Second Little Pig: Vindicated

Since the googles said it was faster to walk from the Innovation District to South Station than to take the Silver line, that’s what I did. It was hot and humid but I’m glad I did because otherwise I would not have passed by BSAspace and dropped in for some AC. And had I not done that, I would not have seen an enchanting and informative exhibit called Urban Timber: From Seed to City, all about building with wood.

Mesopotamian plywood!

The gob-smacking revelations started right away. Did you know that plywood was invented by the Mesopotamians more than 5,000 years ago? Mind = Blown. It’s not just about plywood, there are many kinds of wood-based building materials, many of which compare favorably with concrete and steel. SOM has a project for a 40 story tower made of wood, unbuilt as of this writing, but not for lack of feasibility.


The show clearly has an axe to grind (so to speak) but makes some really interesting points about the environmental impact of various building materials and the industrial processes that make, mill, mine and harvest them. I especially liked the roll-call of large wooden structures. Unfortunately, in the USA, one of the largest timber-producing nations, the tallest wooden thing is still a giant redwood. In Australia, Scandinavia and beyond, they have some major wooden structures and some are quite marvelous.


In addition to the infographics on the walls, there are four projects by emerging architects featuring some innovative ways to build with wood.


You can’t make this stuff up.


But seriously, gentle reader, you should get over to the Boston Society of Architects space and check this show out. It’s free and open to the public through September 30.

Adapter die

I met with the estimable @yobyot the other day and among the various complaints and commiserations we shared was a moment of venting about Apple switching up all our connectors for no particularly clear reason except perhaps selling lots of new cables, converters, dongles and adapters, all containing tightly patented Apple technology. Behold my latest shiny aluminum acquisition, the magsafe to magsafe 2 (or is that magsafe 2 to magsafe?) converter.

Magsafe to magsafe 2 adapter

Why would Apple do this to their loyal fanboys? The difference between the two magsafe connectors is so slight as to be hard to discern unless you have them side by side, or unless you try to connect the wrong one. The cynical answer is selling lots of little (easy to lose) $10 converters. The possibly fairer answer is, “thinness” the driving force in computer, tablet, and phone design these days. The old magsafe power adapter was just too big-boned for the latest generation of airy ipads and macbooks. You can see a similar event in the iphone world with the switch from the 30-pin connector to the lightning connector, which by the way, is very very nearly the same slim size as a micro-usb plug. You’ll notice that when you purchase a barely-there $19 lightning to micro USB adapter.

Lightning to micro USB connector

At this rate of Steven King-esqe thinning of devices, it won’t be long before the good old 1/8″ headphone plug goes the way of the RS-232. I won’t hold my breath for a sustainable industry wide standard on cabling, but it’s fun to dream.

What to do? Stay on the trendy treadmill and keep buying expensive cabling and piling on the e-waste? I’d love to break the cycle and I’ve been clinging, hipster-like, to old gear as long as humanly possible, but eventually it becomes time for a change.

Happy pi approximation day

Today, July 22, or 22/7 as the Eurostyle daters would have it, is pi approximation day. Why? Because 22/7 = 3.1428… which is a an approximation of pi, one that’s a bit bigger and a lot less irrational than the real pi. If this shakes your faith in religion or something, you can refer to this song for something approximating solace:

A little bigger
I’m bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
I’ve circumscribed too much
I messed it up

Or maybe not. Perhaps you prefer the wisdom of a couple of dinosaurs on the topic of pi day vs pi approximation day:

Dinosaur comics approximates pi day

That feels a bit more satisficing, but what would really hit the spot is something that’s almost pie, but not pie and just a bit more than pie. Maybe that’s pie a la mode, or a crumble or a brown betty. Call me irrational if you like, but I’m going to look into this and get back to you before next March 14, approximately.

The beautiful road not yet taken

Remember when, before pervasive phone GPS, you actually asked for directions? You know, stopping a stranger on the street or pulling into a gas station and asking somebody working there and trying to write it down on a mapkin? If you’re not an american male, that is. Maybe it was awkward or ineffective, but the directions were personalized, and you could ask for all sorts of things not precisely shown on maps.

Via The Atlantic’s CityLab blog, I just learned that Yahoo! labs (!) has released a paper exploring “how mapping apps could theoretically generate short walking routes that are more beautiful or quiet than standard offerings.” Color me intrigued, and also excited about mapping that’s pedestrian based. Could a future mapping app plot me a course that optimized not for shortest distance or quickest time but for maximum beauty, minimum chance of an accident, or maybe even one that only uses the shady side of the street?

Yahoo! maps. Who knew?

The sub-head, “In the future, GPS directions may not always be destination-driven.” might be the most interestingly subversive idea in the piece. Who even says that a trip has to have a destination? Maybe the journey is the destination. Maybe you want your GPS to give you a scenic drive or walk of some duration or level of beauty. Maybe you want to explore Somerville and see as many Bathtub Marys as possible along the way.

Who knows when or if such things will ever become available, but I’m excited by the possibilities.  Until then, I recommend taking random walks when you can and also checking out some maps of imaginary places.

Five years later, my cupcake prophecy is fulfilled

Just about five years ago on this very blog, I called peak cupcake and announced the age of pie. Finally, the world is catching up. You can scoff at me five years ago, but behold the WSJ delivering the truth earlier this month:

Crumbs "signature happy birhtday" cupcake, in cross sectionBut the popularity of high-end cupcakes—embodied by chains such as New York’s Magnolia Bakery and Los Angeles-based Sprinkles—has waned in recent years, even as new players crowded into the field. Crumbs posted a loss of $18.2 million last year, layered on a loss of $10.3 million in 2012, according to securities filings. Its cash on hand fell to $893,000 at the end of 2013, down from $6.3 million the prior year.

If you hadn’t caught the headline, Crumbs global cupcake empire was reduced to its namesake particles as it was delisted from the NASDAQ and closed all its stores. As of this writing, nobody told their webmaster that cupcakes are over.

Really, when you think back on it, end-of-days pastry like the cronut should have tipped us off.