January 2014

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For many years I’ve wanted glasses that would help me observe and record what I see and hear in the world — but in a polite way that wouldn’t freak people out. Since nobody has made anything like that (that I know of) I decided to publish my idea. I call it Searls Glasses, because the first four letters of my surname, as luck has it, combines “see” and “hear” (or “ear”) — and because they’re still glasses as well.

And, since Google Glass is all the rage (in more than one meaning of the word), I decided to have some fun comparing my fantasy with Google’s reality. And hey, if somebody wants to make what I’m wire-framing here (pun intended), let me know. I’d like to see these things made, no matter who makes them. (And, if somebody is already making them, that’s cool too.)

I’ll run down the features first:

  1. First-person rindicator (a light indicating a state of willingness to relate, or presence of a relationship)
  2. Second/third person rindicator (a light indicating a state of relationship with a nearby second or third party).
  3. Binocular (3D) cameras.
  4. Off/on light. Green means it’s not recording. Red means it is recording.
  5. Binaural microphones (one in each tyne) and electronics section, plus all the other required circuitry (recording, bluetooth, battery).
  6. Earphones.

Rindicators (#s 1 and 2) are what we’ve been calling “r-buttons” in the VRM development community. I just re-named them, here on the plane where I just cooked up this whole idea and am writing it down. How they work and what they symbolize are still up in the air. UI elements that indicate actions and/or states of relating are essential, I believe — not just here, but in countless other kinds of hardware and software.

Binocular cameras (#3) are way cooler than the usual monocular ones (such as Google Glass’s). Hey, our eyes and glasses are already 3-D. Why not the cameras we wear on our heads? These, however, have an additional feature: they look for second-party signals of privacy policies. So, for example, if Searls Glasses see somebody wearing one of these Customer Commons buttons —

— with a QR code in the middle, and the scanned QR code  says “don’t take my picture or video-record me,” that wish will be respected. Same goes for a button like that containing a near-field transmitter that says the same thing. This is an example of something Google Glass apparently lacks at this stage: Privacy By Design. (For more context, see Big Privacy, a paper highly influenced by work many of us have been doing with VRM.)

The on-off light (#4) tells others whether the cameras are on and recording what they see.

I am amazed, now that headphones are at high fashion ebb, that we don’t hear much about binaural sound, and no smartphones or tablets feature them yet. Maybe Searls Glasses can change that. In the meantime, find some binaural sound recordings and listen to them. They are much different than conventional stereo recordings, because only two microphones are used, and they are located on a bust — a mannequin head — in the positions of human ears. That way they record what a person hears, rather than what a sound engineer puts together with a mixer. The effect is the aural equivalent of 3-D images: the whole “sound stage” is very much a you-are-there experience. With Searls Glasses, you can make your own binaural recordings, thanks to binaural microphones over the ears (#5). Lights on the tynes will also tell others whether or not you are recording: another example of privacy by design.

I think the best way to record, and to manage everything Searls Glasses make possible, is with a smartphone or tablet app, connected by bluetooth.

As a bonus, Searls Glasses should also pick up low-energy bluetooth signals, and radiate them as well. Much has been said and written lately about these. (By my friend Robert Scoble especially.) Instead of thinking about how marketers can use these beacons, however, think about what you can do with them. For example: sending signals of your own interest in some product or service — or your disinterest in being followed right now.

Since I’m writing all this on a plane, and want to get it up as soon as possible after I land,  it will be relatively link-less at first, and a lot more linky (and otherwise improved) once I’m settled somewhere.

Meanwhile, lemme know what you think.

So I wanted to add a comment under essay “Lena Dunham Is The New John Updike — But Not In A Good Way“, in WBUR‘s Cognoscenti ‘zine (which I just discovered, and I like). So I wrote a caution about throwing out both Dunham’s and Updike’s babies in the bathwaters of their narcissm (as defined originally, for Updike, in this David Foster Wallace review of Updike’s late-in-life work). When I finished, I was presented with this:

First I picked Disqus (the one on the left), but it didn’t work. Then I picked Twitter. That didn’t work. (It flashed a small page that said “Redirecting you back to the application,” plus some other stuff that disappeared before I could read it.) Then I started writing in a name, and new fields opened up:

These were also unproductive, even when I used my known Disqus name, email and password. (The question mark with a circle produces a summary of Disqus’ policies, terms and conditions.) Then I made the mistake of clicking on a link somewhere and lost what I had written.

