Archive for June, 2008

Mon 16 Jun 2008 7:25 am   //   Posted in: Failure, Travel

So complicated

I’ve heard it said that Americans are masters of building and operating complex systems. Think about Wall Street. The power grid. The Internet.

The problem is we don’t always seem good at the chores it takes to keep these systems running. Like maintenance. Like educating newcomers about how things work. Despite the amazing incentives not to, Wall Street bankers still manage to make knuckle-headed mistakes that cost themselves and the public lots of money. After the 2003 blackout it became obvious that no living person really understands how our system of electricity works. I heard once that the Space Shuttle is so complicated that we – as in, humanity – do not fully understand it. Now we’re getting ready to scrap it. Sometimes knowledge is so decentralized that it becomes essentially lost. And when the entire system fails, no single entity is responsible.

And yes, I’m about to get to airplanes. Here in the U.S. we have a baffling system of air travel. Many different public and private entities are all working on solving the same problem: transportation. The problem, as I saw yesterday, is that the system was built by people more ambitious than the ones now charged with operating it. Sometimes it’s just that simple: The job is too hard. It’s impossible to get a guy and his suitcase from point to point in the time he was promised when he bought his ticket. We built this system, but we’re not fully capable of operating it. It’s kind of depressing.

Sun 15 Jun 2008 4:26 pm   //   Posted in: Failure, Over!, Travel

Air travel is so over!

Greetings from Charlotte. Wait, Charlotte? What’s he doing in North Carolina? I’m suffering in airline hell, that’s what!

I left Charlottesville, Virginia, this morning. I was supposed to board a 10:20 United flight to Dulles. But that plane was already behind schedule, leaving me no time to make my connection. The airline courteously booked me on an on-time U.S. Airways flight to Charlotte, where I could get a connecting flight to Newark. Fine.

Actually, not fine. In Charlotte, my plane left on time and taxied out. It sat on the tarmac for two and a half hours. Then it taxied back. Now I’m part of a planeload of passengers waiting in the terminal while the airline negotiates with air traffic control for permission to land its plane in Newark. The latest word is that we’re supposed to take off at 5:30 – four hours late. The official explanation for the delay? “Weather.” Except it’s an absolutely beautiful day all up and down the Atlantic seaboard, and the departure boards show most of the other flights are on time.

If I’d left my hotel this morning and kept driving to Brooklyn, instead of to the airport, I’d be there by now. Now I am further away from home than when I started.

Also of interest: At no point today has anyone asked to see my identification.

Update: The plane landed in Newark more than four hours late. The pilot explained that landings were slow-going into Newark due to “puffy clouds.” My suitcase followed about 20 minutes later, arriving on a different plane.

Sun 15 Jun 2008 8:34 am   //   Posted in: Art, Videos

Over and out from Chalottesville

My posts for work from the photo festival here:

James Nachtwey Opens Up At LOOK3 Festival
LOOK3 Video: Publishing Multimedia
LOOK3 Video: Sam Abell Discusses Richard Prince
LOOK3 Video: Joel-Peter Witkin

Sat 14 Jun 2008 1:52 am   //   Posted in: Videos

My latest video

Here’s a video report from the photo festival I’m visiting in Charlottesville….

Fri 13 Jun 2008 9:21 pm   //   Posted in: In the news, Media, TV

What I learned from Tim Russert

Tim Russert could ask uncomfortable questions without losing his subjects’ respect or making his viewers squeamish. That’s because he knew what he was talking about. It’s a good lesson for any journalist. Get well informed before you open your mouth to challenge and criticize.

Fri 13 Jun 2008 10:09 am   //   Posted in: Travel

Flying goldfish

One thing that amazes me about air travel is that everyone acts like they’re doing it for the first time. Every airline employee is on their first day at the job. Every passenger is confused about what to do. The poor TSA folks are literally doing everything afresh, given that their instructions seem to change weekly. It’s as if no one in an airport has a memory. Every check-in is novel and exciting.

Even the people at the Dulles Airport Cosi yesterday acted like they’d never taken an order before (and I didn’t even deviate from the menu – I know better than to do that at an airport!). I was enjoying my sloppily made chicken pesto sandwich and chips (Chips? I asked for carrots! There are only two options!) when United announced my flight was open for boarding, all seats, half an hour early. This was a small flight, maybe 20 people, and we all got up and formed a line at the gate. There, we were scolded harshly by a United employee, who insisted that our flight had not yet been called. A mass hallucination, apparently.

Nearby, two passengers were pleading with a United attendant to let them board their flight – which was still at the gate, maybe 15 steps away, and wasn’t scheduled to depart for another ten minutes. The befuddled employee was ignoring their questions and instead scolding them for not being on time – now that flight was going to be late, since they will have to offload their luggage and re-balance the plane.

Still, it was a beautiful day for flying, and as always, the airline got me where I needed to be safely. My suitcase was another story. United finally delivered it to the hotel at 8 p.m., six hours after I arrived. This threw me a little off my game, but I still managed to get oriented yesterday and post this story.

Thu 12 Jun 2008 9:35 am   //   Posted in: Travel

Road warrior

I’m writing this post from the Newark Airport on my way to Charlottesville, VA, for a photography festival I’m covering for work.

My day looks something like this: R train -> D train -> A train -> NJ Transit Trenton Local -> AirTrain -> United plane to Dulles -> United plane to Charlottesville -> Avis rental car -> Red Roof Inn. Its a whole series of complicated systems meshed together. Travel is pretty amazing when the trains and planes run on time and everything works. So far it’s gotten me to New Jersey.

This is the first time I’ve traveled with my brand new MacBook (the company agreed to swap me from a desktop to a laptop). I really like this computer. It’s a substantial upgrade to my old personal laptop, which is a 2001 iBook (the first one Apple sold in white).

Wed 11 Jun 2008 9:33 am   //   Posted in: Transit

Boring is interesting

NY1 has an update on the progress of the 7 line extension:

“Construction crews are digging two huge shafts today through which they will lower tunnel-boring machines as part of the MTA’s 7-line extension serving Hudson Yards. The machines will arrive next year and will help dig a new subway tunnel, that will extend the 7 train from Times Square to 11th Avenue and down to 34th Street.”

The new tunnel will provide subway service to the Javits Center, our absurdly inaccessible convention center. The project is expected to be completed by 2013, so figure 2015 at the earliest.

Tue 10 Jun 2008 8:00 am   //   Posted in: TV commericals

This is one cool lottery commercial

Logically, there’s no good reason to play lottery. Which is why lottery commercials have to be so good at appealing to our dreams. Aren’t we all flightless birds?…

Wow, right? State lottery ads are often considered showcase pieces for ad agencies. This one is by Publicis Seattle.

Mon 9 Jun 2008 11:52 am   //   Posted in: Typography

Fontly speaking

My friend Jason Fagone has the lead story on Slate today: YouType: The strange allure of making your own fonts. (Fagone was one of our resident font experts at The Daily Collegian in the late 1990s.)