kottke.org posts about Boston
James Surowiecki, the author of The Wisdom of Crowds, wrote about what was right and wrong about Reddit's crowdsourced hunt for the Boston bombing suspects.
The truth is that if Reddit is actually interested in using the power of its crowd to help the authorities, it needs to dramatically rethink its approach, because the process it used to try to find the bombers wasn't actually tapping the wisdom of crowds at all -- at least not as I would define that wisdom. For a crowd to be smart, the people in it need to be not only diverse in their perspectives but also, relatively speaking, independent of each other. In other words, you need people to be thinking for themselves, rather than following the lead of those around them.
When the book came out in 2004, I wrote a short post that summarizes the four main conditions you need for a wise crowd. What's striking about most social media and software, as Surowiecki notes in the case of Reddit, is how most of these conditions are not satisfied. There's little diversity and independence: Twitter and Facebook mostly show you people who are like you and things your social group is into. And social media is becoming ever more centralized: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Medium, Pinterest, etc. instead of a decentralized network of independent blogs. In fact, the nature of social media is to be centralized, peer-dependent, and homogeneous because that's how people naturally group themselves together. It's a wonder the social media crowd ever gets anything right.
While French balloonist Gaspard-Félix Tournachon first photographed Paris by air in 1858, those photos were lost, and this photograph of Boston from 1860 by James Wallace Black is the earliest known aerial photo. The title is 'Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It.' If I had to guess where in Boston this is, I'd say somewhere along Atlantic Ave.
Update: Several people have identified the steepled building at center left as the Old South Meeting House, which Wikipedia confirms: "Depicts area resembling Old South Meeting House; Milk Street; India Wharf, Central Wharf; and vicinity." Looks a bit different these days.
But more importantly, a photo of Providence, RI taken by Black in August of 1860 predates his Boston photograph by two months. The print, which is part of the MoMA's collection, is badly damaged but it looks like some detail would be discernable in person.
So for some sufficiently flexible definition of "surviving", Black's photo of Providence is the oldest surviving aerial photo. (thx, david)
Yesterday, the FBI announced major advances in solving the biggest art heist in history. The break in occurred at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 when a night watchman opened the door to men dressed as police. Works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Degas, and Manet valued at over $500M were taken and have not been seen since.
"The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence in the years after the theft the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft. With that confidence, we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England," Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the Boston office of the FBI, said.
The guard who opened the door, Richard Abath, was looked at pretty closely again last week, though he's not mentioned specifically this week.
Infinite Boston is a photo tour of some of the Boston locations that inspired locations in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.
In July of what might have been Year of Glad, one year ago this week, I traveled to Boston, Massachusetts with the express purpose of visiting as many of the landmarks and lesser known precincts that appear in, or provide inspiration for, the late David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel Infinite Jest as I could manage on a Thursday-Sunday trip. My reasons for doing so will become apparent at a later date, but for now I am pleased to present what I am calling "Infinite Boston": a ruminative travelogue and photographic tour of some fifty or so of these locations, comprising one entry each non-holiday weekday, from now until sometime in early autumn.
The 2011 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series is in Boston this weekend and divers are jumping off the Institute of Contemporary Art into Boston Harbor. Here's a slide show of the divers practicing yesterday.
A photo tour of the Boston-area locations mentioned in Infinite Jest. From the photographer:
Perhaps most interestingly, although "Enfield" is not a real town, it seems to substitute for Chestnut Hill. We found a school at the top of one of the larger hills in Chestnut Hill, which we believe is the location for ETA.
Perhaps someday there will be IJ walking tours of Boston that same way there are Ulysses -based tours of Dublin or Sex and the City tours of NYC.
A fake tilt-shift photo of Fenway Park in Boston makes the ballpark look like a scale model. I seemingly will never tire of this gimmick. (via let's go mets)
Who wins the Super Bowl of Food: New York City or Boston? Ed Levine says it's no contest: New York all the way.
What has Boston bestowed upon us, foodwise? Brown bread, baked beans, Boston cream pie, and Parker House rolls. Pretty slim pickins', don't you think? How far would you go out of your way for some baked beans or some brown bread? I'd only go a block or two at the most. Now if you expanded the geographic food purview of the Patriots to all of New England, that might be an interesting discussion, because then New England clam chowder, lobster rolls, and fried clams would enter into the fray.
Ed's a bit hard on Boston here...there's some excellent food to be found in the city and its surrounds.
After more than 15 years and $14.8 billion, Boston's Big Dig project officially ends today.
A study by the Turnpike Authority found the Big Dig cut the average trip through Boston from 19.5 minutes to 2.8 minutes.
Given the number of people moving through the area each day and how much time is saved, $14.8 billion doesn't seem like such a huge amount.
I'm sure native Bostonians will find much to argue about in this list of Boston slang. (via cyn-c)
A few months ago, I found a map online (
which I cannot for the life of me relocate and I'm keen to find it again...any ideas? it's from Bill Rankin's The Errant Isle of Manhattan...see update below) of Manhattan pasted next to Chicago, as if the island had taken up permanent residence in Lake Michigan. Recently I decided to explore the unique aspect of Manhattan's scale with a series of similar maps of places I've been to or lived in: Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Barron, WI (my hometown). Manhattan Elsewhere is the result.
Depending on your vantage point, Manhattan seems either very big or very small. On complete map of the New York City area, Manhattan is dwarfed in size by the other four boroughs and surrounding megopolis. But for someone on the ground in Manhattan, the population density, the height of the buildings, the endless number of things to do, and the fact that many people don't often leave their neighborhoods, much less the island, for weeks/months on end makes it seem a very large place indeed. This divergence sense of scales can cause quite a bit of cognitive dissonance for residents and visitors alike.
