A bizarre public demo exhibited on Essex Street.
October 4th, 2012 permalink
August 29th, 2012 permalink
May 28th, 2012 permalink
XOXO is billed as a “celebration of disruptive creativity.” And, jeez, it looks to be about as lovingly handcrafted as a festival can get.
Conference tickets sold out on Kickstarter in two days. XOXO and Kickstarter are upending the festival world in exactly the same way that Louis CK gracefully evaded middlemen and overhead by selling his own $5 comedy special online.
March 27th, 2012 permalink
In honor of the fifth season of Mad Men, here’s George Segal’s unforgettable graveyard soliloquy from Bye Bye Braverman. Segal waxes rhapsodic about life in New York in the late ’60s — and it’s a pretty good primer.
If you aren’t familiar with Sidney Lumet’s masterful 1968 flop about four Jews who squeeze into a Beetle and drive all around Brooklyn trying to find their friend’s funeral, check it out now. It’s finally available on DVD.
March 18th, 2012 permalink
I learned something fascinating from this video of Chuck Jones drawing Bugs Bunny: the studio’s budget for each film sometimes caused Bugs Bunny to wear two whiskers on each side of his face, instead of three.
March 12th, 2012 permalink
I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been utterly consumed with Block Factory since Thanksgiving. (We’re hiring!)
As thanks for your patience, I’m super excited to introduce you to a thing we’ve made. Say hello to your new best friend, Considerating! Considerating is a quick, simple and effective way to get some peer review of your questionable human instincts. With Considerating, you can finally find out whether it’s okay to adjust someone else’s exposed sweater tag (spoiler alert: it’s not), comment on your roommate’s undergarments (nope), or roll into someone’s rural driveway with your headlights off (apparently okay!). You can even ping the universe about missionaries and grown adults in dog costumes.
We hope you love it!
November 14th, 2011 permalink
New York has always enjoyed a unique fascination with the underground. There’s a lot of infrastructure down there, and over time more and more of it has become forgotten or obsolete.
Much of the mystique of the underground is focused on New York’s subterranean transportation, naturally. (Once you spend enough time waiting in a subway tunnel, your mind inevitably begins to wander.) The explosive early growth of the subway system would probably never have occurred without private investment and competition. Before the system was unified in the 1940s, three separate companies (the IRT, BMT and IND — acronyms still in use by most grizzled New Yorkers) developed distinct networks. (Sometimes, it seems, they even built tunnels out of spite: rumor has it that the abandoned lower level of the IND’s 42nd Street station, seen below, was built only to prevent the 7 train from extending further west.)
One neat thing you can do with abandoned subway stations is turn them into art! Frequent riders of the B/Q trains in Brooklyn will be familiar with Bill Brand’s Masstransiscope, a sort of inverted zoetrope installed along the northbound platform of the erstwhile Myrtle Avenue station between DeKalb Avenue and the Manhattan Bridge. With a traditional zoetrope, a user sees the illusion of motion by looking through the slits of a spinning cylinder at individual frames on the cylinder’s interior walls. With the Masstransiscope, the subway car does all the work, while the static frames are plastered on the platform walls and the slits are cut out of a wall installed at the platform’s edge. It makes for a stunning effect.
You can also turn abandoned stations into parks, apparently. A group of “urbanist entrepreneurs” is trying to develop an abandoned trolley terminal below Delancey Street into a cavernous park, which has been nicknamed the “Low Line.”
If you don’t care to wait for projects like this to come to fruition, you can always take a self-guided tour of the incredible original 1904 City Hall station by staying on the 6 train after its final downtown stop at the current Brooklyn Bridge — City Hall station:
If you’d like a more in-depth look, do not miss the New York Transit Museum, which is housed in the IND’s abandoned Court Street station. It showcases vintage subway rolling stock (seen below), turnstiles, tokens, porcelain signage and more. (If you’re more into buses, check out the New York Bus Festival, which accompanies the annual Atlantic Antic every September.)
Until recently, you could join a group of railfans, pop a manhole cover and descend into the long-lost Atlantic Avenue rail tunnel, completed circa 1844 and sealed off in 1861. Long abandoned and even considered apocryphal, the tunnel was finally rediscovered by Bob Diamond in 1980. Sadly, access to the tunnel was shut down by order of the NYC DOT last year.
For now, if you’d like to see most of New York’s hidden delights, your best bet is to flirt with the PATRIOT Act and take advantage of some good old-fashioned late-night B&E, like Andrew Wonder and Steve Duncan did in their urban spelunking video “UNDERCITY”:
October 30th, 2011 permalink
The Times peeked behind the curtain of a hidden New York institution this weekend, publishing a great essay about the firm of Day & Meyer, Murray & Young, which has spent about eighty years storing the weighty ephemera of urban socialites using an ingenious 11′-long steel container known as the Portovault:
An unassuming tower on Second Avenue acts as a warehouse for the Portovaults. The building can store over 500 of the one-ton units, which travel on rails via an elevator for on-location loading / unloading or for private inspection in the building’s basement. Better yet, the cost of entry is a mere $300 a month, enabling you to join the storied ranks of Upper East Side socialites and art collectors whose families have utilized the Portovault since the warehouse’s 1928 debut.