While it’s great, I suppose, that Disqus, Facebook, Twitter and Google provide handy shortcuts — “social” logins through their APIs — the whole non-system also fails so often that at best it comprises (entrepreneur alert:::) an opportunity for some new approach.

That’s why I keep going back to the oldest and perhaps the least complicated way to post a comment, which is on a publication of one’s own. So that’s what I’m doing here. (With a bonus complaint. :-) )

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Weekend linkings

Photography

The World

The Marketplace

Tech

  • Bruce Kushnick in HuffPo: 2014: The End Game in Telecommunications: The Perfect, Man-Made Storm. A pull-quote: This is a man-made storm to make more money and get rid of regulations. The major incumbent phone companies, which also own the largest wireless companies, and who also, with the cable companies, control most of broadband, Internet and cable services, are working together — a ‘cabal,’ a ‘trust,’ or some might call it — Mob Bell.  
  • Cory Doctorow in BoingBoing: Requirements for DRM in HTML 5 are a secret. It begins, The work at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) on adding DRM to HTML5 is one of the most disturbing developments in the recent history of technology. The W3C’s mailing lists have been full of controversy about this ever since the decision was announced. Most recently, a thread in the restricted media list asked about the requirements for DRM from the studios — who have pushed for DRM, largely through their partner Netflix — and discoverd that these requirements are secret. It’s hard to overstate how weird this is.  
  • Benoît Felten in Diffraction AnalysisWhite Paper: There’s no economic imperative to reconsider an open Internet. Here’s the SSRN page. Download it there. From the conclusion: …it seems important to stress that solutions to optimize traffic exist and are very affordable; despite what they may sometimes suggest, ISPs are trapped in neither unsolvable technical issues nor unbearable economic situations. The financial importance of traffic management is modest, the model has been working since day one of the Internet and allows all players in the ecosystem to operate at low costs. It would be counter-productive to challenge those mechanisms and therefore break the fragile balance that allows Internet users to access the content they seek in the best conditions without any player in the ecosystem being in a position to decide what they may or may not access. In other words, there is no need for ISPs to seek rents from heavy data traffic sources (e.g. Google, Netflix and Facebook), just because the traffic is heavy.
  • Sten Tamkivi in TechCrunch: Why Silicon Valley Can’t Find Europe. He begins, Go to Europe these days – to Berlin, London, Helsinki – drop in on any of the regional tech confabs and you will quickly see that the European startup scene is in the most bustling, vibrant shape it’s ever been. The potential is everywhere, and the energy is undeniable. Then you return Stateside, in my case to Palo Alto, and Europe isn’t just irrelevant among the tech industry power-set. It has virtually ceased to exist. That is a mistake. I agree, by the way. Most of the start-ups I’m following are in Europe, Australia, New Zealand in non-Valley parts of the U.S. and Canada, and elsewhere. As George Packer put it in The New Yorker recently, “It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.”
  • Tom Henderson in Network World: My journey from Macs to Mint. Sez Tom, Apple did an amazing job of forcing simplicity and continuity among its community members. My first Mac had evolved into a sophisticated platform that allowed me to code, write work product, do virtual machines, even use Apple’s Xserve platform — and I still use that server platform today, despite Apple’s discontinuance of its server hardware/storage platform. The Mac, and Apple in general, is totally about the user. It’s about a personal, rather than a dictated platform or methodology. I felt primped, pampered, if at a price for the pampering. Virtual machines did well; Parallels or VMware knew what to do. This was a machine for the ages. Then one afternoon, I realized that Apple was comparatively proprietary in nature. Apple’s OS couldn’t be used on non-Apple hardware; Apple has sound reasons for this. The server line was discontinued. It was great, but like the Apple XSan, no one apparently bought the chrome look for an extra 70%. They were ahead of their time, but businesses snubbed them. I got off the Mac bandwagon.Today, I do 90% of my work on Linux Mint. There are no Mac VMs so I don’t run them. I like MacOS. I like integration. Autonomy requires using machines as tools. I fawn after Macbook Airs. But my budget and independence streak is still in the zone of commodity Lenovos, and Linux.

