Categories
bikes california new york san francisco

Why does cycling in SF suck more now than in 1994?

Cycling seems more dan­ger­ous, more has­sle-filled, and gen­er­al­ly more aggro than when I moved here. Why? Maybe it's me. I moved to Berke­ley recent­ly, and I'm pret­ty close to hav­ing a lawn that I can tell kids to get off of. Maybe it's that the city has changed a lot. There are more cyclists, more peo­ple in gen­er­al (60,000!) and more den­si­ty, espe­cial­ly down­town. On the oth­er hand, there are more bike lanes and sig­nage, and there's more bike aware­ness among the pedes­tri­an and motorist pop­u­la­tions. You'd think that more cyclists + more cycling aware­ness + more cycling accom­mo­da­tion would have result­ed in some kind of net improve­ment, but it hasn't. Pedes­tri­ans seem more antag­o­nis­tic to bikes; motorists of all types are much more antag­o­nis­tic; and some of my fel­low cyclists seem to be the most antag­o­nis­tic of all. Why?Felix Salmon has writ­ten a real­ly inter­est­ing, and wide­ly quot­ed, "uni­fied the­o­ry" of cycling that touch­es on what I think is the heart of it all: That most cyclists think they're pedes­tri­ans, when we're actu­al­ly more like motorists.

Bikes can and should behave much more like cars than pedes­tri­ans. They should ride on the road, not the side­walk. They should stop at lights, and pedes­tri­ans should be able to trust them to do so. They should use lights at night. And — of course, duh — they should ride in the right direc­tion on one-way streets. None of this is a ques­tion of being polite; it's the law. But in stark con­trast to motorists, near­ly all of whom fol­low near­ly all the rules, most cyclists seem to treat the rules of the road as strict­ly option­al. They're still in the human-pow­ered mind­set of pedes­tri­ans, who feel pret­ty much com­plete­ly uncon­strained by rules.

I real­ly agree with this. I don't know how to make it so, and I'm real­ly not a law-and-order type. But I think that agree­ing to fol­low the rules of the road would do a lot to make us all more pre­dictable. Also, I'd like to add: Pass on the freakin left.

Categories
cinema new york reviews

El Super

El Super - Blizzard of 1977

New York's bliz­zard of 1977 makes a riv­et­ing cameo appear­ance in "El Super," an indie (before the term was for­mal­ized) film about the hard adjust­ments that immi­grants make in com­ing to New York. The movie is great for many rea­sons, but the bliz­zard steals a few scenes as the main char­ac­ter — a Cuban super — walks around town. Snow is massed on cars, piled high in the streets, and pedes­tri­ans stum­ble through snow-walled side­walk canyons. Quite a scene, espe­cial­ly in the 70s, when New York looked crumbly and decrepit.Amidst the bliz­zard, the film is a melan­choly doc­u­ment of the lives of Cuban and Puer­to Rican immi­grants as they reck­on with the immen­si­ty of New York City and their dis­mal prospects for work in the bad old days of New York. The dia­logue is great, often fun­ny, just as often poignant. Good stuff. I had to resort to extreme mea­sures to find it, but you can buy it on VHS from Ama­zon. Or you can let me know, and I'll hook you up.Speaking of the bliz­zard, you may have won­dered whether Bar­ney Miller ever dealt with the bliz­zard. Of course he did. Worth watch­ing just to hear the theme song again.

Categories
food new york

Beefsteak!

Even though I'm gen­er­al­ly a West Coast kind of guy, I devour books about New York — its chaot­ic begin­nings as a law­less, crazy quilt of neigh­bor­hoods and gangs; its trans­for­ma­tion into a mas­sive mod­ern city; the pecu­liar dynam­ics of its organ­ic growth. If New York didn't destroy me every­time I vis­it, I think I'd prob­a­bly live there.A few weeks ago, the New Yorker's Twit­ter stream point­ed me to an excel­lent Joseph Mitchell essay about a (most­ly) van­ished New York tra­di­tion, the beef­steak. Mitchell laid out the basics in his clas­sic 1939 essay, "All You Can Hold For Five Bucks:"

The foun­da­tion of a good beef­steak is an over­flow­ing amount of meat and beer. The tick­ets usu­al­ly cost five bucks, and the rule is "All you can hold for five bucks." If you're able to hold a lit­tle more when you start home, you haven't been to a beef­steak, you've been to a ban­quet that they called a beef­steak. From Up in the Old Hotel, an amaz­ing col­lec­tion of Mitchell's New York­er essays

