Tag Archive for 'noteworthy'

A 3rd Climber

Peel

Work­men remove a flyer left behind by David Mal­one, who climbed the New York Times Build­ing sev­eral hours before.

For the third time in five weeks, some­one has scaled the out­side of The New York Times Head­quar­ters. This time, how­ever, it was over and done before most of us got out of bed:

Unlike the two pre­vi­ous climbers, this one — iden­ti­fied later as David Mal­one, a 29-year-old activist from West Hart­ford, Conn., who stud­ies Al Qaeda — did not attempt to make his way to the roof. Instead, he unfurled a ban­ner around the fifth floor of the 52-story build­ing, before climb­ing a few more stories.

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Alain Robert, climbing the New York Times Building

Never a dull moment here at the Times… Today, we wit­nessed Alain Robert climb the New York Times Build­ing on 8th Avenue fac­ing 41st street. I took this with my iPhone on the 21st floor:

Alain Robert

He scaled up the ceramic rods that are affixed to the out­side of the build­ing, attract­ing hun­dreds of onlook­ers inside the build­ing, as well as down the street.

City Room has more about Alain and this stunt, includ­ing the news that he was arrested by NYPD after reach­ing the roof – 52 floors up from the street.

Con­tinue read­ing ‘Alain Robert, climb­ing the New York Times Building’

The Island at the Center of the World

The Iowa Cau­cus results last night got me think­ing about the many com­pet­ing polit­i­cal cul­tures present through­out Amer­i­can his­tory. Indi­vid­u­al­ist vs. com­mu­ni­tar­ian, rich vs. poor, urban vs. rural… but, at the core of our national psy­che is this ten­sion between the lofty ideals set forth by the Founders, and our attempts and fail­ings to live up to them. For every shin­ing exam­ple of Lin­coln, FDR, and Mar­tin Luther King Jr., there are gen­er­a­tions of back-sliders who prey upon fear in order to gain polit­i­cal advan­tage. Sure, to every­thing there is a sea­son, but I’m glad to see that the vot­ers in Iowa embraced hope and rejected cyn­i­cism, on both sides of the polit­i­cal spec­trum.

The Island at the Center of the WorldHis­tory is writ­ten by the win­ners, which is why Amer­i­cans tend to think of our colo­nial past and demo­c­ra­tic begin­nings as built upon and in reac­tion to Eng­lish insti­tu­tions alone – but the story is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated. It’s not often that I do book reviews, but I just fin­ished re-reading The Island at the Cen­ter of the World, The Epic Story of Dutch Man­hat­tan and the For­got­ten Colony that Shaped Amer­ica [excerpt] by jour­nal­ist his­to­rian Rus­sell Shorto, and wanted to rec­om­mend it to any­one look­ing for some inter­est­ing read­ing on the ori­gins of this country.

The tra­di­tional telling of colo­nial Amer­ica focuses almost exclu­sively on the Eng­lish colonies in Vir­ginia and New Eng­land. But, Shorto reminds us that the Dutch were the first Euro­peans to set­tle the island of Man­hat­tan, and built some of the most last­ing ideals and insti­tu­tions into the fab­ric of Amer­i­can polit­i­cal and cul­tural life.

Con­tinue read­ing ‘The Island at the Cen­ter of the World’

Google Maps: Boston Street View

It was announced yes­ter­day that Google Maps’ Street View comes to more cities, includ­ing Boston. So nat­u­rally, I looked up our pre­vi­ous apart­ment in Cam­bridge, MA. The weird thing is that myself, and our friends/upstairs neigh­bors Tyler and Sarah are pictured!

Creepier!

We’re hav­ing our mov­ing sale, and that’s my Saab in the fore­ground. I can prob­a­bly peg the date taken to August 11th or 12th, 2007 – the week­end before we moved.

Click the photo to see notes, look at it big, or check it out on Google Maps your­self. I am a lit­tle creeped out.

Con­tinue read­ing ‘Google Maps: Boston Street View’

Two essential iPhoto Plugins

There are two iPhoto plu­g­ins that I couldn’t live with­out – Flick­r­Ex­port, and Key­word Man­ager.

Flick­r­Ex­port

If you like pho­tos, Flickr, and OS X, and don’t know about Flick­r­Ex­port, then shame on you. It’s a nice lit­tle plu­gin that will let you eas­ily export pho­tos from iPhoto to Flickr. It con­verts your assigned iPhoto key­words to Flickr tags, enables you to add titles and descrip­tions, and choose to either add the pho­tos to a new set, an exist­ing set, or none at all – all within the dia­log window.