Surveillance vs. Privacy

  • Jim Edwards in Business Insider: Ford Exec: ‘We Know Everyone Who Breaks The Law’ Thanks To Our GPS In Your Car. It begins, Jim Farley, said something both sinister and obvious during a panel discussionabout data privacy today at CES, the big electronics trade show in Las Vegas. Because of the GPS units installed in Ford vehicles, Ford knows when its drivers are speeding, and where they are while they’re doing it. Farley was trying to describe how much data Ford has on its customers, and illustrate the fact that the company uses very little of it in order to avoid raising privacy concerns: “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone,” he told attendees. Rather, he said, he imagined a day when the data might be used anonymously and in aggregate to help other marketers with traffic related problems…
  • Andy Oram in O’Reilly RadarHow did we end up with a centralized Internet for the NSA to mine? Subhead: The Internet is naturally decentralized, but it’s distorted by business considerations. He begins, I’m sure it was a Wired editor, and not the author Steven Levy, who assigned the title “How the NSA Almost Killed the Internet” to yesterday’s fine article about the pressures on large social networking sites. Whoever chose the title, it’s justifiably grandiose because to many people, yes, companies such as Facebook and Google constitute what they know as the Internet. (The article also discusses threats to divide the Internet infrastructure into national segments, which I’ll touch on later.) So my question today is: How did we get such industry concentration? Why is a network famously based on distributed processing, routing, and peer connections characterized now by a few choke points that the NSA can skim at its leisure? I commented as far back as 2006 that industry concentration makes surveillance easier.
  • Cory Doctorow in BoingBoing: European Court of Human Rights will hear case about GHCQ spying.
  • Stan Schroeder in Mashable: Blackphone Could Be the First NSA-Proof Phone. It begins, An upcoming smartphone called Blackphone aims to put privacy in your hands, protecting you from anyone wanting to snoop into your private data — even the NSA.A Switzerland-based join venture between Silent Circle and Geeksphone, the project is backed by several important figures in the fields of computer security, including Phil Zimmermann, creator of data encryption protocol PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). 

Journalism

Science

Thinkings

Nature

  • 418 of my photos are now on Wikimedia Commons, and most of those are also in Wikipedia. Most are of natural sights, or at least outdoors.
  • Stacy Finz in SFGate: California Drought: Farmers, Ranchers Face Uncertain Future. We’ve had no rain in Santa Barbara since November, I am told, and Winter is the rainy season. There is none in sight. The hills, normally green as Ireland by now, remain brown as July. Fire season is now year-round and the risk of fire is far worse. Falling reservoirs are exposing formerly drowned towns and other curiosities. Ski areas live on artificial snow alone. If this keeps up, water use for all but essentials will be outlawed. Formerly irrigated lawns and gardens will turn to kindling. Among industries, cattle ranching will collapse first, followed by other agricultural sectors.That’s just this year. If the drought persists for another year or two, the consequences for the rest of the economy, and the livings of many people, will be dire. Given the fact of global warming, expect a new normal, at the very least.
  • Patrick Minnis, Atmospheric Sciences, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia and J.Kirk Ayers, Rabindra Palikonda and Dung Phan, Analytical Services and Materials, Inc., Hampton, Virginia: Contrails, Cirrus Trends, Climate.

Surveillance vs. Privacy

Journalism

Developments

Since I’ve been maturing while my blog header has not, I’ve been thinking that soon is a good time to change it. The old headshot, or art-from-a-headshot, dates from the last Millennium, when I still wore granny glasses and had hair. And it never looked much like me in the first place. This was it:

So bear with me while I go about remodeling the 180 x 720 rectangle this WordPress theme provides for my headspace. (I’ll be playing with a number of different images, by the way; so don’t assume that any one of them is the only one, or “done.” Yet.)