We've missed out on the beefsteak's prime, so to speak, but the Bea­con Restau­rant start­ed a new tra­di­tion 10 years ago. The New York Sun's account of the 2004 edi­tion includes cours­es very much like those Mitchell describes — tiny ham­burg­ers, bacon-wrapped lamb kid­neys, dou­ble-thick lamb chops, and of course steak — "huge roast­ed Cer­ti­fied Angus shell loins that had been cut into thick slabs and doused with melt­ed but­ter."This year's beef­steak is in Feb­ru­ary. I'm intrigued, though I'm sure it will destroy me.

Categories
architecture new york travel urban

New Yorks, new museums, new coffees

Flickr photoThis is an incred­i­ble mosa­ic in the bath­room of the New Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary art in New York. It is also EASILY the most impres­sive thing in the whole muse­um.


New York was filled with good times, as usu­al, but a cou­ple of the things that total­ly blew my mind (and that are link-friend­ly) were Jamaican beef pat­ties at a place called Christie's in Flat­bush and an off­shoot of San Francisco's Blue Bot­tle jug­ger­naut that recent­ly opened in New York, Abra­co [a nice NY mag review]. Yoshi insist­ed that we stop at Christie's even though we'd just eat­en a big brunch, and we got a cou­ple of warm, spicy pat­ties to share on a walk through chilly Prospect Park. The first thing I noticed is that they're not real­ly "pat­ties" in the sense of ham­burg­er pat­ties. They're like hot pock­ets, but fresh­ly baked, with an amaz­ing crust and filled with super-spicy beef. Pret­ty much the per­fect walk­ing food.

On an unre­lat­ed note, last week's This Amer­i­can Life was the best I've heard in a long time. Every seg­ment is good, but the third is about what hap­pens to chim­panzees after they "retire" from movies, and it reveals that Chee­ta — the chimp from the 40's‑era Tarzan movies — is still alive, liv­ing in Palm Springs, enjoys drink­ing Diet Iced Tea, and was once quite fond of beer and cig­ars. There's more in this fun­ny Nation­al Geo piece from 2003, awk­ward­ly titled Tarzan's Cheeta's Life as a Retired Movie Star.

Categories
flickr new york san francisco the ancient past

Thanksgiving remix

Flickr photo

Thanks­giv­ing 2006 came and went, attend­ed by friends, fam­i­ly and the cus­tom­ary dra­mas. An East Coast / West Coast feud flared up in the week before the hol­i­day. Gabriel (East) sent what some in the West per­ceived as "a sal­vo across the bow" in the form of a Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion (a slide of which is pic­tured below). It con­tained a finan­cial-style analy­sis of Thanks­giv­ing: how Thanks­giv­ing East has per­formed over the past decade, trends, pro­jec­tions, and out­lines for future growth. Some saw this as evi­dence of a dia­bol­i­cal plan; I was naive and asked for clar­i­fi­ca­tion on specifics:

Dear Gabe, TYs (Thanks­giv­ing years) 2003–2004 were char­ac­ter­ized by broad guest sec­tor diver­si­fi­ca­tion. What is the like­li­hood that a diver­si­fied strat­e­gy, with expo­sure to the Shana­han sec­tor, for exam­ple, will be pur­sued in the future? Sec­ond­ly, to what extent will "val­ue" guests (e.g., McClo­rys and Preslers) con­tin­ue to anchor the port­fo­lio? Will you pur­sue more (poten­tial­ly) volatile "growth" guests in order to boost per­for­mance in the com­ing years?

Gabe replied:

Gabe's projection infographic

Like oth­er mis­sion-relat­ed offer­ings, we believe that diver­si­fi­ca­tion is impor­tant for ensur­ing steady, depend­able per­for­mance in any envi­ron­ment to pro­tect against sec­tor-spe­cif­ic risk. But our com­mit­ment to diver­si­fi­ca­tion goes beyond our con­cern for the bot­tom line: indeed, we believe that it reflects our group's core mis­sion. We are con­vinved that when we serve a broad range of atten­dants and when our offer­ings range across the geo­graph­ic and social spec­trum, our Thanks­giv­ing is ulti­mate­ly stronger.I want to empha­size that we con­sid­er all of our par­tic­i­pants "core" can­di­dates. Alas, our com­mit­ment to value–illustrated by our proven track record of offer­ing Thanks­giv­ing at a deep dis­count to its intrin­sic value–means that we are not always able to serve as broad a con­stituen­cy as we would like. For exam­ple, many of our sought-after par­tic­i­pants fall out­side of our geo­graph­ic uni­verse; we are par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in oppor­tu­ni­ties in Cal­i­for­nia.

