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Monday, March 31, 2003
Extreme architecture

A certain bunker in Baghdad has been all over the news these past few days, summarised in this piece in Wired. The Daily Mirror also had a piece on the bunker, although I can’t find it online, which claimed that the bunker’s architect’s grandmother designed a similar structure for Hitler. This is qualified by this Yahoo! news story, but not reported much elsewhere. Imagine if bunker design ran in your family. More bunkers: Australia, France (more: I). It’s pretty miserable, what’s going on.

More architecture. We'd love to visit the Mystery Park, Erich von Daniken's alien heritage theme park. But then all theme parks are weird. Also considered weird in their day, the 1930s house in Britain, thanks to photographer Nick Dawe.

Elsewhere. No newthings tomorrow, so an extra helping of links. Old Props is a gallery of vintage and elderly aircraft, some of which are beautiful, some are tatty, and others are just odd looking. We love Catalinas. Related: a huge archive of travel ephemera, linked by various people last month.

Faked photos at the Museum of Hoaxes. Not a hoax, but strange and unusual all the same: the AMC Pacer press archive. Collection of vintage toy adverts. All about Barbapapa, blob-like, Hippyesque children's book character from the 70s. Obsessive toy car racing. Folk Art Ships, an exhibition of carefully composed models of historical ships and submarines by John Taylor. (thanks to John for this: the nation's best weather pictures)

The Letter Project: clever stuff. Discussion on book cover design, via Kottke. Inappropriate fan mail. Flagspot, a website devoted to vexillology. These images of conversations (large) between members of Upmystreet, create a spider's web of connections, some of which seem to mimic the country's motorway network. More maps at the Charles Close Society, devoted to the UK's excellent Ordnance Survey series.

As someone once pointed out, is there anything that someone on the internet hasn’t got time to do? Visit Edgar Governo, Historian of Things that Never Were, a collection of timelines for fictional situations. Check our favourite, the Twin Peaks timeline. Some free protest songs. Irony of ironies.

Thanks to all our readers these past two months. As you can see, things magazine, on and off line, is still finding its own voice. Please, write with links and suggestions.


Friday, March 28, 2003
Swamps

American Memory is a resource containing some 7 million digital items 'relating to the history and culture of the US'. These range from wooden wheels to lumber yards and baseball cards. There are also dedicated exhibits, like Ansel Adams's Suffering a Great Injustice, images of Japanese American internment, and this huge collection entitled Origins of American Animation. How to make an American Quilt.

Staying in the US, some Florida postcards from the 20s and 30s. More Florida image collections (and read Wish you were here?, the inimitable Elsa MacDougall's take on Floridan life). T-shirt versus political reality. Or vice versa.

Elsewhere. Big map of Baghad via this Me-fi thread about these cartographic bookmarks. Peanut Butter and Jelly Management is a bizarre parenting manual that apparently draws explicit parallels between corporate management and parenting skills. Board meetings, fiscal responsibility and all.

Quick, visit the excellent Little Magazines before it shuts down for good at the end of next month. Glossier publications are listed in Artbooks' extensive online catalogue. Entirely unrelated. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link, currently tearing up nearby Kings Cross, has some good construction photos on its site. Vaguely related, an archive of changing tube map design. Midwinter and Festival pottery for sale.


Thursday, March 27, 2003
Link-o-rama

Some sneaky use of hidden text to draw in search engines, via gawker - an exercise in seeing how many newsworthy and search-worthy things can be squeezed into two paragraphs – ‘Segway to Angelina Jolie, who shouted to her comrade and fellow tomb raider loana, "Hurry! We must return to castle wolfenstein!’ and ‘CNN caught morrowind of the plot, and predicted there would be neverwinter nights for years to come’ and ‘"Each man involved is an american idol," eminem told avril levigne in front of the pink gareth gates of their local Ikea’.

We also liked this quote: 'I've been all the way through this desert from Basra to here and I ain't seen one shopping mall or fast food restaurant,' he said. 'These people got nothing. Even in a little town like ours of twenty five hundred people you got a McDonald's at one end and a Hardee's at the other.' (from the guardian)

Elsewhere. Thank-you to Core77, an online design resource that we are book-marking for future use. Novelty stamps (via haddock). Some elegant illustrations of plants (via Coudal).

Stumbling Tongue is a beautifully-designed weblog based in Italy (see photos). There's a vaguely archaeological slant – and it also links to Cronaca, which is almost an arche-blog. Link too to The Gentleman’s Page, ‘A Practical Guide for the 19th Century Man' (compare this with The Chap). The Dream Factory, all about the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher (via excitement machine).

We love the guestmap concept over at Stonefishspine (vaguely related: Geourl.org - locate your weblog). Vintage model T Ford postcards and technical documents. The demolition of the infamous Fatima Mansions, previously better known to us as the name of Cathal Coughlan’s venomous band.