Well, it’s not all reading, because I’m starting with photography, notably the latest from Stephen Lewis, whose prose runs as deep and broad as the soul in his work. — DS

Photography

Personal

Surveillance vs. Privacy

The Internet, Communications and Tech

Science, especially geology

The power is out and won’t be back for awhile. That’s what the guys in the hard hats tell me, down where they’re working, at the intersection where our dead-end street is born. Many trucks are gathered there, with bright night-work lights illuminating whatever went wrong with the day’s power pole replacement job. The notices they left on our doors said they’d be done by five, but now it’s eight and I’m sitting in a house lit by candles, working on the nth draft of a writing assignment, in the absence of a steady flow of electrons off the power grid. Also in the absence of connection except to the physical world alone. Connectivity = 0. My laptop is good for another four hours or so, but without a connection I lack the building materials I need for constructing the piece. So I’m writing this instead.

Some other utilities are unaffected by the power outage, of course. I have matches, and can fire up the gas stove. Water runs, cold and cold. It also drips out of the little motel-grade refrigerator upstairs, defrosting itself into towels I’ve fed under it. The freezer in the kitchen remains closed, to keep whatever is in there from thawing and requiring use in the next couple days. What I’m witnessing is a gradual breakdown that is easy to imagine accelerating fast, especially if I was coping instead with a wildfire or an earthquake.

Three interesting facts about California and the people who — like me — choose to live here:

  1. The state tree is the California redwood. What made these things evolve into groves of spires with thick bark, standing at heights beyond three hundred feet, with branches in mature specimens that commence a hundred or more feet above the ground. I say they are adapted to fire. A cross section of a mature redwood will feature black edges to rings spaced thirty, fifty, two hundred apart, all marking survival of wildfire at a single location.
  2. The state flower is the California poppy. Here is what makes poppies thrive in dry rocky soils that are poor for agriculture but rich with  freshly exposed minerals: they are adapted to earthquakes. More than any other state, except maybe Alaska, California is a product of recent earth movement. Imagine looking at the southern Appalachians in the U.S. or the Blue Mountains of Australia, two million years ago. It’s not hard: they would pretty much like they do now. If you looked at the site of the future California from anywhere two million years ago, you would recognize nothing, unless you were a geologist who knew what to look for. All of California has been raised up or ferried in by tectonic forces that have been working at full throttle for a couple hundred million years, and aren’t moving any slower today.
  3. Neither of those facts teaches caution to human beings who choose to live here. For example, the home where I write this, in Santa Barbara, has been approached, unsuccessfully, by two wildfires in recent years. The Tea Fire in November 2008 burned 210 homes and the Jesusita Fire in May 2009 burned other 80 more. The Tea Fire came straight at us, incinerating everything but rocks and soil for a mile in its path before stopping a quarter mile and ten houses short of where I’m sitting right now. (Here is my report on the aftermath.) The Coyote Fire in September 1964 burned the same area, and much more. The Sycamore Fire in 1979 came even closer, burning houses just up the street from here.

“We live in the age of full convenience,” John Updike wrote, at a time when it made sense to think copiers and fax machines marked some kind of end state.* But the lessons that matter at the moment arise from the absence of the two most essential utilities in my life, and probably yours too: the electric grid and the data network. (Yes, I can get on the Net by tethering my laptop to my mobile phone, but both use batteries that will run out, and the phone is down below 20% already anyway.) So here are three lessons that come to me, here in the dark, all of which we are sure to continue ignoring::::

