Why some technologies fail, and others succeed

My second column for the New York Times Magazine went online today. It's about the history of technology and the forces that determine which tools end up in our everyday portfolio and which become fodder for alternate history sci-fi novels.

The key thing to remember: The technologies we use today aren't necessarily the best technologies that were available. We don't really make these decisions logically, based solely on what works best. It's more complicated than that. Technology is shaped sociocultural forces. And, in turn, it shapes them, as well. The best analogy I've come up with to summarize this: The history of technology isn't a straight line. It's more like a ball of snakes fucking. (Sadly, I couldn't figure out a good way to reword this analogy for publication in the Paper of Record.) One of my big examples is the history of the electric car:

There are plenty of reasons Americans should have adopted electric cars long ago. Early E.V.’s were easier to learn to drive than their gas cousins, and they were far cleaner and better smelling. Their battery range and speed were limited, but a vast majority of the trips we take in our cars are short ones. Most of the driving we do has been well within the range of electric-car batteries for decades, says David Kirsch, associate professor of management at the University of Maryland and the author of “The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History.” We drive gas-powered cars today for a complex set of reasons, Kirsch says, but not because the internal-combustion engine is inherently better than the electric motor and battery.

Read the rest

Live-in replica of the Disneyland Haunted Mansion for sale

A Disney contractor is selling a seven bedroom, full-sized, live-in replica of the Disneyland Haunted Mansion that he built in Duluth, Georgia. Mark Hurt 1996 home was built to closely replicate the exterior of the LA Haunted Mansion, and includes an "animated bathroom Hitchhiking Ghost scene." He's asking $873,000. The sale is listed by Theme Park Connections, who specialize in super-rare theme-park merch and collectibles. From Attractions Magazine:

Hurt is selling the home because he has moved on to an even more ambitious project but hasn’t stopped designing and building unique Disney inspired buildings. Mark is working on his current project of a resort themed house modeled after Disney’s Grand Californian along with a replica of Walt Disney’s backyard barn and a pool that will be themed to the Jungle Cruise in Kaua‘i Hawaii. Hurt says that Walt Disney was the mentor that I had but never met.

The ultimate Haunted Mansion collectable? – Disneyland Haunted Mansion look-alike home for sale

Goodbye "Snowmageddon XIX", hello "Gandolf"

The Weather Channel has decided to begin naming winter storms the way we already name tropical storms. But while tropical storm nomenclature is an organized and official process, carried out by a branch of the United Nations, winter storms will be named apparently at the whim of The Weather Channel. The result: Not only can we move past calling every blizzard either Snowmageddon or Snowpocalypse, but we also get to hear news anchors discuss the damage caused by Winter Storm Gandolf. (Please note that this is Gandolf, not Gandalf. The former is a character in The Well at the World's End, an 1896 fantasy novel. The latter is probably tied up in intellectual property restrictions.)

In a neglected fossil: A vegetarian with bite

This is an artists' rendition of Pegomastax africanus, a 200-million-year-old dinosaur that is the subject of a new peer-reviewed research paper out this week in the journal ZooKeys.

It's a great face, and a fascinating species. Couple of things here that I think are worth highlighting:

First, despite the fang-y teeth Pegomastax africanus is sporting, the scientists who wrote the paper think this animal was actually a vegetarian. Or, at least, mostly a vegetarian. At LiveScience.com, the researchers told journalist Charles Q. Choi that the dinosaur had a parrot-like beak, its fangs weren't positioned well for cutting through meat, and its back teeth look like the kind of chompers plant-eaters use to slice through leaves and roughage. All of which suggest Pegomastax africanus ate more seeds, nuts, and fruit than flank steak.

