Thursday, January 17, 2019

Steve Sack, Welcome Back

If you're not from the Twin Cities, you may not know about Steve Sack, the long-time editorial cartoonist at the Star Tribune. He won the Pulitzer not too long ago.

He was on medical leave for a number of months this year, and it was a painful time each morning when the Strib ran cartoons by others and — all too often, it seemed — gave us cartoons that were unintelligible or just not funny (as well as attempting to express points I disagree with).

Sack is back at work now, and he gave us this yesterday:

This is vintage Sack because it shows off his distinctive drawing style in the caricature while also tying together multiple critiques of Mulligan in one image.

Glad you've gone back to the drawing board, Mr. Sack.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

An Appreciation for Hand-Lettered Signs

I've posted a number of times about hand-lettered signs. Probably too many to link, and definitely too hard to find here, strewn throughout the blog without a unique tag (I think they're mostly under the rather expansive Out and About tag).

So here's another one, this time from the Naughty Greek restaurant on University Avenue in Saint Paul:

I admire the lettering, of course, but I like even more the way the maker created a double border that uses the full space and ties in with the lettering.

Good job, TNG!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


How long can the majority of the government remain shut down, with the parts that are operating being run by people who are not being paid?

I hear the IRS is calling back 60 percent of its workforce (unpaid) to make sure tax refunds go out, but they won't be doing audits, which bring in revenue. But Interior is also continuing to auction off land for oil extraction, because that generates revenue and is therefore essential. How inconsistent is that?

And all of the federal grant programs for research are grinding to a halt. Cancer research, of course, but more than that. From Phillip Attiba Goff, professor of criminal justice at John Jay College in New York City, who researches and works with police departments on use of force:

So, I got a call this morning letting me know that "the shutdown has hit you." Say what now?

Turns out that money from the National Science Foundation is paid out quarterly. Here's what that means: For many academic staff in the bench and social sciences, they are paid off of grants. Federal grants are often viewed as the most prestigious, which means some of the most important science pays vital staff off of federal grants. NIH, NSF, Labor, Education. All of it. That means the folks working to cure cancer and the folks, like me, working to reduce urban violence often pay key personnel this way. But with the shutdown, the invoices stop being filled.

For rich institutions, they have enough reserves to cover the gap in funding. But for poorer institutions...

So, this morning, I found out that we will not be able to hire new staff or pay for non-salary expenses off of our NSF money until the shutdown ends. If the shutdown extends for longer...we may not be able to pay existing staff. Now, to be clear, we're fine. We have other cash that covers us. But we are a rare commodity in that way. For most of my colleagues, that's it. No new hires. No travel, lab, or project expenses.

For many labs, this would cripple their ability to function. And if they are not fortunate enough to have a diversity of funding sources (and most are lucky to have one source), then it could mean that they can pay personnel...but have nothing for them to do.
The short-term consequence is that there will be a non-trivial disturbance of scientific production this year. But longer term, with the U.S. already so hostile to immigrants, popular science, and now academic science...folks are just going to leave. I have three colleagues who told me in December they are leaving top-tier institutions for the EU and Canada for these reasons. And I've been at academic conferences where international scholars were functionally blocked from attending due to US immigration policy.

While U.S. international economic, industrial, and technological competition has ebbed and flowed, our most consistent pillar of excellence has been higher education (for all its many many warts). This administration won't care if it debilitates these engines for innovation.

Just figured some folks would want to know. There are few areas of the country that remain completely free from the influence of the government shutdown. And academia is not hit nearly as hard as most. But the long term damage of this wholly avoidable mess... Competent adults would not let this happen.
Not to mention people losing their housing because the funding mechanism has ground to a halt, and the coming end of SNAP benefits and who knows how many other essential supports for people. The national parks are open, unstaffed, and some utter jackasses have chainsawed the Joshua trees.

The Nation describes this partial, targeted shutdown as a soft coup, undermining parts of government that are just as legitimate as the ones that remain (albeit staffed by unpaid workers). I don't think I would use that term, but it sure is easier if your goal is to hamstring government rather than do the hard work of improving things for everyone.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Ban Slip Lanes

Today I took the A Line rapid-transit bus south on Snelling, meaning to get off at University and catch the Green Line train. But I wasn't paying attention and missed the stop at University. That meant I had to ride the bus all the way down to Marshall Avenue (which is about twice as far as the usual stop distance) before I could get off and walk back.

The reason it's so far between the stops is that the enormous, hideous trench of Interstate 94 runs between these two major east-west Saint Paul streets, glorying in its eight-lane-wide bridge (on a city street!) plus the two-lane, one-way frontage roads that flank it.

Here's what it looks like. I am represented by the green path, north-bound:

This image shows the north-south Snelling Avenue bridge, part of the highway below it, and the frontage road, which is called Concordia Avenue. From the left, cars are arriving onto Snelling, having exited 94 at highway speed. On the right, cars go east on Concordia to enter the ramp onto I-94.

