cinema the ancient past travel

How cool was Hong Kong in the early 60's?

Walk­ing around the Maxwell Food Mar­ket near Singapore's Chi­na­town remind­ed of Wong Kar Wai's excel­lent movie about Hong Kong in the ear­ly 60's In the Mood for Love. After I watched it last night, I couldn't decide whether I want­ed to actu­al­ly trav­el back in time, or just walk inside an imag­ined ver­sion of the past. Wong Kar-Wai - In the Mood for Love - MahjongWong Kar-Wai - In the Mood for Love - CafeWong Kar-Wai - In the Mood for Love - Alley

the ancient past tv

Their lives on the B‑list

Ques­tion: Is there a bet­ter lit­mus test of 1980's celebri­ty than a guest appear­ance on Love Boat? Wikipedia's mas­ter list includes Corey Feld­man, Pat Mori­ta, Rich Lit­tle, Menudo, the Vil­lage Peo­ple, and the Point­er Sis­ters. Also includ­ed: Lorne Greene, Shecky Green, Pam Gri­er, and Andy Warhol. Sur­pris­ing­ly omit­ted: The Harlem Globetrotters.

dogs the ancient past

Suited to endure long periods of inactivity

Belka and Strelka

Say what you will about the Sovi­ets, but you can't argue with this rea­son­ing for send­ing dogs, rather than mon­keys, into space. If there's one uni­ver­sal truth of dogs, it is that they are "suit­ed to endure long peri­ods of inac­tiv­i­ty." Lynne brought the sub­ject of these Sovi­et cos­mo­naut dog-heroes to my atten­tion, includ­ing those pic­tured at right — Bel­ka (which "most like­ly means 'Whitey,'" accord­ing to Wikipedia's "Sovi­et space dogs" entry) and Strel­ka ("Arrow"). They were the first ani­mals to go into orbit and return alive, spend­ing August 19, 1960 in space before return­ing to Earth. Wikipedia help­ful­ly adds that they were accom­pa­nied by some friends from the ani­mal king­dom: "a grey rab­bit, 42 mice, 2 rats, flies and a num­ber of plants and fun­gi." All pas­sen­gers sur­vived.(Thanks to Dan Mog­ford, who grabbed the image off a com­mem­o­ra­tive Sovi­et matchbox).

lit the ancient past


John Updike - Time

I love writ­ing let­ters, but for some rea­son the only let­ter-to-the-edi­tor I've ever writ­ten went some­thing like this: 

Dear Mr. Rem­nick, If you pub­lish one more sto­ry by John Updike, so help me God I will can­cel my sub­scrip­tion immediately.Sincerely, Doug LeMoine

The year was 1999. I had been dri­ven to what I saw as the brink — of patience! of san­i­ty! — by the New Yorker's inces­sant pub­lish­ing of Updike's fic­tion, which seemed (to me) not only inces­sant, but over-styl­ized, nau­se­at­ing­ly East Coast-ish, maudlin, wood­en. No mat­ter my mood, I found it insuf­fer­able and insult­ing, tone-deaf when it came to any­thing but old­er white guys. I don't like to speak ill of the depart­ed, so I'll stop there and I'll admit that I've soft­ened in the mean­time. Updike's lit­er­ary crit­i­cism is — who can argue? — instruc­tive and insight­ful. He knew his stuff, and I felt enriched (some­times grudg­ing­ly so) when I read his reviews. With regard to the afore­men­tioned let­ter, my hand was forced almost imme­di­ate­ly. Updike had pub­lished some­thing like 25,000 sto­ries in the New York­er to that point, so I might as well have told John Hen­ry to stop dri­ving steel, or for Jer­ry Gar­cia to stop jam­ming. By the time my let­ter was flut­ter­ing into David Remnick's trash­can, I was already being forced to make good on my threat, a task that was ulti­mate­ly embar­rass­ing in its cold, bureau­crat­ic exe­cu­tion. Con­trary to any engaged reader's con­cep­tion of the pub­lish­er-read­er rela­tion­ship, when you say "I'd like to can­cel my sub­scrip­tion," they don't trans­fer you to the desk of the edi­tor so that you can ream him a new one. You hear a few key­strokes, and then get asked if there's any­thing else you need help with. Upon reflec­tion, this expe­ri­ence was a life les­son in itself. Mr. Updike, I thank you, and I wish you well.

