Working Around God: Technology, the Pace of Life, and the Shabbos Elevator
Working Around God: Technology, the Pace of Life, and the Shabbos Elevator
Impressions from the Face of a Corpse
The Powerful Authority of Cute Animals
It shouldn’t be particularly controversial for me to point out that humans are constantly objectifying animals. Millions of animals are, quite literally, turned into objects every day for us to eat. The bodies of living, moving animals become steaks, cutlets, chops, breasts without bones. In the age of industrial agriculture, the lament against our use and objectification of other animals has become commonplace. Academic ethicists, documentary filmmakers, growing numbers of vegans—all wonder at the ability of animal life to endure as we humans continue to use them as means to our own rather ravenous ends. The claim that many animals are objectified should be, then, a rather obvious point. I suspect the stranger claim is that living, moving animals are also treated as talismanic objects.
A Terminal Condition
And what of the CRT’s death? In the US alone there are 400 million televisions that will be discarded as a result of flat screen technology. Add the 197 million computer monitors sold since 1995 and you have a sense of the magnitude of the problem. The peak of CRTs in the waste stream isn’t expected to happen until 2050 in North America and Europe. And each one of these CRTs has several pounds of lead in the glass screen, not to mention other potentially toxic metals and flame retardants. This explains why many U.S. states banned them from landfills over concerns that potentially toxic material might leach out and poison water and soil. So a CRT’s constituents—its metals, plastics, and glass—can and do keep going as leachates that poison and burden our bodies and the bodies of others; even after disposal CRTs will keep going as the labor and dollars to manage, mitigate, and remediate their remainders.
‘Being a Programmer, I Decided to Build a Mathematical Model for the Decay of a Shower Curtain’
Running the simulation 10,000 times, I get an average of 724 days between getting fed up enough to re-hang the curtain, not so far off from my two-year real-world cycle. Of course, relying on random numbers, the simulation endures wild extremes. One simulation took just under four months to go from order to chaos while another took seven years—over 5,000 showers!
How Home Plate Lives Up to Its Name
Home plate even resembles a home, at least in its most archetypical, crayon drawing form. The pentagonal shape was adopted in 1900 to help pitchers and umpires to better visualize the strike zone. There is no indication that the switch to the house-like pentagonal shape was inspired in any way by the name “Home” but it’s a remarkable coincidence nonetheless. As an impressionable young child playing baseball from age seven, I assumed that part of why Home was so-named was because it looked like every drawing I had ever made of a roofed house.
The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends
Even in a moment of ignorance, Curi was completely enchanting. She spoke to me in a human way; she made socially appropriate gestures; she anticipated what I wanted to do. The exchange was so natural that I was able to suspend disbelief long enough to temporarily forget that I was interacting with a machine. I could simply ask it what I wanted to do in an intuitive, human way. My faith in the potential for smart objects to provide helpful assistance while also making an emotional connection was restored.
Dust, the Ledger of Past Existence
We cannot do away with it for good, since no matter how much we try to “clean” it, we only unsettle and move the unbearably light refuse from one place to another. Whatever threats or promises it harbors, we can rest assured that it will eternally return, not as dramatically as ghosts or specters but quietly and cumulatively, like the falling snow.
‘Good for One Screw’: A Brief History of Brothel Tokens
Loving the Potato
The Secrets of the Jumbo Squid
On that particular day the ocean rumbled. And when it does, one or more of us is usually taken. I have seen others fight, squeeze, attack, stab, gnaw, clinch, and I have heard their bodies splash and crank and wheeze as they are lifted up into oblivion in a pool of ink and flashing colors. The day I was taken, I began wondering why.
What Makes a Good Toilet
The New Psychogeography of Tempelhof Airport, Once a Nazi Landmark
This smoke bears the aroma of a new Berlin: its odors are equal parts brats and kebabs; there’s a large Turkish mosque and cultural center right next to the airfield. I’ve never seen such a diverse mix of people anywhere else in Berlin; Turks, Asians (there’s a Hindu Temple down the street), and Western Europeans seem so comfortable together. Hitler would have hated it! It’s as if the newness of this space makes it a blank slate, so there are no traditions of exclusion here. Every single kid here is happy—how often can you say that at a “real” airport?
The Ice Buckets of the Stars
The Amazing Placenta
The placenta is a transient organ that doesn’t even appear in all of us. Yet it forms a lasting part of our evolutionary identity, our being. We classify ourselves as “placental mammals,” to distinguish from other mammals that either lay eggs (“monotremes”) or give birth to young fetuses and carry them in pouches until they’re well developed (“marsupials”). Strictly speaking, we’re not the only kinds of animals to have placentas. Marsupials and some reptilian species have rudimentary versions of placentas. But our “eutherian” placentas are far more sophisticated, capable of bringing nutrients and oxygen to the fetus until it completes its gestation.
Sympathy for the Blue Screen of Death
The Blue Screen of Death may look like a delinquent spray-painting hex-code curse words onto your computer screen, and it may even have started out that way. But there’s another way to understand Blue: as the responsible overseer trying to wrangle so many unwieldy hardware and software systems that don’t always play nicely with one another—the Thin Blue Line of personal computing.
The Shipping Container
From the nascent designs of the 1950s, through the roll-out phase of the 1960s, to the standardization of the 1970s, the container became central to the burgeoning growth of consumer capitalism, particularly the move of manufacturing to traditionally peripheral economies. The shipping container models the fundamentals of late capitalism even as it facilitates it: a standardized, reproducible structure that looks and functions the same everywhere.
But just as much as it has amplified the practice of consumer capitalism, the shipping container also underwrote an aesthetics of capitalism as well.
What is a Poem?
Unless you are a poet or writer, it’s likely that poems have apprehended you less and less as the years have passed. Occasionally, in a magazine or online you see one—with its ragged right edge and arbitrary-looking line breaks—and it announces itself by what it is not: prose that runs continuously from the left to the right margins of the page. A poem practically dares you not just to look but to read: I am different. I am special. I am other. Ignore me at your peril.
The Lost Excitement, Pathos, and Beauty of the Railroad Timetable
It was the lowly timetable that bore testament to the train’s transformative influence on modern life. In the corporeal metaphors that the industrial rail network often inspired, stations were the beating hearts, rail lines the arteries, trains and passengers the vital blood. The schedule might be called the DNA—the hidden, essential set of instructions, part command center and part record book. It’s the same time in New York as in Boston right now, and for that you can thank the timetable. It was once the proud face of the industry. In pamphlets, on posters, in advertisements in papers, railroad companies touted times like competitive runners. Boston to New York in eight hours! Week-long journeys shrank to days, days to hours, the trip across Paris—an easy hour by horse-and-carriage or streetcar—to minutes.