Wednesday, March 26, 2003
Wednesday

Randomness rules today. This article about the frightening but culturally important phenomena of sleep paralysis suggests that it's the underlying event behind a whole host of contemporary obsessions, namely ghostly visions and UFO abductions. Look around, and you'll find that some will happily offer a different interpretation. Sort of related: an easy mistake to make.

Elsewhere. Art and design. Pictured is a new photography magazine. Some resources on the nearly lost art of bookbinding, via, I think, Design Kitten. There's an art history lesson from Out of Lascaux. Artsig is from the makers of Photosig - a forum for art of all types. At the moment it's teeming with the heavy use of Photoshop filters - anyone know of any good painting websites?

Some good galleries of contemporary Newcastle. Toy station wagons and woodies. Famous buildings constructed from aluminium cans, see also can-based cars and planes (latter links via the Daily Jive).


Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Random

1893 is subtitled a World's Fair Mystery. This 'interactive history' is set during the World's Columbian Exhibition, a great flourish of Beaux Arts architecture held in Chicago to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of the New World.

We haven't played 1893, but were big fans of Interactive Fiction (IF) - or text adventures, as they used to be known - back in the old days. Today, text adventures are just about the least commercial genre of computer gaming, yet they thrive on the internet. The scene is fuelled by TADS, the Text Adventure Development System, a freeware programme that allows you create your own IF world with relative ease. Install the TADS interpreter, and hundreds of games are available for free.

A similar system used to exist on the Sinclair Spectrum - the Quill, from Gilsoft. There's extensive information on the early days of text adventures at Adventureland, which also provides a history of the genre. Our personal favourites were The Hobbit (which you can play online thanks to the wonderful world of emulation) and Quest Adventure. A little later came Infocom's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (box art, solution), which contained what many gamers consider the finest moment in interactive fiction: how to get the babel fish. Other IF links: I, II, III.

One of the best things about text adventures was the emphasis they placed on locating and collecting objects, imbuing each one with a set of limited, yet essential characteristics. Lamps needed oil and matches, dark spaces needed lamps. Chests and doors needed keys, mazes needed balls of string, birds needed birdseed, etc, etc. Text analysis and vocabulary was limited, and the general lack of graphical wizardry really worked the imagination into a frenzy.

Elsewhere. The burgeoning trade in classic stereo equipment makes the old school appear tempting. Reel-to-reel recorders were the epitomy of the home hi-fi experience, especially those made by Revox.

A good Monument Valley/Navajo National Monument photo gallery. Know your early Land-Rover. A Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit at the Library of Congress, focusing on his epic Gordon Strong Automobile Objective project (that would make a very good band name in today’s confused times) - a structure that would "serve as an objective for short motor trips".

There was a great but ultimately pointless book a few years back, provacatively called ‘Cock’, all about Indian Fireworks art. This is more immediate: Crackerpacks, firework packaging via interconnected. More firework art. Fireworks Magazine is Britain’s 'only periodical for fireworks enthusiasts and the trade'.

Dumped is a photo-series by Alan Powdrill, making the many abandoned, joyridden cars that litter London's streets (only a slight exaggeration) look like part of the urban landscape (which in effect they are). His 'places' gallery is also well worth a look. New Hybrid III crash-test dummy simulates teenage slouch.


Monday, March 24, 2003
Out of time

A couple of iconic modern movement houses are currently for sale in London. First up is a house in Frognal Close, Hampstead, designed by Ernst L.Freud, son of Sigmund and father of Clement and Lucian. The middle Freud was a classic emigre architect, escaping the Nazi crack-down on degenerate contemporary art and architecture in 1936, in the hope of finding a refuge in progressive 30s Britain.

Many stayed at the classic Lawn Road flats, racking up big bills in the Marcel Breuer-designed Isobar (perhaps reclining on this excellent furniture) and no doubt moaning about the conservative forces within the British establishment that stymied many of their designs. Numbers one to six Frognal Close were designed shortly after Freud's arrival, while his only other major English commission was 'The Weald,' in Betchworth, Surrey, built just before the outbreak of war (although he also designed the loggia, now shop, at London's Freud Museum).

Also up for sale is one of three terraced houses designed by Erno Goldfinger in Willow Road in the 1930s (also in Hampstead, the modernist mecca of its day). The story goes that the construction of this thoroughly modern terrace raised such hackles amongst local residents that one was moved to appropriate Goldfinger's name for a fictional villain. The central house, Goldfinger's own, is open through the National Trust. The current price of classic modernity? £2.5m and £1.9m, respectively.

Elsewhere. An online resource devoted to 1940s comics (via travelers diagram). We especially like Batman and Superman at the New York World's Fair. The collection is part of the Victoria Commonwealth University's online resources, which include this postcard gallery of Richmond, Virginia, a medical artifacts collection (see the dentures at left) and images of black and white schools in Virginia's Prince Edward Country from 1961 to 1963. The world's academic servers host untapped riches.

