Tag Archives: cars

If you’ve ever wondered how the gears on a car work, this 1936 film is ACE

(saw it on Reddit whilst procrastinating)


[vimeo http://vimeo.com/56093731 w=700&h=390]


The boots.

William Whyte and the social life of small spaces

Extract from Leo Hollis’s excellent blog “Cities are good for you“. This, coincidentally, is also the title of his forthcoming book. Visit his blog to find out more, then advance order his new book.

In 1956 William H Whyte, the executive editor of ‘Fortune’ magazine, wrote of The Organisation Man. In his devastating analysis, Whyte suggested that the post-war generation had been encouraged into conformity, happy to exchange their own individuality for participation into the corporate dream, that not only dictated how they worked but also offered them the banal ideal of a secure life, the comforts of suburbia, the steady accumulation of unnecessary things.

His conclusion claimed that the culture of Organisation Man, the surrender of self to the mythic corporation, was the very opposite of the rugged individualism that once built America.

Whyte’s fascination in how the planning of the new suburbs satisfied the every need of Organisation Man ignited a passion in the role of planning and architecture in shaping American social life. In an essay in 1953 ‘How the New Suburbia Socialises’ he used his own neighbourhood of Forest Park outside Chicago to show how the design of play areas, driveways and stoops affected interactions; how keeping the front lawn clean leads to strong ties to neighbours across the road rather than over the back yard fence; why owning a house that was built in the early stages of the development can make you more popular. In time, however, Whyte began to focus his attention away from the suburbs onto the city centre.

It would be almost a decade before Whyte put his ideas into practise, when the New York Planning Commission hired him to develop a new approach to thinking about the city. Whyte began by looking at previous best practise but was surprised to find no research on the efficacy of any of the most recent projects; he was stunned that there were ‘no person on the staff whose job it was to go out and check whether the places was being well used or not, and if not, why.’ How could a city improve if it could not learn from its mistakes, or even find out if it had made any mistakes?

He hired a group of sociology students from nearby Hunter College to start conducting serious studies on how people actually used places; and so begun ‘the street life project’, probably the first time that rigour and method was brought to bear on the ballet of the streets. The results were revelatory. From this study of the street ‘the river of life of the city, the place where we come together, the pathway to the center’, Whyte built up his new idea of how the city really worked.

How do people walk down the street? How often do they bump into friends? Where do people stop to chat? Does bustle or a quiet space make a happy place? How much space should you leave as you pass someone? Who can you touch and what kinds of gesture are acceptable in public? Does a vendor get more business, or a busker more change, on a narrow street or a wide thoroughfare? Far more than the philosophical or aesthetic musings of visionaries, these are the real life questions that can transform a city. Whyte produced his results in two books ‘The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces’ in 1980 and ‘City: Rediscover the Centre’ in 1988.

In both books he saw the decline of the city as a reflection of the changing economic relationship between people; as our lives became increasingly mediated, we were less likely to interact, to bump into each other, and as a result the city was losing its most fertile function: the place where strangers meet. First, studying the street, then making a series of observations on the social life of our public plazas, Whyte explored the ways how these public spaces were used, how they developed their own ecology, what worked and what caused problems. Thus he set out some opening observations on how people used the street:

Pedestrians usually walk on the right. (Deranged people and oddballs are more likely to

  • go left, against the flow.)
  • A large proportion of pedestrians are people in pairs or threesomes.
  • The most difficult to follow are pairs who walk uncertainly, veering from one side to another: they take two lanes to do the work of one.
  • Men walk faster than women.
  • Younger people walk somewhat faster than older people.
  • People in groups walk slower than people alone
  • People carrying bags or suitcases walk about as fast as anyone else
  • People who walk on a moderate upgrade walk about as fast as those on the level
  • Pedestrians usually take the shortest cut. . .
  • Pedestrian form up in platoons at the lights and they will move in platoons for a block or more.
  • Pedestrians often function most efficiently at the peak of rush hour flows.
  • In a similar fashion, Whyte also looked at how and why people used the public squares and plazas of the city. He was surprised to note, watching the flow of human traffic outside Saks on Fifth Avenue that most people stop to talk either on the street corner in the centre of the flow, or right outside the shop entrance.

