The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'san francisco'
I'm gentrifying the neighborhood. I'm adding special bus service for my employees. I've figured out a way for white people to make money from taxi cabs again. I'm replacing your favorite restaurant with a reptile park. I'm driving Filipino fusion food trucks on your kid's basketball court. I got next and I'm taking all the vowels out of this shithole.
It's time we divide this state into eleven smaller states with Galt's Gulch consisting of this city and the various gate communities to the north. If you don't like it you can just move to one of the other states like Hoboland and whatever we call the desert where we force all the cholos to drive their low riders.The last part is a reference to the recent proposal to split California into six states, allowing them to race each other to the bottom on tax rates, deregulation and labour costs. (Or, “take all the poor people who used to live in this cool 'hood before we gentrified it, declare them to be Not Our Problem and let them fend for themselves”.)
Meanwhile, a piece by Mark Ames (formerly of The Exile) on the US Libertarian Right's courting of the Bay Area techno-elite at a libertarian-themed conference named Reboot, yet somehow inexplicably booking a theocratic hatemonger to give the keynote, and the sometimes uneasy fit this highlights between Californian-style libertarianism (think along the lines of Robert Anton Wilson's Guns And Dope Party—a bit wild-eyed for the average North London Guardianista, let alone the highly regulated yet highly contented citizens of Jante-law Scandinavia, but moderately cuddly, in a Californian hot-tub kind of way—and you won't be far off) and the older and more unsavoury US Libertarianism that grew out of a reaction to Roosevelt's New Deal and, along the way, took in local strains of fascism and white-supremacism:
And then there’s the uglier, darker side of the Kochs’ libertarianism on display in Reason’s archives: the fringe-right racism and fascism that the movement has tried to downplay in recent years to appeal to progressives and non-loonie techies. Throughout its first two decades, in the 1970s and 1980s, Reason supported apartheid South Africa, and attacked anti-apartheid protesters and sanctions right up to Nelson Mandela’s release, when they finally dropped it.
The two libertarianisms — the hick fascism version owned by the Koch brothers, essentially rebranding Joe McCarthy with a pot leaf and a ponytail; and Silicon Valley’s emerging brand of optimistic, half-understood libertarianism, part hippie cybernetics, part hot-tub-Hayek — should have met and merged right there in the Bay Area. And yet — they really were different, fundamentally different. The libertarianism of the Kochs is a direct descendant of the Big Business reaction against FDR’s New Deal, when the DuPont oligarchy created the American Liberty League to undo new laws establishing Social Security and labor union rights. Their heroes are the America Firsters led by Charles Lindbergh. And they haven’t stopped fighting that fight to dismantle the New Deal and everything that followed, even though most Americans have only a dim understanding of what that political war was about, and how its redistribution of political power still shapes our politics today. For the Kochs and their die-hard brand of libertarianism, that war with FDR and the New Deal is fresh and raw, and still far from resolved.Finally, here is a quite decent biographical comic about Ayn Rand, which manages to be somewhat sympathetic whilst not hiding that she was a generally awful human being across the board. (And isn't that her appeal? Not that she was a decent person, but that she gave assholes permission, with the diploma-mill authority of the language of philosophy, to be assholes and regard themselves not only as decent human beings but superior to the losers around them.)
The Bacon-Wrapped Economy, an article looking at how the rise of a stratum of extremely well-paid engineers and wealthy dot-com founders, mostly in their 20s, has changed the San Francisco Bay Area, economically and culturally:
You don't need to look hard to see the effects of tech money everywhere in the Bay Area. The housing market is the most obvious and immediate: As Rebecca Solnit succinctly put it in a February essay for the London Review of Books, "young people routinely make six-figure salaries, not necessarily beginning with a 1, and they have enormous clout in the housing market." According to a March 11 report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, four of the ten most expensive housing markets in the country — San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Marin counties — were located in the greater Bay Area. Even Oakland, long considered a cheaper alternative to the city, saw an 11 percent spike in average rent between fiscal year 2011-12 and the previous year; all told, San Francisco and Oakland were the two American cities with the greatest increases in rent. Parts of San Francisco that were previously desolate, dangerous, or both are now home to gleaming office towers, new condos, and well-scrubbed people.The economic effects of gentrification, soaring costs of living and previous generations of residents being priced out are predictable enough (and San Francisco has been suffering from similar effects since the 1990s .com boom, when a famous graffito in one of the city's then seamy neighbourhoods read “artists are the shock troops of gentrification”). And then there are the effects of the city's wealthy elite being replaced by a new crop of the wealthy who, being in their 20s and from the internet world, share little of the aesthetic tastes and cultural assumptions of the traditional plutocracy, favouring street art to oil on canvas and laptop glitch mash-ups to the philharmonic; their clout has sent shockwaves through the philanthropic structures of patronage that supported high culture in the city:
Historically, most arts funding has, of course, come from older people, for the simple reason that they tend to be wealthier. But San Francisco's moneyed generation is now significantly younger than ever before. And the swath of twenties- and thirties-aged guys — they are almost entirely guys — that represents the fattest part of San Francisco's financial bell curve is, by and large, simply not interested.