Note the spot where my green highlighted path jogs a bit to the left and then straightens out. That curving paved area coming from Concordia is called a "slip lane," and it's a hard-structured right turn lane that is supposed to be a yield. The concrete triangle that creates the lane is called a "porkchop island."

You can't tell in this photo, but the button that I, as a pedestrian, am supposed to push if I want to cross in either of the directions at this intersection is located on the porkchop island, so before I can push it I have to cross the slip lane. So if the traffic coming from the left has a green light, and there are people turning right in the slip lane, there's no way for me to get to the button to ask for the light to change in my direction.

For me, northbound, there is a crosswalk painted on the street. There is no crosswalk for people who are walking east-west.

Cars and trucks come from the left side of this image at almost highway speed, as I said. They approach the intersection with no intention of stopping because their drivers generally know there is a bit of merge lane ahead, so even if the light is red, there's no risk of hitting another car. Not one of these drivers stopped or slowed down because there was a pedestrian approaching the intersection.

When I finally got across to the porkchop island (and remember, I am completely able-bodied and nimble) it was because there was a car approaching a ways down the lane and I just hoped they didn't accelerate toward me.

If there had been a pedestrian walking east on Concordia, they would have been even more endangered by on-coming right-turners because it's a lot harder to look behind you as you walk and they would have been closer to the approaching cars than I was, closer to Snelling in the crosswalk. Plus those pedestrians don't even have a crosswalk to signal their possible existence to the drivers in the first place.

This slip lane (like all slip lanes) is very dangerous for pedestrians, and its existence basically tells us that we don't belong in this area at all. Moving cars as efficiently as possible is prioritized (God forbid drivers should have to wait to turn right! Traffic might back up onto the highway!).

Do the traffic engineers who design this infrastructure and insist it is needed to maintain "level of service" (which only applies to vehicles, not pedestrians) ever walk these streets themselves?

I doubt it.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


I posted some time ago about what I called peek-a-boo book covers. The trend has not died down, and if anything the mimicry has grown stronger. Here are nine that I saw in about a minute in a recent trip to Subtext Books in downtown Saint Paul:

The only variation among these is that most set the type in all caps while a few use upper and lower case. The majority use sans serif type, but a few use serif. Almost all overlay art onto parts of the letters, except one, which runs black type over fairly dark background art so the type is almost purposefully hard to read.

And all of that similarity was confounding enough, but then I noticed these two covers, which are don't fit the general pattern I've been tracking, but have their own little style club with white backgrounds, severe thick-and-thin modern type, and organically shaped, silhouetted artwork:

Wow. That is an amazing coincidence.

(Note: These two were not side by side in the store to start with.)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Hard to Read, but Beautiful

I recently noticed this lettering on the front of a family portrait folder:

I was enamored of the way it looks, but wasn't sure what it said until we checked the back of the photo inside. The photographer's name was Charles H. Tipple, so those first letters are CHT. I would never have figured that out. I thought it was G. Hipple, in fact.

The other thing I notice about this is how the paper has been pressed smooth around the letters. You can't tell from the photo, but the letters are raised, and one would assume they were debossed, but when you check the back of the sheet, there's no evidence of the letter shapes denting into the paper. So I assume it's some kind of thermographic process, but then I don't know why they would need to have pressed the paper the way it is. Maybe it's actually engraving rather than printing? I'm not sure.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Livable Streets

My mind keeps coming back to this post I saw on Kottke a couple of days ago. For whatever reason, Jason resurrected a graphic from a 1981 book by a Berkeley urban design professor named Donald Appleyard. His book was called Livable Streets, and this graphic from it says a lot:

(Click to enlarge for better viewing.)

As you may surmise, these three streets were studied with some intensity by Appleyard. They were similar in scale, type of housing and buildings present, and location (San Francisco); the only significant difference was the amount of street traffic (16,000 vehicles a day vs. 8,000 vs. just 2,000).

Appleyard measured how the residents used their streets. The little dots represent gathering spots identified by the people, and the lines represent friendship connections. As you can see, the less traffic there was, the more gathering spots and the greater number of friendships across the street and even on the same side of the street.

His second map showed what the people considered their "home territory," and again it grew larger with less traffic:

Kottke ends his post this way:

In a sad twist of fate, Appleyard died relatively young at 54 — he was struck and killed by a speeding car in Athens, Greece in 1982 [the year after the book came out].
So now I have to get ahold of a copy of Livable Streets and see what other revealing insights it contains.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Sign on a Campus

Did I post this back when I saw it on the University of Minnesota campus back in February 2017? I don't think so:

The odd thing is, when I looked at it today I thought the handwritten part said "Nazis can't fuckin read." Which would have been funnier than what it actually says.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Field Museum Logos

I am not from Chicago, and as if that wasn't already obvious enough, it's about to become really clear.

