thomas locke hobbs | weblog
travel, latin america, photography, urban planning and stuff.
...and now my New York chronicles

April 30, 2001  
No I do not want to receive your catalog

Organized Living, this great store of everything storage related, has this annoying practice. Each time I'm at the cash register they ask me for me last name, zip code, and if I want to receive their catalog. I just want to pay. I don't want their catalog. I'm weary of what they need my zip code for.

Their checkout experience is like some badly designed ecommerce site. It's scary that these things are now invading our everyday interactions with people. The salespeople are simply acting out an algorithm cooked up by their marketing department to increase their direct mail yields and get customer data. I'm not talking to a person but an organic front-end to some customer relation management system.

Alan Cooper, interaction designer and author of "The Inmates are Running the Asylum" has an essay about software's creep into every aspect of business communication:

The human warmth and flexibility is missing... Only the unbending demands and imperious commands of the software remain to impress your customer with your personality.
Unfortunately the essay doesn't really offer any solutions aside from touting the importance of Cooper's design firm for business people face with implementing technology in their business processes.

Obviously Organized Living has got it wrong.
posted by Thomas

The Palo Alto Daily News does not post their articles online: We want you to go out and pick up our newspaper each day.
posted by Thomas

Diane thought you might have erectile dysfunction

This was the subject line of a spam I got in my mailbox today. Diane is the name of my aunt, who's staying with us at the moment. Very strange, but I did click through...
posted by Thomas

April 28, 2001  
Strom Thurmond, 98 Year old senator and other aspects of the rather geriatric US Senate (NY Times Magazine):

Offering excellent health care, the stimulating presence of young people, a range of activities from simple to complex and relevancy, the Senate is the most effective nursing home in the world, which no doubt helps explain why Thurmond has lived so long.

posted by Thomas

April 27, 2001  

Once long ago, I instructed Yahoo to make my mail interface be British English instead of my native American. I felt this might be more urbane and sophistocated. I can't say I've noticed any differncence...aside from the banner ads, that is. Despite my being in California, I'm enticed with such ads for Yahoo auctions making oblique references to Fergie and an odd ad directing me to silicon.fr with an older man scanning a headline which reads, "Rechat de Lotus par IBM".
posted by Thomas

April 19, 2001  
Ayn Rand Comes to Somalia. Atlantic Monthly. In the absence of government bureaucracy and foreign aid, business is starting to boom.
posted by Thomas

El Salvador's Dollarization Problems. Atlantic Monthly.

for the average Salvadoran getting duped by a bogus twenty would mean losing half a week's wages. It soon became impossible to find any business that would accept bills larger than a twenty.
Other problems: coins lack numbers, American bills are the same size and color, not easy to distinguish if you're illiterate, awkard 8.75 colon to dollar conversion ratio.
posted by Thomas

April 18, 2001  

From my recent trip, I've posted the following travelogues on their own separate pages;

Of course, there is also my classic report, from an earlier trip, of a bolivian prison tour
posted by Thomas

April 17, 2001  
Lars Pinds' photo gallery. New York Street Scenes.

Also author of several user interface rants about NYC Subway's metrocard system.
posted by Thomas

Arena Rock vs. Raves. San Jose Metro.

At Ultra Fest, I felt like I was at a young, hip, communal gathering, akin in some ways to Woodstock or Lollapalooza. At U2, I felt distinctly as if I were my parents going to see Neil Diamond or Wayne Newton, but it wasn't so much the band's fault as history's.
About rock concerts' evolution from youthful bachanalia to middle age affluence. It's not just ticket prices, but that's part of the story.
posted by Thomas

April 16, 2001  

"What Wilson had apparently done was go out into the countryside and film a single long shot of a distant mountain stream. The camera started in tight, through a telephoto zoom lens, the stream and som overhanging trees filling the frame. Over the next thirteen minutes the camera pulled back, infintesimally slowly, until by the end the lens probably took in the entire wide horizon, with the original stream and trees a tiny, indistinguishable speck in the middle of the image. Back in the lab, however, over what must have been a period of many months maniacally hunched over the optical printer, David recut every single frame back to the original composition of stream and tree, blowing the image up as much as was necessary to fill the screen. The effect, in the finished version of the film, was to watch as this very crisp, clear, substantive image slowly, indefinably dematerialized into pure light and grain--and it was mesmerizing."

pg. 47-48, "Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder"

About the early film making career of David Wilson, founder of The Museum of Jurassic Technology
posted by Thomas