Unrelated. Cute new Sony laptop (it shames us to say this, but parts of our Vaio were so small and dinky that we've actually lost them). Better living through plastics. Scrubbles links to this Pan Am promotional disc, leading us to 365's huge list of various unusual audio sources. Scrubbles is ace, explicitly devoted to ‘pop culture and design findings’. It pointed us to Ookworld again - we’ve flagged up their magazine gallery before, but appreciate the car design section too. There's also a link to the Cool and Strange music compilation - which has been much linked but is definitely worth a few downloads.

Silly but fun desktop flash 'game' - the economists. Old but still fresh - skyscraper transformations in New York. Depressing gallery of rusty but beautiful cars.


Friday, March 21, 2003
Beware of the dog

We've been sourcing quotes for car insurance in the last week, and time and time again, the stumbling block is our postcode. It all goes swimmingly until we proffer that magic combination of seven letters and numbers. All of a sudden, premiums shoot up and we are advised that it'll be cheaper if the car isn't insured for overnight damage or theft. We're no criminologists, but it strikes us that the cover of darkness offers more opportunity for 'damage and theft' than daylight.

How did the postcode get to rule our lives? The beleagured Royal Mail (which lost £1.2bn last year) has an interesting heritage site with a potted postcode history (pdf). From this, we glean that mail delivery has always had a dominant hold on the form of address, with streets renamed to counter the problem of many identical addresses, especially in major cities. London's original 10 districts - EC and WC (for East and West Central), plus NW, N, NE, E, S, SE, SW and W - were implemented in 1857-8 (things is split between SE and NW) and were gradually updated, with the addition of sub-districts (a number after the letters) in 1917. The current system dates from the mid-60s, and accompanied the introduction of mechanical sorting. Each postcode identifies approximately 15 addresses. Today's OCR-based mail readers identify the postcode and print a series of phosphorescent dots on an envelope for identification. 95% of UK mail is identified in this way, with the remainder being sorted by increasingly accurate Integrated Mail Processors. More on postal mechanisation.

Less evocative, but arguably more efficient, is the American five-digit system. We found a clipped obituary for Robert Aurand Moon last week, the inventor of the ZIP code system. To us, ZIP has always sounded, well, zippy and efficient, so it was a surprise to find it stood for Zoning Improvement Plan. Moon was a Philadelphia postal inspector with a penchant for side projects, and his stricly numerical system - designed from the outset for mechanical sorting - broke the entire US into 10 zones. Each additional digit identified regional sorting offices, sub-divisions, etc., until finally it got down to city blocks. The system is now even more accurate, with each postal area classified under 62 criteria (we'll try and find a list of these). Moon's ZIP codes went live on July 1, 1963, and suddenly junk mail found itself guided with unerring precision towards its target. See the ZIP FAQ and learn more about the promotional character of Mr Zip: I, II, III. More soon, perhaps, on how the post/zip code is no longer considered the ultimate demographic tool.

Elsewhere. Daniela Rossel’s Ricas Y Famosas (more) offers a set of utterly unself-conscious portraits of Mexico’s smart set. Elevated so far above the barrio and the traditional image of the middle classe, these people appear to have willingly descended (ascended?) into parody (the book also turns up on Pop-log).

Lost and frowned give us the confusing world of the Neasden Control Centre, including this remarkable sketchbook and other book art - it's like modern day Merz. In a vaguely similar vein, Beowolf, is an ever-changing font. Instructo-art (Flash, also via frowned) is all about ‘combining the art of learning with the art of art’. We liked this too - the contents of the 2003 Oscar goody bags. Unrelated. Charles and Ray Eames archive.


Thursday, March 20, 2003
Confused

For some reason, our earlier post today has decided it belongs in a curious calendar dead zone between the 18th and 19th of March.

Purely in the interest of keeping the Circle (Cabal, whatever) unbroken, we draw your attention to Speckled Paint (from which we get this collection of ‘70s pictures’ - images which to be honest actually span the decades from 1950 onwards. They do have a particularly fine set of Barbarella photos (1968), though). Also note Bifurcated Rivets, which gets full marks for brevity, and Woods Lot.

Digging through old print-outs (!) of web pages in a forgotten boxfile, we find the darndest things (such as this, the Four Waves of media interest). This far-reaching and rather pertinent Suck column from 2000 also caught our eye. (Strange to see things in pixels again, rather than paper. Don’t ask why we were printing out websites. That’s probably what everyone did in 2000, thinking that pages would just have vanished by the next day). A while ago we mentioned the folks at The Lord’s Witnesses, and their desperate and (hopefully) futile attempts to nail down the exact date of the end of the world. Suck gives us the curiously forgotten Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, whose failed doomsday predictions triggered a massacre of jilted and confused members in Uganda.

That got the people at Suck thinking – how does a meme like impending apocalypse get going? Is the idea of the end of the world actually a tangible thing that can be imported and exported like any other commodity? The piece, in the much-missed site’s typically incisive way, skewers a few other examples of cargo cult apocalypse. This is perhaps as good a time as any to reiterate our own things-ness. We're going to be pretty unapologetic about ignoring the larger picture in favour of our usual concerns; there are tens of thousands of places one can read about all aspects of the war, and I just don't think newthings needs to be one of them.

