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

May 31, 2001  
Payola alive and well. LA Times. Documents the links between record labels and payments to independent promoters to get songs on the air.

Payola is against the law if it's not disclosed but I don't see why it should be. Call me a libertarian, but what business is it of the government? Since the rise of television, radio has basically been a promotional tool to drive record sales. Why not make the link that much more explicit? I can see a new station; all payola, all the time. On the upside they might even have less commercials.
posted by Thomas

Photos of Brazil, from my travels there in December and January.

posted by Thomas

May 30, 2001  
Indigenous Peoples + Potato Chips = New World Syndrome

Indigenous peoples in many places in the world have adapted over the milenia to frequent droughts and famines. They tend to have genes that are very good at storing fat. Along comes affluence, television, and junk food. Suddenly problems like diabetes, obesity, and a whole host of other problems crop up. The current issue of The Atlantic has an article about new world syndrom amongst Micronesians. A couple of years ago Malcolm Gladwell had a very similar article for the New Yorker about obesity in the Pima Tribe in Arizona. [the Gladwell article is the better of the two.]
posted by Thomas

May 29, 2001  
Absolute PowerPoint

The May 28th issue of the New Yorker has an excellent article about the corrupting effects of PowerPoint on business communication. The following passage, which I transcribed from the article, describes a really incredible experiement:

Last year, three researchers at Arizona State University, including Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology and the author of "Influence: Science and Practice," conducted an experiment in which they presented three groups of volunteers with information about Andrew, a fictional high-school student under consideration for a university football scholorship. One group was given Andrew's football statistics typed on a piece of paper. The second group was shown bar graphs. Those in the third group were given a PowerPoint presentation, in which animated bar graphs grew before their eyes.

Given Andrew's record, what kind of prospect was he? According to Cialdini, when Andrew was PowerPointed, viewers saw him as a greater potential asset to the football team. The first group rated Andrew four and a half on a scale of one to seven; the second rated him five; and the PowerPoint group rated him six. PowerPoint gave him power. The experiment was repeated, with three groups of sports fans that were accustomed to digesting sports statistics; this time, the first two groups gave Andrew the same rating. But the group that saw the PowerPoint presentation still couldn't resist it. Again, Andrew got a six. PowerPoint seems to be a way for organizations to turn expensive, expert decision-makers into novice decision-makers. "It's frightening," Cialdini says. He always preferred to use slides when he spoke to business groups, but one high-tech company recently hinted that his authority suffered as a result. "The said, 'You know what, Bob? You've got to get into PowerPoint, otherwise people aren't going to respond.' SO I made the transfer."

By the way, I highly recommend reading Cialdini's Influence. It's well written and has some great stories like this one above.
posted by Thomas

May 28, 2001  
Good backgrounder on Christopher Alexander. NY Times from last November. Alexander is the author of A Pattern Language, which is about architecture. The article discusses how this book, hated by many architects, has become very influential amongst programmers. Alexander is mostly known for his theory, but the article mentions some of his work for clients:

Despite his touchy-feely ethos, Mr. Alexander can be dictatorial. "He doesn't like you rejecting his ideas," Mr. Sullivan said. "There was a sense he wasn't working for us, he was working for the structure."
I found this pasage ironic because a big point of A Pattern Language is to help owners design their own dwellings and free themselves from the tyranny of artsy architects.
posted by Thomas

Internet as anti-corrpution tool in Latin America. Wired News. Basically they post public officials' assets online.
posted by Thomas

May 27, 2001  
Casio Wrist Cam: 30 Best Photos from 2000
posted by Thomas

Old Prostitutes, Law & Order

I love meaty feature articles in magazines. I also like it when writers put their work together on a website. I just stumbled on Austin Bunn's site. He does a lot of stuff for Brills Content, Salon, and the Village Voice. A couple of good articles on the site, one is on Old Prostitutes and was published in Nerve:

We have stats on how many men have had sex with animals (8 percent in the total population, 17 percent among rural boys) but no idea how many have lusted after their English teachers, their aunts or a classy, bossy "governess," a role that Nelly [a 69 year-old prostitute] considers her forte.
Another article on a new TV series by Dick Wolf had a few good insights on Law & Order, my favorite show:
To anyone who watches Law & Order, it's obvious we steal the headline but not the body copy. Ninety-seven percent of the crimes prosecuted in life don't have a moral mystery in the second half.

posted by Thomas

May 24, 2001  
An odd self portrait, underexposed, at night.
posted by Thomas

Sir John Templeton's Short-Sell Strategy. Forbes. Basically he instructed his broker to short highly valued tech stocks 11 days before the lock-out period ended and insiders start selling. Profits so far: $86 million
posted by Thomas

May 23, 2001  
Amazing Photo

From an Economist story on anti-corruption campaigns in Mexico. In their print edition they've left Kansas and entered the world of color. It's quite nice.
posted by Thomas

The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit. An amazing site with photos of 300-some industrial and commerical sites which now sit decaying in Detroit.

