Boisjoly was the engineer who boisterously warned about problems with the Challenger’s elastic seals. That he couldn’t do anything about the launch haunted him and turned him into a crusader for ethics in engineering. Boisjoly died at age 73.
Talk at Historical Materialism, London, UK, 7 November 2015
“My natural contrarianism makes me want to see if I can do something long-term in an industry where everything either changes until it’s unrecognizable or gets sold or collapses. I like the idea of things on the web being persistent. And more basically, I reject this idea that everything has to be on a really short time scale just because it involves technology. We’ve had these computers around for a while now. It’s time we start treating them like everything else in our lives, where it kind of lives on the same time scale that we do and doesn’t completely fall off the end of the world every three or four years.”
By Kai RyssdalFebruary 18, 2016 |
4:01 PMListen to this storyDownloadEmbedEmbed CodeCloseListen To The StoryMarketplaceDownloaddownloadEmbedembedEmbed CodeCloseYou know how Wall Street types sometimes say they knew the housing bubble was gonna crash when they heard their barber owned three houses?Here’s the corollary for the smartphone market.The Mobile World Congress starts in Barcelona in a couple of days and one of the big product roll-outs is gonna be a smartphone made by Caterpillar.Right, the big yellow construction machinery making Caterpillar.Cool part is, it’s gonna have an infrared camera on it.Follow Kai Ryssdal at @kairyssdal.
Following on from the subjects discussed in the series so far, writers Will Wiles and James Bridle joined Ben Vickers to discuss the relationships between visibility, labour, aesthetics and technology, from the relationship between class and hi-visibility workwear to Internet Eyes and distributed automation.
The hottest toy this holiday season has no identifiable logo, no main distributor, and no widely agreed upon name. Today, we seek out the origin of the hands-free, two wheeled, self-balancing scooter.
Dan is back! We catch up on latest happenings, talk about upcoming changes to the show, and answer listener questions like:
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What happens when we build big?
Julia Barton remembers going to the top floor of Dallas’s then-new city hall when she was teenager. The building, designed by I.M. Pei, is a huge trapezoid jutting out over a wide plaza. Julia found the view from the top pretty fantastic, especially when munching on a Caramello bar from the City Hall vending machines.
But once she went to a protest in the plaza below. And those same windows, now hulking over her, made her feel small, and the whole event insignificant. Texans have a fondness for big structures—big arenas, big houses, big freeways. Julia wasn’t sure if their hidden message wasn’t simply this: I’m important, you’re nobody.
For people who distrust the big project, Edward Tenner’s 2001 essay “The Xanadu Effect” is some comfort. Tenner, a visiting scholar at Princeton University, ponders the ways in which obsession with bigness can presage hard times for a business or even a nation. Tenner named his essay not for Olivia Newton-John’s anthem or even the Coleridge poem, but for the palace Xanadu built in the movie “Citizen Kane.” That Xanadu, of course, was based on a real-life palace that newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst built in his waning days of empire:
On its 24,000 acres were a 354,000-gallon swimming pool, a private zoo and four main buildings with a total of 165 rooms. Along with other such extravagances, the estate helped send Hearst into trusteeship late in life. The cavernous halls of Welles’ gloomy cinematic Xanadu seemed to filmgoers — as the real, happier building must have appeared to many Hearst Corp. public investors — the very image of the pride that goes before a fall.
The downside of the Xanadu Effect has seen itself play out in other places—the Empire State Building, for example, was conceived in the 1920s but completed during the Great Depression, when it was known as “the Empty State Building.” Tenner’s not arguing that big things shouldn’t be built; he’s saying bigness is a gamble. It pays off when it it uplifts people, gives them a sense of grandeur and purpose. It fails when it crushes them or just makes life a pain, as in the big-built city of Moscow, where pedestrians have to scurry under the wide avenues in tunnels:
(Above: A pedestrian tunnel in Moscow. Credit: Veronica Khokhlova)
On a recent reporting trip to Russia for PRI’s “The World,” Julia travelled to Sochi, Russia’s southern-most city and upcoming host of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Sochi is Europe’s biggest construction site right now, with Xanadu-like ice-palaces going up right on the Black Sea.
(Above: Big Ice Palace. Credit: Julia Barton)
All the construction—including billions of dollars of infrastructure—is good news for the Russian state and shoring up its presence in the Caucasus. It’s not necessarily good news for the locals. Julia interviewed a Sochi resident, Alexei Kravets, who’s been in a stand-off with authorities about the fate of the home he built by the Black Sea.
(Above: Alexei Kravets. Credit: Julia Barton)
Kravets’s court case to save his home has been standing in the way of a new railway complex. Construction workers have been throwing rocks through his windows, scraping his walls with backhoes, and hauling away his storage units. Kravets has been confronting them on film:
It’s a dramatic example of big vs. small, but this type of conflict often happens in the face of massive development. Edward Tenner says beyond just governments or private developers, we all need to think more carefully about the costs and benefits of building big.
“Bigness is a strategy that just about always fails, unless it succeeds. Or you could say it always succeeds except when it fails. And there really is no one way that you can regard it. You have to see it as a very powerful, easy-to-misuse, but also tempting way to go about things in life,” he says.
Julia Barton produced another great story from 99% Invisible about the Unsung Icons of Soviet Design. An all-time fav.
More audio from the Russian protest Julia attended on her own podcast, DTFD.
Julia’s story for PRI’s The World: Sochi 2014: Building Boom for Winter Olympics Leaves Some Behind
In this new series for Novara TV, James Butler looks at the history and multiple usages of the word ‘Ideology’ and explores how it can be usefully deployed to describe and improve the world we live in.
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