Elsewhere, Slower.net goes all Magritte-style. Prints based on moon maps, via Caterina. Labels for recycling and a complete scan of the first ever Superman comic (Action Comics No.1, June 1938), both via haddock. The latter includes such classics as Scoop Scanlon, Five Star Reporter, and Zatara, Master Magician, both of whom are surely due for a revival. A collection of Elvis Presley's jumpsuits.


Fading fast

A huge, beautiful photo of downtown Baghdad, courtesy of Where is Raed?. You can clearly see the Monument to the Unknown Soldier at top right (detail), as well as the infamous Hands of Victory. Where is Raed? is a gripping read. Go visit it.


Wednesday, March 19, 2003
Link-o-rama

The Great Team are a collection of four realtors in Yorba Linda, Southern California. Nothing special about that, perhaps, (although we're inexplicably reminded of the Celebrities of Real Estate) but their office seems to spend all its spare time looking up obscure links and cataloguing them – creating a weblog, no less. Grow-a-brain, the result of all this goofing off, certainly has its moments, for example this survey of doors and windows in Kosovo (vaguely reminiscent of the Geffrye Museum’s current ‘Gutted' exhibition).

Other great links include: the internet pinball database, a gallery of unusual playing cards (including this Star Trek deck), whale song, the dogs of the Bedouin, the ugly couch contest.

Elsewhere. When pin-ups meet an architectural masterpiece - or the parallel universe where the architect’s office is swapped for the body shop (excellent Pirelli calendar site).

A big welcome to any readers who might have come via Metafilter.


Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Here today

Technology is a fickle master. Who would have thought that the latest must-have would be Drum Buddy, an improbable-looking device that boasts of strictly analogue outputs and can make noises unlike no other. Retro electronics we admire include Soviet Synths and Vintage Calculators. Theming electronics to look old is perhaps a way of making the future slow down, injecting a little bit of human warmth, recovered and recycled from our memories of the past. See, for example, this old school television. More up to date gadgets can be tracked at Gizmodo.

Related, vaguely. Found slides, rich with evocative discarded imagery. Reminiscent of the famous Found Magazine, and the happened-upon collections of many others, including Consumptive, Renewal.org, Agit8, Monkeyview, and Cardhouse. Strange, when photographs are considered the most cherished fetish of the technological age, that so many should have gone missing. Even more: I, II (especially), III.

Elsewhere. Retro futures: a Dan Dare tribute page (ironic, when Dare was a true Brit-style hero, that this site should originate in Slovenia). The Chairman Smiles vs The Commissar Vanishes. All about the Harold and Maude hearse. False Advertising: a gallery of parody.


Monday, March 17, 2003
Full stop

These vintage Weightwatcher's menu cards have been doing the rounds. Apart from the quaint flavour-combinations, retro-tinged ceramics and day-glo colours, these innocent depictions raise the thorny technical issue of how to authentically represent food. We might consider ourselves highly sophisticated in culinary matters, but if truth be told, even today's celebrity chefs (Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater, Delia Smith) rely on an old-fashioned smoke-and-mirrors approach when it comes to photographing their recipes. Cigarette smoke makes a highly effective stand-in for steam, for example...

Elsewhere. The link between cars and faces. The Cottingley Fairies, Edwardian Britain's most celebrated hoax. The Artchive has sensible, almost desktop-sized scans of contemporary works. SCA is the Society for Commercial Archaeology. Lost Highways takes a look at the future we were once promised. Bluebase purports to offer us a future that hasn't yet arrived. Many, many mesh caps, all unfunny. Collection of Creation Myths and Sacred Narratives of Creation.

PostcardX: random distribution project.


Friday, March 14, 2003
End of the line?

These evocative photo collections of the Grand Central Railway in Leicester catalogue the dismantling of great swathes of Britain's transport infrastructure. For those of us born after this era of savage cuts, yet forced to struggle by on an increasingly desperate rail network, the whole concept of taking up track and demolishing stations seems insane.

The mythological bogeyman of Britain's post-war rail collapse is one Doctor Richard Beeching, and it seemed instructive to find more about him. The railways had been nationalised in 1948, combining the various lines into one organisation, British Rail. In the two decades that followed, the roads lobby became an unstoppable force, while rail was increasingly seen as an anachronism, hamstrung by strange systems of rates and artificially low fares. For modernisers, rail was a throwback to the Victorian era, at odds with the age of the 'white heat of technology' epitomised by the new, fast motorways (see The Motorway Archive for more details about road-building).