"If you're talking the symphony or other classical old-man shit, I would say [interest] is very low," an employee at a smallish San Francisco startup recently told me. "The amount of people I know that give a shit about the symphony as opposed to the amount of people I know who would look at a cool stencil on the street ... is really small."And not only the content of philanthropy has changed, but so have the mechanisms. Just handing over money to a museum, without any strings, no longer cuts it to a generation of techies raised on test-driven development and the market-oriented philosophy of Ayn Rand, and believing in fast iteration, continuous feedback and quantifiable results. Consequently, donations to old-fashioned arts institutions have declined with the decline of the old money, but have largely been replaced by the rise of crowdfunding, with measurable results:
(Kickstarter) The self-described "world's largest funding platform for creative projects" has, in its three-year existence, raised more than half a billion dollars for more than 90,000 projects and is getting more popular by the day; at this point, it metes out roughly twice as much money as the National Endowment for the Arts. And though hard statistics are difficult to come by, it's clear that this is a funding model that's taken particular hold in the tech world, even over traditional mechanisms of philanthropy. "Arts patronage is definitely very low," one tech employee said. "But it's like, Kickstarters? Oh, off the map." Which makes sense — Kickstarter is entirely in and of the web, and possibly for that reason, it tends to attract people who are interested in starting and funding projects that are oriented toward DIY and nerd culture. But it represents a tectonic shift in the way we — and more specifically, the local elite, the people with means — relate to art.
"A lot of this is about the difference between consuming culture and supporting culture," a startup-world refugee told me a few weeks ago: If Old Money is investing in season tickets to the symphony and writing checks to the Legion of Honor, New Money is buying ultra-limited-edition indie-rock LPs and contributing to art projects on IndieGoGo in exchange for early prints. And if the old conception of art and philanthropy was about, essentially, building a civilization — about funding institutions without expecting anything in return, simply because they present an inherent, sometimes ineffable, sometimes free market-defying value to society, present and future, because they help us understand ourselves and our world in a way that can occasionally transcend popular opinion— the new one is, for better or for worse, about voting with your dollars.Which suggests the idea of the societal equivalent of the philosopher's zombie, a society radically restructured by a post-Reaganite, market-essentialist worldview, in which all the inefficient, inflexible bits of the old society, from philanthropic foundations in support of a greater Civilisation to senses of civic values and community, have been replaced by the effects of market forces: a world where, if society is assumed to be nothing but the aggregation of huge numbers of self-interested agents interacting in markets, things work as they did before, perhaps more efficiently in a lot of ways, and to the casual observer it looks like a society or a civilisation, only at its core, there's nothing there. Or perhaps there is one supreme value transcending market forces, the value of lulz, an affectation of nihilistic nonchalance for the new no-hierarchy hierarchies.
