I've written a guest editorial for the new Guardian Cities site about the way that the offices that house the startups of London's famed "Silicon Roundabout" are being systematically demolished by developers who are put up cheap, high-rise private student housing to take advantage of a foreign-student bubble.
(Note: this went up briefly last week by accident and came down again, apologies if you see this twice)
Within months of the unveiling of Silicon Way, Hackney council approved the demolition of all of the small office spaces in its vicinity: a two-square-block razing that saw Berg, Last.fm and all those other plucky startups chucked out on their ears. Berg's new offices – a tumbledown building slated for demolition at the end of 2014 – are strictly temporary, and they say they're fearful they'll be priced out of Shoreditch for their next move. Last.fm has already left the neighbourhood altogether.
The social media startup in the pub is also long gone – the freeholder, Truman Brewery, got fed up with not selling any beer there, and invoked the lease clause that requires the space to be tenanted by someone who'll sell their products. But almost immediately, they sold out to a property developer who boarded up the windows and moved in "live-in guardians".
Live-in guardians and builders are the two growth industries in Silicon Roundabout these days. Hackney council's planning department is quick to hand out permission to large developers with ambitious high-rise plans, and rumours circulate among planning consultants and architects about the supposed revolving door between jobs in planning and developers' offices.
The team have developed two 'printable', flat packable beehive designs that can be downloaded and CNC routed from a single sheet of plywood. The project aims to facilitate backyard beekeepers concerned about colony collapse while reenforcing local bee populations in both urban and rural areas.
The project just launched a crowdfunding campaign to bootstrap development of a sensor board that will monitor and publish data on conditions in the hive on the Smart Citizen platform. With enough adopters, the team hope to solve the mystery of whats causing colony collapse with hard data, and hold those responsible to account.
Ben Marks of Collectors Weekly says, "We just published a piece about how streets came to be the exclusive domain of automobiles (spoiler alert: they didn't start out that way). Among other sources, we interviewed Peter Norton, author of Fighting Traffic, and Ben Fried, the New York editor of Streetsblog."
In 1924, recognizing the crisis on America’s streets, President Herbert Hoover launched the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety. Any organizations interested or invested in transportation planning were invited to discuss street safety and help establish standardized traffic regulations that could be implemented across the country. Since the conference’s biggest players all represented the auto industry, the group’s recommendations prioritized private motor vehicles over all other transit modes.
Norton suggests that the most important outcome of this meeting was a model municipal traffic ordinance, which was released in 1927 and provided a framework for cities writing their own street regulations. This model ordinance was the first to officially deprive pedestrians access to public streets. “Pedestrians could cross at crosswalks. They could also cross when traffic permitted, or in other words, when there was no traffic,” explains Norton. “But other than that, the streets were now for cars. That model was presented to the cities of America by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which gave it the stamp of official government recommendation, and it was very successful and widely adopted.” By the 1930s, this legislation represented the new rule of the road, making it more difficult to take legal recourse against drivers.
Meanwhile, the auto industry continued to improve its public image by encouraging licensing to give drivers legitimacy, even though most early licenses required no testing. Norton explains that in addition to the revenue it generated, the driver’s license “would exonerate the average motorist in the public eye, so that driving itself wouldn’t be considered dangerous, and you could direct blame at the reckless minority.” Working with local police and civic groups like the Boy Scouts, auto clubs pushed to socialize new pedestrian behavior, often by shaming or ostracizing people who entered the street on foot. Part of this effort was the adoption of the term “jaywalker,” which originally referred to a clueless person unaccustomed to busy city life (“jay” was slang for a hayseed or country bumpkin).
“Drivers first used the word ‘jaywalker’ to criticize pedestrians,” says Norton, “and eventually, it became an organized campaign by auto dealers and auto clubs to change attitudes about walking in the street wherever you wanted to. They had people dressed up like idiots with sandwich board signs that said ‘jaywalker’ or men wearing women’s dresses pretending to be jaywalkers. They even had a parade where a clown was hit by a Model T over and over again in front of the crowd. Of course, the message was that you’re stupid if you walk in the street.” Eventually, cities began adopting laws against jaywalking of their own accord.
One year ago today
Review: Ghirardelli White Mocha Premium Beverage Mix: Drinking this stuff was a profoundly bad idea. Not bad in the way that drinking methanol is, but bad enough.
Five years ago today
Papercraft short-short stories to print and fold: Idiots' Books and Tor.com are happy to bring you One Page Wonders, an exciting new way of hiding a dozen different stories -- all of which can be unlocked with a pair of scissors and a few deft folds --in a single sheet of paper.
Arthur Chu is mopping the floor at the American game show Jeopardy!, a program that combines trivial knowledge, speed on a signaling device, game strategy, a mind for wagering, and flopsweat. At this writing, he's won $261,000 across nine episodes of the show, which is celebrating its 30th season in its current incarnation with Alex Trebek as the host. He returns Monday, March 10, for his tenth outing.