Beeching, a former technical director at ICI, replaced Sir Brian Robertson, who was essentially pro-rail, as chairman of the British Transport Commission. Straight away, Beeching went on the offensive, and announced that he would ferret out the inefficiencies in the rail system (which was underfunded and under-exploited). His quest for efficiency culminated in the infamous Beeching Report, published on 27th March 1963. The findings were convincing, and had central government rubbing their hands with glee. For example, half of the country's 7,000 stations generated only 2% of passenger traffic. Beeching recommended closing 2,363 stations, eviscerating the system, cutting off rural communities and leaving many major towns without adequate passenger services (much more detail can be found at the excellent page at Timmonet, from which many of these figures have been taken). Deeply depressing maps are available here: Beeching's proposed withdrawals: country-wide, London area. Compare and contrast: passenger network in 1961/1969. Joyce's site also links to contemporary opposition to Beeching (pdf), and notes that the report wasn't a complete disaster as it laid the foundations for the excellent Inter-city service.

Today, the Great Central is a struggling tourist operation, running steam engines for enthusiasts, and railway heritage remains under threat (especially in towns like Swindon, which owe their existence to the railway in the first place: I, II). Of course, Britain isn't the only country with railway problems (see Poland and the US for starters), but the Beeching era is notable for its wilful bloody-mindedness: houses were often swiftly built over removed track to prevent any return to rail. Like that other great rail-related symbol of needless destruction, the Euston Arch, Beeching's 'reforms' paved the way for the mediocre service that ciy dwellers have to endure today, the total reliance on cars in rural areas and the fragmentation of cities into dismal pockets of commuter-belt.

Another transport obituary. Will the Zil soon be no more? The wilfully boxy Russian limousine used to be a Party staple, but in a free market, these automotive behemoths compare very unfavourably to the top-line products from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes, etc. Apparently, more top-spec S-Class Mercedes are sold in Moscow than the whole of Germany, so the escalating emphasis on lunatic levels of luxury at the upper of the market (see the Maybach) will find a natural home on the city's broad avenues.

Bear in mind too that many of these Russian enthusiasts might not necessarily fund their hobbies in a strictly legal way. The market for armoured cars is booming (buoyed, too, by general global jumpiness) and all the major carmakers can turn their products into mobile panic rooms for a premium. There are a fair few private companies who'll do the same - Trasco and Cloer International to name just two (we love the levels of armour specification: 'Magnum-Class', 'NATO-Class' and, presumably toughest of all, 'Dragunov-Class'. This is presumably named after Evgeniy Fedorovich Dragunov, sniper rifle pioneer). Vaguely related. Russian classic car show details. More Zil pics (descriptions in Italian). Russian toy cars.

Sorry for the lack of links yesterday - Blogger was playing up. Elsewhere. Posters and pamphlets, snipped from various weblogs (apologies for lack of attribution): Saigon, Iraq, China, Switzerland. Collections of backstage passes, via dailyjive: I, II, III. Railway food. All about train tickets, which takes you to the Transport Ticket Society. Railway history pamphlet collection at the LSE.


Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Lost and found

Viewfinder is a new service from English Heritage, offering a searchable database of the heritage body's huge archive of architecture and design photographs, dating back to the earliest days of photography. If nothing else, having a nose around is perfect virtual tourism for the desk-bound urbanite - you can sample rural arcadia (e.g: gnarled old trees: I, II) at your leisure (not to mention countless urban vistas). The high quality of the images on display is a testament to the skills of the architectural photographers who worked for EH, including the great Eric de Mare (example: I).

We're reminded too of the numerous country houses (register) lost in the past century (and catalogued in Giles Worsley's book Lost Country Houses - see review in things 16 (or buy the book)). It became increasingly hard to justify these huge piles, especially after the war when many had been taken over for essential war work and half ruined in the process. John Harris's excellent No Voice from the Hall (subtitled 'Early memories of a Country House Snooper' - more here, as well as the sequel, Echoing Voices) expertly conjures up the atmosphere of these ruined hulks, their exquisite fixtures and fittings neglected, smashed or scattered. Read Harris reviewing Worsley.

Entirely unrelated. The Ercoupe was a private aeroplane introduced by ERCO (the Engineering Research Corporation - love that old school, high-tech company name) in 1939. Production halted during the war, as one might expect, but there was a flurry of interest once hostilities had finished and the little silvery two-seater was produced at the rate of 10 a day. The 'Coupe' arrived at the start of an era of rampant optimism, when it was confidently predicted that every driveway would soon have private plane (or helicopter) parked up next to the family car.

Cheap to run and easy to fly, a staggering 4,309 Coupes were sold in 1946, before the sales curve dropped like a stone and aerial commuting reverted to magazine covers and adolescent daydreams. Production struggled on in a modified form until 1970. Ercoupe.com includes good quality scans of brochures and adverts. The tiny plane even played a crucial role in the development of the jet age, when an example was fitted with rockets and sent soaring into the skies above Wright Field. These planes have a loyal web following: I, II, III, IV. They're still a cheap way to fly.