The one rub is that it is made by an inde­pen­dent devel­oper, Fraser Speirs, who has to feed his fam­ily – so, he charges about $25. A nom­i­nal price for some­thing that has saved me hun­dreds of hours, and enriched my Flickr experience.

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TiVo HD and Copy Protection

Why do I pay money for this?I am an avid hockey fan, since I was a kid grow­ing up in Buf­falo. I love watch­ing the game, and I espe­cially love watch­ing my home­town team, the Sabres. For the past 2 years, I’ve forked over $150 to sub­scribe to the NHL Cen­ter Ice cable pack­age, so that I can watch every game of the sea­son. With our TiVo, I can record each game, and watch it when­ever I have time.

That is, I did, until this sea­son started. We recently upgraded our TiVo unit from an old Direc­TiVo, to the new Series 3 TiVo HD, which appar­ently imple­ments unnat­u­rally strict copy pro­tec­tion on pre­mium con­tent. Because the new unit uti­lizes Cable­Cards, TiVo has dif­fer­ent rules for these TiVos as com­pared to Series 2 units, accord­ing to their sup­port page:

Since the Series3 and TiVo HD are DCR devices, in addi­tion to the Macro­vi­sion rules for ana­log con­tent, they must also com­ply with the con­tent pro­tec­tion poli­cies for Dig­i­tal Cable content.

What this means is that NHL Cen­ter Ice con­tent is copy pro­tected, and will be deleted within hours of the game’s com­ple­tion. Gone. Irretrievable.

Con­tinue read­ing ‘TiVo HD and Copy Protection’

A New Nedward.org

Today, I’m launch­ing ver­sion 6 of nedward.org, a typo­graph­i­cal grid-based lay­out, with heavy use of Hel­vetica Neue. This site has always used a sim­i­lar shade of green, so I wanted to main­tain that bit of con­sis­tency with the past, while intro­duc­ing some­thing very dif­fer­ent. I also wanted to bring together my con­tent from twit­ter, flickr, del.icio.us, and last.fm, while keep­ing it dis­tinct from the weblog con­tent – yea, I’ve gone back on my post is a post comments.

The last major revi­sion of this site was launched on May 1 2005, but even that was some­what of a realign­ment of the pre­vi­ous design, which dated back to 2001. I’m a big pro­po­nent of Cameron Moll’s realign not redesign rule – so I spent the past few years tin­ker­ing away, refin­ing the same basic layout.

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First Week in Carroll Gardens

We arrived last Wednes­day, and unpack­ing is an ongo­ing project. We sold, gave away, or threw out most of our “big stuff”, so this move is not only about a new space, but also a lot of new pur­chases. A lot of the stuff we got rid of was from our col­lege days, and had also already made it through our fire.

Room & Board sofaI’m most excited about our new sofa, which Lisa bought from Room & Board in SoHo. Thanks to Jason and Liz for tip­ping us off to this place – we loved every­thing we saw there. Their fur­ni­ture man­ages to be very mod­ern with­out look­ing uncom­fort­able or annoy­ing. (Of course, we real­ized later that we chose the same sofa as the Yovanoff-De Mase home… but hey, good taste is good taste, right?

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MTA Subway Map for iPhone

Since I bought my iPhone on June 30, I’ve been look­ing for an easy, high-quality method for view­ing the MTA Sub­way map. The phone’s built-in Photo appli­ca­tion “opti­mizes” all pho­tos and images down to a dimen­sion and res­o­lu­tion that doesn’t work well for images with lots of small text and details.

MTA Map

In search of the opti­mal iPhone MTA map.

What I wanted, was the abil­ity to view a PDF, or large PNG of the sys­tem map – and to be able to zoom in and drag it around eas­ily. Bill at iSubwayMaps.com out­lined one such solu­tion, which involved set­ting up a Yahoo! mail account, since IMAP mail accounts seemed to cache attach­ments locally on the iPhone. This did work for me, but I found the MTA’s PDF map slug­gish when zoom­ing or drag­ging around. And, I had to drill back through the Mail menus to get to my Yahoo mail account, (as I’m pri­mar­ily a Gmail user).

But, before I could go out and buy a old-fashioned paper pop-up map, another solu­tion pre­sented itself:

File­mark Maker gets around the lim­i­ta­tions out­lined above, by writ­ing files to a temp loca­tion on the device’s HD, by using Safari book­marklets. Then, the files are acces­si­ble in Mobile­Sa­fari. And, because the files are writ­ten to iPhone’s HD, the book­marklets work whether you’re online or not – or whether you’re above ground or not.