The article goes on to describe the changes to other things in San Francisco, such as the attire by which the elite identify one another and measure status (the old preppie brands of the East Coast are out, and in their place are luxury denim and “dress pants sweatpants” costing upwards of $100 a pair–a way of looking casual and unaffected, in the classic Californian-dude style, to the outside observer, whilst signalling one's status to those in the know as meticulously as a Brooks Brothers suit would in old Manhattan), the dining scene (which has become more technical and artisanal; third-wave coffee is mentioned) and an economy of internet-disintermediated personal services which has cropped up to tend to the needs of the new masters of the online universe:
And then there are companies like TaskRabbit and Exec, both of which serve as sort of informal, paid marketplaces for personal assistant-style tasks like laundry, grocery shopping, and household chores. (Workers who use TaskRabbit bid on projects in a race-to-the-bottom model, while Execs are paid a uniform $20 per hour, regardless of the work.) According to Molly Rabinowitz, a San Franciscan in her early twenties who briefly made a living doing this kind of work — though she declined to reveal which service she used — many tech companies give their employees a set amount of credit for these tasks a month or year, and that's in addition to the people using the services privately. "There's no way this would exist without tech," she said. "No way." At one point, Rabinowitz was hired for several hours by a pair of young Googlers to launder and iron their clothes while they worked from home. ("It was ridiculous. They didn't want to iron anything, but they wanted everything, including their T-shirts, to be ironed.") Another user had her buy 3,000 cans of Diet Coke and stack them in a pyramid in the lobby of a startup "because they thought it would be fun and quirky." Including labor, gas, and the cost of the actual soda, Rabinowitz estimated the entire project must have cost at least several hundred dollars. "It's like ... you don't care," she said. "It doesn't mean anything because it's not your money. Or there's just so much money that it doesn't matter what you spend it on."
The latest city to get a bike-sharing programme is San Francisco. A scheme is being rolled out both within San Francisco and technological/research hubs like Mountain View and Palo Alto along the west side of the bay. The scheme will be fairly limited compared to London or Paris; the bikes in San Francisco will initially only be in the business centre around Market St., and won't cover areas like the Haight, Golden Gate Park or the Mission District, and there are no plans to extend the scheme to the east bay (Berkeley/Oakland and such).
I'm half surprised that Google, Facebook or some startup haven't rolled out their own bike-sharing system first, with intelligently mesh-networked, location-enhanced bikes which may or may not interact with the rider's advertising profile and/or online identity.
From a Momus blog post, in which he, on departing from Osaka, speculates on how he might possibly live there:
I've never seriously thought about living in Osaka before. I love Tokyo best of all. But increasingly, my outlook has Berlinified, by which I mean I regard expensive cities like New York, London and Tokyo as unsuited to subculture. They're essentially uncreative because creative people living there have to put too much of their time and effort into the meaningless hackwork which allows them to meet the city's high rents and prices. So disciplines like graphic design and television thrive, but more interesting types of art are throttled in the cradle.Momus raises an interesting observation, and one which may seem somewhat paradoxical at first. First-tier global cities, like London, New York, Paris and Tokyo are less creative than second-tier cities, largely due to the increased pressure of their dynamic economies making all but the most commercial creative endeavours unsustainable. I have noticed this myself, having lived both in Melbourne (Australia's "Second City" and home of the country's most vibrant art and music scenes; generally seen by almost everyone to be ahead of Sydney in this regard) and London (a city associated, in the public eye, with pop-cultural cool, from the Swingin' Sixties, through punk rock and Britpop, but now more concerned with marketing and repackaging than creating; it also serves as the headquarters of numerous media companies and advertising agencies). In London, it seems that people are too busy working for a living to make art in the way they do in Melbourne or Berlin, and the arts London leads in are the commercial ones Momus names Tokyo as leading in: graphic design, the media, and countless onslaughts of meticulously market-researched "indie" bands. Those who thrive in London (and presumably New York, Paris and Tokyo) tend to be not the free-wheeling bricoleurs but the repackagers and cool-hunters, one eye on the stock market of trends and another on the repository of past culture, looking for just the right thing to pick up and just the right way to market it. (Examples: various revivals (Mod, Punk, New Wave), each more cartoonish and superficial than the last.) "Moving to London" is an artistic cliché, shorthand for wanting to hit the commercial mainstream, to surf the big waves.
There are, of course, counter-examples, but they tend to be scattered. For one, the more vibrant a cultural marketplace a city is, the more money is floating around, the more rents and prices are driven up, and the more those who are not driven by a commercial killer instinct find themselves unable to keep up, without either channeling their energies into money-spinning hackwork or whoring themselves to the marketing ecosystem, subordinating their creative decisions to its meretricious logic.