architecture the ancient past

Maps / North Korea's Hotel of Doom

Hotel of doom

Last night, Mara and I were mess­ing around with Google Maps, check­ing out giant Japan­ese bud­dhas from the air. [Check out this one in Kamaku­ra, near Tokyo]. Then we decid­ed to see what North Korea looked like, and we raced over the Pyongyang and sud­den­ly found this crazy thing with a giant tri­an­gu­lar shad­ow. What the?Turns out that it's the Ryu­gy­ong Hotel. It has 105 sto­ries, and it is indeed shaped like an arrow­head, with a broad base that tapers steeply to a pointy top. The cra­zi­est thing: It was aban­doned in the mid-80's, dur­ing con­struc­tion; hence its moniker: the Hotel of Doom. (Appar­ent­ly, North Korea had already sunk 2% of its GDP into it when they decid­ed to pull the plug. Ouch.)Esquire calls it worst-designed build­ing in the world, which seems a lit­tle harsh. Would the world's worst-designed build­ing inspire this: An ani­mat­ed short pre­sent­ing a sort of Blade-Run­ner-meets-Dis­ney-meets-Shin­juku vision for how the Ryu­gy­ong will be adapt­ed in the future? Actu­al­ly, maybe it would.See it for your­self here.

flickr ixd the ancient past travel

Archaeology of UX Weeks past

Flickr photo

It's kin­da strange (and thrilling) to browse through the many alley­ways and avenues of Flickr and sud­den­ly unearth a pho­to of … your­self. Just now I came across this pic­ture of myself and a shad­owy fig­ure, who I sus­pect is UX it-guy Jan Chipchase tak­en last sum­mer dur­ing UX Week. My hazy rec­ol­lec­tion: We met and hung out dur­ing a late-night trek through the Mall to the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment, a epic walk that includ­ed UX Week speak­ers, the entire event staff, and the mul­ti-tal­ent­ed Mag­gie Mason of Mighty Goods (and, more recent­ly it seems, Mighty Junior), who record­ed the jour­ney here. We left late, got back *real­ly* late, and some­how Jan looked none the worse for wear dur­ing his keynote the next morn­ing; epic, indeed. 

lit outdoors the ancient past visual

100 Northern California Hiking Trails

I stum­bled upon a trea­sure trove of old out­doors books at Icon­o­clast Books in Ketchum, Ida­ho this week­end; this one's from 1970. 

100 Hiking Trails - CoverThe cov­er ulti­mate­ly doesn't make much dif­fer­ence, but I like this one.

100 Hiking Trails - SectionIf only hik­ing through sun cups like these was as serene and love­ly as the pho­to implies. Also, the intro­duc­to­ry text instructs Yosemite vis­i­tors, "DO NOT FEED, TEASE OR MOLEST THE BEARS." Noted.

100 Hiking Trails - TrailThe page lay­out is classy, and the book is sim­ple to nav­i­gate — each set of fac­ing pages describes one hike. Also, the map is intend­ed as a thumb­nail overview, not as the actu­al guide for use dur­ing the hike. (In 1970, maps could be acquired by send­ing $0.50 to the USGS.)

100 Hiking Trails - DetailHow do you know which map to pur­chase from the USGS for $0.50? The rel­e­vant USGS map ID infor­ma­tion is in the top left cor­ner of each page! Each hike has a sum­ma­ry that con­tains all the impor­tant stuff — dis­tance, ele­va­tion change, esti­mat­ed time, and so on, ordered from most broad (and impor­tant) to most specific.

baseball the ancient past visual

Baseball cards / 1960 Topps

Like lots of stuff, they real­ly don't make base­ball cards like they used to. Halftone action thumb­nail! Alter­nat­ing col­ors in the play­er names! Don Drysdale's coif!

