News 12.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 12.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 12.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 12.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Mark Ellison stood on the raw plywood floor, staring up into the gutted nineteenth-century town house. Above him, joists, beams, and electrical conduits crisscrossed in the half-light like a demented spider’s web. He still wasn’t sure how to build this thing. According to the architect’s plans, this room was to be the master bath—a cocoon of curving plaster shimmering with pinprick lights. But the ceiling made no sense. One half of it was a barrel vault, like the inside of a Roman basilica; the other half was a groin vault, like the nave of a cathedral. On paper, the rounded curves of one vault flowed smoothly into the elliptical curves of the other. But getting them to do so in three dimensions was a nightmare. “I showed the drawings to the bass player in my band,” Ellison said. “He’s a physicist, so I asked him, ‘Could you do the calculus for this?’ He said, ‘No.’ ”

Straight lines are easy, curves are hard. Most houses are just collections of boxes, Ellison says. We stack them side by side or on top of one another, like toddlers playing with blocks. Add a triangular roof and it’s done. When buildings were still made by hand, the process would yield the occasional curve—igloos, mud huts, wigwams, yurts—and master builders earned their keep with arches and domes. But flat shapes are cheaper to mass-produce, and every sawmill and factory spits them out in uniform sizes: bricks, boards, drywall, tile. It’s the tyranny of the orthogonal, Ellison says.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 12.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 12.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The first time I looked at my father’s Yelp reviews, I choked up. They were not all positive, and of course I read the worst ones first. My dad, Frank, runs a high-fidelity audio-video store in San Francisco and also repairs the brands he sells. One reviewer gave him one star, noting that his turntables had sat in the shop for five weeks, untouched. It brought me back to all the school nights when we stayed at the store until 9 p.m. so he could finish a job that was overdue. Another guy complained that when he called, my dad picked up blurting, “What do you want? I’m vvvvvveeeerrrryyyy busy.” I remember hearing him do that once when I was a kid. He was on hold with the bank or a supplier, and the second line kept ringing. I was aghast. “Well, I hope you are sooooooooo busy that people do not EVER go to your store,” this reviewer wrote.

But the haters were in the minority. His clients included George Moscone (“very down-to-earth,” my dad said) and Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller (“short like Minnie Mouse and kind to everyone”). “Frank is the man!!” one customer wrote. “He is the only one I believed I could trust with a delicate and expensive job—and boy was I right.” “Will try to find good value for someone who isn’t a cognoscenti about audio,” another said. “Been going to him for 30 years. Never would go anywhere else.” A “neighborhood gem.”

And then there was a review from someone who hadn’t bought a thing from my dad. He’d locked himself out of his car and wrote to thank my dad for letting him use the store’s phone. Would an employee at Walmart do that? Could they? Big-box stores are designed such that the workers rarely see the outside. They aren’t part of “the ballet of the good city sidewalk” that Jane Jacobs wrote about in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In the mid-century Greenwich Village that she immortalized, grocers held keys and packages for neighbors, and candy-store clerks kept an eye on kids. Even the drinkers who gathered under the gooey orange lights outside the White Horse Tavern kept the street safe by keeping it occupied. When I first read the book 15 years ago, I told my dad to pick up a copy, which he diligently did, from the bookshop up the street. It was the first book he’d read since he started at the store, in 1975.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

The Balmoral in Chestnut

Shop the Balmoral in Chestnut
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The world belongs to those who shape it. And however uncertain that world may feel at a given moment, the reassuring reality seems to be that each new generation produces more of what these kids—five Kid of the Year finalists selected from a field of more than 5,000 Americans, ages 8 to 16—have already achieved: positive impact, in all sizes.

“Observe, brainstorm, research, build and communicate.” That is what the brilliant young scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao told actor and activist Angelina Jolie about her process, over Zoom, from her home in Colorado, during a break in her virtual schooling. Just 15 years old, Rao has been selected from a field of more than 5,000 nominees as TIME’s first ever Kid of the Year. She spoke about her astonishing work using technology to tackle issues ranging from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying, and about her mission to create a global community of young innovators to solve problems the world over. Even over video chat, her brilliant mind and generous spirit shone through, along with her inspiring message to other young people: don’t try to fix every problem, just focus on one that excites you. “If I can do it,” she said, “anybody can do it.”

Read the rest of this article at: Time

News 12.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 12.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

She wears a red wig and a black dress she sewed herself. It hugs her body as she moves about the stage, lip-syncing love songs in Spanish to a room filled mostly with absence.