Also, as Paul Graham pointed out, cities have their own emphases encoded in their cultures; a city is made up as much of cultural assumptions as buildings and roads, and there is only space for one main emphasis in a city. If it's about commerce or status, it's not going to be about creative bricolage. (This was earlier discussed in this blog, here.) The message of a city is subtle but pervasive, replicating through the attitudes and activities of its inhabitants, subtly encouraging or discouraging particular decisions (not through any system of coercion, but simply through the interest or disinterest of its inhabitants). As Graham writes, Renaissance Florence was full of artists, wherea Milan wasn't, despite both being of around the same size; Florence, it seems, had an established culture encouraging the arts and attracting artists, whereas Milan didn't.
When a city is said to be first-tier—in the same club of world cities as London and New York—the implication is that its focus is on status and success, and the city attracts those drawn to these values, starting the feedback loop. Second-tier cities (like Melbourne and Berlin and, according to Momus, Osaka) are largely shielded from this by their place in the shadows of first-tier cities and their relatively cooler economic temperature. (There's a reason why music scenes flourish disproportionately in places like Manchester and Portland, often eclipsing the Londons and New Yorks for a time.) Of course, as second-tier cities are recognised as "cool", they begin to heat up and aspire towards first-tier status. (One example is San Francisco; formerly the hub of the 1960s counterculture (which, of course, birthed the personal computing revolution), then the seat of the dot-com boom, and now promoting itself as the Manhattan of the West Coast.) Cities, however, fill niches; they can't all be New York, and the number of first-tier "world cities" is, by its nature, limited.
San Francisco could soon be the first US city to adopt a London-style congestion charge on cars in central areas. Not sure which areas they mean (I suspect the central grid north of Market St., with its numerous Muni and BART lines, is a likely candidate), but it makes sense (SF proper is compact and easily navigable by foot or public transport, is on a peninsula linked with neighbouring areas only by bridges and tunnels, and has a strong green/progressive culture which could counterbalance the stereotypical American idea of car-as-extension-to-self). Of course, the congestion charge is still on the drawing board, and faces opposition.
The reason that this blog was quiet for the best part of a week was that your humble correspondent was on vacation in San Francisco. A few observations:
- Heathrow Terminal 5 is, now that the bugs appear to be ironed out, quite a decent airport terminal to depart from and arrive at; the architecture is at once striking (particularly in first impressions, when ascending in the lift from the tube) and practical, and there are plenty of amenities. Getting through immigration was very fast (in contrast, the last time I went through one of the last terminals, I spent an hour queueing at passport control).
- Similarly, I had no problems getting into (or out of) the US. My checked-in possessions weren't stolen by corrupt minimum-waged baggage-screening staff, and nor did I at any time feel intimidated. The entry process was much the same as it is in the UK.
- There is WiFi reachable from almost every café or bar in San Francisco proper, and it's invariably free. None of the miserly paywalling that's the norm in flint-hearted London. Also, people carry and use laptops everywhere; even on commuter trains at 10pm when no-one without a death wish would do so in London. The cafés (from countercultural establishments in the Haight to corporate chains with earth-toned seating and all-Kenny-G music policies) are full of laptops, with a definite majority being Apples. I saw more glowing Apple logos in my six days in the Bay Area than in the entire rest of the year.
- The Tenori-On launch in San Francisco was great; Toshio Iwai's talk was much the same as in London last year, though the guest musicians were different; in particular, I Am Robot And Proud's set (featuring Tenori-On and live piano) was very impressive. (Those hoping for a price cut, though, will be disappointed; the US price is $1,200.)
- On Tuesday, I went to Ignite SF, a geek show-and-tell organised by some of the O'Reilly people, at the infamous DNA Lounge. It was quite interesting, with topics varying from web 2.0 stuff (user-generated content, social software anti-patterns, and so on) to the more outré (robots, giant monsters, and the (briefly) user-accessible LED sign at the DNA Lounge that fell prey to trolls). It was rather interesting; like a briefer, more theory-focussed Dorkbot.
