Category: Culture

Income Distribution

From the firm the personal finance site HowMuch, an interesting visualization of income distribution in the United States. The data was drawn from 2018 Social Security Administration wage data.

The visualization draws upon 2018 wage data from the Social Security Administration. The circle graph represents 100% of the total wages earned in the U.S. Each slice of the circle represents the percentage of Americans whose net compensation fell within a certain interval, such as $0-$4,999 or $5,000-$9,999. The larger the slice of the circle, the higher the percentage of Americans within that net compensation range. In addition, each slice of the circle is color-coded. The shades of pink indicate lower wages, while the shades of blue and green indicate higher wages. At first glance, you can see that most of the circle is pink, corresponding with the high percentage of low-income Americans.

There are so many nuances and circumstances at the individual level that make surveys and analysis like this so difficult to interpret. In addition, it does not factor in ‘foreign’ spending or investment which is clearly a massive influence in US economics.

I’m a focus group of one however just using a basic ‘eye test’ of what you see on a day to day basis across different regions of the country compared to what is depicted in this chart, things do not seem to match up. Yet with that said, it is still a very interesting visual to further understand what is happening across the country from a wage perspective, especially considering the huge hit that the US economy is taking as a result of COVID-19.

More Digitally Enhanced Videos From The Turn of 19th Century

I am completely fascinated by the efforts of the Polish firm Neural Love to to restore old, choppy grainy movies from the 1890s-1910’s using neural network technology. The end results are just amazing, especially those that are taken in some of our major cities, such as the one below from Paris. It is especially poignant when you compare it to Claude Lelouch’s “Rendezvous” and to the fact that Notre Dame went up in flames about a year ago.

Another restored video that I find interesting is the one below of miners and laborers from the United Kingdom. This video, originally filmed around 1901, was originally part of an 2013 exhibit at London’s Tate Britain museum about L.S. Lowry’s art. The connection is that the video below as taken at Pendlebury, just outside of Manchester, and Lowry’s had moved there in 1912.

As I’ve said before, the quality of the restored videos bring out so much rich detail and they feel like they could have been taken last week with a bunch of actors playing the parts. Just a wonderfully restored lens into life 120+ years ago that make you wonder who the people in the video were and what became of their lives.

A Trip Through 1911 NYC

Another amazing restoration of a vintage movie – this time from 1911 – depicting life in and around NYC – using modern computing neural networking capabilities. Many of the scenes in this video could be from today, if not for everyone wearing suits, white straw hats and bowlers. What is most amazing to me is how you can instantly recognize certain street intersections (beyond the obvious Flatiron Building/23rd Street/5th Avenue one). Worth a watch.

A Trip To The Far East Puts the US in Perspective

Renowned blogger Jason Kottke took a trip to the far east, visiting Singapore, Vietnam and then stopping off in Qatar on the way home. You can read the whole post here however what struck me the most within his elegant write up were the last few paragraphs (emphasis mine):

And finally to finish up… Whenever I travel abroad, of course I have thoughts about the overall character of the places I go, but they’re based on such an incomplete experience of those places that I’m hesitant to share them. The Saigon metro area has a population of ~13.5 million and I was there for 2 weeks as a tourist, so what the hell could I possibly know about it beyond the superficial? What I mainly tend to come away with is how those places compare to the United States. What freedoms exist in a place like Vietnam vs Singapore vs Qatar vs the United States? How are those freedoms distributed and who do they benefit? And from what authority are those freedoms derived? The more places I go, the less obviously free the US feels to me in many ways, even though our country’s baseline freedom remains high (for some at least).

But the main observation I came home with after this trip is this: America is a rich country that feels like a poor country. If you look at the investment in and the care put into infrastructure, common areas, and the experience of being in public in places like Singapore, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin and compare it to American cities, the difference is quite stark. Individual wealth in America is valued over collective wealth and it shows.

