include the use of high-frequency sonic buzz generators meant to be audible only to young people. Housing estates in the UK have also put up pink lighting, aimed to highlight teenage blemishes.

99PI notes: “Unpleasant designs take many shapes, but they share a common goal of exerting some kind of social control in public or in publicly-accessible private spaces. They are intended to target, frustrate and deter people, particularly those who fall within unwanted demographics.” The LAist pieces commented: “The idea seems to be that if an exterior space becomes anything more than a place to walk or commute through, it’s a problem.”

That last line really brought the concern home to today. We have leaders that are creating a hostile society — a society where those not of the social or economic strata they want get pushed away, our of their spaces. The proposal yesterday about raising the fees for popular public parks is an example of that. The changes being made to our refugee policy. The changes to the tax code are hostile architecture. Our media has conditioned us to believe that hostility is the answer to problems, and as we’re all passive-aggressive, we’re letting our benches and laws do it for us.

That’s wrong (and if you disagree, I think you’re stupid 🙂 ). We have to make the choice to turn away from hostility, and move towards acceptance.

P.S.: I’m surprised no one commented on my previous post, asking what was in common between the recent incidents at Telsa and Solar City, when compared to past SpaceX. Another example of passive-aggressive hostility?

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Deja Vu, All Over Again

Reading the news today, a headline caught my eye:

This seemed so familiar. Then I remembered:

Hmmm, I wonder if these events have anything in common.

Or anyone.

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Offensive Balance

The recent flurry of “#MeToo” postings, and the responses thereto, have been quite interesting. But there’s another interesting aspect that hasn’t been explored: How they came about. Specifically, the flurry was started in reaction to an opinion piece by Mayim Bialik where something she hadn’t intended to mean was taken as offense. That aspect — taking offense — is what I’d like to discuss.

As we become more and more aware of marginalized groups, cultural approbation, sexual assault and harrassment, micro-aggression, and similar things, the more and more we see them. What was once considered innocent is now seen as offensive. A classic example from a few years ago is the winter song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. It is a date-rate anthem? Does it need to be written with consent in mind? Or is it just a product of its times, with a nice melody? This is true for many many songs and movies. For example, just today I saw an article in the University of Wisconsin paper reconsidering the harrassment and abuse present in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

I think it is all well and good that we are sensitive to these cultural artifacts. They serve as reminders of the culture we are moving from, and like any folk music, will adapt in meaning over time. There are loads of folk songs that would be so culturally insensitive today.

My question is, however, how do we respond when presented with one of these? I found a really interesting article yesterday about how someone who is culturally sensitive is still finding that they hesitate when speaking up in various forums …. because they are afraid of being misinterpreted and becoming the start of a pileup. They self-censor potentially valuable content because of fear of harassment. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Callout culture. The quest for purity. Privilege theory taken to extremes. I’ve observed some of these questionable patterns in my activist communities over the past several years.

As an activist, I stand with others against white supremacy, anti-blackness, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, and imperialism. I am queer, trans, Chinese American, middle class, and able-bodied.

Holding these identities scattered across the spectrum of privilege, I have done my best to find my place in the movement, while educating myself on social justice issues to the best of my ability. But after witnessing countless people be ruthlessly torn apart in community for their mistakes and missteps, I started to fear my own comrades.

Sound familiar?

Is all harassment equal? Is being ruthlessly torn apart justified in the face of a misstatement or an honest mistake (I’m not talking about trolls here)? I know that I have some friends that are strong advocates of social justice, and there are many times I would like to speak up on their posts. Yet I hesitate, because I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong and end up creating pain — especially for me. It is almost the same feeling I have regarding commenting on far right conservative friends — it’s just not worth the effort.

So, I guess the debate is: When can one be too pure? When is it better just to let the small offenses slide, working on the adage “Never ascribe to malice what you can to stupidity?”

P.S.: It’s not only men that lie to get what they want. Studies show that dogs lie too.

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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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