Saturday Assorted Links

1. Lasers Reveal a Maya Civilization So Dense It Blew Experts’ Minds.

“Not far from the sites tourists already know, like the towering temples of the ancient city of Tikal, laser technology has uncovered about 60,000 homes, palaces, tombs and even highways in the humid lowlands.

The findings suggested an ancient society of such density and interconnectedness that even the most experienced archaeologists were surprised.”

Decidedly not a shithole civilization.

“The total population at that time was once estimated to be a few million. . . . But in light of the new lidar data, she said it could now be closer to 10 million.

‘To have such a large number of people living at such a high level for such a long period of time, it really proves the fact that these people were highly developed, and also quite environmentally conscientious.'”

Absent the United Fruit Company and the CIA, the Mayans’ ancestors would be a lot better off today.

2. First Do No Harm, Health Care Waste in Washington State.

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3. The shocking thing about D.C.’s schools scandal — and why it has national significance.

“. . . schools were essentially juicing the books to make it seem like they were graduating more students. Scams included phony “credit recovery” programs, failing to count all students, and, as the District just found out, letting kids graduate without the qualifications required for a diploma.”

And on Michelle Rhee, the darling of right wing business mad “reformers”:

“. . . the produce-or-else testing culture that she fostered — tying portions of some evaluations to growth in scores and securing commitments from principals to hit numerical targets — created a climate of fear, in the view of many school employees.

It also coincided with evidence of cheating on annual city tests.

A climate of fear in a school has never been known to produce much of anything useful.”

4. Ethiopia’s regime flirts with letting dissidents speak without locking them up. Incremental progress.

5. Letter of Recommendation: Rodney Dangerfield.

“Imagine having no talent. Imagine being no good at all at something and doing it anyway.”

6. How Building Codes & Taxes Shape Regional Architecture.

“Ever noticed how the bricks on newer British buildings are bigger, or stopped to appreciate hand-stenciled wallpaper, or enjoyed a sip from a fancy hollow-stemmed glass? If so, you may well be admiring a product of regulation and taxes as much aesthetic tastes. From basic materials to entire architectural styles, building codes and taxation strategies have had huge historical impacts on the built world as we know it.”

Add that to the ever burgeoning list of things I did not know. I’m sure DAByrnes did though.

“Dutch canal houses are another classic example of how rules and regulations can shape structures. Taxed on their canal frontage rather than height or depth, these buildings grew in tall and thin. In turn, this typology evolved narrower staircases, necessitating exterior hoist systems to move furniture and goods into and out of upper floors.”

Columbus and Graduation

You dig independent and foreign films, you don’t even mind subtitles, and you have four hours to kill. Here’s your 2017 double feature extraordinaire.

Columbus is a beautiful, slow paced film that explores how to balance personal ambition and family commitment. Columbus, Indiana, not Ohio. Showing now in independent theaters. Two thumbs up from Alison Byrnes who was the only Millennial at her screening.

From the NYT review:

“Jin (John Cho), an English-to-Korean book translator in Seoul, travels to Columbus after his father, an architecture historian, collapses while in town for a talk. As Jin waits to find out whether his semi-estranged father will ever regain consciousness, he strikes up a friendship with Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a tour guide and lifelong Columbus resident. A year out of high school, she is tempted to leave to study architecture, but she fears for the well-being of her unpredictable blue-collar mother (Michelle Forbes), for whom she cooks and essentially looks after.”

Graduation provides a lasting feel for life in Romania, and by extension, many other countries where people’s daily lives are shaped by connections and corruption. It also explores how to balance personal ambition and family commitment.

From the NYT review:

“You might think of Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) as a helicopter parent, a father whose heavy investment in his daughter’s success seems both laudable and a little frightening. For Romeo, a doctor in a provincial Romanian city, Eliza (Maria Dragus) — his only child, in her last year of high school — represents his only basket and all the eggs inside. He clings to the faith that his thwarted ambition, his battered idealism and his dented self-esteem will all be vindicated if Eliza wins a competitive scholarship to study in England. He and his depressive wife, Magda (Lia Bugnar), who lived in exile before their return to Romania after the end of Communism, are not up to leaving again. Eliza’s escape would be an antidote to her father’s disappointment with the spiritually and morally desolate place his country has become.”