Here are the MTA Sub­way Maps that I used to make book­marklets using this tool:

Outlook 2007 & Gcal

I’m one of those stiffs who loves his Power­book, but is forced by neces­sity (and Cor­po­rate IT) to work in Win­dows XP and Out­look all day. Meet­ing requests come in and tasks are assigned, all using Out­look. How­ever, because I rely so much on Gmail in my per­sonal life, I store per­sonal events online with Google Cal­en­dar.

Every­thing works seam­lessly on my mac, as Apple’s iCal soft­ware allows sub­scrip­tions. But there is no way to get Out­look 2003 to sync or share data in the iCal­en­dar for­mat… in fact, I think that Out­look stores its infor­ma­tion in some Microsoft pro­pri­etary for­mat, by default. I think you can import/export ICS files, but there is no sub­scrip­tion or pub­lish method.

Gcal Subscribe

Gcal allows sub­scrip­tions to iCal­en­dar feeds

I shouldn’t for­get to men­tion the excel­lent open source project Remote­Cal­en­dars, which allows you to sub­scribe to iCal­en­dar feeds, with a bit of tweak­ing. But, this wasn’t quite what I craved – I wanted to not only sub­scribe to my Gcal cal­en­dar, but also allow Gcal to pick up my work appoint­ments. That way, I can get reminders of early meet­ings, etc., when I’m away from my work desk.

Out­look 2007 beta 2

Enter the new Office beta. Not only is this ver­sion the Bravest Soft­ware Upgrade Ever, it also added a lot of great func­tion­al­ity to Outlook.

Out of the box, you can sub­scribe to iCal­en­dar feeds, such as those pro­vided by Gcal, 30Boxes, or other online apps. More impres­sively, you can pub­lish your cal­en­dar to either your own Web­DAV server, or to Office Online directly. Then, you can sub­scribe to the pub­lished iCal­en­dar feed in any online cal­en­dars that sup­port the stan­dard. Out­look will peri­od­i­cally update the pub­lished file as you make adjust­ments or addi­tions to your calendar.

Publish to Internet

Out­look 2007’s Pub­lish to Inter­net feature

So, now I have access to both my per­sonal and work cal­en­dars at all times, no mat­ter where I am. (Hell, if I wanted to pay Cin­gu­lar for band­width, I could use Gcal­Sync to push every­thing to my RAZR.)

The only real caveat is that you have to pub­lish your Out­look cal­en­dar with “Unre­stricted Access”—because Microsoft uses their LiveID tech­nol­ogy to grant access on a per-user basis, and Gcal (or any other ser­vice) won’t be able to authen­ti­cate unless it’s pub­lic. I’m not sure how secure this is yet, but for the moment I’m too in love with this setup to let that bother me.

Another minor caveat – you’ll have to unin­stall Acro­bat 6, as it causes Out­look to crash a lot.

Other than that, it’s a pretty sta­ble beta.

Digg This

Tattoo

Tat­too”, posted by ned­ward

Presley’s new tat­too, done by Cus­tom Claire, of Fat Ram’s Pump­kin Tat­too, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

Steak Salad

steak saladI watched a bit of FoodTV on Sun­day, and suf­fered through Rachael Ray and her awful accent and man­ner­isms… I’ve never once wanted to eat any­thing she cooks, because she annoys me so much.

But after Rachael, a delight­ful woman came on, who I’ve never seen before: Giada De Lau­ren­tiis, and she appar­ently cooks Ital­ian. Sure, she’s hot, but the pro­duc­tion val­ues on this show are a lit­tle more mod­ern, (think Nigella), with nice light­ing and editing.

The show was so pleas­ant to watch, I ended up cook­ing her Steak Salad for Pres­ley and I last night. I went a lit­tle over­board on the Gor­gonzola, but I really love the creamy taste. And, you can never have too much cheese, right?

M-Beat Theme

mbeat.gifI’ve been look­ing for a good menu con­troller for iTunes, and it’s been a dif­fi­cult search. I tested many apps, includ­ing Quick­Tunes, You Con­trol Tunes, and Syn­ergy. Each has its rel­a­tive strengths and weak­nesses, but I just couldn’t get every­thing I wanted in one package:

  • Dis­play track info on the menubar

  • Unob­tru­sive design, that blends with my OS X theme

  • Global key­board shortcuts

  • Pop-up floater with track info and album art

  • Solid app, that doesn’t crash

In the end, I decided to go with The Lit­tle App Factory’s M-Beat, which sat­is­fies all of these require­ments, and includes sup­port for skin­ning themes.