Arthur and I recorded this podcast on March 5 about his run on the show, and focused especially on his game strategy. (See the notes below for links to several things we talked about.) While the program is syndicated and almost impossible to view most episodes outside of broadcast TV, someone has uploaded all of Arthur's episodes to YouTube, where (as long as Sony Pictures seemingly ignores it) you can watch his run to date.
Arthur has been a surprising lightning rod for criticism. While other contestants have won games across two weeks, few have experienced the level of public criticism that he has. People on discussion forums and social networks accuse him of ruining the game by playing an effective strategy: he doesn't pick clues from top to bottom in each category. Rather, he hunts for the Daily Doubles: one square in the first round and two in the second which allow one to wager either up to one's entire current cash balance or the highest amount in the round, whichever is more. (That's $1,000 in the first round and $2,000 in Double Jeopardy.)
The Daily Doubles aren't randomly placed, but occur most frequently in certain columns and at certain values. By finding these squares, which do not contain clues harder than what would ordinarily be in that spot, a contestant can take control of the game long before the Final Jeopardy question in which all participants can answer.
By winning without "playing the game right," combined with a style of mashing the signaling device (it's not a buzzer!) and a seeming lack of enjoyment while he plays, he's apparently angered people who claim he is ruining Jeopardy! and that he should just give up and lose. The 30-year-old married man is certainly low-key on screen; his Twitter handle is @arthur_affect, which gives you a sense of his self-awareness and dry wit, too. He's been live tweeting the games Eastern Time (he lives in Ohio), and is generally a pretty hilarious fellow. (He's also a skilled voice-over artist.)
But there's more than a tinge of racism and neurotypical shaming to it, too: he's an Asian-American nerd, and somehow the combination of geek concentration (a slack face, which we all know too well from our own reflection) and his genetic origin seem to have cast him in the role of a villain in many people's eyes. You can easily find tweets that use racial epithets and stereotypes to mock him, although there's a lot of dislike for him being a nerd, too.
I don't think Arthur is ruining the game or playing it "wrong"—nor does Ken Jennings. I won two games of Jeopardy! in 2012, and wrote about it here at Boing Boing. Ken won 74 games and 2,520,700 in 2004, and wrote the book Brainiac, a combination of memoir of his time on the show and detailed research and reporting on trivia in history and the present day. (He's since written four more books.) He did a lovely interview with Arthur at Slate that covered a lot of the issues around becoming a lightning rod for people's attention.
Arthur plays the game masterfully, and dedicated a lot of his preparation time to determining a game strategy: which clues to go after, how to bet, and how to even slightly unnerve the competition by mixing things up. He's playing his own game, although he points out that two other high-dollar winners in the past, Dave Madden and Roger Craig, both played in equally idiosyncratic ways and didn't seem to affect most subsequent players.
But Arthur has dominated Twitter this time around as well as Jeopardy!, and received more press coverage online and in print than anyone since Ken. This extensive discussion about his new method of playing could bring in a new style, just as Moneyball's coverage of the effective use of statistics to find underpriced gems among players changed baseball forever.
Things we discussed in the podcast:
I wrote a few items for the Economist about my Jeopardy! run, and one of them involved an academic paper by one of the IBM teams that worked on Watson, the natural-language processing and answering system that beat Ken and Brad Rutter. (Brad won the most on the show when including tournaments.) The paper discussed Watson's wagering strategy, which closely conforms to how Arthur prepared.
We mentioned several other Jeopardy! winners, including Dave Madden, still in the No. 2 all-time regular season cash spot at this writing from his 2005 run of 19 days with $430,400; Tom Nissley ($235,405 in 2010) and Roger Craig ($230,200 that same year), both of whom Arthur bumped down as he took the No. 3 position at this writing. (Roger appeared on Ask Me Another, an NPR quiz show, and was taken down quickly!)
Let us never forget Sean Connery as played by Darrel Hammond on Saturday Night Live.
Bob Harris wrote a strategy book about his many appearances on the show that hides a wonderful memoir: Prisoner of Trebekistan. A somewhat older but still useful book, now out of print but available used, is Secrets of the Jeopardy Champions by Chuck Forrest and Mark Lowenthal.
The invaluable J-Archive, which contains every clue and answer and wager for nearly every episode, also has a glossary of the specialized terms people have come up with for strategies over the years. Arthur says Keith Williams "The Final Wager" site contains all the information you need about understanding how to bet in Final Jeopardy.
In celebration of the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Joel Achenbach wrote a feature for Smithsonian about Carl Sagan's enduring impact on the popularization of science. Achenbach visited the recently-available Sagan archive at the Library of Congress and highlighted some great bits, including details of Sagan and astronomer Frank Drake's 1974 visit with bOING bOING patron saint Timothy Leary while Tim was incarcerated. Sagan had enjoyed Tim's excellent (and now scarce) book Terra II, a philosophical manual for space migration. On April Fools’ Day, 1974, Sagan and the astronomer Frank Drake visited Leary at the state mental hospital in Vacaville, California, where Leary had been locked up on drug possession charges.