I know that’s a bit of a downer to end on, but despite what you see on Instagram, travel is not always fun & games and often provides some potentially tough lessons and perspectives. You might get your phone stolen and come back feeling a little bit less great about your home country. Them’s the breaks, kid — welcome to the world. Thanks for following along as always

This is a view of the rusted Long Island Bridge. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

His assessment of America feeling like a poor country as a result of a lack of investment in infrastructure, transportation, and public/common areas is so brilliantly on the money. I have subconsciously observed and noticed this when traveling internationally as well, however have never taken the “step back” to articulate the feeling. Sometimes you need to see it written in front of your face.

Trouble On The Hill

Syracuse University
Syracuse University

As a proud Syracuse University alum, I am very sad and troubled by what has transpired on ‘my’ campus over the past few weeks, where racist graffiti and vandalism have shut the campus down. Sadly, this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened, as a few years ago some Theta Tau pledges and brothers were suspended for a racist, tone deaf video that was part of a pledging ceremony.

In reading through the many stories that have been published about these most recent incidents, the thing that troubled me the most was something I noticed when these stories first broke. From a well reported timeline on SU’s “Daily Orange” newspaper, they layout the specific timing of the initial acts and the response of the university.

via SU’s Daily Orange

What struck me was the fact that I was on campus that weekend. I was on campus that weekend along with hundreds upon hundreds of prospective students and fellow parents of prospective students, taking tours of the campus and all the different schools on campus. That weekend was SU’s Fall Open House.

So putting on my ‘conspiracy cap’ for a moment, do we think that SU’s Administration and Admissions teams kept this on the low down during the Open House weekend, until all the prospective families had departed campus?

It would have been super awkward (and that is the understatement of the year) if SU had issued a public statement during their important Open House weekend for prospective students. I want to be clear that I have absolutely no factual evidence to back this up. I am purely speculating and connecting a few dots. And clearly, the timing of when SU’s Administration did make their initial response – 5 days after the initial event – only pushed back the media firestorm that has transpired over the past few weeks. But if there is any nugget of truth to this having any influence on the timing of their response, what does that say? No matter when the news broke, the fact of the matter is that every prospective student and parent that were up there that weekend for the Open House will be seriously reconsidering how SU fits into their future college plans based on what has transpired there.

I love Syracuse University. I bleed Orange. I was – and will continue to be – so proud of the diversity that was on the SU campus when I was there and in the years since. It was what made the school unique to me. It was not always sunshine and roses. There were issues, disagreements, and incidents. But that happens in any semi-closed environment that has such a diverse student body. The difference this time is that the level of respect that was present years ago has ceded to a culture where ignorant racists feel emboldened to spread their vile messages. This can not continue on the SU campus or in this country. My campus is better than this. We are better than this.

Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” Remastered

“La Dolce Vita”

Federico Fellini’s 1960’s classic “La Dolce Vita” remastered to 1080p. Classic black and white ‘film noir’ that looks fantastic on a 27″ iMac. Unfortunately, you’ll need to know Italian down cold, as the YouTube English subtitles don’t appear to be able to handle the job.

The Real Starcourt Mall

Starcourt Mall – Stranger Things – via The Verge

The first three season of Netflix’s Stranger Things has been nothing short of a cultural revelation. Yes, the 2nd season was a little weak but the most recent 3rd season that was released over the July 4th weekend has received rave reviews and is considered on par with the series’ breakthrough first season.

A key ‘character’ in the 3rd season was the Starcourt Mall, an astoundingly accurate depiction of 1980s mall culture. While many thought that the mall that was used in the show was built on a soundstage, the reality is that the production crew at Netflix were able to find an actual, ‘stuck in the 1980s’ mall in Gwinnett, Georgia (Stranger Things is shot in and around Georgia).

There’s a reason why the Starcourt Mall, the principal location for the third season of Stranger Things looks so real: it’s built inside of a real shopping mall. Specifically, it was built inside of Georgia’s Gwinnett Place Mall, which was built just a year before the latest season of Netflix’s show is set.

Along with other historically believable shops that the show’s characters visit throughout the course of the show, there are almost a half-dozen extra stores that were built and filled with period-appropriate signage and products, but they never appeared on camera. Typically, film sets aren’t a full structure or room; it’s cheaper to build the bare minimum needed for a shot. That Netflix opted to build out entire stores suggests that the filmmakers wanted a bit of flexibility with how they shot the show, allowing them to shoot from any angle without worrying about an unfinished background.