Such as the following: 1) simulate how a crowd flees from a burning car toward a single evacuation point; 2) test out how a pathogen might be transmitted through a mobile pedestrian over a short period of time; 3) see how the existing urban grid facilitate or does not facilitate mass evacuation prior to a hurricane landfall or in the event of dirty bomb detonation; 4) design a mall which can compel customers to shop to the point of bankruptcy, to walk obliviously for miles and miles and miles, endlessly to the point of physical exhaustion and even death; 5) identify, if possible, the tell-tale signs of a peaceful crowd about to metamorphosize into a hellish mob; 6) determine how various urban typologies, such as plazas, parks, major arterial streets and banlieues, can be reconfigured in situ into a neutralizing force when crowds do become riotous; and 7) conversely, figure out how one could, through spatial manipulation, inflame a crowd, even a very small one, to set in motion a series of events that culminates into a full scale Revolution or just your average everyday Southeast Asian coup d'état -- regime change through landscape architecture.
Or you quadruple the population of Chicago. How about 200 million? And into its historic Emerald Necklace system of parks, you drop an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, a pedophile, an Ebola patient, an illegal migrant worker, a swarm of zombies, and Paris Hilton. Then grab a cold one, sit back and watch the landscape descend into chaos. It'll be better than any megablockbuster movie you'll see this summer.And here are emotional maps of various urban areas, including parts of London and San Francisco, created by having volunteers walk around them with GPS units and galvanic skin response meters.
(via schneier, mind hacks)
Maciej Ceglowski has written up an illuminating history of the Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel, the spectacular feat of engineering which delivers fresh burritos from the San Francisco Mission District to New York, in a chord under the continental United States:
Who can imagine New York City without the Mission burrito? Like the Yankees, the Brooklyn Bridge or the bagel, the oversize burritos have become a New York institution. And yet it wasn’t long ago that it was impossible to find a good burrito of any kind in the city. As the 30th anniversary of the Alameda-Weehawken burrito tunnel approaches, it’s worth taking a look at the remarkable sequence of events that takes place between the time we click “deliver” on the burrito.nyc.us.gov website and the moment that our hot El Farolito burrito arrives in the lunchroom with its satisfying pneumatic hiss.
Once in the tubes, it’s a quick dash for the burritos across San Francisco Bay. Propelled by powerful bursts of compressed air, the burritos speed along the same tunnel as the BART commuter train, whose passengers remain oblivious to the hundreds of delicious cylinders whizzing along overhead. Within twelve minutes, even the remotest burrito has arrived at its final destination, the Alameda Transfer Station, where it will be prepared for its transcontinental journey.
Not everyone is as delighted with the tunnel as the geologists. Old-time San Franciscans will be quick to point out that the comestibles in the tunnel flow strictly one way. “In the old days you’d go to a place like Pancho Villa and get yourself a steak burrito in five minutes, maybe ten if it was near lunchtime,” says lifelong Mission resident Howard Washington. “Now the line is out the door even in the morning. And some of those places down in the South Bay won’t even take customers anymore. If you want a burrito in the daytime you have to get it first thing, or else you go to one of the places that isn’t hooked up to the tunnel.”
First Google provided a search engine, then they started handing out gigabyte-sized webmail accounts and then gave the world zoomable maps, and now Google have created their own sophisticated mass transit system. The system is a workaround for the transport woes of the San Francisco Bay Area, with its Californian sprawl, various disjointed transport systems run by different municipalities and levels of government, and consequent commuting headaches. In typical Google fashion, it innovates the idea of mass transit. The buses run on biodiesel, are equipped with wireless internet access, and are tracked in real time, with commuters being notified by mobile phone of their positions, and routes are constantly being revised.
The shuttles, which carry up to 37 passengers each and display no sign suggesting they carry Googlers, have become a fixture of local freeways. They run 132 trips every day to some 40 pickup and drop-off locations in more than a dozen cities, crisscrossing six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area and logging some 4,400 miles.
At Google headquarters, a small team of transportation specialists monitors regional traffic patterns, maps out the residences of new hires and plots new routes -- sometimes as many as 10 in a three-month period -- to keep up with ever surging demand.The system is for employees only, though. Meanwhile, other Bay Area technology companies such as Yahoo! have implemented similar systems.
The US military has given the world a number of things: the internet, GPS, and now, it turns out, San Francisco's gay scene:
During World War II, the United States armed forces "sought out and dishonorably discharged" homosexuals. Many men who were expelled for being gay were processed at San Francisco bases.