HotorNot.com, the inside story. WebTechniques. A gripping read (seriously) about sever balancing, database bottlenecks and exponential growth.
posted by Thomas

April 15, 2001  
Wall St. Greed. New York Times

Of course, investment banks that took these underperforming companies public may not care. They bagged enormous fees, a total of more than $600 million directly related to initial offerings involving just the companies whose stocks are now under $1.

posted by Thomas

April 12, 2001  
Freeways Never Built

A photograph showing the proposed route of the Embarcadero Freeway that was to have connected the Bay Bridge with the Golden Gate. They only built about a third of it and tore it down after the '89 earthquake. Everyone always hated it. Still, I feel a certain romance for freeways never constructed (call me weird). Somewhere out there is a map showing the half-dozen or so freeways that were meant to eventually criss-cross San Francisco.
posted by Thomas

April 11, 2001  
Trolley Busses in Curitiba, Brazil

The links below on subways and LA Trolley's reminded me of the innovative system of trolley busses in Curitiba, Brazil. They are busses but designed like a subway: bigger size, reserved lanes, "stations" or tubes where people wait for their bus. The lines run faster because they aren't stuck in traffic and board and unload passengers much faster too. Finally they cost a tenth or less of digging new subway lines. The image below is from a good page on Bus Rapid Transit, which explains the concept in more detail.

Bi-articulated Bus from Curitiba

Of course, Curitiba also did a very smart thing of planning high density development around the bus lines so there are lots of people close by to use them. Alas, I missed Curitiba on my last visit to Brazil. I have however ridden on Quito, Ecuador's "TroleBus". The experience is sublime compared to hectic and careening city buses. They're too successful, in fact. They get so crowded you have to watch your stuff. I got my sunglasses stolen on one of the rides.

...Public Transit in Silicon Valley

Santa Clara County (where I live) is proposing to implement rapid service on Line 22, which traverses El Camino, altho the document doesn't go into specifics on what parts of the Curitiba plan they will implement. This sounds neat and would be a welcome departure from costly light-rail and BART extensions which no-one uses.

Unfortunately the south bay lacks the density to really make any public transit a success--bus, light-rail, or BART. There is talk of making more transit villages but the current ones are kind of pathetic. "Density" in these cases are tightly packed two and three story town houses, a far cry from the 20 story apartment high-rises that line the major avenues of Buenos Aires for miles from the center.

Public transit in most of California, and certainly in Santa Clara County, exists primarily to transport those who are too poor, too young, too old, or too crazy to drive. These clusters of cute, yuppie condos are totally ancillary to public transit. The people who need the transit can't afford to live in them and the people who do work in landscaped office parks which will forever be just beyond the reach of effective public transport. Alas, nobody seems to have the balls to build the kind of density Silicon Valley needs. We all are still stuck in the pipe dream that we live in the middle of cherry orchards.
posted by Thomas

April 10, 2001  
1910 map of Los Angeles trolley network from a short history of LA's redcars.
posted by Thomas

Subways of South America

Buenos Aires: A beautiful old subway. First line built in 1913 and the last one in 1937. Line A still has wood cars from the 1920s, called "the rattler". The stations have wonderful, corroding tilework. I've got some pictures of it on my web page. The subway map is quite un-abstract. The system is simple and the map makes it easy to cross-reference with bus maps and actual street directions.

Santiago, Chile: A clean, quiet system with trains running on those pneumatic tires like Mexico City and Montreal. Just three lines; 1, 2, and 5. Lines 3 and 4 were Allende supporters and mysteriously disappeared after the coup in '73. Nobody really talks about it. Like the good boys in Chicago told them to, they use variable pricing for rush hours

Sao Paulo: The World Bank Flexes it's muscles. Like everything in Brazil, it is attempted on a grand scale--if not quite realized. Massive, brutalist style stations and sleek silver trains. The passageways and escalators are ingeniously laid out to speed people movement, as opposed to the antiquated and bottleneck prone layout of Buenos Aires. They need about six more lines for the city of 22 million

Rio de Janeiro: Finally open all the way to Copacabana

Caracas, Venezuela: Oil Money's legacy. Clean stations and air-conditioned cars!!! Really a wonderful exception in this city quickly going to hell in a handbasket under Chavez. Viva la Revolucion!

Lima, Peru:Under construction since the 1980s and still not open. Not that it will go anywhere useful when it does. The map is unofficial and is interesting as it super-imposes the soon-to-open line with the 60 year-old trolley lines, long ago torn up in the name of progress.