  1. Civilization is thin. A veneer. Under it nature remains vast, violent and provisional. In the long run, which may end at any time for any of us, nature will prove no easier to tame than the tides. For three great perspectives on this, I highly recommend John McPhee‘s The Control of Nature. The title is taken from a plea to students, carved into sandstone over the door of a building at the University of Wyoming in Laramie: STRIVE ON — THE CONTROL OF NATVRE IS WON, NOT GIVEN. (I also recommend this blog post, by Themon The Bard, who went to UW and provides a photo.) Its chapters are “Iceland versus the volcanoes,” “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains” and “The Army Corps of Engineers versus the Mississippi River.” The New Yorker re-ran a set piece from the third of those, right after Hurricane Katrina, which produced what New Orleans natives call “The Flood.” In it McPhee describes what would happen to New Orleans when a levee is breached. Here is the original, published years before reality certified true McPhee’s prophesy.
  2. Humanity is insane. A good working definition of psychosis is disconnection of the mind from reality. As a species we have proven ourselves nuts for the duration, as the examples above attest. Present company included. (Further proof: war, genocide.) It should be clear by now that humanity is not merely at the top of the food chain around the world, but a pestilence to everything God (or whatever) put in position to be exploited in the short term, regardless of the obvious fact that it took approximately forever to put those resources in place, and how much of it cannot be replaced. While it’s true that in the very long run (a billion years or few), the aging Sun will cook the planet anyway, we are doing our best to get the job done in the geologic present. This is why many geologists propose renaming our current epoch “Anthropocene.” Bonus question: Why do political conservatives care so little about the long-term conservation of resources that are, undeniably, in limited supply and are clearly bound for exhaustion at any consumption rate? Before categorizing me, please note that I am a registered independent, and in sympathy with economic conservatives in a number of ways (for example, I do like, appreciate and understand how the market works, and in general I favor smaller government). But on environmental issues I’m with those who give a shit. Most of them happen to be liberals (or, in the current vernacular, progressives). George Lakoff provides some answers here (and in several books). But, while I love George, and while he has probably influenced my thinking more than any other human being, it still baffles that opposing conservation of resources fails to seem oxymoronic to most avowed conservatives.
  3. The end is in sight. Somewhere I’ve kept a newspaper story that did a great job of listing all the resources our species is bound to use up, at current rates of exploitation, and how long that will take. On the list were not only the obvious “reserves,” such like oil, gas, coal and uranium, but other stuff as well: helium, lithium, platinum, thorium, tungsten, neodymium, dysprosium, niobium… stuff we use to make stuff that ranges from balloons to hard drives to hybrid car engines. Many of the heavier elements appear to have been deposited here during bombardments by asteroids several billion years ago, when the Earth has hard enough not to absorb them. Helium, one of the most abundant elements in the universe, is produced on Earth mostly by decay of radioactive elements in certain kinds of natural gas. Much of the world’s helium comes from the ground here in the U.S., where our enlightened congresspeople decided a few decades back to hand the reserves over to private industry, where “the market” would decide best how it would be used. So, naturally, we are due to run out of it within maybe a couple dozen years, and have not yet found a way to replace it. Read on.

[Later...] I wrote this three nights ago, but didn’t put it up until now because I was already way overdue on the  writing assignment I mentioned up top, and I had to deal with other pressing obligations as well. So I just went through the post, copy-edited it a bit and added some links.


* Special thanks goes to anybody who can find the original quote. I’ve used it so often on the Web that I’ve effectively spammed search results with unintended SEO. The closest thing I can find is this from Google Books, which fails to contain the searched-for nugget, but still demonstrates why Updike’s criticism earns the same high rank as his fiction.

Fort Lee has been in the news lately. Seems traffic access to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee was sphinctered for political purposes, at the spot marked “B” on this map here:

The spot marked “A” is the site of my first home: 2063 Hoyt Avenue. Here’s how it looked in 1920:

My grandfather, George W. Searls, built it in 1900 or so. He and grandma, Ethel F. (née Englert) Searls, raised thee children there: Ethel M. Searls, born in 1905, Allen H. Searls (my father), born in 1908, and Grace (née Searls) Apgar, born in 1912. Grandpa died in 1935, but Grandma and Aunt Ethel lived here until 1955, when I was eight years old.

It was in a fine old neighborhood of similar mansard-roofed homes, most of which were built before the George Washington Bridge showed up and became the town’s landmark feature. Pop, who grew up climbing the Palisades and had no fear of heights, helped build the bridge, mostly by rigging cables.

Not long after finding a place to stay in New York in Fall of 2012, my wife and I took a walk across the bridge to visit the old neighborhood. I knew the old house was gone, the land under it paved over by Bruce Reynolds Boulevard. What I didn’t expect was finding that the entire neighborhood had been erased. See the brown area on the map above, between the highway and Main Street? That was it. Palisade Avenue, behind Hoyt, is now a house-less strip of rotting pavement flanked and veined by wild grass. The only animal life we spotted was a large groundhog that ran to an old storm drain when we approached.

Little of the Fort Lee I knew as a kid is still there. The only familiar sights on Main Street are City Hall and the old fire station. Dig this: City Hall also shows up in the background of this shot of Mom with my cousin Paul and I, when we were both a few months old, in April 1948. This street too has been obliterated: replaced by stores and parking lots, with no trace of its old self.

