How I learned to believe in Memorial Day

Morey's Piers

I remember when I realized the value of America’s military.

My parents, radical activists who came of age in the 1960s, raised me to abhor war. Whether or not they intended it, by the time I was a teenager, their anti-violence philosophies left me suspicious of the police and disdainful of anyone who voluntarily chose to join the military.

I knew very little about the armed services. My father had avoided the Vietnam War draft by donating his services as a VISTA lawyer (absconding to Canada was considered the alternative). Whether or not his own father had served in WWII I never knew — I have a vague feeling my great-uncle had, but it was rarely discussed.

On my mom’s side, what I knew was that my grandparents had very narrowly escaped Berlin, right before the Nazis clamped down and corralled all Jews into concentration camps. I was aware that the U.S. had helped bring down Hitler, but I somehow placed it all in the past, some fuzzy bygone era where fighting was necessary. War was bad, and those involved in it were bad, I was convinced. I went to “No Nukes!” rallies and shunned friends who enlisted.

Then I went to college and met my husband. Then I dropped out and learned more from him, and with him, than in any school I’ve ever attended. One of those lessons was the realization — epiphany, really — that a military was an essential part of society. Continue reading How I learned to believe in Memorial Day

Future of News

But are not bloggers journalists?

Babbling Brook at Philadelphia Jury Duty

sunshine-courtrooms2“Social media is a thorn in the court system’s side,” said the man at the front of the room to the pool of potential jurors nervously awaiting our turn to avoid being picked, but really he wasn’t just a regular court employee, he had some kind of pull, some kind of position of power, enough that he interspersed his inspirational speech about how jury duty is the quintessential building block of a just society with slightly indignant reminiscences of his efforts to streamline the system.

He wants our email addresses, no, we won’t automatically be called again if we give them, because that will save on postage, did you know it can take up to three. whole. stamps. to get one potential juror in the seat we are now in? That’s because we all want to be scofflaws and giving our email address to the City of Philadelphia won’t fix that but it will save on postage and that’s not his money he’s talking about it’s taxpayer money so give up that @ will you please. Continue reading Babbling Brook at Philadelphia Jury Duty

Greatest Universe Ever Sold

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (presented by Pom Wonderful) is proof that we have beaten bin Laden. Or at least, provides hope for the future of the American way. Morgan Spurlock (who you might remember from fast-food takedown Super Size Me) faces commercialization and product placement head on, and in exposing it, finds positives. He finds sponsors that understand where he’s going with the film and are fully behind the idea. They’re in on the joke, and that‘s a great selling point. It’s also good for the consumer.

Greatest Movie examines the effects of self-awareness on advertising, and finds the two are not mutually exclusive. This is a good thing. Advertising is not going to disappear any time soon; it has become part of our global culture. And even if it could, would we really want it to? Marketing and advertising are effective methods of disseminating information. What we don’t need is false advertising. The more enlightened companies are – in terms of what goes into making their products and what their customers are looking for – the more progress we can make as a society.

One of the major goals of humanity – of existence, in general – should be to become more self-aware. To explore the boundaries of awareness, as beings in this universe (as part of this universe). How much can we realize about the “now,” the present? How far does our perception extend, and what factors are influencing it, in real time? Continue reading Greatest Universe Ever Sold

Double Eagles – from the Mint and Back

Note: This was originally written as a submission for Longshot Magazine, Issue 2: DEBT. Thanks are due to Andrew Nusca for editing.

In 1792, recognizing that a national currency would help establish the identity of a nascent country, four men — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and David Rittenhouse — partnered to establish the First Mint of the United States. To build its coffers, the Mint solicited merchants’ private stocks of gold and silver and returned the metal to them as coin. This was accomplished with a very modest operation, comprising three small structures.

Striking coins at the First Mint of the United States was a laborious process (image from Daniel Diderot's Pictorial Encylopedia of Trades & Industry)

The first was a smelting furnace, to melt down raw bullion. The lumps of molten metal were then transferred to the second facility, where a rolling mill powered by a pair of yoked horses in the cellar made numerous passes to flatten the material into a sheet of appropriate thickness. It took three men to complete the last step in the process, which involved the operation of the hand-cranked machine that took circular planchets cut from the sheet and struck them, turning them into coins. Standard denominations were established, including dimes, quarters and half-dollars, all the way up to the gold eagle, a single piece worth $10.