Need­less to say, this kind of talk elicit­ed skep­ti­cism and cries of region­al pride among the West Coast­ers, feel­ings which became even more acute when addi­tion­al news arrived: The East Coast guest list had grown so large, so ginor­mous, that the hosts scram­bled to find larg­er accom­mo­da­tions for their din­ner.

Now [East Coast Thank­giv­ing] reports that their 2006 expan­sion plan has been so suc­cess­ful that they're relo­cat­ing to a BAR for their fes­tiv­i­ties. clear­ly the bar has been raised. are we going to let presler corp. out­do us at what we do best? we have to ral­ly around the turkey and show the east coast who rules this hol­i­day.

Would cool­er heads pre­vail? Some West Coast­ers called for "focus."

i hate to say it, but this whole thing reeks of a ploy to take us off our game. start chas­ing the presler-yamadas with this whole thanks­giv­ing at the bar thing, and next thing you know you'll be doing blow off some stranger's anato­my at 5am while real­iz­ing that you for­got to even *buy* a turkey. we have to stick to what got us here. the fun­da­men­tals and an easy-going atti­tude that there's no rea­son to get stressed out because our moms are at least like a thou­sand miles away … focus, peo­ple.

Laying on of hands

Of course, Thanks­giv­ings of yore were char­ac­ter­ized by spon­tanae­ity that often resem­bled chaos. (See right. More here.). To this end, there were appeals to pull togeth­er:

If Robert Alt­man taught us any­thing it's that great works of art are NOT cre­at­ed with scripts, busi­ness plans or Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions. We will hon­or his tra­di­tion and fol­low our usu­al free-flow­ing, impro­vised pat­tern. We will cre­ate a rich­ly lay­ered Thanks­giv­ing that will touch on all of the major themes of mod­ern life in a heart­break­ing, at times com­i­cal, at times vio­lent, but always inci­sive way. Like Alt­man, we are not afraid of fail­ure. How­ev­er, it's also true that some great works of art were cre­at­ed with blow (John Belushi, the DeLore­an, Dwight Good­en) …

In the end, there was focus and togeth­er­ness on the West Coast, and, by all accounts, steady growth with div­i­dends in the East. A wise man once said: "Let love rule." It shall.

Categories
new york urban

NYT / JFK to Manhattan on foot

"Peo­ple don't know where they are any­more, " [the writer Will Self] said, adding: "In the post-indus­tri­al age, [walk­ing] is the only form of real explo­ration left. Any­one can go and see the Ituri pygmy, but how many peo­ple have walked all the way from the air­port to the city?â€

This is from A Lit­er­ary Vis­i­tor Strolls in From the Air­port, a New York Times account of writer Will Self's walk from JFK to his hotel in Man­hat­tan. Self walks 20 miles through a col­or­ful cross-sec­tion of Queens, tak­ing pho­tos and chat­ting about his phi­los­o­phy of per­am­bu­la­tion. Cars (and TVs and com­put­ers and so on) have imposed a "wind­screen-based vir­tu­al­i­ty," he says, effec­tive­ly cut­ting us off from the land­scape around us. The NYT writer name-checks psy­cho­geog­ra­phy in con­nec­tion with this dis­cus­sion, but doesn't elab­o­rate. Appar­ent­ly, psy­cho­geog­ra­phy is a com­mon, every­day con­cept in which every­one is con­ver­sant. (I would guess that it's not). Also dis­cussed: Self's seat-of-the-pants route-plan­ning (he relied upon native New York­er Rick Moody), and his expe­ri­ences in the less-trav­eled parts of the bor­ough:

Not long after nego­ti­at­ing the Cross Bay Park­way over­pass, Mr. Self decid­ed to go "off piste,†as he put it, bor­row­ing the term used to describe [the act of leav­ing] groomed ski runs [to explore wild ter­rain]. He ignored Mr. Moody's instruc­tions and head­ed straight west on Glen­more Avenue, through East New York and Brownsville. Glen­more at this point slices through a long, grim stretch of low-rise apart­ments, pock­et-size auto-body shops, razor-wired vacant lots har­bor­ing high-strung dogs, and a sur­pris­ing num­ber of church­es, includ­ing one, Glen­more Avenue Pres­by­ter­ian, that fea­tured a Sun­day-morn­ing "Apoc­alip­sis†service."What could be more suitable?†said Mr. Self, who had just been dis­cussing the apoc­a­lyp­tic theme in his own nov­el and those of H. G. Wells.