This bit of cus­tomiza­tion was the clincher, because I wasn’t sat­is­fied with the way the default “look” inte­grated in my menu. So, I cre­ated a theme to match my Milk OS X theme:

mbeat2.gif

HP All-in-Ones with Airport Express

I neglected to men­tion in my post about installing the Air­port Express with a 3rd-Party router, (a Net­gear WGR614, in my case), that I still couldn’t print wire­lessly with the device. My HP PSC–750 All-in-One isn’t sup­ported… it makes sense that you wouldn’t be able to scan wire­lessly, but why couldn’t I print?

Well, after a few more hours of search­ing, I finally found a solu­tion, cour­tesy William Bod­die in the Apple discussions:

When queried for a printer, I selected “edit printer list” from the scroll down menu, clicked on “add” under the printer setup utility-> went to IP Printer -> Printer type “Ren­dezvous” -> Printer Address scrolled to “HP PSC 900 series” -> Printer Model “HP” ->model “HP PSC 950 Foot­matic” -> press “add.”

It worked, how­ever the AX is eas­ily the most frus­trat­ing Apple prod­uct I’ve encoun­tered… let’s hope that HP’s part­ner­ship with Apple to co-brand an HP iPod, will spurn HP to write bet­ter OS X printer dri­vers. My land­lord is an archi­tect, and he’s mad that his $2500 plot­ter was ren­dered use­less with his upgrade to 10.3…

UPDATE I neglected to men­tion that I am not using the bloated and shoddy dri­vers pro­vided by HP.

I would instead rec­om­mend the HPIJS Open-source dri­vers. These dri­vers allows print­ing “over any avail­able con­nec­tion such as USB, AppleTalk, TCP/IP (via LPD and IPP), HP Jet­Di­rect, and shared win­dows print­ers via SAMBA”. And, you don’t have to install the use­less extra HP appli­ca­tions, which are included with the dri­ver package.

Underground Man

After read­ing Dunstan’s humor­ous post on British rail, and the silly responses he received from Amer­i­cans and Ger­mans, I was reminded of an excel­lent arti­cle by William Finnegan in the New Yorker last week, Under­ground Man: Can the for­mer C.I.A. agent who saved New York’s sub­way get the Tube back on track?

After scour­ing the New Yorker web site and Google with­out luck, I decided it was worth scan­ning and post­ing the arti­cle. Sorry they’re jpgs… I prob­a­bly won’t leave it up very long (file size/bandwidth), unless some­one can sug­gest a way to extract the text of the article.

I’m your pub­lic library.

UPDATE 9/12/2005: I changed my direc­tory secu­rity a while back, so these arti­cles have not been linked. Here ya go:

Florida Keys and Miami

Causeway The Cause­way

I enjoyed going through my pho­tos of our Miami and the Florida Keys trip in early January.

These pho­tos, along with my trip jour­nal, will help me to always remem­ber it…

Con­tinue read­ing ‘Florida Keys and Miami’

Day 3: On to Key West

After break­fast as Magrove Mike’s in Islam­orada, we started head­ing west. We stopped briefly at the Bahia Honda State Park Beach for some sun and splash. I read, while Pres­ley napped.

Arriv­ing in Key West, we missed the Sun­set cel­e­bra­tion because I needed to find an Inter­net Cafe—my boss called me and told me that I had for­got­ten to sub­mit my timesheet, and if I would like to get paid, I had bet­ter do so. So, after the busi­ness was taken care of at the Sip­pin’ Cafe, we checked in the La Pen­sione Inn on Tru­man Ave. near Duvall Street. Appar­ently Harry S spent some time here.

Head­ing out onto Duvall Street should be an adven­ture, but we found most of the restu­ar­ants and bars to be lack­ing in patrons—maybe it’s the time of the year. After walk­ing around for what seemed like hours, we set­tled on Caroline’s Cafe for din­ner, because you could sit out­side and drink Mar­gar­i­tas and Coro­nas while watch­ing rev­el­ers on the street. God, there are so many old peo­ple here!

After down­ing a few drinks with din­ner, (I had the Mahi-Mahi cooked cajun style, Pres­ley had a whole cooked chicken, I kid you not), we decided to hit a few bars. There was the Irish bar, with the vil­lage drunks (and no females), and then there was the Karaoke bar next to Crabby Dicks, with Marie behind the bar, and Karaoke’ers belt­ing our Coun­try songs in the back. At least there were some women at this place… Pres­ley did a rous­ing ren­di­tion of Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me, though I think this crowd didn’t appre­ci­ate it as much as I did.