Jon Porter – The Verge

As a teen of the 1980s, I have been so impressed with the accuracy and attention to detail that Netflix has shown with the production of this show. They have absolutely *nailed* what it was like to be a teen in the 1980s – from the pop culture references to the way they constructed the Starcourt Mall.

Sadly, Netflix is in the process of dismantling the mall in Gwinnett. There were some rumblings that they were going to leave the Stranger Things version of the mall intact for a while so it could be used as a promotional destination but that ended up not happening. I definitely would have wanted to try a cone from Scoops Ahoy.

A Tale of Two Decisions

Ample discussion has been had over the past several years about the vast income disparities that are present in the United States, and I’m not going to get into differing opinions on how best to address the issue – other to say that it is an issue. If you don’t believe it is an issue you are willfully ignoring the facts.

I happened to read about two decisions that were made this weekend that really hit home in terms of how folks in the 1% choose to spend their vast sums of money. Some pay it forward. Others pay for rabbits.

On one side, you have Mr. Robert F. Smith, the CEO of Vista Equity Partners who was the Class of 2019’s commencement speaker at Morehouse College. During that speech, he announced that he would cover all the student debt for every person graduating that day.

Paying It forward at Morehouse College

So the cynic in me will think that there has to be a catch or there is some way that Mr. Smith will come out financially ahead on this deal – through the PR or some debt to equity play – but that is irrelevant. The bottom line is that he is fundamentally changing the lives of every person in that graduating class by covering their student debt and getting them off on the right foot as they enter ‘real life’. It was estimated that the total bill would come to $40 Million. For a man of Mr. Smith’s means, that is a rounding error. This is an amazing gesture and I sincerely hope that it starts some sort of trend.

And then on the other side of the aisle, you have Mr. Robert Mnuchin – yes, Steve’s Daddy – who dropped $91 Million on a metal rabbit designed by Jeff Koons.

Silver Bunny Is Expensive

A shiny stainless steel sculpture created by Jeff Koons in 1986, inspired by a child’s inflatable toy, sold at Christie’s on Wednesday night for $91.1 million with fees, breaking the record at auction for a work by a living artist, set just last November by David Hockney. Robert E. Mnuchin, an art dealer and the father of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, made the winning bid for Mr. Koons’s 1986 “Rabbit” from an aisle seat near the front of the sales room. 

NY Times

When put side by side, the optics of that rabbit purchase just looks so frivolous. Actually, looking at that purchase alone makes it look frivolous. Imagine if the elder Mr. Mnuchin took that $91 Mil and helped out some other graduating class? Or put that pocket money to some other use to help people. Something to think about.

Rethinking The Obi Wan vs. Darth Vader Fight

Pretty amazing re-work of the iconic Light Saber fight between Ben “Obi Wan” Kenobi and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars: A New Hope

For comparison purposes, here is the original

The reworked version is so much more compelling. The camera angles do a much better job of engaging the viewer in the urgency and passion of the battle. It makes you feel the hatred that Vader has. From another perspective, the mobility of Obi Wan in the remake is a bit of a stretch as I never felt that he was that nimble on his feet, but I?m willing to let that go.

How to Move A Masterpiece

For 135 years, William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “La Jeunesse de Bacchus” has essentially been in the same place, his former studio in the 6th Arrondissement in Paris. Over that time, it had been moved a total of three times for some exhibitions. Now, it has two more moves ahead of it as it is going up for auction at Sotheby’s in NYC. The first was to move it from Paris to the NYC auction house. And after that, it will need to be moved again to its new owner. The issue is that the artwork is 20 feet wide by 11 feet high, and one does not just pick up that sized piece of art off the wall – worth an estimated $25 – $35 Million dollars – and put it in the cargo hold on a plane to NYC.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “La Jeunesse de Bacchus” 

Moving this master work the 3,625 miles from Paris to NYC is no small feat, requiring many skilled people with unique knowledge in art curation and conservation.

Over all, the job required around 20 people between the two locations, including a crane operator to get it out of the third-floor studio window and into a truck.

One of the conservators involved in the New York unpacking and restretching, Haley Parkes, called the whole process a “Bouguer-rodeo.”