When I was a kid in the ’50s, my grandparents’ generation — all born in the second half of the 19th Century — was still going strong. One relative I remember well was great-aunt Eva Quackenbush, Grandpa Searls’ older sister. Here she is with Mom, and the baby me. Eva was born in 1853, and was twelve years old when President Lincoln was shot — and event she talked about. She visited often from her home in St. Louis, and died just a few days short of 100 years old, in 1953. Living long is a Searls family trait. Grandma made it to 107 and Aunt Grace to 101 (she passed just last month, fun and lucid to the end).

So to me the world before cars, electricity and other modern graces was a familiar one, because I heard so many stories about it. Grandma grew up in The Bronx, at 742 East 142nd Street, when it looked like this:

Today, according to Google’s StreetView, it looks like this:

The red A marks 732. On the left, behind that wall, is a “towed car” lot. It sits atop a mound of rubble that was once “old Lincoln Hospital”:

According to the Wikipedia article on Lincoln Hospital, “In 1895, after more than half a century of occupying various sites in Manhattan, the Board of Trustees purchased a large lot in the South Bronx—then a semi-rural area of the city—at the corner of 141st Street and Southern Boulevard.” This is a morning view, lit from the southeast, looking north across 141st Street. Grandma’s place was on the back side of the hospital. Amazing to think that this scene came and went between the two shots above it.

Grandma’s father, Henry Roman Englert, was the head of the Steel and Copper Plate Engravers Union in the city. His trade was also destroyed by industrial progress, but was an art in its time. Here he is, as a sharp young man with a waxed mustache:

Henry was a fastidious dude who, on arriving home from work, would summon his four daughters to appear and stand in a row. He would then run his white glove over some horizontal surface and wipe it on a white shoulder of a daughter’s dress, expecting no dust to leave a mark on either glove or girl. Or so the story went. Henry was the son of German immigrants: Christian Englert and Jacobina Rung, both of Alsace, now part of France. They were brewers, and had a tavern on the east side of Manhattan on 110th Street. Jacobina was a Third Order Carmelite nun, and was buried in its brown robes. Both were born in 1825. Christian died in 1886 while picking hops in Utica. Jacobina died in 1904.

Grandma met Grandpa in 1903, when she was twenty and he was forty. She was working as a cleaning woman in the Fort Lee boarding house where Grandpa lived while he worked as a carpenter. One day she saw him laying asleep, and bent down to kiss him. He woke, reached up, and kissed her back. Romance commenced.

Grandma didn’t like to admit having done cleaning work, insisting always that she was “lace curtain Irish,” to distinguish her family from “shanty Irish.” When ethnic matters came up in conversation over dinner, she would often say “All for the Irish stand up,” and everybody would rise. In fact she was only half Irish. Her mother, Catherine “Kitty” Trainor, died in her thirties. Henry later married an Italian woman and produced more progeny, only one of which was ever mentioned by Grandma. That was Harry, who died at age five. The largest framed photograph in Grandma’s house was one of Harry, looking up and holding a toy.

Kitty’s dad was Thomas Trainor, who came over from Ireland in 1825 at age 15 to escape England’s harsh penal laws. (He shipped out of Letterkenny with an uncle, but the Trainors were from south of there. Trainor was anglicized from the Gaelic Tréinfhir, meaning “strong man.”) Thomas worked as an indentured servant in the carriage trade, and married Catherine McLaughlin, the daughter of his boss. Thomas then prospered in the same business, building and fixing carriages at his shop at the south end of Broadway. His two daughters were Kitty and “Aunt Mag” Meyer, whom Grandma often quoted. The line I best remember is, “You’ve got it in your hand. Now put it away.” Mag taught Grandma how to walk quietly while large numbers of other people in the house were sleeping. Grandma passed the same advice to her grandkids, including me: “Walk on the balls of your feet, toes first.” The Trainors also had a son, who ran away to fight in the Civil War. When the war ended and the boy didn’t come home, Thomas went down to Washington and found his son in a hospital there, recovering from a wound. The doctors said the boy would be home by Christmas. And, when Christmas came, the boy indeed arrived, in a coffin. Or so the story went.