    He also observed lunchtime in Seagram Plaza and how the spaces of the plaza was populated – men more likely to sit closer to the pathways and on benches while women preferred more secluded places; lovers rarely hiding themselves; if there are moveable chairs they tended to be dragged in all directions, each new occupant preferring to find their own site; particular groups are likely to rendez vous in the same places. In his most memorable phrase he concluded: ‘what attracts people most is other people. Many urban spaces are being designed as though the opposite were true.’

    Whyte proved that people used the city in different ways than the experts thoughts and often did the exact opposite of what the planners intended.

    Careers guidance: The hobbies section of my résumé

    By Dan Kennedy in the unparalleled McSweeny’s.

    I enjoy reading, travel, and the outdoors. Let’s see, I do vision boarding, I like housesitting for people more successful than me, I’m an avid fan of winter sports (snow wandering, sad phone calls). I search eBay for cut-rate mascot costumes, and I laugh at them then get sad. Rattlesnake videos on YouTube, I enjoy magazines and cigarettes, watching television is still a big thing with me. I also do a hobby sometimes where I can see the truth about everything, it’s hard to explain, but I picture a situation, like the movie business, and I can see the truth of the whole thing; I just stand and stare and think about something until I can see the whole truth of it. This started after I did something like three grams of mushrooms in one night in the late ’90s; I’m probably literally retarded from that night. I’ve never sailed, but I feel like maybe I would like that. I like photography; I tried to take a picture of this pimp on 10th Avenue who has a tarantula that he’s always got walking around on his arm, but he physically threatened me so I just turned a little bit and acted like I was trying to take a picture of something to the left of him, and then he called me a quiet little bitch, whatever that was supposed to mean. Softball, camping. I know a guy named Tic Tac who was a martial arts assassin for the Marines, like a freelance killer basically. My main hobbies involve high stakes situations, motherfucker. LOL!—just kidding around, a little. Let’s see, I don’t know, how long is this section supposed to be? I guess I have the same hobbies everyone else has; fishing, jogging, whatever, you name it, I’ll do it. I’ve been pretty lonely, so lately I’ll try just about anything—if someone says they love to go antiquing, I’m like, “Not so fast, when are you going next, because I’m coming with you so I stop climbing the fucking walls over here.” Anyway, I have tons of hobbies. I’ll put eating candy on here, just because, you know what, why not? You’ve probably seen weaker shit than eating candy in the hobbies section of someone’s résumé. Certainly someone has put something like “Spending time with my kids” or something like that, so I’m playing the candy card, chief. You know what, I’ll tell you what my biggest hobby is, my biggest hobby right now is getting my shit back on track. So, let’s get real about how we’re going to make that happen, because I’ve been on a lonely stretch of medium luck for about six months. Also, I am bankrupt and not allowed to trade stocks, securities, futures, or annuities for twenty-five years in North America and its territories, including Guam. I can make sleeping pills and bottle rockets. Those last two aren’t really hobbies, I guess, more like special skills.


    What isn’t for sale? Exploring the moral limits of markets

    (via The Atlantic, adapted from What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, by Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel)

    THERE ARE SOME THINGS money can’t buy—but these days, not many. Almost everything is up for sale. For example:

    • A prison-cell upgrade: $90 a night. In Santa Ana, California, and some other cities, nonviolent offenders can pay for a clean, quiet jail cell, without any non-paying prisoners to disturb them.

    • Access to the carpool lane while driving solo: $8. Minneapolis, San Diego, Houston, Seattle, and other cities have sought to ease traffic congestion by letting solo drivers pay to drive in carpool lanes, at rates that vary according to traffic.

    • The services of an Indian surrogate mother: $8,000. Western couples seeking surrogates increasingly outsource the job to India, and the price is less than one-third the going rate in the United States.

    • The right to shoot an endangered black rhino: $250,000. South Africa has begun letting some ranchers sell hunters the right to kill a limited number of rhinos, to give the ranchers an incentive to raise and protect the endangered species.

    • Your doctor’s cellphone number: $1,500 and up per year. A growing number of “concierge” doctors offer cellphone access and same-day appointments for patients willing to pay annual fees ranging from $1,500 to $25,000.

    • The right to emit a metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: $10.50. The European Union runs a carbon-dioxide-emissions market that enables companies to buy and sell the right to pollute.