I have visited the Field Museum just once, about 15 years ago. I liked it but don't remember what logo they were using at the time, but I guess it was probably the one on the left:

The one on the right was just launched in early 2018, and received good reviews relative to the old one. I had no idea what kind of logo the museum has ever used. I just know it's a beloved institution in the Chicago area.

All of that said, check out this logo, which I assume was in use in the early 20th century:

Now that's classic, though I can see why it would no longer be in use because it visually implies dusty and fuddy-duddy. But I like it.

I wonder how many logos the museum has had in its 125 years?

The thing I learned from this logo review is.... ta da!... that the museum is call the Field Museum because it's named after Marshall Field of the famous Chicago department store. I never realized that; I really hadn't thought about why it was called Field, but if anything, I would have thought it had something to do with research done in the field (you know, it's a natural history museum and that requires field work, right?). But nope, now I know. Marshall Field it is.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Tabs More-or-Less About Climate Change

There are, once again, lots of tabs. So here are the ones related to climate change.

Good news posts:

Emissions-free energy system saves heat from the summer sun for winter. ​A research group from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, has made great, rapid strides towards the development of a specially designed molecule that can store solar energy for later use. Their work was presented in four scientific articles in 2018. The next steps are to combine everything together into a coherent system. Researchers estimate it could have commercial application within 10 years.

The sequel: life after economic growth by Shaun Chamberlain.

Hope and fellowship by Dave Roberts, from 2013, back when he was at Grist. "Remember, there is no 'too late' here, no 'game over' — it will be a tragedy to shoot past 2 degrees to 3, but 4 is worse than 3, and 5 is worse than 4. Being unprepared for any of those will be much worse than being prepared. The future always forks; there are always better and worse paths ahead. There’s always a difference to be made. When we ask for hope, then, I think we’re just asking for fellowship. The weight of climate change, like any weight, is easier to bear with others."

The case for making transit free (and how to pay for it) from The Urbanist.

Why walkable cities are good for the economy. From Vox.

The Green New Deal, explained. By Dave Roberts at Vox.

The truly big picture. By Alex Steffen.

Six principles to for pricing driving to reduce congestion, pollution, and crashes. From Spur News.

In-between posts:

Online shopping is terrible for the environment. It doesn’t have to be. From Vox.

'How do I break bad news about climate change?' A six-step guide to honest and compassionate conversations. From Yale Climate Connections.

The case for conditional optimism on climate change. By Dave Roberts at Vox.

What's limiting us? By Jonathan Foley, now executive director of Project Drawdown.

Why more and more cities aren't prioritizing your parking problems. From Governing.

It's time to redefine the single-occupancy vehicle. From Strong Towns.

Grim critiques (things to make you angry or something similar):

Predatory delay and the rights of future generations by Alex Steffen.

Elon and the collective. Everything (and a little bit maybe right) with the many projects of Elon Musk.

Why the climate change message isn't working. An excerpt from Charles Eisenstein's book Climate—A New Story, which I am going to read soon.

What the believers are denying. Ibram X. Kendi for the Atlantic. The denial of climate change and the denial of racism rest on the same foundation: an attack on observable reality.

Big cars kill: "monster" vehicles make you feel safer, but they're more likely cause fatal collisions. From the Canadian newspaper the National Post. Montreal scientists sifted through data on three million Canadian crashes and found driving an SUV instead of a car makes a driver 224 per cent more likely to cause a fatal crash; a study UC San Diego, found every life saved in a large vehicle came at the expense of 4.3 dead pedestrians, motorcyclists and car drivers.

It's simple. If we can't change our economic system, our number's up. By George Monbiot from the Guardian.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Two More Faces in Things

Last summer I visited a famous Minneapolis outsider art landmark for the first time: the House of Balls. But it looks as though I never got around to posting the photos. Remind me if I did already.

But here are two examples of faces in things I saw while there, one that's clearly been played up intentionally, the other.... I'm not sure has been noticed:

The dried fungi on tops seems to have been added to create hair, right?

But I'm not sure these fluorescent fixture choir singers have been spotted.

See my past posts on pareidolia, the fancy name for seeing faces in things.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Manufactured Crises in the Midst of a Real Crisis

Today's big thought from Jared Yates Sexton:

For generations now the GOP has manufactured one moral or security crisis after another to scare voters. It’s all but halted progress and has cost so many lives. When you look at American history, it’s a tide that shifts between crisis and stability. In moments of stability progress comes to the forefront, but by artificially creating crises the GOP has effectively stayed the moments of reflection and instituted war-time austerity.
Or as Stephen Colbert put it back in 2010 at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear:

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt... a virulent combination. Maybe the fear is starting to shift to fear of climate change? I don't know. Manipulating our brains' structural weaknesses is wrong either way.