Archive for June, 2009

Tue 16 Jun 2009 7:16 am   //   Posted in: It's a trap!, Media, Technology

Confirmed: Twitter users like reading about Twitter

This post at work will easily be the most popular thing I write all week:
PDNPulse: Iran Protest Photos Key To Twitter Coverage

Why will it be a hit? Because it’s about Twitter. Certainly not because it’s a good story. (I mean, it’s not awful.) As soon as you write about Twitter, people on Twitter forward the story around, and you’ve instantly got a substantial audience. It’s lightning fast, instant attention. Highly rewarding, highly addictive.

There’s a strong temptation to write about Twitter every day, because readers like it, it’s easy traffic and it actually feels important. It’s a trap! The medium is not the message. As is the case in Iran, what’s important is what people are saying, not what medium they’re choosing to say it in.

Previous posts about Twitter:
Twitter kills Patrick Swayze. Will it kill again?
URGENT! Don’t ask why, just panic!

Mon 15 Jun 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: New York is different, Travel

Times Square Without Cars


Times Square is like a whole other place now that they’ve shut down Broadway to vehicles. Not sure yet if it’s better. Here’s hoping the city has bigger landscaping ambitions than scraped asphalt and traffic cones.

Fri 12 Jun 2009 11:40 pm   //   Posted in: Movies, Transit

Mistakes in “The Taking of Pelham 123”

The remake of “The Taking of Pelham 123,” I have to admit, is better than the 1974 original, which I own on DVD and have seen at least five times. But nobody said the original was a great movie. What made it notable was it’s attention to detail. Almost every reference to New York City geography in the original is absolutely accurate. It was one of those rare New York movies that respected the intelligence of trivia-obsessed New Yorkers.

I follow trains the way some people follow sports, so I was interested in whether the film was accurate in regard to the New York City subway, the setting where all of the action takes place. How did it do?


Wed 10 Jun 2009 6:56 am   //   Posted in: Art

Change we can believe in

On my recent trip to Ohio I got two of the new pennies back in change. First time I’ve seen them. I received the second of four 2009 commemorative penny designs honoring President Lincoln’s 200th birthday. It shows, according to the U.S. Mint, “a young Lincoln educating himself while working as a rail splitter in Indiana.”

Currency design is hard, and trying to tell a man’s life story on the reverse side of a tiny coin is nearly impossible. I’m not crazy about the Lincoln log design, but it was the first time in memory that I actually stopped to look at a penny. The standard penny design is so familiar that we couldn’t evaluate it if we wanted to. This new series is the American penny’s chance to say “Look at me! Pay attention!” This is a good thing. It manages to make the penny less annoying!

That’s my two cents anyway. What do you think of Lincoln thinkin’?

Tue 9 Jun 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Brooklyn, New York is different

The ghosts of Non Stop Discount

This is one of my favorite buildings in my neighborhood, at 19th and 5th Avenue. Why do I like it so much?

Because when you walk by it, all you see is Non Stop Discount, a pretty typical Brooklyn variety store. (They have great prices on fans.) But the more you look, the more you see. Stand back and it’s clear this building used to be a bunch of other things. At the top, there’s a sign for BA Furniture. Below that, there’s an even-more faded logo for Frost Stores. The words “Warehouse Outlet” are there, too, along with callouts for “Washers” and “Televisions” and other faded things. Below the Non Stop Discount signage, there’s even fresher paint: graffiti tags.

This building is probably 100 or 120 years old. How many different coats of paint have been on it? How many different stores has it contained? Did any of them make anybody rich, or drive anybody to ruin?

I like to live in a neighborhood that has ghosts. People here reuse old shells with the resourcefulness of hermit crabs.

Sat 6 Jun 2009 4:25 pm   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

Two opinions on Twitter

Time magazine Twitter cover

Metro newspaper Twitter cover

Sat 6 Jun 2009 12:32 pm   //   Posted in: New York is different, Stray data

Forgotten Astor Place history: Shakespeare riot!

One great thing about New York is that the longer you live here, the more historical trivia you learn. It’s a bottomless well.

Consider where I work. My office abuts Astor Place, a weird block-and-a-half street between the East and West Villages in New York. It’s part of a tangle of streets that merger near Cooper Union, an area rich in history, arts and architecture. I could fill a page listing all the random stuff that I know has happened there, from Abraham Lincoln speaking to the filming of the original “Taking of Pelham 123” movie.

Today I read an article about rude behavior at theaters, and it made a passing reference to the Astor Place Riot. Why had I never heard of this? Naturally, there’s an illuminating page about it on Wikipedia.

One hundred sixty years ago, there were two stagings of Macbeth at theaters a few blocks apart, one starring a famous British actor and the other a famous American. Audiences were sharply divided over which actor played the Shakespeare role better. The tension had as much to do with class and nationality as it did with theater. On May 10, 1849, the simmering dispute boiled over into violence. The National Guard used their weapons to restore order. In the end, 25 people were dead and at least 120 were injured.

The riot happened at the Astor Place Theater, which today is known as the more-or-less permanent home of the Blue Man Group.

Thu 4 Jun 2009 7:44 am   //   Posted in: Labeling, Planet earth, Stray data

Math is important

I just read an interview in Good magazine with Richard Larrick, a Duke business professor who advocates changing the “miles per gallon” standard we use to rate car efficiency. The problem? Basically, mpg statistics mislead our brains.

Larrick and professor Jack Soll have been on a crusade to adopt a “gallons per mile” standard. What’s the difference? Here’s a story about their work from 2008. It says:

Most people ranked an improvement from 34 to 50 mpg as saving more gas over 10,000 miles than an improvement from 18 to 28 mpg, even though the latter saves twice as much gas. (Going from 34 to 50 mpg saves 94 gallons; but from 18 to 28 mpg saves 198 gallons).

“These mistaken impressions were corrected, however, when participants were presented with fuel efficiency expressed in gallons used per 100 miles rather than mpg. Viewed this way, 18 mpg becomes 5.5 gallons per 100 miles, and 28 mpg is 3.6 gallons per 100 miles — an $8 difference today.

I had never thought about this before. But it makes sense: The higher the mpg number, the smaller the significance of each mile, because you cover more distance before you need to tap that extra fuel. We are used to thinking each number in a rating scale has the same value. It’s misleading.

The professors are using their math to defend small improvements in low-mileage vehicles—a strong argument for hybrid SUVs, which are scoffed at by most environmentally minded people. In fact, it makes a big difference. Here’s Professor Soll’s argument:

“There are significant savings to be had by improving efficiency by even two or three miles per gallon on inefficient cars, but because we communicate in miles per gallon, that savings is not immediately evident to consumers.”

I’m convinced.

Wed 3 Jun 2009 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Food & drink, No right to be good

Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats Little Bites Chocolate!

Oh my God, I’m in love with this cereal! But somebody at Kellogg’s should have nixed that long name and come up with something shorter. Suggestion: “Box o’ Cookies.” Seriously, these might as well be Oreos. I can’t believe we feed this stuff to children for breakfast!

Tue 2 Jun 2009 7:27 pm   //   Posted in: Videos

Cool guys don’t look at explosions