NY Times

What was interesting about this story was how the curators were able to skillfully remove this massive piece of work from its original frame and then roll it up on a massive cylindrical drum, all without materially damaging the artwork. The article notes that one of the reasons they were able to do this was because the artist used a very light amount of paint to craft the painting, which means that 135 years on, the paint was thin enough on the canvas that it would not crack when it got rolled up.

Image Credit: NY Times (at above link)

For comparison, imagine if a piece of work by Van Gogh was the same size and needed to be transferred to NYC. Van Gogh was known to use notoriously heavy amounts of paint in his works, and the prospect of rolling up one of his works would run the risk of severe damage to the aesthetic of the original piece.

The piece is available for viewing at Sotheby’s and is also featured on their website.

The Book of Kells. Digitized.

From my ancestral homeland, the Book of Kells is now digitized for your browsing pleasure (link may take a sec to load up – big, robust images) courtesy of the Trinity College online collection

The ancient masterpiece is a stunning example of Hiberno-Saxon style, thought to have been composed on the Scottish island of Iona in 806, then transferred to the monastery of Kells in County Meath after a Viking raid (a story told in the marvelous animated film The Secret of Kells). Consisting mainly of copies of the four gospels, as well as indexes called canon tables, the manuscript is believed to have been made primarily for display, not reading aloud, which is why “the images are elaborate and detailed while the text is carelessly copied with entire words missing or long passages being repeated.

I was over in Dublin last April and absolutely fell in love with Ireland and Dublin. Through a mix up, I unfortunately did not see the Book of Kells in person at Trinity College Dublin. So I guess that just means I need to go back to Dublin to see them for real.

The Revival of Britain’s Iconic Red Phonebooth

Time and technology has marched on and both have not been kind to many things that were once iconic in Britain. The Monarchy and Royal Family, their once powerful Empire, and sadly, the Red Phonebooth.  Besides nostalgia, why would London need the red Phonebooths when everyone has their own personal phone in their pocket?  Maybe because they just look cool and have such an unique look (ahem…as it has been adopted as an icon of this very site).  And, apparently, the iconic red British Phonebooth is making somewhat of a comback:

Battered first by the march of technology and lately by the elements in junkyards, the iconic phone boxes are now staging something of a comeback. Repurposed in imaginative ways, many have reappeared on city streets and village greens housing tiny cafes, cellphone repair shops or even defibrillator machines.

The original cast-iron boxes with the domed roofs, called Kiosk No. 2 or K2, first appeared in 1926. They were designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of the Battersea Power Station in London and Liverpool Cathedral. After becoming a staple on many British streets, the booths began disappearing in the 1980s, with the privatization of British Telecom and the rise of the mobile phone consigning most of them to the scrap heap.

About that time, Tony Inglis’s engineering and transport company got the job to remove phone boxes from the streets and auction them off. But he ended up buying hundreds of them himself, with the idea of renovating and selling them.

Today, Mr. Inglis’s operations has taken many of the old, rusted Red Phonebooths and have carefully restored them so that they can be repurposed into various functions such as housing defibrillators in rural hamlets, housing Mobile Phone repair shops, or using the Phonebooths in art installations (to name a few). As a big fan of the iconic Red Phonebooth, I am so happy to see that they are being cared for and brought back to life in various ways!

Photo Credit:  NY Times

 

When Vintage Became Cool

Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images
Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images

Throughout all the big fashion forward cities around the world such as London, Paris, San Francisco, and New York, vintage clothing stores are a staple of inspiration and innovation. Back in the 1960s, an epicenter of vintage clothing stores was on St. Mark’s place in NYC, and the store that led the way was Limbo, which opened in 1967 and hung around until 1975.

Part of the 1960s cultural rebellion, then, involved calculated grubbiness. Teenagers allowed tangles in their hair and old, frayed clothing on their bodies. They picked up old chairs on the street and bought worn-in jeans. This lifestyle was environmentally friendly, it was cheap, and it scandalized adults win, win, win. The trend peaked in New York in the late 1960s, and the flagship store was a place called Limbo.