The best are the demolition pictures and videos (like the one above). Overall it seems like Detroit has a really fantastic collection of pre-war American architecture. The site almost makes me want to visit the city.
posted by Thomas

May 22, 2001  
Dear Friends, American Photographs of Men Together, 1840-1918.

A photography exhibit on 19th century "proto-gay", men-being-affectionate-in-a-Whitmanesque-way portraits. They're fascinating because many of these pictures aren't gay in the way we think of the word today. I've always regarded all that Queer Theory stuff about sexuality being a social construction with a grain of salt, but clearly these photos represent a vastly different era and culture.
posted by Thomas

May 21, 2001  
The Inside Story of Yahoo's Meltdown. Business Week. A blow by blow account of Yahoo's slide in market cap, revenue and profits.

Basically the article blames Yahoo for not taking advantage of their internet bubble valuation by buying a "real" company like Disney (a la AOL/Time Warner). The trouble with articles like this is they indulge in 20-20 hindsight. Successful strategies only prove themselves over the long-run. To be successful involves vision, business acumen, and plain good luck. This last factor is never accounted for by the business rags who always must find compelling dramas in the random fluctuations of capital markets (see any cover of Money Magazine).

Still, as concocted business dramas go, it's a good read--hubris, avarice, the fall from grace, the redemption, etc.
posted by Thomas

May 18, 2001  
Yeast-Matrix Toaster. Text Messages or Banner ads on your morning toast.
posted by Thomas

The Decline of Fashion Photography. An interesting Essay/Slide-show from Slate of all places.
posted by Thomas

Content is Not King.

Content certainly has all the glamor. What content does not have is money. ...The annual movie theater ticket sales in the U.S. are well under $10 billion. The telephone industry collects that much money every two weeks! Those "commodity pipelines" attract much more spending than the glamorous "content."
A long academic paper from First Monday. Link and quote lifted wholesale from Dan Bricklin's log who wrote a much shorter essay on the same topic called What People Pay For.
posted by Thomas

Street Studio. Portraits of New Yorkers. Taken on the street, outside, but against backdrops and with studio lighting. Fascinating potrait of a city's people, also a good website not too encumbered by "design".
posted by Thomas

The Quiet Success of Arena Football. SJ Merc.
posted by Thomas

May 16, 2001  
I'm reading How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand. It's a study of buildings through time and "What happens after they're built." It's really fantastic and the concepts apply not just to architecture, but anything that's built, really. Here are a couple of good quotes so far. First, on why famous architects design pretty but unusable buildings:

A major culprit is architectural photography, acoording to a group of Architecture Department faculty ..."You get work through getting awards, and the award system is based on photographs. Not use. Not context. Just purely visual photographs taken before people start using the building."
This second quote points the finger at the superstar of American architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright:
Frank Lloyd Wright's late-in-life triumph, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania...lives up to it's name with a plague of leaks; they have marred the windows and stone walls and deteriorated the structural concrete. To its original owner, Fallingwater was known as 'Rising Mildew,' and 'seven-bucket building.' It is indeed a gorgeous and influential house, but unlivable. For its leaks there can be no excuse.

posted by Thomas

May 12, 2001  
Ayn Rand and Energy Conservation

Not surprisingly the Objectivist institute in Los Angeles has an interesting response to calls for energy conservation (LA Times):

Expecting the American people to lower their standard of living is an immoral idea.
Reason magazine has a whole section of articles on the California Energy Crisis, which, as opposed to most publications, is remarkable for the clarity of it's analysis.

Of course the entire consumer electricity system is designed to foster overconsumption. It's transparent. On a day to day basis you have no idea how much electricity you are consuming. This made sense when it was all regulated, steady and predictable.