This site agrees, stating San Francisco was indeed a point of departure during World War II. Gay men often stayed in the city after completing their military service. Since then, San Francisco's gay and lesbian population has continued to grow.
(via Boing Boing)
The wheel of fortune turns again; disgraced blogging pioneer Jorn Barger is now homeless on the streets. He has been seen in San Francisco, holding up a sign "Coined the term 'weblog,' never made a dime". I wonder whether he shares the sidewalk with several failed dot-com entrepreneurs.
(via The Fix)
The latest sartorial innovation from the hipsters of San Francisco is the banana-shaped cell-phone cozy, shown below modelled by the CEO of its manufacturer, Nanaco (wasn't he also one of the writers for SugaRAPE Magazine?):
Note: coolsie afro and ironically mocking attitude not supplied and must be provided by the user; otherwise, you're not a hipster, just the sad berk in the office who desperately wants to be liked and probably has the Crazy Frog ringtone as well.
A journalist administers the Voight-Kampff test to six mayoral candidates in San Francisco, and discovers that at least half of them are replicants. (via DPH)
According to WIRED News, flash mobs are taking off, with flash mob groups popping up in San Francisco, Minneapolis and soon in London too. The groups organise over the Internet, pick an appointed time and place and then spontaneously gather, do something and dissipate.
Sean Savage, a 31-year-old San Francisco designer and weblogger who has followed flash mobs, said these kinds of semi-anarchic gatherings have roots that go at least as far back as the late 1970s. Savage said San Francisco groups like the Suicide Club and the Cacophony Society have been staging group pranks in the city for decades, while Santa Rampage has been an annual San Francisco tradition for nearly a decade and has spread to more than 15 cities worldwide.
Hmmm... I wonder whether this would transplant well to Melbourne. (Wasn't the "SPONTANEOUS CHOIR" graffiti one sees around from time to time connected to some similar phenomenon?)
Via our regular correspondent Lisa, Give It Back, a US petition to give the goddamn Statue of Liberty back to the French.
It's probably a good idea; the Statue of Liberty doesn't really represent the core values of Bush's America. Though what would be a good replacement for it? I was thinking of a gigantic constructivist statue of an eagle, or perhaps something like the statue outside the Ministry of Information building in Brazil? They could call it the Statue of Total Information Awareness or something.
And here's another page, who want a statue of Ronald Reagan put in its place. (Does this remind anybody of the Colossus of Yorba Linda Society from Illuminatus!? I wonder if a misanthropic dwarf is behind all this...)
And then there are these nutjobs who object to San Francisco containing 'Franc' in its name. Though why not rename it to Norton City, after its most famous citizen (and a US imperialist to shame all others, to boot)?
Rock over London, rock on Chicago: Frank Chu has become famous for wandering around San Francisco with a sign accusing the President of treason against "12 GALAXIES GUILTIED TO a ZEGNATRONIC ROCKET SOCIETY". But now, in this monetised age, he has succumbed to the lure of capitalism and started selling advertising space on his sign. The back of the sign now advertises a sandwich shop as selling "the galaxy's best sandwich", for which the shop pays him US$25 per week. Perhaps this is the sign of a new trend: commercial psychoceramic marketing. (Via Portal of Evil)
Playing dress-up in Daddy's opera house, and drinking his liquor, after we'd wrecked his Benz: An incisive piece about the casualties of the dot-com boom, finding time to party outrageously in their gentrified San Francisco playground in between the hardships of having to find jobs paying a mere $40,000 a year, while around them, homeless beggars and crackwhores scramble to subsist.
Homeless woman slobbers yaaaaaaaaaggggggghhhhh, and shakes her head, and slides along the curb. It's extraordinary. We're all standing here in line, knocking at the gates of heaven, while huge numbers of the underclass moan about the block. We're like people at a picnic, ignoring the bees. Seventh St., and up to Market-everywhere around here, beyond the boundaries of the shiny light we exude, you've got the walking dead: hustlers hanging around overlit storefronts, guys weaving with bottles.
"Shit, I got laid off at 85 thousand, and just got a new job for 40."
Back in December of 1999, a prominent media critic wrote the following: "In the fifties and sixties, creative types all had a novel they were working on, and in the seventies and eighties, a screenplay. In the e-decade, you've got a business plan."
Oh, the humanity! (via Plastic)