Day 2: Key Largo, Snorkeling & Sailing

What a busy day! We got up this morn­ing, deter­mined to go snor­kel­ing. We’ve learned one thing about Key Largo—there is utterly noth­ing worth doing in Key Largo besides snor­kel­ing, div­ing and out­door activ­i­ties. We rented a dual kayak, and pad­dled around the man­groves in the Pen­nekamp State Park .

And, at 1:30, we took a 38’ Cata­ma­ran sail­ing out to the coral reef, strapped on some fins and masks, and plunged into the 72-degree water to look at fish. Even though 72-degrees sounds like warm water, it’s bet­ter to wear a wet-suit, though it will make you look ridicu­lous. We saw these blue and yel­low zebra fish, a foot-long rain­bow look­ing fish, and some gray bar­racu­das who looked una­mused. Note for future ref­er­ence: bring clothes for the sail back to shore, no mat­ter what the cabana boys say in the gray shed.

Fol­low­ing the advice of our Cap­tain (what was his name?), an old for­mer hip­pie who had been sail­ing for 22 years, Pres­ley and I headed for Bentley’s, south to MM 83, for din­ner. As we arrived, we noticed a man and his daugh­ter that sailed with us ear­lier in the day—apparently they took the same advice from the Cap­tain. We chat­ted at the bar with Danielle and Mr. Bern­stein from North Car­olina. She is a fresh­man at Vir­ginia Tech, study­ing chem­istry, which was my first major, afterall.

When we were finally seated, we went a lit­tle over­board (pun?), and went with 1 dozen steamed clams. Pres­ley ordered a glass of Ries­ling, and the Grassy Key Lime Yel­low­tail, and I asked for a glass of Fume Blanc from Sonoma, and the Yel­low­tail stuffed with crab meat. mmmm… This was def­i­nitely the place to eat, though I think Ballyhoo’s has bet­ter food, (though, in a much more casual atmosphere).

Day 1, Part I: Boston to Miami Beach

It’s freez­ing! tem­per­a­ture is in the teens, and we’re late out the door to Logan. Since we live clos­est to the Green line , we decide to walk over the Charles to the B-line. But, tem­per­a­ture is in the teens! I’m wear­ing a light jean jacket with a thick wool turtle­neck sweater, a knit hat, but no gloves! Pulling my suit­case around the rotary, and onto the bridge—it’s sooo cold. And it’s almost 7am. Our flight leaves at 8:05!

Pres­ley hands me one of her gloves (for the suitcase-carrying hand), and we both bury our bare hand in a pocket. Speed-walking down across the bridge, I start to get ner­vous on time—we’re liv­ing under Orange-alert these days and Logan isn’t the eas­i­est thing to get to with­out driving…

Des­per­ate mea­sures! We call Boston Cab, and have them meet us on the Boston side of the Charles. 5 min­utes later, a cab pulls up, and our dri­ver throws our suit­cases in the trunk. I’m glad to be out of the cold.

15 min­utes later—7:15—we’re pulling up to Ter­mi­nal C, hav­ing trav­elled south­bound in the new big dig tun­nel for the first time. The fare is $22.15, thought the dri­ver says he hit the wrong but­ton and over­charges… I give him $30—far too much, but he got us there quick, and that kind of solace is worth a 50% tip.

Just made it through secu­rity to board our Song Air­lines flight to Ft. Laud­erdale. As cheery and styl­ish the new Song brand­ing is, the brand doesn’t extend well into the cabin. Sure, the seats are leather, but they’re this odd light blue color, and each seat has a bright accent leather—pink, green, orange. I think that it’s sup­posed to be styl­ish, but it comes off look­ing like an air­line for the Romper Room set… very Micky Mouse. Per­haps Kate Spade hasn’t put her final touches on yet.

The limits of Push-button Publishing

Moveable TypeA while back, Jason Kot­tke began tweak­ing his site lay­out, merg­ing his “remain­der” links into the daily thread of his weblog, and cre­at­ing a dif­fer­ent look for “Fea­tured” posts such as movie and book reviews.

When I last redesigned (now more than a year ago), I thought a lot about how to use MT cat­e­gories, and the impor­tance of draw­ing a visual dis­tinc­tion between fea­tured posts, and shorter daily posts. It was nec­es­sary to weigh cer­tain types of posts as more rel­e­vant than others.

This not-so-creative solu­tion was to use a styled post title & a unique icon—for music, movies, books, pho­tos, & spe­cial posts—and leave non-featured posts unstyled (albeit bolded). Also, I try to use a small photo for each fea­tured post. By using PHP and some MT tem­plate code, I was able to hack some­thing together.

