February 2008 Archives

Suburbs: the new slums?

A thought-provoking article in the Atlantic Monthly. Some salient extracts:

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.


Demographic changes in the United States also are working against conventional suburban growth, and are likely to further weaken preferences for car-based suburban living. When the Baby Boomers were young, families with children made up more than half of all households; by 2000, they were only a third of households; and by 2025, they will be closer to a quarter. Young people are starting families later than earlier generations did, and having fewer children. The Boomers themselves are becoming empty-nesters, and many have voiced a preference for urban living. By 2025, the U.S. will contain about as many single-person households as families with children.


Despite this glum forecast for many swaths of suburbia, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture—the shift that’s under way toward walkable urban living is a healthy development. In the most literal sense, it may lead to better personal health and a slimmer population. The environment, of course, will also benefit: if New York City were its own state, it would be the most energy-efficient state in the union; most Manhattanites not only walk or take public transit to get around, they unintentionally share heat with their upstairs neighbors.

There's a lot more than what I've quoted above, though, so read the whole thing.

Barack Obama is your new bicycle

This month's current Internet meme: Barack Obama is your new bicycle. There's a roundup of it at Boing Boing (be sure to read the comments for further links), and here's what appears to be the origin story.

I love the 21st century

Cleodhna and I were talking about that company that will build secret doors into fake bookcases for your house, and how her friend Skarrn meant to have a secret door built into his house when it was being built, but forgot when he was away in Brazil, and so did his dad. (Skarrn met his wife in Brazil, so it wasn't a total loss.)

"I wonder what Skarrn's up to these days?" wondered Cleodhna, followed quickly with "I bet there's only one Skarrn Ryvnine in the world" (like Cleodhna, Skarrn changed his name when he was at Brattleboro), and then a quick Google search. She started clicking around, and at one point needed to remember what year she graduated, so she could chase up Skarrn.

"I could go try and find my diploma but I don't know where it is," she said. So she googled "Cleodhna Nightshade Marlboro" and the first entry told her when she graduated.

Could you have done any of these things ten years ago?

I've been playing Peggle too long

I've been playing Peggle a fair bit recently. It's a Breakout-like game where you need to get rid of a bunch of pegs on a board, and you fire the ball yourself from the top, so managing to keep the ball pinging around the top and scoring points is really important.

One of the things you really don't want to see is the ball hitting a peg fairly high up on the screen, then pinging across and down into oblivion.

Unfortunately, as a side-effect of the brain being good at learning, I'm getting that "Gah! No, don't aim it that way" response when looking at completely non-Peggle things. Like the email I'm currently writing to our French solicitors.

Music critics: please know about music

I would have downloaded Radiohead's In Rainbows when it came out as a download-only thing, if they'd let me download a CD-quality download. As it was, the choice was between a fairly low-res MP3, and a download, a CD and a bunch of vinyl records I'd never play. So I waited until it came out on CD, and then waited until my next Amazon order was due; the CD came in today, I ripped it, and I've been pretty much solidly listening to it ever since.

One of the things I like to do in situations like this is go look for reviews, so I can read what other people have thought about it. And I stumbled across The Onion's review (note: this is their audio/visual part, which is serious and not a parody site). And I saw the following:

This is still the Radiohead that finds straight-ahead pop structures gauche or just plain tired, even though those structures made the group famous, from "Creep" through "Paranoid Android."

Sorry? Paranoid Android, a straight-ahead pop structure? This is a 6 and a half minute song that obeys an apparent pop structure for all of just over 2 minutes (guitar intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, apparent middle 8), then goes into 7:4, back into 4:4, then back into 7:4 repeatedly (including the guitar solo), for about a minute and a half, before slowing down and introducing effectively another set of verses for another two minutes, before reprising the 4:4 / 7:4 switch in the last minute.

This is as bad as the reviewer who complained that Sting wasn't writing any of his timeless catchy songs any more, like Fields of Gold, a mere 4 years (and one album) after he wrote, er, Fields of Gold. Or every single review of Tori Amos's second album that I read at the time, none of which mentioned that it was mostly solo piano.

(I can't find the Q magazine review of said album, because Q have decided that they're in the business of selling back issues through the post, not letting random Internet browsers know that Q write well-informed reviews of pretty much everything, and as such redesigned their website a while ago and removed all reviews. You can't even pay them money to get access to their review database. Madness!)

So far, incidentally, I'm impressed. I have yet to listen to it enough to remember it well enough to pay attention to the details, but it sounds like a very good continuation of their attempt to blend their OK Computer sound and the Kid A / Amnesiac sound. (Bear in mind that I think that Creep is lack-lustre at most, and think there's only good song on The Bends, being Street Spirit (Fade Out).)

Neil Gaiman talks about Cthulhu

I was pseudo-randomly clicking around, and found this bit of Neil Gaiman talking about Cthulhu:

It is most excellent. You should watch it. You should also download (the 5.1MB PDF of) A Study in Emerald, which is the Sherlock Holmes story A Study In Scarlet set in a Cthulhu Victorian world.

Name the two Hobbit films

Yes, two.

Making Light's excellent commenters have far too many good ideas that I could possibly quote in a simple blog entry, so just go there and marvel.

My favourite is "Eat, Drink, Hobbit, Hobbit", although a double-bill of "The Hobbit: There" and "The Hobbit: Back Again" sounds promising.

When I looked, they were up to comment #41. I expect them to hit comment #100 - without losing any degree of quality, or being trolled by Ron Paul supporters - within an eye-blink.