In 1933, a series of $20 “double eagle” coins were struck, but never released to the public. The following year, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Gold Reserve Act, which outlawed possession of gold by the general population. Only two examples of 1933 double eagle series were allowed to remain, for posterity, with the rest destroyed. Or so the government thought.

Years later, several of the illicit coins turned up in the collections of well-off numismatics. Seven of them were recovered quickly, but others proved harder to get. In the 1950s, King Farouk of Egypt — a collector of Faberge Eggs and other small valuables — managed to obtain one of the last remaining double eagles not recovered by officials. His reign ended soon thereafter, and for a half-century, the coin floated around the numismatic black market. In a 2001 sting operation, the U.S. Treasury recovered the piece, and subsequently sold it at a Sotheby’s auction for $7.5 million.

But “last” is an elusive qualifier, and in 2004, Joan Switt Langboard discovered an additional 10 double eagle coins in a lock box that had been owned by her father, Philadelphia jeweler Israel Switt. In July 2011, after a seven-day examination of events from almost 70 years prior, a jury determined that the illicit gold coins had been stolen from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.

Federal prosecutors argued that Switt, most likely with the help of a corrupt Mint official, had illegally transferred them to his possession and subsequently made them available to collectors around the world, including King Farouk. “Israel Switt and some of his friends stole 1933 double eagles from the Philadelphia Mint,” assistant U.S. attorney Jacqueline Romero said in closing arguments.

The ruling allows the federal government to repossess the double eagles, clearing the way for the Treasury to sell the coins — all of which, of course, were originally destined for the smelting furnace. Now worth far more than the material they’re made of, the rare pieces will likely fetch a huge sum. A private merchant is again the enabler.

Sittin’ on the Dock

Municipal Pier 11 – 1932 (via

With the opening of the new Race Street Pier last month, Philadelphia took an essential step forward in riverfront revitalization.

Jutting into the Delaware River just below the towering Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the former Municipal Pier 11 was built in 1896. From late 20th Century on, it sat empty and unused, another segment on a strip populated by big box chain stores and the occasional hotel, segregated from the street grid by Interstate 95.

Several visions were put forth in recent decades for an overhaul of Philadelphia’s waterfront , but none ever seemed to bear fruit (thanks to a combination of bureaucracy, grandiosity and a suffering economy). Then, in 2009 – at the urging of Mayor Michael Nutter – the newly formed Delaware River Waterfront Corporation began to implement the Action Plan for the Central Delaware, developed by UPenn think-tank Penn Praxis.

Looking northeast from the start of the Race Street Pier

Instead of expensive, overarching renovation, the new agenda called for small, incremental steps, with goals of reconnecting the street grid to the water, adding green space and making it easier for people to experience the riverside on foot and via bicycle.

It looks like the piecemeal strategy is working. For example, a paved bike trail now meanders along the southern banks of the river, starting at a small rain garden, which blossoms with greenery behind the Walmart at the intersection of Washington and Columbus Blvd.

A diagonal path connects the upper and lower levels of the Pier

Funding for the pier redevelopment was secured from the William Penn Foundation and others, and New York-based Field Operations won the bid to create a public park atop the 500-foot metal wharf. Led by Philadelphian James Corner, Field Operations is the firm behind the transformation of an old elevated rail line into NYC’s immensely successful High Line Park. Their track record remains stellar with this Philadelphia endeavor, where they’ve created a winning public space.

A place to find tranquility in the city

The bi-level jetty features several dozen white oak trees and a myriad of grasses and flowers along its length, culminating in a tiered seating area at the eastern tip, which doubles as stairs connecting the split upper and lower walkways. At high tide, the water is just 4½ feet below the pier’s edge, providing a feeling of being out in the river achievable nowhere else in Philly.

An uncommon view of the majestic Ben Franklin Bridge impresses, both during the day and at night, when it’s complemented by an array of 200 LED solar light blocks embedded into the paving.

The pier is understated but attractive, welcoming and accessible, clean and friendly, with unique views and perspectives. Here’s hoping what happened on Race can be repeated throughout the riverfront.

Official summer hours are 7 AM–11 PM (and it’s the perfect spot to catch tonight’s Independence Day fireworks).

Rainbow Expo

kibisi logo
It’s widely recognized that Scandinavians have got something going when it comes to industrial design. (Most commonly known example: Ikea)

Three top Danish design firms have recently merged, forming KiBiSi, whose logo itself is a statement in functional modernism.

