From The Archives: December 2009

Barrel O’ Links: December 2009

One hundred decade-ending champagne glasses full of linky goodness:

  • Why Are Europeans White? (Google)
  • How To Build A Seed Grenade (BLDGBLOG)
  • There is such a thing as too clean (SciAm)
  • Enterprising musician stalks Google van (CBC)
  • Painting the light fantastic (DailyMail)
  • DARPA Network Challenge solved in eight hours (DARPA)
  • Drunk four-year-old steals Christmas gifts (Channel9)
  • Ready for the future: Space Beeeer! (JustAGuyThing)
  • A Series of Tubes, 2 (jwz)

Oh Christmas Flag

National flags of red, white, and green.

National flags of red, white, and green.

Santa’s got some serious pull, and he loves his Christmas colors.  Not by coincidence, pick the flag of some random country, and it’ll probably sport lots of holiday hues: 30% red, 30% white, and 10% green, on average.  St. Nick isn’t okay with part-way, however – he’s always lobbying for more.  To the right, we’ve included his trophy case: the thirty national flags with completely Yule-conformant coloring.  Ho ho ho, indeed!

While researching a recent article on flags and utopia, I accidentally overdosed on these holiday colors and contracted a serious case of the Christmas spirit.  As if piloted by elves, I gathered needle, thread, scissors, and fabric, ponied up to the work table, and began to frantically cut and sew.  The house shook under a raging storm of red, white, and green.  Then, my head cleared, leftover scraps of cloth settled to the floor, and…

With some help from cherubs above, I’d channeled the holidays – or rather, a bit of their essence – into three Yule-hued flags of Christmas!  I’ve included them below, and you can click on each one to see a larger version suitable for wallpaper display.

First, don your tinted eyewear, and bask in the brilliant glow of the Rising-Sun-inspired Flag of the Over-Electrified Christmas Tree:

Flag of the Over-Electrified Christmas Tree

Flag of the Over-Electrified Christmas Tree

Next, sample the strong, Brute!-esque diagonals, somewhat evocative of Soviet propaganda, of the banner of Rooftop, Christmas Morning, 2am:

Click here to read more →

My Racist Atlas

Editor’s Note: Company names have been redacted to prevent unrequited litigation.

Now and then, for the sheer fun of it, I break out my cape, light the pipe, don a plaid cap, pick up the magnifying glass, and do a bit of sleuthing.  Thusly motivated, I couldn’t resist a recent garbage sale bargain: the  redacted  Road Atlas of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, 1949 Edition.  With it at my fingertips, I have the 411 on the entire pre-Interstate North American transportation grid – perfect for solving the occasional mystery of urban geography!

Like any true map-aholic, I treasure quality time spent with an atlas, but not everyone shares my affections.  To the right-brainers amongst us, a book of maps might as well be an unintelligible stream of Yiddish, played backwards.

For them, to mellow the overwhelming dryness of the symbolic gibberish within,  redacted  prudently wrapped their atlas with a kitschy cover.  At first glance, it’s completely innocent: a playful illustration of the lower 48 states, dotted with cartoonish drawings of the regional attractions and activities.  However, a closer look at the Southeast exposes some unpleasantries:

The southeastern U.S., as pictured by my atlas.  Click the image for a larger version.

The southeastern U.S., as pictured by my atlas. Click the image for a larger version.

Here, we see the sole representations of African Americans: a bikini-clad lady near Miami, one man dancing emphatically to the banjo of another, and in Mississippi and Louisiana, oh dear…  Yes, that’s several black people picking cotton and rice.  Holy crap!

Did Lou Dobbs ever intern at  redacted ?

Probably not, for the cover features some nasty white stereotypes, too.  In Tennessee, witness a shotgun-wielding, moonshine-nuzzling loafer, and to his west, the shirtless Missouri gentleman, raising his violin’s bow to menace a donkey, within a convenient stagger of the Great Still of Arkansas!  Okay, yeah, I’ll admit it… my great uncles Jethro and Jebediah weren’t exactly role models, but did they have to put them on the cover?

According to my Ebay forensics, the illustration debuted in 1949 and persisted until the 1969 edition, wherein someone finally did something about it, replacing all of the black persons, except bikini lady, with a couple of stately buildings, a factory, and a humanoid of indeterminate origin in turtleneck and cowboy hat:

The 1969 cover revision.

The 1969 cover revision.

However, the trashy Caucasian images remained until 1984, when a complete cover redesign relegated the entire unfortunate incident to the dollar bin of history.

Now, my atlas serves as a social mile marker of sorts.  It might have been in fits and starts, but over the past seventy years, we’ve come a long way, baby, in the right direction.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Miraculous 34th Street

My road to Christmas is paved with good intentions.  Every January, I smugly reassure myself: “This year I’ll finish my holiday shopping before Halloween.”  Then, fun is had, time flies, and oops!  It’s two short weeks until December 25th – yet still, the empty gift closet weeps in loneliness.

Oh, flippin’ Tannenbaum!  Now, I’m swamped by a seasonal tsunami of yuletide commitments: to procure the tree, deck the halls, roast the chestnuts, concoct the eggnog, plan the caroling route, and countless similar endeavors.  To avoid the permanent stigma of doling out envelopes of cash on Christmas morning, I need to do something, and fast.  Online won’t work, because I require the visual stimulation and tactile feedback of an in-the-flesh buying experience.  So, on to Plan B: the Streamlined, One-Day, All-Inclusive, Tommy-Gun-Style Shopping Spree.

But where?  On the left coast, Los Angeles offers cute boutiques, and for amusing junk, San Francisco’s Chinatown Crap Stores can’t be beat.  However, at this most wonderful time of the year, I pine for the thriving retail ecosystem of the original Metropolis: New York City, born itself of a legendary transaction of beads and trinkets!

Could I fly to the Big Apple, dispatch my gift list in a single day, and ship everything back to California?  And, if so, where should I go for the utmost in supercharged shopping?

To answer those questions, I utilized AggData’s extensive collection of geolocated chain data to visualize Manhattan and surroundings, with store locations marked by dots and color-coded by the number within a ten-minute walk:

New York City In Chains

New York City In Chains. Click the image for a larger version!

The map includes retail, food, auto, service, and entertainment establishments, and represents 285 corporate entities with a total of 2800-plus locations inside the featured 12 by 12 miles.

Hark!  For bathed in mid-Manhattan’s glow, the herald angels sing!  Saks Fifth Avenue warbles of well-heeled merchandise.  The illuminated billboards of Times Square belt out a boisterous call.  And, from under the art-deco spire of the Empire State Building, broadcast the magnificent melodies of New York City’s Retail Epicenter: the place within a ten-minute walk of the largest number of our chain locations: more than one hundred.  Built upon this hallowed ground and framed by the coursing arteries of Broadway and 7th Avenue is Macy’s flagship department store: a Miracle On 34th Street to the desperate Christmas shopper, indeed!

To visit the core of midtown Manhattan is to stroll into a gigantic open-air mall – a square of concentrated commerce, one-and-a-half miles on each side – peppered with restaurants, hotels, and assorted creature comforts.  There, our anxieties melt away as thousands of stores make quick work of that pesky gift list.  Our taste buds rejoice for the universe of delectable foodstuffs.  And, at day’s end, on Broadway, our cultivated side celebrates retail triumph.  Elsewhere, last-minute Christmas shopping might be a chore; but in New York City, it’s a wonderful life!