Through the years, St. Marks Place has continued to hold on to its gritty and bohemian roots yet as Manhattan continues is march towards becoming the Mall of America, the ability for vintage clothing stores to survive sky high rents becomes a challenge. However, what is far more interesting is how with the passing of time, the mantra “they don’t make ’em like they used to” is becoming a stark reality in the vintage trade.

As Laver’s Law says, the clothes from about 30 years prior amuse us the most. What’s not the same is that in the 1960s, 1930s clothes were unique and made from high-quality materials; in the 2010s, 1990s clothes are, like, Express baby doll dresses. The higher-quality old stuff is in shorter supply, and so it’s become more precious and much more expensive. To a dance once in junior high school, I wore a perfect-condition 1950s pink tulle party dress, purchased on or near St. Marks for, as I recall, $5. I just looked on eBay for something similar; the price point was around $125.

So keep a hold of those old, vintage threads from the 1950s and 60s. They are becoming rare and highly sought after!

Photo Credit – Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images via The Cut

Internet Archive Third Eye Project


The team at the Internet Archive has taken on a project to capture, in pretty much real time, the chyrons – or better known as the narrative text – that appear at the bottom of the TV screen of various news networks such as CNN, FOX News, BBC and MSNBC. Amazingly, across just those networks, a total of 4 million of these snippets were collected in all of two weeks. But what is really brilliant is how they are actually collecting these snippets:

The work of the Internet Archive’s TV architect Tracey Jaquith, the Third Eye project applies OCR (ed: Optical Character Recognition) to the “lower thirds” of TV cable news screens to capture the text that appears there. The chyrons are not captions, which provide the text for what people are saying on screen, but rather are text narrative that accompanies news broadcasts.

Created in real-time by TV news editors, chyrons sometimes include misspellings. The OCR process also frequently adds another element where text is not rendered correctly, leading to entries that may be garbled. To make sense out of the noise, Jaquith applies algorithms that choose the most representative chyrons from each channel collected over 60-second increments. This cleaned-up feed is what fuels the Twitter bots that post which chyrons are appearing on TV news screens.

The Internet archive team has opened this up as an API for all to use, and they have also taken all of them and turned them into a Twitter feed.

Third Eye API: https://archive.org/services/third-eye.php
Twitter Feed: https://twitter.com/tracey_pooh/lists/third-eye

Someone is going to have a ton of fun with this.

Still Bringing The Heat

This past Sunday, I went to NJPAC (New Jersey Performing Arts Center) to see a screening of Young Frankenstein, followed by a ‘conversation’ with Mel Brooks himself…all of 90 years young.

Watching the movie in a theater the size of NJPAC was fantastic. I’ve only watched Young Frankenstein (more times than I can count) at home on TV, so listening to an audience laughing and reacting to the movie was a unique experience. It made me appreciate even more the subltle nuances of Gene Wilder’s reactions, and the classic facial expressions of Cloris Leachman and Marty Feldman. You just don’t get that from watching the movie in your living room.

But the real joy came during the conversation with Mel Brooks after the show, where he shared stories and memories of filming Young Frankenstein: how Marty Feldman kept on switching the shoulder of Igor’s hump until someone on the set noticed, upon which Mel thought it funny enough to write it into the script; how in the grave digging scene, an off the cuff quip from Feldman (again) led to him writing in the downpour of rain as being the only thing that could make digging up a grave worse.

Near the end of the conversation, the host read some questions that the audience got to submit for Mel to answer and there were two interactions that illustrated how quick and brilliantly funny Mel Brooks still is:

The Underwear Question

Audience Question: Mel, boxers or briefs?
Mel (without missing a beat): I’m going to give you an honest answer. Depends.
Brought down the house.

Don’t Kiss And Tell Question

Initial Audience Question: Katie asks if you would consider marrying her?
Mel: I’ll think about it. I’ll definitely think about it
Next Audience Question: Jennifer says that she is a huge fan and was wondering if she could give you a kiss?
Mel (again, without missing a beat): Oh, I’m sorry Jennifer, I’m engaged to Katie now and I don’t think that would be appropriate.
Brings down the house again.

Of course, the most popular questions were: When are “Spaceballs II” and “History of the World, Part 2” coming out?