Archive for May, 2014


19 May 2014

“If chess were being invented today, it would never get past the test stage,” my brother said at Christmas, in one of those comedy riffs of his that could be original or borrowed from the classics and I’ll never know. “They’d say what is this, it’s got too many different player characters and only one map and the most important piece has no moves and the most powerful piece overwhelms the others and you can even have endings where no one wins.” That’s true; I realize that a lot of the strategy is deciding when to and how to use the queen. And the symmetry/asymmetry of the game is so much of its appeal; somehow it is perfectly balanced through being a tiny bit unbalanced and vice versa.

The International Board Game Studies Association which begins tomorrow at UCS. Years of occasional Carcassonne, Settlers, and Yankee Swap still haven’t prepared me to know what this conference is going to look like. Except I hear there’s going to be a giant chess set.


rip the things we forgot to save

12 May 2014

An emerging list of lost Internet value:

  • Television Without Pity, where the best posts ever were Stee’s reviews of the original Temptation Island
  • Fametracker‘s “Two Stars One Slot” feature. Where are we now supposed to go for verification that Leo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp are becoming the same actor?
  • Google Reader. Google Buzz (I was one of the three people who read it). The old, close-packed view of Google Mail where you could have the whole screen to write on. The clean Google search page, where the occasional appearance of a custom logo created a special occasion of its own. The clean design in general. Bring Marissa back!
  • On the bright side, Astronomy Photo of the Day is still running, at a higher resolution that makes everything look like Hollywood special effects.

    my other bus is a volvo

    5 May 2014

    I used to laugh at Jonathan Richmond‘s passionate advocacy of buses as more flexible and cost-effective than trains. If you put in a train line, it stays, I thought, while bus lines are easy to cut in times of austerity, and leave the most vulnerable workers without ways to get to work. So let’s commit to trains. Also, what’s wrong with big public works projects? Is there a better way to stimulate the economy? Aren’t we grateful for past investments?

    But look at Los Angeles, was his argument. Trains don’t work in a dispersed, networked urban layout. And I would say, but if you put in a train line it attracts dense building – with proper zoning and planning cooperation, of course – and over time you’ll no longer have a network of suburbs, but actual connected urban centers, which is more green and efficient. The network creates the city. I have never understood what’s good about the suburbs. I grew up in one, about an hour (pronounced “40 minutes”) from Boston. It was a perfectly nice place, but the same people could have built an equally nice place that was less car dependent.

    The buses in that suburb would not sell you on the bus solution. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have any kind of bus to the T and as a public transportation snob I have depended on that service all my life. The Charlie Card has improved the bus rider’s lot greatly; before it, you needed to have six quarters for every ride. The buses themselves, however, are noisy, uncomfortable, jolting monsters, where it’s difficult to read and impossible to write. They replaced a suburban train line that was cut in the ’70s (so much for the permanence of trains; see also Beeching cuts) and is now a heritage bike path instead of a working metropolitan artery.

    But there are better classes of buses and there are places that treat bus riders better. In Finland, I became accustomed to smooth-riding Volvos that were like sitting in your living room and riding around. “Kotilinjasi! [Your home line!]” they proclaimed in campaigns for new vehicles equipped with curtains and family-style facing seating. You could thread a needle while riding the 55 from Koskela. The UK also does buses well with the double-decker London model, an exemplary public space. In California, the Google bus has done a lot for the image of buses, although not without moral hazard.

    So to the point: We know rail is broken, so why don’t we have direct express buses from Ipswich to London? Oxford (60.4 mi, 1 hr 18 min) has them; you can roll up at the last minute and get on for as little as £14 (Oxford Bus, Oxford Tube). Ipswich is a bit further (82 mi, 1 hr 40 min), but that could be trimmed by running to an outer Tube stop such as Mile End or even Stratford, rather than all the way to Victoria. It would make an enormous difference to creative workers and students who could take day gigs, meet clients, pop down to museums; and would also draw people up to Ipswich. Sling a bike rack on it and you have a complete green solution. A modest proposal for your consideration.