An interesting fact about Fort Lee: it was the original Hollywood. The Searls family, like most of the town, was involved. Grandpa was D.W. Griffith’s head carpenter, building film sets such as this one here. Here he is (bottom right) with his crew. Here’s a link for the Fort Lee Film Commission, featuring samples of the silent movies made there. Among the extras are family members. Lillian Gish and Lon Chaney both boarded upstairs at 2063 Hoyt. So did the dad of the late Elliot Richardson, a cabinet member in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Time flies, and so do people, places and memories. My parents’ generation is now gone, and family members of my own generation are starting to move on. I can count ten places I used to live that are now gone as well, including my high school. Kevin Kelly told me a couple years ago that none of us, even the famous, will be remembered in a thousand years. I’m sure he’s right.

But I still feel the urge to pour as much as I can of what I know into the public domain, which is what you’re witnessing now, if you’re still with me at the bottom of a long post. I believe it helps to see what was, as well as what is.

For example, this view up Hoyt Avenue from the site of the old Searls place, in 2012, is now filled with a high-rise that is almost complete. The little bridge-less town where my grandparents met and my father and his sisters grew up is now a henge of high-rises. Fort Lee itself is now also known as Fort Lee Koreatown. In this constantly shifting urban context the current scandal seems a drop in the bucket of time.

 

I last visited Barcelona more than twenty years ago. Back then the Sagrada Família was already impressive, but also incomplete.  All that stood were the nativity façade and some small number (four? eight?) of the Sagrada’s eventual eighteen towers. I recall nothing of the interior, perhaps because there was none. In many ways, in fact, it resembled a ruin: something not all there.

This time was different. The church, our guide told us, was about a third complete the last time we were there, and is a bit more than two thirds complete now. Still remaining are some new towers and detail work on the exterior, a proper floor for the interior (it’s mostly temporary marble now), and the final entrance: the glory façade at the south end, or the foot of the church’s cross.

Impressive and iconic as the exterior is, the interior achieves a magnificence which, to me, exceeds not only every other church I’ve seen, but every building, period. The forest of columns, which really do resemble trees, spread above oval “knots” into branches that hold up the roof the way spread out fingers might hold up a dish from below. In fact they do far more than that: they are also made to carry the weight of the Jesus tower, which will rise to five hundred and sixty feet above the ground, ranking the Sagrada as the tallest church on Earth.

And, rather than leaves, the ceiling features beautiful pores — the navels of hyperbolas — that suggest portals toward the infinite. That’s one view, above. More can be found in this photo set. The captions aren’t right yet, but the connection at our B&B here is awful, so writing — even a blog post like this — is a bit of an ordeal. So I won’t be in a position to fix things up until I get back stateside next week. Meanwhile, enjoy a visit vicariously.

To an window-sitter accustomed to flying over the American West, Catalonia from altitude looks like Utah. On the northern horizon the Pyrenees, like the Uintahs, run east-west above a dry landscape of settled alluvium, much of it reddish as the San Rafael desert. While the shapes of the ancient towns below are clearly old world in shape and style (for example, red tile roofed), and no doubt receives a greater dousing of rain, the resemblance is still striking.

As always when flying over new places, i found myself wondering about geological provenance. And that was the reverie blown straight out of my mind when a singular landform slid into view. Shaped like the upper half of an elongated football, a half-buried zeppelin, the spine of a humpback, it was deeply eroded into bulbous hoodoo shapes, like those of Utah’s arches and goblins. Yet in a more significant way it also reminded me instantly of the equally anomalous church we were sure to visit in Barcelona, to which we were on approach: Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, which I last visited twenty years ago, and would visit again two days hence, on New Years Day, 2014. (Here are some interior shots I took there.)

Was the landform an inspiration for the church? Digging around later, I found the answer was yes. Same goes for the cuevas of Majorca, which I gathered the instant I saw those as well, when I visited the island in 1998.

The landform is the Holy Mountain of Montserrat, which means “serrated mountain” in Catalan.

I’d say more, but Net connection at our Barcelona B&B is iffy at best. Evidence: I wrote this several days ago and am only getting it up today, 2 January. So the rest will just have to wait, probably until I’m back in the States next week.