    • The right to immigrate to the United States: $500,000. Foreigners who invest $500,000 and create at least 10 full-time jobs in an area of high unemployment are eligible for a green card that entitles them to permanent residency.

    NOT EVERYONE CAN AFFORD to buy these things. But today there are lots of new ways to make money. If you need to earn some extra cash, here are some novel possibilities:

    • Sell space on your forehead to display commercial advertising: $10,000. A single mother in Utah who needed money for her son’s education was paid $10,000 by an online casino to install a permanent tattoo of the casino’s Web address on her forehead. Temporary tattoo ads earn less.

    • Serve as a human guinea pig in a drug-safety trial for a pharmaceutical company: $7,500. The pay can be higher or lower, depending on the invasiveness of the procedure used to test the drug’s effect and the discomfort involved.

    • Fight in Somalia or Afghanistan for a private military contractor: up to $1,000 a day. The pay varies according to qualifications, experience, and nationality.

    • Stand in line overnight on Capitol Hill to hold a place for a lobbyist who wants to attend a congressional hearing: $15–$20 an hour. Lobbyists pay line-standing companies, who hire homeless people and others to queue up.

    • If you are a second-grader in an underachieving Dallas school, read a book: $2. To encourage reading, schools pay kids for each book they read.

    WE LIVE IN A TIME when almost everything can be bought and sold. Over the past three decades, markets—and market values—have come to govern our lives as never before. We did not arrive at this condition through any deliberate choice. It is almost as if it came upon us.

    As the Cold War ended, markets and market thinking enjoyed unrivaled prestige, and understandably so. No other mechanism for organizing the production and distribution of goods had proved as successful at generating affluence and prosperity. And yet even as growing numbers of countries around the world embraced market mechanisms in the operation of their economies, something else was happening. Market values were coming to play a greater and greater role in social life. Economics was becoming an imperial domain. Today, the logic of buying and selling no longer applies to material goods alone. It increasingly governs the whole of life.

    The years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008 were a heady time of market faith and deregulation—an era of market triumphalism. The era began in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher proclaimed their conviction that markets, not government, held the key to prosperity and freedom. And it continued into the 1990s with the market-friendly liberalism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who moderated but consolidated the faith that markets are the primary means for achieving the public good.

    Today, that faith is in question. The financial crisis did more than cast doubt on the ability of markets to allocate risk efficiently. It also prompted a widespread sense that markets have become detached from morals, and that we need to somehow reconnect the two. But it’s not obvious what this would mean, or how we should go about it.

    Some say the moral failing at the heart of market triumphalism was greed, which led to irresponsible risk-taking. The solution, according to this view, is to rein in greed, insist on greater integrity and responsibility among bankers and Wall Street executives, and enact sensible regulations to prevent a similar crisis from happening again.

    This is, at best, a partial diagnosis. While it is certainly true that greed played a role in the financial crisis, something bigger was and is at stake. The most fateful change that unfolded during the past three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the reach of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life traditionally governed by nonmarket norms. To contend with this condition, we need to do more than inveigh against greed; we need to have a public debate about where markets belong—and where they don’t.

    Consider, for example, the proliferation of for-profit schools, hospitals, and prisons, and the outsourcing of war to private military contractors. (In Iraq and Afghanistan, private contractors have actually outnumbered U.S. military troops.) Consider the eclipse of public police forces by private security firms—especially in the U.S. and the U.K., where the number of private guards is almost twice the number of public police officers.

    Or consider the pharmaceutical companies’ aggressive marketing of prescription drugs directly to consumers, a practice now prevalent in the U.S. but prohibited in most other countries. (If you’ve ever seen the television commercials on the evening news, you could be forgiven for thinking that the greatest health crisis in the world is not malaria or river blindness or sleeping sickness but an epidemic of erectile dysfunction.)

    Consider too the reach of commercial advertising into public schools, from buses to corridors to cafeterias; the sale of “naming rights” to parks and civic spaces; the blurred boundaries, within journalism, between news and advertising, likely to blur further as newspapers and magazines struggle to survive; the marketing of “designer” eggs and sperm for assisted reproduction; the buying and selling, by companies and countries, of the right to pollute; a system of campaign finance in the U.S. that comes close to permitting the buying and selling of elections.