Elsewhere. Are you sure you still want to go to the dentist? (QT required). We liked the story of the uber-shopper, a tale of cloned loyalty cards and many, many frequent flier miles. More info at the originator's site: Cockeyed. TV advertising history, with scans from ads old and new. Highly detailed models of concept cars. The joy and exhileration that accompanies a doomed technology.


Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Fall and rise

More on yesterday’s musings about Chinese architecture. We didn’t really say why 32bny annoyed us. At base level, perhaps, the magazine seems to be adding theoretical weight to what is pure opportunism, as Western firms fall over themselves to secure some of the billions of dollars of construction contracts that are up for grabs in these new Chinese cities. The implications are disturbing for many reasons. As Koolhaas notes in this Wired interview, the emphasis is on speed, not quality:

We've been looking at the average time that goes into designing a building in China and the average number of people who work on it. We discovered that in the area we were in it takes 10 days - and it's three people and three Apple computers. And it's a 40-story building. Others are done in two days. The work definitely becomes more diagrammatic, but maybe more pure at the same time.

‘Maybe more pure’ is the crucial phrase here, an extension of the line of thinking that states that the spur of the moment, instant solution is by definition the best one. Koolhaas reasons that because the so-called ‘generic city’ occurs everywhere, it must mean it’s habitable, in the same way that the gradual, creeping genericism that has flattened the global urban experience is perhaps symptomatic of an almost subconscious desire – we actually value characterlessness over ‘beauty, identity, quality, and singularity’.

Admittedly, we see this fetishisation of the ordinary in a related strand of new photography, one that has emerged out of the work of the early pioneers of epic scale and urban reportage (Gabriele Basilico, George Tice, Garry Winogrand, Lewis Baltz, et al). Today one can grab a few photographers almost at random, and find people who can wrest extraordinary beauty out of the banal: Nadav Kander (I, II), Henrik Knudsen (I, II, III), Dan Tobin Smith (I).

Elsewhere. Tiny Desert Teardrop caravans. The online home of the station wagon vs Professionalcar.org. New automotive crush. Aston Martin film shoot.

Scenery of old Japan. The paranormal on TV: discuss. Interesting lunar journal. Thomas Pynchon’s little-known work for Boeing. British book-binding lets us all down (this hits home - we’ve had more than one complaint about things coming adrift from its bindings in the past).

Also, What Britain Thinks, text message polling. Thomas the Tank Engine damaging to rail industry shock. Bob Weston’s big facial hair adventure.

Yet more retro clothing: I, II, III. History of Tel Aviv, subject of a new architectural guide book. Japanese street style. Ew. restroom photos.


Monday, March 10, 2003
Columns

We've finally got round to putting up Joseph Masheck's epic essay 'His Native Doric and other columns, a digression on Adolf Loos' iconic unbuilt design for the Chicago Tribune tower. Eschewing Loos' single doric column, the competition was won instead by Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells with their vertiginous take on the Gothic revival. Second place went to Eliel Saarinen, and was designed in a similar vein (more images here. See here for a computer-generated reconstruction of Loos' design. Even Walter Gropius appeared to be a little unhinged by the whole process, and his design has echoes of art deco).

32 Beijing/New York is a new architecture magazine, in which each issue is fragmented into 32 'nodes,' each 'seeking the relevant and necessary influences of architecture today.' First issue detail - the publication is 32cm square, containing 32 pages. For some reason it annoys us already, and we haven't even seen it. I suppose it's the continued emphasis on China as the focus of architectural theory, especially the Pearl River Delta, a hyper-fast growing megalopolis that accommodates the 'new' city of Guangzhou (which alone should reach 10 million inhabitants by 2020) and which was the subject of the Rem Koolhaas-edited Great Leap Forward. The Delta is an unrestricted development area, a grotesque collision of capitalism and ideology, and as such has become an architectural zoo of highly dubious quality.

Elsewhere. Starbucks distribution map (via Gawker). When product placement doesn’t go according to plan: Apple vs the Church of Satan. Sunsets, not as good as one might expect. Best of British shooting brakes.


Saturday, March 08, 2003
Three feet high...

Equilibrium, a new Matrix-style sci-fi thriller from director Kurt Wimmer, has gone all-out on authoritarian style to create a 1984-type vision of the future. The production team shot in Berlin to get that totalitarian, stripped classical look, using the Palace of Justice, the Reichstadt, the Deutschehalle and the Brandenburg Gate for locations. Here's a good gallery of surviving Third Reich-era architecture. Other films that have passed into stylistic lore include, naturally, Metropolis and Blade Runner, as well as the Fifth Element, Brazil and even Judge Dredd. Interestingly, Equilibrium even has its own conspiracy. See also Hugh Pearman's things piece on Tempelhof airport.

Elsewhere. TV dinners, via scrubbles, who got it from reenhead, who got it from tortilla girl, which turns out to be a wonderful find. We especially like the links to these 1940s galleries. This in turn took us to the Vogue patterns section at McCall, and reminded us of Bronwen Edwards' piece on Vintage Vogue in things 14. More on Vintage Vogue: I, II, III - and also visit Posh Vintage, especially if you're into Pucci. Tortilla girl also links to these letters from authors, including a gingerbread recipe from Laura Ingalls Wilder (scan), who, funnily enough, also featured in our issue 14 (which is finally available to buy online).