It is late on March 9, and Yimel Alvarado is at her regular Monday gig, a nightclub above a Mexican restaurant in the Corona section of Queens. This is where she feels at home, where the usually robust crowds of gay and transgender patrons applaud her teasing banter.

Drink up, she often says, as fans toss money at her feet. The night is getting away.

But Yimel is not herself tonight; hasn’t been for days. Her Cleopatra-like eyeliner only accentuates the exhaustion in her gaze. Just a cold, she says.

At some point, the concerned bar owner reaches for the tequila. The two friends knock back shots while, nearby, a few spare patrons kiss and huddle for cellphone selfies.

The same denial and dread hover over the densely populated neighborhoods beyond the restaurant’s door, inside apartments subdivided by drywall and need, up and down the bustle of Roosevelt Avenue.

In one building, an immigrant from Ecuador worries about the many relatives living in her cramped apartment, including her frail parents. A family member, her brother-in-law, has a persistent cough.

In another, a couple from Bangladesh gets a call from their daughter in her Ivy League dorm, who warns that they risk illness by going to work and sharing close air with strangers — her mother at La Guardia Airport, her father in his yellow cab. She begs them to stay home. They do not.

But an Uber driver is so haunted by the coughing of two recent passengers that he has stopped picking up fares. Thirty years ago in Nepal, he fled his life as a Buddhist monk, tossing his red robe under a tree. Now he prays as he disinfects his black Toyota.

Around the corner, a Thai chef who commutes by subway to Manhattan has been sending worried texts from work to his less-concerned partner at home. He frets about the growing number of confirmed cases in the United States.

Is it here? The deadly coronavirus?

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

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News 12.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

A few years ago, my husband and I decided to buy a house. We wanted to save a piece of historic San Francisco, making a new home in an old place before it became unrecognizable. Mat and I visited a few grand Victorians, their facades dripping with gingerbread trim. Inside we expected to find the San Francisco that my parents and grandparents knew: formal, dignified, timeless. Instead there was clean, crisp minimalism. Silicon Valley tastes had gotten there first.

What luck, then, that we did find our house. Narrow and wooden, it was in some ways a time capsule of 1910, the year it was completed, with stained-glass windows, parquet floors, and a built-in buffet. Most of its surfaces, however, had been painted white. Realtors had informed the sellers that to attract buyers and a good price, the place needed to be brightened up. So the subtle distinctions among types of wood—oak, mahogany, fir—were erased in favor of aesthetic uniformity and an oppressive glare.

Thankfully, the house’s most unusual features were left exposed, though you had to squint to see them amid the encroaching whiteness. Two murals, dusty and faded—they were unsigned and of no great ability, but what charm they had. Stretching across all four walls of the dining room was a depiction of colonial San Francisco. Catholic priests, swashbucklers, and revelers passed in front of a faded Mission church, opposite a seascape with a Spanish galleon in the foreground and another silhouetted on the horizon. Seagulls hovered above the buffet. A small back room presented a quieter, more reflective mural. It was a landscape of the American West at its most idyllic: a tranquil lake and waterfowl surrounded by a thick forest. Occupying two corners were, respectively, a white stork and a pair of mute swans, distinguished by their orange beaks. A mighty, lone mountain loomed behind them.

Who had created these scenes? My imagination filled in a story. Maybe the builder was a European aristocrat whose father had squandered the last of the family fortune. The son was forced to live modestly, in no grand neighborhood and in a house too small for servants. But he refused to do so without art or elegance, so he adorned the walls himself.

Or perhaps he was a man of noble Spanish descent who with melancholy dreamed of the days before American fortune seekers arrived. Even though he hadn’t lived through that era himself, it was in his blood. He could feel what it was like when California was sparsely populated by Indians, cattle, and Spaniards, when contact with the rest of the world came through only a handful of ships per year.

Maybe he was a former frontiersman who recalled the wonder of the landscapes he had willed himself across. People don’t understand nowadays, he would say, how easy they have it—just hopping on a train to get where you’re going doesn’t provide the same satisfaction as getting there on foot. He recalled leaving home as a boy, the flatness of the East giving way to the ruggedness of the West. He hadn’t just witnessed the change—he’d felt it beneath his boots.

The first week we owned the house, Mat and I learned the true identity of its builder. Such are the wonders of the internet. A quick newspaper-archive search and there he was: Hans Jorgen Hansen, a young Danish immigrant alternately described as a carpenter and a contractor. He built many houses. This one, finished when he was 30 years old, was his home.

Read the rest of this article at: The atavist Magazine

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