A relat­ed per­son­al account: Once, in the fall of 1997, my flight had arrived late to JFK, and I was rac­ing to catch the last Delta com­muter flight to Boston, which was leav­ing from a dif­fer­ent ter­mi­nal. When I arrived at the curb, the secu­ri­ty guard told me that the shut­tle bus had just left, and that I'd prob­a­bly miss my flight. He men­tioned that the ter­mi­nal was "just beyond that big TWA hang­er over there," and I thanked him and set off walk­ing. Need­less to say, there weren't side­walks con­nect­ing the two, and I spent much of my time "off piste," scur­ry­ing along the shoul­ders of frontage roads and across park­ing lots. It was scary and fun, with planes peri­od­i­cal­ly screech­ing just over­heard, but I arrived just in time, and since then I've always want­ed a chance to do it again.

Categories
ixd new york web

My New York Times? Not quite.

The NYT just rolled out a beta of some­thing they're call­ing MyTimes. As a dai­ly read­er of both the print and online edi­tions, I'm intrigued by new devel­op­ments and ideas at the NYT, and I've been pleased with their recent site redesign. MyTimes, how­ev­er, strikes me as some­what misguided.First off, the name MyTimes sounds like a por­tal, recall­ing the con­fused era when every com­pa­ny want­ed to make a my-pre­fixed ver­sion of their site. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it also evokes the sub­se­quent real­iza­tion that what peo­ple real­ly want­ed was not con­trol over lay­out and con­tent, but greater sys­tem intel­li­gence — smarter defaults, recog­ni­tion of the things they nor­mal­ly do, a clever way of point­ing them toward relat­ed things. The por­tal-sound­ing name wouldn't even be so bad if MyTimes didn't look and act like por­tal. Alas, it's got all sorts of crap to add and move around and mod­i­fy, allow­ing the read­er to add RSS feeds from any­where on the web, view movie times, weath­er, Flickr images, what­ev­er. To me, the prob­lem is that the NYT isn't "what­ev­er." It's the author­i­ta­tive source. So why all the oth­er stuff?A bet­ter ques­tion: What prob­lem is MyTimes sup­posed to be solv­ing? What is the user goal is it address­ing? One would do research to answer these ques­tions, but — to be self-ref­er­en­tial — my own goals in read­ing the NYT: Get the author­i­ta­tive answer, enjoy great writ­ing, forum­late opin­ions on com­plex prob­lems. A major prob­lem of MyTimes is that the NYT is try­ing to be both the author­i­ta­tive source, and the deliv­ery mech­a­nism of any oth­er source you might want.So, my advice to the New York Times …

  • Bring relat­ed infor­ma­tion to me. Focus my atten­tion to the news of the day, but make it easy to nav­i­gate to relat­ed things. These things may be with­in the NYT, or out­side. Use what you know about me — from observ­ing my behav­ior — to point me toward relat­ed things. Think Ama­zon, not Google Home­page or MySpace. Ama­zon remem­bers what you like, points you toward relat­ed stuff, tells you what oth­er peo­ple have looked at, etc. It knows you; you don't HAVE to tell it any­thing.
  • Don't cre­ate a sep­a­rate place that requires con­fig­u­ra­tion and expect that I will go there and wait for the infor­ma­tion to start rolling in. The estab­lished frame­work works: Start at the home­page, drill to the detail. Why cre­ate anoth­er start­ing place?
  • Inte­grate the good things from MyTimes — the jour­nal­ist pages, for instance, are a cool idea, and they are most appro­pri­ate­ly accessed with­in the exist­ing frame­work. Local­ized con­tent like weath­er and movie list­ings are fine, but I don't under­stand why this needs to be sep­a­rate from the exist­ing frame­work of the NYT pages. Basi­cal­ly: Inte­grate the read­er into the NYT, don't cre­ate a sep­a­rate place for him/her. Learn my zip code, remem­ber it, push rel­e­vant local con­tent to me. End of sto­ry. (And just because Flickr has an RSS feed doesn't mean it's wor­thy of your brand. You're the New York Times! You've got the best pho­to­jour­nal­ists in the world! Get rid of it!)