Offshore radio (via footprints, who also give us this entertainment robot resource, from which we are thoroughly creeped out by My Real Baby, slightly frightened by the PackBot and seduced by the SDR-4X). More robots at lightning field (from this show), where were also told to Stop the Rudeness!.

Thanks to Languagehat for proof-reading skills. Pin-up galleries. Aston Martin gallery. Ah! It's another creation myth. More here.


Friday, March 07, 2003
Bricks and mortar

The Waiting Project is an experimental research project examining the 'experience of waiting in the city'. Of most interest is their Temporal Topography, a selection of animated maps (in flash) that chart the difference between perceived and actual distance.

Good architecture galleries are few and far between. One of our favourites is Archnet, which has unrivalled special collections (see the alliterative Mud Mosques of Mali, also in black and white). Generally speaking, if you're after architecture you have to contend with snippets: Boston City Hall, or Rudolph’s Temple Street Parking Garage, Coventry Cathedral, TB sanitoriums: I, II, Corb's Voisin plan, the visions of Sant-Elia. Aga Khan award.

Elsewhere. The ultimate televised seance. Satellite photos of Area 51 (zoom disabled, funnily enough). Tantalisingly sketchy illustrations from Japan. The history of Iso Rivolta, from bubble cars to the Grifo, one of the most beautiful cars ever built.


Thursday, March 06, 2003
Crisp and white


Sister theatre came back into the theatre proper just after seven that evening. I was sitting on a high stool drying and polishing the great stack of instruments spread on the top shelf of the glass trolley in front of me.

"My poor Nurse Lindsay! Still at it?"

"And one more lot still to come out of the sterilizer, Sister." I eased my turban a little farther back on my head. "Those men must have used every single instrutment in the General Surgical Unit Theatre to-day."


Thus begins The New Sister Theatre, a thrilling tale of love, fever and forceps, but sadly not one of the tomes shown in this obsessive collection of medical romances. You can get Sister Theatre on audiobook if you want to know how it all ends.

There's a small piece by 'Piloti' in this week's Private Eye about senseless demolition in the name of lengthening runways - something always has to give (with regard to a St Laurence's in Eastwood, a Grade I listed church that currently stands in the way of the extension to Southend airport). Piloti cheekily cited the case of the Bristol Brabazon, the British equivalent of the Spruce Goose, i.e. a colossal white elephant. The Brabazon (named after John Moore-Brabazon, Lord Brabazon of Tara, one of Britain's first pilots. More info here) was first flown in 1949, lumbering into the sky from an especially lengthened runway at Filton, just outside Bristol.

In order to make room for the Brabazon, the largest aeroplane ever built in Britain, a seven-acre assembly building was constructed, and the runway was extended, completely obliterating the nearby village of Charleton; a modern update on the lord of the manor moving the unsightly village from his grounds. (Related: working Brabazon model. How runways are designated. Info available at the Public Record Office. A wonderful picture of the Brabazon at the 1951 Farnborough Air Show - a good gallery. The wrecks of long-grounded planes on the airfield at Filton (scroll down)).

Elsewhere. A friend of things draws our attention to this delicacy, 'a cheesy glob of friend cornmeal the size of a small lemon.' No thanks.
The astro stamp society (a broken scanner precludes us from sharing some glorious Soviet-era space stamps we picked up in Moscow) and more to the point, Soviet Dogs in Space.

As you might have noticed, we've done a bit more tweaking. Hopefully the sidebar should be slightly more pleasingly proportioned and less cluttered. We've also given individual pages a more streamlined look - check these pages: the Tale of TWA800, 'The Dinosaur', 'Things': a short story, and Making the World Safe for Tourism.


Wednesday, March 05, 2003
On collecting

It hardly needs to be pointed out, but the internet is a vast repository of collections, an endless parade of galleries and showcases, each offering an insight into someone's interest or obsession. Collecting these collections is part of things' remit - and we're by no means the only ones who feel the urge to act as tour guides (see, for example, Coudal Partners' excellent Museum of Online Museums, the MoOM (which seems to borrow its virtual presence from Mies' Crown Hall...)).

On to the galleries. Copyright Expired is a strange name for this collection of dinosaurs and plant illustration, all published prior to 1923. Click here for a huge collection of religious architectural images. Jim Gaston has the largest online collection of vintage pen advertising. Oleg Schulakov deals in Russian banknotes (beware of pop-ups). Nylon.net brings you bushel-loads of pin-up art.

Fallen Flags is a vast database of amateur photography of the US railroad system. Shill's title screen pages are a work of true devotion. Regiments.org is the kind of website that hosts so much information you don’t really know where to start. See, for starters, stamps featuring Land-Rovers, as well as the history of British, Empire and Commonwealth Land Forces.