Jason’s method of using 5 weblogs for 5 dif­fer­ent kinds of posts seems overly com­pli­cated and unwieldy for me, because I have other blogs on our domain. But, there is a point where PHP hacks can defeat the pur­pose of using “push-button publishing”.

I very much like his idea of embed­ding these remain­dered links in the chrono­log­i­cal thread of the weblog—Because these are timely links ref­er­enc­ing cur­rent events or memes, why not?

I always thought Anil’s method of group­ing links under a date would be almost mean­ing­less for my site—as I only post 1 or 2 items per day. My Daily Book­marks have no ref­er­ence point—they are merely sorted descend­ing by date. Once again, Jason gets me thinking…

Verizon’s UI

Since we’re in the process of mov­ing, I’ve spent a lot of time switch­ing util­i­ties to the new apart­ment.

For a few months now, I’ve been pay­ing our Ver­i­zon phone & DSL bill online, because it’s easy and I don’t need to dig up my check­book. How­ever, Verizon’s online bill man­age­ment leaves much to be desired…

Verizon.com welcome screenWhen you log in, the account sum­mary dis­plays the amount you owe, listed under “Pay­ment due” (see screen-shot at left). So, I would peri­od­i­cally log in, note the dol­lar amount, and after a few clicks, a credit-card pay­ment was submitted.

There is a prob­lem with this sys­tem however—the bill sum­mary info is taken directly from your last printed bill, and is in no way reflec­tive of any pay­ments made since the billing date. This resulted in us over­pay­ing month after month.

Gen­er­ally, it seems to me that a brief account sum­mary should show your up-to-the-minute bal­ance, and click­ing “View Bill” should show your last printed bill (which may not show recent pay­ments). This logic, how­ever, seems to have escaped Verizon’s web team.

Verizon.com page shown when you click View BillInstead of the cur­rent bal­ance greet­ing you after log­ging in, you’re forced to click on “View Bill”, and scroll down the page to a curi­ously phrased line that reads: Total Cur­rent Live Bal­ance as of 9/11/2003 is : $0 (see screen-shot at left).

Total Cur­rent Live Bal­ance. Does that sound like an after­thought, or what? Why on earth would this bit of infor­ma­tion be found in the mid­dle of a past bill, and not on the billing sum­mary?

I can only sur­mise that a lot of users like me started com­plain­ing about the con­fu­sion, so they had one of their back-end devel­op­ers insert a bit of code, with­out both­er­ing to hire a UI per­son and ask them if what they were doing was intuitive.

Though it may seem like a small issue, I think it is embar­rass­ingly bad—because it could cre­ate a neg­a­tive per­cep­tion that online Ver­i­zon pay­ments are a has­sle. And, it’s not going to con­vince users to switch to “Paper-Free Billing”.

Attn: Ver­i­zon, I am avail­able for UI consulting.

Buffalo Central Terminal Update

Chuck Maley's Central Terminal picturesA while back, I posted about a piece of archi­tec­tural won­der­ment lying van­dal­ized and dor­mant in Buffalo—the old Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal. It’s a beau­ti­ful Deco train sta­tion from the 1920s, plopped into an oth­er­wise unex­cep­tional sub­ur­ban neighborhood.

At the time the sta­tion was built, Buf­falo was still an indus­trial and cul­tural cen­ter, with a pop­u­la­tion over one-half mil­lion. It was sec­ond only to Chicago for its tan­gling rail net­work. How­ever, by the late 1970s, both the city and the sta­tion had seen bet­ter days. The sta­tion was boarded up, and the trains instead stopped at a new, strip-mall like parking-lot sta­tion not far away.

Well, there is some good news… it seems that some peo­ple do care about pre­serv­ing the city’s her­itage. Despite its van­dal­ized and trashed inte­rior, the build­ing is draw­ing crowds—including some Cana­dian urban explor­ers.

What I love about struc­tures like the Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal is that they were built for the pub­lic to use. It’s absolutely unthink­able to imag­ine pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions build­ing such pub­lic spaces today—I think those years have passed, (as have the years of ridicu­lously cheap immi­grant labor).

Here’s hop­ing there is a devel­oper out there with deep pock­ets and a cre­ative will.

The Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal at a glance:

  • The Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal opened four months before the Wall Street crash of 1929
  • Designed to han­dle an antic­i­pated Buf­falo pop­u­la­tion of 1.5 mil­lion, it cost $14 mil­lion to build
  • The 17-story office tower stands 271 feet high
  • The sta­tion closed in Octo­ber 1979 after years of dwin­dling rail pas­sen­ger service
  • A 1969 study esti­mated it would cost $54 mil­lion to restore it for office use, and $16.3 mil­lion to demol­ish it

The Hotel Commonwealth


Ken­more Square, Boston, has always had a rep­u­ta­tion for being a lit­tle bit seedy—much the way Times Square used to be. It boasts a major Sub­way inter­change, the best Ball­park in the Amer­i­can League, if not all of base­ball, and it used to be home to a diverse group of small busi­nesses and restaurants.

When I first moved to Ken­more Square, in 1996, there was a Methadone clinic, a punk-rock venue called the Rathskeller, a late-night restau­rant called Deli-haus, a gritty cof­fee house called Fuel, and a bunch of other busi­nesses housed in the clus­ter of Brow­stones on the oppo­site side of the Square. In 2003, chalk these land­marks into a new chap­ter of Lost Boston.

When Boston Uni­ver­sity pro­posed bull­doz­ing much of the south side of the square, and replac­ing the century-old brown­stones with a “European-style” hotel, city and com­mu­nity lead­ers largely sup­ported the idea… largely, I sus­pect, because BU was will­ing to pay gen­er­ously to relo­cate affected busi­nesses with neigh­bor­hood asso­ci­a­tion ties, such as Cornwall’s Pub. Also, the uni­ver­sity is giv­ing mil­lions to upgrade the Sub­way sta­tion and traf­fic con­fig­u­ra­tion in the Square.

Whether or not you iden­tify with my bemoan­ing the loss of a funky piece of an oth­er­wise bor­ing city, what is not in ques­tion is the pub­lic reac­tion when the work­ers finally unveiled the facade. For a hotel look­ing to project Con­ti­nen­tal lux­ury and flair, it looks like a repro­duc­tion on the back lot at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios, or, per­haps, Main Street USA, Dis­ney­land. Tacky, cheap, and an insult to a city with truly excep­tional architecture.

I am not, I think, and elit­ist when it comes to archi­tec­ture… I think clas­si­cist ideals of style and mate­ri­als are prefer­able to 90% of all avant-garde rub­bish of the past 50 years. But, BU and the devel­op­ers cheated by try­ing to copy the style of the French Sec­ond Empire, while using mate­ri­als com­mon on a Wal-Mart job site. Instead of lime­stone, let’s use fiber­glass. Brick too expen­sive? Sub­sti­tute fiber­glass for the real thing. And, the dorm­ers can just be cut-outs—I mean, who looks that closely, right?

The fact is, this hotel would look pretty good from your car on the Inter­state at 75 MPH, if it were located out in the sprawl belt of I-495 and 128. It’s car­toon color and fea­tures would blur from the high­way strip. But, this hotel is in the heart of the city, with thou­sands of pedes­tri­ans walk­ing by each day. And it looks Mickey Mouse, com­pared with the sur­round­ing buildings.

The pho­tos I took, unfor­tu­nately, fail to show how bad the facade really is. Trust me, it looks as if they were try­ing to save a few bucks… which is pre­cisely not the image you’re going for in a 4-star hotel that wants to charge hun­dreds of dol­lars a night. Appar­ently, BU and the devel­op­ers are going to spend $2 mil­lion to “fix” the facade. Good luck.

Public = Avant Garde ??

The ProposalsI read a lit­tle piece in the Times today con­cern­ing the two final­ists cho­sen by the LMDC for the World Trade Cen­ter, and I have a few reactions.

Let us read some of what Mr. Muschamp writes:

“[Daniel Libeskind’s design] is an emo­tion­ally manip­u­la­tive exer­cise in visual codes.

Alright. Does any ordi­nary user of the World Trade Cen­ter — worker, tourist, sub­way rider, etc. — have any idea just what Mr. Muschamp is talk­ing about? Why has archi­tec­ture become this jar­gony realm of intel­lec­tual nonsense?

I don’t know. The death and destruc­tion of WWI caused a huge shift in West­ern val­ues, specif­i­cally because sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy was employed so suc­cess­fully in the killing of a gen­er­a­tion of men. In the decades after the war, the long-held ide­al­ized notion that tech­nol­ogy would usher in peace and pros­per­ity was dashed, and many of the pre­vail­ing assump­tions in the arts were also vacated. It was in this void that the Mod­ernists arrived– along with their avant garde aes­thet­ics and their intent to social engineer.