While I'm on the sub­ject, two addi­tion­al things I'd like to see …

  • More expo­sure to the Times' excel­lent archival jour­nal­ism. Why not plumb the back cat­a­log, and expose some of it to the read­ers? Many arti­cles about cur­rent events refer to past events. Why not pro­vide a list of relat­ed links to pre­vi­ous arti­cles more often? Of course, I'd expect that this con­tent would be free — not only because I'm a cheap­skate — but because I would think it would pique people's inter­est in see­ing more of it, which would of course cost mon­ey.
  • More jour­nal­ist blogs and dis­cus­sion. The Pub­lic Editor's col­umn has become one of my favorite parts of the paper, and he blogs about inter­est­ing jour­nal­is­tic issues as well.Here's a great one about Nicholas Lemann's arti­cle about cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism in the New York­er.

In any case, there are rough­ly one thou­sand web sites offer­ing up cus­tomiz­able info wid­gets, web-wide RSS feed aggre­ga­tion, and so forth. The NYT should con­tin­ue to focus on the con­tent, and leave the aggre­ga­tion to some­one else.

Categories
new york street art visual

Street art / Swoon

So it seems I'm a cou­ple of years late to this par­tic­u­lar artist, but some recent con­ver­sa­tion on the Book Arts list turned me on to Swoon, a NYC street artist. Her medi­um is the cutout — from paper, wood, linoleum — and she attach­es these to walls all over NYC. The paper ones are the most amaz­ing to me; they're like those snow flakes you make in grade school, but life-sized and real­ly elab­o­rate and of peo­ple. Check out this Flickr clus­ter to get a sense of the way that the paper ages on the wall, and the way that this fragili­ty and sense of imper­ma­nence reacts with the rest of the wall. This inter­view in the Morn­ing News has some good detail about her process:

There's some­thing par­tic­u­lar to the images that make me choose that mate­r­i­al … A lot has to do with the lim­i­ta­tions of the mate­r­i­al. The linoleum you can get so much more detail from. Every­thing that has more nuances, I use linoleum. The wood is rougher, but a good rough­ness. The paper is real­ly hard to think about, and so it tends to be sim­pler. With paper, you'd choose sim­ple sub­jects because it's hard to cre­ate an expres­sion. The chal­lenge is to make the cutout so that it can get on the wall as a sol­id unit in two min­utes or less.

Thanks to how­much­longerkill­menow for the pho­to.

Categories
architecture ixd new york urban visual

Architecture / Daniel Libeskind's sauna

A few months ago, the NYT Sun­day mag­a­zine ran a pro­file of archi­tect Daniel Libe­skind and his Tribeca loft. (Inci­den­tal­ly, check out that link to his web­site; there's some pret­ty hot flout­ing of web con­ven­tions. For exam­ple, when you mouse over a link, almost every­thing on the screen dis­ap­pears, except a few stray words and the oth­er links. Hmm.) Any­way, the most mem­o­rable part of the mag­a­zine arti­cle was a pho­to of the inte­ri­or of his sauna. In it was a very small win­dow, per­haps 18 inch­es high by 4 inch­es wide, and through that win­dow the saun-ee could achieve a com­pact­ly framed view of the Chrysler Build­ing. How cool is that? The image here shows the architect's ren­der­ing of the dif­fer­ent land­marks vis­i­ble from van­tages with­in the loft. Neato.

Categories
ecology new york

Food / Park Slope Food Coop

Flickr photo


Like most things in New York, the Park Slope Food Coop is exclu­sive, filled with beau­ti­ful peo­ple, and a source of high dra­ma in the lives of every­one involved with it. Most every­one I know in Brook­lyn is a mem­ber, and all of them are on some sort of weird coop pro­ba­tion because they're behind on their shifts. Skip­ping shifts is real­ly naughty, and the lengths to which some mem­bers will go to get out of them has become the stuff of folk­lore. On the oth­er hand, oth­ers seem almost patho­log­i­cal­ly con­sci­en­tious — in a recent issue of the newslet­ter was a sto­ry of a mem­ber who had writ­ten into the coop to explain his absence. You see, he was in prison for eco-ter­ror­ism. So he may not, you know, be able to cov­er that Tues­day after­noon pro­duce sort­ing shift.