    These uses of markets to allocate health, education, public safety, national security, criminal justice, environmental protection, recreation, procreation, and other social goods were for the most part unheard-of 30 years ago. Today, we take them largely for granted.

    Why worry that we are moving toward a society in which everything is up for sale?

    For two reasons. One is about inequality, the other about corruption. First, consider inequality. In a society where everything is for sale, life is harder for those of modest means. The more money can buy, the more affluence—or the lack of it—matters. If the only advantage of affluence were the ability to afford yachts, sports cars, and fancy vacations, inequalities of income and wealth would matter less than they do today. But as money comes to buy more and more, the distribution of income and wealth looms larger.

    The second reason we should hesitate to put everything up for sale is more difficult to describe. It is not about inequality and fairness but about the corrosive tendency of markets. Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them. That’s because markets don’t only allocate goods; they express and promote certain attitudes toward the goods being exchanged. Paying kids to read books might get them to read more, but might also teach them to regard reading as a chore rather than a source of intrinsic satisfaction. Hiring foreign mercenaries to fight our wars might spare the lives of our citizens, but might also corrupt the meaning of citizenship.

    Economists often assume that markets are inert, that they do not affect the goods being exchanged. But this is untrue. Markets leave their mark. Sometimes, market values crowd out nonmarket values worth caring about.

    When we decide that certain goods may be bought and sold, we decide, at least implicitly, that it is appropriate to treat them as commodities, as instruments of profit and use. But not all goods are properly valued in this way. The most obvious example is human beings. Slavery was appalling because it treated human beings as a commodity, to be bought and sold at auction. Such treatment fails to value human beings as persons, worthy of dignity and respect; it sees them as instruments of gain and objects of use.

    Something similar can be said of other cherished goods and practices. We don’t allow children to be bought and sold, no matter how difficult the process of adoption can be or how willing impatient prospective parents might be. Even if the prospective buyers would treat the child responsibly, we worry that a market in children would express and promote the wrong way of valuing them. Children are properly regarded not as consumer goods but as beings worthy of love and care. Or consider the rights and obligations of citizenship. If you are called to jury duty, you can’t hire a substitute to take your place. Nor do we allow citizens to sell their votes, even though others might be eager to buy them. Why not? Because we believe that civic duties are not private property but public responsibilities. To outsource them is to demean them, to value them in the wrong way.

    These examples illustrate a broader point: some of the good things in life are degraded if turned into commodities. So to decide where the market belongs, and where it should be kept at a distance, we have to decide how to value the goods in question—health, education, family life, nature, art, civic duties, and so on. These are moral and political questions, not merely economic ones. To resolve them, we have to debate, case by case, the moral meaning of these goods, and the proper way of valuing them.

    This is a debate we didn’t have during the era of market triumphalism. As a result, without quite realizing it—without ever deciding to do so—we drifted from having a market economy to being a market society.

    The difference is this: A market economy is a tool—a valuable and effective tool—for organizing productive activity. A market society is a way of life in which market values seep into every aspect of human endeavor. It’s a place where social relations are made over in the image of the market.

    The great missing debate in contemporary politics is about the role and reach of markets. Do we want a market economy, or a market society? What role should markets play in public life and personal relations? How can we decide which goods should be bought and sold, and which should be governed by nonmarket values? Where should money’s writ not run?

    Even if you agree that we need to grapple with big questions about the morality of markets, you might doubt that our public discourse is up to the task. It’s a legitimate worry. At a time when political argument consists mainly of shouting matches on cable television, partisan vitriol on talk radio, and ideological food fights on the floor of Congress, it’s hard to imagine a reasoned public debate about such controversial moral questions as the right way to value procreation, children, education, health, the environment, citizenship, and other goods. I believe such a debate is possible, but only if we are willing to broaden the terms of our public discourse and grapple more explicitly with competing notions of the good life.

    In hopes of avoiding sectarian strife, we often insist that citizens leave their moral and spiritual convictions behind when they enter the public square. But the reluctance to admit arguments about the good life into politics has had an unanticipated consequence. It has helped prepare the way for market triumphalism, and for the continuing hold of market reasoning.