Montevideo, Uruguay has an unused tunnel from an aborted attempt to build a subway in the 1930s.

Medellin, Colombia has an elevated railway. Odd that they should have a metro while Bogota, a much bigger city doesn't. Drug money, anyone?

Salvador, Bahia, I think, is building a subway. Recife has a single, pathetic line that follows some old rail tracks thru slums and away from any areas of importance.

All of this I posted to a thread on blogvoices on subway maps linked to from Kottke's weblog
posted by Thomas

April 08, 2001  
In my Dad's office one of his co-workers has hung these beautiful prints done with a large format camera taken by a co-worker. He's got an excellent information page about large format photography and is the moderator for photo.net's large Format photography forum.
posted by Thomas

Omnivore, Slate's good, webloggish attempt to compete with Ars & Letters Daily.
posted by Thomas

April 07, 2001  
Escorts in Silicon Valley. New York Times Magazine. ...being Silicon Valley, the sexually inexperienced geek is also a big target market for both straight and gay providers...Mandy says she gets so many calls from men at the name-brand Silicon Valley companies that she instantly recognizes their phone prefixes.
posted by Thomas

Squatters in Sao Paulo. New York Times.

Two previous municipal governments, in contrast, emphasized building large apartment complexes alongside existing favelas. But that form of mass public housing, known as Singapores, because the inspiration came from a mayor's visit there, was available to just a few families and quickly became unpopular because crime groups came to dominate the buildings.

"Once you move into one of those Singapores, you become a hostage to the drug traffickers, not to mention that you have pay rent for as long as you are there without gaining any ownership rights whatsoever," Mr. dos Santos said. "A lot of people have moved back into the favelas, because at least there you are the owner of something."

posted by Thomas

April 05, 2001  
Bolivian Art Museum

In La Paz along the main drag, El Prado, there is this beautiful old house that advertises itself as the Bolivian Museum of Contemporary Art. I went in, paid my $2 and saw the collection. Basically the place is this old family's house and their private collection of three or four painters. I was unimpressed and said so in their guest book. On a whim I left my email address. A couple of days later, this little missive arrived for me in my inbox:


i just came from the museo de arte contemporaneo and i decided to take the time out of my day to tell you what an arrogant jerk off you are. im sure you are probably well aware of this problem as are others around you. i thought you must lead a pretty miserable existence to have to write the crappy stuff that you wrote in the log at the museum. im also sure that the reason you left your e-mail address was that so someone like me would write you an e-mail and then you could blow hard about what you know about contemporary art and how gauche you thought the remingtons were on the third floor. why can´t you accept it for what it is and just go on about your business. what good does your snobby complaint, written in english no less, do for anyone?

the part that really irked me was your pathetic whining about paying 10bs to see the exhibit. you probably waste that much every time you answer your staged phone calls in your trendy little cafes so that you can impress everyone around you when you complain that you ¨can´t go anywhere with out being contacted.¨ im willing to bet that you went all around bolivia getting your shoes shined so that you would have someone to look down on. please get over yourself and quit boring the rest of us. the only good part is that you are named thomas hobbs, which i found amusing since your namesake philosopher (although spelled one letter differently) and you share the same bleak view of other people. oh, and please don´t degrade yourself any further by replying and trying to explain to me hobbes´ motivation for writing the leviathan. i feel sure that would be your next move.

posted by Thomas

I just discovered Glenn Fleischman's Weblog, a columnist for the Seattle Times and owner of book comparison engine, isbn.nu. Really great blog. Long interesting pieces almost every day.
posted by Thomas

Charities don't want dot-com furniture. Mercury News. A guy came out from Salvation Army and shook his head. `I go to three failed dot-coms a day and tell them I don't want their stuff.' '
posted by Thomas

Go to the archive

Send me email: hobbs@post.harvard.edu
Let me know what I've misspelled.

About me

My name's Thomas Locke Hobbs. I used to live in Argentina, now I am in New York City. I grew up in California. I'm a bit suspicious as the value of keeping a weblog, but I do it anyway. Go to my home page for more about me.

Weblogs I read:

Xblog, Virginia Postrel, Signal vs. Noise, Peterme, Obscure Store, Metafilter, Media News, Lonely Planet Daily Scoop, Lightningfield, Kottke, Joel on Software, Dan Bricklin, Camworld, Arts and Letters Daily,

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