One of their first collaborations is the wonderfully happy EXPO Chair.

EXPO ChairThese are the chairs that will be placed in the Denmark Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010.

This year’s World Expo in Shanghai has the tagline Better City, Better Life and is “just like an arena and stage for countries and international organizations worldwide to show their originalities and wits.”

expo danish pavilionThe Danish Pavilion will be a Möbius-strip-like perpetual loop through which visitors can ride one of the free provided bicycles and get a feel for Danish life. In the center is a swimming pool filled with fresh water from Copenhagen, and topped off by their national monument “Little Mermaid” statue (that of Hans Christian Anderson — and subsequently, Walt Disney — fame).

With the colorful EXPO Chairs lining the way, it’s bound to be a cheerful ride.

[Via Core77]

Quick, Call 9-1-1

Because this logo needs serious help.

Or really, it needs to be put out of its misery.

The idea of a 3-1-1 non-emergency call center was pioneered in Baltimore in 1996. Chicago took it a step further in 1999.

New York City’s is the largest, and it has been quite successful since starting up in 2003.

Philly’s fledgling project, which was launched Dec 31, 2008, has been received with mixed results.

The program is without a doubt a step in the right direction.

Philly311 is on twitter, is set to receive their millionth call, and even monitors the neighborhood citizens’ reporting site SeeClickFix.

However, in August the hours were cut back from 24/7 to business hours only.

Public perception will play a large role in the future growth and funding of the program. Design is key in this regard.

logo_311_NYC This logo does not help. It is overly complex. It looks like many other company logos, without really being as nice as any I can think of. It is not an easily recognizable shape.

And mostly, this logo does not convey easy access to information and help. Much the opposite: the unbalanced colors and shapes suggest a frenzied, harried, mess.

NYC even has a whole set of different logos and posters available for download based on their clear, straightforward logo.

Anyone in Philly Gov have authority to hire a logo designer? 😉

Dream Ball

dreamball1Industrial design with a political conscience.

Unplug Design’s mantra is:

Pull out the plug from the system and plug in the community.

(ASIDE: While I am a fan of electronics, hopefully soon we will realize Tesla’s wireless energy transfer on a large scale, and not rely on plugs to be “connected” any longer.)

The Dream Ball is packaging.

Specifically, a packaging design idea for famine relief supplies.

After the supplies are unpacked, the pre-perforated cardboard containers can be easily weaved into soccer balls!

Does not seem that tough to implement. And if a small percentage actually use the balls for recreation, it’s worth it, versus simply creating more packaging waste.

The Dream Ball will be showcased at the London Design Festival, occurring next week, as part of Designersblock.

Unplug Design (whose website is currently down for me) is based in Seoul, which becomes apparent when reading the English step-by-step instructions for Dream Ball construction.


I think the main point gets across, anyway.


[via Core77 and GreenMuze]

Drawing on the Refrigerator

Kudos to Marjorie Amrom!drawing on the fridge

Last December the Philadelphia Streets Dept. ripped up the sidewalk corners in much of the Wash West/Society Hill area, one block at a time.

New signal boxes were erected and cast into the concrete, in anticipation of an (ongoing?) $12 million project to deploy digitized traffic signals throughout the city.

Because of a Federal DHS mandate to include future surveillance equipment along with the lighting equipment, the new signal boxes are huge, probably 3-4 times the size of the previous, pole-mounted ones.

As the Inquirer’s Inga Saffron points out with her usual acumen, these empty boxes look like huge brown refrigerators, and are an urban design nightmare in our neighborhoods of rowhouses.

On her blog she highlighted a few of the more egregiously placed metal monoliths, and noted that the flat sides were an empty slate almost begging for graffiti.

A prime example was this one, smack up against the historic house owned by Marjorie Amrom.

It appears that Amrom’s gone and had an artist paint a very attractive and colorful trompe l’oeil, or mini mural, all over the offending box.

Can we get the Mural Arts Program to commission a project to paint the rest?

UPDATE: Inga Saffron wrote another follow-up post, highlighting this box. She mentions that it might be “going a little too far” to paint all of the signal boxes like this. And a commenter points out that getting neighborhoods to agree on a design might “take as long as fixing the city budget.”

I still think it’s worth a try.