Drake, a frequent Sagan collaborator, was a pioneer in the search for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations and was also known for the Drake Equation, which estimates the abundance of communicative aliens. Leary was a Harvard professor-turned-counterculture-guru who had become a proselytizer for the spiritual and mental benefits of hallucinogens. Lately, inspired by Sagan’s Cosmic Connection, he’d become obsessed with the idea of building a space ark to carry 300 carefully chosen people to another planet orbiting a distant star.
In this curiously emblematic meeting—which has been incompletely described in Sagan biographies but is now plain to see in the archives—Leary asked which star he should aim for. Sagan and Drake broke him the bad news: We don’t have the technology. All the stars are too far away. But true believers are not easily deterred. In a subsequent letter to Sagan, Leary reiterated his desire to “imprint the galactic point-of-view on the larval nervous system,” and said we just need fusion propulsion, longevity drugs and “exo-psychological and neuropolitical inspiration.”
“I am not impressed by your conclusions in these areas,” Leary wrote. “I sense a block in your neural-circuity[sic].” Why Carl Sagan is Truly Irreplaceable
For the full text of the Sagan/Leary letters and analysis, check out Lisa Rein and Michael Horowitz's post at the Timothy Leary Archives: "Inner Space and Outer Space: Carl Sagan’s Letters to Timothy Leary (1974)"
If you're at SXSW in Austin, Texas today, do come by the Hilton Level 6 Salon F room at 330pm today (Monday March 10, 2014) for a panel on #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media), which I'll be moderating. The video here explains a little of the story behind #BCSM, but the short version is that it's a wonderful online community for people like me who have breast cancer, founded and maintained by women with breast cancer and a health care provider who treats people like us.
Panelists: Alicia Staley, Jody Schoger, and Deanna Attai, the women who created #BCSM. On Independence Day 2011, the first-ever #BCSM tweetchat for those affected by breast cancer took place. Less than two years later, the group had attracted thousands of participants, spawned a website and a YouTube channel and earned an extensive feature in USA Today. Not bad for a group of tech novices in a space hardly wanting for pink-ribboned advocates.
#BCSM isn't a prototypical breast cancer organization. It's not your usual support group. And it's not the kind of online community that makes headlines at Mashable.
Instead, the group has been, since its founding, focused on attracting a diverse and inclusive group who shared not only cancer, but a set of shared values -- particularly a commitment to evidence -- that created a sense of authority even as it built community.
Those are lessons that can and should be adopted by those looking to connect with similarly isolated communities, and the founders of #BCSM look forward to sharing what they have learned. More info about the panel.
Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash devised a pretty amazing paper microscope that uses cheap tiny spherical lenses. The "Foldoscope" costs around 50 cents.
“I wanted to make the best possible disease-detection instrument that we could almost distribute for free,” Prakash says. “What came out of this project is what we call use-and-throw microscopy.”
This is Colin Smith, a con artist clown who was busted for posing as a charity collector. Apparently, there were nearly 20 unrelated police incidents last year in Manchester, England involving clowns reportedly engaged in creepy behavior like following children to school, vandalizing property, or robbery.
“The clowning profession can do without stupid people who don’t understand the profession and appreciate that it is a performing art and not a spontaneous jolly jape," Dave Tawney, European director of the World Clown Association, told the Manchester Evening News.
Over at Institute for the Future's Future Now blog, my colleague Rebecca Chesney writes: Marc Roth moved to San Francisco to make a better life for his family, but he soon became ill and unable to work. After six months living in a homeless shelter, he used assistance money to take classes at TechShop, a makerspace that provides tools and training for members. Marc learned new skills that led to starting his own laser cutting business, and, more importantly, he found support in an active and engaged community. Now Marc wants to help others who have fallen on hard times and don’t have the skills needed to enter today’s technology-driven economy. He founded The Learning Shelter, a 90-day program that provides housing, training, and mentorship for obtaining a job. A true extreme learner, Marc is teaching others what he learned: that the “permission to fail and encouragement to break through the walls you run into [are] absolutely necessary.”
I'm at SXSW, having just done the panel introducing Edward Snowden's first live address to the USA. He will be appearing momentarily. The livestream is provisioned for 1M simultaneous sessions -- watch above.
San Francisco's Spoke Art gallery is holding an exhibition of art inspired by film director David Lynch. Titled "In Dreams," the group art show features more than 50 artists including works by Joshua Budich (above), Jason D’Aquino, Kukula, Joel Daniel Phillips, and many more. Below, a glimpse of some of the show that runs until March 29.
Joel Daniel Phillips
Our friends at pioneering machine performance group Survival Research Laboratories respectfully request the opportunity to bring their delightful robotic presentations to the Google campus. Now that's an offer you can't refuse.