1960 Topps - Don Drysdale
1960 Topps - Curt Flood 1960 Topps - Elston Howard 1960 Topps - Don Larsen

the ancient past visual

Cuban cashola

Flickr photoFidel doing what he does best: Mov­ing the crowd.

I trav­eled to Cuba 10 years ago this sum­mer, and I unearthed this 10-peso note when I moved ear­li­er this sum­mer. Coin­ci­dence, or a sign that I should return some­time soon? 

When I was there, the offi­cial exchange rate was one Amer­i­can dol­lar to one Cuban peso, but one could get 20 Cuban pesos with one Amer­i­can dol­lar if one exchanged mon­ey on the street. It appears that this hasn't changed, though Wikipedia notes that Cuban pesos have no val­ue in cur­ren­cy mar­kets. When I was there, Cuba was still reel­ing from the col­lapse of the USSR, and accom­mo­da­tions were made to han­dle the hard­ships known of this Spe­cial Peri­od. For exam­ple, the Amer­i­can dol­lar could be used to pur­chase "lux­u­ry goods," though at that point "lux­u­ry" involved eat­ing chick­en once in a while and drink­ing an occa­sion­al beer. They've since intro­duced a sec­ond cur­ren­cy to replace the Amer­i­can dol­lar, the con­vert­ible peso, while keep­ing two tiers of goods. Yan­qui go home!

architecture san francisco the ancient past urban

San Francisco / Maps and earthquake shacks

San Francisco in Maps: 1797 - 2006

This week­end I got an incred­i­ble book about San Fran­cis­co called San Fran­cis­co in Maps & Views. I usu­al­ly avoid glossy cof­fee-table his­tor­i­cal books because they're so often filled with dis­ap­point­ments — bad col­or, bad print­ing, messy lay­out, unin­spired writ­ing, PLUS they're real­ly expen­sive. But THIS ONE. This one is dif­fer­ent. The maps are very well-repro­duced, high-res and col­or­ful, and all are sup­port­ed by detailed and sur­pris­ing­ly engag­ing com­men­tary. After I got over the ini­tial thrill of using it like a flip-book and watch­ing my neigh­bor­hood evolve, I start­ed to notice small­er trends in land-use evo­lu­tion — a plot labeled "orphan asy­lum" became "hos­pi­tal;" many things labeled "cemetary" became "park" or "civic cen­ter." "Dunes" become "the Sun­set." I was also intrigued by the use of pub­lic places as refugee camps after the big one hit in 1906. Appar­ent­ly, SF car­pen­ters sprang into action and built thou­sands of makeshift cot­tages for the earthquake/fire refugees, turn­ing many well-known SF pub­lic spaces into refugee camps, includ­ing South Park, Dolores Park, and Precita Park, and lots of the then-out­ly­ing, unde­vel­oped areas, like the Rich­mond and the Sunset. 

Earthquake_shacks_in_Dolores_ParkA shack on Biki­ni Ridge would have been puh-ret­ty sweet. (This is Dolores Park, believe it or not). Pho­to: West­ern Neigh­bor­hoods Project

As the city began to return to nor­mal a year lat­er, a few of the refugees decid­ed to use the cot­tages — or, "shacks" as they were com­mon­ly known — as more per­ma­nent res­i­dences. Some indus­tri­ous peo­ple com­bined mul­ti­ple shacks into one res­i­dence. Incred­i­bly, a few shacks are still around, and nat­u­ral­ly folks have orga­nized to pre­serve them. (Here's a 2002 Chron­i­cle arti­cle about efforts to save some shacks in the out­er Sun­set).

Cumby_shackI believe that this is the house that is list­ed as 300 Cum­ber­land on the West­ern Neigh­bor­hood Project's list of known shacks. The crazy thing is that this is at the top of an insane­ly steep hill, like un-bike-ably steep and long, so it must have been built there rather than trans­port­ed from Dolores Park. On the oth­er hand, who knows? Peo­ple were crafty back then, right?

Final­ly, here's a map of the loca­tions of the known exist­ing earth­quake shacks. Seems like a good project for a week­end afternoon.