    In its own way, market reasoning also empties public life of moral argument. Part of the appeal of markets is that they don’t pass judgment on the preferences they satisfy. They don’t ask whether some ways of valuing goods are higher, or worthier, than others. If someone is willing to pay for sex, or a kidney, and a consenting adult is willing to sell, the only question the economist asks is “How much?” Markets don’t wag fingers. They don’t discriminate between worthy preferences and unworthy ones. Each party to a deal decides for him- or herself what value to place on the things being exchanged.

    This nonjudgmental stance toward values lies at the heart of market reasoning, and explains much of its appeal. But our reluctance to engage in moral and spiritual argument, together with our embrace of markets, has exacted a heavy price: it has drained public discourse of moral and civic energy, and contributed to the technocratic, managerial politics afflicting many societies today.

    A debate about the moral limits of markets would enable us to decide, as a society, where markets serve the public good and where they do not belong. Thinking through the appropriate place of markets requires that we reason together, in public, about the right way to value the social goods we prize. It would be folly to expect that a more morally robust public discourse, even at its best, would lead to agreement on every contested question. But it would make for a healthier public life. And it would make us more aware of the price we pay for living in a society where everything is up for sale.

    Further reading (if you want it) here, in his original lecture on the subject.

    PENCIL presents: The Scenic Route, a life in the day of the SLS AMG Gullwing

    So for the last few months I’ve been working hard with my lovely sister Jen and the PENCIL gang on The Scenic Route, a short film that shows a day in the life of the SLS AMG Gullwing. It was such fun to do – a real family and friends project. It has some great cameos and beautiful music. We’re really happy with it and proud of it. Share it with your friends!

    The concept of the film was born after creative siblings Jack and Jenny Dyson took the Gullwing for a spin and fell madly in love with the car. Rather than give it the usual petrolhead spin, complete with smoking tyre marks and skidding noises, the duo turn it into a character with a beating heart, a roving eye and an ability to bring the world to its bonnet
    without ever turning the ignition.

    Directed by Nick Jones with cinematography by top car man Tim Green and sets illustrated by Emma Rios, the film features a cameo appearance by British star of the silver screen Emilia Fox, as well as other PENCIL friends and family.

    The incredible Serpent Twins at Burning Man

    Saw this wonderful post by David Pescovitz on Boing Boing. He’s found Jon Sarriugarte and Kyrsten Mate’s “Twin Serpents” – Jormungand (Midgard) and Julunggul. Brilliantly fun and very inspiring. Imagine seeing them worm their way over the desert flats at Burning Man, lights blazing and flashing in the pre-dawn light…*sigh*

    Suffice to say, I want to take them for a spin. Now I’m going to see what else Sarriugarte’s been making…(take a peek at his Snail Art Car, you won’t be disappointed)

    Above is video of the incredible Serpent Twins, two slithering vehicles created by the incredibly talented maker couple Jon Sarriugarte and Kyrsten Mate. You may recall that Jon and Kyrsten are the creators of such exquisite biomechanical transports as the Golden Mean snail car that I wrote about in MAKE here and the zippy Electrobyte trilobite car. The Serpent Twins are in the running for the Boca Bearings 2012 Innovation Competition grand prize of $10,000 that will be awarded to the best “innovative mechanical project that utilizes ball bearings, roller bearings, linear bearings or any form of full ceramic or ceramic hybrid bearings anywhere in the application.” Jon and Kyrsten say that if they win they’ll use the prize money to “buy a stacker trailer to transport our beasts to events like Maker Faire, schools, and festivals to inspire the next generation of artists, engineers and makers.” All I can say is that they have my vote.

    Vote for The Serpent Twins

    More about the The Serpent Twins

    C’était un Rendez-vous

    Put on some headphones, hit full-screen and press play.

    The guy. Does not. Stop. (until 8.00)

    Shot in a single take, this is a classic example of cinéma-vérité. The length of the film was limited by the short capacity of the 1000 foot 35mm film reel, and filmed from a (supposedly) gyro-stabilised camera mounted on the bumper of a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9.

    It’s amazing to look at the other cars as the driver passes them. And the streets are so empty (probably as much because of the time of day it was filmed at.

    Also a big fan of the fact that the Google-ad on it is for “speeding offence lawyers” and laser eye surgery.

    Thanks Ed!