The other cool thing has to do with when Pegomastax africanus was found. While the paper describing the fossil was published online today, the fossil itself was pulled out of the ground in the 1960s. In fact, the paper's main author — paleontologist Paul C. Sereno — first noticed the neglected fossil in 1983, and only recently got around to examining it more closely. Think of it this way, a successful dig might come out with lots of potentially cool rocks and fossils. The fact is that there are often more artifacts than there is time for one team to closely work with all the artifacts. The researchers who did the digging will focus on the ones that are most interesting to them. The rest get catalogued. Maybe the original researchers come back to them; maybe they don't. Maybe somebody else picks up the catalogued fossils; maybe it takes 50 years for that happen. But what this reminds us is that there are cool things waiting to be discovered in storage ... not just in the ground.

Read the full paper, which puts Pegomastax africanus into context as a member of a family of dinosaurs called heterodontosaurids.

The Princess Bride writer William Goldman says he's been trying to write a sequel

Before you start worrying that some unworthy person is going to try writing a sequel to The Princess Bride, let it be known that the man who wrote the original, screenwriter William Goldman (who also wrote the original novel), has actually been trying to write one himself for years. What's stopping him? He's having trouble coming up with a good story. Last night at the New York Film Festival, Goldman made it sound like this has been floating around in his head for years:

“I’m desperate to make it and write it and I don’t know how... I would love to make it, more than anything else I’ve not written.”

It's reassuring that any story about a sequel to The Princess Bride is a story about Mr. Goldman and not some other writer preparing big-budget fan fiction that everyone will probably protest with fire and rage. Goldman, who also wrote the screenplays for All the President's Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is the only person who is allowed to talk about writing a Princess Bride sequel as far as I'm concerned. Such a beloved and delicately crafted kingdom of characters should only come from its creator, at least in this case. So if the mood ever strikes Goldman and he does come up with a new adventure for Westley and Buttercup, I'm sure I'm not the only person who will think it was worth the wait.

One thing is for certain, though: Even a great sequel written by Goldman that will "bwing evewyone togethah" won't have Andre the Giant, Peter Cook, or Peter Falk in it. And that is a pretty big bummer.

Photo credit: The Princess Bride Official Site

‘Princess Bride’ sequel? Inconceivable! says writer William Goldman [Hero Complex]

iOS Maps debacle reimagined as surrealist art project

If Apple's iOS Maps disaster was actually avant-garde art… (Thanks, Dustin Hostetler!)

Glen Hansard sings for The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is collaborating with some excellent musicians and filmmakers to raise awareness of environmental issues. Boing Boing is pleased to premiere this video with Swell Season and The Frames' Glen Hansard, star of the film Once. You can also watch Hansard and Swell Season collaborator Markéta Irglová perform an acoustic set in this classic Boing Boing Video episode. The Nature Conservancy's All Hands Music

Exploding washing machines?

The rise of the machines has begun. Apparently, dozens of washing machines from numerous brands are "exploding" and UK consumer product watchdog magazine Which? is investigating. The typical story involves the glass door of the washing machines violently shattering, possibly caused by the drum splitting apart while the machine is on high spin. From The Telegraph:

Adrian Porter, Home Product Researcher at the watchdog said the problem first appeared 18 months ago but the number of cases had risen sharply in recent months.

The forum Whitegoodshelp has been collecting stories from those who say they have been affected…

Mr Porter said: "This hasn't happened to any washing machines during our lab tests, so we have been unable to observe it in laboratory conditions and follow up with a proper analysis. "But going through the accounts, there are theories ranging from hair cracks in the glass, or even that the glass is just thinner than it used to be. Still, nothing has been confirmed."

"Consumer watchdog investigates exploding washing machines"


Dining room table spontaneously "exploded"

Adrian Tomine on tour for his new book, New York Drawings

Adrian Tomine is on tour to promote New York Drawings, his anthology of New Yorker illustrations. He'll be in Providence, RI tonight, and Cambridge, MA tomorrow. Peggy Burns of Drawn & Quarterly, Adrian's publisher, says:

The Providence Phoenix spotlights Adriane event at AS 220 tonight, with Ada Books. And the Boston DIG interviews Adrian in a lengthy interview here.