So what has Mod­ernism accom­plished? Well, not much good. We’ve still got the rich and poor, yet we have ugly civic space. For instance, the orig­i­nal WTC was a wind-swept, anar­chis­tic struc­ture, cut off, and hor­ri­bly out of scale from the sur­round­ing streets and neigh­bor­hood. When you stood in the Plaza look­ing up at the struc­tures, it was dif­fi­cult to feel any­thing but dread. In fact, that seems to be a pre­vail­ing require­ment of the Mod­ernists– your build­ing must impart DREAD. Unless, of course, you are one of the ini­ti­ated. You have to be edu­cated for seven years at MIT to under­stand the beauty of the Bru­tal­ist form.

Any­way, back to Mr. Muschamp:

And… the longer I study Mr. Libeskind’s design, the more it comes to resem­ble the bland­est of all the projects unveiled in the recent design study: the retro vision put forth by the New Urban­ist design­ers Peter­son Lit­ten­berg. Both projects trade on sen­ti­men­tal appeal at the expense of his­tor­i­cal aware­ness. Both offer visions of inno­cence ? nos­tal­gia, actually.

Peter­son Lit­ten­berg is nos­tal­gic for Art Deco Man­hat­tan circa 1928, before the stock mar­ket crash caused the United States to aban­don the pre­vail­ing ide­ol­ogy of social Dar­win­ism. Mr. Libeskind’s plan is nos­tal­gic for the world of pre-Enlightenment Europe, before reli­gion was exiled from the pub­lic realm.

This is always the argu­ment of these elite intel­lec­tu­als against clas­si­cism — that some­how, orna­ment, scale, pro­por­tion­al­ity and human­ity are to be despised as Impe­r­ial. Now, obvi­ously both plans are far from Clas­si­cism, but, in the inter­est of democ­racy, why cry his­tori­cism when the alter­na­tive is intel­lec­tu­al­ized ugliness?

The gen­eral pub­lic, I believe, longs for dig­nity in pub­lic archi­tec­ture. I pre­fer the Think project, but the lat­tice work looks like Tin­ker­toy, and I find it tacky that they have pods within the lat­tice­work. How intim­i­dat­ing would it be to get in an ele­va­tor, and shoot up 100 floors to a “cul­tural space”, know­ing full well that there is noth­ing but air and Tin­ker­toy beneath you? Fright­en­ing. The Eif­fel Tower it is not.

No doubt what­ever gets built at the WTC site will be very mod­ern, and cutting-edge. It is my hope that it exem­pli­fies the dig­nity and pur­pose human beings deserve and crave. Let the peo­ple choose, not the intellectuals.

Zakim Bridge

silly little drawingI was futz­ing around in Pho­to­shop the other day, in-between work­ing on some free­lance gigs… (it’s com­ing matt!)… and I cre­ated this lit­tle vec­tor­ized ver­sion of the new Charles river bridge in Boston. I think it’s fab­u­lous that the city named it for Lenny Zakim, a civil rights activist and com­mu­nity leader—especially given that he passed-away in 1999.

I cer­tainly under­stand why gov­ern­ment build­ings and other projects are named for WWII heroes and long-dead (some cor­rupt) politi­cians, but I’m encour­aged by this choice… It’s a mod­ern, per­sonal and mean­ing­ful choice.

Per­son­ally, I’m kind of ambiva­lent about all of this Big Dig stuff. Ele­vated high­ways are evil, so I will be glad to see the Green Mon­ster come down. Still, what will be put in it’s place? And at what cost? The cur­rent plans call for mostly green “open” space, sur­rounded by sur­face roads that might have as many as 4 lanes. Whoa. Wait up. You’re replac­ing 8 lanes of ele­vated high­way, with 8 lanes of mod­ern, wide-lane sur­face streets. Not to men­tion the 10 lanes underground.

It would be a mis­take to try and cor­rect the trans­porta­tion and urban renewal mis­takes of the 1950s, by drop­ping a nar­row park in the mid­dle of all that asphalt. This city needs to knit back together the fab­ric of a neigh­bor­hood that was sheared in two. That means moderately-scaled build­ings, shops, caf?s, side­walks and, in the mid­dle of all this: a park. Maybe with a foun­tain. And, you’ve got to min­i­mize traf­fic. Make it dif­fi­cult for cars to move through there.

Down­town Boston burned in 1872, so rein­vent­ing down­town is noth­ing new. I’d hate to think that this sce­nario would unfold: Devel­op­ers get to build tall, pri­vate sky­scrap­ers cut off from the street; the fire depart­ment gets wide traf­fic lanes; the tree-huggers get the rest as dead “open” space. That’s a recipe for a non-place. This should be the place… the des­ti­na­tion.