For the top image, I used the Google Maps representations of Manhattan and Chicago to create a composite map. In the bottom image, I used Google Earth's 3-D views to create a approximate view of Manhattan from Chicago. In all cases, Manhattan is to scale with the other cities. Click through for larger images and other cities.
Update: The map on which Manhattan Elsewhere is based was done by Bill Rankin, who runs the excellent Radical Cartography site, and is part of The Errant Isle of Manhattan project. He also did maps for Boston, SF, Door County, WI, Philly, and Los Angeles (look at how gigantic LA is!), which I completely forgot about. He also made more of an effort than I did to connect the roads. (thx, zach)
NY Times food critic Frank Bruni spends a week "undercover" as a waiter at a Boston restaurant. "People are hungry, and then they're drinking. Two of the worst states that people can be in."
One of the pre-conference events was a talk at Fenway Park followed by a tour of the ballpark. Janet Marie Smith, VP of planning and development for the Sox, kicked things off with how the team (especially the new management) works really hard to preserve the essential character of Fenway while at the same time trying to upgrade the park (and keep it from getting torn down). She talked about the advertisements added to the Green Monster, which was actually not a purely commercial move but a throwback to a time when the Monster was actually covered with ads.
Lots of talk and awareness of experience design...the Red Sox folks in particular kept referring to the "experience" of the park. One of the speakers (can't recall who, might have been Jim Dow) talked about how other ballparks are becoming places where only people who can afford $100 tickets can go to the games and what that does to the team's fan base. With Fenway, they're trying to maintain a variety of ticket prices to keep the diversity level high...greater diversity makes for a better crowd and a better fan base and is quite appropriate for Boston (and New England in general), which has always been an area with vibrant blue collar and blue blood classes.
Janet also referred to the "accidental" design of the park. Like many other urban ballparks built in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, the placement of the streets constrained the design of Fenway and made it rather an odd shape....these days larger plots are selected where those types of restraints are removed. And over time, the game has changed, the needs of the fans have changed, and the fire codes have changed and the park has changed with the times. In the dead ball era, the walls of the stadium weren't for hitting home runs over; their sole function was to keep people on the street for catching the game for free, so the Fenway outfield ran over 500 feet in right field -- practically all the way to the street -- where there's now 30 rows of seats. Jim Holt observed that American butts have gotten bigger so bigger seats are called for. Fire codes helped that change along as well...wooden seats, bleachers, and overcrowding are no longer a large part of the Fenway experience (save for the wooden seats under the canopy).
The design talk continued on the tour of the park. Our guide detailed how ballparks are built around specific ballplayers. Yankee Stadium was the house that Ruth built but it was also seemingly (but not literally) built for him with a short trip for his home run balls to the right field wall. Boston added a bullpen to make the right field shorter for Ted Williams. Barry Bonds does very well at PacBell/SBC/WhateverItsCalledTheseDays Park. And more than that, the design of Fenway also dictated for a long time the type of team that they could field, which had some bearing on how they did generally. Players who played well in Fenway (i.e. could hit fly balls off of the Monster in left) often didn't do so well in other parks and the team's away record suffered accordingly.
From September 15-18, I will be attending the AIGA Design Conference in Boston. As an experiment (for both the AIGA and me), I will be covering the event at their request on kottke.org. I'll be covering the conference as a blogger, but the easiest way to think about it in terms of a conference is that I'm a speaker...a sort of roving speaker with the readers of kottke.org as the audience and my topic is the conference itself.
As usual, I have no solid plan as to how this is going to work exactly, but I'm looking forward to seeing how the conference goes and adapting accordingly. I'm hoping to provide a moving snapshot of the event so that readers of kottke.org can follow along fairly well without being at the conference. I'll probably have comments open on most posts so hopefully those reading along at home and those reading along at the conference can have some dialogue, with each little world spilling over into the other a bit.
One other quick thing...if you're going to be at the conference and plan to blog it, let me know...I'll definitely be linking to other people's stuff. I'm sure Design Observer and Speak Up will be covering things pretty well. I'll also be watching Flickr and del.icio.us for links and photos...I'd suggest tagging relevent entries with aigadc2005 for easy aggregation.
More next week as the conference draws near.
 Disclaimer: Kottke.org's budget for covering out-of-town conferences with costly entry fees is limited, so I'm exploring other ways of gaining access to be able to bring you some interesting content that you might not get otherwise. The AIGA is a curious organization and they're looking at various ways of using weblogs, so they asked me to come and blog the conference as an experiment. To make it economically feasible for me to be there, they are paying me a small speaker's honorarium and putting me up in a hotel.
In talking with the AIGA about this, they've made it exceedingly clear that I'm to consider myself independent and write whatever I want about the conference, which is pretty much what I intend to do. If I thought the hotel room and honorarium would be a problem w/r/t my objectivity in covering the event, I would have declined them both. The bottom line is that if money were no object (if the conference were free and took place entirely within walking distance of my apartment), I'd want to go and write about it anyway.
 Although I will also be appearing on a related panel about blogs, journalism, and design with Steve Heller, Michael Bierut, Armin Vit, and Jen Bekman.
Update: I've changed the first paragraph slightly, from "covering the conference as a blogger/journalist" to "covering the conference as a blogger", which under the circumstances is more accurate. I am not a journalist in this instance or any other.