Elsewhere. While poking around for images for our imminent design tweak (we know, again), we stumbled across another landscape marble picture - see Peter Davidson's article in things 11 for more details. This type of stone was also used on the Moscow Underground (Tony Wood's piece on the Metro, from things 16 isn't, I'm afraid, online just yet). An evocative picture of a quarry.

Unrelated. Guess the dictator/sitcom character. Memories of Videodisc, the final days (I seem to remember this came via sharpeworld). Finally, the game of 1000 Blank White Cards, which we now almost understand.


Tuesday, March 04, 2003
Bits and bytes

Following on from Jane Stevenson’s piece on Elizabeth Elstob’s Anglo-Saxon Grammar in things 12, we found this page, containing a complete scan of Elstob’s Englifh-Saxon Homily. Staying with books, this visual search engine for Amazon was linked on me-fi. It's fun, but unlikely to supplant their own, excellent, search system - at least not until you can enlarge the book jackets instantly at the click of a mouse (and spin them around to see the blurb and jacket design, etc., etc.). See also the stripped down version at Amazon light.

An interesting, and obsessive, site chronicling the history of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. We don’t know much about this road, but vaguely remember that Harry ‘Rabbit' Angstrom made his first, unsuccessful, attempt at escaping from the everyday along this very stretch of highway. The site has a nice line in roadside ephemera, but like so many highway histories (Roadside America, the Highway Project, Motel Americana, Roadside Peek, etc.) the inescapable blur of memory and history serves to make the past seem somehow more heroic than it almost certainly was.

Technology links, old and new (more technology links will be seeping out over at Coudal in the 'Fresh Signals' section). Farewell analog, the early days of television (via sharpeworld). Nice potted computer history hosted at Stanford. A virtual design museum from the Netherlands. A history (not the history) of the printing press.


Monday, March 03, 2003
Cut and paste

Coudal's link to the art of Jeff Soto has put us in a collage-hungry frame of mind, hunting down Merz old and new. Kurt Schwitters has always been one of things' favourite artists, although the nature of collage, with its layered surface, tattered materials and serious attention to detail, means you need to find big images for a computer screen to even start to do them justice (some examples here: I).

The search for ever-larger images took us to Imart's excellent pages (Schwitters: I, II, Cornell: I, II), which in turn led to Photomontage.com. There's some good stuff here, but it frequently falls into the genre of 'blurry close-up photos of small plastic toys' (e.g. these) - but that's not really a criticism. Don't kill the pop-ups - they're the site's raison d'etre.

We also liked the International Museum of Collage, Assemblage and Construction, which has extensive permanent galleries (see: VW Manual - 'the dizzying paradise of building my first Volkswagen engine' - by Scot Hacker, the work of Bob Villamagna, and big names like John Heartfield). We're long-time fans of the work of photographer Simon Larbalestier, who was responsible for much of the imagery on 4AD's album cover (see eyesore, the unofficial 4AD database for more info, especially their dedicated sections on Oliver and Larbalestier).

Finally. Not actually collage, but called Collage, visit this database of 20,000 works from London's Guildhall Art Library. There are excellent selections, see: tickets, maps, posters and trading cards, as well as dedicated exhibitions like the London that never was, showing schemes that failed to come to fruition (check record 27302 - no direct linking - for a pyramid-shaped cemetry on Primrose Hill).


Sunday, March 02, 2003
Work displacement

We just received some spam from the Rapture Report, offering a Flash presentation of the plan of salvation. It seems a tad unfair to mock, but we're reminded, inevitably, of that bizarre organisation The Lord's Witnesses. TLW produce a hefty publication called The True Bible Code (not to be confused with any other Bible Code books), which you can order for free via their site. Curiously enough, all this proselytising activity is funded by sending out junk faxes to businesses in the UK. Reply to one of these - which might be a 'fax poll' on a pressing issue of the day - and you'll be charged a hefty whack to send the fax. The organisation clearly needs the cash, as they are consistently (and touchingly) incorrect in their prophecies: a recent missive started: 'As you may have realised our first calculated dates for UN taking over the World based on Revelation 12, 13, 17 were wrong.'

In the days before the internet turfed all these cranks into your in-box without permission, it was quite fun seeking out the weird, wonderful and just plain extraordinary all by yourself. The book High Weirdness by Mail is a period piece now, describing an era when a humble stamped addressed envelope could be a passport into a hitherto unknown world of radical views, conspiracy theories and pure, simple strangeness. An off-shoot of the Church of the Sub Genius, one of the earliest and most prescient sites on the internet, more info on the book here: I, II

Elsewhere. Revelation 2.0 is an online art piece that takes away all text and graphics, leaving you with only photos and blocks of colour. For some reason, we're reduced to a light shower of punctuation and not a lot else. No idea why this should be.

Guigalaxy has a host of links to illustration and animation. Irregularly updated, but elegant none the less, The Perils of Leisure. things 15 still available. More issues to follow soon.