Now imagine if every household had a big red meter in their kitchen which showed their realtime watts usage and their cost. This alone would make people conserve more than any public service ad. People could see an instant feedback between their actions and their electricty bill. The effect would be even more powerful if electricity was priced variably throughout the day, according to it's true cost (expensive in the afternoon, dirt cheap at 3am). You'd probably find people going so far as to turn off their refrigerators at peak times. Presto! No spikes in demand, no rolling blackouts, no gouging generators.
posted by Thomas

Ephemeral Links as Business Strategy

I hate the New Yorker's website. The text is hard to read, the menus are unhelpful, the layout cumerbsome. Worst of all, the little content they make available is only up while each issue is current. You'll never see me linking to any of their articles because what's at /TALK_OF_THE_TOWN this week will be different next (They have such graceful URL's too.). Tim Berners-Lee is surely rolling in his grave.

Still, there are two curious facts: 1) I subscribe to the magazine. 2) I go to the website all the time. I subscribe because they average about one excellent article per issue and it's worth the $0.85 I spend not to have to sit on a cramped bench at my local Barnes & Nobel to read it each week. I visit the website constantly to read whatever archival article has been briefly made available and to grab the text of good articles to mail to friends.

Their website exists to further their business goals, not for my convenience. Take for example The Atlantic Monthly's website: it's smartly designed, has permanent links, and puts the whole magazine's content online. Not only do I not subscribe to The Atlantic, I only visit the website occasionally, comfortable in my knowledge that their articles aren't going anywhere.

Oh well. Such is the state of the post-bubble web content world. Btw, check out Modern Humorist's New Yorker website parody. Much better than the real thing.
posted by Thomas

May 11, 2001  
The Slap of Love. An old profile piece on Angie Xtravaganza, the late head of the House of Xtravaganza, featured in the documentary Paris is Burning

...the Xtravaganzas are as serious about apparel and presentation as the De Beers family is about diamonds

Though drag hasn’t exactly become a middle-American value, it’s come a long way since 1980, when Madonna was just another easy girl from Detroit and most gay men wore mustaches and polo shirts.

The piece was written by Michael Cunningham, author of "The Hours" (Review), which one the Pulitzer in 1999 and is one of my favorite novels. Recently I read his earlier novels, "A Home at the End of the World" (Review) and "Flesh and Blood" (Review). Good altho depressing even beyond your typical Nick Drake album.
posted by Thomas

My favorite quote from "Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolfe: 'She always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.'
posted by Thomas

The Pontiac Aztek.

The Aztek is just Pontiac doing what they do best: Taking someone else's idea, adding lots of plastic, executing poorly, and going way too far.
From Dack's Suck List 2001.
posted by Thomas

May 07, 2001  
Russian Color Photography. From 1910. Beautiful
posted by Thomas


This week's NY Times Magazine is a special issue about curious diseases around the world. It's sensationalistic, but in a typical intellectual way.

One article is about sufferers of chronic dizziness. It's about unremarkable people who one day start feeling dizzy and just don't regain their balance again. It's debilitating. This article really affected me, somehow. It seems like such a vicious, capricious malady. It also is such a metaphorical way to get sick.

Also fascinating are articles about an Italian family that suffers from fatal insomnia and one about "cultural" illnesses
posted by Thomas

May 04, 2001  
Aparently I am an inovative and revolutionary garden designer, and author of a book.
posted by Thomas

Good Ones from The Atlantic

I recently read a couple of old, but excellent feature articles from The Atlantic Monthly. From Jan. of 2001 is an article how computers are revolutionizing the oil industry. It's about hot seemingly small but interlocking developments in technology drive productivity growth. I came across the article from a link on Virginia Postrel's excellent weblog.

Published in The Best American Science Writing 2000, is a great article from Feb. 1999 on the new germ theory about a couple of biologists who theorize that common ailments like cancer, heart-attacks, even depression are infectious diseases.
posted by Thomas

Ronnie Biggs wants a Pint. NY Times:

After more than 35 years as a fugitive and celebrity in Rio de Janeiro, Ronnie Biggs, a member of the gang that stole £2.6 million in the "Great Train Robbery" in 1963, wants to return to Britain, even if it means he will face criminal charges there. Now 71 and in poor health, Mr. Biggs sent an e-mail message to Scotland Yard saying he is willing to surrender, and told a London newspaper that "my last wish is to walk into a Margate pub as an Englishman and buy a pint of bitter."

posted by Thomas

May 02, 2001  
Edward Tufte Sculpture, only $200,000 (postage paid!). Add it to your shopping cart today.
posted by Thomas

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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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