I have always had a soft spot for buildings that don’t quite do what you’d expect them to.
For instance! In the years before the Roosevelt Island Tram opened just north of the 59th Street Bridge, and prior to the opening of the Roosevelt Island subway station on the F line, and before direct access was established from Queens via the Roosevelt Island Bridge, the only way to get to Roosevelt Island was via the Storehouse Elevator:
The intrepid smallpox victim would get off the trolley at the middle of the bridge, and take the elevator down to ground level. Delightful! But the elevator was decommissioned after the trolley was discontinued in 1955, and the building was ultimately demolished in 1970.
And! In scenic Brooklyn Heights, you might notice a strange row house with dark windows, well-maintained but seemingly abandoned:
Turns out it’s owned by the MTA. The well-known but unconfirmed story is that this empty façade hides an emergency exit for various East River subway lines — but, for security reasons, the MTA refuses to acknowledge the building’s existence.
Shhh. It is a secret.
October 27th, 2011 permalink
Tony Fadell, one of the progenitors of the iPod, left Apple in 2008. This week he introduced his new venture’s first product: Nest.
It is a thermostat.
A $249, iOS/Android-controllable, learning thermostat.
And it is gorgeous.
In Fadell’s first blog entry introducing Nest, he writes of the seeming ridiculousness in transitioning from consumer electronics to thermostats — but uses that as proof of how deviously obvious this market is: “‘Think about it,’ I say. ‘I bet your thermostat is ugly and impossible to program. And I bet it drives you crazy.’”
Of course, he’s right. All you have to do is take a look at the thermostat section of the Home Depot website to see how incredibly ripe this market is for a product like Nest:
The post-Steveness of it all indicates a sea change in the development and presentation of consumer products on all different levels. The launch of Nest resembles the introduction of the Square reader last year: Square, developed by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, took the complex and fee-laden universe of credit card payment processing and distilled it into an approachable product for the masses. Square built its business on giving away its ingenious, gorgeous, portable card readers — simply insert your reader into the headphone port on your iOS or Android device, and accept payment by swiping or keying in a credit card. Square deducts its very competitive fee and deposits the rest in your bank account.
It can be that simple. (But try telling that to Square competitor VeriFone, which built an entire website devoted to terrifying consumers about the ridiculous threat of the Square reader being used as a mobile credit card skimming device. We’ll see if other thermostat manufacturers try the same futile approach instead of actually building a worthwhile competitor to Nest!)
Whether a $249 thermostat has the potential to be a runaway hit like the Square reader remains to be seen, but I suspect it will be very successful.
We’re aching for things to love. We’re craving a world in which we can interact with things that an iota of care has been applied to.
If the infectiousness of good design can successfully be applied to the world of thermostats, we’ll soon be seeing it far beyond the traditional boundaries of tech gadgetry.
It’s an exciting moment.
October 23rd, 2011 permalink
Today, Macworld published a detailed look at the October 23, 2001 launch of the original iPod.
It’s fascinating to watch the launch video, especially juxtaposed with the launch of the original iPhone in January 2007. Presenting in Apple’s limited-capacity Town Hall, rather than the larger expo venue at the Moscone Center, Steve seemed somewhat more subdued than usual. I don’t blame him: Apple was diving headfirst into a totally new consumer market, with angry pundits far from convinced that the purchasing public would be interested in investing $399 in an MP3 player.
They were wrong. (Okay, it’s easy to report that now.)
In 2001, the portable MP3 playing industry was dominated by cheaper, low-capacity units, like Diamond Multimedia’s Rio 500:
The Rio 500 was a solid device. I snagged one with 64MB of onboard memory, at a list price of $269, and spent most of 2000 listening to The Eagles’ Greatest Hits 1971-1975, since it would only really hold one album. Totally worth it.
Then everything changed.
Over a period of 30 years (from its 1979 unveiling through its discontinuation a year ago), Sony sold 220 million Walkman units. Not a bad record. But: in ten years, Apple has sold 300 million iPods. That’s a lot of stocking stuffers.
Of course, the iPod does lack two socializing features unique to the original Walkman, both introduced at the behest of Sony CEO Akio Morita: dual mini headphone jacks (labeled “GUYS” and “DOLLS”, so you and your moll can listen to Luck Be A Lady together) and a “HOT LINE” button that lowered the volume if someone was trying to communicate with the user.
When the iPod’s popularity skyrocketed after the 2003 introduction of the iTunes Music Store, witty op-ed columnists bemoaned the proliferation of pod people: with loud, tinny music leaking from their white earbuds distracting you as you try to suffer through your subway commute, pod people turned a deaf ear to the world — especially to the audiophiles kvetching about lossy, highly compressed MP3 files and the disappearance of the album format.
Things are better now, of course.
Now we’re deaf and blind, as we walk in front of city buses tweeting from our iPhones.
But! At least we’re listening to higher-fidelity audio files now, thanks to iTunes Plus.