“Foster” by Bennett Robot Works

For Christmas I received an amazing sculpture from my fiancée who apparently is some sort of gift-memory genius. We saw a few of Gordon Bennett’s robot sculptures at the Wired pop-up store in Soho and she did some pretty amazing detective work to get one. This robot is named Foster and comes from the Bennett Robot Works:

Foster Wheeler

From the website:

These sculptures, created by Gordon Bennett are made from a mixture of found objects which are both old and new. The parts are found in various places including garbage dumps, basements, construction sites, and garage sales. They are inspired by Norman Bel Geddes and Raymond Loewy whose visions of the “Modern Age” helped shape the industrial designs of the 40’s and 50’s. The materials are wood, metal, bakelite, glass, plastic, rubber and paint. Each robot is a unique, one-of-a-kind sculpture and receives its own numbered metal tag as proof it’s an authentic Bennet Robot Works robot.

Foster is #110. My fiancée buys me wonderful gifts (thank you!).

Commuting and social life

I was pleased when Chad directed me to the New Yorker piece on commuting last year which garnered much attention. I myself have spent quite a bit of time on the highways of 101, 280 and 237, not to mention countless trips down the peninsula on the Caltrain. What Chad directed me to, though, was a quote I completely glossed over the first time I read this article, one by Robert Putnam:

“I was shocked to find how robust a predictor of social isolation commuting is… there’s a simple rule of thumb: Every ten minutes of commuting results in ten per cent fewer social connections. Commuting is connected to social isolation, which causes unhappiness.”

According to this calculation, the following chart represents your life as a commuter. On the x-axis is the number of minutes you spend commuting, and on the y-axis the percentage of your potential social life that you retain with the given commute time.

Commuting impact on social life

The impact of this chart is striking, almost to the point of absurdity. With a literal interpretation, someone with a one-hour commute each-way will only retain 30% of their relationships. What’s more, the quote is really derivative of a result he shows in his most popular book, Bowling Alone, where he actually paints the picture much more bleakly, tying commuting to the downfall of civic engagement (surprise!):

We are commuting farther. From 1960 to 1990 the number of workers who commute across county lines more than tripled. Between 1983 and 1995 the average commuting trip grew 37 percent longer in miles. Ironically, travel time increased by only 14 percent, because the speed of the average commute, by all modes of transportation combined, increased by nearly one quarter. Three factors have made for faster travel, at least in recent past–the switch from carpools and mass transit to single-occupancy vehicles, which are quicker for the individual worker though socially inefficient; the increase in suburb-to-suburb commuting; and greater flexibility in work hours. On the other hand, traffic congestion has metastasized everywhere. In a study of sixty-eight urban areas from Los Angeles to Corpus Christi o Cleveland to Providence, annual congestion-related delay per driver rose steadily from sixteen hours in 1982 to forty-five hours in 1997.

In short, we are spending more and more time alone in the car. And on the whole, many of us see this as time for quiet relaxation, especially those of us who came of age in the midst of the driving boom. According to one survey in 1997, 45 percent of all drivers–61 percent of those aged eighteen to twenty-four, though only 36 percent of those aged forty-five and over–agreed that “driving is my time to think and enjoy being alone.”

The car and the commute, however, are demonstrably bad for community life. In round numbers the evidence suggests that each additional ten minutes in daily commuting time cuts involvement in community affairs by 10 percent–fewer public meetings attended, fewer committees chaired, fewer petitions signed, fewer church services, less volunteering, and so on. In fact, although commuting time is not quite as powerful as an influence on civic involvement as education, it i more important than any other demographic factor. And time diary studies suggest that there is a similarly strong negative effect of commuting time on informal social interaction

I would not be the first to question the methodology and results of Bowling Alone, but Putnam’s data is aging quickly, and ignores everything Internet. Perhaps EVDO cards and Blackberrys are helping us stay in touch, but any commuter, technology or not, will identify with the feeling of being out of touch. Putnam’s data are extreme, but at a gut level the intuition seems right: commuting hurts your social life. The more you commute, the less time you have for friends.

Filter for good (or bad)

Brita Filters and Nalgene are teaming up in an effort called “Filter for Good,” in which consumers can buy two individual products to decrease the production of those nasty plastic water bottles (read: the greening of America = $$). In addition to ridding the world of plastic water bottles ((that is, if you actually remember to carry your Nalgene and Brita with you everywhere)), you’ll also be helping produce animal testing equipment and probably drinking the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A. Hmm, actually, this doesn’t sound so green anymore.

Syntax Music closes

Some of you might remember a discouraging post I wrote a little over a year ago when Watts Music closed shop. It appears that another of the largest record distributors, Syntax Music, has decided to call it quits.

With Syntax and Watts gone, there are few left to bring your favorite labels from Europe. Time to start digging deeper into your crates, invest in a vinyl emulation system, or start taking regular trips across the Atlantic.

Authentic advertising

People are increasingly finding that their web images are snapped up by companies without their consent. This is in large part because advertisers are interested these days in putting forth a more “authentic” image, namely schmoes like us. Just look at the difference between a “nerdy teen” on Flickr and iStockPhoto to see why marketers might be tempted.

Healthy snacks in disguise

I am a big advocate of eating right. I participate in the No-Corn-Syrup Diet. To this end, I’m always really frustrated when marketing gets in the way of people making the right decision. Take for instance the 100 Calorie Pack by Nabisco, which come with the following message:

Sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy, creamy — what kind of snack are you craving? 100 Calorie Packs come in all of your favorites from Oreo to Wheat Thins. Now you can indulge and still know that you’re making the right choice!

Instead of optimizing for nutritional components (calories, fat, carbs, etc., etc.), I eat the snacks that I understand. My gym sells Sahale Snacks, little tasty nut blends that are high in fat, and contain tons of calories. One of my favorite varieties is the Ksar blend which is comprised of:

Pistachio nuts, pumpkin seeds, dried figs, sesame seeds, organic evaporated cane juice, organic tapioca syrup, sea salt, organic honey

I know what each of those ingredients is! A company that takes this even further is Larabar, which I also eat quite regularly. Here are the ingredients for a few of their snack bars:

  • Pistachio Bar: dates, pistachios, cashews
  • Banana Cookie: almonds, dates, unsweetened bananas
  • Pecan Pie: dates, pecans, almonds
  • Cocoa Mole: dates, almonds, walnuts, unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, chile

Like other simple snacks, they don’t fare well with the nutrition information scrutinizer: high in calories, high in fat. I think they’re pretty tasty, and they really satiate my hunger in a way that processed foods don’t seem to. Maybe there’s some fancy science behind my intuition, but I’m willing to believe in the gospel of Pollan for now.

Here’s Looking At You

Here’s Looking At You is a brilliant short film by Lenka Clayton and James Price which exposes how people judge each other on first impression. Beyond all of the depressing skepticism that these subjects expose, I find it fascinating how much information people draw from a nearly-still image. It definitely shows how important a photo can be in dictating first impressions (via kottke).