Available on Netflix.

What Home Buyers Get Wrong

Six months on in the new crib, I’m ready to educate my brother who is allegedly studying design. This is for him, but I’ve been posting so infrequently of late, feel free to eavesdrop. Bro, just send a check for whatever you think my insights are worth.

Home buyers focus too narrowly on total square feet, too often thinking the bigger the better. We moved to a slightly smaller home, but it feels larger because we regularly use much more of the total area. In other words, there’s no wasted space. And even though there’s less total square footage, the kitchen is quite a bit larger. The beauty of the kitchen layout is you can open every drawer and the dishwasher and the refrigerator and still have two-three feet all around. No more sucking everything in when moving the silverware from the dishwasher to the drawer. In fact, now there’s nothing stopping me from packing on an extra 40-50 lbs this winter.

Our new master bathroom is about 60% the size of our former one. And it’s perfect. That other 40% was wasted space for the purpose of what, a slightly higher sales price? The new one has just enough room to do everything comfortably, and when it comes time to clean, it’s a breeze because damn near everything is in reach.

Homebuyers don’t realize small things make a big difference. Especially when combined together. Case in point, dimmable lights. Mercy me, how did I live in an on-off world all those years? There’s nothing like entering the bathroom at 5:30a, flipping the switch, and being met by a faint pre-dawn-like light. Same when preparing to retire at night. There’s nothing like brushing one’s teeth under a faint post-sunset-like glimmer. Every light should be dimmable.

Another lesson. You can’t put a value on genuine quiet, and on natural beauty, and on the edifying result of the two combined.

Another lesson. You can’t have genuine quiet and natural beauty without sacrificing some community. There are always trade-offs. Long time readers of the humble blog will know I value community. Is sacrificing some community worth the return in quiet, natural beauty, peace? Stay tuned, time will tell.

What else do home buyers get wrong?

 

Democracy and Design

According to Timothy Egan (writing on his NYT blog), Amazon sold more electronic than hardcopy books during the Christmas season. He goes on to predict that the iPad and other electronic readers will accelerate the closing of brick and mortar bookstores. He writes, “. . . if Denver were to lose Tattered Cover, or Portland lose Powell’s, or Washington, D.C., lose Politics and Prose, it would be like ripping one lung from a healthy body. These stores are cultural centers, shared living rooms; no virtual community on the Web, or even a well-run library, can replace them.”

I agree. I suspect those specific stores will be anomalies, they’ll survive over the medium-term at least as a result of their loyal followings, extensive inventories, and exceptional customer service. The question though is what becomes of the small and medium sized independents who can’t compete on price and don’t have the history or momentum of a Tattered Cover, Powell’s, and Politics and Prose? I hope I’m wrong, but I expect them to go out of business. Does it matter? Is it just creative destruction, a shifting of economic tectonic plates, an inevitable byproduct of free-market capitalism?

Of course, from the perspective of bookstore owners, employees, and loyal customers, it matters. But what about from a socio-political perspective?

Social scientists are telling us what seems intuitive, we’re growing more and more ideologically segregated. I tend to listen to public radio and watch public television, with some Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow, and Keith Olberman (in very small doses) mixed in. My right wing friends listen to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and watch Fox News almost exclusively. Plus, nearly everyone is plugged in to their personal iPods and smartphones making spontaneous conversations with people all but impossible.

Among other things, a vibrant democracy depends on civil discourse, or put more simply, people with differing opinions talking directly to one another. If not at bookstore cafes, or in book discussion groups, or during book reading Q&A’s, when do people truly engage with those who think differently than them? I’ve expressed my opinion before that women are better than men at making time for tea, conversation, and one another. For example, my better half and her friends, “The Clatch”, meet every few months at one of their houses. But I’m only giving them partial credit because they’re all left-of-center libs who think more alike than different.

What becomes of the listening, thinking, communicating, and problem solving skills of people who very rarely engage in civil discourse? For an answer, look at Congress.

Egan’s insight got me thinking about design. Are architects factoring socio-political variables like I’m describing into their designs. And if so, how? How do we design cities or redesign existing ones so that there are inviting public places where diverse people—culturally, economically, ideologically, religiously—are in the same place at the same time?