When Vending Machines Ruled

November 12, 2019

You probably have to be my age to recall the excitement caused by the spread of vending machines in the early 1960s.  This 4-minute Pathe newsreel from 1964 is evocative of the times.

 

It was hard to argue against the convenience such devices would bring us.  Harold Wilson’s 1963 speech about how the “white heat” of “scientific revolution” was to be Britain’s route to the future fed into the delusion — shared by almost everyone — that technology and automation were invincible.  I am concerned that many in my generation (and, worse, some much younger) are still enmeshed in the myths spun by Branson, Musk, and many other profiteers that technology is the key to the world’s problems.

I know I am not the only one who believes that mutual aid and cooperation will always outweigh technology; I hope that the eco-crisis movement will not be suckerewd into following mega-projects once again.


Modern Complexities

November 3, 2019

Way back in the Dark Ages of the 1950s, I was taught a simple lesson: people who talked to themselves out loud on the street were, as my mother explained clearly and explicitly, “a little touched” and were to be avoided or at least grumbled at.

Now, of course, they are just as likely to be talking to their broker on their hands-free mobile phone. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

I’m easily confused.


Birthday Memories: Me and the Internet

October 29, 2019

Fifty years ago today, the very first connection was made on Arpanet, the precursor to the internet:

arpanet

That was on my 20th birthday,  I was in Yugoslavia, working on a contract, oblivious to that particular history being made. I probably got drunk on bottled beer and slivovic that night but, luckily, there were no smart phones with cameras then to capture me at my worst.

I remember 1969 being a swell year, and I am glad to share it with the internet,


A Different View of Chopsticks

October 26, 2019

China is the world’s largest producer of disposable chopsticks:

“Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Daniel K. Gardner, a historian at Smith College who studies environmental issues in modern China, reported that some 100,000 laborers manufacture the implements at 300 factories … Annually, Chinese chopstick factories fashion 80 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks, according to the South China Morning Post, and many of them wind up in the hands of diners elsewhere. China exported 165,000 tons of disposable chopsticks between 2000 and 2006, according to the Japan Times.

Atlas Obscura has some wonderful photographs of the production:

 

Bamboo is the preferred material:

“Because it’s not particularly porous and doesn’t absorb much water, it’s less likely than other woods to be teeming with bacteria, and it can take a lot of abuse in the kitchen. In terms of tensile strength—the extent to which a material can withstand being stretched before it snaps—researchers have found that bamboo holds its own against steel and reinforced plastics. Many bamboo chopsticks can be reused again and again. And unlike trees, bamboo grows at a dizzying pace. “The main reason for bamboo being so useful is that it is basically a grass which grows very fast—you’re looking at 36 inches in a 24-hour period,” says Q. Edward Wang, [author of the book Chopsticks: A Cultural and Culinary History\ . “It can grow 1.6 inches in an hour. It’s crazy.”

I’ll treat them with more respect in the future.


London Lauderettes

October 22, 2019

The always interesting Creative Review has an article on a new photographic book about launderettes in London:

 

I adore the images, but I also had strong empathy with the author’s discussion about the research:

“When I started I was very haphazard. If I went to a friend’s house or dropped my son at football, I’d look for nearby launderettes to visit. Later, I became much more methodical. I used Google Maps and online telephone directories to create a map of London’s launderettes, then I would set aside time to focus on individual postcodes and boroughs. I won’t deny that halfway through the project I was starting to doubt my sanity. Driving from north west London to the outer reaches of Croydon, Enfield and Ealing to photograph launderettes isn’t normal, and by launderette number 350 it was definitely feeling like a marathon.”

 

 


The Modern Workplace (or Prison)

October 15, 2019

The modern workplace is becoming more like a prison every day, with total surveillance systems as thorough as anything in China.  Just a couple of examples. The first, from the Economist:

Run the short movie. It is worth it and no-one’s watching you do it — maybe.

The Guardian has a broader take, featuring a pizza checker from Domino’s that is, of course, only for training not punishment (right!).

Whatever happened to trust?  That goodness I am retired!

 


Fish In A Box

October 6, 2019

I don’t use a mobile phone, not even a dumb one. Never have. I grew up in a time when leaving the house or the office was a chance to get away from the phone, to escape from whatever pressures could come down the line. A chance to relax a bit. I liked that. Still do.

However, what that means is that I like the idea of phone booths on the street — and those are disappearing quicker than quick.  In fact, in most places they are already extinct.  Which is a major problem for people like me who chose not to have a smart phone or who simply cannot afford one.

Most phone kiosks get dumped in the landfill, I guess, although the traditional red British box can sometimes be seen as a tourist draw. In one place in Japan, however, someone decided to turn one of them into a public aquarium.

fish in booth

I would rather have a phone in there but this is a seriously creative idea.