Favorite tidbit from the interview...

CLAY FERNALD: Were you the first of your friends to get published and get attention for your work? Optic Nerve put you on the map as a young man.

ADRIAN TOMINE: You assume that I had friends! I actually started doing Optic Nerve in response to being an unlikeable teenage loner, so it wasn’t like I was part of some cartooning community then. And when I did eventually make some friends in the comics world, they were basically already seasoned veterans, so any little accomplishment I might’ve experienced wasn’t anything new to them.

The interview also included a link to a fan-made film based on on of Adriane's stories, "Smoke."

See the full tour schedule here

Geeks, Girls, and Super Identities - new kids' novel with great illustrations by Mike Maihack

I admire the work of illustrator and cartoonist Mike Maihack. His simple line art, subdued color palette, and quietly humorous illustrations remind me a bit of Seth, if Seth liked to draw female superheroes. I just found out Mike illustrated a kids' novel called Geeks, Girls, and Super Identities. Check out a few of his illustrations here.

Throughout last year I Illustrated a fantastic book by author Mike Jung titled Geeks, Girls, and Super Identities -- and that book is officially out this week! … The gist is this: superhero fanclub, giant robot, school-yard crush, evil plot, exciting twist, lots-of-action.

I illustrated the jacket and 40 or so interior illustrations for GG&SI, most of wich consisted of drawing said giant robot, a beefy superhero, a goonies-esque trio, and one punky young gap-toothed girl. Oh and pizza. I also drew a bunch of pizza. It was a great gig. I know I’m biased but I can’t recommend the book highly enough. It’s just super fun.

Geeks, Girls, and Super Identities


Music review: Common Eider, King Eider's "Sense of Place"


It's finally here, the years in the works "Sense of Place," an ambitious audio/visual document that captures San Francisco drone/ambient/folk band Common Eider, King Eider's quest to build a cabin in the wilds of Alaska. It's an incredible package including both a book and a dvd, each offering up images of the process, from the flight up, the journey to the site, to the actual construction, as well as the gorgeous landscape surrounding the cabin (or cabin to be). The dvd and the cd both contain part of the music, both of which are meant to be played simultaneously, Zaireeka style, the fusion of the two resulting in a lush soundscape of layered organ drones and haunting choral harmonies, the music on its own is moving and mysterious, but when coupled with the visuals, it's that much more powerful.

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TOM THE DANCING BUG: Super-Fun-Pak Comix - Percival Dunwoody vs. Hitler, and MORE!!

Presenting another installment of Super-Fun-Pak Comix, featuring “Percival Dunwoody, Idiot Time Traveler From 1909,” “Darthfield,” “Mother-In-Law Guffaws,” and much, much MORE.

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Monkey Jesus cosplayer

Here's a Monkey Jesus/restored icon cosplayer in full regalia. The identity of the person behind the mask is the source of controversy: it was posted to Reddit by OhioUPilot12, whose description implied that s/he was the creator of the costume. However, when Spinjump posted that this had been her/his Anime Weekend Atlanta costume, OhioUPilot12 backpedaled and claimed that the original description was an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Facebook God gave me a halloween costume idea... (imgur.com)

Todd Akin on the scourge of doctors giving abortions to non-pregnant women

[Video Link] Salon: Among “abortionists,” Akin said in a floor speech in 2008, “you find that along with the culture death go all kinds of other lawbreaking: the not following good sanitary procedure, giving abortions to women who aren’t actually pregnant, cheating on taxes, all these kinds of things.” Later in the video Akin accuses death culture doctors of killing imaginary unicorns.

Correlation, Causation and Internet Comments

Daniel Engber wrote a wonderful piece at Slate. Engber examines when you can hide behind the phrase correlation does not imply causation and when that may not be the best idea. "The correlation phrase has become so common and so irritating that a minor backlash has now ensued against the rhetoric if not the concept. No, correlation does not imply causation, but it sure as hell provides a hint." (thanks Rachel Scollon)